Thoughts on pets

Facebook reminded me this morning that one year ago today, our cat died. I wrote about it then, and I reflect upon it now. Here's the story, stolen from my Medium page.

What's your opinion on pets? Worth it, or not?

It’s almost always worth it.

Last night, Wrinkly-Crinkly, the cat who decided to live with us, died. He was old, but don’t ask me exactly how old, because I don’t know.

What I know is this: When he decided to go live with my ex-husband, he was already a very adult cat, likely 7 years old or more. He was a wild beast who found an open door one day and climbed up to the tallest nook of a bookshelf and decided to camp there. Attempts to remove him were futile; books and pictures and tchotchke were pushed upon those who tried to extradite him back to the outdoors, and then the claws would come out. He would contort himself into a twisted, furled mess… a wrinkly, crinkly ball of a cat. And there he found his name.

He was never my cat. Year later when my then-husband left me, he left the cat, too. And I’ve never warmed to cats, even in the rare moment among WC’s usual cat-insanity of bouncing of the walls when he would curl up in my lap.

I’ve never liked cats.

He — my ex — left plenty. A life, a family, a cat or two and the dogs he bought me as a present, neither of which I wanted. But I’m a bleeding heart, even for the worst cat, and I dutifully cared for them as best I could, as much as my detester nature for felines would allow me.

And then, despite all of that, the cat has the nerve to die! My oldest child, now 7, has become particularly attached to WC, and he equally smitten with her. He never complained when she would carry him around like a ragdoll, as long as it was her doing it, and no one else.

WC complained about a lot, most of the time, only making me despise him more. His last two weeks of life, though, he never complained, as though to make amends.

The end was near, we knew that. And it came quickly. In his last few days I made sure extra fluffy towels were available for him in his favorite sunning spot on the porch, and a few extra pets were granted each time I walked past, even if I cringed while I did it. Was it worth it, the tens years I’ve spent caring for this cat?

I mean, is it ever worth it when it comes to pets? They are designed to break our hearts, inevitably demanding we upend out lives for them only to die on us one day. That cat was one of the last remaining threads of what my life was once, a marriage that unraveled as soon as it was woven. The death of WC is the fraying of the few final threads. Watching him deteriorate was a reminder of how easily things come and go, and doubting if the effort is ever really worth it.

Except that one time, when I was crying on the couch through my heartbreak, and WC came and snuggled up to me, pressing his head against my chest in a brief detente of our feelings towards one another. A rare tender moment and recognition of the effort I put into being a cat-mom when my other identities were falling away from me.

That’s probably not how WC saw it, but that’s the story I’ll tell myself.

Later today I’ll tell my children the news, watch them cry, show them the spot behind the barn where I turned soil to bury him, shrouded in the same towel he died upon. And I’ll cry with them. Pets are designed to break your heart, but they are almost always worth it.

Even if you don’t like cats. Even if they were never really yours.

We, the People

Over the month of January, I scouted and interviewed five outstanding women who took it upon themselves to create changes in their long-afflicted respective communities. Some issues revolved around religion, others around food, but it was my interview with Kymlee Dorsey, a transgender rights advocate that deeply resonated with me. Kym and I have different methods (me, as a writer; her, as a community advocate) but our work is the same: Getting down to the basic elements of humanity, allowing us to be judged by the "content of our character," as MLK would say, and not by our creed, color, religion, or any other qualifier.

As I transcribed my recording from our conversation, the following words shook me. I had to replay several times and let the meaning of her words resonate deep within. How timely her words were, how timely they have always been. 

When I read ‘We the People,’ I cried. Because I wondered, did Adams, and all those men who signed that Declaration, were they thinking of me when they signed it? But then I think they had to be, because I’m people! I’m part of that people. Even in my trans community, I tell them to go back and read the Constitution, there is power in those words. You’ve gotta believe that you are part of that Constitution, but if you don’t believe that story, then this means nothing to you.

“Trump gave a light to an average person. How recklessly he shed that light, he at least got that light to tilt over here. Now We as the People, now that we have that light shed on us, we have to keep our eye on the bigotry and the racism that he is pushing out. We’ve got to say, ‘nope! But thanks for shining the light on us.’
— Kymlee Dorsey

The paradigm of associating context and meaning to history often results in revisionism. It's easy to say that the Anglo-Christian men who wrote America's earliest documents were narrow in their meaning, excluding people of color (after all, many Founding Fathers were also slave owners), non-Christians, women, and people in the LGBTQ community. 

Or maybe the Constitution and Declaration of Independence were left just vague enough to provide for a flexible governance that allows for All People to be included under the American umbrella. 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.  -- Declaration of Independence.

We are the governed. The consent is ours to give. And now the light shines on us. What we do with our time in the spotlight is as critical to the course of history and future generations as those words, written by white men, all those years ago.

My story on these influential women will appear next month in Women at Work magazine.

Super Bowl food on WAMC

Thanks to everyone who listened in on yesterday's WAMC show on Super Bowl food. Kevin Mullen of Rare Form Brewing Company and Joe Donahue, revered radio journalist and Roundtable moderator, joined me and Ray Graf to eat, drink, and talk food and football. (I at least know a little about one of those things.)

If you missed it live, you can check out the show here. Kevin and I snuck into the Leftovers podcast taping afterwards to talk a bit more on the subject. (I'll post that when it's up.)

All of the recipes from yesterday's show are available at wamc.org, but two are below. Enjoy! What are your go-to recipes for game day?

KOREAN CHICKEN WINGS

Serves 6-8

INGREDIENTS

  • 5 pounds chicken wings
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh black pepper
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons honey or brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
  • Scallions, sliced thin
  • Fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Sesame seeds
  • Lime wedges

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 2 large baking sheets with foil or parchment. Place half of the chicken wings on each baking sheet, then drizzle with half the canola oil on each baking sheet. Toss the wings in the oil to coat. Generously season the wings with kosher salt and fresh black pepper. Toss again to coat. Bake to cook the wings thoroughly, about 30 minutes. Remove the wings from the oven and increase the heat to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Transfer the wings to a clean bowl and discard any juices that are on the pans. (But keep the foil or parchment.)

Meanwhile, combine the ketchup, vinegars, soy sauce, honey, and gochujang in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the sauce has reduced to 1 cup in volume.

Add the sauce to the bowl with the wings, and toss everything to combine. Arrange the wings back on the baking pans and bake until slightly charred, about 10-15 minutes. Rotate the pans in the oven if needed.

Place the wings on a serving platter and top with scallions, cilantro, and sesame seeds. Serve with lime wedges.

BROCCOLI AND SPINACH STROMBOLI

Serves 4-6

INGREDIENTS

  • Basic pizza dough, cut into two balls (recipe follows)
  • Olive Oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 package frozen spinach leaves or 1 pound fresh baby spinach
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or more to taste)
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh black pepper
  • All-purpose flour, for rolling dough
  • 3/4 pound sliced Provolone cheese
  • 1 cup shredded Romano cheese
  • 2 cups steamed broccoli florets

METHOD:

Bring pizza dough up to room temperature, if cold or refrigerated. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the spinach, crushed red pepper, salt, and pepper. Cook until the spinach is wilted and most of the water has evaporated off, about 7-10 minutes. Set aside.

Roll the dough balls each into a 10x16-inch rectangle -- not too thin -- using flour to lightly dust the rolling pin and counter to avoid sticking. Be sure the shorter side of the rectangle is facing you. On each rectangle, lay half of the Provolone cheese, Romano cheese, broccoli florets, and spinach mixture on the two-thirds of the dough closest to you, leaving a small border around the sides. Season with salt and pepper. Roll the stromboli rectangles into thirds, with the “blank” third as the bottom of the fold. Be sure to repeat for both rectangles.

Place the stromboli on a parchment-lined baking sheet or baking stone with the seam facing down. Cut 4 small slits in the top of the stromboli to allow steam to escape. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown and grease is starting to bubble from the steam slits. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 30 minutes before serving.

BASIC PIZZA DOUGH

Makes Two Pounds

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 packets (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for bowl and brushing
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface

METHOD

 Pour 1 1/2 cups warm water (not hot!!) into a large bowl, then sprinkle the yeast over the top. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Whisk sugar, oil, and salt into the yeast mixture. Add flour and stir until a sticky dough forms. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and brush the top with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until dough has doubled in size, about one hour. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently knead one or two times before using.

This recipe can be frozen, tightly wrapped in plastic and stored in a freezer-safe zip-top bag.