Cat Chronicles, Episode #3: Litter Box Protest

I couldn’t figure out what was causing the hives.

Every time I would give the boys a bath, Wesley would suddenly become covered in hives and start itching from head to toe. He would eventually start crying, and I would dry him off quickly and put on his PJ’s.

This went on consistently every night.

Then one night, my husband gave the boys a bath, and he came out of the bathroom scratching his legs from the hem of his shorts to his socks. “I am itching like crazy,” he said, clawing at his skin. “So is Wesley.”

I looked at Wesley, who was rubbing at a red patch on the side of his throat.

“Oh no,” I said. “Are you guys allergic to cats?”

“I don’t think a cat allergy looks like this. Remember when Madi came over, and half her face was red and one eye was bloodshot?”

Madi and Bailey are the daughters of one of my best friends, and our boys have no idea that they aren’t actually cousins. The girls call me Aunt Natalie, and I hope they never grow out of that. One day while the girls were playing in Wesley’s room, Madi walked up to me with one eye beginning to swell, the whites completely red. It turns out she’s allergic to cats. She had climbed onto Wesley’s bed, where Shadow had been napping earlier that day, and immediately had a reaction.

“What do you think is the problem?” I asked my husband as he began rubbing the sole of one shoe against the opposite leg.

“Maybe we’re just allergic to her pee. The littler box is in the bathroom. We only itch like this when we’re in there.”

I picked up my phone. “OK, Google. Can people be allergic to cat pee?”

Minutes later, we came to the conclusion that the kitty litter was to blame. I began researching the cost of buying hypoallergenic kitty litter, and I literally heard my bank account start to cry.

“What can we do?” I asked.

“Maybe she can get used to doing her business outside. It’s either that, or we find another home for her.”

Wesley dropped to his knees. “Nooo! We can’t get rid of the cat! Her tail is so soft!”

Kris shot him a look. “She was an outside cat when we found her. Maybe instincts will kick in.”

I should have known that pure sass, not instinct, would inevitably kick in.

She was NOT happy about her litter box being moved.

Little by little each day, I would inch the litter box closer to the back door. Then one day, I placed it on the back porch.

The next time she needed to use the litter box, I opened the back door, and waited.

She glanced at the back porch, looked back and me, then sat down and glared at me with an expression that said, “You’ve got to be kidding.”

I shrugged and just stood there, holding the door open, until she finally went out. I closed the door and peeked through the window. As soon as she squatted, she turned and glared at me.

When she was finished, I let her back inside and praised her.

She walked past me and ignored me.

After a couple of days, she stopped using the litter box on the back porch and found her own litter boxes in nature, and the official litter box went away forever.

That’s when the protesting began.

It started only occasionally. Instead of going to the back door to let me know she needed to go out, she would head into the bathroom and pee in the tub.

I would grumble as I cleaned it up, but told myself to be patient. She couldn’t possibly be doing it to intentionally annoy me.

Not my sweet itty bitty witty kitty.

Then she began pooping in the tub.

Enough is enough, I thought. How do you train a cat?

“OK, Google.”

One method of discipline is to use a squirt gun, and give her a little stream of water when she broke the rules.

Yeah, right, I thought, and just imagined the whole scenario.

I take said plastic water gun. I squirt a tiny stream of water at itty bitty witty kitty. She claws my eyeballs out of their sockets.

“OK, Google.”

One suggested method is to give the cat rewards when she obeys the rules.

Yeah right, I thought. How do you reward a cat that hates rewards? She turns her nose up at kitty treats (I’ve tried them). She doesn’t play with toys (waste of money). She refuses to use a scratching board and instead, uses the couch, which is right next to the scratching board (sorry, Heather – it was a very generous gift).

“OK, Google.”

The next one made me crack up laughing until I cried. WebMD said, “You could even teach your cat to pee in the toilet and flush afterwards!”

Not Shadow.

I came up with the brilliant idea to just leave the bathroom doors closed.

Problem solved.

Until it wasn’t.

One night, my husband and I were sitting on the couch watching TV. It was winter, but wasn’t cold enough for a fire, so we covered up with blankets. Shadow marched through the living room, stepped up onto the hearth, slipped into the fireplace, turned her back to us, and squatted in the ashes.

“What… Shadow!” Kris said, sitting up.”Stop! What are you doing?”

Oh, she didn’t stop.

She just turned and glared at him while she took her time finishing her business. Then she stood, delicately raked the ashes into a neat pile, and walked away, leaving a trail of tiny, ashy paw prints across the living room floor.

Kris and I looked at each other, dropped our jaws, and died laughing.

Shadow: 1, Inferior Humans: 0.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

ROW80: Hi ROW80 community! My writing progress update isn’t as good as I’d hoped to report, but at least it isn’t zero. 🙂 I’ve been very sick for the last week. I’ve only written about 3,000 words in the last two weeks, but am just shy of the 40,000 word mark. That means I’m still on track for completing my first draft by May 1st! I’m so ready for the revision stage. Hope everyone else’s progress has gone well! High fives all around!

The Darkest Day of My Life

It was the night terrors that landed me there in the office of our pastor. I asked him for material on spiritual warfare, certain I was under some kind of oppression that wouldn’t leave me. He suggested something else – a counselor.

He gave me the name of a reputable counselor who keeps Christ at their center, and is focused on healing.

I checked my insurance – counseling wasn’t covered. No money = no counselor.

I decided to go with the therapists that my insurance did cover, and to my luck, they had in their practice a psychologist who specialized in sleep disturbances and disorders.

I made an appointment and couldn’t wait to get to the bottom of the issue.

Sitting in the office of the psychologist, I was nervous. I had never done anything like this before. I felt the compulsion to reassure him that I was okay, I was perfectly fine, but just needed some guidance. The psychologist sat across the room from me, legs crossed, notebook in his lap, and proceeded to ask me probing, confusing questions. Did I see shadow figures while awake? Did I ever see or hear people or voices that no one else could hear? Did I sometimes feel that my thoughts were not my own? His questions were aggressively leading in the direction of bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, and paranoia, none of which accurately described me.

“No, I don’t see people who aren’t there. I don’t hear voices. What do you mean, shadow figures? I’m so exhausted from sleep disturbances, sometimes my periphery is foggy in a disorienting way… What do you mean thoughts that aren’t my own? Sometimes I feel so numb inside, I don’t feel like myself. Is that what you mean?”

His questions were difficult to answer, and I was surprised when he asked for no details whatsoever of the deep, sad feelings that haunted me.

He wrote three prescriptions, one of which, he explained, was usually prescribed for war veterans suffering from PTSD. I walked out of his office exactly fifteen minutes after I had arrived. I almost left the building entirely. I wanted to crumple the paper prescription and leave it there in the hallway. But no. I was there to seek help. I couldn’t jump ship so soon.

I should have.

I followed the psychologist’s instructions to go down the hall to a room where a psychiatrist was waiting for me. She was kind and welcoming in a detached, polished way. We shook hands. I sat down.

She asked me to describe my issues. I told her about the nightmares, the overwhelming sad feelings, the exhaustion, occasionally feeling an impulse to cry for no apparent reason.

“Let’s try a new method of therapy. I’ve been waiting for the right candidate, and this method seems perfect for you.”

She explained something called EMDR, compared it to mild hypnotism, and said it has been extremely successful in many cases, particularly those who had been in war.

I wasn’t sure why they kept comparing me to war veterans.

The idea was that the method would force me to face my most horrific feelings, memories, encounters, then participate in gentle rapid eye movement while focusing on a positive image to replace the bad feelings with good ones.

I was skeptical, and honestly, a little frightened. But what did I know? I had never done anything like this before.

She consulted a manual of sorts in her lap as she took me step-by-step through the therapy. Half an hour into it, I was violently shaking, weeping, and felt the need to curl up on the floor. My body was dehydrated from the tears. I felt like screaming. The overwhelming sad feelings seemed to completely envelop me and swallow me whole. I was drowning. I was dying.

Photo by Stefano Pollio

Walking back to my car, the sun was too bright. My heart was hollow. My soul felt violated. My spirit was dead. My mind was depleted.

Just focus on driving home, I told myself. If I can make it home, I can sleep. There’s nothing left of me to do anything else.

I called my husband, to whom I had been married less than a year, on the way home and told him what happened. I told him I was a wreck, and for some reason, felt terrified. I didn’t want to go back. But how could I seek healing if I didn’t allow someone to help?

He decided to go with me for the next session.

Feeling brave and empowered with the man I loved in the room, I sat across from the psychiatrist, ready.

Half an hour later, I felt void of life. I could only speak with slurred, emotion-laden words. Through my tears, I caught a glimpse of my husband’s face. He was horrified, and looked as if he wanted to sweep me up and carry me out of there.

I should have let him.

Two more sessions later, I couldn’t do it anymore. This method may very well have been successful for some people, but it wrecked me. The gaping hole in my soul had grown into a canyon.

That’s when I remembered the name of the counselor my pastor recommended.

I decided it was time to listen.

I made an appointment with no money to pay, and wasn’t sure where it would come from. I prayed for provision, and went anyway.

Sitting across from the counselor, I was surprised to see him smile. He didn’t look at me. He looked into me.

It made me feel human again.

I braced myself for a method of therapy that would leave bloody claw marks on my spirit, but it never came. His voice was gentle. He didn’t just hear my words. He understood them. I described my previous experience with a psychiatrist and assured him I never even filled the prescriptions. He apologized, and said he wished I had come to him first.

“We won’t do anything like that here,” he said.

I cried with relief.

Weeks of counseling followed. From the beginning, I knew I was in the presence of someone who was in the profession because he truly, deeply had a passion for helping people restore health to their spirits.

The things he taught me echo through my mind to this day.

Oddly enough, several weeks after my last counseling session, I had the darkest day of my life

It was a Sunday morning, and I was alone.

The depression had been slowly creeping up on me, and it was frustrating. I had been through counseling – didn’t that mean I was healed from this? That’s when it dawned on me.

I was broken.

I could never be fixed.

I was useless.

I was a burden to my precious husband.

I was unfit to ever be a mother, and should be grateful that we didn’t have children yet.

I was a wasted life.

My existence was a mistake.

Photo by Volkan Olmez

My husband would be happier with someone else, but because he was loyal and committed, he was stuck in a marriage that he would have to endure for the rest of his life.

I had robbed him of happiness.

Lies, lies lies.

I listened to the lies, those words of hate whispered to my vulnerable heart.

I had to set him free. He would probably be relieved.

I didn’t know why I felt that way. He had never been anything but loving, supportive, giving, self-sacrificing. For a moment, my heart warmed when I thought about how beautifully and selflessly he loved me.

You don’t deserve it, the lies hissed. You’re broken and you’ll never be whole again.

I won’t describe the events that followed. I will never again speak of that moment where I readied myself for death. It was cold, dark, and lonely.

Somewhere in that void, a warm light penetrated my heart. I suddenly remembered to Whom I belonged.

God doesn’t create waste. I was not waste.

That warm light brought to life my awareness of the moment. It illuminated the vicious, vile, evil lies mere seconds before my life ended. I was so close.

My heart blasted to life, and I desperately needed to throw up. So, so close.

I ran.

With rows of chills prickling down my spine, I ran downstairs and sat on the bottom stair.

Don’t move, I told myself. Just don’t move. Sit. Wait.

An hour later, my husband arrived home. He saw my face, and rushed to my side.

My eyes were long dry, empty of tears that had poured for the last hour. I told him everything.

He rocked back with a look on his face I’ll never forget. An expression of horror, confusion, grief, and relief.

He said very little. He said just enough.

Over the following week, we talked miles and miles of words. He reminded me of what I had learned in counseling. We tried to dissect what led to that moment.

My husband then named the monster that tormented me – Depression.

But wasn’t depression temporary? I had no idea depression could be so dark and empty. I had no idea I was still susceptible to it. I had been through weeks of counseling! This couldn’t be possible.

He made me promise I would never hide the depression from him, that I would always be open and let him know.

I kept my promise.

To this day, the nightmares still torment me. They come in waves. Depression is still an evil creature that lurks in my world, occasionally attacking fiercely. So many times I have begged God to free me from depression. For whatever reason, He has chosen not to. I trust his reasons. I have spoken to many who suffer the same afflictions, and when they were finally pointed back to Christ, they felt hope again. Ever since that dark day, depression doesn’t take over me anymore. I have protection now.

I wear armor.

Photo by Samuel Zeller

“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” Ephesians 6:11-20 NIV

God didn’t remove the depression from my life. I rely on Him to help me through, and use what I have learned to help others. For this reason, I have stopped asking God to take it from me. For this reason, I am an ambassador in chains.

Depression no longer kicks me down.

I declare this boldly:  With Christ, I stand.

The Collector is Available for Download!

Hi Loves!

The Collector, my newest story, is now available for download! Just click the cover below and you’ll be taken to the PDF that can be saved and read on your Kindle or preferred PDF viewer.

This short work of fiction is about The Collector, a one-person army determined to single-handedly cripple the prostitution/human trafficking industry, one missing girl at a time. When confronted by her assassin, however, she is forced into a compromise to protect the girl she saved from sexual slavery a year before.

A Poem about Motherhood

My eyes are empty, round voids in their place.
So weak, I’m shaking
But I won’t slow down my pace.

There are two small humans that depend on me,
So despite little sleep, I maintain energy.

Four little eyes, two different shades of blue
Seeing the world as if it’s brand new.

“Give me kisses,” one says, puckering strawberry lips.
The other reaches up tiny hands to be carried on the hip.

“Go faster!” one shouts as I push him in the swing.
The other giggles gleefully at his brother’s bravery.

It’s been two days since my last shower,
But they’ll have their bath every night on the hour.

Their bellies I’ll fill, sippy cups handed out,
And before I can eat they’ll be up and about.

My food will grow cold before my first bite.
Coffee reheated not once, but twice.

Are they worth it, with all the diapers, sleepless nights, stubborn cries?
Are they worth the disfigured body and the transformation of our lives?

The Master of Creation placed two Angels in my care.
Two masterpieces, none like them, so special, so rare.

It’s worth it, every sacrifice, every moment of pain,
To love these two boys more than words can explain.

One day they’ll outgrow my lap and my stories,
But they will always be my sweet little boys.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

ROW80 Checkin: Sometimes its hard when Real Life and Writing don’t get along. It’s like oil and water – no matter how hard I try to combine them, it just doesn’t work. But I’m still pleased with how much I have gotten done this week! I’ve still been consistent with my goal of 1,000 words per day. If I miss a day, i double up the next (like today). Right now, my Fairtytale Reimagining story stands at just over 17,000 words out of a goal total of 75,000. I really like where its going, and absolutely love the characters!

Cat Chronicles, Episode #2: Trapped Like a Rat

We’d had the cat less than a week. She and Milo, the dog, were still getting used to each other. He often had to tip toe over her as she scrambled around his feet and chased after his tail.

She was certainly living up to her name: Shadow. It’s hard to get used to a creepy little ball of black shooting out from dark corners while I carry a stack of folded laundry down the hallway.

Many a stack found itself up-heaved onto the floor as I scrambled to dodge the clawed, fanged furball that detached from the shadows, attacked whatever flesh she could reach, then retreating before I could register what happened.

She was still kinda cute, despite the pointed razors at her toes that had all but shredded the skin on my hands.

Shadow was trouble from the get-go:  snagging my favorite sweaters, leaving unbelievably vile kitty bombs in the litter box I couldn’t believe her cute little body was capable of creating, and stealing the dog’s bed.

It was on the fourth of November that she gave me a scare when she disappeared for about an hour, then began screaming in the most horrible way.

“Shadow?” I called out, as if expecting her to shout back her exact location.

Wesley followed closely at my heels while Caleb snoozed away the drama.

I followed the sounds of screeching and howling and finally found the little furball kicking and struggling beneath the corner of my bed. Stuck to her entire backside was a sticky rat trap, placed there with the intention of catching the occasional scorpion by the recommendation of pest control.

I lifted the screaming kitten and tried to tug the fur loose, but it was stuck.

It was more stuck than a cheerio up a toddler’s nose.

The more I tugged, the more she squirmed, and the more stuck she became.

I’d only seen this happen one other time to a neighbor’s dog, a white cotton ball of a thing that had not one, but three sticky traps clinging to her fur. It took a professional pet groomer and an electric trimmer to shave the dog bald.

There was no way this cat would tolerate a trimmer held anywhere near her body.

I Googled how to remove a sticky trap from pets, and it appeared I was by far not the only person who found themselves in such a predicament.

I followed the instructions on my phone screen and applied some vegetable oil, but it didn’t make much of a difference.

She was still more stuck than a Lego man in a Play Doh wad.

I tried sliding a pair of rounded-tipped scissors between her flesh and the trap, snipping one little hair at a time. But for every one that I cut, six more got stuck.

More stuck than a golf ball in a home theater system subwoofer.

It finally took persistent tugging to get her free. So there I was, saving that dang cat for the second time.

To this day, she hasn’t shown an ounce of appreciation.

As of the sticky traps, they’ve claimed many more victims since.

 

 

Goodbye, brand new Paw Patrol socks.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

ROW80 Checkin: My goal of 1,000 words per day is the perfect goal. I have written that as a minimum each day, strictly on the manuscript that is a fairytale reimagining. I’ve been able to recycle old scenes from old works that fit perfectly, and match my MC’s voice flawlessly. 

The #1 Way to Make 2018 The Best Year Ever

The #1 way to make this year the best one ever is actually quite simple.

 

For most people, January means a fresh start. A new opportunity to make new changes, to improve, to break chains. To make resolutions and for once, stick to them.

According to Forbes, only 8% of people actually achieve their New Year’s Resolution goals. I’ve most certainly been in that 92% that … well … failed.

My biggest resolution failures have been in areas I’m most passionate about. Shouldn’t that mean I have plenty of motivation to follow through? I mean, how hard is it really to lose that extra 10 pounds? (News flash: It’s HARD.) I mean, finishing that novel and submitting to agents/publishers won’t be that difficult as long as I put my mind to it and just do it. (Trust me … my mind is TO IT … and it’s still difficult as heck.) I mean, there’s no doubt I can make more time for myself as long as I’m firm about it. (Hang on. Imma let you finish, but first I need to go make my kids breakfast.)

For the past four years, however, I’ve managed to succeed with New Year’s resolutions quite well. Well, better than in years past. And the secret to success was actually quite simple.

Literally.

The #1 way to make 2018 the best year ever is to keep it simple.

At the start of 2014, I had so many ambitions. Caleb was soon to be born. I was very, very pregnant. I was looking forward to that new baby, looking forward to seeing my son become a brother. I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish that year, and started working out a plan.

First of all, I’m a compulsive list maker. I make a list every single morning to map out my day (now made easy by my beloved Focus Folder!). When I’m particularly busy, I’ll make a list of the lists I need to make.

After going over my resolutions list, I realized it was too much. How was I going to remember each of these and give them all decent effort? I was having a brand new baby, for Heaven’s sake. I would be a mom of two for the first time. Give me a break!

So I did. Give myself a break, I mean.

I sat back and studied the list, picking out commonalities among each of the items. That’s when I noticed that every one of them led to a similar end goal: SIMPLIFY.

So I chose that one word as my New Year’s resolution, and applied it to every area of my life.

Complex freelance writing work: Simplify. Let some of it go.

Overwhelm with housework: Simplify. Create an achievable system that works, and purge possessions to make it easier. Less stuff = less stuff to clean.

Schedule too full: Simplify. Pare down the number of commitments and get used to saying “No.”

It worked. I couldn’t believe it. I felt less stressed, more clear-headed, and more at peace.

I had officially discovered the #1 way to make New Year’s resolutions work!

By keeping. It. SIMPLE.

The next year, I chose a new word: Peace.

The next year, the new word was Discipline. This one backfired because it was more difficult than I ever imagined to try to apply discipline to every aspect of my life. So I changed it to Patience. Be patient with myself, my kids, my husband, and everyone around me.

The word for 2017 was healthy. Not skinny, or thin, or slim. Healthy. I’ve learned about making healthy choices physically, mentally and emotionally. I’ve discovered that I love to run, whereas I used to despise it. And it’s paying off in many ways.

This year, I’m getting ambitious. I’m choosing TWO words.

*gasp*

One word that focuses on others, and one that focuses on myself.

The first one is Nurture.

This is the year to focus attention on nurturing the relationships that mean most to me. God, my husband, kids, family and friends, my home, and myself.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez

I decided to start early, and drove to see a friend in Guntersville late December. Kathy and I talked for three hours about anything from making podcasts, to finding purpose, to New Year goals, to mom guilt. It was all the proof I needed that I’d chosen the right resolution word, because nurturing my friendship with her was extremely fulfilling. She is a natural-born counselor, and has a way of making people notice their own strengths. She gave me some personal challenges. I gave her some inspirations. I left her home feeling relaxed, empowered, and capable. As soon as I got home, I dove into those challenges and discovered something about myself.

I had discovered how much my life is governed by fear.

That’s when I chose an additional word: Brave.

Fear is not of God. Fear is also burdensome. Bar by bar, fear builds a cage around your spirit until you can barely breathe, much less fly.

I will no longer be afraid.

I will uncage the free spirit that moves me, and live a year of bravery. I’ll charge forward fearlessly with writing, putting fiction work out there for people to read. Blogging about whatever I want to blog about, no matter what the experts say. Hammering away at that novel manuscript, because I love it, and because I want to, not because it needs to be right or perfect.

I will no longer hide inside the safety of my nest. I will be brave, step out, and explore the life God has given me to its fullest.

Photo by Ray Hennessy

Here I go! Wish me luck. 🙂

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

ROW80-Checkin: This is where I will post twice-weekly checkins for a writing challenge called ROW80, or a Round of Words in 80 Days. My goals are to write 1,000 words every day, plucking away at my manuscript of a fairy-tale reimagining. Here’s a little tip when you’re just now starting your writing for the day at 11 pm, and all you wanna do is just GO TO BED: Don’t look at the clock. Just keep writing. When you’re done, sleep is the reward. And the sleep will be sweeeeet. But trust me – you don’t wanna know what time it is when you hit the 300, 500, 800 word mark, because you’ll be tempted to throw your hands up and say, “Good enough.” Also, don’t look at your pillow. It has magical powers. Before you know it, you’ll be drifting toward it hypnotically.