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His name was Yoda.

It was the spring of 2004 and, in what seems like a lifetime ago, I was a teen newlywed setting up my first home — a humble one bedroom in a sleepy city along the Columbia River. My then-step-sister’s cat, Grace, had two kittens but rejected one shortly after birth. As a result, Dory became a satisfyingly obese fathead, while her little brother starved. His eyes were wide and round, his ears slightly too large and pointy.

We named him Yoda.

When it became clear it was a failure-to-thrive situation, I took him from my parents’ house and down to my grandmother, the beautiful, beloved Cat Lady who knew how to save any life no matter how destitute or fragile. Grandma was my hero.

She fed him goat’s milk and nursed him until he was the wild, bouncing flame point Siamese he was born to be. It was then my grandpa, the burly man of steel, fell in love. Grandpa was a hard man. Tough and gritty, he’d never understood Gram’s penchant for cats and merely managed to tolerate her decades of cat ownership and neighborhood reputation for taking in any and all strays.

But with Yoda, he transformed.

Each time we went down to visit my grandparents and check in on little Yoda, Grandpa boasted of the kitten’s adventures. He laughed, telling stories about Yoda using a towel on the arm of the couch as his personal swing and motioned his arms all over the room, animatedly describing Yoda’s antics — hanging from curtains, bolting around the house, climbing onto Grandpa, and sleeping with him. Grandpa was smitten. I was delighted.

Even so, they already had a house of cats,  so once Gram had sufficiently brought the little guy back to health, I took him home as my own, though I still brought him over for Grandpa visits, which made them both very happy.

Yoda was beautiful and intelligent,  but he was a tortured animal. I have always believed his mother’s abandonment hit him hard, and he struggled to connect to humans because of it. Though I tried — so hard — I was never able to replicate the relationship he had with my grandfather, which only served as salt in the wound when Grandpa passed away two-and-a-half years later. Yoda never connected to a human the same way again.

That is … until he met Erin.

When business growth merited a move to the east coast, I realized Yoda was going to struggle to thrive again. I was exchanging my house for a condo, and he would no longer be able to roam the yard, roll in the grass, and be left to his own devices, which he had come to value to an extreme in the wake of Grandpa’s passing. I fretted, realizing he was going to be upset at having to share a small condo with my other cat and dog. I debated, not sure how I was going to make his life on the east coast a happy one.

Then my sister texted me.

“Erin is moving to Texas for grad school, and she wants an adult cat to keep her company. One that is independent and okay when she’s gone, but also a good companion. I thought of Yoda.”

It was an answer to a prayer I’m not quite sure I’d even yet uttered.

I thought about Erin — sweet, smart, capable Erin. Introverted but solid. That same sort of personality young Yoda had loved in my grandfather all those years ago: a person who could patiently love him while he did his thing.

Within a week, it was settled, and I prepared to give my Yoda up for adoption in the midst of listing my home and prepping for a 3,000 mile cross-country move.

The night before she picked him up, I spent nearly three hours with my boy. We curled up on the couch, and I brushed his long, white coat while telling him how much I loved him. I thought about my life and asked myself if I was selfish for giving him to Erin. I cried. I cried a lot.

But even as she lovingly secured him into her small SUV and drove away with him the next day, I knew I’d made the right decision. I thought of Grandpa, I thought of Yoda, I thought of Erin, and I let my boy go.

For the next five years, I watched Yoda transform. Thanks to social media, I was able to keep up with Yoda’s new life via Erin’s Facebook page and watched in wonder as my once-antisocial cat found a love he had not felt since Grandpa died. He sat with her while she knitted. He played with her. He responded to her. He loved her — I saw it in his eyes. And with every photo I looked at, I knew I’d made the right decision. For the first time in many years, Yoda had a person again. The right person. The person he’d needed all along, the one to love him the exact way he needed to be loved.

When I woke up this morning and found out that Yoda died, my heart was broken. Yoda was the first “baby” I had when I became an adult. He was such a weak little kitten that I always felt fiercely protective of him. He was an important connection to my grandpa, which only made my tether to the wide-eyed cat that much stronger. But while my grandfather was Yoda’s first love and I was his first mother, it was Erin who was his last love and meant-to-be mother.

Erin, thank you for loving our boy. Thank you for being his mom. Thank you for being his person. Yoda, baby, I love you. I hope you’re with Grandpa, swinging from the highest curtains and stealing all of the ponytail holders, my sweet baby.

On conversion.

While having dinner with friends a couple of weeks ago, they asked me if I considered myself religious. I thought about it for a moment and said, “well, I am a Christian, so I suppose in some ways I am religious.” 

The conversation drifted into talk about a recent study, which found that over half of Britons say they are non-religious. Though this is significantly lower than the U.S., our Christian numbers are slipping every year. 

Why is that? Why are these once Christian nations now living in post-Christian society?

A lot of it has to do with approach. 

“Religious Christianity” is a parasite ripping its way through good intentions, the Joel Osteens of this world (note the previous link was taken from a conservative-leaning website) promising people they will be “blessed” if they contribute to his lavish lifestyle, while the likes of Joyce Meyers persist in hatefully yelling at you to have joy. Right. 

And here’s the thing: those of us who dare speak out against the so-called prosperity gospel, the TBN televangelists of this world, are suddenly not “Christian enough” for the Cool Kids Religious Club.

The wailing and flailing and associating politics with religion to the point that you’re unwelcome certainly doesn’t make me very interested in stepping foot in a church — and I was practically born on the front pew.

Where does that leave the rest of the world?

Less than motivated. 

While walking through Manchester on Saturday, the soothing sounds of prayers and light music wafted through an area with a large amount of foot traffic. As I came closer to the origination of the sound, I saw it was an Islamic outreach. Two large tables were full of varying types of informational books, and the people in charge were standing some distance away, enabling people to freely wander up, observe, and learn at their own pace. I was surprised by how calm it felt and suddenly understood why this is a religion increasing in number. These lay people made it feel approachable.

Because irony is a thing, I continued meandering down the walkway and into a large square in downtown Manchester. As I made my way along, I started to hear someone yelling — was there a fight? An accident? 

And then…”oh no,” I thought. Dread crept upon me like vines tightly encasing an old brick building.

There he was in all his glory. 

A red-faced, loud mouth with a crackling mic, yelling at people, “know the one, true living God! You are not from chimpanzees. Evolution is not real!”

His small set up included a handcrafted wooden cross, a t-shirt on a mannequin (not sure if they were for sale or what)…and that’s it. A man and his soapbox. 

People were snickering in clusters from a safe distance away, giggling at the “crazy guy” talking about Jesus. 

It’s symptomatic of the larger issue with Christianity: the right-fighters. Notice he didn’t speak about the love of Christ or how He died on a cross. He didn’t even mention the concept of sin and how there is forgiveness. He pushed a political and scientific agenda and attempted to angrily convince passersby that this behavior somehow, some way, meant his religion was superior.

Tell me — if you were among the 53% of non-religious UK residents, which religious approach would have interested you the most? Or at least not closed the door to the positives of said religion? 

Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners at the Hands of an Angry God” is one of America’s most important and fascinating religious texts. And while I believe in Jesus and the tenets of Christianity — though I stumble, God knows — Edwards died in 1758, and the world is now a very different place.

Maybe it’s time that approach died, too. Maybe it’s time the religious right stepped off their self-righteous pedestal and learned to study the Bible without their Evangelical politics. Maybe it’s time to give people a safe space to feel welcome and explore instead of yelling religious dogma in the streets. 

 

 

(image credit: Pixabay)

I took a mental health day.

My personality has a penchant for overworking. It’s easy for me to get absorbed in strategy and doing “my best” to the point of forgetting my humanity. Last week, I hit my wall. Hard.

When Monday morning rolled around, I already had a headache — and it wasn’t getting better. I kept telling myself, “you love your job. Your employer is fantastic. You’re so lucky you get to travel while you work. Stop being ungrateful.” Despite that all being true, it didn’t make my headache go away.

I woke up with  a headache on Tuesday. I woke up with a headache on Wednesday. I woke up with a headache on Thursday and realized I was in Migraine Land. This wasn’t about needing more sleep. This was about needing more rest. Outside of federal holiday/floater days, I hadn’t taken any actual time off since last November.

Yeah, that’s not good. But I’m not alone.

The U.S. is notoriously terrible when it comes to paid time off. While the rest of the developed world lives with the expectation of down time, holidays, and recuperation, many Americans have a sense of guilt when it comes to unplugging. Add to that our lack of mandatory time off, and it’s easy to see why: even if our employers are entirely okay with it, our lack of a federal precedent has created a culture where rejuvenation as an expectation in our lives simply does not exist.

It was really difficult for me to take that day off. I felt like I needed to be vomiting in an ambulance en route to the ER to have a “sick day.” I pondered whether I needed to suffer. Should I just put in for a day off two weeks down the road and use up one of my precious few vacation days? (Side note: my employer has a solid vacation and sick policy by American standards; I’m fortunate.) I contemplated it. But with every hour that passed, I felt my mental state degrading more. I was losing focus, losing patience, losing peace. I was losing, period.

I finally caved and wrote my boss, and in an hour’s time I’d set up my fill ins and was winding down for the day.

I can’t even explain the immense relief I felt. Three days. I had three full days ahead of me to focus on mental and physical well-being.

By Friday evening, I found myself in the nearby city of Chester at a beautiful and historic hotel where the room was themed in honor of this guy. I thought about getting ahead on a handful of work projects. I pondered working on the final line edits for my upcoming novel, Sixteen Days. But I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t do much of anything that day. I took a long, hot bath. I watched TV. I ate hot food. I laid in bed and actually enjoyed just relaxing there, feeling the crisp, cotton sheets and fat, fluffy pillows envelope my body in a beautiful state of relaxation.

I healed.

When I woke up on Saturday, I was ready for miles (over eight!) of walking around Chester. And today? More walking, a cappuccino, a stroll through a cemetery (I really fancy them…), and a little too much time on social media.

I still need to take a real vacation, and I have some plans formulating for September. But this three day stint was a start. My headache is  gone, my mind is clear, and I know I’ll get into my work tomorrow and be a better employee. I don’t think the self-imposed guilt I feel at taking time off has fully disappeared yet, but this weekend I learned it’s important to take care of me, too.

So, c’mon, Monday. I’m ready for you.

 

Jelly shoes.

It was the summer of ’97, and jelly shoes were all the rage. I met up with two of my best friends, and we ventured over to the middle school to pick up our schedules and see what teachers we’d been assigned to, crossing fingers that we’d share a class period or two.

I remember my outfit like I just wore it yesterday (let’s thank God I did not). The palest of pale lime green shorts, a horizontal striped shirt with pink, orange, green and white in similarly soft hues, and jelly shoes. Same style — one orange, one green.

Yes, I wore two different colored shoes around. I was a weird kid, okay? I’m a weird adult, too. It’s cool.

I was so proud of that outfit. I felt like the most creative kid on the block. I was daring, I was unique, I was me.  I was Jelly Shoes Girl.

Then two girls on the sidewalk across the street saw me walking home and started pointing and making fun of me.

“Haha, are you wearing two different-colored shoes,” one girl belted out.

“Oh my God, she’s totally wearing two different shoes!” Her friend pointed at my feet, and they both bent over in an exaggerated laughter.

They continued to taunt me while I walked on the opposite side of the road, telling me how “stupid” I looked and that I should “go home and figure out how to dress.”

Eleven years old. The prime age for bullying and its nasty side effects. I thought about my shoes, asking myself if I’d made the right decision.

“Well, you could always just go back to wearing the same color,” I thought, pondering whether my outfit would somehow be more acceptable if I were to succumb to peer pressure.

“But I like my shoes!” I interrupted my own thoughts with exasperation. And with that, I rounded the corner and walked on home.

I continued to wear my mismatched jelly shoes until autumn arrived, and they were traded in for penny loafers, because I didn’t want to match all the kids wearing Doc Martens. This theme of doing my own, weird thing continued into high school with a terrible auburn-colored perm, the 80+ bracelets I wore on my wrists — all at once — during college, the lip color that was too dark and too glossy in my 20’s, and on into my 30’s, which seems to be a mixture of DC chic and Daria rolled into one odd ball. Oddball. See what I did there?

So, you know, embrace your weird. Carve out who you want to be and chase it with vigor, even if it hurts. You’re your greatest masterpiece and the thing you spend the most time with. Rock those jelly shoes.

 

(Top Photo: Younger sister on left; me on right wearing ankle boots with yellow ribbed socks…’cause, you know, Jelly Shoes Girl. Oddball.)

 

You look like a girl from Abercrombie & Fitch.

From Thursday:

I’m on a train somewhere between Stafford and London. There’s a Hasidic Jew in front of me, a woman wearing a hijab just walked past me with her daughter, and a red head with a sun dress is sitting diagonal from me. We’re all apart, together. All on our own journeys, sharing this narrow car as it hurls down its track.

When I read that Chester Bennington died in what is shaping up to be a suicide, I immediately thought of my sister, Kelsey. While I was always a bit take-it-or-leave-it with Linkin Park, she’s been a devoted fan since high school. I’m pretty sure being a Linkin Park enthusiast was a prerequisite for her accepting my brother-in-law’s marriage proposal. 

I remember when my first big “famous” death happened — LFO’s Rich Cronin. That September afternoon felt like an autumn sucker punch from the universe. I put Summer Girls on repeat and white girl rapped “I’ll steal your honey like I stole your bike” all day. 

At my high school graduation in 2004 (gasp), one of the speakers made note — cliche, of course, but true — of the fact that it was our stepping off point. As I sat in a sea of red and white caps and gowns, I stared at the people around me, reflective of the fact that we’d never all share a space again. Sure enough, by the end of the summer we’d scattered across the globe, studying, traveling, building our lives and finding ourselves. 

The power of social media has drastically changed the way we keep in touch with each other. Piece-by-piece we share these small tidbits — glimpses — of our lives in a way previous generations could not. Catching up is rarely running into an old friend at the local grocery store when you’re home for Thanksgiving; now they’re on a page where you can dissect and judge the version of their lives they’ve crafted of themselves for the public. 

People commit suicide for a myriad reasons, most of which come down to a core issue of loneliness and desperation. It’s amazing and tragic to realize that we are more connected, but more alone, than ever before. Technology has not saved our souls.

I constantly praise Europe’s cultural integration. The ability to sit on a multi-ethnic train with people all going in one direction to many different places is beautiful, truly. The US is still struggling to find that peaceful integration and sadly lives with a lot of fear and misplaced phobias.  

But even a train can’t tell a story on its own. Like the stage I walked across on that sunny day in 2004, it’s merely the starting point. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the stories I’ve encountered. The places, the circumstances, mostly the people. We know so little about the people around us, and most care even less to listen long enough to find out who they are. It’s the biggest disservice social media gives to us. I can see pictures of your children. The fancy dinners. The far off vacations (sound familiar, self?). But what do I know of your internal struggles? What do I know of your pain?

What keeps you up at night?

One of the most incredible people I ever met was also the most conflicted, lonesome, and depressed.

Coming out of this place of darkness I’ve been treading through the last two years, I can only hope that — if I should ever fall into that pit again — someone will look at me long enough to not just pass me by but to seek to know me.  I can only hope that I will continue to grow and mature and learn as a person so that I am able to give someone else the same.

In darkness, silence is deafening, loneliness a comfort. I’m far from perfect, but I am working through my tragedies day-by-day. I know with certainty that my ability to listen is greater than ever.

Every day there are things to remind me of what was, where I was, where I am, and what I will continue to strive to be: not alone.

You don’t have to be, either. Remember that.

 

Mirrors.

Two months ago I saw a picture of myself and gasped. Like I literally gasped. I can’t even show you the picture, because I deleted it after throwing up in my mouth a little.

My long hair — my security blanket, my love, my I’m-afraid-to-be-seen-so-I’ll-just-hide-behind-this-big-ass-blanket-of-hair — was weighing me down. I looked tired, weary, and uncomfortable. Despite having almost always been “the girl with long hair,” I suddenly wasn’t me.

I booked a hair consultation the next day.

When I went in, I told the stylist I wanted my hair to look like this (and if she could make the rest of me look like her, that was cool, too). After trying to bleach some of my raven tresses to no avail, we settled on purple extensions to complete my foray into the goth-lite realm, scheduled a full appointment out for the following week, and I spent the next several days emotionally parting ways with hair that was mere inches from my waist in the back.

It’s funny how, when something feels right, the fear subsides.

I sat down in the salon chair five days later; the stylist asked, “Are you ready?”

I took one blurry sans-glasses look into the mirror and emphatically responded, “Yes! This is so overdue.”

And with that, a foot of hair was chopped off in a matter of moments. Some two hours later I emerged a new person, not because I’d made a physical change, but because the physical finally matched the girl on the inside.

After a long two years of what I realize now was a severe struggle with depression, I looked in the mirror and finally saw myself in the reflection. I wasn’t the drab girl that “could be”; I wasn’t the girl who “if only.” I was me. Andrea. The girl with sexy — and much shorter — black and purple hair, who suddenly felt like she owned herself.

Mirrors. They only work if we’re brave enough to look. IMG_1666-1.JPG

 

What’s in your fridge?

When I kissed my luxury condo goodbye some time ago, the most time wasn’t spent on sorting clothes or knick-knacks. Strangely, it was the food that took forever.

Did you know that poppy seeds can go rancid?

According to the internetz, nuts — like seeds — are high in oils (duh), and thus can get bitter/go rancid, and otherwise end up pretty disgusting and useless. I had a five year old jar of poppy seeds in my cupboard. Suffice it to say the poppy seeds didn’t come with me to England.

Months later, here I am in Manchester, and do you know what I have? A mini fridge, folks. I’m talking college-freshman-in-a-dorm mini fridge. And do you know what’s so amazing about this? It’s enough. To Westerners, and Americans in particular, that’s a pretty foreign concept. I think my adaptability has surprised even me.

But, here’s the thing: you can only eat so many calories in a day (assuming you want to be a generally healthy person), and grocery stores are not yet going out of style, though I do suspect Amazon’s proposed takeover of Whole Foods will be a game-changer for the industry.

As it sits, I consume roughly 1400 calories per day. This amounts to a simple breakfast of tea with yogurt or muesli, some sort of grain, protein and fruit for lunch, and typically a protein-heavy dinner. None of what I just described requires an “American-sized refrigerator,” as the Brits and Aussies call them, or a Costco membership.

All it requires is a mini fridge.

I don’t have my poppy seeds anymore. Or my two year old packages of pasta noodles, 5lb bag of flour or that rotting cucumber I bought last October. Instead, I have a two to three day supply of fresh food, as well as a small shelf of longer-lasting items like Hobnobs and tea.

And let me tell you, that fresh food supply is glorious. I savor every single thing in my little mini fridge, because it was purchased with a purpose. I no longer meander through the grocery loading up a cart. I think strategically about what can fit into a bag or two, how long those items will be good and where I can use those items over the course of a couple of days — sliced avocado in a salad for dinner one night; mashed avocado on toast with a boiled egg for lunch the next day, for instance.

This idea, this theory — The Mini Fridge Theory, if you will — is a metaphor for my life. Five years ago, all I wanted was a bigger home — more curb appeal, more grass, more bedrooms, more granite counter tops…more, more, more. Two years ago, I wanted more luxury, more prestige, more respect from society.

But today?

Today, all I want is my mini fridge. My freedom. My statement to the world that my place on this planet isn’t about how much space I can take up but how little space I can consume while seeing how much of the world I can explore.

Blueberries, plums, yogurt, cheese, Charcuterie meats. That’s what’s in my fridge right now.

What’s in yours?