Tag Archives: Travel

Woman Disappears During Road Trip with Cats. Cats Wanted for Questioning.

Hear ye, hear ye! It has come to pass! NICOLE SHALL ESCAPE THE DESERT AT LONG LAST!

Arizona house is sold, Virginia house procured, school year finished, movers scheduled, resignation submitted, and all finer details busily attended to. The girls will fly to my mom’s for Nanapalooza ‘16, Scottie will prep our new home for my arrival – i.e. remove his action figures from all the ridiculous places they currently reside (last FaceTime session I noted some lining the mantle of the fireplace, YAY), and with a heavy sigh I’ll lock up an empty house, effectively bidding farewell to the backdrop of my 30s. I’ll then hop in my new-ish vehicle and embark on a five day road trip across our great nation.
With CATS!

‘Cause nothin’ screams road trip like the unholy, guttural chorus of two seriously pissed off cats!

But first, let’s take a side trip down Cat Lady Lane and become better acquainted with Dr. Pickles and his little brother, Buddha, aged 5 and 2.

This is Dr. Pickles. He has trust issues.


Took 2 years, but he finally trusts us. Mostly.

His first family dropped him off at a kitty orphanage when he was only five months old. He spent the next three months of kittenhood confined to a cage, until the day we arrived with a toddler who wanted “a REAL cat, one that I can pet, and name Pickles!” Our handsome black prince spent the first nine months of his life being called “Doc.” And so it was in this manner Dr. Pickles earned his PHD.

In time we learned he was also a colossal diva. I used to think he didn’t cover his poo because he’d been ripped from his mother too young. I’m now sure he doesn’t cover his poo because poo covering is for peasants! As for affection, such is meted out on very strict terms. The majority of petting is allowed between the hours of 5 and 8 AM. But not regular old petting. Oh no (‘Tis for peasants!). These sanctioned petting hours are more akin to a ritual worshiping a deity. During the hours of sunrise Pickles throws himself to the floor, directly in your path, stretching to his full, impressive length, and lays before you, prone. One gleaming yellow eye in your direction signals that, at this time, and this time only, peasants may approach, to vigorously rub his soft, wonderful belly –  in thanks, and humility, and prayers for a good harvest.

He’s fond of ritual. Like, OCD-fond. Like the precise and repetitive paw swiping (scent marking) of the floor surrounding  his food dish after we’ve filled it, but before he eats. We call it the Pickles Dance. And then, after feasting, he will fetch a toy mouse and plop it in his dish. As if to say, “It could have used more flavor. Peasants.”
He likes things just so.
And he pees on change.

Buddha, on the other hand…


He Speshul

True to his namesake, Buddha is waaaaaay more chill! He shares none his brother’s stranger anxiety or “shittin’ particulars.” If Buddha had a Tinder profile, it would read: “Easygoing, HWP, likes parkour and kneading softy blankies, catnip friendly, open to dogs.” He also shares none of his brother’s intelligence. We adopted him at 8 weeks, and he seemed to cease growing soon thereafter. He’s a petite thing, with his dainty orange paws and the world’s tiniest orange head – that houses an even tinier knucklehead brain. He’s mentally a teenager right now, so he’s as much sweet and adorable as he is a shithead and an idiot.

And they’re both very, VERY good boys!

Truly they are. I love them with all my heart! So much so, I’m committed to making their impending transition the least traumatic experience possible. Especially considering how their trauma won’t begin on travel day one. It will start the day the movers come in and dismantle their entire indoor cativerse!

I considered flying them, of course. One terrifying day in the belly of a plane (no sedatives allowed) vs. five days of home deconstruction and five more days trapped within the terror vortex known as CAR (with a once trusted human who’s now clearly out to destroy them)! A few years back my friend Rose made the drive from this corner of the desert to Chicago, IL with her own finicky felines in tow. I consulted her immediately, and she just as immediately informed me that cargo-shipping pets when temps run above 85 is a no-go. Arizona in June = Fahrenheit 100. She recommended I call the vet and talk sedatives.

So I did.
Here’s how that five minute car ride went:


Good news is, they’re healthy. Aside from Pickles’ Periodontal Disease. He needs to have two teeth extracted, to the tune of 500 dollars, because his body white-blood-cell-ninja attacks his tartar buildup so hard it inadvertently destroys his teeth in the process. And that process is FAST; two years ago his teeth were exemplary! They told me I could wait until we’re settled with a vet in VA, that his situation isn’t urgent, but that it’s also likely causing him pain.

I scheduled his oral surgery for this Tuesday. I’d rather he be pain-free and convalesce in the home he knows (and pull $500 out of my asssss—-stounding magical money tree) before the Klan of Mover Demonoids commeth and tear his everything all to shit.

Their cat carriers have been out and open in the living room for weeks. I’m armed with sedatives, Feliway, and treats. I’ve got harnesses, comforts of home, a road-time game plan of 8-hours-a-day-tops, and pet-friendly hotels galore. All tips from the brave fur-parent souls who’ve come before me, and have graciously shared their wisdom.

But, since I’m currently competing with Dr. P on the anxiety front..…


Only the Unlonely

It happened just the way I’d pictured it. We waved goodbye to our girls; one tall, one small, hand-in-hand, backpack-strapped, escorted by a flight attendant aboard a plane headed for Nana’s house. And, as anticipated, tears were spilled. We sat at the gate long after it had emptied, awaiting departure, and, an extremely somber 30 minutes later, they were gone.

A few blocks from the airport we dined at our favorite sushi place and gradually I felt the mood begin to lift. Clouds rolled backward, heavens opened up, and to our mutual amazement, something like a choir of joyous angels descended unto earth, banishing sorrow in a sweet falsetto, “Ah, sweet mystery of life, at last I’ve found theeeeeeee,” and all at once it hit us: we were FREE!

Two seconds after arriving home the mister was naked. Simply to be naked. And, unless forced to be in public, he ceased wearing clothes altogether. At some point I found him standing in the backyard, basking in the setting sun, a warm breeze blowing through his…chest hair. We giggled like loons. We agreed to have naked breakfast on the patio that weekend, because….what neighbors? Neighbors who? We’re a childless couple now. We’re naked old people in our backyard now; top o’ the morning to ya!

Nudey-dudey breakfast time never came to pass, however, for we did something far greater with our mornings; we slept in. We stayed out late, we woke late, we lounged in bed, snuggled like it was an Olympic sport, made each other laugh, made each other smile, made out, napped, watched t.v., ventured outdoors only for food, came home and did it all over it again. We stocked the refrigerator with kale, fish, coconut Thai tomato soup and stinky cheese. We hatched a plan to scope out recipes; alternating nights in which one would surprise the other with an exciting new dish. We didn’t purchase a single frozen toaster pastry, shitty chemical-flavored cheese cracker, or any product with a character from Frozen on it. It was like living in a dream.

By Sunday I, too, had kicked the habit of wearing clothes. Had we ever gotten along so well? Ever been more in love? Was it as magical back when we were dating? I didn’t think so. And the house! We’d cleaned it just after our daughters left, and days later…it was still clean! I turned to my beloved, bald, giant, hairy nudist and cried, “It’s THEM! It’s always been THEM!”

But at the close of our refreshing weekend, around 10 PM, he learned his father had been hospitalized in Michigan. He spent Monday morning gathering info, Monday afternoon making travel arrangements, and by Tuesday morning I was once more at the airport waving farewell (though I’m relieved to report, his pops is presently on the mend and recovering well).

My 37th birthday followed, the very next day, and every member of my household was in a different state; one in Florida, one in Washington, one in Michigan. I was a little bummed out by this, until I reminded myself how I’d kicked them all out, on purpose, just three weeks prior – for Mother’s Day. That was my gift request: GET. OUT. I only wanted time to myself, without having to go anywhere to get it. I sent my little family out to dinner and just kicked back in silence, soaking in the stillness, and ignoring texts like, “If you change your mind, we’d love for you to join us” and “I wish you were with us mama.” Perhaps the opposite of leaving me in peace, but I didn’t mind. I also didn’t feel bad. I told my preteen, “Someday, you’ll be all grown up and out on your own. Someday you might live a zillion miles away and I will miss you like a crazy person. And someday I’ll thrill to get a phone call from you, I’ll ache to spend time with you, and I’ll count the minutes until I see you again. But NOT today.”

And thus, Life, being funny the way Life insists it’s very funny, said, “Happy Birthday, Niki! Here’s some of that mega-extended ‘me time’ you value so much. We left the cat. Cheers.”

But joke’s on Life, for once, since I’ve been enjoying myself. Between my husband making surprise birthday arrangements before he left town and my co-workers/friends rallying around me, I’ve been quite content. In the week and a half since the fam deserted, I’ve discovered this weird, yet incredible thing called “do whatever you want.” I make whatever I want for dinner, rent whichever movie I please, go to bed at any ungodly hour suitable to my fancy, and I leave the house without announcing where I’m going, or when I’ll be back. I answer to no one! Except the cat.

Dr. Pickles disapproves, but he’s not the boss of me.

Dr. Pickles

The entire scenario has caused me to reflect on the fact that I’ve never lived alone. I talk a lot about growing up alone in the woods – and minus a pack of wolves raising me, it’s mostly true. Between the ages of five and twelve I lived smack-dab in the middle of 17 acres of forest, and because my stepfather hated children (and being that I was a child, sucked to be me) I was forbidden to have friends over. I spent A LOT of time alone. With a cat.

As an adult woman, though, not so much. I’ve lived with my mother, a roommate, a significant other, or, later on, my first born – but never alone. Good thing I got so much practice at solitude when I was small, it made the last several days doable. Pleasant, even. Definitely an interesting and introspective journey, but I’m done now. All done. All caught up on the “me time.” If this is some “It’s a Wonderful Life” kind of shit, go ahead and hook Clarence up with those wings, Universe, because I got the message. I’d like my family back now, please.
Posthaste, tout de suite, and hurry the lonesome hell up.
They are my life, and my God am I a lucky woman for it.

My Placid Panic Attack

My babies are leaving the state today, and that’s fine. I’m perfectly okay with it. Completely comfortable and entirely at ease, save for some small, anxious, inner-portion of me that is quietly yet persistently FREAKING THE FRACK OUT!
But I’m told this is normal.

“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” –Elizabeth Stone

Indeed. Like, 1500 to 2000 ridiculously bothersome miles outside and far away from your body.

In less than six hours I’ll be escorting my 5 and 12 year old children through airport security, locating their gate, walking them to the entrance of a gangway, hugging and kissing them profusely, possibly crying already, waving goodbye still as I watch the backs of their beautiful little heads get smaller and smaller, watch them make a left, out of sight, boarding a plane to Washington state. WITHOUT ME. And I’m freaking out.

On the other side of their non-stop, three hour flight awaits my mother. She’s probably already there. She probably arrived at Sea-Tac yesterday; brought a sleeping bag and is camped out at the girls’ arrival gate. I need not worry about their safety in her care. But still. Freaking out.

My 12 year old will only be on Washington soil two days before she flies to Orlando, Florida with her bio-father and his family; off to see her older brother (from another mother) graduate high school. She’ll spend three days in Disney World, a few days in a condo on Cocoa Beach, and she’ll have an amazing time. And even though I have a positive, healthy co-familial relationship with my ex-husband, his wife and their little girl – one that centers on respect, and acting like grownups – and even though I trust them with the safety of my little-now-big girl, even still and all the same, I’m ever so serenely FREAKING OUT.

After a week in Florida, my little-now-big girl will fly back to Seattle, reuniting with my little-still-little girl at Nana’s House of Perpetual Joy and Cookie Time. They will bake all sorts of goodies, dive imagination-first into Nana’s wonder-world of arts and crafts supplies, roam Nana’s lush green garden and help her plant flowers – learning the names of approximately 8000 species of Dahlia along the way. They’ll play with, snuggle and/or terrorize Nana’s plethora of cats. They’ll rarely be told “no”, or go to bed before 9 PM, or be forced to eat vegetables, and they will have the time of their lives. And while the thought of it makes me happy beyond measure, still…..you know….little bit…with the freaking a lot out.

My house will be quiet for three whole weeks. For three weeks my husband and I will not be shuttling children to and from school/birthday parties/sleepovers/art classes/sports practice, and on long car rides no one will be fighting in the back seat or be bored out of their minds. For three weeks no little ones will wake us up at 6 AM on Sunday morning demanding food and cartoons. And no preteens will huff, “I know!” when you ask them to do the thing you asked them to do an hour ago (which was the same thing you asked them to do an hour before that) – and absolutely no one will roll their eyes at us, then vehemently deny having done so.

For three weeks my love and I can walk around the house naked, go out dancing all night long, watch foul-mouthed movies at top volume in the middle of the day and try out new recipes besieged with “gross” and “yucky” ingredients – like kale. We can hike mountains, explore caves, book romantic weekend getaways, relax, sleep in, and miss our children like mad.

Because I’ll miss them no matter the scenario. Whether I spend the next several weeks at home with a book (and a bottle of wine), or out on the town (with a bottle of wine), I imagine I’ll be saddled with this low hum of anxiety throughout. Little dark-recessed brain-whispers of “Pssst. Hey. Guess what. Your kids are still gone. It’s FREAK OUT TIME AGAIN!”

I know they’ll be fine, and I’ll be fine, and everything will be fine and perfectly stinking dandy, ….but still. Someone to talk me down from the crazy-mommy-ledge, please.

Merry In Maryland

Flying Monkey

cruising altMy husband grew up outside of Baltimore and I grew up outside of Seattle, so every summer we haul our kids east and west. Recently returning home from two weeks in Maryland, we had a layover in Denver. Our kids were famished so we grabbed a late dinner at Jimmy’s. Their kiddie menu depicted a cartoon rabbit flying a plane. My husband spent the next 20 minutes attempting to convince our littlest daughter that actual bunnies were flying our aircrafts. But like her sister before her, our littlest is quick and by 4 ½ years she is completely onto her daddy’s full-of-malarkey ways. Unlike her sister before her, she will call daddy out on that malarkey at every opportunity. When we boarded our last plane home, she glanced into the cockpit and triumphantly shouted, “See, Daddy! There’s no bunnies! There’s real people pilots!” The unspoken punctuation being “DUH.”

It's going to be okay, Mr. Whiskers.

It’s going to be okay, Mr. Whiskers.

This was not the same four year old monkey who began her travels two weeks earlier. That little girl barely made it through Tucson International Airport security without a meltdown. First they took her beloved suitcase at check-in, followed by 15 minutes of parental calming and explaining that it would be stowed safely in the belly of the plane; that she would get it back in Baltimore. Then they made her remove her Dora backpack AND her magic silver sparkle shoes. She inched her way through the metal detector, slouched over, clutching her stuffed cat, chanting, “It’s okay, Mr. Whiskers. It’s going to be all right, Mr. Whiskers.”

During that first voyage she was a darling on the plane. She was a mess during layover. But on the way back, heigh-ho, the pint-sized seasoned traveler! No hello from a flight attendant went unanswered, no adoration from a fellow passenger went without an eyelash-batting thank you from our thoroughly at-ease little air-ess.

Both our girls were so well behaved. Even so, when it was dad’s turn to sit with the children on the last flight home, he turned to them and said, “There’s an old James Brown song called ‘Pappa Don’t Take No Mess’. That’s in effect as of right now.”
Plentiful laughter plane-wide.


MLKDuring our MD stay my dear friend Kathleen traveled from upstate New York to visit us. We took our eldest daughters on a monument tour of DC. It was 82 degrees and humid that day. I remember this because my 11 year old mentioned it, roughly, 4,000 times. The Washington Monument was wrapped in scaffolding, which was a photographic bummer, and by the time we left the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History it was 7:30 PM and no one felt like stopping by the White House. But we hoofed it to the Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, MLK and WWII monuments and enjoyed them all.

I’m not sure what the girls will remember most about that day, but they seemed deeply moved by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Kathleen’s 8 year old daughter stared at the wall and asked, “What was the war about?” Her mother then worked to explain, in the shadow of 58,000 dead men’s names, the inexplicable. Meanwhile, I’d lost my husband. I turned back and found him leaning one hand upon the wall. I snapped a photo, approached and quickly noticed tears. His Uncle Bob had fought in Vietnam and passed away last year. My husband had found the name of his Uncle’s buddy who’d passed long before, over there. Properly somber moment in an otherwise fun and touristy day.

The Wall


36We stayed with my mother-in-law in her designer magazine worthy condo while she showered us with love. We visited family and friends. I spent my 36th birthday among them. We took walks. We ate food. We ate so much goddamned food. I went on walks to combat all the food (the food won). Years ago I mapped out a picturesque walking route in my mom-in-law’s neighborhood and I inhaled every gorgeous step of it. I also tried to get my girls to partake in the greener side of mother nature, the one Arizona hides from them. The mister and I walked them through a wooded creek, pointing out places we would have built forts or trees we would have climbed as children. Our four year old openly despised it and our 11 year old was terribly bored.

The desert has ruined my children.

The Walk: Fall & Spring

The Walk – Bel Air, MD

But they enjoyed walks in the grass, at least, and followed bunnies everyday – naming them all (Banana, Stripes, Coconut). They also spotted squirrels, foxes and gophers. All cute and fuzzy. All convincing me that Maryland is where Disney’s woodland creatures go to die – happily, of course.

I really love Maryland. And if I could buy a bottle of wine past 7 PM on a Sunday (without having to venture into a dubious liquor store for that single purchase; making me feel less like a wine aficionado and more like an official wino) I could totally live there.

Atlantic At Last

And then there was the Atlantic Ocean. I’d never seen it. Eight years of trips to the east coast and we never actually hit the coast itself. Incidentally, I’ve also never been to New York City. Upon learning this a friend said, “Wait. You’ve been to Seoul, but not NYC?” Yeah, I know. It’s on the list. But the ocean…that’s a must.

Good Morning, Mr. Ocean

Good Morning, Mr. Ocean

My grandparents owned a condominium on the beach in Ocean Shores, WA. I grew up in love with the sea. When I was 22 I moved to Oceanside, CA. A very different beach experience from the cold, grey Pacific in WA. I remember being a little horrified that the 1999 Californian shore looked a lot like a scene from Baywatch. But, in time, it grew on me. And my favorite moment of any Pacific Ocean day is watching the day end and the sun sink.

Ocean CitySo we planned to visit Ocean City, MD with our friends Ben and Lauren and I was very excited. I’d only ever seen photos of northeastern beaches lined with boardwalks and sand dotted with rainbow colored umbrellas. And even though a tornado had passed through the day before, and hurricane winds caught up with us in the car in Salisbury, and even though I’d never before seen tree branches flung furiously through sideways rain, I was excited. And when we set out the morning after the storm it was chilly, drizzly and overcast – and I was maybe a little less excited.

All ladies and little girls in our party wore bathing suits and sundresses. We faithfully froze our asses off for several hours. I was no longer anywhere close to excited. But by 1 PM our faith was blessedly rewarded with sunshine. Halle-thawed-out-lujah.

beach bunniesThe afternoon was warm and wonderful. My husband and eldest spent hours in the water. I was none too pleased to hear they’d been frolicking in waves so strong one had ripped the goggles from their heads – both pairs swept away and never to be seen again. The littlest monkey and I took our turn at gentler water play and broke sandy ground on castle construction. At some point I was lying on my towel, monkey atop me and nearly napping, sun soaking us, my head resting to the right, watching the other half of my family cavort in salt and seafoam, and I was sure I’d never felt more peaceful, more fulfilled.beach bums

After our friends left we toured shops and dined deliciously as the sun set. The mister and the miniature strolled the boardwalk back to our car while the eldest and I walked the beach. We held hands, free hands carrying flip-flops, and we occasionally glanced back to watch our footprints wash away. We talked. I told her what the ocean meant to me when I was her age, and that the only times I’ve ever felt like I can actually see “God” are when I look into the eyes of infants and when I gaze long and hard at the sea. She thought about that, and she said, “Today was best day of my life.”

And despite that lovely moment, something felt off. It wasn’t until later that I figured out what it was, and laughed.
The sun…..it wasn’t setting on the water.
And that’s just wrong.

Just Like Heaven

Home. He’s home. Back from a year spent in South Korea. One long damned year wherein I thought I’d write more, but every time I went to put words to keystrokes those words ran whiney. Some would say I had the right to whine and some would say I’ve had it amazingly easy, as far as military families go, and I should shut my boo-hooey trap. And it doesn’t matter what people say, I just didn’t feel like whining. Wining, as always, another story all together.

Maybe I’ll revisit those days in a later blog, but for now I’m quite content living these new days. After three weeks vacation he’s gone back to normal work-a-day duties. But even those are slight, until he gets into the rhythm of things. Which means he leaves late and comes home early. Which also means he sucks me into a crazy vortex of laziness. “Come cuddle, and eat delicious snacks, and watch more episodes of The Big Bang Theory,” he beckons. “If the kids are at school/napping we can totally have sexy grown up time, then eat more, and watch more TV….and sleep…sweet sleep. You know you want this.”

And I do. I do want this. So much. I can taste the snacks now.
It’s heaven.