Saying Goodbye

In July 2001, I was a single law student living alone in Chicago and thought it would be a nice idea to have a feline companion. After a series of roadblocks at various shelters (I was “too young,” “not employed full-time,” etc.) I ended up at a room at a local vet clinic that housed a few unwanted cats. On top of a high shelf I saw a beauty of an orange cat who winked at me. (It turned out to be an upper respiratory infection that caused the winking, rather than love at first sight, but let’s ignore that part).

I asked to hold him and I did, petting his long soft fur as he snuggled in my arms. Given that this cat hated to be held, the fact that he let me snuggle him so long just shows how badly he wanted out of that place. I took him home immediately in a taxi, him riding next to be in a cardboard carrier because I didn’t yet have one of my own.

When we arrived at my apartment, he immediately climbed onto the futon, the only soft thing in my tiny studio apartment, and laid on his back and sprawled out. He was home.

We would endure a lot together over the next nearly fifteen years: he let me pet him all day long as I watched television coverage of 9/11 and heard the scary sound of fighter jets patrolling outside my window; he would sit on my law school books or papers, as way of reminding me to take a break and pet him; he was there that dreadful summer where I was studying for the bar exam, probably wondering why I barely left the house; he was there as friends and family came to visit and stay, often keeping them up with his incessant meowing.

When I was especially stressed out during law school – which was a lot – he would indulge me by letting me pick him up, rest him up against me, and we would dance around the kitchen. It always made me feel better, although I am not sure if he was a fan, or just being a good kitty.

He was there the first time Erwyn came to my apartment and hopped up next to him to size him up and see if he was acceptable for his mom (he passed).

After Erwyn moved in, Simba was relegated to the foot of the bed, rather than next to me and eventually moved to sleep elsewhere. In 2006, we thought Simba needed a “friend,” because he would howl whenever we left the apartment, so we adopted Jiblets. I don’t think Simba ever forgave me for that. Because while he went on to love his two sisters – Eggy and thenPaducah – he never got along with Jiblets, not even for a minute.

And now that I think about it, although he no longer howled when we left the house, his meowing overall never really slowed. It was loud and long and it was genuinely like he was using a language to try to tell us something. Sometimes I could identify a reason: food was getting low in his bowl, his water wasn’t recently poured, but often I had no clue the hell he was meowing about.

Although he hadn’t really been super playful in years, when he was younger,he loved to jump in the air back and forth, trying to catch a feather on a string. The height at which he could jump was astounding. His other favorite toy was a long plastic tube with a feather on a long metal stick. He would play that for hours if I would indulge him by constantly moving the feather in and out of the tube.

Simba was great with every child he met: my nephews and niece, the kids of my friends, and of course Myla. While Myla will tell you her number one cat is Eggy, Simba loved her from the beginning, always curious about her, laying near her, but not too near.
In the last couple of years, since we got a king size bed, Simba had resumed his sleeping place next to my head, in between Erwyn and I.

Age had made it impossible for him to groom himself, so I would use his sleeping place as an opportunity to untangle the mats in his fur. He was never one for snuggles, but would love to be pet for a long time – until he was done being pet and would let you know with a paw swipe that he carefully ensured never actually landed on you. He also had the odd ability to poke you gently with just one claw to get you to notice the fact that he wanted to be pet.

A few days ago, it became suddenly clear that Simba was not himself.

Besides the noticeable symptom of not eating, the one thing that made it clear to me that Simba was seriously ill was that he stopped meowing almost entirely. The cat who had howled at me every day that we were together for nearly a decade and a half was unable to say anymore. And I knew with that silence he was telling me that it was time for him to go.

Yesterday we danced one last dance with him in my arms and said goodbye.

My house has never been so sadly quiet.

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The speech I couldn’t read

I wrote a speech last week and planned to read it at my dad’s memorial service today. I just couldn’t do it. The second I walked in the room and saw the framed photos I knew I was going to barely be able to keep it together, let alone speak out loud.

So here is what I would have read if I could have:

Looking back on the time that I spent with my father, I have collected a few life lessons that are beneficial to everyone. I would like to share a few of those with you today.

1. Learn everyone’s name and call them by it. Everyone. Your co-workers, the store clerks, everyone. While as a kid, having my dad say “Hi George” “How’s it going, Frank,” as we walked through Value City was mortifying, it taught me that everyone has value. It is easy to be caught up in our own world and how things affect us, but everyone else is dealing with stuff too. Who knows whose day you will make by asking about their kid’s concert or noticing their hard work.

2. Store prices are just a suggestion. This is especially true of car shopping, but he managed to always find a great deal wherever he went. You don’t put four kids through Michigan without being thrifty and he was a master at it.

3. You are never to old to change. Many people think that by the time they reach a certain age, they are set in their ways and will always be the same. Not true. In the last decade of his life, my father became an avid reader, voted for people I never would have imagined he would have, and dedicated himself to being the most devoted grandfather possible,

4. Spend time on things you are passionate about. For daddy, it was cars. Talking about them, driving them, learning about them. It was fitting in the days after my dad’s death that my husband and I were car shopping, as a result of a car-totaling accident the week prior. I thought of my dad throughout the whole process, wishing I could talk to him about it and make sure we were getting a good deal.

5. Be adaptable. Life moves fast and so much changed during his lifetime. While it admittedly took him awhile to come around to the idea of using an ATM, he always embraced changing technology, whether it was his first black and white TV in the 50s, our family’s first computer in the 80s, the new-fangled VCR, the CD player, or his wall of television in the 90s.

With the exception of the car shopping lessons, all of the things I have been talking about today were not told to me by my dad. I learned them by watching him. Which I suppose is his greatest lesson of all: teach by example and others will follow.

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Dream or Movie Plot?

I was on a boat of some kind. Smaller than a cruise ship. It reminded me a little of the boats we used to take to Boblo Island as kids, but a little larger. I was with two adult women, who I seemed to understand were related to me and also Justin Bieber was there. He was either my boyfriend or I wanted him to be or something. He kept accusing me of farting. At some point the boat started to capsize and I crawled out a window and there was a hill next to it and I clawed my way up. I turned and saw the boat go underwater and I didn’t know what happened to everyone else.

I started walking around and it was like an outdoor market in what appeared to be an Asian country. I saw the two women from the boat on a bench, warming themselves with towels from the shipwreck. I asked if they knew if Justin Bieber made it and they shook their heads.

I crossed through a gate into a different kind of place and a woman was following me and I didn’t know why. Then an alarm sounded. I asked what it was and she said it was the flooding alert. The flood waters were going to rush through the market and into the other country across the gate as a punishment.

In my mind I remembered learning that these two countries, which were separated by the gate, had a bad history and for years the gate was closed due to an intentional flooding of one country by the other. There had not been flooding in years so this was a shock that it happened. There was a sad story that everyone knew about a couple in love who was separated because they ended up on opposite sides of the gate and could not be together.

When I saw the gate start to close, I worried that I would be separated from Justin Bieber if he had survived because he would be on the opposite side of the gate. I ran to try to get to the other side before the gate closed, but didn’t make it. There was a soldier or police officer there and he told me to just hold on to the railing as the flood waters went through or I would drown. I held on tight and was very scared. In my mind, though, I was thinking that if the gates never reopened I could just go to the airport and fly to the other country.

Eventually the flood waters subsided and the gate swung open. I started walking to the other side and as I turned a corner I was horrified to see another gate and hundreds of people were crushed up against it as they had tried to escape the flood waters. Most of them were dead, but some of them were still alive and calling out names of their family members.

As I was in shock at this sight, E appeared and started talking about the director of the movie we were watching. I told him that we would talk about it after the movie was over because he was ruining my emotional reaction to the scene.

The scene changed to me in a bunk in what seemed like refugee housing or something. I heard a familiar voice in the next room and it was Justin Bieber, alive, but getting medical treatment. I went over to him and he said that the last three years have been magical and he can’t wait to get his braces off.

And then I woke up.

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Toddler’s First Trip to the Movies

We had no plans to take Miss M to a movie in a theater anytime in the near future. Her attention span does not last beyond a couple of five-minute episodes of Peppa Pig, so I was sure she couldn’t last two hours at a movie theater. However, our realtor who helped us buy our house was hosting a customer appreciation event: free pictures with Santa and free admission to see Frozen. We figured we would give it a try and if we had to leave the movie early, we weren’t out any money.

We got to the event at 11am, right when it started and saved our seats in the theater as was recommended to us. Then we went to see Santa. M was just as shy as she was when we saw Santa at the mall. No tears or anything, just no smiling and a refusal to make eye contact with the man in red. Afterward she was excitedly saying “Said hi to him! Sit lap,” so apparently she liked it.

Then it was 11:05am and the movie was not starting until 12pm. During that time, M ate her weight in popcorn, which she had never had before. “Eating pops, mama!” She was happily dancing around by our seats, climbing in and out of her chair, eating and taking in all the sights. At about 11:45am they started showing commercials. She then saw more commercials in the next 15 minutes than she had seen in her whole life up to that point. And really stellar stuff, too, like a commercial for dinosaur chicken nuggets, which showed kids refusing to eat their vegetables. Awesome message!

After the seemingly endless commercials, there was a special Mickey Mouse video. I thought this was perfect, since M loves Mickey and Minnie. However, maybe I am getting old or too protective or something, but I thought it was super violent. The kid behind me kept cracking up everytime the bad buy got hit with the pitchfork. The volume on the video was also very loud, but tolerable at that point.

Finally the movie started. And the volume increased by 50%. Why? Most children have amazing hearing. It did not need to be that loud. Maybe it was to drown out the children talking to their parents? I have no idea. M (whose only real aversion is to loud noises) immediately stiffened and tried to get in E’s lap. Then she got down and got up into my lap and buried her head in my chest. We left. It was nearing nap time anyway and no point in the poor kid suffering.

As we drove home (and for the rest of the day), M kept saying “movie loud.” Yeah, so we will be sticking to DVDs for awhile longer I think.


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Vegan Toddler: Second Birthday Party

This year’s birthday party for Miss M was Sesame Street themed. I have a whole post about the decorations and other details on my other blog. This one is just about the food. If you want to read the other post it is here: Sesame Street Second Birthday Party

It was a morning party — 10am-12pm — so mainly the food consisted of muffins and fruit. I made banana muffins using the banana bread recipe from Happy Herbivore. I used colorful cupcake wrappers to give a little extra pizzazz. In keeping with the theme I called them “You’ve Got a Banana in Your Ear Muffins,” calling to mind that great Bert and Ernie skit that I loved from my childhood. I planned to make the fruit laid out to look like various Sesame Street characters, like I had seen on Pinterest, but just ran out of time. I did manage to put some fruit on skewers and labelled them “Abby Cadabby’s Fruit Wands.”



I made a “Rubber Duckie Punch” using cold water and frozen blueberries. Not overly sweet like a regular punch, making it good for a morning party.


For my two gluten free guests, I also made gluten free blueberry muffins and a small gluten free chocolate cake. Doing this extra step is not too time consuming (and will be appreciated by guests who are often left out of the party feast), but you really have to be careful not to have any cross-contamination from your gluten-filled treats — lots of hand washing and using separate utensils, etc. The last thing you want to do is make your guest sick. I also made a small batch of gluten free cut-out cookies , to go along with the regular cut-out cookies I made to give out as favors (pictured below).


I worked very hard to decorate the cake, which was made using a vintage Bert and Ernie pan. It came out looking as good as I could have hoped. What I did not realize, because I was foolish and did not taste the cake, was that it was very bitter. I feel bad that the guests felt obligated to choke it down. I had made that recipe once before, for E’s birthday (chocolate cupcakes), but this time I used oil instead of applesauce. I have surmised that it was the lack of sweetness from the applesauce that doomed the cake. At least people liked the frosting.


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Sesame Street second birthday party


Last Saturday we had Miss M’s second birthday party. Although she is technically not two years old until October 27, this past weekend was better for a few of our guests, so we were happy to accommodate them.

We had the party at our house and although we have lived there about a year a half, it was the first gathering we had there. Prior to this past weekend, we had a total of about four visitors over the entire time we have lived here. On Saturday alone we had 11!

It took place from 10am-12pm to accommodate Miss M’s strict nap schedule, so it was mostly a breakfast food spread. I made all the food myself and you can read about which recipes I used over on my food blog, Lettuce Free Vegan — Vegan Toddler Birthday — (and my big failure!)

I started planning the party a few months ago and was able to pick up various Sesame Street odds and ends over time. For example, I was able to find plastic plates (pictured above) and cups from the local grocery store on after-summer clearance. The original idea was to have the kid guests take theirs home, but somehow that got forgotten, so we will just reuse them ourselves. I also picked up some Sesame Street decor fairly inexpensively. The sign below my mom had, so that was free, and I also found some Elmo napkins on clearance.


I used Miss M’s large collection of Sesame Street figures to decorate the tables, including the vintage Bert Mr. Potato Head on the food table above.

I got these great signs below custom made from a Twitter friend who has an Etsy shop called So Much To Celebrate. It is difficult to find Bert and Ernie decorations in this Elmo world we live in, so I was so glad she could make these. She can do a lot of different party items in various themes, so check her out if you are looking for some really cute custom items.


Speaking of Ernie and Bert, I got these great balloons off of Amazon and had them blown up at a Party Store for a small fee. Amazon has a lot of balloons, so think about that option if you are having trouble finding what you need.


I had three games planned, but given the short time frame and kids that wanted to play with all of Miss M’s cool toys, we only ended up doing one: Pin the nose on the Bert. For prizes (which everyone got who participated), I had Sesame Street coloring books and stickers from the Dollar Tree — another great place to look for inexpensive party decorations; I also got the table covers and cake serving set there.

I had a lot of details that I wanted to incorporate in the party, but I just ran out of time. One thing I was able to make quickly, though, was this Oscar to put in the garbage can. People seemed to get a kick out of that.


My favorite part of the party was the gift boxes. I got plain treat boxes in various colors from Oriental Trading. When each guest RSVP’d, I asked them who their favorite Sesame Street character is and then I made their treat box in that character. As I was making them, I would ask Miss M who it was and if she could guess it, I knew that it look okay. I think my favorite box was probably Animal.



Inside the boxes for the adults were several homemade cut-out cookies in the shape of “M” and “2.” The outside of the boxes said, “This party was brought to you by the letter “M” and the number “2.”



In addition to the cookies, the kids also got a small bottle of bubbles, a bouncy ball, a Sesame Street ring, and stickers.

At the end of the party, I had each family pose together in front of a Sesame Street backdrop. As an added thank you, I sent a copy of the photo along with the Thank You cards. I like the idea of having a visual record of everyone attended the party (except for my mom who was camera shy, as usual).

All in all it was a very fun event and Miss M was great throughout. She was so excited to have some of her favorite people all together in her house. After the party, when I put her in her crib for her nap, she sang part of the Birthday Song to herself and then started randomly naming some of the guests out loud. I call that a success.

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Weekly Round-Up: 10/11/2013

I did not post a weekly round-up the last two weeks, so this post is triple the fun, as it contains a recap of the past three weeks.

On Saturday, September 21, we went to Chicago VeganMania, which you can read all about over on my food blog Lettuce Free Vegan. I made a separate post there just about the food at Chicago VeganMania. That same day, we also went to the Baha’i Temple in Wilmette, where M got to climb up and down the stairs. She was unhappy that I would not let her play in the fountains, because she does not realize that not all water is a splash park.

There is not much fun to report during the week of September 23-September 27, mostly because I was battling what I thought was allergies, but was probably a cold, because M came down with similar symptoms by the end of the week.

We took it easy that Saturday, but on Sunday, September 29, we headed to Abbey Farms, which is a pumpkin farm in Aurora. We had a two-for-one deal (M was free), so we decided to check it out. It was a pretty small operation, but good enough for what we wanted. We should have skipped the child’s corn maze (way too muddy and we had to spend twenty minutes cleaning the caked on mud off of our shoes and stroller tires), as well the as the hayride (boring; M kept saying “All done hayride!”).

M loved the petting zoo, where she got licked by a llama, donkey, and goat.

We also managed to get her to cooperate with several costume changes so we could get some Halloween pumpkin patch photographs.

M has really been loving all the of the Halloween decorations at the stores and now starting to pop up in a few yards in the neighborhood. This has added several new words to her vocabulary: zom-baby, Halloween!!!, and Halloween pumpkin, which is what she calls all pumpkins. She helped me decorate the yard by hugging the decorations and making them feel welcome.

M helped me bake for the first time. She was very excited to help and successfully put two cups of oatmeal in the bowl. It is a lot easier to have her involved so that she is not whining for me from the other room and I don’t feel like I have to choose between baking/cooking and neglecting her.

We have been getting ready for her second birthday party, which is on the 19th (a week before her bday). It is a Sesame Street theme and after I make something with one of the characters on it, I ask her to identify it so I can be sure it looks right.

There will be a lengthy post after the party showing all the decorations and food.

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