Guardian Kitty

Coco in her natural habitat

[This was originally sent to the My Favorite Murder podcast as a hometown story.]

This one goes out to the MFM menagerie and the spirit of Elvis.

I have a light-hearted missing pet story I’ve been meaning to share for years, and I hope I’m not unfashionably late to the hometown pet party. Even if I am, you can enjoy this anecdote privately, and read it aloud to the kitties as a cautionary tale, if nothing else.

In 2010, my boyfriend (now husband) and I adopted our first cat together: a 2-month-old torbie we named Coco. Primarily an outdoor cat, she enjoyed gallivanting around the neighborhood, ingratiating herself to our human neighbors, and leaving the occasional rodent offering on our welcome mat.

She also had a penchant for climbing trees, some of them so tall they required an extension ladder for regular retrieval. I bought one the first time she clawed her way to the highest branches of a birch tree in our yard, planning to return the 36-foot-tall ladder to Home Depot afterward. Within a week, Coco required rescuing from our neighbor’s mighty oak, so I decided to keep the equipment, which proved to be a wise investment.

An only child, Coco did not play particularly well with other animals, and she occasionally engaged in vocal late-night kitty paw-to-paw combat with the neighborhood cats. Sometimes she returned home scuffed and scratched up, but seldom with any serious injuries. We assumed that her anti-social behavior was part feline in nature and part early-kittenhood trauma. (As a baby, Coco had been left for dead in a cardboard box with a dozen other kittens, more than half of whom had perished. She’s a survivor!)

She did have one playmate of sorts–an aloof black-and-white fellow I called Phil. Coco and Phil parallel played around our yard and neighborhood, within each other’s orb but with minimal close contact. They were social distancing years before the rest of us were required to do so, which may have been the secret to their successful relationship.

Phil was more skittish than Coco around people–she enjoyed humans, just not other animals–and never ventured too close to the house or my husband and me. We respected his space and kept an eye on him and Coco through a window in the kitchen. Phil would camp out under one of our cars or beside the garage door, a safe distance from most human activity.

If only Coco could descend trees as easily as she could vehicles.

Sometime in the spring, when Coco was nearly two years old, she disappeared overnight, which was odd. Assuming she had climbed yet another tree, I canvassed the immediate neighborhood and checked her favorite spots. She rarely ventured beyond a two-block radius from our house, and I made sure to double-check those boundaries, looking up and listening for any distant mews. She knew to cry out when in distress, especially if she heard someone call her name.

No dice.

This went on for three days, by far the longest Coco had been away from home, and I had retraced my steps and checked her regular stomping grounds a dozen times.

I called my mother, usually a source of compassion and comfort–and a cat-owner herself–to tell her the tale of Coco’s absence. She responded with a matter-of-fact, “Honey, I’m sorry to say this, but I think your cat is dead.”

What the fuck, Mom?!

I refused to accept that without proof–specifically, a Coco cadaver. No body, no way. There was still hope.

So, I went back outside, marched around the block while calling her name and stopping to listen for stranded-kitty cries.

Again, I came up empty handed. So, I sat down at the dining room table and distracted myself with work. A couple hours later, while typing away at my laptop with my back to the window, I heard a faint cry. Abruptly, I stopped typing and whirled around. At the window was Phil’s black and white face peering in, meowing directly at me. I had never seen him so close to the house, and here he was, trying to…what, get my attention? Could it be?

I stared at him for several moments, stunned by the unexpected scene, then said aloud, “Sorry, buddy, but Coco isn’t here. She might actually be dead.”

He didn’t budge. Instead, Phil doubled down on the crying. I couldn’t believe it. What shenanigans was this furry little introvert up to?

With an annoyed sigh, I went to the back door, which opened out to the patio and the window where Phil was perched. I said sternly, “I told you, Coco isn’t home. I’ve been looking for her for three days. Go away.”

Again, this usually cagey cat stared me down, unwavering. Then, when he saw he had my undivided attention, Phil scampered across the patio to the edge of our lawn, stopped, looked back at me, and then continued down the small embankment into our neighbor’s yard.

I shrugged, and then followed him through our bushes, and past someone’s garden, across one street. Every twenty feet or so, Phil stopped, turned his head back and made eye contact with me. I interpreted this as his attempt to ensure I stayed close behind him.

We cut through yet another neighbor’s yard, this one with an empty kiddie swimming pool, and another with garden gnomes. We crossed one more street. With each step, I grew increasingly baffled and amused by the ordeal. I’m following a strange cat through strangers’ yards, I thought. This can’t end well.

Coco, nearly a decade after the tree incident, hanging onto her last life.

Then, as suddenly as he had started, Phil stopped. He sat by the massive trunk of a tree behind a triple-decker apartment building and shot me a glance. I was confused…until I heard a faint cry directly above us. I looked straight up and saw none other than Coco the climber at least 25 feet up, cradled in between two penthouse branches of this tree.

When I looked back down at Phil, I swear he had a smug expression, as if to say, “See, I fucking told you!”

Coco must have ventured just beyond her usual route, one more block beyond my search party radius. For three days, I had stopped short mere yards from this particular tree-climbing adventure gone awry, unaware of how close I had come to finding her on my own.

I busted ass home–along the sidewalk, not the back yard shortcut way I came in–and dragged the ladder and my husband back to ground zero. Coco at the top, and Phil by the trunk, both remained in their respective spots.

I secured the base of the ladder as Coco’s daddy climbed up and fetched our scared and hungry cat. Phil oversaw the operation and seemed to approve. (At this point I was attributing thoughts, emotions, and analyses to him as though he were a fully functional human.)

We got Coco home, where we fed, bathed, and swaddled her in a blanket. Within hours her usual quasi-social and playful demeanor returned. Within days, her extra weight did too.

I called my mother to prove her wrong and insisted that Coco had eight of her nine lives still intact.

Since that fateful day during which Phil was more of a Lassie, I have not seen Coco’s black-and-white guardian kitty ever again.

My mathematically inclined husband calls these situations “interesting coincidences,” and I deem them “magical” and “serendipitous.” Whatever it was, I think back on this auspicious, kitty-saving event fondly and with awe. It was special, and I am grateful.

Phil, wherever you are, thank you for having Coco’s back. We owe you one.

Stay sexy and follow cats when they insist on it. You never know where they might lead you.

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A New Kind of Sex Education with Casey Tanner

(This article first appeared in the June edition of Thistle and Spire’s blog.)

Photography by @jma__photography

Pride Month is here! In honor of the occasion we connected with queer-identified sex therapist Casey Tanner (she/they), learned more about their work, and discovered that they’re as much a fan of Thistle and Spire as we are of them. As expected, we found some overlap and loads of mutual love.

Casey has quite the resume and it continues to grow. Here are a few of their current titles:

  • AASECT Certified Sex Therapist
  • Founder and owner of The Expansive Group: LGBTQ counseling and gender therapy
  • Business consultant helping companies with queer alignment and inclusion
  • Co-host of the Safeword podcast
  • Thought leader and influencer 

Since coming to terms with their sexual identity and realizing their life calling to counsel others in a queer-affirming, sex-positive way—a stark departure from their conservative religious upbringing—Casey hasn’t wasted any time maximizing it to be of service to their community.

For those unfamiliar with your work, how would you explain what a sex therapist does?

Sex therapists are trained in the same way as any other therapist, but with extra training to get their sex therapy certification. I focus specifically on sexual health, function,  intimacy-related concerns and gender. I work with clients 18 and older—individuals, couples, and groups of people seeking my help. We’re not talking about sex 100 percent of the time, but I approach issues through a queer lens. Sex is not siloed off from life, but interconnected with every other facet of it. At the heart of my work is helping people who grew up feeling unseen or who struggle with loneliness—I think we can all relate to that.

How did you find your way to this line of work?

I think we all try to become the adults, perhaps the parents or therapists, we needed when we were younger but didn’t have. For queer folks, what is unique about this experience—compared to race or ethnic identity—is that queer eldership is not built in. Most people aren’t raised by queer parents, and we have to work hard to seek that out.

I was raised in an Evangelical family and was very bought into it. I attended a Christian college and was a church youth leader who taught that being gay was a sin. I was struggling with my mental health because I was so at odds with my authenticity at that time. So, I started talking to a therapist, and had no idea she was a queer therapist. It’s hilarious looking back, because the logo of the practice was a rainbow, but I didn’t know what that meant at the time. Four years in, we started addressing my sexuality, and it saved my life to have happened to be in the hands of someone who could talk about these things and provide such a safe environment. I knew I wanted to be a therapist during that process, but it was when I started working more with queer and trans folks that I realized what I was meant to do with my life. 

In addition to your role as a queer-affirming sex therapist, are there other components of your career that you’d like to discuss?

I’m going through some exciting shifts at the moment! They primarily involve moving away from being a therapist and more toward an author, thought leader, and business owner managing 20 employees and 5 contracted educators. I’m moving more into the headspace of a CEO—keeping the therapist piece, but giving myself permission to step into more of a leadership role.

What takeaways can you share from the shift thus far?

I’m learning a lot during this process, including that my public persona can make others angry. Luckily, I have a great staff that shield me from that. I got some great advice from a more experienced influencer who said that you can’t take in the good parts and leave behind the bad. If you do that, you’re still giving strangers power over how you see yourself. I also took a note from Brené Brown, who says to make a short list people whose opinions you actually care about and focus on that. That has been so helpful.

You have gone from therapist to entrepreneur with a team of 30 people and 180k online followers in a brief period of time. How did that happen so quickly?

We don’t advertise, so I think it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time and the right situation—which feels weird to say, because that situation was COVID. Three years ago, the fact that the Instagram handle @queersextherapy was available says so much about what was missing in the space. There was stuff available for queerness, sexuality, and therapy, but nothing that existed at that intersection. I was the one who happened to fill that niche at that time when there was a deep need for it. When COVID hit, so many people were having existential crises around identity and sex, and a lot more time to think about that. Online is where most of us were going to seek connection. For me, it was a natural outgrowth from those circumstances. I was not setting out to do what I’m doing. If this were a job description of a position I came across three years ago, I never would have applied for it, but it has evolved over time as I have been ready for it.

Since lingerie is our life blood, of course we want to know how its role fits into your work.

In my work, especially with queer and trans clients, we talk a lot about gender  dysphoria and things that ground you in your gender identity. So, lingerie comes up in that conversation—not just in sex, but in everyday life. For example, if I’m working with someone who is a trans woman, they may not be in a position to dress in alignment with their gender identity, but they can wear that one piece of lingerie under their suit. That can be very powerful and used as a mental-health tool for some people. Someone may have to dress in a particular way for their safety, but they can dress differently underneath. Lingerie companies used to market their products as being very much for the observer, and some do even now. But a shift that we’re seeing, which Thistle and Spire really embodies, is that this can be for you, and you can spend money on something that no one else may ever see. And you are worth that much!

What’s next for you?

This is a very exciting time and we put a lot into Pride Month. I wear many hats, and right now I’m working on several projects, including a book proposal about how the sex education most of us received was traumatic, and how recovery from that can occur with the help of a queer-affirming, sex-positive lens. My team is also rebranding for The Expansive Group website and launching another Instagram account in June. We’re opening a Chicago-based brick-and-mortar location, and I’ve been going to LA periodically to film and help companies integrate more learning into high-quality productions.

You can learn more about Casey and their work at The Expansive Group and on the Safeword podcast, which streams on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Amazon Music.

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Empowered Pleasure: Better Sex with CBD and Herbal Healing

(This article was originally published here on the Thistle and Spire website on April 14, 2022.)

With 4/20 just around the corner, we thought this would be the perfect time to introduce you to Ashley Jelks, the owner of our favorite CBD-focused company The High Priestess Herbal Wellness.

Ashley wants to help you make the most of your sex life—and every other part of your life—with her CBD-based products, which include a mélange of other natural herbs and elixirs.

Don’t worry, CBD (cannabidiol) isn’t mind altering, so there’s no uncomfortable gray area around consent. Rather it’s a nonintoxicating cannabinoid found in cannabis (marijuana) and is derived directly from the hemp plant.

Ashley believes so much in the healing properties of this plant that she has created an entire business around it. The High Priestess is the first (and, so far, only) Black-woman-herbalist-owned CBD apothecary of its kind, tapping into a niche market with widespread appeal.

A trained herbalist and engineer, Ashley has developed targeted lines of proprietary smoke blends, tinctures, teas and lubricating oils that address different issues, specifically:

Anxiety

Sleep issues

Menstrual tension

Sensual and sexual arousal and awakening

While all of those things are integral to a happy, healthy life, we’re the most titillated by the intimacy products containing CBD and other herbal boosts that help increase levels of openness, comfort and sexual satisfaction.

Ashley’s diverse background and training in engineering, herbalism, yoga, reiki and teaching created fertile ground for her current entrepreneurial wellness venture. Also, as someone who struggled with her own physical and mental health issues—autoimmune conditions and anxiety—she found that plants and herbal medicine helped her manage, and sometimes improve, these conditions.

She shared her story with us about a lifelong interest in natural medicine and the journey of self-healing and community creation that led her to create her own CBD business.                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

When did you launch The High Priestess Herbal Wellness?

We opened last year, in March 2021, and just celebrated our first anniversary. It was definitely a pandemic project, but was one of those things I had wanted to do for a while. Before the pandemic, I didn’t have the time to carve out the time or a business plan required to start a company. That was the pandemic’s gift to me—the opportunity to sit down and do what needed to be done to make this happen.

Great name. How did you come up with it?

It came to me one night when I was consuming cannabis and reading tarot cards, and I was struggling with names for my new company. I drew the High Priestess tarot card and examined it. Its meaning is about bridging the seen and unseen, the physical and spiritual worlds.

I use cannabis as a tool to tap into my intuition, which is exactly what that card and what this plant are both about. It’s also a fun play on words—high, 4/20, all the good stuff that we associate with cannabis. Right now, we only work with CBD, but at some point, I plan to branch more into THC (the psychoactive part of the cannabis plant) products, so the name will really resonate with those.

You know this is on everyone’s mind—how can your products help improve our sex lives?

Sexual arousal a biological process, but so much is happening in our minds too. Our thoughts and mental processes can enhance or detract from the overall sexual experience. [Referencing the book The CBD Solution] Some women who struggle achieving orgasm find that consuming cannabis before sex can help with that issue.

Our bodies have an endocannabinoid system, which is designed to receive the medicine and benefits in the cannabis plant and our bodies react to it. When combined with other herbs that do particular things, the results can be powerful and targeted to specific needs, both mental and physical.

I wanted to focus on intersecting herbal medicines that have certain effects, and originally, I was going to focus exclusively on a sexual wellness line. This is specifically how I wanted to set myself apart from other CBD companies and not add to an already saturated market. I don’t see many other companies doing this, especially combining herbs for sexual pleasure with topically applied sexual wellness oils.

What was your motivation to create a company like this?

I’m trained in yoga and reiki, and was turned off by the wellness experience because I realized it was super white, thin, cis-gendered and able-bodied. I’m not like a lot of the community of people I practiced with, so I wondered why the representations of this community were so monolithic.

I intersected so many different elements of myself. There’s the engineering part of my brain that likes solving problems and working on different things. There’s the herbalist in me that loves plant medicine, the part of me that uses cannabis in my own healing journey, and the practitioner in me that doesn’t feel like the images representing wellness are accurate and inclusive. I put all of these pieces of myself together and The High Priestess was the meeting point and organic outgrowth of those various things.

Did you have a specific goal or vision in mind when mapping out your business plan?

I want to change the world with plants, and my products can do that in small ways, one step at a time. I’m a woman with anxiety who made a company to help other people who may also struggle with anxiety.

I was trying to fit into a world that didn’t have room for me, and so I just made room for myself and extended that to others. I’ve always felt like I’m a bit of an outsider and I wanted to create community and space for all people to feel welcomed and included. I love that we’re moving in that direction as a society. I often forget to talk about this because it’s interwoven into my entire life experience and at the forefront of what I’m thinking.

Wellness can be a lot of different things. Human beings are dealing with so many different issues, and we all have a lot more in common than we don’t. Where and how can we help people feel more seen and included? That piece is so important to me, and not because it’s a hot buzzword, but because it’s my life.

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What is the Cost?

One of the few Spanish expressions I remember using on my high school trip to Mexico (besides una cerveza, por favor) is ¿cuanto cuesta?

What is the cost? Or literally translated, how much it costs?

Most of us are examining the cost of things these days. Between post-pandemic inflation and a raging war between Russia and Ukraine that has globe-spanning effects, the price of nearly everything has skyrocketed.

It’s evident when I fill up my gas tank, get my hair cut, or buy groceries. Every service and good from oil changes to light bulbs to dark chocolate (probably milk chocolate too) have higher price tags. The items that cost the same seem to come in smaller portion sizes.

The end result is the same: spending more and receiving less.

There is no shortage of memes, social media complaints, editorials, and Medium articles produced over these issues. Few of us are immune from the impact and subsequent grumbling and penny (or dollar) pinching.

So I won’t spill any more virtual ink on this particular issue. These recent global events, however, have gotten me thinking about the cost of other things in our lives beyond day-to-day expenses.

  • Habits
  • Addictions
  • Procrastination
  • Thought patterns
  • Toxic relationships

These less-tangible items can cost us money, but payment more often appears in the form of less-visible currencies.

  • Time
  • Stress
  • Energy
  • Emotions
  • Brain space
  • Physical health

I recently checked in with a friend who now lives a few time zones away. She told me about a perennial conflict she has with her husband, who threatens to split when certain conflict arises between them. He goes there as a first–not a last–resort. The possibility of divorce hangs over their household like the sword of Damocles, taxing their emotional stability and nervous systems.

That issue arose again in recent days, triggered by what she thought was an innocuous exchange that escalated into potential grounds for separation. He has made similar proclamations in the past, but has never followed through. Over time–hours, usually–he cools down, regains his composure, apologizes, and laments the drastic measures casually tossed about during the heated exchange.

It seems as though he doesn’t plan to actually leave, nor actually wants to do so. The looming cloud of divorce may be a matter of theatrics or displaced frustration. That is a silver lining, but an exhausting one.

I listened to this most recent iteration of the same story, unsure of how to proceed or help my friend navigate the emotional minefield that threatens her 5-year marriage while becoming a familiar part of it. Feeling more qualified to inquire and explore rather than dispense relationship advice, I posed this question.

What is this pattern costing you?

It wasn’t a rhetorical question. I certainly didn’t know the answer. She didn’t know either. But we both pondered it, vis-à-vis this particular issue as well as others that have plagued our respective lives. My friend still considers that question as she broaches the issue with her husband.

As if on cue, this very inquiry boomeranged in my own life the next day as I discussed with my sister a pesky issue that triggers an adrenal response for me: poor boundaries among some people close to us both.

I could feel the inflammation reignite as I mulled over the same frustrations I have repeated for years, especially as I held the fortress of my personal boundaries.

My older, wiser sibling gently yet firmly pointed out that my parameters with these unreasonable people, while justified, seem to require an inordinate amount of my energy.

“While you’re often adaptable, some of your boundaries with these specific people are rigid,” she said, doling out a rare dose of tough love. “They may be an inch thick, but they’re 50 feet high. What is that costing you? I worry that it’s draining your vitality, which is a steep price.”

Vitality. Life force. Essence.

I hadn’t thought of these elements as valuables that could be spent, bartered, exchanged, lost, stolen. But they are, and I was allowing unworthy people to drain a precious resource in limited supply. What I needed to preserve and protect instead I squandered because of my determination to hold up the iron-clad wall with sheer force of will.

The solution, of course, isn’t to remove boundaries. Those are in place for a good reason. But I am reassessing them, devising ways to soften or restructure them without forgoing self-protection.

Some coping mechanisms made sense at one point–they may have saved my emotional life during crises–but are no longer serving me in the same ways. An approach that guided me through a survival phase was once a gift and now a burden.

There is an abundance of tools available to all of us, some more helpful than others. No single one is the only correct way, but here are a few I’m trying to decrease the poor-vitality spending habits I’ve developed.

  • Yoga
  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Journaling
  • Creative thinking
  • Deep breathing techniques

I feel confident that I’ll strike a healthier balance, find a more appropriate approach, and reclaim some of my joy and energy.

What started this embarkment of growth was the simple question: What is this costing me?

Ask yourself that and see what comes up in your own life. You may be surprised by the answers, and they may point you in a direction toward healing.

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Back in the Writer’s Seat

After a nearly 9-month hiatus from publishing anything on this platform, I’m returning with renewed dedication. I’d like to pretend I was on a Ulysses-like sabbatical, collecting fodder and adventures to share with a patient and attentive audience when I returned to my home…office.

In reality, I have a gestation period of excuses.

Some of them are legitimate. Some are a stretch. All of them have something in common: RESISTANCE. Steven Pressfield is right–that shit will stop at nothing less than total annihilation. Fighting resistance is a daily battle, whether we recognize it or not.

Here is an abbreviated list of my most recent excuses. See if you can relate to any. Some are sneaky AF and are often resistance masquerading as reasons to not do the work (in my case, write).

  • New job
  • New cat
  • Sleep
  • Covid
  • Travel
  • Ted Lasso
  • Depression
  • Home organizing
  • Family obligations

It started with a new job I took last spring. What I thought would be a fun, part-time side gig turned out to be an all-encompassing demand that encroached on every other facet of my life. My daily writing time was supplanted with early morning dramas (beyond my pay scale), late night texts (this could have been an email!), and frequent troubleshooting calls to customer service.

Even my dinners and weekend getaways were sabotaged by unscheduled work-related calls and crises beyond the purview of my job description. So, writing slipped to the bottom of the to-do list each day, often for different reasons.

That part-time, life-consuming side hustle swallowed up six months of my year before I pulled the ripcord, looked for work with a more predictable schedule, and threatened to reclaim a daily writing routine.

And I did…sort of.

During the month of November I attempted an experiment in the vein of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The goal is to write a 50-thousand-word manuscript in 30 days. I have attempted this several times, only reaching the word count goal once. I don’t think I actually want to write a novel. But I do want to write.

I made a pact with my inner scribe to write one blog post draft per day during the month of November. I promised myself I would go back and edit them all as necessary and publish them when they were each good and ready.

By November 30, I did compose a dozen drafts, all of which have yet to undergo an editing process and join its published brethren. By now the freshness and essence of immediacy have faded. The nature of conversational blogging differs from long-form novel writing in more ways than I suspected.

Time is of the essence with regular posts or daily news, which leaves little room for perfectionism. One reason I’m drawn to this medium is that it challenges my meddling analysis paralysis and encourages the adage “done is better than perfect.”

(That quote is attributed to Sheryl Sandberg, but I can’t believe she was the first ever to have uttered it.)

At some point you may see those months-old drafts polished up and making their debut, but for now I’m sticking with real time and following the advice of many artists and writers far wiser and more successful than I.

Elizabeth Gilbert covers this topic extensively in her TED talk and nonfiction book Big Magic, sharing stories about creative inspiration–from poet Ruth Stone to singer/songwriter Tom Waits to Gilbert’s own experience with fellow writer Ann Patchett.

If dreams deferred dry up, neglected muses can wander off and seek companions elsewhere.

My formerly fresh list of topics and unexplored ideas now look wilted, three months later. I failed to feed, water, and nurture them when they needed, rather than when I felt ready. And I may never feel ready. As a result, several have withered on the blogging vine. Someone else may have caught hold of them and will do the topics greater justice than I ever could, or at least did in recent months.

So, here we are. Again. Another day, another attempt, another topic, another post.

In the midst of work and writing transitions and false starts, I adopted a new cat. My husband (and our friends and neighbors) and I have bid Coco adieu and welcomed Pele into our home. You’ll see updates on her soon.

Oh yah, and I got Covid for Christmas and spent the last week of 2021 quarantining and sleeping like a champ.

The last nine months have been a wild ride! I look forward to sharing more of it with you. Instead of resistance pretending to be life keeping me from writing, I plan to use that raw material for inspiration and keep my arse in the writer’s seat.

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Without a Trace

Coco posing for our cat-lover neighbor Alison

Six weeks ago, my 10-year-old torbie, Coco, disappeared. She hasn’t returned home yet, and she may not. Ok, at this point, she likely won’t.

My husband and I live in a densely populated urban neighborhood, sandwiched in between two main streets with heavy traffic and frequent construction. Coco spends the bulk of her days (and, sometimes, nights) gallivanting around the yards and driveways of our immediate city block. She has a kitty window open just wide enough for her 8-pound feline frame to squeeze through, and uses it daily.

A born survivor, she avoids moving cars, keeps a safe distance from other furry animals, and approaches humans with a healthy dose of caution. We worried about her penchant for tree climbing and snarling at other neighborhood pets, but never about the possibility of being hit by a vehicle or snatched up by a (non-human) predator.

My husband saw her last during a midweek, sunny, March afternoon. She was on the sidewalk in front of our neighbor’s house, rolling in the dust and debris like a maniac–one of her favorite pastimes. My husband thought little of it, that familiar scene, one he assumed he’d witness a thousand times more in the days and years to come.

I can’t remember the specifics of my last Coco sighting. It was that same morning, before I ran some errands. I didn’t think to pick her up and say good-bye, shove my face into her personal kitty space, to which she inevitably holds up a paw–no claws–and pushes it to my face as if to gently say, “Mom, I know this is how you express love, but please stop.”

I simply noticed her in my general space, inside, outside, inside, outside, inside…such is the way of cats. And then I didn’t. Her absence was more salient than her presence. It continues to be even now, but that stark contrast is slowly fading.

For a couple weeks, anytime I spotted movement–a leaf blowing across the driveway, a robin bobbing across the yard, a neighborhood rodent scurrying under a parked car–from the corner of my eye, I jumped and moved toward it, assuming it was Coco, even when my logical brain knew that was unlikely.

Coco in her natural habitat

I’ve told friends and family about the disappearance, usually with a stoic, matter-of-fact tone, focusing primarily on the details of the situation, and less on my feelings around it. I’ve had several cats throughout my lifetime, most in a rural environment, and all of them have either disappeared (fisher cat or coyote, most likely) or died (car accident, euthanasia).

I know the drill. I knew the risk when I adopted a pet. I accepted the likelihood that I would outlive my pe.

I mean, it’s a cat, not a child. I mean, I’m not a 5-year-old. I mean, I’m a grown ass woman who understands the circle of life.

My father insists she was likely hit by a car. I quietly disagree.

My sister believes she will return in 10 months, the way one of her cats did last year after it found a new home. I wonder.

My bff reserves judgment, and expresses disbelief at the lack of emotion I have displayed. I rationalize.

My neighbor (let’s call her Alison) is convinced that we will track her down and bring her home. I feel touched by her infectious optimism.

Baby Coco, ca. September 2010

She loves Coco perhaps even more than my husband and I do. Alison told me that her bond with our cat is what convinced her and her boyfriend to adopt their own.

When I told her that Coco hadn’t returned home after two days, Alison sent out the bat signal. Casting a wider net than I could have imagined, she informed and perused myriad platforms and resources.

  • Nextdoor
  • Facebook
  • Craigslist
  • Animal Rescue League
  • PetFBI
  • MSPCA and local shelters
  • Local veterinarians
  • City sanitation services (they find animal carcasses in the streets–who knew?)

Armed with packing tape and a staple gun, she braved New England March weather to post flyers around our neighborhood with me. More than once. The long walks provided an opportunity for us to get better acquainted and discuss all things cats. I introduced her to the Facebook page CocaineKitties. I recommend it to all.

Last week, I texted Alison that I was beginning to accept the potential permanence of the situation. She asked if she could still post updates online. I said of course, and that I just wanted to prepare her for an eventual sense of closure.

Three hours later, I heard a knock on my front door. When I opened it, a bouquet of cut flowers graced my porch. On the card was a heartfelt message from Alison, her boyfriend, and their cat, expressing sympathy for Coco’s disappearance.

I smiled. Then I texted her a photo of the gorgeous arrangement.

She texted back a video she had taken of Coco pre-disappearance.

I cried a little. Then a bit more. Then I ugly cried for two minutes, which felt like an exhausting and cathartic two hours.

I’m working through the five stages of grief, and am on the precipice of acceptance.

Accompanying that is a melancholia that seems frivolous, even indulgent, especially right now. In this unstable world with unspeakable suffering.

It’s just a cat.

And yet, I miss her terribly.

When I look online for adoptable cats, I want every single one of them. I also want none that aren’t Coco.

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Miracle of Science Reopens for Business

After five months in a pandemic-induced hibernation, Miracle of Science Bar + Grill has reopened its doors to the public. Starting November 1, 2020, the Cambridge restaurant closed for the winter season to ensure the safety of its team and community due to the risks of Covid-19.

In recent weeks, the weather has gradually warmed up, people have ventured out more frequently, and overall activity levels have increased. In response, the Miracle of Science owners and staff have been preparing for a safe reopening.

They have deep cleaned, sanitized and painted the interior space. There are also menu and equipment updates, as well as a new website.

“After a brutal year, I’m excited to be reopening and reconnecting with our local community,” says co-owner and general manager Dennis Silva. “I’m looking forward to seeing some familiar faces again.”

Indoor, outdoor and takeout dining options are available. The sidewalk by the entrance is cordoned off with tables, chairs and space heaters for al fresco dining.

For the safety and comfort of the staff and customers, Celios air purifiers have been placed throughout the restaurant. The windows and doors also remain open for constant air circulation.

Periodic Table menu at MoS

The Miracle of Science team wear masks at all times and follow all Cambridge Covid-19 protocols. Customers can use the Miracle of Science QR code to download contactless menus on their mobile devices.

Miracle of Science is currently open daily, noon to 9pm.

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A Scammer Darkly

Do you receive those scam calls about consolidating student debt loan or extending your car’s warranty?

Wait, let me rephrase: HOW MANY of those scam calls do you receive daily?

Never took out student loans? Don’t own a car? Such minor details are barely a speed bump for these pros.

They will find you, and they will use that very particular set of skills they have acquired over a very long career on you.

When I was in middle school, I remember overhearing my father answer one of those calls on our landline (remember those?), pre-caller ID, so the caller’s identity was anyone’s guess. It was likely one of my friends–Nikki, Michelle, Andrew–but could have been a client calling my dad at home, or my sister phoning from her dorm room.

On this particular afternoon, it was some dude named Frank who asked if our address was 24 Spring Street (which, at the time, it was). My father, without missing a beat, replied, “Nope, this is 41 Main.”

Dad takes immense pride in his honesty and integrity, so this obvious fib struck me as odd, and amusing. He found his way of dealing with such calls, and straight-up lying was the strategy.

I have my own way, and it involves neither dishonesty nor avoidance.

Instead, I follow Sheryl Sandberg’s advice and LEAN IN.

This is a new approach, and it began recently when I received a text message from someone claiming to have found my lost cat.

When I saw that message, my face flushed and my ears buzzed. Could it be? The thought of a reunion with sweet Coco three weeks after she disappeared reignited a fading sense of hope.

That is, until I saw the follow up messages.

“I have sent you a 6 digit verify code..”

“If you are the real owner send me the code then I send you my location..”

Seriously?

Everything about the texts caused offense:

  • Attempts to prey on my emotions to gain access to…what, exactly? I didn’t check for any code, so I’m not sure whey they were trying to hack.
  • The underestimation of my intelligence
  • Assumption that I would acquiesce
  • The lack of proper grammar and punctuation

I thought of the New York Times story about Miriam Rodriguez, whose daughter Karen was kidnapped by members of the Zeta cartel in Mexico. Miriam relied on stakeouts, disguises, a handgun and vigilante justice to hunt down the kidnappers and try to find Karen.

I don’t purport to be anything like that badass heroine who ultimately gave her life to the cause; just that I thought of her in that moment and daydreamed for a moment of following in her footsteps.

Then, last week I received an unsolicited text about a potential job opportunity, in theory from Ingram Content Group, an actual company. He claims to have spotted my résumé on Ziprecruiter, where it is available. I hadn’t heard about jobs this way, but I’m also less tech-savvy than the average adolescent, and the initial message seemed professional and possibly legitimate.

The next one, however, piqued my suspicion. The clunky use of language is a jarring data point, and it gets my spidey senses going, even from legit recruiters.

Interview through WhatsApp? And no response when I ask for more details?

This is the third shady unsolicited text of this sort in a week. As if a year in a pandemic and constant state of low-level agitation wasn’t enough for everyone to endure, now we must battle schemers edging their way into our lives with bogus job offers in an impossible market and info about my lost cat who may in reality be dead.

For a hot minute my blood pressure spiked and a fusillade of F-bombs exploded from my mouth. The exasperated mantra, What is wrong with people?, skipped through my head on repeat.

Then, within the hour, I applied my daily yoga practice and Getting Unstuck meditations to the situation, reframed my thoughts around it, and landed on a solution that made me laugh out loud.

Nearly every day, I text the three mystery numbers a message of my own. Nothing offensive, angry, or threatening. Just questions about their day, their work, how the lost cat business is going. Things of that sort.

Just innocuous yet persistent messages like these.

So far, I haven’t received any responses, but I do hope I’m irritating them a little, or possibly softening them a bit. Either way, I’m on their radar and am now a cheerful dingleberry they can’t quite wipe away.

And that brings a wry smile to my pandemic-weary face.

When I shared this story with my father, his reaction surprised me. He laughed, hard, and then he said, wiping away amused tears, “I’m so incredibly proud of you, Astrid.”

I’m not entirely sure where the pride comes in, but I think it’s because of my reframing of the situation. He would likely be more vengeful, and for good reason, or avoidant, like when he lied about our home address.

My father has what he calls “the killer spirit”; I do not. My failure to inherit that instinct used to irk him, but over time I’ve seen that he admires my gentleness and willingness to turn around and playfully engage scammers rather than hate them or exact bloody revenge.

This light-hearted approach works for me.

Feel free to borrow this idea for the scammers in your own life. If you don’t have any, what kind of magical unicorn are you?

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Getting Unstuck

“As the author of your life, you can rewrite the story by changing your perceptions.” -Oprah Winfrey

Last week I started a 21-day meditation series co-hosted by Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra titled Getting Unstuck: Creating a Limitless Life. It is available for free for a limited time, and you can find it and other meditations and gems of wisdom from these two powerhouse self-help gurus here.

I like to call it my Ch-Oprah meditation, and I’m sure I am the first person to create that witty portmanteau.

This morning, I completed the Day 6 meditation, titled You Deserve More Than Second-Hand Experiences, along with its mantra and brief journaling exercise.

Oprah recounts a story about her days as a young TV anchor:

“Early in my career I would imitate Barbara Walters. One of the most enlightening days of my life was when I realized I could actually be a better ME than I could be Barbara. Once I stopped imitating her and becoming more of my true self, infinite possibility opened up for me.”

That blew my mind, and I hadn’t even started the meditation part of the video yet.

Ch-Oprah help me get unstuck

She and Deepak discuss what they call “second-hand experiences.” According to Deepak, these include the times when you:

  • Do what someone else tells you to do
  • Live up to someone else’s low expectations
  • Do things that really are not true to yourself

Oprah encourages listeners to think about their own second-hand experiences and asks, “Were you following someone else’s script instead of your own life story? Are you allowing the past old story that’s stuck on Play in your head control your experiences?”

Well, don’t. That’s basically the duo’s message.

JUST STOP. Do things differently. Rewrite the story.

I agree. Every day, we can rewrite our own story and start creating first-hand experiences.

Oprah was born to an unwed teenage mother in the segregated South in the 1950s. She grew up poor and wore potato sacks as dresses at times, which made her the object of ridicule. As a child, she was sexually abused by family members and family friends. At 14, she became pregnant and gave birth to a premature baby who died shortly thereafter.

That is quite a story to rewrite.

Now, Oprah is the wealthiest woman in entertainment, is recognizable with a single moniker (adding Winfrey feels superfluous, doesn’t it?), and has touched countless lives in ways far beyond entertainment and daytime television consumption.

Love her or hate her, one cannot discount the overwhelming odds Oprah has faced and overcome over her lifetime. She hasn’t done so without rewriting her story and creating first-hand experiences. Imagine what her life would be like had she continued trying to be a second-rate Barbara Walters.

What are some second-hand experiences in your life?

What are some ways you can change your perceptions and get unstuck?

Reach out and let me know. I’d love to hear them!

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