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Goodbye Brigsby, our 20-year-old cat and great friend

February 2, 2011

The last day of my friend’s life, it was a blindingly bright sunny day – the kind of February first in Portland, Oregon that makes you close your eyes and smile directly into the sun.

I moved a pillow and blanket to the sliding glass door so she could lie baking in the sun stream, one of her favorite places to rest.

Briggs, full name Brigsby, came to me in late October, 1991. A sophomore in college, I had rented the basement of a house in Havre, Mt. with my girlfriend, Holly. In typical Montana Hi-Line fashion, it was freezing that October night so I was shocked when a small Indian boy – probably 10 or younger – knocked on the door. He was holding the mini-Briggs; a tiny black-base calico (which I now know is called tortoiseshell) with an orange spot on her forehead and half a white mustache. His parents said he could not return home until he got rid of her. So, I said I’d put up signs and the college and find her a place.

But she was already home.

I laid out newspaper that first night and tried to explain that it was the bathroom. But after a day, she hadn’t messed anywhere. I called a vet who explained that cats are often litter trained early by their moms and that I should get a litterbox. The second I presented her with a shoebox of litter, she jumped in and went.

And that’s the kind of cat she was – didn’t make messes or damage furniture – despite being a hellcat for years.

In our nearly 20 years together, Briggs and I lived in 10 different places in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Portland. She became a bit of a traitor in the past eight years as she became inseparable from my husband, Bob. In fact, her tired body might have given out sooner if Bob hadn’t been in a terrible accident this August and nearly lost his leg. Briggs spent every day of his recovery lying with him, or on him, as they watched every TV program worth muster.

It would take a book to recount all of the memories we’ve had with this cat. But some really stick in mind.

First, the name: I was very lonely my first couple years in college. I used to go to this little dive bar in Havre for the great juke box. When I decided to keep Briggs, I named her after the Beatles song often played there. I’m not sure how I didn’t notice the song is “Eleanor Rigby,” not “Brigsby,” but I didn’t. With her, I wouldn’t be lonely.

She was a spit-fire rez kitten, always wanting outside and always looking to scrap. My roommate Holly taught her the “fight game,” in which you’d hold your cupped hand over her face and shake her a little while she clawed the hell out of your arm. (Thanks, Holly. We all have scars from that one.)

When Briggs first noticed her reflection in the stand-up mirror in the hall, she threw-down, batting the “other” kitten until she’d pushed the flimsy mirror flat against the wall and it fell over on her with a whoomp; I’m not sure who won that fight. She also attacked Holly’s butt one morning as she did dishes. I can still see this little kitten hanging by the claws from my friend’s backside. (Paybacks for the fight game.)

The next year I found out how unique Briggs was internally. She’d gotten pregnant and for an unknown reason both kittens died. Since I wanted another kitten, I let her get pregnant again. This time, she forced me to stay in the closet with her as three kittens were born into my hands. They were all fine and adorable, until the next morning when the first-born was already dead. I freaked and took her to the vet. It turns out that Briggs was Type B blood – only common in other parts of the world – and it caused an RH Factor reaction, her blood’s antibodies attacked the kitten’s Type A when they nursed. The vet was only able to save one kitten, Frosty, who also had Type B blood. Frosty also lived a privileged life with us until she died 2 ½ years ago.

Briggs was the mighty protector of Frosty and my other cats. Once, I saw her and Frosty chase the neighbor’s German shepherd out of the yard. She’d go after anything that moved if it was in her territory – birds, snakes, bats and her possible favorite, chipmunks.

But mostly, Brigsby was a lover. As a kitten, she would ride around in my housecoat pocket. Throughout my life, she’d come running to comfort me every time I cried. As an old, crabby senior, she would still let Bob rock her like a baby – hold her overhead like an airplane – roll her up like a burrito – pose her for hundreds of duo self-portraits – or pretty much do anything he wanted.

Although Briggs was suffering greatly these past two weeks, she would climb the stairs every night, find the step stool next to the bed, and get in to snuggle me. (I’ve forgotten to mention that Briggs has been totally blind for over a year!) She’d whimper when I got up to use the bathroom eight times a night (I’m 31 weeks pregnant), and then snuggle against my belly.

Last night we let Briggs go. It was time to release her feisty brain from that failing body. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. She’d been with me half my life.

I’m going to miss her for a long, long time. Yet today, I’m going to remember my “fat cat,” who was always motivated by food and could hear a package of saltines being opened across the house … and knew what T-R-E-A-T spelled. She was my talkative girl who became such a buddy to my husband that I was jealous.

It was my true fortune to have such a good friend for such a long time. Thank you for the immense joy you brought to my life. I love you forever.

(And to the many, many sitters who’ve cared for my cats when I was away, thank you for watching over my family.)

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Challenging women’s lib and success defined by wealth

December 1, 2010

Once again, a morning sales training session has triggered a revelation about how I perceive success and why I am struggling to share and embrace my journey in pregnancy and starting a family.
The training was on goal setting. We all named five “top performers” and discussed what their life goal may have been; how they may stay focused on goals; how they deal with adversity and failure; and how they view risk.
The list of people included Obama, Lance Armstrong (and many other pro athletes), Oprah, Warren Buffet, Donald Trump, Jack Welch and even Will Smith. In less than an hour, it struck me as odd that none of us, myself included, listed a person like Mother Theresa, the Dalai Llama, Greg Mortenson or any great healers, teachers, spiritual leaders or authors. We all listed people who’s “top achievements” are defined by wealth or winning.
That perception of success is why I am struggling with my biggest personal change.
Growing up, I have had two major goals pushing me. First, since probably age 7, I have had a burning desire to be a famous author and speaker. Second, since my pre-teen years, I wanted to prove that I can do any job as well as, or better, than any man. I always said I wanted to support myself and I believed that a big salary would solve all problems.
Now, I realize only one of these goals match my core values. I’ve had a skewed definition of success in my life.
I still want to be a famous author and speaker, because I believe I can help people through both avenues. I’ve discovered my highest core value is to help others in business and personally. I believe I can earn a good living doing this, but the money is not my first priority. (My roles as a starving reporter and a thriving money lender were both defined by this core value.)
On the women’s liberation front, however, my former goal is preventing me from embracing the joys of being a woman. I’ve proved the equality point well enough by excelling in academics, working hard labor jobs, carving a niche (and big income) in the male-dominated finance field and competing athletically alongside men. It’s time to put that goal on a shelf like a tacky trophy that collects dust. I need to embrace the fact that I need my husband’s support and protection. Not that I can’t stand on my own – but that I don’t have to anymore.
At five-and-a-half months pregnant, I need to stop hiding the truth and joy from my professional circle. I must stop thinking I will either fail at being successful professionally or at parenting.
The only way I can begin to reconcile my desire to nurture and my passion to excel professionally is to face the truth. I can’t blame this conflict on hormones. I’ve had less respect and admiration for terrific moms, housewives who sacrificed careers for the family and spiritual people who live by faith than those “top performers” with millions and athletic triumphs. I’ve forgotten the poorly-paid teachers who noticed in that I excelled at writing and encouraged me.
Since I can visualize being a great mother and wife AND being successful professionally, I shouldn’t be ashamed of being on both paths simultaneously.
If goal setting begins with figuring out “what you want,” then I need to accept that deep down, I have always wanted it all – to excel in every role. Only “how” I will get what I want and “when” I will get it is uncertain … and out of my control anyway.

Sorry ladybugs, I’m at a failure at playing God

May 10, 2010

I like to act like the world revolves around me, but every time I play God – even in the slightest bit – I am quickly reminded of my true place (little spec next to ant).

I’ve long been a gardening enthusiast. In the past decade I’ve focused on organic, natural ways to create and to kill. Although I really wanted to poison the mole that put 34 holes in our yard in a month last summer, I bought a vibrating underground stick instead.

Bugs are just as challenging – not to mention prolific – here in Oregon. Little plastic tubs of beer attract slugs like garage sale signs attract me, but putting one in each garden bed requires a beer a night, so I found natural slug bait instead. (Egg shells and penny perimeters work until you water and they get covered by dirt.)

When I saw the ladybug guy at the farmer’s market Saturday, I decided it was time to play God just a little. Ladybugs feed on annoying little critters like the whiteflies and aphids that came home with me on a couple geranium starts. We read the instructions and waited until dusk as ladybugs apparently don’t fly away at night.

The directions also said you can spray the ladybugs with a 50/50 mixture of pop and water so their little wings get sticky and they can’t fly away for a few days. Since we don’t drink sugar pop, we thought a sugar-water solution would do the trick. Bob found a spray bottle, cleaned it and made a solution. I released them throughout the yard and garden, asking them to bring luck and prosperity to our crop.

Sunday morning I bounced out into the sun to check on my little ladies only to find that most of them were dead. Of 1,500 ladybugs I’d killed all but 100 or less. My little “God” experiment failed miserably. Maybe the spray bottle had been used for soap, although we thought it was thoroughly cleaned. Perhaps it was just too much sugar in the water and we candied their little breathing apparatuses. Regardless of the reason they died, I felt a complete failure.

Now, I cannot stand an unanswered question so I went to the Sunday farmers market and found the ladybug man and asked him if it’s possible to kill them with sugar. Turns out it is possible. Too much chlorine in the water can kill them too.

Despite the previous day’s tragedy, the ladybug guy kindly gave me a fresh bag of 1,500 bugs – and he advised me not to spray them at all.

So, I did my part and let them go. I don’t think they all survived for whatever reason, but I see hundreds crawling around looking for little pests to chomp. I don’t feel so badly about the dead ones, partially because I can’t tell if they were from the first batch or the second, and partially because I understand that like most things, it is out of my control.

I just need to chill, and let my Father do his job.

Making true fans? Not by pushing

April 21, 2010

I am a Facebook fan of not being a fan of anything I’m not really a fan of.

In other words, I am not a good liar in person or on screen.

If you con me into joining your page to win a great prize – a trend so prevalent I see hundreds a week – I am going to un-fan as soon as you give the car, greenhouse, money or other prize to someone else.

Many of my Facebook friends and in-laws send invites to join pages, groups and causes of products and services in which I have no experience. Possibly I will like your product, but I have to at least see it (taste it, wear it, try it) first to decide.

Unless the law changed, (it didn’t) petition signatures must be signed in person, in front of the petitioner. All you are doing is telling the Facebook community that you don’t support child molestation. (By the way, who the hell does support it?)

I’m really wondering how we close the gap between true fans of our businesses, groups and statements and the people who just click on everything. Am I rude when I don’t join your kids’ fundraiser group or become a fan of some business across the country I will never use?

You can probably tell it’s really okay if I seem rude. Lucky for me there was no Facebook 20 years ago or everyone would know just how rude I can be. (Yes at 18, I knew everything, had mastered the eye-roll and had a tongue sharper than Ginsu knives.)

As a true fan of studying marketing approaches and how well they work, however, I wonder if businesses see more value in 40 real fans or 400 fans.

While writing this, I got this link from a social media guru http://ow.ly/1Asnj. Thank you so much Robert. I suspect if I read a couple more of your blogs – I will be a fan!

I’m not planning to un-friend anyone for repeatedly pushing me to fan up. Just understand when I hit “ignore,” that’s me being polite.

I’d like to hear why people join groups and become fans, and if they are honestly fans.

By request: My trunk of amazement

April 19, 2010

A couple months ago I had blog requests from two of my biggest fans (not including my mom). One asked for a photo blog and the other requested a “fun and not-so-serious” blog.

Stumped, I did neither. Since I haven’t written here in over a month, I thought I’d honor both requests and share my favorite personal mystery.

This is an expose on what my hiking partner recently tabbed my “trunk of amazement.” The junk in my truck suggests I may run away shortly or I like to be prepared. Since most of this gear has been riding around in my Subaru for years, I am probably not going to r-u-nn-o-f-t.


Items in the Trunk of Amazement:

~ (3) Crazy Creek chairs – must use for next roller derby!
~ Hiking poles – Amanda and I use weekly
~ Two pairs of hiking boots, Keens and Birkenstocks
~ Snow scraper – great to have for our couple of snows a year
~ Yoga mat – for Tuesday night class
~ A lightweight backpacker’s pillow
~ Northface Tadpole tent – birthday present from Dad
~ An Outback oven – bakes awesome food on single burner
~ Backpacker cookware and utensils – you never know
~ Tall snow gators
~ Hand pump water filter
~ Quick-dry towel
~ Sleeping bag pad – but no sleeping bag
~ Gloves, ear warmer and scarf – year round
~ Manual Nikon camera, lenses, film and a tripod – have not pushed film for years
~ Hatchet – used many a camping trip
~ Toiletries: comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, sample-size face soap and lotion, sunscreen
~ Frisbee golf discs – at least two drivers and a putter
~ Softball glove and softball – miss playing on beer league
~ Cop size, black Maglite flashlight – yes, I will smack you with it before you rob me
~ (2) Umbrellas – one came with a free Acura Legend (thanks Roger)
~ Slip-on water shoes with good rubber bottoms
~ Fire shelter and hard hat – in case I drive upon a wildfire?
~ (2) Whistles and (2) ponchos
~ Extra long jumper cables – insert joke about Indian wedding
~ Portland Thomas guide and Oregon rec map (plus a Nav upfront and still get lost)
~ Tool box with several knives, sweetgrass braid end, wine opener, fishing bobber, matches
~ Collapsible 2-gallon water jug
~ Sandler President’s Club CDs and binder – both often in house and front seat
~ Two fanny packs, a water bottle and first aid kit – kit contains all types of Band-Aids, moleskin, Benadryl, OTC painkillers, Swiss Army knife and more
~ At least 5 reusable shopping bags, small to Costco gianormous size
~ Plastic bags for muddy shoes – note to self, add a few more
~ Scraps of garbage, wrappers, file folders from work – good fire starter
~ 10-year-old Spearmint Altoids – still taste okay

Anti-hoarding: junk the crap and emotional baggage

February 23, 2010

Everyone is talking about Hoarders and A&E. I’ll admit that I begin every show by saying I won’t be able to watch the whole thing, and then I’m mesmerized to the end.

While some people watch and admit that they have tendencies to collect unneeded crap, I am quite the opposite. I find myself peering around the house for any areas that might be victim to pileup. With the exception of one organized – yet stuffed – closet, my house is very tidy.

I used to be a clutter bug, if not a hoarder in training. I had a small apartment with dozens of houseplants and prized possessions hanging everywhere. I wouldn’t clean for a few weeks and then I’d freak out and deep clean everywhere. Most of the items that cluttered my space were valuable and/or memorable.

When I decided to quit my old life and go west for a new one (yes on the Oregon Trail), I had to downsize. Knickknacks, collectible plates, clothes and almost every piece of furniture had to go. I wanted to sell valuable collectibles, but there was no marketplace. So, I had a free garage sale and forced all visitors to leave the house with something.

Hoarders have emotional reasons for filing their homes with stuff. I found emotional release in giving stuff away. I was holding onto boots that climbed summits yet killed my feet, gifts from old boyfriends I hate and even the leg cast I wore in torment after destroying my ankle. I let go and old emotions stopped strangling me.

Our first apartment in Portland was so small that we emptied half the moving truck at Goodwill. (I do regret ditching the snow shovel.) The bed was our only furniture, yet we felt free.

In the six years since, I’ve tried to only keep sentimental, valuable or useful items. Clearing clutter seems to open my life to change and release negative emotions.

The day I was laid off, I sorted the entire garage. I recycled boxes of school papers my parents dropped off when we bought the house. The next day I attacked the crammed walk-in closet. I’ve gone through both again since, getting rid of more.

If there’s a medical condition that makes one consider packing a backpack and walking away from all other belongings, I am prone to it. I’d rather have very little than a house full of junk and filth.

Likewise, if I see a chance to shed emotional baggage and make room for growth, I will. I don’t want my head and heart full of junk either.

What to give up for Lent? How about complaining

February 16, 2010

It’s Fat Tuesday and I’m thinking about the most difficult things to give up for Lent. I was raised protestant, but my friends were mostly Catholic so I adopted many Catholic practices. (And now I am converted and married to a Catholic – but that’s another story.)

In high school I gave up material things I loved, like chocolate or sweets altogether. One year I attempted to give up swearing. Every time I swore, I would do ten pushups or sit-ups. By the end of Lent I had great abs and arms.

Learning about Catholicism during nine months of required adult education provided a better insight to Lent and what it means to me. Personal changes can be made in any season, regardless of religion. However, Lent prompts me to look at myself honestly and the changes I need most.

I’ve found that as difficult as it might be to give up – gasp – beer, it’s much harder to renounce a negative trait. (And since I quit sugar in January, I have very few drinks anyway.)

Instead, I will continue to attack serious downfalls in my spirit and attitude – the areas in which I do not behave like Christ (or Buddha or any enlightened being). I’ve learned that you’re not supposed to announce your Lenten plans, so I’ll talk about past years instead.

Two years ago, I gave up complaining. Yes, complaining. I can’t say that for 40 days I never thought or voiced a complaint. Who could? But I learned to catch complaints in thought, ask myself what good the complaints served, and then keep most of them to myself.

It’s amazing how many complaints our heads come up with in one day. I get out of bed and complain that my back hurts. Then I complain that the cat puked on the floor. The shower runs out of hot water mid leg shaving and I complain again. Plus, there’s always dishes in the sink, traffic is bad, and on and on.

I caught myself complaining about good things like a messy fridge filled with too much food. Or the sun was too bright. Or there was too much work to do (who would have known I would loose my job). I needed an attitude adjustment and it started with being aware.

Why was I complaining? How could I be grateful instead? How much of this could I just turn over to source and let go?

It turns out that most complaints are not warranted and serve no good purpose. I still complain, but a lot less. Even my husband notices the difference and catches me if I start complaining.

This year, I’m tackling a pretty huge lineup of issues. If I have success, I will find peace and joy in every day. For anyone who wants to keep chocolate and give up something hurtful, this little reflection is from one of our church bulletins last year. I cut it out and it’s still on the fridge.

Give up complaining … focus on gratitude.
Give up pessimism … become an optimist.
Give up harsh judgments … think kindly thoughts.
Give up worry … trust Divine Providence.
Give up discouragement … be full of hope.
Give up bitterness … turn to forgiveness.
Give up hatred … return good for evil.
Give up negativism … be positive.
Give up anger … be more patient.
Give up gloom … enjoy the beauty that is all around.
Give up jealous … pray for trust.
Give up sin … turn to virtue.
Give up giving up … hang in there.

Blogging keeps the monsters out of my head

February 9, 2010

I don’t know why I took a break from blogging. Let’s just call it laziness. (A bad habit is as easily set as a good one). Some readers missed my writing, but I realized yesterday I am the one suffering.

Blogging keeps me in the habit of writing, which is good. Plus, rewriting and editing each blog hones my wordsmith skills. More importantly, writing helps me think creatively and explore unexpected thoughts.

Analyzing my thoughts helps me distinguish between fact and fiction. Often, I create a truth in my head that is upsetting and detrimental to my goals and relationships. Those negative thoughts roll around in my noggin. Like a snowball, they get larger with every roll. Pretty soon, the thought is a horned monster that stabs at my confidence and enthusiasm. He gnashes his terrible teeth and roars his terrible roar just like the characters in my favorite book.

Then, I put him on paper (or screen). When I dissect the monster, I see it is either a tiny, baby monster or no monster at all. Either way, it is no match for facts.

So, I need to get those pessimistic thoughts out quickly so they cannot build momentum. I know some people write their fears and concerns and then burn the paper – or freeze it in blue water.  In some exercises you write the worst possible scenario imaginable (in regards to that fear or worry) only to find it ridiculous or comical. Some people journal or write letters they’ll never send just to work out their thoughts.

Method aside, I must examine my thoughts continuously. In Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill says the subconscious mind is like “a fertile garden in which weeds will grow if the seeds of more desirable crops are not sewn.”

His work focuses on feeding the subconscious creative thoughts – and mine must too.

An avid gardener, I know my love and passion for the crops is unequaled. Sure, people enjoy my tomatoes – and my blogs – but the genuine nourishment is mine.

So I’ll strive to tend the garden more often and rid it of weed sprouts and imaginary monsters.

True love: Can you love without judgment?

January 19, 2010

A week ago my yoga teacher read “Be Awake” by Anthony DeMello and I cannot get it off my mind. I will include the piece later, but want to paraphrase.

Real love is seeing a person, object or reality as it is – without judgment. This made me question how I love people and myself. Do I love you as you are? Or do I love you for who you were or who you could be? Am I withholding love until something or someone changes? Do I love the idea of me at a younger age? Who or what do I love honestly?

Too all of us: I am sorry for loving you as I wanted you to be. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you for who you are in this moment.

That said, I still pray for miracles in our lives. I can love you now, yet see a need for change. My brother, for example, has already pawned all of his Christmas gifts. I am not surprised as this is pretty traditional behavior. I love him though. In another reality, he could be a functioning adult. But in this reality, he is not. All I can tell my family is don’t let him break your heart (or push your buttons). Loving him is enough.

Some months back I changed the way I love myself and my life. I wanted a job, money for the bills, a thinner body, peace for my husband … and so on. But I realized that the only way to embrace each day with love is just do it. I love the day for what it is – a journey, a possibility and a moment that belongs to me. I am grateful that things are they way they are. What I thought was not a perfect life really is a perfect life. With my judgment removed, life is complete and without fault.

Of course my life has room for improvement, goals and knowledge. But first I must love myself as I am in this breath. It is so much easier to love others from this place of comfort with myself. I don’t need you to be better for me. I don’t need you to fix me (or my situation.) All I ask is that you try to love me for the perfect person I am today.

“Be Awake” by Anthony DeMello

“Everywhere in the world people are in search of love, for everyone is convinced that love alone can save the world, love alone can make life meaningful and worth living. But how very few understand what love really is, and how it arises in the human heart. It is so frequently equated with good feelings toward others, with benevolence or nonviolence or service. But these things in themselves are not love. Love springs from awareness. It is only inasmuch as you see someone as he or she really is here and now and not as they are in your memory or your desire or in your imagination or projection that you can truly love them, otherwise it is not the person that you love but the idea that you have formed of this person, or this person as the object of your desire not as he or she is in themselves.
Therefore the first act of love is to see this person or this object, this reality as it truly is. And this involves the enormous discipline of dropping your desires, your prejudices, your memories, your projections, your selective way of looking, a discipline so great that most people would rather plunge headlong into good actions and service than submit to the burning fire of this asceticism. When you set out to serve someone whom you have not taken the trouble to see, are you meeting that person’s need or your own? So the first ingredient of love is to really see the other.”

Sissors and glue: The impact of our stories

January 5, 2010

Ever met someone you feel you were meant to know, or somehow know already? Possibly a person from a forgotten dream. That happened today when I met Dave Jarecki owner of Breakerboy Communications.

Not only did I immediately feel connected to Dave, he turned out to be someone I’d like to know for a long time. Our discussion lingers.

He seemed to have answers that were intended for me. He also had two killer name ideas.

Yet what’s resounding is our short discussion about stories.

Dave and I both suppose that stories are what separate and unify people. My story makes me different and connects me to the world. Dave and I talked briefly about why this is so important to writers and business owners.

Knowing your story is if utmost importance. I have had time to revive my passions during my eight months of unemployment. I’ve thought about “my story” from the viewpoint of a jobseeker, sales person, networker and wife. I’ve explored ideas, positive and negative, about who I am and what I want. I reconnected with family I haven’t seen for years at my grandma’s funeral.

I still don’t know my story completely because some chapters are buried and some are unwritten. I know that what’s important to me looms over the Columbia River, smiles as we pass and sleeps in my bed. My husband (family), climbing mountains and meeting people are the basis of my story. I love to hear a trickling creek and new story.

When we meet, and meet again, I want to hear a tale of your life. My husband would tell you that I’ll talk with someone in the checkout line 20 minutes.

If you don’t know your story or are not comfortable with the story you know, then you’ll probably never share with me. Maybe you need help discovering your story because it lives in dusty corners of your mind.

That’s why I want to help people – and businesses – find their voices and tell their stories. I thrive on it. It’s a treasure hunt.

This is what drew me to Dave. His work is about “cracking the code of your story.” His personal story of digging (strangely absent from his website) explains why the business is named Breakerboy.

I aspire to do work like Dave’s – call it brand development or storytelling. I’m on the path. When we meet, I hope you are ready and willing to tell me your story.

Thanks Dave. (Where the hell do I know you from?)