Caregiving 101: Sometimes, you have to hit the ground lounging

After nearly three months of going nonstop seven days a week while taking care of my father after he suffered two strokes, I found myself with three unscheduled hours in the middle of a day last week.

My first thought was a nap, but because it was early in the day, I wasn’t that tired. It was then that I took off my sneakers to relax and caught sight of my neglected, half-polished toes. It had been months since I had been to the salon. “I could go get a pedicure,” I thought.

The go-go-go side of my brain, trained from these long hours and many miles of being a caregiver (running two businesses, and trying to keep up with two houses and yards and multiple pets) said, “I don’t have time.” And then, I nearly burst into tears. “Seriously,” some small part of me said, “I don’t have time for myself? I don’t have time to take care of me?”

I knew then I HAD to go get that pedicure. I hadn’t read a book or magazine in many months. The winter had been hard on me. I got really sick in December and I had fallen on some ice in January, seriously injuring my back and a knee. Both required long recovery periods.

I needed some time to just sit and breathe and maybe do nothing while someone spoiled me with a sweet touch and added some beauty and color to my life.

I took a book I was excited to start and headed for a salon. The wait there was long and I walked out in frustration. I Googled another salon and found it was almost empty. The woman took me to a chair in the back where I put my feet in wonderful-smelling warm water and she turned on the massaging, vibrating chair. There wasn’t another soul back there; everyone else was up front getting manicures.

She said it would be about five minutes before someone got to me. It was more like 25. I read many pages in my book, my mind immersed in the glorious Kennedy years of the 60s before his assassination and far from medical procedures and various types of therapies. And for part of that time, I just sat and breathed with my eyes closed. And maybe sensing my need, the woman who did my pedicure quietly gave me an extra long foot and leg massage. I can’t describe how refreshing that was.

The next day, I hopped back on the hamster wheel of appointments with a different attitude, in beautiful sandals and with a spring in my step. I started thinking of ways I could get some breaks in each day, even small ones, just a little time for myself to refresh, renew and restore my exhausted spirit.

I thought back to a text conversation with a friend a few days earlier where he told me he was sitting outside for hours after work. I recalled my outdoor recliner, folded up on my porch collecting dust since fall. The weather had turned warm while I was constantly on the go – driving, running errands, taking my dad here and there, researching treatments and medications, interviewing specialists.

I got that chair out the first chance I had and sat in the sun for just 15 minutes, reclining with my feet up. I was revived for the rest of the day. I am finding time each day to do this now. And every time I see my chair, even when I don’t have time to sit it in right away, I smile. The same thing happens when I see my beautiful toes.

I was texting with the same friend one morning a few days later. The night before, when I told him how tired I was, he told me to get some sleep and then hit the ground running the next day. That morning, he asked what I was doing. I was sitting outside in my chair, watching my German Shepherd romp happily in the grass, and I told him so. And then I added, “So, you could say I am hitting the ground lounging.”

And that’s when the message really hit home. You have to care for you and love yourself every day, which I usually do, but it’s especially important, even crucial, when you’re caring for someone else.

I am tired today, but instead of running my dad around for his errands without a break, I took him to breakfast and we just sat and talked and breathed for a time. And then I took him to his house to rest before our afternoon appointments, and I am writing, one of the things I most love in my life. We’re both having the better day for it.

 

I wish you much peace and love today. And as always, if this resonates with you, please share it with your family and friends.

Give someone a compliment: It’s the gift of love

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When was the last time someone gave you a compliment? How did that make you feel?

Now, when was the last time you gave someone a compliment? How did that make you feel? Or do you even know?

My mom was THE giver of compliments. People fawned all over her wherever she went. It wasn’t only because she gave out so many compliments. It was more about how she made people feel about themselves. And that love came back to her.

She never gave a false compliment. No, no phony praise from her. That wasn’t her style. Rather, she looked for things about everyone to compliment. (She once told me you could find something good about anyone, although you might have to look longer at some people than others. And when someone tries my patience, I look at him or her until I find something to like.)

I remember when I was in my preteens and I would just cringe when she would call out to someone when we were shopping: “That dress sure looks beautiful on you!” “My, what a handsome man you are!” “Hey, good lookin’. Where are you doing dressed like that?” “That hairstyle is so perfect for you.” “You look great.”

I was horrified, and to this day I cannot tell you why it embarrassed me to my core that she did that. But one day she taught me a lesson I have never forgotten, and I never cringed again. In fact, it was many years later when I caught myself calling out to someone with a compliment that I realized I had not only learned the lesson, but I had also picked up the habit and had made it my own.

She was “auditing” a community college course in fashion design at the time, because we couldn’t afford the tuition for her to actually take the course for credit. At that time, most teachers would let you sit in on their course and participate, free of charge, and not call you out about your “less than student” status.

She loved that class more than any she ever took, I do believe. She drew fantastic things and had many friends who did likewise. Their designs filled my head and heart that summer.

She also came home with wonderful stories about her class and the other students. She kept telling me about this rather plus-sized woman from Nigeria who was in her class. This woman wore caftans she had designed and sewn herself, made of many bright colors and wild fabrics. I couldn’t wait to meet her.

One day, my mom had gotten permission to bring me to class and I gladly tagged along. We sat in the back, so we wouldn’t disturb anyone and suddenly I saw her. In fact, you couldn’t miss her. I had never seen anything like her bright purple, royal blue, hot pink, lemon yellow, brilliant red and electric green caftan. And she was wearing a matching scarf wrapped around and around her head. And to top it all off, she had this large fly sitting on one nostril.

My mom had told me in advance that sometimes this woman had problems at home and she would come to class sad, and every now and then you could tell she had been crying. This day must have been a bad day at home. She slumped in with her head down and quietly took a seat off to the side. I was surprised, because her dress was sunny, wild and fabulous. But her demeanor was gloom and sadness.

My mom leaned over to me and said, “Watch this.” Then she called out to that woman and said with sincerity, “Girl, you look so regal in that outfit that I don’t know if I am worthy of being in the same room!” For just a moment, I thought I would die of embarrassment. Here I was in a college classroom for the first time and she was going to pull one of those mortifying moments?

But then the woman turned to us, her eyes swollen and red rimmed from crying. And then, like magic and almost in slow motion, her mouth opened and she smiled the biggest smile I had ever seen. I mean, full teeth out there smile. And her eyes crinkled up and she let out the most wonderful laugh. I was in complete awe, not only of her beauty at that moment, but of my mom’s ability to turn this woman’s whole day around with a simple sentence.

She thanked my mom and came over and talked to us for a few minutes before class started. (I couldn’t stop staring at that fly, which turned out to be a nose ring. I was in awe!) And when she returned to her seat, she was a different person, lively and animated during the lecture and discussion. My mom nudged me at some point and said, “See. That’s what you do for someone when you give them a compliment.”

It was like she answered the question that had been in my head every time I had seen her do it before. But I had never until that day paid attention to the result. What a marvelous gift to give, to change someone’s life for the moment with a kind and honest word.

To this day, I call out to people to give them compliments. “Girl, that new hair color is awesome!” “Has anyone ever told you what a beautiful man you are?” Yes, I get weird looks and replies from time to time, but the love I give and receive are more than worth any embarrassment.

Give someone a compliment today. And if someone gives you one, accept it fully and enjoy it without hesitation. This feeling is one of the great moments of life.

What was the best comment you’ve ever received? Share it with me in the comments. And if this post makes you happy, please share it with someone else.

Kat’s official tips for having a great birthday

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I think we sometimes forget, especially when we have been adults for a while and we forget to play, that our birthday is supposed to be a celebration of ourselves and the fact that we are still alive. Remember when you were a child and everyone would gather and celebrate you? Why do we give that up as we age?

I recommend you don’t. And so, in case you are out of practice, I hereby give you some official tips for making it a great day. Of course, you can tweak them. Because it’s your day, it’s all about you!

These are in no particular order, although I wrote them chronologically based on my birthday this year. All of these tips would be good to fit into other days as well. But only if you want to have a good day. Or a good life.

  • Stay up until midnight, so you get to experience the first minute of your birthday. Be glad that you made it.
  • Sing happy birthday to yourself before you go to sleep. (I even told me how much I love me.)
  • Turn off the alarm and sleep until your body says it’s ready to get out of bed.
  • Snuggle with a German shepherd (or other animal of your choice).
  • Thank God for giving you another birthday. (A lot of people on the planet won’t get one this year.)
  • Hang around the house in your pajamas doing something you just want to do. (For me, that was reading and surfing the Internet.)
  • Eat something healthy first thing in the morning, because you know you’re going to eat things that are not so much later. (I had some of my favorite yogurt.)
  • Go out to breakfast with your dad (or other loved one) and have chocolate chip pancakes made from scratch.
  • Do something nice for someone else. (I helped my dad with some chores, because he still can’t lift much after his surgery.)
  • Take a drive in a vehicle you love. (I had to take Optimus because of the snow and salt. This was the first birthday I’ve had when I didn’t get to drive Cam. Sigh.)
  • Listen to some music you love, really loud. (For me, this included The Beatles, Ultravox, Billy Squier, Journey, Queensryche, A3, Smashing Pumpkins, Supernova and Kristian Leontiou.)
  • Throughout the day, look around for beauty. Really experience it, admire it and enjoy it.
  • Go around and pick up free presents for your birthday. (A lot of businesses will give you something if you ask. Other places have birthday clubs, where you automatically get something on your special day. This year, I got a free pastry, a free makeup kit, a free ice cream sundae and a free cocktail. I still have free popcorn and a free lunch coming.)
  • Get out with a group of friends, the more the merrier.
  • Have a really tasty meal that includes dessert.
  • Seek out and destroy some cake. (This isn’t a suggestion. It’s mandatory. If you haven’t been eating cake on your birthday, you’ve been doing it wrong.)
  • Go to a theater and marvel at how gorgeous Ryan Gosling is for two hours. (You might choose someone else to ogle. It’s your birthday, so it’s your choice.)
  • Laugh. A lot. Every chance you get.
  • Figure out your catchphrase. (You should have some statement that sums up the day and makes you instantly recall a joyous moment you had at some point during the day or evening. Again, if you’re not finishing your birthday with a catchphrase, you might be doing it wrong.)
  • Have a cupcake and a cocktail before bed. (If you don’t eat sugar, see cake rule above. If you don’t drink, have some kind of treat that you don’t often that you really enjoy. Savor it.)
  • Have additional snuggle session with above German shepherd (or other animal) before bed. (This is optional, but I highly recommend it.)
  • Fall asleep at whatever time you please, knowing you truly celebrated you and being alive.

Happy anniversary to Cam, my beloved Camaro

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I will never forget the first time I saw Cam.

It was Christmas Eve, 21 years ago. I was going through a hard time after several things I had set my sights on had not worked out. I was driving aimlessly, listening to music, passing time and trying not to feel all the hurt in my life.

And then, I looked over at a car dealership off the expressway and there she was. It was the flash of brilliant red that caught my eye. She was parked under the portico, with one of those Jesus lights on her. Well, I call them Jesus lights. They’re the ones they put over cars and jewelry that when you see them, you hear a choir of angels singing.

Now this might sound kind of strange to people, but since I was a little girl, I had dreamed of a red sports car. But as the years passed and I grew older, I never saw one like it. Not until this night. See, they hadn’t even made this car when I was a child. Oh, they had Camaros, all right. But they were a much different shape and body style than the one I saw in my dreams.

But suddenly, on a lonely, dark, cold and snowy Christmas Eve, right out of a child’s dream, there was the flashy red car for which I had longed.

I pulled off the expressway and took the side streets to the dealer. I honestly expected the car not to be there, for it to have been a figment of my imagination. But no, there she was. I knew she was a girl and I knew her name before I got out of my own car to look at her.

“Cam,” I whispered. Her name came to me right then, like I had known it all my life.

Something in that car spoke to me. Oh, it isn’t like I heard an actual voice, but something in her called to my spirit, made me feel peaceful and no longer sad. It was like she wiped the darkness away from inside of me.

I walked all around her, admiring every angle, every detail. I loved the rectangle headlights, the length of her hood, the slant of her back glass. She was exactly as I had dreamed about off and on throughout the years and I could hardly believe I wasn’t dreaming right then.

I sat down on the cold pavement beside her, but I didn’t feel the slightest chill. She made me feel warm and happy, and the only way I can really get close to describing the feeling was it was like I had come home. Until then, I didn’t even know I had been away.

I don’t know how long I stayed, marveling at this wonder. They say there is a magic at Christmas, and I felt it then like at no time before or since. This was my car. She had been made for me, destined to be with me before she was even designed.

I know this may be a little out there for some people, but I also know other people will know exactly what I am talking about – when something is so perfect and delightful that you can’t believe your luck, fortune, chance, destiny, kismet, providence.

It took me three days to make the purchase. The dealership was closed that night, and the next day. But I spent time away from work Dec. 26 to test drive her, work on the deal and try to get financing. It went through Dec. 27 and they called to tell me I could come get her. What they may not have known was that I had visited her each night since and I could hardly wait to bring her home.

In fact, I was standing there beside her when they opened Dec. 26. I was waiting there to make a deposit so she wouldn’t get away. When the salesman asked me if I wanted to test drive her, I laughed. I said that would be fine, but it wasn’t necessary because I knew she was meant for me. He said he had never heard someone say that before. (I did drive her, and when I returned, he said he was worried about whether I would come back.) The growl of her engine just thrilled me to my core then, as it does still.

Today is our anniversary; I have owned Cam for 21 years. I know it isn’t usual for people to keep a vehicle so long, but then, she isn’t just a vehicle; she’s a friend and daughter. She has taken me away from unsafe situations and taken me to wonderful destinations. She has taken me across the country twice, and to lives in many different states. She has known all five of my German Shepherds. And she has never left me stranded.

We have gone on many adventures, and I spend a lot of time taking good care of her to make sure she runs well and looks beautiful. We’ve attended many car shows and won some awards. We’ve driven on a NASCAR track and raced at a drag strip.

For many of her years, she was my only car and we have racked up more than 200,000 miles together. Two years ago, I was fortunate enough to purchase a second vehicle, so she doesn’t have to be driven in harsh weather.

All these years later, I still get a thrill every time I see her, every time I sit in her seat, every time I turn the key. I always look back at her when walking away. And when I am having a less-than-great day, just the sight or thought of her makes me smile and feel at ease.

Happy anniversary, Cam. Here’s to many, many more.

Read my latest post on Dogster!

Lily (on the bottom) and her daughter Lola loved to play together every day.

Lily (on the bottom) and her daughter Lola loved to play together every day.

I didn’t even know they had posted this, so I am late sharing it with you. Sorry about that.

My Dog and I Bonded Deeply After Losing Our Mothers the Same Month

This story is about me and Lola losing our moms just eight days apart. It was a hard time for both of us. The funny thing is that earlier today, I said to her, “Maybe my mom had to go away so she could take care of your mom when she got there.” That reminded me that I had written this last month and it had never run, so I looked for it again.

Please go check it out and share this post with your animal-loving friends!

It’s all true: I go to Star Trek conventions and I love them

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“Oh, you’re one of those people,” a woman said to me when I told her I was heading to the annual Star Trek convention in Las Vegas for my vacation earlier this month.

What does “those people” even mean? Before I could even open my mouth to reply, she asked, “You dress up in weird costumes and stuff?”

I didn’t even stop to think about whether I cared what she thought and answered.

“Well, I do have a lovely pair of Vulcan ears,” I replied. “And then I have different T-shirts and jewelry for every day.”

I thought she was going to faint. But I doubt if she even knew what I was talking about when I mentioned those ears.

Confession time: I’ve been going to this multiday convention for several years and I love it. And I’ve been to many others. And I absolutely love Star Trek. I love every series, every movie (yes, even that one you think sucks), every character (well, maybe not Kai Winn, who was so evil) and every costume and alien race. OK, not every race. Some of those in Voyager and Deep Space 9 were scary as hell. (Hirogen or Vidiians anyone?)

The funny thing is this. People dress up and go to all kinds of things – football games, auto races, costume parties, charity functions – but I bet no one ever says to any of them, “Oh, you’re one of those people.”

Why is it that people can spend money on costumes and clothing and memorabilia for sports teams and they’re perfectly normal, but when we Star Trek fans do it we’re weirdos?

The first time I went to the Las Vegas convention, I went by myself. My friends couldn’t believe I was doing that.

“But you won’t know anyone there,” they told me again and again.

They couldn’t have been more wrong.

See, that first year, I met a ton of people and I made friends that I kept in touch with all year. Being outgoing doesn’t hurt. But even if I hadn’t been, I bet I still would’ve made friends. And in each year since, I’ve made even more friends.

I truly love my Star Trek friends. They are a wonderful, sometimes wild and sometimes wacky bunch. But they’re also well-read, well-educated and know more about having a good life than many other people I have met in my years on the planet.

I’ve met many celebrities and some of them have become friends as well. I know, hard to believe, huh? In what other fandom does that happen?

True Star Trek fans care about the same things I do – science fiction, the environment, love, kindness, respect, diversity, exploration, inquisitiveness, education, and not only tolerance but acceptance and even celebration of the things that make us all different.

In the years I’ve been going to the convention, I’ve met more people like myself than anywhere else on the planet. These people are my tribe and I don’t care what anyone thinks about “those people.”

We take funny photos, we dance, we laugh, we have a few cocktails (OK, maybe some people have more than a few), we reminisce, we dress up, we hug (there’s a lot of hugging), we have intense discussions and we support each other’s love for the vision of a better world – one without hate or greed (not to be confused with acquisition) or hunger or caring about a person’s race or gender. We respect each other’s opinions and beliefs. We agree to disagree and we go on caring about one another.

If that makes us weirdos, so be it. I’m all in. And I already bought my ticket for next year. To my Trek friends, I can hardly wait to see you again. To the rest of you, I encourage you to go out and find your tribe, whoever “those people” are.

Do you have a favorite Star Trek or convention memory? Share it with me. And if something in this post speaks to you, please share it with others.

Read my latest post on Dogster!

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Ellie always loved her squeaky tennis balls, and even had one in her mouth when we had photos taken a few months before she passed away.

I had no idea that they had put this up while I was on vacation.

Some of you will remember my beloved Ellie. I adopted her when she was 11 and she made it to almost 15. Although our time together was brief, I never regretted adopting an “old” dog!

I Adopted a Senior Dog I Didn’t Think Would Live a Year, and I’m Glad I Did

Please go check it out and share this post with your animal-loving friends!

We can drown out the hate with love

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The day of the Orlando shooting, mere hours after 49 people lost their lives, a friend of mine posted on her Facebook page, “Someone please tell me how I explain this day to my gay child.”

My reply was immediate and required little thought:

“Just make sure he knows he’s loved, and there is a lot more love in the world than hate. Unfortunately, hate gets more attention.”

It’s hard to focus on the good when the bad is way past what we can understand. It feels wrong to state the obvious, that these mass shootings are getting out of hand.

I don’t know why this phenomenon continues to grow. I don’t understand why anyone would think that because someone’s feelings have been hurt, because someone has broken up with someone, because someone has lost a job, because someone has had a hard life that loading one or more guns and heading to a public place to shoot as many people as possible is any kind of solution to their problems.

I worry that the media publicizing these tragedies as much as they do can encourage people to continue the pattern to get their 15 minutes of fame, so to speak. But having been a member of the media for my career until last year, I know that the media can’t just ignore these events either.

I don’t know that taking guns away from gun owners is the answer. There are millions of people, including myself, who own guns who have never shot anything but targets.

I don’t know that changing politicians is the answer, because none of them on either side of the political aisle has stopped the carnage yet.

I know that blaming entire groups of people or cultures and going after them isn’t the answer. There are good and bad people in every single race, color, gender, religion or creed (or lack of one).

I don’t know what the answer is. And I don’t know that anyone else does either. But here is what I do know.

The negative can be stronger than the positive. Brain studies have shown that it takes seven positive comments to drown out one negative comment. So the negative gets more attention, at least in the beginning. But the negative, the hate, can be drowned out.

And every person can make a difference. One of my favorite parables is about a boy trying to save a bunch of starfish that are lying on a beach where they are drying up and dying. I’ll give you the short version.

The boy is walking along and gently tossing each one of them into the ocean. A man comes up to the boy and asks what he’s doing, and the boy explains that the starfish will die without water and he is saving them.

“But you’re just one boy,” the man says. “Think of all of the other starfish all over the world on other beaches. You can’t save them all. You can’t make a difference.”

The boy thinks for a minute and then picks up another starfish and tosses it into the water.

“I made a big difference to that one,” he says.

My point is that we have to start somewhere, and we can start with ourselves. Make a pact with yourself to make no more disparaging remarks about people who are different from you or who live their lives differently than you live. No more hatred to people because they live or believe or choose something you don’t understand. No more.

Just for today, love others, no matter who they are and no matter their circumstances. It’s easy. Give someone a smile. Hold open a door. Lend a helping hand. Cook a meal. Loan a book. Send a message. Make a phone call. Hug someone. Pat someone on the back. Do a good deed.

Now, do it again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.

One day at a time, one person at a time, we can make the world a better place.

It’s time to stop the hate. Do your part. Drown out the hate with love.

Mother’s Day lessons had to be learned the hard way

Lola still looking down and sad on her second day after her emergency.

Here is Lola still looking down and sad on the second day after her emergency.

As a Motherless Daughter, I dread Mother’s Day and I try to lay low and let the day pass by. However, this year, I had some lessons to learn.

I went out of town Saturday night and while away, I got a call saying my German Shepherd, who was staying with my dad, was not well. After many questions, I was reassured she would be OK until I got back. I certainly didn’t think it was something serious.

The next morning, as I and a friend traveled home, I called my dad to see how Lola was doing. The news was not good. She had been down and in the same place all night, unwilling to even lift her head, and certainly not eating or drinking.

I know some people don’t think of pets as anything but animals and they don’t see what the big deal is about having them. But Lola is my daughter in every sense of the word. I am responsible for her health and welfare, I have taught her nearly everything she knows, I spend time and money on taking care of her and making sure she’s happy and well-adjusted, and I have built some part of my life around her.

My mom was my champion, my cheerleader, my best friend and a huge part of my support system. When I was little, she was my protector and my provider. I am now all of those things to my dog. I have become a mom.

I raced home to my little girl thinking how cruel it would be if my daughter died on Mother’s Day. I was already missing my mom, who died two years ago. Could the day get any worse? Indeed, it could.

Lola’s fever was high. She couldn’t even stand to greet me. She barely lifted part of her head, just enough so one eye could meet mine, and just the tip of her tail tapped the floor twice. My dad had called two strong men to carry her 95-pound body to my SUV. They carried her in a blanket and laid her down gently. (I’ll never forget the sight of those three grown men standing at the end of the driveway crying as I pulled away.)

Road construction and traffic hampered my drive to get Lola to the emergency animal hospital as soon as possible. But although I felt like I was dying inside, I handled the crisis with clarity and some sense of calm. My mom had always done the same when, as my dad likes to say, sh*t hit the fan. She was cool under pressure, doing her best to push off her feelings until the storm passed. I now did the same during the two-hour drive to my dad’s house and another nearly hour to the hospital.

But I have to confess that as a doctor and a tech put Lola onto a cart and rushed her through the double doors that said “No unauthorized entry,” I did not think I would get to bring my daughter home again. I had been at this point three times before in my life, with a shepherd in crisis that would not get to return home. There are few things I can think of that are as terrible as heading to the vet with a sick dog, hoping they will make it better, but instead coming home with just a collar and leash.

Five days later, I am sitting in my chair with my beloved child at my feet, writing this column. Every day and night, I have kept her quiet and safe and as comfortable as possible. I have slept little, waking every three to four hours each night to make sure she has her various medicines and that she’s resting comfortably. I have eaten smartly, so I can keep my strength up and not get sick while my daughter is counting on me not to fail.

Lola has two days of mandatory bed rest to go, and she’s getting better every day. I feel relieved that we’re at this point today. I feel thankful for my mom teaching me how to do the hardest job in the world. And I think she would be proud of the mother I’ve become. Here’s to a better Mother’s Day next year!