Sunday, August 30, 2015

Tiny Truths, Big Fun

I'm completely excited to have a tweet published in the Summer 2015 edition of Creative Nonfiction.

Ta-dah! My first anything published in a magazine on sale at my local bookstore!

To join the tiny fun, tweet your own microessay at #cnftweet. No charge. No rules except for the 140 character limit. The magazine retweets choice #cnftweets and also publishes a selection of the retweets in their newsletter and magazine. (Check out the official instructions here, under Tiny Truths) It's a great community of writers in the chaos of the twittersphere. And there's nothing like a little tweet-favorited star to nurse one past a creative block or a rejection letter.

I'm the little black cat @RileyMaclean.

Hope to see you there!

P.S. If you can't handle the tiny, Creative Nonfiction does feature full length works as well (alright, mostly). It's one of the few magazines I read cover to cover. "Wait Times," the winner of the Best Essay Prize this issue, is an essay I think every nurse should read.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Showdown at the Beet Corral

Before we even put Lewis and Clark in their carriers to bring them home, I was in love with them.

Nub, sweet nub!
I knew I couldn't give them back. But obviously, I love Bishrito, too. So I was extremely worried whether or not he would accept them.

Damn right I'm wearin' your underpants. Got a problem with that?
Bishrito was 6 years old, a big tough fellow, and cat in charge. Lewis and Clark were 6 months old. If Bish decided he didn't want them around, I knew we'd be in trouble.

I read up on cat introductions and decided to follow The Humane Society's recommendations to the letter. Click here for The Humane Society's great advice.

We made the kittens a comfy starter home in the sun room, and left Bishrito in charge of the rest of the house, separated from the kittens by two big glass doors.

At first, things looked pretty grim.

WHAT the *&%! is THAT!?
Bishrito did a lot of hissing and growling and crab dancing. He broke out all his scary black cat moves.

I cried about it a little, and prayed a lot.

A whole week passed.

And then, just when I thought the kittens would have to live in the sun room forever, Bish began to get curious.

What are they doing in there?
Grady opened up the big doors, and let them make their introductions.

Bishrito made a token show of force, which wholly impressed the kittens.

And that established, everyone got along better than fine.

Yes, they are all boys.
Thank God!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

About That Tuxedo...

After Clyde died, months passed and Bishrito remained an only cat.

The house got cleaner. We tried to heal our hearts. I started to wonder if we even wanted a new cat. No one could ever replace Clyde, after all. Never ever.

Cats are such thoroughgoing mysteries.We imagined Bishrito needed a friend, but maybe he really didn't. He seemed happy enough to be master of his domain. We worried he might reject a new cat.

One fateful evening, after a long day at work, I wandered into the PetSmart rescue center, and who should be there, peering out?

This dapper fellow, right here.
It was love at first sight. 

I would have adopted him on the spot, except...

The rescue center was closed for the night, and...

His card said he had a brother, arriving the next day, who would love to be placed with him.

When I adopted Clyde, she was in the pound with her sister. At the time, I had another cat and shared an apartment with two girls. We didn't have room for three cats, so we took only Clyde. Ever since, I have worried about her sweet little tabby sister. Did she also find a loving home? Was she heartbroken to be left at the pound without her sister? Did Clyde quietly long for her, all her life? I look back at my 22 year old self, and I can't imagine how I turned my back and left her there.

After all those years of regret, I knew I could never again break up a sibling pair. Clark was patting my paws through the glass. I stood up, blew him a kiss, and tried to harden my heart against him.

We were only planning to adopt one cat.

I called Grady from the parking lot, and asked him how he'd feel about adopting two cats. To my surprise, he said... "Of course!" (I love him. Have I mentioned that?)

We were there the next day, the minute the rescue center opened.

And, of course, we had to have them both.

Meet Lewis and Clark.

Our best decision ever.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Littlest Deacon

A funny thing happened after Clyde died. I went back to church. 

I'm a long-standing Episcopalian. But, in the few years preceding Clyde's death, I'd more or less stopped going to church. I'd like to pretend it was just laziness or busyness, but really, I'd had a falling out with God. 

I do believe in miracles. In the early years of my infertility, I kept the story of Elizabeth taped to a window in my room. I fully expected that with prayer and patience, our miracle baby would arrive in time. It never did. I was angry. More than that, though, I was having trouble reconciling my understanding of a loving God with some of the tragedies I'd witnessed in my work as a perinatal nurse. If there is any wisdom in this life that truly makes sense of the death of a baby or a young mother, I haven't found it. 

I still believed in God, but I was starting to doubt that he was very much involved with life on Earth. I thought sometimes I could be at peace with the possibility that God isn't there, that heaven isn’t true, that our souls do not go on, that death is, as some say, only a material decay. To roll as a wave on the ocean, to fall as rain, to grow in a blade of grass, and finally to be swallowed by a star - maybe that is not so horrible an end, even if one’s consciousness does not remain to observe it. Maybe, I thought, that is enough. But then, Clyde died, and suddenly, rational cosmology was not enough at all.

So, I went back to church. But I couldn't be still. There are many Episcopal churches within driving range of The Beet Ranch, but none of them seemed like a good fit. One church was too friendly, the next not friendly enough. Every Sunday, I went to a different one.

A few months after Clyde passed away, we set about getting another cat. I felt as non-committal about this endeavor as I did about my search for a home church. We visited the fabulous San Diego Humane Society more than once, and met a lot of wonderful cats, but none of them was the cat for me. None of them was Clyde. After the death of a pet, the Humane Society recommends getting a new pet completely different than the lost pet, different gender, different color, different personality. I tried to keep that suggestion in mind, but really, I was hoping for a female tabby cat who liked to cuddle. I couldn't imagine a cat as well-suited to my heart as Clyde.

We were talking about taking a break from looking. I was thinking about maybe not getting another cat. Then, one morning, for no obvious reason, I woke up and said to Grady, "You know what? I think we should get a black and white cat and name him Deacon." Grady is a good guy, and this is definitely not the craziest thing I've ever said to him. He said, "Sure."

And so it happened that I was on the look-out for a black and white cat the day I went to All Souls' Episcopal Church in Point Loma for the first time. I was sitting in a pew toward the back, numbly reciting along with the Eucharist and praying for Clyde, when I heard mewing. I started looking around, wondering if I was imagining the sound.  

To my astonishment, marching right up the center aisle came a little black and white cat. She made her way up one pew and down the next, greeting everyone in love, ministering to her congregation. At the communion, she ran to the cushions with all the rest of us and put her paws up on the rail.

And then, as if she knew where she was needed, she came and sat in my lap, and drooled all over me in the most adorable way. I sat there and petted her and cried.

Valentine, the Littlest Deacon.

And so, I found my church home. At first, I came back to see my friend Valentine (the sexton's cat). Then, the church turned out to be a good fit. They have a music director who is also a hopeless cat person, a fabulous painting of the peaceable kingdom, and they celebrate the Feast of Saint Francis every year with a blessing of the animals. Clearly, it is the place I was meant to be.

I saw Valentine for a while every Sunday, and then I didn't. Her owner left employment of the church without providing a forwarding address. I'm sorry to say, the photo above is the only photo I have to include in this post. I am sad I probably won't see her at church again, but I am so happy she happened into my life when she did. Through love, she led me back to God, kind of like another little cat I might have mentioned, a little cat named Clyde.

Love comes to us sometimes in unlikely packages. Some of us are blessed with children, and some of us are blessed with pets.

And sometimes the miracles we don't expect are the best miracles of all. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Fork it!

And now, a short station break to pay homage to my favorite gardening tool.

The fork.

I was introduced to this fabulous piece of garden equipment during a meditation class at Esalen.

My dream garden.
During the class, we did some meditative gardening. I was assigned to harvest green onions with a partner, but we were a little too enthusiastic and efficient. (The next day, we ate green onions at every meal.) So, they set us to turn under a bed of tired kale, and I spent a half-hour in peaceful contemplation of the fork.

It was a revelation.

As a bed-turning tool, the fork is infinitely superior to the shovel. It mixes while it turns and it's a lot easier on the back. 

At the Beet Ranch, our native soil would give a potter fits of delight. It's all clay with a rock thrown in here and there for variety. When we dug holes for our trees, we started with a pick axe, and progressed to a jack hammer. 

I've mixed a fair amount of compost into our beds, but the clay persists. A shovel is hard to drive through clay. I've ripped the bottom out of more than one pair of garden shoes doing the shovel-stomp. Plus, the shovel compacts as it cuts, bringing the soil up in hard shovel-shaped bricks. I've halved a lot of earthworms hacking up shovel pucks. 

The fork, on the other hand, dives easily through clay, and mixes without compacting. 

But is it really that beneficial to turn over soil in planting beds? 

I was feeling a little lazy last month, so I did a little at-home experiment. I forked over half a bed, left the other half un-forked. I sowed buckwheat equally over all and sprinkled a small layer of compost over the top.

Forked (left) v/s unforked (right)
The results, as you can see, were significant.

The buckwheat on the unturned side did sprout eventually, but never as thickly as the buckwheat on the forked side.

My verdict: forking - worth the extra effort. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Clydiebunny Sets Out

I took a break from the blog for awhile, because I didn't want to write this post.

Clyde passed away in December. She had aggressive lymphoma and we made the hard decision to put her to sleep.

My poor, tired girl.
We miss her so much.

I have a lot to say about Clyde, but so far I haven't found words to adequately express how wonderful she was and how much we loved her.

Right to the very end, she spent her life loving us. We are so thankful for her, for the way she looked after us.

Heart to heart.
I believe she has gone home to the greatest love, the one we will all return to in the end.

I hope, someday, when my time comes, I will meet her again in that happy place, in the bosom of the One who sent her here.

And my heart says:

Thank you God for the ones who love us with everything they have. Thank you God for Clyde.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Love, Actually

At first, Clyde was not very impressed with Bishrito.

We couldn't really blame her.

 Hello! My name is...

For his first few years of life, Bishrito was a very busy guy. He really wanted to play with Clyde. And (in case you missed it) he has always been the kind of cat who would do anything for attention, especially in front of a camera.

 Hey baby...
Does this couch make my butt look big?

Clyde did not think he was funny.

She didn't want to play his kitten games.

She thought he was a disgrace to the noble name of Cat.

OMG. I don't know him. I do NOT know him.

And of course, poor Bishrito was (and always has been) completely in awe of Clyde.

We thought she might never love him back.

I'll take the worms.
 With a side of worms.

But after a few years, Clyde began to thaw.

At first, they seemed to be just tolerating each other.

Good fences. Good neighbors.

Then, one day, after contractors jack-hammered up our bathroom floor, I found them in our bed, under the comforter, huddled together in terror.

Bish looked terrified.

Clyde looked mortified.

They didn't hang around long enough for me to get photographic proof...

But the cats 
(so to speak) 
were out of the bag. 

Bishrito and Clyde still don't lay around licking each other's ears (at least not out in the open where the humans can see).  

Bish still pesters Clyde sometimes, and she still swats him upside the head.

But they are friends.

They sniff and nuzzle in passing. They look out for each other.

 Maybe that's the best part of love, after all.