Sisters

This post is for my baby sister.  She’s 8 years younger than me, so we weren’t all that close growing up.  We were definitely two completely different people.  Even though we weren’t especially close, we still loved each other.  She was my little sister and even if she was a little annoying at times, I would still defend her and love her.

As we grew up, I became very proud of the young woman she became.  She came out from under the shadow of her older siblings and shone as her own person.  She created relationships with our extended family that I am jealous of to this day.  She excelled at things that I didn’t.  Sure, we still fought occasionally (even after I moved away), but we still loved each other.

In the last few years, we have grown closer.  She continues to amaze me with the level of her passions, her creativity, and her common sense.  She as grown into a great wife and mother, and even if we still disagree at times, we manage to work it out.  She has started a business out of her home (Stellybee – go visit!) and is working so very hard to make it successful.  She is really showing her creative side and her willingness to take a chance.  I am so proud of her for taking the initiative and becoming an entrepreneur.

One thing we will always have in common is our love of old musicals (thank you Grandma!). I’d like to think that if we were in this movie (as Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen), we would perform the following song:

She’s Home to Rest in Peace

Two days ago, we brought our Duchess’ remains home.  It was rough.  Seeing her little paw prints on the clay disk brought back how much we have missed he.  I’m glad to have her home, and glad that she won’t be far from us ever again.  Over the last two weeks, it’s been an adjustment getting used to not seeing her.  It still feels weird that we aren’t giving medicine every night and every morning.  I have caught myself a lot asking Eric if he’s given her the medicine.  It’s an adjustment.

Here are some of my favorite memories and things that I miss…

  • Almost every night, she sat on the back of the couch above my head and swatted me with her tail while I watched TV.  I can’t begin to say how much I miss that.
  • Her smell – she always smelled like cookies for some reason
  • How she would play with a string over and over, until she realized you were watching her
  • How she would jump up to really high perches and then hide there for hours just watching you.  She would spend hours in the kitchen on top of the upper cabinets just watching people and the dogs.
  • She was always trying to go downstairs to the basement, unless you needed her to because of a storm warning
  • How her fur was such an undefineable color – it tended to match everything I owned
  • How her face never photographed the way I saw it – I could never understand that;  she was so beautiful, but it never truly came across in pictures.
  • How precious were her kisses – she wasn’t a licker (unlike Harvey), but when she licked you, you knew you were special.
  • She and I would occasionally share pieces of cheese – I could always count on her for that
  • Sometimes when we made dinner, we would leave the pan on the stove for a bit.  We always knew if she found it because we would hear her tags clank on the side of the dish.  She loved hamburger, although she always dropped it on the counter.
  • She never turned down a plate of tuna and would come running for her share.
  • She loved watching the fish (when we had them) and the birds outside the living room window.
  • She would sleep on the floor next to my bed.  It got to the point that I could wake up at almost any time and if she wasn’t on the bed with us, I could look down and she would be on the floor.
  • When we first adopted us,  she wasn’t a real affectionate cat.  She didn’t really want to be held, unless it was on her terms.  A couple of years ago, after I was laid off and was home all day every day for a month, she got to the point that she wanted to be next to us.  She wouldn’t always stay long, but she came and sat with us and on us.  She would sleep on me at night, or sleep right next to me.   She was just very independent and a true “CAT” in every sense of the word.  But she loved us and we loved her.

I still can’t believe she’s gone.  There’s a hole in my heart that I can’t fill.  I find myself looking for her when I come home, or reaching for her when I am watching TV.  I knew it would be hard, but I never thought it would be this hard.  Thank goodness for Eric and the girls.  They are keeping me occupied enough so that I can’t dwell on it.  I know that we will get through it and eventually the pain won’t be as much.  It’s just hard to explain to people who haven’t gone through it.  Thankfully, some of our friends and family have gone through it and having that support/understanding has been invaluable.  Our thanks pour out to them.

We love you and miss you Duchess.

Goodbye My Dear Friend

My beautiful cat

Today, I said goodbye to my beautiful cat, Duchess.  She was such a special lady.  In February 1998, we lived in Washington state.  Over the course of a couple of days, this beautiful cat kept scratching at our apartment door.  She looked thin, so we gave her some food.  Well, you guessed it, she kept coming back, and eventually moved in.

It took some getting used to.  At that point, she was an indoor/outdoor cat, but she came home every day.  When we moved to our next apartment, she made the move with us.  She loved that apartment…big windows on the ground floor….and even better, big birds (geese) right outside that she could chase from one window to the next!  Every once in a while, I would put her on a leash and we would walk outside to the pond behind the apartment to watch the geese.  She would stalk them like she was a vicious killer.  It was funny.

When we moved to California a few years later, Duchess got the royal treatment.  Dad flew out to Washington to help me move, since Eric has moved a few weeks prior.  Dad is allergic to cats, but he toughed it out with us.  She thought she was really special because we let her out of her carrier at night and she got to sit on my lap with her paws on the dash watching all the lights.

Harvey & Duchess

Duchess liked California, except for the fact that we got another cat, Harvey.  She barely tolerated him at the beginning.  She figured out that if she stayed away from him, he was more concerned with playing in the water than bugging her.

We moved back to Iowa in 2001.  Duchess made that move rather well.  She couldn’t ride outside her carrier on that trip, but as long as someone would talk to her or pet her, she was ok.  She moved with us 2 more times – from Mom & Dad’s to the apartment and from the apartment to the house.  She always adjusted well to new places.  Her favorite place in our apartment was the window sills.  We were in the upstairs apartment of an old house.  It had really wide window sills and radiators for heat.  We would put a towel down on top of the radiator (in front of the window) and she would sleep there almost all day.

When we moved to the house, any time we had a window open, she was in it.  She loved watching the birds and laying in the sun.  She didn’t like the dogs much, but they learned to leave her alone or they would suffer a swat to the nose.  When she was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism 5 years ago, we knew that we would have to monitor her health carefully and stay on top of her medicine.  Some people said we should put her down at that point, but we didn’t see why.  We could handle this.

Duchess Loved Boxes

Her thyroid level bounced a lot, but we always kept an eye on it and gave her the medicine every day.  A week or so ago, we noticed she was getting thin again, so we figured her thyroid was off again.  However, the blood test came back normal.  At that point, I knew we were in trouble.  An x-ray showed fluid around her heart (so much that you couldn’t really see her heart on the x-ray, and it had pushed her lungs out of place), fluid in her abdomen, and a large tumor in her lungs.  That news broke my heart.

We decided that it was important to us to allow her to pass at home.  We spent the next few days petting her, talking to her, taking some pictures, treasuring every moment we had with her.  We even took her outside a couple of times so she could feel the sun on her fur and the grass under her paws.  I think she loved it.

We knew it was just a matter of time, but the time was important to us.  This morning, she passed after we had all left for work.

There are so many things I will miss…

  • Duchess playing in boxes (she was a HUGE fan of boxes)
  • Her purr – it was so loud and constant that they had a hard time listening to her heart at the vet’s office
  • Hearing her run down the hallway after using the litter box
  • Watching her play with strings or those silly toy mice (that lasted until we got Scooter, who ate the tails off all the mice)
  • Coming home after work at Christmas and playing “where’s Duchess now?” because she would play in the tree, or play with the ornaments
  • Her grumpy meow when you dared pick her up, or when you touched her back feet
  • The black spot on the back of one leg
  • How she would “attack” you if you played with her back legs or stomach
  • How she would come running when we had tuna
  • How I would wake up in the middle of the night to find her sleeping with me, only to move the instant I moved a muscle
  • Her crawling up beside me on the couch as soon as I sat down
  • Plus countless other things

What comforts me at this time is that I know she is doing all those things in Heaven and that she isn’t sick any longer.  I know she’s waiting for me, and that for her, that time will pass in the blink of an eye.  I, however, will miss her every day.

A Tribute to Three Very Special Ladies – My Grandmas

I had very special grandmas.  When I was growing up, we lived 3 hours away from them, so any time we got to spend with them was golden.  Luckily, my parents would send my brother, sister, and I to the farm every summer.  From as soon as school got out to just before school started again, we lived on the farm.  We played with our cousins almost every day, did chores, and generally hung out.  Mom and Dad came up occasionally, but most of the time, it was just us and our grandparents.

Grandma at my bridal shower.

My Grandma Fitzgerald (aka Fuzz) was a wonderful lady to know.  She lived in town, but we got to spend the night with her off and on throughout the course of the summer, usually on Saturday so we could go to church with her.  She was funny, loving, and spiritual.  She and Grandpa had 7 kids – the youngest was a teenager when I was born.  After Grandpa died, she was the glue that held the family together.  She worked for a number of years after Grandpa died, so we couldn’t stay with her all the time.  There are a few memories I treasure about those times I spent with her:

  • Going to the grocery store, Starbuck’s diner, eating popcorn for supper and watching TV.
  • Getting to use Mr. Bubble Bubble Bath when I spent the night (that wasn’t allowed at home).
  • Grandma’s voice and organ playing (there are still songs that make me think of her).
  • Her sense of humor (she once walked chicken legs walk down the table, telling a story the whole way).
  • Holy Saturday Mass (we walked to church one year and it was a beautiful service).

We lost her several years ago to Alzheimer’s, which has to be the worst disease out there.

Grandma sitting in her chair - not a usual sight.

My Grandma Sloniger was truly a special lady.  There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her, or ask myself whatshe would do.  She was so kind to everyone, and so patient – especially with teenagers who may not always be the most respectful.  Grandma worked hard on the farm, making sure Grandpa and my uncles were fed, the house was clean, and her grandkids were taken care of.  It took a very special person to corral 5 to 7 grandkids almost every day – luckily, they lived on a farm and she could tell us to go outside.  Grandma and I spent a lot of time baking, walking around the cow lot, sewing, reading, and watching old movies.  Grandma spent a lot of time with our family because my youngest brother was sick so much.  She would drop everything at the drop of a hat and come and stay with us for months on time.  Not many people would do that – no matter who it was for.  Our tribal knowledge is specific to us.  To this day, every one of us grandkids can tell you the plots to the old classic movies – from Shirley Temple to Fred & Ginger to Spike Jones – much to the dismay of our spouses.  Ask any of us what the Purple Movie is about and we can name it (it’s the Glenn Miller Story, by the way).  Ask us what is on the menu at Hickory Park and we can tell you – in fact, most of the people at Hickory Park can probably name all of us, including spouses and kids.  And, we know that meatloaf and tater tot casserole has to be made is a specific casserole dish, and hamburger gravy has to be made in a particular skillet.  There are a couple of memories I treasure about my summers with her:

  • Gardening and canning in the summer.
  • Baking cookies and congo bars.
  • Taking afternoon treats out to the field.
  • Going for walks and bike rides.
  • Reading and her helping with homework.
  • Using her mom’s treadle sewing machine.
  • How she always had Rice Krispies for breakfast every morning (with ½ of a banana).
  • Having SPAM sandwiches.
  • How she kept every piece of paper we gave her.

After I got married and moved away, she would send me letters.  I treasured those because I could hold them and still smell the baby powder she used every day.  We lost her a few years ago to Alzheimer’s as well.  I think she knew what was going on and she didn’t want to be a burden to my Grandpa, so she let us go.  But she knew who I was when I came up to say goodbye to her.

Great Grandma - one of the few pictures I have of her.

Great Grandma Sloniger was another big influence on my life.  I have a problem when talking to my mom about her, because I grew up calling Great Grandma just Grandma.  So Mom and I always have to make sure we are talking about the right grandma.  Great Grandma and Great Grandpa lived 1 mile from Grandma and Grandpa, so it was pretty customary for us to walk over there – especially if we were moving cows.  Their house was “over home” and we took care of chores at both places.  I would go to her house and we would bake cookies (we did a LOT of baking in the summers!) and kringla.  She taught me how to knit and crochet.  After she moved to her apartment, I would still get to spend the night.  We still baked and did crafts.  She was very patient with me.  Even when she was blind, she never stopped knitting and crocheting.  Nothing stopped her from staying busy.  She was a teenager during the Depression (depending on what year she told you she was born), so that made a huge impact on her.  In fact, I have her rolling pin and it still has the Fareway bread loaf bag that she kept it in – I can’t bear to replace it.  She kept all sorts of fabric, and it still smells like her house.  A few of the things I remember best about Great Grandma:

  • Going to square dances with Great Grandpa, Grandpa, and Grandma.
  • Baking all sorts of things.
  • All of the flowers.
  • The hardwood floors upstairs in her house and the French doors at the bottom of the stairs (which I now have).
  • All of the cubby holes in her built-in buffet in the dining room.
  • Going downstairs to the basement to make the powdered milk for the calves.
  • Watching her create things.

She died in 1993 when I was 17.  While she had some health difficulties her last few years, she still kept going.  She made an impact on a lot of people and worked hard her whole life.  I remember her being a quiet person, but we knew she loved us.

Communication – What’s Really Being Said?

I have been looking at a lot of things lately.  One of them is the blog written by Emerson and Sarah Eggerichs of Love and Respect.  They had a post recently called “What’s the Alternative to Love and Respect?” (http://emersonandsarah.blogspot.com/2011/08/whats-alternative-to-love-and-respect.html) that struck home for me.   I haven’t read their book yet (it’s on my list once I get through some others), so I don’t know the whole story of how their ministry started and how they reached the truths that they speak about. But I thought this topic was important.

In their post, they talk about how spouses need to speak with love and respect to each other and how even the simplest solutions sometimes can solve many problems.  Too often, I think that when a couple is stressed with their partner, they don’t look beyond the surface issues.  The example in the Eggerichs’ post is a couple sitting down to do their monthly budget, and thinking that if they solve their financial problems, it will take care of everything else.   They say to themselves, “If we only had our money issues solved, I would be happier with him/her and our marriage would be back on track.”  To them, that is the simple solution.  They think the relationship will take care of itself.  However, that is not the case.

I’m not an expert and I haven’t had a perfect marriage.  We have gone through our rough times – times I never want to go through again.  When faced with a difficult time, it’s often crossed our minds that if we had enough money, had a different job, had kids, lived closer to family, whatever, all of our problems would be solved.  But then we look deeper.  The problem isn’t that we had money problems or were stressed with our jobs, it was that we weren’t communicating the right way.

Communicating means more than just asking your partner how their day went.  It means listening to what they are saying.  Do you hear the hurt, the disgust, the yearning for someone to truly listen to them?  Often what they are speaking isn’t anything like what they are saying.  Are they telling you the whole story, or are they holding things back because they don’t want to burden/stress/bother you?  Do they think you won’t be interested in what they have to say?

I have found myself on both sides of the coin.  Neither side is fun, especially since it tends to affect my attitude for the next little bit.  If only I took more care in communicating with my spouse, he would understand that I respect and honor him.  Life and relationships are already hard enough in today’s society.  While it’s not easy to always do the right thing, isn’t it the most important thing you can do?