Where I’m at Part 7: Long time no see

Ive kept my distance from this blog for a few months because most of whats been on my mind is more personal than professional in nature.

DSC_0432On a happy note, Ive done a lot of traveling with my family. We visited the Blue Ridge Mountains (from Asheville, NC) and Great Smoky Mountains National Park (from Sevierville, TN). We also spent the end of 2013/beginning of 2014 out West (Scottsdale, AZ, Las Vegas, NV, and Grand Canyon National Park). I attended YALLFest (Charleston, SC) and the NCTE ALAN workshop (Boston, MA).

Ive also said goodbye to some dear family membersmy grandmother, my cousin, and my aunt. I dont want them to be gone. I miss them so very much.

And, of course, since I live in the Boston area, Ive spent a considerable amount of time dealing with snow!

As for progress on my book in the publishing world, I completed two revisions with notes from my editor and a third revision with notes from my copy editor. I understand there will be one final edit to come. In A World Just Right is still scheduled for release in the spring of 2015. Between now and then galleys will be printed for the purpose of getting reviews ahead of the release. Soon I should have cover art. Mostly, all is progressing at the slow but steady pace that it should be. It takes a long time to prepare a book for release.

Ive been hard at work researching my next book, tentatively titled Jewelry. Im a bit behind where I wanted to be at this point, largely because of the travel and the mourning, but Ill catch up. I always do.

I conclude with some pictures from the last few months.


View of the Blue Ridge Mountains.


Visitors at our cabin in Sevierville.


At Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden outside Charlotte, NC.


Deer on the pond in my back yard.

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My cat left on a rocket ship

My heart is broken. Three days ago my beautiful, friendly, loving cat went to sleep forever. Two days before that our local vet had diagnosed him with cancer. My four-year-old son was with me when I got the news. I burst into tears, then had to explain to my son why I had just broken down in the vet’s office.

MuggaheadshotI told him that the Mugga was going to die. Very soon he would leave us forever, and he would go to Heaven. I told my son I was crying because I loved Mugga and would miss him so very, very much.

“Is Heaven like another Earth?” my son asked. I said yes, it was very much like that, only more beautiful and the Mugga wouldn’t be sick any more.

The next two days between the diagnosis at our vet’s and the confirmation ultrasound at the big veterinary hospital were horrible. My cat still wouldn’t eat. I mourned him already. So many times in my life, when I had a day that left me in tears, it was my kitty who sought me out to snuggle and purr and console me. Those last two days I was crying over him, and I could see his little ears turning in my direction, and I felt awful to be needing him just as he was needing me more.

The final morning, I awoke at 4:44am. Normally the Mugga slept with us, but for the last few nights he had not come upstairs. In the end, this was how I knew he really was in trouble. So on that morning, I snuck downstairs with my comforter and my pillows, picked Mugga up from the dining room rug, and put him on the ottoman beside me on the sunroom couch. He let me pet him a little, then shifted position away. I shifted over with him. When he shifted again, it was to plop his body against mine, just like he used to all his life but hadn’t done in a while because he was sick. I petted him, and I put my ear to his belly to hear his weak little purr, and we watched the sun rise together while we looked out at the new garden in the back yard. Somewhere in there I fell asleep for a little bit, and my kitty stayed right there, curled up against me. I didn’t know it was the last morning we would ever spend together. I wonder what he knew.

At the vet hospital later that morning, my husband, my son, and I were in the special room saying our goodbyes. The vet’s ultrasound had not only confirmed an orange-sized tumor in his belly, but had also found two other large tumors in his liver and spleen and a whole bunch of nodes everywhere. The cancer was causing fluid to accumulate in his belly. Nothing could be done, and he was suffering. He had been suffering for a while, and I am still dealing with the guilt of not listening carefully enough to my cat to know how much pain he was already in.

My son petted the Mugga for the last time and asked again about Heaven being a new Earth. We repeated that a new Earth was a good way to think about it. “Is the new Earth in outer space?” he asked. Between sobs we said it probably is. “Will he take a rocket ship to get there?” We told him we’d ask the doctor to make it so (and later I really did ask the technician if she could find a rocket ship; she said she would arrange it). Then my mom took my son away while my husband and I said a long, loving goodbye to our family member of 15 years.

He had always been a vigorous groomer, so we’d been sad all morning that he wasn’t giving even weak kisses. Right before the catheter went in his leg, I put my fingers to his nose to ask for a kiss. In his final act, he put out his little tongue and touched my fingers. I don’t know if it was instinct, or love, or his generous heart still trying to comfort me when I was sad, but it was the most beautiful thing he could have done for me. When the Mugga was gone a few minutes later, I picked up a tuft of hair he had shed in all that final petting. I’m keeping it forever as my keepsake of his final kiss, his final gift to me.

In the days since I’ve been beating myself up over what I could and should have done for the Mugga. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be grieving so intensely, but one thing that helped a little was to read some blog posts others had written about their cats’ deaths. A number of their fond memories echo so many of my own, so for my sake and my sake only, and because I want to remember all of Mugga’s life, not just the last few days, I’m going to recount my memories below. Thinking back, talking to friends and family who knew the Mugga, and looking through pictures has revealed to me that my cat did very much have stages of his life. And we loved each other through all of them.

My son and I have been picking up tufts of his hair around the house and calling them kisses and hugs the Mugga left behind because he loved us.rocket ship

I miss you, Mugga-doo. Safe journey, my forever friend.






Mugga came into my life because I was mourning the loss of another cat, Kitty. My family thought it would help me to move on if I had another cat to love. I wasn’t so sure, but that was what my family wanted to give me for my birthday present. We went to the shelter to rescue a cat.Chris, Jen, and little Mugga

The Mugga was one of a litter of white-haired kittens. We picked up a few of them, but the Mugga (whose given name was “Marshmallow” and was officially so for his whole life. It was my husband who coined the nickname the “Mugga”) was undeniably friendly, scrambling for love and attention. We took him home.

My husband and I were engaged at the time, and somehow we figured out that Mugga had been born in June (it was, at that time, November). We were to be married the following June, so we decided the Mugga’s birthday would be in June, on our anniversary, more or less. So he was one year older than our marriage.

Mugga first lived with us in a third-floor apartment with locked outer doors in Woburn, right on Montvale Ave. near where it intersected with Main Street. For these reasons, we decided to keep him safe as an indoor cat.

little MuggaEvery time we opened the door to our apartment, he would try to sneak out. One day we let him go and shut the door behind him. I think we forgot he was out there. Later we found him curled up waiting outside our neighbor’s door, mistaking it for our door.

We used to let light reflect off the faces of our watches and make moving light circles on the walls and furniture. The Mugga used to chase the light. I think we have video of this somewherehim jumping up the wall like a crazy cat.

I had (and still have) a few plants in large pots. The Mugga used to pee in the dirt. Although I’d forgotten this, my friend remembers I’d put cereal boxes in the plants to keep the kitty out.

He also ate plants. This was a constant throughout his entire life. We had to keep poisonous plants out of his reach so he didn’t get sick and other plants out of his reach so he didn’t destroy them. He often found ways to reach what we thought was unreachable.

We moved into my parents’ basement from the apartment in Woburn when my husband went back to school. Mugga used to sit on the wide window sills and chatter at the birds outside.

Mugga peeking in booksBecause my parent’s house is on something of a corner, car headlights used to shine in the windows when they went by in the dark. In the early mornings before rush hour, Mugga used to chase the headlights on the wall. More than once he jumped up to catch the light and ended up flicking on the lights in the bedroom, waking us up.

From my parent’s basement, we moved into our first house. At night we would sit together on the couch and eat and watch TV. I had (still have) a yellow puff (my word for a comforter) that I would put across my lap. The Mugga used to come snuggle up on that yellow puff every day with me.

In that house we had a two-story foyer with a coat closet on the left. The closet had hardwood flooring on the top. It was outside the bannister railing for the staircase, so you could only get on top of the closet by climbing over the railing (dangerous) or going through the railing (only possible for a cat). The Mugga used to perch up there and monitor the goings on of the entire house.

One time we went away and left the Mugga alone. Although it had been a long time sinceMugga in window he peed in a plant, we came home to dirt all over the floor and an ammonia smell in the pot. We then discovered the bathroom door had been closed while we were gone, and the Mugga had no access to his litter box. We wondered how long the poor thing had held out before finally using the plant.

When I was pregnant with my son, I did not start the new school year in my teaching job. I was at home for that fall, and I had a routine where I would go upstairs to bed and take a nap every morning. The Mugga always trotted along up with me and slept with me.

While pregnant, there got to be less and less room on my lap with the yellow puff. Mugga would crawl up anyway and snuggle against my belly. I think he liked being near the baby and his movement and his heartbeat.Mugga with Chris and baby Lucas

our familyWe didn’t know how the Mugga would react to the birth of our son, but we needn’t have worried. He loved and sniffed and generally wanted to hang around our son for the entire four and a half years they were together. I remember one night in particular (I’m skipping ahead here because this was in our current house, not our first house, only a few months ago) I was awakened in the night by the Mugga sitting on the pillow above my son’s head (my son still sleeps with us), grooming his hair with gusto.

I actually don’t remember when it started, but the Mugga used to sleep on/by my head. He’d always be trying to sneak in good grooming of my hair, but I never liked him to do it.

By contrast, my husband let him lick his head, as long as it wasn’t when he was trying to sleep. In our new house, my husband gets up for work before my son and me. When the alarm went off, the Mugga used to get excited because after my husband’s shower and dress, he would say a special goodbye to the Mugga by letting him groom his head.

The final phase of my cat’s life was in our new home where we’ve lived for a little over two years. He slowed down. He didn’t chittery and chattery as much at the birds. We were busy with our growing son and didn’t sit on the couch anymore with the yellow puff. Instead, my best time with the Mugga was always at night. As an insomniac, I often fall asleep last and wake up often. I would snuggle with the cat during those times when the house was dark and quiet and my son and husband breathed softly beside us. Sometimes I petted him just once because I wanted to fall back to sleep, sometimes a little longer. For a while he slept on a pillow I placed above mine. After that he slept at my feet or my husband’s. Or sometimes cuddled up warm against me.

Mugga in Pepperell kitchenOur days in the last few years were defined by 8:30. In the morning and the evening, that was when we had to feed the Mugga and give him his insulin. It’s so hollow now to see 8:30 on the clock and have no date with the Mugga anymore.

Two nights ago I got up in the night to use the bathroom. I felt like his little footfalls were supposed to follow me into the bathroom. I’d forgotten how often he used to do that, since he hadn’t done it in a while. For years he used to follow me at might to get some love.

There was white cat hair everywhere. It’s still everywhere. We couldn’t get dressed without having to check for cat hair.Mugga's last picture

That last morning watching the sunrise, and that last afternoon on the leather couch at the vet’s.

How he used to meow before he threw up a hairball, and how every time he did throw up, he did it in threes. If I found one small puddle, I knew to look for exactly two more.

How, in our new house, when it was time to eat, he would wait at the top of the stairs for us to come and carry him down. He let us cradle him when we held him. He was our first baby, after all.

The way, before he got diabetes, he would love his Fancy Feast cat food, and how afterward, as it approached 8:30 he would, as we said, “advocate” for himself by seeking us out and letting us know he was ready.

He was always his own best advocate, not just with feedings, but with love. He used to make a place for himself near us, like if one of us was holding the baby, he would sit just a little further down the lap, or on top of the chair by our head.

He had golden eyes.

Mugga in tubeMugga in sunbeamMugga ripped bag

When he was very little he had a tuft of gray hairs on his head that eventually grew out.

If we went away overnight, he got so lonely. He’d cry at us when we got home and be extra special needy for attention. I used to think about him and worry about him every time we went away.

How he used to love sitting in a sunbeam, especially in younger days.

Sometimes he’d do a “drive by,” where he reached out with his claw and grabbed you as you walked by.

How he cowered during a thunder storm, most recently in our closet.

He once got shut in our coat closet. We didn’t find him until we went looking. Later I caught him opening that closet himself and realized he must have opened it the day he got stuck and someone just came by and shut it without knowing he was inside.

He used to visit our overnight guests and sleep with them for part of the night.

me smiling at MuggaHe had his favorite places to hang out. Not only over the closet in our first house, but in our new house under the dining room table. There is almost enough hair under there now to make a new cat. Though sometimes I’d find him in new places like the wicker chair in the sunroom.

A few times, when I had the chance at night to work on the computer in the playroom by myself, he would come in and sit beside me on the rug.

In younger days, he would unroll the toilet paper. To save rolls, for years and years we hung them backwards.

He liked being stroked on his jaw and under his chin.

The way he meowed in the car. He could keep it up for the hour-long drive from our first house to my mom and dad’s house.

Before showering, I put the clothes I’ll need afterward on the bed. When I would come out of the shower, the Mugga would be nesting in my clothes.

We used to tease him by making shrill noises, especially shrill singing noises. His ears would perk straight up.

His fur was soft. Very, very, soft.

Even as my son grew from an infant to a toddler to a very active pre-schooler, the Mugga loved him. When my son was loud and crazy, the cat kept his distance, and when my son poked and pawed him, the cat could bite or scratch. But in quieter moments, he’d come and sniff and snuggle and groom, and my son was just getting to the age where he could appreciate the cat and pet him properly.

What I remember most about the Mugga, what was most special and most wonderful about him, what will always define him in my life, is that he was always there for me, unconditionally, until he kissed me with practically his dying breath.

me and Mugga during his last sunrise






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Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within reach of every hand.

— Mother Teresa