Five Things

tennessee

Hello! Happy Friday!

Hey, how’s your summer been? Overall, ours has been pretty good. I feel like we had a nice mix of structured camps, travel, and weeks of nothing. We’ve been gone for the past few weeks visiting family in Tennessee, and it was awesome. I forgot how GREEN everything is in the summer there. I have gotten so used to our “golden” (read: brown) hills of California that every time we got in the car there, I exclaimed, “Look at that hill! Look at those trees! Look at all this nature!!” I took so many random photos from the passenger seat (see above).

This is our last Friday before school starts, so we’re gearing up to get back into our structured routine. Here are a few things on my mind this week:

biltmore and garden

1. Biltmore Estate. This past spring, I ordered this book for BB. It’s a mystery novel set at Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina. We spent a couple of weeks’ worth of afternoons reading a chapter or two out back on the daybed. I pulled out an old guide book about the house that I had saved in my scrapbook from the time I went with my class in 4th grade. He loved looking at the pictures of all the rooms and reading up on the history and construction of the property. After we finished, BB spent his own money to buy this coffee table book about the history of the house and more details about its rooms. I loved Biltmore as a child, and I loved that he fell in love with it, too, so Husband and I planned a surprise trip there while visiting our family in Tennessee. (It’s a little over an hour to drive from my hometown to Asheville.) BB’s excitement at being there was contagious. Every room we walked into, he shared facts he had gleaned from his books. “I see the Napoleon chess set! That’s the Winter Garden! There’s the secret door to the Smoking Room!” At one point, he went off in search of a docent because he had some questions.

“Is the 4th floor completely closed off?” he asked. I smiled knowingly at the docent, fairly certain that there were only 3 floors plus the basement.

“Yes, you’re right, the 4th floor is usually closed to visitors. It is mostly made up of servants’ quarters like you will see in the basement.”

BB nods knowingly.

“But if you do the rooftop tour, you will be able to see a few of the rooms on the 4th floor.” Wow. I was so impressed with my boy, not only that he knew so much more than I did, but that he so confidently went to her to ask his question. How did he get so big? (BG had fun at Biltmore, too, because she got to see a horse, pet some chickens, and eat ice cream at the Creamery.)

2. “As long as you don’t forget your breath, anything is okay.”  I have thought about this short video about one hundred times since I watched it, which means I have technically meditated about one hundred times as well. Love this wonderfully simple approach.

3. The Land of Stories. Speaking of books, my mother-in-law bought this one to read with the kids while we were in Tennessee. It’s a fun story that kept the 7-year-old and the 4-year-old (and the 38- and 36-year-old) engaged. On our trip to Biltmore, we listened to a few chapters of the Audible version, read aloud by the author, Chris Colfer (of Glee fame). The voices he does for each character are a wonderful addition to the story. We’ve continued reading it aloud after we got home, but we’ve had to edit it a bit. (In one scene where Goldilocks confronts Little Red Riding Hood about something that happened in the past, there are a few words our kids don’t know and that I REALLY don’t want to explain to them yet.) All in all, a fun page-turner that all of us look forward to reading after dinner each night. (And this book – another one set at Biltmore – is up next on my read-aloud list. Have any of you read it? I’m hoping it’s a good one.)

the biggest human temptation

4. This quote.

5. Made me chuckle.

The Olympics! We didn’t even really talk about the Olympics! What’s your favorite competition to watch? I love diving, and I always watch it equally amazed at their skill and terrified they are going to hit their heads. (Having seen Greg Louganis do it, I can’t unsee it.) It’s been fun to see my kids’ interest in the games for the first time. I’m looking forward to a low-key weekend of watching a few events, reading, and finishing up the last thing on our Summer Bucket List. Whatever you are up to this weekend, I hope you have a good one! Thanks for reading!

 

Molly

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Our sweet cat, Molly, went to kitty heaven two weekends ago. It’s been a long time coming, and it became clear the week before she passed that it was coming soon, but that didn’t make it easier on the kids or Husband and me. She stopped eating on Monday. By Thursday, she was a very thin image of her former self. On Saturday, she crept through the house gingerly when she moved at all, mostly just to relocate from the cold kitchen floor to the cold bathroom floor, no longer seeking her blanket for warmth. Saturday, in the middle of the night, Husband found her. He buried her in the back yard while the kids and I slept. I woke Sunday morning and knew she was gone.

As somber and sad as her passing was, her life was full of adventure. As is the case with most stories in our lives, at the time, they were quite awful. They do not portray those of us involved in the best light, but as years have passed, they just get funnier and funnier. So in honor of sweet Molly’s life, I’d like to share some highlights with you. (Hopefully, you won’t think less of us at the end.)

***

We found Molly when we still lived in married student housing on the campus of Tennessee Tech (see more about our apartment here). Husband was finishing up his Masters, and I, at the ripe old age of 21, had just started my first teaching job at a local private school. It was Labor Day weekend, and our best “Married Friends”, Audrey and Wayne, had gone camping at a nearby state park. We were tasked with the job of feeding their fish.

We go to their house on Friday night, and as soon as we walk in, Husband stops me and says, “Shhh!”

Of course I panic, thinking there’s someone in the house. I immediately start asking questions. “What did you hear? Is someone here? What’s happening? Should we call the police?”

“SHHHH!” Husband says.

(A word about Audrey and Wayne’s house: It had been several things before it was a house, including a convenience store and a church. And when I say “church”, I mean a building where people met to worship, not a “church” in the traditional sense with a steeple and a cross. Because it was a convenience store FIRST. Getting a good picture? It was an old and well used building, and there may have been some structural deficiencies that led to what was to be found in the basement.)

“What?!” I whisper.

I still don’t hear anything, but Husband heads to the back of their kitchen and down the stairs to their basement.

“What are you doing?” I hiss. “There’s a robber down there! You don’t go TOWARD the robber, you GET OUT! We can call the police from the car!”

“Nicole, would you please be quiet?”

A couple of minutes pass before Husband says, “Nicole, could you come down here?”

Are you kidding me?

When I get to the basement, I find Husband staring up into a hole in the basement ceiling. This is actually much worse than it sounds (given how you’re probably picturing their house) – it’s really one of those drop-in panel ceilings that is missing a panel.

“There’s a cat up there. She’s scared and she won’t come down.”

I go back upstairs to our friends’ kitchen and open cabinets until I find a can of tuna to lure her out of the ceiling. While I’m there, I find a loaf of bread with its bag in shreds and chunks of bread missing.

I call down to Husband, “I found the cat’s food stash.” In the days and weeks to come, we will learn that this cat has a deep love of all bread and bread-type foods – waffles, pancakes, hamburger buns, you name it. “I had no idea a cat would eat bread.”

“A cat will eat anything when it’s hungry,” Husband tells me.

“I want to keep it,” I tell him. He gives me a look. Then, after the cat has devoured the entire can of tuna, he loads her up in the car and we take her to our apartment.

She is so happy to be there. She starts purring the moment we get in the door and she won’t leave our sight. If we sit down, she’s on our laps. If we walk to the bedroom, she’s on our heels. If we are at the table, she’s ON the table. But the meowing makes us anxious. It’s a happy meow, but it’s very loud, and we are certain our neighbor will rat us out immediately. We go back and forth for an hour before deciding that we really can’t keep her. I want to say that Husband decided, but we both agreed, so we did the unthinkable and loaded her back into our car and returned to Audrey and Wayne’s house. We let her out by their back door, secretly hoping she would find her way back inside. I cry all the way home.

The next day, as planned, we drive out to where our friends are camping to hang out and go for a hike. We tell them the story of the cat. I tell them how much I really wanted to keep her but that we would get in trouble and just couldn’t do it. We head home and resist the urge to drive by their house to look for her.

Our friends return from camping the following day, and Wayne calls us. “We’ve got your cat here.” I tell Husband, and we drive over immediately to pick her up. We knew it was meant to be.

For about a month, it was great. We kept the blinds closed, kept her well fed, and kept her on our laps every moment I wasn’t teaching and Husband wasn’t at school in order to prevent her meowing. Like a dog, she greeted us at the door with toy mice for us to play fetch. She loved to hang out in the bathroom sink, preferring fresh water from the faucet to plain water in her bowl. She slept on the foot of our bed at night.

Then one day, I come home from work to find a envelope on the door from the property manager. They had seen the cat in the window and asked us to come to the office to talk. The woman is nice enough, but she says we had two options, to get rid of the cat or to move out. I tell her we will move out, and she says we have 30 days. As I turn to leave, she says, “It’s a really cute cat.”

So, for our cute cat, Molly, we give up $110/month rent on campus (ridiculously cheap even then, 15 years ago).

But it was well worth it.

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***

Spring comes, and Husband and I get ready to relocate to California. Movers come to pack up that second apartment, and we load Molly into the back of our Honda Accord and drive cross country to our new apartment. Two summers later, we buy our first house and I start a new job teaching first grade. The summer after that, I am hired at a different school to teach a K-1 combo.

The night before my first day of work at my new school, Molly starts throwing up. Now, some cats puke a lot, but Molly was never one of those cats. Always easy going, she ate her hard food in peace and, aside from the occasional bread treat, she didn’t try to eat weird things. Except for that day, when she decided to eat some curling ribbon. It was my fault – I had been wrapping a present and left it out on the table. She apparently just couldn’t resist that beautiful pink color and delicious paper texture. The evidence made itself clear when it came back up. So we go to sleep that night feeling a little anxious, both for Molly’s tummy troubles and for my new job.

About 2:00am, we hear her start to get sick again. Husband realizes she is on top of our bedroom armoire, so he gets out of bed to move her to the floor, but it’s dark. Instead of hearing her feet hit the carpet, I hear BAM BAM BAM BAM! Instead of placing her on the floor, Husband ACCIDENTALLY PLACES HER DIRECTLY INTO OUR CEILING FAN, which is spinning on high that hot summer night.

Husband throws on the lights, and we see that the ceiling fan blades have hit her on the bridge of her nose. Her nose is cut, and it’s already started swelling. He sets her down on the foot of the bed, and she slowly crumples, eyes still open, like someone weaving on the sidewalk after having one too many. Like a cartoon character who got punched and there are stars swirling around his head.

We panic and call our vet. The answering machine informs us to call the Emergency Vet Hospital on campus. I am mortified. I go through the whole thing about the curling ribbon and the puking. “Okay….okay….” the vet student says, taking in all the details. I pause in my recounting of events before saying, “And that’s when she got hit in the face with the ceiling fan.”

For a few seconds it’s quiet on the other end. I explain about the puking and the armoire and the darkness. Again, she is quiet for a moment before she starts reading her notes back to me. “Yes…right…yes…” I confirm the details.

“Does she seem to be acting okay?” the vet student asks.

“Do you mean now or right after she was hit with the ceiling fan?”

Let me pause for just a moment. I am laughing out loud as I type this. I have told this story MANY times over the years, and I laugh to the point of tears EVERY time. But at this moment, when I know I sound like a lunatic to this young vet student, I am sobbing. I am terrified that Molly has sustained a brain injury, and I realize that there is a high likelihood that the animal-equivalent of CPS will take her away from us forever.

But I’m pretty sure when I ask this last question, the vet student stifles a laugh. She tells me about the risk of cats swallowing ribbon (like a drawstring in the intestines – very bad), but that it sounded like Molly was doing okay, especially since she had regained full consciousness and was acting much more “normal”. She says we can wait until morning to take her to our vet.

The next morning, as soon as I’m dressed for work, I load her into our cat carrier to take her in. Dropping her off proves awkward, as you might imagine. I fill out the questionnaire to the best of my ability. “When this says, ‘Is your pet acting abnormally?’, should I include the time she was delirious after my husband put her into the ceiling fan or no? Because she’s much better with all of that now.'”

I also had to tell the whole story to my new principal and my new K-1 teaching team because I was going to be a few minutes late to staff meeting. Stellar first impression.

Of course, Molly was fine. After her X-rays showed no remaining sign of curling ribbon in her intestines, and whatever other testing showed no signs of brain damage, they ACTUALLY let me come pick her up and take her home that afternoon. No small miracle, I say.

***

img028-001A few years later, when we were still living in the old house, I came home from a night out with girlfriends and find Husband wide-eyed in the living room.

“How are you?”

“Well…we’re alright NOW.”

“We? Now? What are you talking about?”

“Well, I went upstairs and saw that the dryer door was open….”

“You didn’t.”

“I turned it on, and right away I heard ‘Thu-THUD, Thu-THUD, Thu-THUD!’ I opened the dryer door, and Molly shot out like a rocket.”

“Oh my gosh.”

“I know! Why did you leave the dryer door open?”

“Is she okay?”

“I guess. She’s been hiding under the bed for a couple hours.”

***

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After the children arrived, Molly sort of lost her place. I mean, for 8 years, she had been our only child, but things change when you have human babies to care for. She wasn’t scared of the babies, and she wasn’t afraid to share the sofa with them, but she kept a respectful distance and she was always gentle. She seemed more interested in their gear than them – she would climb in the crib, but only if it was empty, she loved checking out the stroller, and an empty bucket carseat seemed like a perfect fit for an afternoon nap. There were several nights that we would lose track of the cat, and I would panic, thinking she had finally been brave enough to jump in the crib and pose suffocation risk to our sleeping child. More than once, we would hear a soft meow on the baby monitor, and I would run up the stairs to the nursery in fear, only to find we had accidentally shut Molly into one of the dresser drawers or pinned her in the closet.

To my knowledge, she only scratched BB once, and from Husband’s account, he deserved it. BB had been pestering her, and Husband warned him that he was making her mad, but he kept at it. The scratch was more of a warning than anything else, and the two never bothered each other again.

***

When BG was old enough to talk, her love of animals became apparent. Molly was happy to be the recipient of that love. Every morning, she would jump on BG’s bed when she woke up, and she’d come back again at bedtime to say goodnight. Otherwise, Molly stayed out of the kids’ rooms. She was becoming an old cat. More of her gray fur turned white, and she spent the majority of her days sleeping contently in her cat tree. Every day, I would find BG standing by the cat tree or kneeling on the rug by the sofa or sprawled out in front of her on the floor, nose to nose, whispering stories and songs to Molly. Then BG would turn to tell me what Molly had whispered back to her.

***

During that last week, BB figured it out first. He’d watch her walk down the hall or see me searching for her when she had been missing for hours, finding new places to hide inside our house.

“She’s going to die soon, isn’t she?” he asks, his voice shaking and his eyes welling up. I nod, and he rubs his eyes. Every time he walks past her curled up in the middle of the hall, he kneels down and pats her head or rubs her back. “You’re a good kitty, Molly. Good kitty.”

***

I think BG grieves the most when Molly passes. She takes it in stride the first day, but the nights are harder, and she cries easily for a while. She has so many questions. “I wanted her to be a special kitty that wouldn’t die until we die, so we don’t have to miss her so much.”

***

Remembering the Molly stories has been good for me. It’s a small cross-section of life, really – warm times, sad times, hilarious times – all made richer because of each other. I’ve been writing this post little by little for a week now after the kids are in bed. I stop periodically to fact check parts with Husband.

“What time was it in the middle of the night when you got Molly off the armoire and put her into the ceiling fan?” I ask.

“Hey, you left the dryer door open,” he replies.

We laugh together at the memories. If only all of our stories could end that way.

Five Things

Hello! Happy Friday!

molly

It’s been a hard week around here. We said goodbye to our sweet cat, Molly, last weekend, and we’re all still feeling the sadness. I realize I’ve never told our Molly stories here on the blog, so I’m working on a post to share the good, the bad, and ugly. (Spoiler alert: The bad and the ugly weren’t the cat, bless her heart.) Look for that next week.

In the meantime, here are a few things on my mind this week.

rain fish

1.Children need to be bored in the summer. I fully believe this – it was how I grew up – but every summer, especially that first week when we’re all tripping around, trying to find our rhythm (read: being grumpy), I question if I should have signed them up for more camps. But once again, BB and BG have shown me that they thrive on loose structure and lots of unscheduled time. Our new “routine” consists of them waking up, eating breakfast, and then wandering off to play, making up wacky games, devising fantastic creations (like “Rain Fish” in above photo), dressing in elaborate costumes and acting out crazy scenarios, the latest being something called “Junk Collector” in which every single item in BB’s closet is placed in the middle of the floor and BG comes to shop. I think it might actually involve real money changing hands, but I’m trying to stay out of it. They are both engaged in hours of play and are rarely ready to stop when it’s time to run an errand or head off to swim lessons. It’s been pretty amazing, and their friendship has bloomed. (Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s FAR from the land of milk and honey – there’s some bickering and tattling and crying and all the things that come with having siblings – but mostly it’s been good. So good. For all of us.) Please remind me of this next year during that first week of summer when I feel like we’re all about to lose our minds. (Also, on a related note, read How We Summer (this week…)

2. How to parallel park. I have always prided myself on being REALLY good at parallel parking, but this has been a game changer. I have impressed Husband on more than one occasion with my new speed and precision.

3. This is mesmerizing.

constant kindness

4. This quote.

5. This cracked me up.

What are you up to this weekend? At this moment, we have zero plans, which sounds completely awesome. I just finished this book and want to find another one right away – any suggestions? Have a good weekend!

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