A Wonder of Women (or, Confessions of a Girl Scout Dropout)

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My latest adventure centered on spending 2 days with these delightful women. 

For most of my life, I considered myself to be an anti-social loner, not a team player, prefering to avoid group situations at all possible costs. My mother made me join the Brownies, which was mostly okay. We had snacks and did arts and crafts and sang silly songs. I could deal with that, and if I immersed myself in the arts and crafts I could avoid the other girls and more importantly, the troop leader. She scared the life out of me. Then came Girl Scouts. Uh oh. I was clearly not Girl Scout material. Girl Scouts are expected to interact in the world, earning badges for awesome deeds and selling overpriced cookies to people who really don’t need or want them. And go camping. Hell no. I don’t do camping.

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If there was a badge in cat holding, I could’ve earned that one. And color coordinating outfits.

I pretended to go to Girl Scouts, showing up at the spot in front of the school where the car pool mom picked us up so as to be seen by the other girls. Then I’d go hide somewhere until the coast was clear, play on the school playground until it was time to go home, and then walk home, pretending when I got there that I’d had a great time. I didn’t get away with it for long. But my mother was understanding and let me leave the scouts. I was free! Free to spend my time with my books and my cats and my arts and crafts projects! Happy girl!

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I grew up. I was lonely, but still convinced I was not a people person. I sat at home alone a lot, drinking too much in front of Food Network shows.

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I needed a troup, a community, a network, I just didn’t know that’s what I needed. It was suggested that I needed to get out of the house and challenge myself. What?! But I tried. I signed up for cooking classes, mosaic making classes, knitting classes. But I didn’t make friends or try to fit in. It wasn’t because the women (yes, it was all women in these groups) didn’t try to befriend me. I resisted them, cultivating my misunderstood loner status.

But life has a way of kicking us in our butts when we need it. I needed it. I got my butt kicked. I got help. And I discovered that I am a nice person who thrives among friends and enjoys the company of others. Who knew?!

Call me a late bloomer if you will.

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It started with volunteering at an animal shelter, where I started to make friends and find a purpose in life. The animals were my bridge to connecting to people. Then I joined a book group. And had fun! I do things I would never have done 4 years ago, and they all involve other humans.

We have names for collectives of animals. A congregation of alligators, a battery of barracudas, an obstinancy of buffalo, a clowder of cats, a charm of finches, a rhumba of rattlesnakes, etc.

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We don’t have such creative names for groups of humans. Women in particular tend to reach out to other women for support and friendship. We need a name. I propose a wonder of women. I finally reached that point in my life where I have discovered that women who gather in groups don’t “cat fight” or backstab; okay, we might gossip a bit. But we help and support each other, offering good listening skills, advice if wanted, and understanding.

A study by Laura Klein and Shelley Taylor suggests that women are genetically hardwired to respond to stress by “seeking and befriending”. I most recently sought and befriended by attending the Ethelridge Road Knitting Salon, in upstate New York last week. What attracted me was the presence of one of my favorite writers, Alice Hoffman. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to spend 2 days in her company. I can knit, but it’s been a while. I was willing to dust off my needles and relearn casting on and purling in order to meet Alice Hoffman.

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I got to meet Alice Hoffman!

I recently wrote about having read her book Faithful and how I connected to the main character Shelby. Shelby would have loved our dog mascot for the weekend, Millie.

I had an amazing experience in so many ways. First of all, it really was an adventure for me. I went so far out of my comfort zone (which is admittedly fairly small), renting a car and driving around upstate New York, staying by myself in a bed and breakfast. I felt so grown up.

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All grown up and ready to join my life.

Was it worth it? Undoubtedly! Everyone was warm and welcoming, helpful and interested. We talked, we knitted, we listened to Alice read, we wrote, we ate well. Our hosts, including Millie, were welcoming and made us feel at home.

It was like Brownies, only better! Arts and crafts–check. Snacks–check. Scary troop leader–no way! And no camping!

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We all made amulets after listening to Alice read a lovely fairy tale, Amulet.
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Happily crafting away.

The only thing missing from my perspective–a cat.

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The B and B was just missing a cat. One would’ve made it perfect.

I’m home now, surrounded by cats, with new knitting projects, new friends to keep in touch with, and charmed memories. I plan to go again next year if all goes well.

My deepest thanks to everyone involved in making the experience so special. It means more to me than words can convey. And you didn’t make me sell cookies or camp!

Peace and hugs.

Ah, caffeine, you pernicious substance!

Monday and Tuesday are my weekend. That’s when I try to do as much in two days as humanly possible. And I start to stress out. Weekends aren’t supposed to be stressful, but when I signed up for a Ph.D. program, I gave up anything that might be called leisure time. I had coffee, real coffee, Monday afternoon.

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“A thing of beauty is a joy forever” (from Endymion, by John Keats, 1818).

It was kind of an accident. That all important word DECAF was left off my order with the barista. I realized it before I actually drank said coffee, but I had one of those “What the hell!” moments and down went the delicious beverage.

 

So here I am at 4 in the morning on Tuesday, my brain on fire. Not good for my beauty rest, but I am getting things done!

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The other human in the house is sound asleep. The dog here with me on the couch is snoring. Two of the cats are hiding from me so they can sleep. My only friend at this hour is a 19-year old cat who I bottlefed when she was a newborn and posibly thinks I am her mother. She loves me unconditionally.

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According to the Cat Years Chart I found online, Sara at 19 is the equivalent of 92 years old.
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Einstein at 4 a.m. Really, there’s a dog in there.

 

You might ask, why am I doing this to myself? Back in the day, if I was awake on my weekend at 4 a.m. I was probably having what I thought was a good time and not remembering it later. I don’t miss those days, believe me! Being a vegan teetotaler graduate student working at an animal shelter might not sound like the good life to many of you, but it’s turned out to be the ideal life for me. As long as I stick to decaf! I suppose I could just become an early shift barista since I am awake, but I am not anywhere close to the the level of hipster required for that.

 

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This guy comes up a lot if you Google “hipster barista”.

 

These days, I dream of book caves and animal sanctuaries, not of wine cellars.

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What’s missing? A dog and a cat or 2 (or 3).

 

There’s something magical about the combination of cats and books. Cats can make reading hard sometimes, but they just want to know what the book is about!

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Throw in coffee (or tea, if you prefer), and you have the makings of a perfect day.

 

Why are cat cafes becoming so popular? Yep, you can have your cats, coffee, and a place to read all at once.

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Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, in London.

 

My particular favorite is Cat Town Cafe in Oakland, California.

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Given these ingredients–cats, coffee, books–I have the makings of a perfect day at hand! Plus it’s raining and I have nowhere I have to be, making the day even that more magical. So I am going to enjoy what’s left of my weekend in the best way possible. But first, I am going to add naps to that essentials list.

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I hear there’s even a pillow to help me out with that.

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If only I could get the dog to stop snoring. I could try this trick:

 

This may be the current popular image of a sleeping beauty:

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But this is the best I can hope for:

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And this is what I am more likely to get:

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Sweet dreams.

Reminds me, add chocolate to that list, please.

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Why We Won’t Be Keeping Chiclet (meant to convince myself more than anyone else)

Meet Chiclet.

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Now that we are all in love with our current foster kitten Chiclet, here’s why this won’t be a foster fail. If you believe all of this, great! I’m trying. I haven’t been quite this attached to a foster since I’ve been fostering for the East Bay SPCA.

Last night, Bob broached the conversation of keeping her. Not because he thinks we should, but because he knows I want to. This was such a sweet gesture, and he firmly keeps the World’s Best Boyfriend crown on his head.

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Of course I wanted to squeal in delight and jump up and down, but I was trying to be sensible. Silly me!

Here’s the rundown:

  1. She is highly adoptable. The minute she’s available, there will be people falling in love with her and wanting to give her a loving home. If I am going to foster fail again, I’d rather save my Keep the Cat card for one who is going to have a harder time. You know, that 3-legged, 1-eyed, snaggle-toothed one with a personality disorder. Who won’t have everyone oohing and aahing and filling out adoption paperwork at blink of a kitten eye.
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Bill the Cat needs love too.

 

2. We have 3 cats and a dog living with us already. I don’t want to be a hoarder.

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3. Sara is going to be 19 this summer. Does she really want another kitten in the house? We recently added Marble, aka the Tasmanian Devil, to the lineup. Maybe Sara would like some peace and quiet in her twilight years.

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Peace and quiet, please.
Sara meets Chiclet
Maybe, maybe not.

 

4. Poor Einstein can’t catch a break. He’s a very patient dog, but will another cat be the last straw? And he’d like some time and attention, too! Walkies!!!

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What about me??

 

4. The aforementioned Tasmanian Devil.

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Marble isn’t a year old yet and is a handful! When we tried introducing him to previous foster kitten Pepper, he grabbed her by the throat. Not good. If I have to spend my time making sure one cat doesn’t kill the other, I will not be happy or pleasant to be around.

 

5. Misty. When we adopted Misty, she was considered “unadoptable” because she really doesn’t like people. Can’t blame her. She was treated roughly during the 4 years before she came to us. She’s slowly coming around, but VERY slowly. She’s great with Marble, and might be fine with Chiclet, but like Einstein, she could use some more special time and attention.

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Unadoptable, says who?

 

6. The family just waiting to meet Chiclet. It would be selfish of me to keep her. I imagine the 8 or 9 year old me meeting Chiclet and falling in love. How can I stand in the way of another child’s destiny??? Those moments at the animal shelter when I hear a child say, “Mom, I NEED this cat!” are why I work there.

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7. We aren’t getting any younger. If Marble lives to be 20 (perfectly possible), I will be 75 and Bob will be 81. Should we really keep getting kittens? Maybe we should adopt older cats when we adopt more. Senior cats need homes too, and what better match than a senior with a senior?

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8. When I take Chiclet and her mother Sugar Cube back to the East Bay SPCA, I make room in our home for another foster family, helping to continue the cycle of saving lives. Isn’t that the point? We have fostered 32 cats for the East Bay SPCA since we started back with Abracadabra in 2015.

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Mama Sugar Cube with her little Chiclet.
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Abracadabra!

This count does not include Marble, who was a rescue of a different sort (that might or might not have been entirely legal but it was definitely in his best interest).

Will it be hard taking her back to the shelter? Yes. Will I be sad? Yes. Will I sing sad songs? Undoubtedly. I’ve already got one picked out, Irving Berlin’s What’ll I Do? as sung by Rosemary Clooney.

 

 

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What’ll I Do?, Irving Berlin, 1923

 

But I’ll get up, dust myself off, and find out who my next foster family is. I’ll fall in love again. Life goes on.

Up next: Take Me Out to the Ball Game!, in which there will be no mention of cats but lots of baseball, the Arizona desert, and a side trip to the Musical Instrument Museum. Stay tuned!

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When an irresistible force meets an immovable object

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In physics, it’s called the irresistible force paradox: What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? The paradox exists in that at its center are two incompatible principles–an unmovable object and an unstoppable force. The logic arises that neither such thing exists.

In music, it’s a  wonderful 1955 song called Something’s Gotta Give, with words and music by Johnny Mercer and famously sung by Frank Sinatra.

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Johnny Mercer

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In my life, I am the unmovable force and a dog named Snuffalaffugus (a misspelling of the Sesame Street character’s name Snuffleupagus) is the irresistible force.

 

As many of you know, I work at Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF). I am Proud to be a Crazy Cat Lady. I love dogs, yes. The world’s cutest dog lets me live in his house.

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Einstein, another irresistible force, adopted from the East Bay SPCA.

At the shelter, I am more comfortable over on the cat side than I am on the dog side. I love scruffy terriers, and if a dog remotely resembling a Cocker Spaniel arrives at the shelter, I immediately start singing songs from Lady and the Tramp.

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A Cocker Spaniel and a scruffy terrier–I’m in! Plus there are cats, evil Siamese cats. A Disney classic.

 

Then along came Snuffalaffugus, who I call Snuffy. This 91-pound American Staffordshire Terrier (also known as the Amstaff or Stafford or by the more common pit bull terrier) mix does not look like a dog I would hang out with. I confess to a lingering fear of large dogs, especially the “bully breeds”. In short, I am afraid of pit bulls.

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The classic American Staffordshire Terrier. This is not Snuffy.

 

As an adoption counselor, I remain neutral on breeds and help potential adopters with whichever dog or cat they’d like to vist. The first time I was called on to show Snuffy, I went into an internal panic. But I pulled on my big girl panties, grabbed a leash, took a deep breath, and entered her kennel. And fell in love.

My first meeting with Snuffy. The irresistible force won.

 

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Meet Snuffaluffagus.

 

We were recently asked to submit photos to use on the Foundation’s organizational chart. A group of us decided to take each other’s pictures with ARF animals. I went against Cat Lady character and decided to pose with Snuffy. It took quite a few shots, but we finally got one with both of us sitting still.

 

Now I spend every spare minute I have visiting Snuffy in her kennel, getting doggy kisses and singing to her. We both need to lose a few pounds, so I really should be out walking her around, but I prefer sitting on the floor while she tries to fit herself in my lap and knocks me over in her enthusiastic face licking frenzies.

 

Amstaffs are one of the several breeds referred to as pit bulls. Pit bulls have had a lot of bad publicity and have become subject to insidious breed restrictions. These restrictions make it harder to place loving dogs like Snuffy with good families.

Amstaffs historically were considered to be loyal family dogs and good with children. In old photos, you often see pit bulls pictured with children.

 

The classic early comedy short films from 1922 to 1944, Our Gang (The Little Rascals), featured the gang’s loyal companion Petey. Petey was, you guessed it, an American pit bull terrier.

 

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The RCA Victor dog is a pit. So is the dog from the Buster Brown stories and shoes.

 

So, what happened to lead us up to the days of stories like Michael Vick and his dog fighting pit? (I will not show the horrible images of the maimed dogs he is responsible for.)

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The concept of pit bulls as Nanny Dogs may be a bit overstated, but the bad reputation of the dogs is something fairly recent. For reasons I don’t know and won’t investigate here, dog fighting rose in popularity in the 1980s and continues today. Pit bulls are incredibly strong dogs and super smart, meaning they are highly trainable. Which can mean trouble if the dog trainer has bad intentions. With the pit bull’s massive head and jaws, their bite can be deadly. In addition to fighting dogs, they have come to be seen by some as cheap, effective guard dogs. I prefer an alarm system myself.

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At the animal shelter, our aim is to place companion dogs in homes with loving families. Snuffy’s previous family was displaced by a house fire and had no choice but to relinquish their beloved dog to the shelter system. They loved her dearly. She was a member of their family. Now she is with us at ARF, and we will do our best to match her with guardians who understand her and will give her the love and exercise she needs.

You might ask why I don’t adopt her myself. One, I have a full house: Einstein, 3 cats, and a continuing rotation of foster cats. Two, I am at work full time, as is Bob. We aren’t able to provide Snuffy what she needs. Three, I want to see her make another family as happy as she makes me. It’s one of the rewards of my job. I can’t adopt each and every animal I fall in love with, but I can feel the joy of someone else falling in love. I get to be a part of something special.

Consider donating to or volunteering at your local shelter so they can continue saving lives like Snuffy’s and Einstein’s. Adopt, don’t shop. And spread the word for Snuffy and all the other animals who deserve better than the cards they’ve been dealt in life.

 

Peace and hugs.