Sharing the Spotlight

Sharing the Spotlight

Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Clever, Curious, Caring Cat
Coming September 14, 2021!

After dancing around with this information for a couple months, I have the go-ahead from the PR department to make official announcements. My personal essay, “The Demon Assistant” made it through all the levels of screening and will appear in the newest release from Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Clever, Curious, Caring Cat! The book hits shelves (not to mention Amazon, Barnes & Noble’s online system, and Indie Bound) on September 14th.

As you might guess from the title, it features everyone’s favorite tiny demon, Tonks. And I can’t think of anything more serendipitous than to have my first publication in a book to coincide with a tale of her working alongside me. The symmetry? It’s too perfect. (Admit it – you want to read it)

And, yes, I’ve been dancing around and busting at the seams to share the news for MONTHS.

TonksVision

TonksVision

TonksVision

Most people get a say in who they hire as a Personal Assistant. They conduct interviews, review resumes, and ask for references in order to find the most qualified candidate possible. And – the majority of the time – they get someone who will make their life easier and keep their work on track. Personal Assistants are invaluable. This is why people take so much care and time finding the right people to fill that slot in their lives.

And then there’s me.

My Personal Assistant? She appointed herself. Within a day of starting my freelance career, Tonks decided she was in charge of keeping me on track, managing the state of my desk, and “proofreading” all of my work. It sounds like the job description of any other Personal Assistant – if you don’t peer too closely into the details.

Keeping me on track? That means coming to get me if I spend too long on the couch in the mornings. (I’ve had ZERO success teaching her that fibromyalgia equates to slow movement and the need for a couple hours of NOTHING in order to function each day) It also translates to her following me if I get up from the desk to make lunch or chat with my husband. She’ll sit at my feet and scratch at my leg to order me back to work. (Demanding little demon)

Tonks of the shelves over my desk

“Managing my desk” is a generous phrase for things. If you’ve ever worked in an office setting – or in a clinic – you understand the value of quality pens. (You also know that one Pen Thief) Tonks took things further by stealing EVEYTHING. She’d roll pens off the desk, pat at and chew on them while I attempted to write, and steal the caps (Note: never get ink pens that require tops). She also swatted the shark teeth off the desk before moving onto her assault of Mini Tonks. And then she took to scaling the shelves over my desk. Her personal jungle gym, she decided everything up there belonged on the floor. (No need to worry about height when the bugger scales the book shelves in the den and even tightrope-walked over the curtain rods) Oh, and, of course, she extended these management duties to my desk chair. Any time I got up for a moment, she quickly co-opted the chair for her own. Even after we bought her a chair and set it up beside the desk (which she DOES use), she didn’t stop deciding to steal my chair whenever possible. You know – typical behaviors for a Personal Assistant. (I think she felt it made it easier to read my screen and “proofread” my work for me)

But as my client base started to grow, Tonks came up with a new (self-appointed) task for herself. One I’m not sure ANY Personal Assistant performs. Courtesy of family members living around the country (and one stationed overseas), she already understood the concept of Skype. And she knows the precise location of the camera on my laptop and Nook so she can push her face onto the screen and dominate the video. Well, COVID-19 introduced everyone to Zoom to replace in-person meetings.

And Tonks is nothing if not a ham.

Tonks on my laptop case

The first time Tonks invited herself into an interview call, it was an accident. She always hangs out on the desk at some point in the day to get attention. And setting her aside? It only encouraged her to come back. Luckily, the client thought she was adorable and didn’t mind. But she’s a smart cat. She recognized words of admiration, AND she figured out where my line of sight kept going. When I noticed her sniffing the camera on my monitor, I knew I was in trouble.

And, true to form, she sat herself directly in front of the camera the next time the green light came on. (In case you weren’t aware? While they don’t see the same shades you or I do, cat’s AREN’T colorblind)

Since then, Tonks invites herself to participate in every Zoom call or interview I make. And even though I can’t figure out HOW, she also knows when I take a phone call that’s work-related. She’ll rub and bump the phone while I talk, determined to make her presence known. (I swear, I can hear her little voice shouting, “This is my Mommy’s Personal Assistant, and you WILL speak to me first!”) I can’t even attempt to “stealth mode” my way into these calls! Like a can opener, she can hear the light click on from anywhere in the house. And I’m left apologizing for the intrusion – and then sighing in relief as everyone gushes over how cute she is. (Secretly, I think she’s trying to make her big break. I don’t think she realizes I’m not speaking with Hollywood)

And if anyone ever doubted how smart Tonks is? She can tell the difference between a recorded video presentation and a live Zoom call. The adage “fool me once?” Well, that’s how it works with her. A friend of mine appeared in a virtual play set up as a series of Zoom calls. Tonks heard the sounds and came running, and when no one reacted to her standing in front of the camera (besides my husband and I laughing hysterically), she got annoyed and stomped off. So when I started working with Freelance Writers Den, taking courses with their bootcamps, I expected her to sit front-and-center when the recorded sessions popped up. But she’d learned her lesson. If I’m not speaking? She’s not interested. She only wants to hang around if there’s a possibility of the Tonks show.

Realistically? She’s the worst Personal Assistant a person could ask for. Of course, since I never officially HIRED her, I’m not sure how firing would work. And while there’s always an initial moment of embarrassment when she charges in on those interviews and calls? I also feel like she’s an important part of everything I do. Attempting to work without her around? I can’t imagine it. (And the day she was gone while she got her teeth cleaned? It felt surreal, and I ended up distracted the entire day)

As aggravating as it gets, retrieving shark teeth, ordering her to get out of the electrical cords, and tossing foam stickers on the floor to distract her away from pens (or interviews), it’s part of my daily routine. She keeps me from getting bored or stressed or even overwhelmed with my freelance career. And while she’s a hell of a taskmistress, she also knows when to get me to take a break for cuddles and nose-boops.

So while she might be a terrible Personal Assistant on one hand, she’s also a pretty fantastic genius on the other hand. As long as we don’t take into account the number of time she steals my socks in the morning.

Video

Swimmy Dog

While Juniper’s been in our inflatable pool and down to the edge of the ocean before, this was her first official swim. And she did amazing! We’re super proud of her. (Okay, so each attempt lasted under 10 seconds – the important thing was the attempt!)

Tonks vs. Mini-Tonks

Tonks vs. Mini-Tonks

Crocheted Antihero Kreative logo

While I admit I’m not one for celebrating or making a big deal out of my birthday, this year saw the arrival of one of the best presents. If you’ve visited my Heroes page, you know my extremely talented sister designed the logo for this site (and my freelance writing business). And I love it. It came out exactly the way I pictured it. And, yes, it’s based on Tonks. So when I opened the present and found a crocheted version of the logo, I was over the moon. It was the perfect replica – and the perfect size to sit in front of my computer screen.

For those who HAVEN’T skipped over to that page (for shame – those people are amazing and the reason my world runs as smoothly as it does), Tami is a genius. She CREATES her own crochet patterns out of her brain. And then she sells them in her Etsy store for people who want to recreate the same pieces (so sorry, but my logo isn’t up there – that’s a one-of-a-kind piece). How she does it, I’ll never know. And she never told me she was planning to make my cute little Antihero. It captures everything, right down to the card suites on the butt. And once I’d snapped the requisite pictures (and bragged on social media), I set it on my computer stand – right where it belonged.

Of course, Tonks felt a need to check it out while everyone admired it on the coffee table. But I didn’t think anything of it at the time. She poked her head into every box and bag. It’s what she does. (And she usually claims the bags as her own) Nothing seemed out of the ordinary in her exploration. Sure, we laughed that she was interested in her little mini version, but then we dropped it.

Until things changed.

It didn’t take long before a new pattern emerged during her “Assistant” duties. Allow me to clarify. A typical morning starts with her “helping” me get dressed and brush my teeth. Then she jumps on the desk, surveys the monitor stands to decide what she wants to mess with, and plops her butt in front of one of the screens. The biggest distractions used to be my shark teeth, followed by my mini How to Train Your Dragon stuffed dragons. And, of course, my pen is always up for grabs (though that happens less often now that it sits in a tray on the second monitor stand). If she felt particularly adventurous, she’d jump onto the lowest book shelf and knock down one of the tiny stuffed cats, Zoidberg, or the Tentacle Kitty. If I had a sweatshirt on, she’d finish by coming over to chew on the drawstrings. And when she finally moved to her chair (or went to spy on the neighbors in a window), I’d straighten everything again.

Tonks with Antihero Logo

Now, though? Now she goes straight for the Antihero Kreative logo. She ignores EVERYTHING else on the desk (with the exception of drawstrings – those remain a popular distraction). She doesn’t chew on it, but she HAS to sniff it and knock it over. And this remains a daily ritual. Nothing else gets touched anymore. And the dragon she’s leaning over? It stays upright! She’ll step carefully around it without toppling it in order to reach the crocheted logo.

Of course, she obscures the computer screen the entire time, which is one of the most helpful things she’s done as an “Assistant.” (Good thing I have two monitors and can move the window over) I’ve tried reminding her that she isn’t see-through, but she doesn’t listen. She’s too busy carrying out her investigation of mini-Tonks.

I finally sent my sister the photo and shared the story. She laughed and complimented Tonks on her good taste. And I have to admit, it’s true. The logo’s astounding. And since it distracts that little demon from her USUAL routine of destruction, there MUST be something to it! (It’s a working theory, anyway)

People (non-animal people, mostly) like to argue that animals have no sense of self and other garbage. No one’s EVER going to convince me that Tonks doesn’t know that little figure isn’t modeled after her. Not with this kind of response. She knows the logo came from her pictures. And she checks on the crochet version every morning, without fail. I KNOW it’s her way of saying, “Yup, mini-me is still here and still looks awesome.” (You won’t convince me otherwise) How else to explain why she’s abandoned everything else? Including new additions since then? (So no use trying to say it’s a novelty thing)

Tami’s right – she has the best taste. And, honestly, if it keeps the desk destruction down to minimum, I’m okay with that.

Galaxy Eyes

Galaxy Eyes

Firefly's eyes (with Tonks)

January 2020 began a long, crazy, EXPENSIVE journey for the family. I had noticed an odd cloudiness in Firefly’s left eye in December. He sometimes had flares of upper respiratory infections, and I thought this might be one of those times. But by January, it was still sticking around – and getting worse. He needed some lab work to recheck his thyroid, so I figured I’d mention it.

Cue the dramatic crescendo.

Uncertain WHAT the cloudiness was (other than not anything typical), the vet recommended a referral to an ophthalmologist. We trooped him out the same day – and got more confusion. It LOOKED like a sequestrum – a malady more common in dogs. Cats can certainly get them (spontaneously for no damn good reason – of course), but it was rare. And there was ulceration on the cornea due to an underlying dry eye problem. Surgery was an option, but with his dry eye, it wasn’t recommended.

Firefly's eyes with the worst of the sequestrum

Over the next six months, the poor kid proceeded to suffer through eye drop after eye drop after eye drop. At one point, he was on SIX drops – half of them THREE times a day. (Good thing both of us work from home!) And then, just for fun, he developed an ulcer on the right eye. His beautiful eyes started to resemble galaxies. NOT a good look for a cat. We were regular visitors to the ophthalmologists. They knew our car on sight, and everyone knew him. (Luckily, he’s a star patient) His dry eye improved – a little…at least it wasn’t ZERO anymore. He started resenting the eye drops and began running and hiding when he heard us open the bottles. We were hitting a brick wall.

Firefly post-double keratectomy

Out of options, we decided we’d hit rock bottom. The ophthalmologist agreed, and we went forward with surgery: a DOUBLE keratectomy. They removed part of the cornea on both eyes and place grafts. With his dry eye history, we were warned the grafts may not heal – not to mention that his eyes were going to look…well, not the best. And for those first few weeks, he looked rough. We held our breath and watched the blood vessels form attachments to the grafts. Fingers crossed, sacrifices made, and star charts consulted; he’d been through SO MUCH. When we hit that four-week recheck, I don’t think either one of us were breathing.

The grafts held, though! Healthy tissue and vessel attachment showed. And at the two rechecks since, the report’s been the same. He’s been able to drop down to just three eye drops (one’s even an over-the-counter drop!) twice a day. He’d prefer if we left his eyes alone, so he takes off now and then, but it’s not as bad as he used to be. And while his eyes aren’t the beautiful stunners they used to be, they don’t resemble cloudy galaxies anymore, either. It’s a compromise we’re willing to take. And not having to see the ophthalmologist for six months? That’s a freaking miracle!

Firefly's eyes now

We can actually see his pupils again. They’re larger than normal, but they’re in there. You also get a little of the prominent blood vessels on the left, where they’re gripping the corneal graft, but it’s more subtle than before. And since the left eye was worse, it’s kind of expected. We’re just amazed to SEE his eyes again. We spent so much of last year NOT seeing them. And wondering how much of his vision was obstructed. It was heartbreaking. Older, dapper gentleman or not.

We know he lost some of his depth perception. He’s a little more careful with his jumps. However, he didn’t lose his sight, which was a major concern of ours (especially since removal of his EYES was another possibility we discussed). And for a handsome boy approaching thirteen-years-old that isn’t too shabby.

Tonks vs. Christmas

Tonks vs. Christmas

Tonks and the Christmas Tree - 2020 version

Have you ever dealt with the frustration of trying to keep a pet out of your holiday decorations? Even if it’s not a particular battle of yours, odds are you’ve seen the memes circulating at this time of year. People get creative with their solutions, and it makes for entertaining viewing. Of course, if you’re the person coping with the destructive pet, it gets less comical.

Because it’s shocking the amount of damage a 6-pound cat can do!

That’s right, despite the fact I wrote an article this year on keeping cats out of Christmas trees, Tonks defies every attempt we make. She is a mini machine of absolute destruction, hell-bent on taking out the tree. And it’s not even the ornaments she’s after. Oh, no, this tiny demon of feline grace and prowess infiltrates the tree and bends branches out of shape before a single ornament comes out of its box. One moment, she’s on her cat perch. The next, you hear the telltale sound of a body slithering between plastic. Look over, and there’s a face peeping out at you from half-way up the tree. (Admittedly, she’s never made it to top, but that’s probably because we hear her before she gets that far)

2018 Christmas tree post-Tonks

In 2018, when she was only eight-months-old (and not fully grown), she destroyed our first Christmas tree. This is the result of her climbing. Branches mangled beyond repair. Holes gaping from her wedging her body through spaces we never imagined she’d fit. We’d set the tree up early, as a test to see how she’d react. No ornaments (we weren’t completely foolish), no ribbons – just the tree itself. The poor thing never stood a chance. We DID eventually decorate the tree, but it didn’t look as pretty as usual. Turns out the branches weren’t designed to hold a six-pound kitten’s explorations. And, of course, she continued her wanton destruction despite the additional obstacles of ribbon and ornaments. We found ourselves picking up and replacing at least three or four ornaments every morning. Not to mention repositioning the tree skirt that the little bugger insisted on burrowing under. (That stopped once there were gifts under the tree, though) And don’t get me started on her interest in the snowflakes on the wood stove, the garland on the shelves, or the stockings on the stone work around the stove.

When it came time to replace the poor abused Christmas tree, we got strange looks from salespeople. Apparently, “Do you think these branches can support an eight-pound cat?” wasn’t a question they routinely heard. Nor were they used to people pushing down on the demo trees, debating sturdiness. (We entertained other shoppers, though) It took us weeks to track down our current tree, which passed our testing in the store. Of course, our best guesses were nothing compared to the actual demon herself.

Would this new tree survive? Or would it suffer the same fate as the original?

(And, seriously, why has the artificial tree industry not come up with a cat rating?)

Amazingly enough, the new acquisition came through with flying colors. I wish I could say Tonks lost her interest with climbing the Christmas tree, but I’d be lying. She just hasn’t destroyed this new one (yet). And the morning ornament round-up continued last year unabated. Of course, we’re always smart enough to put the unbreakable ornaments at the bottom so they’ll survive the fall.

Tonks cuddled in the fluffy tree skirt

This year, we adopted a new tactic. Maybe, if we found a suitably soft tree skirt, we could divert Tonks’s obsession with the tree. As you can see, our plan worked – a little too well. We almost couldn’t get the skirt UNDER the tree. After letting it sit on the chair unattended, she claimed it as her own. It took a lot of coaxing to get the fluffy skirt away from her and out to the den. And she HAS been a little less interested in the tree this year (though she has a current obsession with one of the ornaments that has a jingle bell attached – an “alarm” to tell us she’s climbing into the branches). Unfortunately, as soon as we started adding the gifts under the tree, she lost most of her snuggle room on the tree skirt – and she’s let us know her displeasure by scratching at the presents and trying to move them out of the way. (Sometimes you can get a little TOO smart for your own good)

Tonks is the first cat I’ve owned who’s developed an obsession with climbing the branches. No one else cares (though Firefly “chews” on the branches – something he’s done both before and after he had all of his teeth pulled). Then again, our tiny demon does a lot of things no other cat does, so it’s not entirely a surprise. However, she’s given me a new appreciation for those annual battles. So the next time you see one of those cat Christmas tree memes, understand that the struggle is REAL.