Thursday, December 29, 2011

Early Mornings

Early this morning I finished a book--not required reading, not reading aloud to my kids. Months ago a good friend loaned me her copy of The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. It was not the first time she had pushed a book in my hands insisting I read it. Based on her previous recommendations, it was surely a treasure. But when? My list of things to do exceeded the time available; pleasure reading was not even on the list.

Until this morning, that is. I curled up under an afghan on the couch while the house slept. With nowhere to go, no tasks to do, I turned page after page in blissful silence. The only sound was the occasional purring of a coiled cat on my lap or the sporadic snoring of the dog at my feet. In relished peace and quiet the beautiful story of a racecar driver narrated by a dog called Enzo unfolded. I laughed, I cried, I cheered him on.

Glancing down at my dog, I wondered what happens behind those golden-green eyes. Did he see his world with the clarity of Enzo or was he simply dreaming of fried eggs? I wanted to believe he was both--a loyal friend and protector along with a playful pooch enjoying a simple life. And this morning I enjoyed the simple pleasures of a great book.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

New Traditions

The final push of the semester is over with this post and I have twelve glorious days of freedom from school—both teaching and my classes. I have stockpiled a few projects to tackle in the break, but the deadlines are my own to meet or miss.

This year marks my first fall semester and the holidays have snuck up on me. It is the perfect time to reflect on our family traditions and maybe start some new ones. My proactive friends have strung up the lights, checked off their shopping lists, sent out the beautiful photo cards, baked the cookies and tied the bow onto the last wrapped package. Well, good for them—show-offs.

The lights were strung in early December thanks to my nine-year old son, Spence. He is on top of the Christmas decorating each year. I love it when a kid gets convenient. Shopping officially started last Friday; might need a little more work in that department. The late start is not a new Hartman holiday tradition. Thanks to Pat, the UPS guy for delivering the good stuff. Somebody tell our vet the dog is porky because of Pat’s treats and not the dirty plates I let him clear.

I am a few years behind on the photo card front, but March is a great time to send a little cheer around the country. Besides, cards sent in December get a smile in return. Cards in March get letters and phone calls in return. I know this because 2012 will not be the first year I miss the December mark. Hey, hey! We are already celebrating new traditions.

Now we rock in the cookie department. Chocolate chip cookies have been baked more times than I can count. We send out at least 6 dozen cookies a month year round. Cookie exchanges, bake sale fundraisers, by requests, classes and one soccer celebration in the past few weeks have yielded over 30 dozen cookies baked in our ovens. Well okay, I guess I counted. My fifteen-year old daughter produced more than half of the lot and sometimes even washed the dishes to boot. Child labor rules!

It would be rude to expect completed gift-wrapping at this point. Frankly, it should be clear by now that it simply hasn’t happened. My eleven-year old son and I did wrap the gifts together for my family in Colorado. The freeloading kitten was a big help, so those gifts have a little extra love enclosed. It really shouldn’t bother anyone those packages were the only items purchased months in advance, but shipped on the 20th. Checked off my list, hurray!

My favorite new tradition I copied from a friend—imitation is the highest form of flattery. For the last several years I have found ornaments for the kids that reflect their activities or interests. My youngest son loves making smoothies, so he got a blender ornament. Another kid's ornament celebrates the two Ravens games he attended. My avid Harry Potter fan got an ornament that depicts the famous trio fleeing the fiendfyre. The ornaments have initials and a year, are stored in individual kid boxes and will go with them when they start their families.

Old traditions are plentiful. We hang the ornaments from good friends year after year and we make room for the new ones. We read the same Christmas book each Christmas Eve, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. As the kids get older, we add to the mix with Christmas movies like A Christmas Story and Scrooged. We set out cookies, grandma’s fudge and carrots for Santa and the reindeer. As long as we are together, we will make new traditions as we go.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Early Thursday morning I am driving home after getting a kid off to school. My cell phone rings.  It’s my neighbor, Ann, in a panic with her dogs yipping in the background.

“Valerie, there’s a cat on the deck crying at the door. The dogs tried to get it, but it won’t leave. What should I do?”

I picture her pair of black and brown miniature dachshunds and am not worried. Still, it’s odd the cat would hang around that racket and Ann is pretty worked up.

“I am on my way home now, I will be back in about 15 minutes. Can you bring it in and keep it warm until I get there?”

“In the house? Maybe I should go out and wrap it in a blanket,” she offers.

“No, no. They don’t like that,” I respond.

“I can put it in a cage,” she counters. I envision a not-so-clever cat locked in a smelly dog crate.

“No, they don’t much like that either. How about you just keep it company until I get home? Just go outside and sit down. Let it come up to you,” I try to instruct her.

“Okay. I’ll get my coat. See you soon. Bye,” and the call ends.

I pull up in Ann’s driveway to her holding the sweetest little orange face sticking out of her jacket. I don’t even get out of the car and she hands me a kitten through the window. So much for thinking it might run off if she went outside.

I take it home and up the stairs to my youngest son’s bedroom. Spence wakes up to a 12-week old orange tabby kitten mewing. He puts on his glasses in what has to be his fastest morning wake-up ever.

“Keep an eye on our guest for me. I am going to get him something to eat, keep the door shut until I get back. Okay?” I check to see if he is awake enough to follow directions. He is staring at the cat with his hair sticking out in every direction. He nods once, never taking his eyes off the kitten.

The kitten eats, drinks, purrs and mews. Spence is thrilled to be the only kid home, he gets the little guy all to himself.

“What are we going to call it? Is it a boy? Can I name him? Where did you get him? Did you tell Jordan and Jacob yet?” he peppers me with questions.

It is a full thirty minutes before I notice his paws. Oh no-absolutely not. This cat is not staying. He has a full, fur-covered extra toe complete with toe pad and claw on the inside of each front foot. We already have a collection of misfit cats: anxious Sadie with her weepy eye, cowardly Oakley with his mangled fangs and missing patches of fur, raspy Frodo with his chronic breathing problems. I am not keeping this cat!

I don’t define my pets based on their oddities, any more than I would label a person by their differences. We all have quirks, some more obvious than others. If we only recognize the prominent positive or negative features, our views are reduced to caricatures rather than full creatures, whether cat or human being. Caricatures fall short of engaging and entertaining both our lives and our stories, while complex characters spring to life and enrich our existence. No one deserves to be viewed as a caricature.

Free to a Good Home: Adorable male kitten approximately 12 weeks old. Orange tabby colorings with white socks and white chest. Affectionate people-loving cat gets along well with kids, cats and our dog. Clean bill of health from vet, will be neutered with all shots. Just in time for Christmas!