Monday, July 6, 2015

Smudge, 1998-2015

Even though I knew this day would come, I don’t much like it. I’m sitting in a very quiet house today because yesterday I made the very hard choice to help Smudge leave this world of pain.

She was a good cat.

When I posted something on Facebook, just a sweet picture of her wandering in front of the azaleas this spring, I knew that most would figure out the reason I had changed my profile picture. Condolences came in from just about every continent – Australia, Asia, Europe, South America, Africa.

Smudge had led such a well-traveled and well-documented life that not only did she have fans and followers from everywhere, but a good portion of those people had met her. Or had come face to face with her as she glared at them from under a chair or behind a door.

Because let’s face it, Smudge only liked one person. Me. And even I got on her nerves from time to time. This was a cat who would not deign to sit on my lap for the first ten years of her life. When she finally discovered the joys of lap-sitting, I could not keep her away, even when the temperature hovered in the 90s. In her later years, she would camp out there for as long as I would let her, tucking her head under and having a look of sheer contentment on her face.

When we adopted Smudge from the Humane Society, she got her name because she was just a tiny gray smudge of a thing, small enough to fit in the palm of our hand. I knew I would adopt her when I lifted her out of her cage and she started purring.

Home for most of her life was our house on Burlington Place, where she could sit on the window seat in the family room watching the birds fly by, or sit on the back patio catching a few rays of sun. She was too timid to wander much past our little yard, and that was fine by me.

She was still a young cat when we moved with her to Brussels for a year. There we lived in a four-story townhouse with a walled-in garden, a lovely spot when it wasn’t raining. I thought it kept Smudge from wandering far, but one day I saw her high atop a ten-foot wall and knew that her European adventures were bigger than I realized.

Our favorite story about Smudge in Brussels involved the trauma of the move. We were living in a temporary apartment with a fireplace. As we were in the processing of moving to our townhouse, Daniel called me and said, “I can’t find Smudge. I think she either took the elevator down or jumped off the fourth-floor balcony of the apartment.”

I rushed back to the apartment. Before I could start the search, Smudge appeared from a ledge inside the very dirty fireplace. She was covered in soot, a true smudge. That was, I suppose, one of her nine lives gone.

Getting her back to Washington seemed relatively easy, and I could tell that she knew she was home again the minute she got into our house.

Over the next dozen years, she had the life of a cat, getting chubby and lazy, lolling in the sunshine and rebuffing any attempts by the kids to make friends with her. She was a quiet cat, hardly mewing or making any kind of sound.

I’d look down and there was her dark presence, by my side. If it wasn’t possible to be in my lap, she’d content herself with being near me in a room or begging treats from me in the kitchen.

Then came China. And China took at least 6 of her remaining lives, as we had to smuggle her in to avoid quarantine. Accidentally locking her in the bathroom of our temporary apartment just added insult to 

She never much loved the Chinese brand of cat food so I became a cat food Sherpa, bringing dozens of cans of high end cat food from the U.S. to satisfy her elderly and finicky palate. She even had a food donation from the American ambassador. When Ambassador Max Baucus and his wife were moving to China, they also moved a giant bin of cat food with them. But somehow the cat didn’t make the trip, and so we ended up with a diplomatic delivery of Iams cat food that lasted Smudge many months.

In China, she would sit on a chair by the window of our glassed-in quasi-patio area, while I typed on the computer. As an older girl, she didn’t have much interest in the magpies that landed in the trees outside the windows. Then again, she wasn’t much bothered by the endless hours of fireworks on Chinese new year either, so that was a good thing.

Getting her home again was another challenge, one that included an accidentally packed cat carrier, a long trip in a substitute carrier, and the final delivery home again. Once again, she clearly knew she had made it home. She knew every room, she remembered how to get outside.

And even though I knew she was slowly dying of renal failure, she lasted long enough that she was able to enjoy the warm weather of a Washington spring and part of the summer. 

We had an overload of rabbits in DC this year, and one day I looked up to see Smudge bouncing after a bunny who was as big as she was. There was life in the old girl to the end.

By the end, she was ready to end the pain. She didn’t want to be touched, she stopped eating and drinking, and her plaintive cries were wrenching. It was time.
When I brought her to the animal hospital, I never left her side. I held her in her red blanket that she loved, and I talked to her and pet her, my tears dropping down on her head as I spoke. She went peacefully, and then she wasn’t there any more.

Later on Sunday, I went out into my garden, and there, as if it was waiting for me, was the tiniest bunny I had ever seen, with big brown eyes. It was just a smudge of a thing.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Our Ship Has Come In...Sort Of

For those of you who are not following my so-called oversharing on Facebook, I want to announce that the NYK Meteor has docked in Norfolk. I resisted the urge to drive down there and check it out, and maybe even tow the whole thing back to Burlington Place.

Now I wish I had.

This is the response from our relocation agent, who does not seem particularly concerned:

Yes, I have received arrival notice on the vessel but the tracking you may have seen is only related to the vessel arrival.  I have not received information on discharge yet.  The container release is also pending customs clearance so that can be at least another 7 to 10 working days.  Right now, I would not estimate delivery until possibly the week of February 23.  I may have a better idea by the end of the week.

Then she asks if we have any travel plans in the next few weeks.

Great. Our life has been on hold for three months, and we still don't have any real handle on a delivery date. If only I had known it would take this long....

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

At Anchor

Just when you think that you're making progress in this whole move-back-to-America thing, the whole thing comes to a screeching halt. Literally.

Yesterday, I was excited to see that the NYK Meteor had exited the Panama Canal and was sitting way way off the coast of Panama. When I logged on today, I expected to see it making its way up along the coast of Cuba.

Nope. The NYK Meteor is "at anchor" in the same spot as yesterday, no matter how many times I hit the "refresh" button. (Hey, it beats driving editors crazy, not that it's totally stopped me from doing that either.)

BREAKING NEWS UPDATE: I just went online to double check the "at anchor" posting and saw that the NYK Meteor is now "underway using engine." Be still, my beating heart. Cuba, here we come!!!

I'm going to try to ignore the photos sent to me by some of my oh-so-funny friends of what could go wrong.

CORRECTION: Upon further investigation, I see now that the NYK Meteor is headed back to the Manzanillo International port in Panama. So much for Cuba.

Monday, February 2, 2015

We are in the Panama Canal!

Sea shipment update: I just found the NYK Meteor in the Panama Canal, right next to the Parque Nacionale Camino de Cruces, which just sounds lovely. I'm hoping my deviled egg plate is enjoying the view.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Where is our sea shipment?

It's been quiet lately here in the U.S., not because life has been quiet (see under: hospital visits, Florida, demanding editors, house in chaos), but because it's been just a touch busy.

Meanwhile, we are living in a bit of suspended animation because our sea shipment, which we thought we'd have long before now, has been delayed by some kind of labor work slowdown on the West Coast of the U.S.

I took it upon myself to track the ship, just to get a sense of where it might be. It's amazing how much Google will find for you, especially if you're not in a country where the whole Internet thing is a little threatening. Sorry, China folks.

Anyway, I learned the container ship that holds our container (and that of about a gazillion other people) made multiple stops in the last two months: out of Tianjin, to Busan, South Korea; Kobe, Japan; Nagoya, Tokyo, Vancouver, Seattle, Oakland, LA. Right now, as far as I can tell the NYK Meteor has left the LA port and is heading to the Panama Canal.

How do I know this? I found various trackers. First I got a cute photo of our ship:

(See the container on the very last row, kind of balancing off the back of the ship? Why do I think that's the one that holds our coffee table, cat carrier, vacuum cleaner, coffee maker, and deviled egg plate? Because it's the way my mind works.)

And then I found something even cooler: a map that shows the exact spot where our ship is now, heading down past Mexico to the Panama Canal:

If that's true, progress is being made.
After it sails through the Panama Canal, it's supposed to stop in Manzanillo, Panama, and then up to Savannah, Georgia and Norfolk. After that, it's supposed to be offloaded and trucked to Baltimore, and then will swing back south again and arrive at our doorstep.

Bob and I joke that by the time our sea shipment arrives, we may well be ready to leave again, so we'll just have them reload it to somewhere else. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

What It's Like to be Back

I haven't posted in a while, both because I'm back home and because it's been so incredibly busy.

But I wanted to gather a few thoughts about what it's been like to be home again. The intensity is diminishing over time, and I feel I'm in danger of feeling like three years in China was just an unreal dream, so maybe this will help.

When I first arrived, I kept looking at the sky, every chance I could get. I could even do that when I was crossing the street because cars yield. (Someday I'll write that without italics.)

I cannot shake the sticker shock. I go into a CVS to pick up a cheap notebook. $10? For a kids' school notebook?

I try to buy theater tickets. The price is $90 for good seats.

I have not seen one person spitting.

I go into Whole Foods. There are brochures telling customers how the animals lived. Back at Sanyuanli in Beijing, you could pretty much tell how the animals lived by the expression on their faces as they hung in the meat section.

I keep finding items for sale that I never knew anyone ever needed or wanted. Inside TJ Maxx, for instance, I see a container for traveling with deviled eggs. A colander strictly for washing berries.

And yet, I'm having so much fun buying food for and preparing meals every night. Yes, I'm slightly hindered by the missing food processor, beater, coffee machine, and slow cooker, all sitting quietly in a container ship on the ocean. I don't even know which ocean. But my grandmothers didn't have these things and they were pretty good cooks, so I manage quite well.

I'm enjoying seeing friends and family, driving in my new car, getting on the internet with no problem, jogging on streets that are devoid of people. I'm enjoying a conversation with a very polite plumber who came today, did his work efficiently and well, and then told me to have a "blessed day" when he left. I don't think the plumbers in China did that, but then again they may have said that and I didn't understand them.

I'm enjoying giving away, throwing out, and recycling the piles of junk that sat for three years in storage, stuff we should have disencumbered ourselves us much earlier. Why do we have a tin of Cuban cigars? How many scented candles does any human need? Why did I save every single book I ever reviewed? How many journals did Joanna keep over the years?

It's all subject to purging. And if we can't decide whether to toss something, we box it and put it in the attic, which may come crashing down on our heads someday. But not today.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Giving Thanks

We have a larger-than-usual abundance of people and things to feel thankful for on this, our first Thanksgiving back in the U.S. in three years.
·         Our friends outside the U.S., especially in China, who laughed with us, cried with us, drank with us, and scolded cab drivers with us. We know what it’s like to be an American far from home on this most American of holidays. And we are so lucky to have met friends from nations on every spot of the globe.
·         Our family near and far. As I type, Daniel and Joanna are asleep in their childhood bedrooms. As we sat around the (small, temporary) dinner table last night, we reminisced about China. Add in my larger family, particularly my siblings who made it possible for me to live in China for three years without feeling too much guilt, and I know how lucky I am.
·         My mother’s good health. The fact that she threw together a couple of pies and home-made rolls for my brother’s Thanksgiving table, she goes to church every week, and golfs every summer is a sign of just how vital and lively she is still.
·         The incredible help we got in the last few years from friends and family here – giving us beds to sleep in, picking us up at the airport, taking us back to the airport, feeding us, collecting our mail, making time to see us on our whirlwind visits home, and welcoming us home.
·         Smudge’s safe return home. She understands she’s home, and while she’s not a well cat and I doubt I’ll have many more years with her, today she’s safely under the couch in the living room. The day before she actually sat on the window seat in the family room and chirped at the birds flying by.
·         Our house. It’s small and at the moment jammed packed with almost 30 years of accumulated stuff, all coated with a layer of dust, but it’s home.
·         Washington DC and America in general. The air is clean, the streets peaceful, the internet works like it should, and the press is free.
·         Clean food and water. I’m still getting used to drinking from the tap, buying whatever I want in the grocery store, and cooking it all with no worries.

We miss China and our friends there very much, but being home again is a comfort beyond words.