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Readers – Please Bear With Me, Fixing Hacks

Hello Readers,

Please bear with me. For the first time in almost 5 years, my blog has been hacked and if you viewed my recent Nintendo Wii Post in Google Reader, you saw a lot of spammy links that I did not put in there. This is the result of a recent spate of hacker attacks on WordPress blogs. I have been working around the clock digging through code to fix it, but it is difficult to tell if I’ve fixed it without some deleting and reposting to Google Reader as you cannot see the malicious code elsewhere.

Please bear with me and know that I take the integrity and security of this site very seriously not only because of the time and money I invest in it, but because I don’t want to expose you or your machines to anything risky or risque!

Thanks for your support as I work to undo the unkind work of these hackers.

J.J.

 

 

Shot@Life Vaccination Campaign Celebrates One Year of Changing Lives #BirthdayBash

Disclosures: Photos provided by Shot@Life and Lindsay. Statistics for this post provided by the Shot@Life campaign and to the best of my knowledge are accurate. I was not compensated for this post, I just think this is a great movement.

 

Some ideas are so elegant in their simplicity they are awe-inspiring. For example, the United Nations Foundation’s Shot@Life Campaign. In a world where one child dies every 20 seconds from a preventable disease, the solution practically writes itself. Get those children the life-saving vaccines they need!

The Shot@Life movement focuses on just four diseases: pneumonia, diarrhea, measles and polio. These are diseases that can easily and inexpensively be prevented with vaccines and are widespread enough to merit targeting.

“Pneumonia and diarrhea are the two biggest killers of children under five, and account for more than one-third of childhood deaths worldwide. Polio has recently re-emerged in areas that had been polio-free for years and measles still kills an estimated 450 people each day—the majority of whom are young children,” according to the Shot@Life.org website.

Shot@Life’s first birthday — they like to use the term birthday rather than anniversary to mirror the act of a child reaching his or her first birthday — coincides with World Immunization Week. If you’d like to know more about the organization, you can see what I wrote about them after attending a local media briefing.

But in this post, in honor of Shot@Life’s own milestone, I was given an opportunity to interview one of their “Champions” — a blogger who took things up a notch, received training at the Shot@Life Champion Summit, and has blogged, tweeted, and spoken about the cause for several months. Lindsay from Laughing Lindsay kindly allowed me to interview her via email last week.

E-Interview with Lindsay of LaughingLindsay.com

Lindsay at a Shot@Life event.

JavaMom: How did you first learn of Shot@Life? Was it at the  Type-A Parent Conference 2012 in Charlotte North Carolina?

Lindsay: Yes, it was at Type-A. I visited Shot@Life’s booth and grabbed a blog prompt and then viewed their video on the last day which was very touching.

JavaMom: On your blog you said your Masters in Education compels you to stand up for all kids, but what convinced you Shot@Life was the right campaign to get involved with?

Lindsay: Healthcare is something that is very important to me… My dad had been in bad health for years. He was always worried about me developing some of his conditions and always made sure I received preventive care. Sadly, he passed away back in December. Since then, I’ve wanted to give other children the opportunity to survive and thrive, like my father did with me. I want to stand up for those children who aren’t as lucky as me.

 JavaMom: You went to the Champions Summit in DC — what was the most interesting or life-changing takeaway from that event?

Lindsay: The Summit was my first time traveling away from home since dad passed (I still live with my mom). The Summit forced me to finally talk about my dad and his passing (I hadn’t done it much prior to that). I still haven’t spoken much about it to people outside of my immediate family as it’s still hard to discuss. However, this cause has allowed me to discuss and deal with losing him around strangers.

 JavaMom: What was it like meeting the other Champions? Any surprises?

Lindsay: I’m initially a pretty reserved person. So, I didn’t say much when I was grouped with the other folks from Virginia. However, they called me on it and one of the first things I told them was about Dad. Those women instantly went from being strangers to some of the best ladies I’ve ever met. I didn’t think I would bond with other people so quickly there, but I did. The Summit was about learning about the cause/organization but also about connecting with other people right there.

 JavaMom: What have you been able to do as a champion to help further the cause of Shot@Life?

Lindsay: I blog and Tweet about it pretty often. I also spoke at the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in West Virginia state conference last month (which also forced me to talk about Dad).

JavaMom: What more would you like to do with the Shot@Life movement?

Lindsay: I would love to do an observation trip, like some other Champions have done. Also, I hope to get a mention in the local newspaper someday. Really, anything to get the word out there and get more people involved.

JavaMom: Please provide five key facts you like readers to know about Shot@Life and what they do.

Lindsay:

Five Reasons to Support Shot@Life

  1. 1.5 million children die each year of a disease that could have been prevented by a vaccine. We can change this!
  2. Vaccines are one of the most cost-effective ways to save the lives of children in developing countries.
  3. Around the world, some moms walk 15 miles to get vaccines for kids. Shot@Life can make it easier.
  4. $20 can vaccinate a child against four deadly diseases.
  5. Immunizing a child helps us build a healthier world for everyone.

JavaMom: What would you like to challenge readers to do this week?

Lindsay: Here are three easy ways to help:

  • From now  until May 2, share a relay post from the Global Mom Relay on Facebook or Twitter to unlock a $5 donation (up to $62,000 per week) from Johnson & Johnson and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to benefit Shot@Life.
  • Signup to join the cause at: http://shotatlife.org/join.html
  • Or donate here

 JavaMom: And since we’re talking about birthdays and milestones… Do you have any birthday traditions?

Lindsay: I must have cupcakes (preferably either chocolate cake with buttercream frosting or red velvet cupcakes).

 JavaMom: Did you reach any key milestones during your time as a Shot@Life Champion?

Lindsay: Well, the Champion Summit was my first trip to D.C. and while there I got to have my first ride in a taxi cab.

<end of interview>

The Shot@Life campaign has stressed milestones — what milestones can children reach if given the opportunity to when given a life-saving vaccine.  Throughout the campaign, we as US mothers have been asked to think about what milestones we dream of our children having and to think of what we hope their counterparts across the globe should be able to reach as well. One more child to lose a tooth. One more book reader. A shot at riding a bike. Doesn’t every child deserve the same? Of course they do!

In the past year, Shot@Life has ensured that thousands of children around the world reached the milestone of celebrating a first birthday by receiving life-saving vaccines, sent over 26,000 letters to Congress, and grew this movement to over 190,000 supporters. As if that weren’t accomplishment enough, as you can see by the interview, this movement not only changes the lives of the people it is trying to help, but of the volunteers as well. I appreciate Lindsay being so open about her father’s passing during our interview – obviously still a difficult topic to discuss — and want to point out the gift that this campaign has given of giving her something to help carry on the legacy her father gave her of feeling compassionate towards others and a forum for reaching outside of herself into something larger so that she could keep moving forward even in her time of grief and mourning. She not only continued to feel a sense of purpose, she found a supportive community. As someone with a long history with volunteer organizations, I feel this says a lot about the Shot@Life organization.

Please visit their website for a list of additional ways to get involved, follow the #BirthdayBash hashtag on Twitter to see more stories and tweets about this week’s activities, download the mobile app for a fun way to document your child’s milestone while raising awareness about the global vaccination movement, and spread the word about the Shot@Life movement with friends and family.

Daughter Knows Best

Before I became a mother and knew better, I thought I wanted two girls. Instead, God blessed me with a son and then a daughter. I learned to embrace all things boy with JavaBoy and while not holding to purely traditional roles (he cooks, he owns a tea set), I am not one to dress my son in princess costumes – those I saved for my daughter. I had hoped my daughter would share my love all things glittery and glitzy. The screaming over tights in baby ballerina classes may have been my first clue what the future held.

My daughter will look you square in the eye and say, “I am not a princess type of a girl.” Instead her dress-up outfit of choice is the knight costume from LEGOLAND — with its helmet, sword, shield and cape. She is a dragonslayer, running through the house on her invisible steed protecting us from an onslaught of scaly, fire-breathing monsters.

She has many beautiful princess dresses and costumes — gifts from well-meaning friends and family and things I bought before fully understanding her. When we had tickets to Disney on Ice, I made sure her Cinderella dress was in good shape to wear for the evening. Instead, it remained on the hanger. She had no interest in dressing like the princesses — even after seeing hundreds of other little girls doing so.

However, she’s not your classic tomboy either. As much as she loves digging for worms and playing with amphibians, she is quite vain about her fingernails and likes to sport a purple manicure and pedicure whenever possible. She enjoys her glittery lip gloss from a birthday party favor bag and has definite opinions about fashion. She’ll wear beautiful dresses — but only when she feels there is a reason to — for example she believes “fancy” dresses are only appropriate for church on Sundays.

This is perhaps why I have been so slow to understand the complexities of her strong anti-princess-and-the-like conviction. She likes purses and jewelry, enjoys picking out her clothes and trying to “match” things (though we’re still working on the difference between coordinating vs. monochromatic attire).

The social ramifications of her preferences come up more often than one would think. She politely declined to wear a tutu for an Angelina Ballerina party. When her friend was over and wanted to dive into her dress-up clothes and pretend they were princesses at a masquerade ball – JavaGirl finally declared firmly, “I don’t want to be a princess, but I will be a princess’s horse,” and began whinnying while walking on all fours. Upon learning about another friend’s princess party she bargained, “I’ll come as long as I don’t have to dress like a princess!” The girls worked out a deal between themselves and everyone was happy.

As much as I wish sometimes she’d just go with the flow, I have admired her immense self-confidence. When she was four, we entered the beauty salon in the Playseum and I asked her if she wanted to try one of the fun wigs. “No thank you,” she said. “I like my own hair. I like myself just as I am.” Wow. I remember silently praying that she’d always feel that way.

I try to remember that — the importance of liking one’s self — whenever I find myself wishing she’d be more like some of the other girls. And yet, another birthday party came up — a tea party at a tea parlor with a Fancy Nancy theme. I tried to cajole JavaGirl into wearing one of her beautiful dresses and accessorize as crazily as she would like. She’d have none of it. Instead, she got a Fancy Nancy book, paged through, and seizing upon what the character wore for a soccer game, decided to construct an outfit of her own.

She started with a Gymboree sequined whale shirt, because I had told her a few days ago when she had changed clothes for us to pot some plants that the sequined shirt was not “play” clothes and was too “fancy” for digging in the dirt. She added a pair of jeans and a ribbon skirt with jingle bells on the ends. Several plastic necklaces. Finally, as a concession to me, she agreed to wear a rhinestone tiara.

I looked at my daughter and her funky, jingly, glittery outfit and wondered if she’d look like a complete outcast at the party. I couldn’t help but flash back to a time when I made a poor choice of outfit as a young teen. I was in a local beauty pageant (the only one I was ever in) and having won for my town, I was now in the larger competition. I won my title in a very conservative pleated skirt and blouse — something not pageant-like at all. My mother tried to convince me to get a different dress for the next level, something more along the lines of a party dress. But I remained firm in my conviction, feeling like I had won in the first outfit, I should stick with it. I placed fourth — which meant I had no title or duties. First place of course had the title, second and third were essentially fill-ins who made appearances and rode on the float.

It got back to me that I would’ve placed higher had I worn a party dress like the other girls — although we were not judged on our clothing choice, the fact that I was not dressed like the other girls was jarring to the judges.

That is the first time I remember questioning myself and my judgment. So as JavaGirl and I discussed her wardrobe choice, I teetered between not wanting to damage that inner self-confidence and yet also wanting to shield her from a moment of feeling like she should have just gone with the flow. Don’t get me wrong, I was never one to bend to peer pressure and I don’t want her to either, but there are lessons to be learned about getting along in society as well. If we are always swimming against the current, we are too tired to fight when there is a real reason to. If we are always counter-culture, sometimes people are less likely to listen to us when we stand up to say that the current culture is wrong in a particular instance.

I asked her to try on a red party dress “just to see” in the hopes that she’d choose to wear it to the party. It’s a dress that she wore for a Christmas concert and felt quite confident in. But on this day, it merely made her frown. I could see her emotions on her face — she was fighting back tears and though she tried to hide it, the sadness was breaking out all over her face.  She was torn between wanting to please me and not wanting to wear the dress. I was equally torn between wanting to protect her from potential scorn and not wanting to make her miserable.

I hugged her and reassured her that I didn’t want her to be miserable. I told her I loved her just the way she was. I explained that she might be the only girl in jeans at the party and asked if she was going to be okay with that. She was.

We arrived early at the party as I was taking the birthday girl’s big brother out to an event with JavaBoy. The birthday girl opened the door and squealed with glee.

She was wearing leggings, a t-shirt, a tutu, jewelry, a boa and a feather tiara. Putting them side by side they had on very similar outfits.

My daughter is wise beyond her years. Some days, I try to learn from her.

Living a Year in Honor of Susan Niebur #WhyMommy

Susan speaking 2010 BlogHer NYC

I think of Susan daily.

And nightly. With every moon. Not only because she was an astrophysicist, but because the day she died, there was a glorious moon.

There will be many posts about Susan today. This one is less so about Susan herself, and more so about the impact Susan’s life — and death — had on me. Because I can say that both have changed the direction of my life forever. That is one thing we all strive for, isn’t it? To make an impact on someone’s life? I know Susan has impacted hundreds (more likely thousands) of lives, and I hope that she is smiling from above with that knowledge.

I carry with me the pain that I was never as good of a friend to Susan as I wanted to be, though Susan was always gracious to me, to the very, very end. In her final year, I was in a hellish stage of my marriage and my life, something I was not openly sharing with people at the time. I was stretched so thin emotionally that I was barely making it. So while I could text and email with Susan, I just couldn’t drive the distance to see her very often. I was barely able to pull it together to make sure there was a dinner plan for my own family, much less to get meals to Susan. When I could, I would send a contribution for take-out meals to the friends coordinating them. But attempting to provide comic relief through emails, texts and the occassional phone call was all I could manage in terms of “visiting,” and I always felt like that was far too little.

I also felt like I shouldn’t complain about my life to anyone, because what were my problems in comparison to Susan’s? Here she was dying, and yet she was still writing a book, being such a fabulous mother, attending conferences, and still found time to do things like send Christmas cards. Susan was simply awe-inspiring.

Part of my healing process in losing Susan, and in dealing with my guilt over not being able to do more for her, has been to honor Susan by attempting to be “more like Susan.” I have lived very intentionally over this past year, which is not to say that I have lived perfectly, but with more focus and purpose. Losing a friend (and I lost more than one last year) has a way of shaking you up and causing you to question your purpose on Earth, your priorities, and your very existence — all things I had discussed with Susan at various times. This year, all those things were at the very forefront of my mind.

I’d like to say that I was extremely organized about this process and wrote things out and was very Gretchen Rubin-esque in my process, but I wasn’t. It started out as a very reactionary part of the grieving process and then became a little more formal, but here are some of the elements of what my year of living intentionally and in honor of Susan included.

Recognize that Life Is Short

Life is finite. We don’t know how short, even those who have cancer and have been given a time frame don’t know for sure. Susan beat cancer many times. But life is a limited resource. Live life out loud, every day, and to the fullest. Today could be your last or it could be one of a million. Make it count. It’s a small thing, but I did one of my “bucket list” items — ride on a zipline — this year. Watch out world — shark cage diving is next…

But in all seriousness, that means that taking care that our words to each other are kind, and that we don’t squander our days doing things we don’t want to or need to do. Of course few of us want to do laundry, but we need to. But don’t do volunteer work you hate out of obligation. Don’t read books you don’t like unless you have to for homework! In other words, QUESTION EVERYTHING. Maybe you are doing something because you “have always done it this way,” but you don’t really need to? Or even need to do it at all? I became very sick with pneumonia this Christmas and it is amazing how many “traditions” got tossed out the window because I couldn’t sit upright — and how few of these the kids even noticed. Life is short. Do what is meaningful and important. Add in what is fun. Take away the rest.

Establish an “I Don’t Take Any Crap” Policy

Pardon the inelegant phrasing. I don’t know that Susan had such a policy, but I do know that she would establish boundaries when she needed to and I realized I did. This phrase comes from a friend tell me about how if a social or volunteer group gives her too much crap (grief) she quits participating because “it’s not my job so I’m not getting paid to put up with that!” I spent so much of my life being a peacemaker, I would make myself unhappy trying to make everyone else happy. I don’t do that any more. When people are unreasonable, I let them know that I have an “I Don’t Take Any Crap” policy and they basically have the opportunity to get on board or get left behind in the dust. I no longer twist myself in knots wondering why the people who are unkind to me don’t like me. I do a quick internal inventory to see if I’ve done anything to be unkind or inappropriate and unless I have (in which case I try to make amends), I move on. It’s amazing how much happier I am.

Open Up and Be Vulnerable

In this past year, I opened myself up to be a little more vulnerable and let more people in. Susan shared with the world her joys and her heartbreaks. Her hopes and her fears. Susan lived fiercely and out loud. After covering up for a quite some time that my husband and I were struggling in our marriage, I stunned everyone in October by posting a very forthright post on my personal Facebook page that we were going through a trial separation and asking for everyone’s prayers and support (for all four of us) during that time. I received an incredible amount (more than 100) of encouraging responses to that post, as well as private messages, emails and phone calls. I received only two negative responses and I’m sure there were some silent, non-responses that weren’t favorable, but overall the amount of support was frankly, overwhelming. I heard from people I never expected to hear from and couldn’t believe how supportive people were. It was terrifying to post, but it was the only way I knew to rip the Band-Aid off and not have to explain over and over again why I couldn’t do certain things (volunteer for a billion things, etc.) or why certain things were happening (i.e. why my husband’s car was going to be parked in front of a neighbor’s house). The unintended yet wonderful outcome was that it made some women who were going through similar experiences feel like it was okay to talk about it. Which has always been one of my guiding principles — to help people talk about things and feel safe about it.  Susan made me feel like it was okay to be “real” online and in turn, I apparently helped a few others feel like they could talk about what was going on with their families. Thank you, Susan. I must say, there is nothing like baring your soul like that to find out who is really your friend and who is not. (And if you missed the previous post, JavaDad and I are back together, and yes, the Take No Crap policy helped with that!)

Make Time for ”Soap Bubbles on a Summer Afternoon”

In the past year, as I have worked on establishing boundaries, I’ve kept this part of Pinterest’s interview with Susan in mind.

Finally, we talk a lot about inspirations on Pinterest and you’re a role model for finding beauty and joy in life no matter what happens – what are your top “little things that count”?

Thank you!

Children’s laughter. Soap bubbles on a summer afternoon.  Reading books together in an easy chair.  Family meals.  Cuddling.  Taking time for a night out with friends — even when there is other work to be done.  Stargazing or watching the clouds pass by. Asking a child a question, and listening — really listening — to her answer.

Although Susan worked hard, she understood the importance of play, as well. Having had the pleasure of working with author and cultural anthropologist Dr. Cynthia J. Smith earlier in my career, I know that there are many, many benefits for ADULTS in “play.” I simply allowed myself to push it too low on my priority list for too long. I remember a day in February about a week after her memorial service when it was unusually warm and sunny and though the kids had a million commitments, I cancelled everything and said, “We’re going to play outside and enjoy this day.” That was in honor of Susan. Because typically I would’ve said, “Oh, what a shame it’s a gorgeous day and we have all these other things to do.”

Many times I’ve caught myself with hands stuck to a keyboard or touch device and realized I need to stop and reconnect with the kids. And I try to focus on the “really listening” to my children — because they have AWESOME answers. These have always been principles of mine, but Susan was always better about keeping these front and center than I was, so I try to channel my “inner Susan” to be a better mother. Susan always had cancer in the time I knew her and basically since her second was born (she was diagnosed not long afterward), so I never asked and I’m not sure if she’d know the answer, if her ability to focus on her kids had to do with knowing that she had cancer and that time was precious or not. But, as we know, none of us really know how much time we have on Earth, so I’m trying to live as if each day with my kids is precious. This year it has been amazing to me to see just how many “forces” I have to fight off that try to get me to change that priority.

Spend Time with Girlfriends

As Susan said in her quote above, we need to make time to see friends. I lost another friend shortly after Susan. My very first friend in Northern Virginia, Julie Ingram Tryon. Yet another friend with whom I traded far too many, “We need to get together soon”s with. Her birthday would’ve been this week. Julie was also an amazing woman and I’m sure she and Susan would’ve got along famously. She was gone mere weeks after I found out she had pancreatic cancer.

It is so easy for us to get “too busy” to see each other. Yes, men need to see their friends too. And we need friends of both genders. But I can tell you that there is something very special about the bond between girlfriends. I could not have gotten through this past year without girlfriends and I know that there are some girlfriends who needed me very much this year. Because I was able to (and more willing) to be more honest with them about what was going on in my life, I was able to (and more willing) to be there for them with what has been going on in their lives. Our friendships have been even deeper and more meaningful. I have been able to say to a friend, “It sounds like you need a friend, my house is a wreck, I have a deadline, but why don’t you come over at least for an hour?” When we are volunteering together for something and working hard, I’ve become the social coordinator, the one who says, “okay, who is up for drinks afterwards?” And at first everyone says, “Oh, I have to go to the grocery story” or “But it’s a school night” and similar things, but eventually, several of us gather and we discover we all really needed it.  We needed to connect, to share our joys and concerns, to do more than the school-pick-up-smile-and-wave. Facebook is great, but real-life friendship is better.

I wish I could see Susan today. I miss her a lot. I want to go up to her and throw my arms around her (oh how many times I had to be careful not to squish her when she was feeling fragile) and say, “Susan, I am a stronger and a happier woman because of you. I am a better mother and wife because of all that you taught me. And because I’m willing to share honestly what’s going on in my life, I have the strength and energy to be a better friend.” I cannot ever presume to speak for her. Please don’t ever interpret anything I say as speaking for Susan. All I can do is to try to apply what I’ve learned from Susan and hope to be the kind of person she would have kept around as a friend had she remained walking around on Earth today. She was a friend, a mentor, and a role model. With a beautiful smile and a wonderful laugh!

I have a long way to go in measuring up to being anything close to Susan, but she’s on my mind and in my heart every day. I consider our friendship ongoing and my faith allows me to believe that one day I will see her again and perhaps she will know that where I fell short as a friend to her in life, I tried to make up for afterward. We shared a passion for STEM and getting kids excited about it, and I think of her every time I volunteer in that area. I try to promote her cause — bringing awareness to Inflammatory Breast Cancer — the breast cancer without a lump, whenever I can. If you loved Susan and all the good that she brought to this world, please consider helping spread the word about this disease and the work of the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation. If you are able to make a donation, that would be wonderful. Let’s try not to let another wonderful woman be stolen away by that terrible thief, cancer.

Please join bloggers throughout the web in honoring Susan Niebur’s life and contributions with a post, and please add your link below.

Untarnished Memories of a Sterling Friendship: The Final Gift of a Beloved Pet

Sterling the tabby catI wanted a tiny, little kitten. She, of course, had other ideas. As I would learn, she often did. And she often won. Of our two strong-willed Aries personalities, hers was just a tiny bit stronger.

I entered the Santa Clara, CA pound looking for a kitten. Having relocated from across the country months earlier, I was starting to put down roots. With a relatively stable paycheck in my future and a new apartment, I was ready for the commitment of a pet. Plus as a shy, young twenty-something in Silicon Valley, I was lonely and needed some form of companionship to come home to. Oh sure, the Valley was full of men. Engineer types. Who either didn’t notice the curvaceous blonde in front of them or found what was on their computer screens far more interesting.

Yes, I needed someone to come home to.

On my first trip to the pound, there were no kittens. But a silver tabby with gorgeous green eyes who was several months old reached out through the bars of her cage to bat at me. She meowed loudly, more like a Siamese than an average street cat, beckoning me to pay attention to her.

“Yes, you are a gorgeous kitty!” I murmured to her. “You have beautiful green eyes, just like my Shadow cat.” Shadow was one of my favorite cats growing up — a beautiful Russian Blue who would snuggle up next to me each night.

“Mee-rooowr,” she replied.

Guilt settled in. Growing up, we always had several cats. We seemed to have a beacon over our home that only stray animals could see. Cats and dogs of all shapes and ages would find us, somehow knowing this was the home where animals would be taken care of. Though I had taken in older cats before, I was really hoping to get a tiny kitten.

“You are obviously a sweet kitty. Someone will be here for your soon, I am sure. I’m sorry, but I am looking for a kitten.”

She batted at me again, and looked into my eyes. I scratched under her chin, and walked down the aisle of cages, looking for my future pet.

Though I am grateful for the services they provide, I hate going to shelters. I can’t stand the thought of the stories behind all the animals who end up there. I walked by and looked at all the cats — no kittens today. An employee told me that the kittens are usually snapped up pretty quickly. As I walked back down the long row, the gleaming silver tabby meowed and reached out to me again.

“Goodbye darling. I am sure you will have a home soon,” I said as soothingly as I could.

I don’t even remember the circumstances that brought me back — whether the shelter called me to say kittens had come in or I just went to check, but what I do remember is that I thought about that tabby a lot. I grew up with several tabbies, but I had never seen one who was truly silver rather than gray. Her coat was soft and glossy like a rabbit’s. Her tummy was white with black spots. Eyes of emerald green and instead of the expected gray or black nose, an adorable cinnamon-colored nose. I often associate “tabby” with “common” yet everything about her brought to mind a certain regalness and she certainly let you know she expected to be treated like royalty!

During the adoption process, several things about her paperwork made me laugh. Her original name was CJ, so close to my own, J.J. She, like me, had an April birthday. The reason given for adoption was “one too many kittens.” And when asked what her favorite toy was, her previous owners had written, “Anything not nailed down!!!” (Underlined three times.)

Yes, clearly, this cat and I were made for each other.

I quickly changed her name to Sterling — both for the color of her coat and her fine qualities. I had no idea how fitting that would be, right to the end.

I had been in a car accident just before I adopted Sterling (or shall we just admit, she chose me?) and shortly afterward, I had knee surgery. In addition to keeping me company in my bed and cuddling with me during my painful recovery, she delighted me with her bedeviling activities, one of which included retrieving bloody gauze bandages from garbage cans and running through the apartment with them at lightning speed. My father, who was visiting and taking care of me, did not find this so delightful. But I loved her pure sense of play — exactly why I had originally wanted a kitten — and enjoyed her utter zest for life. Everything was a game to her and when she exhausted herself, she would come back to me and go completely limp and purr loudly.

When I recovered, I ended up moving to Southern California for a while — telecommuting for work — and Sterling took to antics such as pulling off the pins off my bulletin board and sticking her head into my printer and shredding papers as they printed, decidedly not helping with my work-at-home productivity. This was slightly less delightful behavior, and I decided that Sterling need a companion, and thus, a second cat came into our lives. Once again I went in to get a kitten and instead, came home with a cat of a different age — in fact this one was 3 years old. A tortie-tabby, I ended up naming her Patina (get it?), Tina for short. And thus, Sterling ended up becoming Alpha Cat of what I didn’t know was ultimately going to become the growing JavaFamily “herd.” Down the line there would be “hers,” “his” and “ours” cats — growing to a maximum of 8 cats (currently at 5). But Sterling was always the top cat.

Of all the cats, she never, ever got a flea. She never had an injury. And she never got sick. She was a lean cat and when she started to get alarmingly thin and act peculiar, such as only wanting to eat in my office and insisting on only drinking water from red, plastic Solo cups (don’t ask how I figured that out) — I rushed her to the vet in tears. Hundreds of dollars later, even the vet was shaking her head and said, “I was prepared for us to have a diagnosis for you of anything from thyroid to leukemia but I have to tell you, this is the healthiest cat I’ve seen all week. I think she’s just being a stubborn old cat!” So from that point forward, I started to simply adjust to her idiosyncracies, and assumed as long as she was eating and playful, she was fine. She finally decided that she would eat downstairs again, but I added a daily personal dish of canned food to the communal dry food that was available. She gave up on the red, plastic cups, but did seem to prefer having a separate small bowl in addition to using the larger cat water bowl. In other words, I figured she was an old lady, I’d indulge her. She still liked to sit on books as we tried to read them, bat around paper balls, and sit on top of us at the most inconvenient moments. She was Sterling. Just thinner.

I prepared for her death for 18 months, certain that after 16+ years, it was imminent. Every time we needed a pet sitter, I would warn them that if Sterling suddenly passed away, not to get upset, it was just meant to be.

And yet, though we can prepare our minds, we really can’t prepare our hearts, can we?

It was a Sunday morning when I realized Sterling wasn’t eating anything. Because she was thin, she like to sit on warm things like our laptops, so I had prepared a warm spot for her a few weeks earlier on her favorite ottoman, covering a heating pad with fluffy towels so it would be warm and soft, but not get too hot. It was in the family room, one of her favorite places to be as it is the center of activity in our house. Her routine of late had become fairly simple — meow at us to prepare her a breakfast of canned food with her special dish of water in the kitchen, clean herself in the family room, then hop onto her “bed” on the ottoman. If one of us chose to sit on the sofa, then she would come to us instead of the heating pad. But Sunday, she had no interest in breakfast. Not even when I carried her over to it to show it to her. She simply went back to her perch on the ottoman instead. No one else in the family seemed to, but I swore she took on a smell that I called the smell of death.

At that very moment, my heart started breaking.

We had been scrambling to get out the door to go to church.  The children were performing. I sat there, somewhat numb. Praying to God.

“Please God, please don’t make me do this. Don’t make me choose. Please, please God, this is too much. If she needs to go, please take her from us quickly in her sleep.”

I felt horrible guilt. I had known, of course, that it was possible when she started to get thinner that she might have had diabetes or a thyroid condition, but I had also decided that if she did, I was not going to go down the road of forcing pills or shots on her. She was 18 years old. She was happy and active and as long as she was, I was going to let her be.

But suddenly I wondered if I had done her a terrible wrong. Should I have handled things differently? The guilt, the doubt, the pain roiled inside of me, an emotional typhoon I was trying to keep anyone from seeing. After church I had us run a few errands, I am sure in part to delay facing things when I got home.

Sterling was obviously on the decline — not interested in food. Still wanting to be held and loved, but not playful, not interested in anything else.

It is probably important to point out here something I have not yet shared with you. At this point JavaDad and I had been nearly two months into our trial separation — after ten years of marriage we were living under separate roofs, figuring out where to go from here.

JavaDad swung into action — feeding everyone dinner, taking care of the kids’ bath and bedtime routine, and then dealing with me.

We knew it was time. That the next day we would be calling the vet to have Sterling put down. It was what good pet owners do. But it hurt like hell. I went into the “bargaining” part of the Seven Stages of Grief — “But what if there are heroic measures we can take?” And he counseled me, “Is that fair to her, at her age? And for what? Another month of life? What kind of quality of life?”

I cried, like a wounded animal. Gutteral, awful sounds coming from me. And then came the triple-play that happens when my emotions are more than my body can handle. The simultaneous laughing-crying-asthma-attack. I’ve never seen myself in a mirror when it happens, but I am sure it is a frightening sight with the tears streaming, snot flying, loud laughter and wheezing all at the same time. It is not one of my finer qualities as a woman. And yet, it is something  JavaDad has come to understand about me (I won’t say appreciate, I’m not sure he appreciates it — but at least he doesn’t run away.)

Because I wasn’t sure what time we’d see the vet, in the morning I had to explain this to the children. As this was the first pet they remember losing, it was frankly, one of the worst conversations to have with them. (This, however, was a week before the Sandy Hook shootings, which turned out to be THE worst conversation.) My kids aren’t the kind of kids you can “gloss over” anything with. Especially JavaGirl. Her ability to grill someone should put her high on the CIA’s watch list for future recruits. With her unique blend of intense belief in Christianity and need for very factual explanations for everything, she wanted me to explain in great detail what would happen both to Sterling’s soul and body during the euthanasia process and afterward when she was cremated. Trying to keep myself together while being the mother I needed to be for them during this time was excruciating.

I called the vet’s office. I had steeled myself to be calm and factual. I was for the first four words. Fortunately they are pros, and they found a time slot for me with our preferred vet late that afternoon.

The children came home and sat with Sterling, taking pictures of her with their Nintendo 3DSes, which I found to be an interesting coping technique.

It was a gorgeous day and I took Sterling outside to feel the warm sunshine, but she made it clear that she did not want to be on the front step or anywhere outside. Though that morning she started to lose the use of one of her hind legs, she started to run inside. It made it clear to me that this was the end.

I held her for those final hours. She purred and nuzzled me, and I petted her and told her how much I loved her. I reminded her of how she had chosen me, and that we had been through a lot in 18 years, and I loved her through every bit of it.

JavaDad came home early from work to go to the vet with me — he didn’t think I’d manage to make it home on my own. Given where we were relationship-wise, the gesture was gigantic on his part.

After the vet’s office, the grief was unbearable. I couldn’t look at the dishes used to feed her. I couldn’t even look at the kitchen counter where I had prepared her food. JavaDad came over that day and the next to prepare lunches and dinners for the kids. He did something he hadn’t done in a long time — he hugged me. Later that night we flipped through photos and laughed about things Sterling (and the other cats) had done over the years. Laughing together was also something we hadn’t done much of lately.

In a short time things we had been working on for a long time were being worked out. At the risk of sounding (more) like a crazy cat lady, it was as if Sterling’s very last act of devotion — after her passing — was to push JavaDad and I together and force us to set things aside and reform into a family again. The grief of losing a beloved pet transformed into the joy of reconciling a marriage I wasn’t sure was going to make it. The same day I picked up Sterling’s ashes from the vet is the same day JavaDad moved back home.

I am so glad Sterling got her way.