Eularee Smith
Writer & Educator

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Not My Cat

Cats are a strange breed. They come. They go. All of their own volition and with little regard for what we may want. In fact, our cats own us. A case in point.

Several cats roam my yard over the course of the day. It is obvious that my quarter acre is nothing more than a pathway home or to destinations unknown. If they see me in the yard, there is a gentle sign of acknowledgement and they move along. Until one day, a young male yellow tabby comes through and wants to be petted. His affectionate ways and friendly manner led me to believe he must belong to someone. We would greet each other daily but other than that, he was not my concern.

After a couple of months of his daily visits, my granddaughter spies him laying on the front walk and brings him in the house.

"No," I said. "He is not my cat."

She insisted he was hungry. So we fed him. I know what you are thinking. You feed a cat, he is yours. But, still I emphatically declared to the world, "he's not my cat."

For weeks, he came to eat and cuddle. We walked up and down the street, with a picture of him, desperately trying to find his owner. As a recovering cancer survivor, there are times when I was too tired or sick to resist his loving devotion. He would spend the night. He jumped into my car, and unaware, I took him to work. He spent the day enjoying the attention, then found a nice hiding place in the office.

After weeks and weeks of searching for his "other" family, I finally resigned myself to claiming ownership and called the vet to set up an appointment. My granddaughter and I bought him a collar, with an engraved tag. Now, he's my cat.

He wore the collar all of 24 hours before someone called to say, it was their cat and why was my collar on him. Heartbroken, I told them to return the collar and apologized for the inconvenience. 

Turns out the "other" family lives 3 doors down. Sadly, he is "not my cat" again. I am not ashamed to say, I cried. A few weeks ago, this would not have been the case. I even looked "not my cat" in the eye and told him not to break my heart. Yet, there I was crying over a cat that was never mine.

A couple of hours later, who shows up on my doorstep for dinner and a movie? "Not my cat" has no idea that there has been any disruption in the force. He continues to spend the night, eats, drinks and is all too merry for me to believe that he is living happily ever after with another family. He has chosen joint custody, I suppose. I have never had a shared custody arrangement, so am unclear of the rules. But then, who knows where cats go when they leave the warmth of the homefires? Perhaps, we are living with the delusion that a particular feline is our cat, when in reality, we are one of many who are owned by a cat.


What Happened to Manners?

I have had several comments on my last post from readers asking what happened to manners. Being in a family of seven kids, and raised by a Marine, we were taught from the moment we could speak, that you said "Yes, ma'am" or "No, sir". The words Ok and Yeah, were not a part of our vocabulary. 

We sent thank you cards after receiving a gift. Our elders deserved respect and if they said jump, the only response was how high. It was a gentler time, when men removed their hats in a restaurant, opened doors for ladies and children never called an adult by their first name.

It amazes me everyday, how the first reaction people have to life is anger or blame. Yesterday, I was driving in close quarters in a quaint boutique shopping and restaurant area. It is one way with a circular traffic pattern around a water fountain. I was there to pick up a child, so I was driving slow and cautiously. The traffic backed up and I was left halfway through a crosswalk. No way to go forward or back. A couple decided to walk through anyway, and rather than wait or go around, the gentleman (speaking as my Daddy taught me, not as a description of his behavior) slapped my car and yelled obscenities. Really? 

On a daily basis, I see and hear people use foul language and physical altercation, rather than being amused at the trials of living in a society where people must co-exist. Is it that difficult to not make it all about YOU? What happened to being thoughtful, kind, use manners, and generally try to get along. Why is our first reaction that the other person is out to get YOU.

Manners take practice. I have found that in the most irritating moments, like the customer service person, reading a script saying they understand how you must feel, a simple Yes ma'am calms me down enough to approach the conversation as if I was not a victim and they were not the perpetrator. Manners have a way of calming the spirit, reaching a more civil conversation and more often than not a satisfying resolution. Hitting someone's car, or yelling obscenities, has yet to prove to me that person is rational or civil or that I want to engage with them on any level except to see them in my rear view mirror.

If we want our children to become better citizens, parents, co-workers, even God forbid, politicians, it truly begins with manners. Giving up a seat, opening a door, a thank you for opening the door, or showing gratitude for those that do the work they do with little or no thanks (nurses, teachers, janitorial, even customer service assistance), makes our world just a little better to live in. We will pray together as a society when violent shootings take place in our communities. Is it too much to expect courtesy and manners to follow that reverence? 

Let's start a civil conversation about manners. A simple solution to a complex problem? Perhaps, but practice makes perfect.

When the power of love, overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.  Jimi Hendrix 



Killing With Kindness

In the wake of a local tragedy, the shooting at Umpqua Community College, we hear once again the need for gun control. Yet, anyone who follows these tragedies knows, that gun control will not solve the problem. The shooter had several guns and all obtained legally. Obviously that is not the problem. Nor is arming ourselves a solution.

The news is doing what is most appropriate. Covering the victims and not giving the shooter whatever fame his 15 minutes would allow. The story here is the generosity of spirit that comes from the heart of a community. They are killing with kindness. 

A group of teenagers in Eugene, OR. decided to form a club, Random Acts of Kindness, at their high school Their goal was to create a chain reaction of acts of kindness in their community.

Hertel, a senior at Sheldon High School and the club founder, says. “So we thought by doing random acts of kindness, we could totally change someone’s day or life and they could pay it forward to someone else. And one person at a time, we could make the world better.”

We have all heard the term Pay it forward. But today, in Roseburg, and in other communities where these shooting tragedies become reality, the theory is put to practice.

Changing the world one person at a time, is not easy and often comes at the devastating expense of such tragedy, but perhaps it is the one effect we can make without the obstacles of lobbyists, NRA enthusiasts and Second Amendment gun toters.

We are losing the ability to trust. We have dwindling resources for mental health. 

Killing with kindness may be our only true effective means of at least feeling like we are doing something. In Charleston, South Carolina, the horrific mass murder of church goers has been an example of forgiveness that sets the tone. We don't need permission, regulations or legislation to proceed with these acts of kindness. Obviously, we can't change the entire world. There will always be those who act without conscience. If we can face each day, with kindness as our first can I help, maybe that is the best we can do to stop the unfathomable violence that is becoming too much the norm.

As an entire country wonders what they can do, let's try something that costs the government nothing, doesn't require a vote, and can be a strength that ripples across from border to border. This is what makes America great. I have no answers. I am willing to change this deadly course in our country and communities, by firing a smile, offering a hand, volunteering, speaking and writing about alternatives. Let's do this and teach our children a different path to peace.



How Can I Retreat?

Recently, I embarked on a writers retreat. I struggle with taking time to do anything of a relaxing nature. Hence, the online retreat was the perfect answer. It fit into my tight schedule. If I missed a day, it was there for me to come back to later and the resulting discussions came into my inbox as a digest at the end of the day.

I must admit, that the meditations were a bit out of my comfort zone. My idea of meditation is a good book and a cup of expresso. Closing my eyes and imagining myself in a place where I would not be disturbed for five minutes, was somewhat laughable. Instead, I focused my attention on the warm cup of coffee in my hands, breathing in the delicious aroma and stared at the daily routine of my chickens in the early morning hours. It was undisturbed, save for their gentle cooing and the purring of the cat in my lap. 

The purpose of the retreat was not what I had imagined, although in looking back it was well defined in the syllabus. During the three weeks of this daily retreat, I did come to understand that each of us retreats for different reasons. Perhaps the purpose of a retreat is to take that step back before stepping into something from which there is no retreat. 

For me, it was about recognizing the writer in me as being lost and alone. My Dad, a writer himself, was my life long editor. He read over every essay when I was a child, edited every article and column as an adult. We would spend every Friday, discussing new writing markets, sharing frustrations (for him it was the computer, for me it was rejection slips) and in every conversation he would impart a writers wisdom. He never missed a deadline and impressed me with the same attitude. 

When he died tragically in a car accident, it was a Friday. We had spoken the night before and agreed to meet up for our usual Friday morning conversation. That conversation began with "Your Dad is gone". 

I have agonized over every article or column since then. It took me days to hit Send, the first time, knowing my Dad had not gone over it with me. With the loss of my Dad, came the loss of my confidence, both such overwhelming losses that I found it near impossible to write anything more than the occasional letter. 

The online writers retreat was an escape back to a time when I felt like a writer. A time when all I wanted to do was write. I realized the battle to write was with myself. Cleverly, I had put all kinds of obstacles in my way - family, work, friends, even cancer. The retreat helped me to lay those obstacles aside and discover that what my Dad gave me every Friday, was the passion to follow my talents, a course of action that was clear and true, and the sense that failure was not an option.

The retreat is over. I am a writer and that is enough. Going forward is now possible, in fact, imperative. Not because it was what my Dad wanted, but because it is who I am, just as it was who he was. We write. So here is to the next chapter. See you on Friday, Dad!  


Is it a toy or a box?

For years, I have been telling my invention focused daughter, Jala, that we should package a cardboard box for kids. She can't quite grasp the concept of selling a cardboard box. 

A cardboard box is simply the most beloved, used, and creative toy generations of children have experienced. Other toys have their heyday. Some are created around movie or TV merchandise, but quickly fade into the background. Some toys come back into favor, like Teenage Mutant Turtles. Some toys are forever classics, like Barbie. But most toys have a window of time to be popular, fly off the store shelf and then end up on a Goodwill shelf amongst all the other forgotten and broken toys.

My friend offered me an empty dishwasher delivery box. She thought my grandchildren might like to play with it. That was several years ago and the box has served as a barn for the rocking cow (yes, it is just like a rocking horse but it is a cow), a secret clubhouse, a princess castle and the perfect place for a tea party. All with no help from me except to hand out crayons and markers and make cookies and chocolate milk for tea parties.

The big box welcomes children of all ages as soon as they spy it. The rocking cow comes out of the barn and cheerfully rides them to the castle wall. They jump off the cow to enter the castle halls, giggling. Sometimes they just sit there for awhile and breathe in the cardboard smell. The accepted practice is to leave their mark upon the castle. It may be a picture or a squiggle, a letter or even their full name should they be able. But the box is a hallowed space that every child honors with their presence. 

The cardboard box is such a childhood favorite that it was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2005. Parents spend too much time trying to find a toy that will hold their child's attention, especially in these tech savvy times. A child can program our phones and tablets. But put a plain cardboard box in front of them, and imagine the possibilities. The imagineering would inspire Walt Disney himself! A blank slate if you will, easily bending to the whims and desires of a child. That is something money can't buy. Today's toys are set up to discourage imagination with pre-formulated designs. Baby dolls that cry, wet, eat, talk. Legos that have a blueprint. But a box? No pre-conceptions of what it could be, should do or will become. Now that's a catalyst for imagination!

I haven't given up on boxing up a box. I might have to include stickers, cardboard fins for the trips to Mars, or add a bag of hay for the cow (or horse) in the barn. I don't think it would take long, though, for those items to be discarded in favor of a crayon and a creative 3 year old mind.