A Chitty Sitcheeashun and a One Trip Overkill to Canadia, Eh?

Showing off my considerable panorama skills. No, I wasn’t drunk, but Joe looked skinny so he was a fan.

Maine, Part Deux, and Canadia, Parts Un & Deux

We wanted to skip on over to Canada (or Canadia, as the hubs calls it) without taking our camper, so for Part Deux of our Maine stay we picked a KOA campground in Houlton, Maine, just a couple miles from the Canadian border.

We scored a nice end spot, and overall the campground was neat and well-cared for, better than most. Moving day sucks in general (picture making your house mobile once a week to get what I mean) but there’s always a twinge of excitement too: What will the next campground be like? Will there be bears and moose and no trumpers and we’ll meet our new best friends who are as cool as us (yes, I understand the bar is low)? OOOh, the possibilities are limited only by the camping imagination!

Inevitably when we arrive we see that there are no bears or moose, and we don’t know who in their right mind gave this place a five, but hope does spring eternal, eh? Without hope for better, I presume humanity would just melt down into a puddle of depressed goo and call it a day.

Joe planned an overnight trip and hotel stay at the Chateau Saint John in Saint John, New Brunswick, so we could explore the Bay of Fundy and whatever else might catch our eye.

Although the room was pretty normal in terms of a mid-range hotel, I hadn’t realized just how affected I’d been by our new RV lifestyle. I was agog at the size of the place, plopping my booty down on the FULL-LENGTH couch and calculating that our room was twice the size of our camper. Not only that, but I mentally installed a small kitchenette next to the wardrobe and declared that I could totally live here.

[On the bright side, when we do decide to buy a house again it should be affordable…anything the size of a hotel room and I’ll feel like a queen.]

Saint John is home to the Reversing Falls, which we eventually came to understand as a function of the ocean meeting the Saint John River—when the tide’s low the “falls”—more like rapids or eddying pools of water—go in the direction of the bay, and when it’s high tide they reverse and go upriver. According to this link, “five thousand years ago, sea level was 30 meters or 100 feet lower in this area. Native people living here at that time enjoyed an impressive waterfall!” Now? Think whirlpools.

I wouldn’t bother going onto the Skywalk, a paid attraction, because the views are better from the bridge and the park on the other side anyway, and they’re both free.

As we walked across the bridge I was touched to see a series of messages aimed at stopping people from leaping into the churning waters below. My humble gratitude…

The next day we drove the Fundy Trail Parkway before heading back to the campground and the Good Ol’ US of A. I confess I hadn’t missed the country I call home due to all the political turmoil and general slide into the horrors of Gilead. We paid $11 each to explore the Bay of Fundy coastline, a true beauty which put me in mind of the drive along the California coastline.

Unbeknownst to Us, a Chitty Sitcheeashun Unfolds Back at Camp

I was nervous about leaving Tootie alone in the camper overnight, a reminder of why I’d initially planned the trip without the comfort or concerns of traveling with companion critters.

Joe assured me that the camper was the same as a little house, meaning that while we were gone Tootie would have electric (i.e. air conditioning) as well as her meals and a clean litterbox all available to her. She’d be fine.

I fretted “what if” the power went out, or “what if” someone broke in, or “what if” a bad storm blew across while we were away. Would Mommy’s Little Girl be ok?

I let my daughter know where we were staying—just in case the worst should happen—so she could rush up to re-rescue my little Tootiekins.

It would turn out that there WAS a bad storm while we were in Saint John, and the cozy, sleep-inducing pitter patter of rain on the roof is far from the reality of enduring a storm in the equivalent of a rather large tin can. Tootie was probably scared—well, more afraid than usual—but at least she still had AC, my main priority.

As I jumped out of the car and raced to the camper door, my subconscious noted a whiff of doody in the air; I didn’t spare it a second thought, though, because my priority was first and foremost Tootie’s well-being. Besides, it didn’t take me long to learn that “whiffs of doody” are a part of everyday life in the RV world. Dogs are frequently dropping off packages here-there-and-everywhere, and each camper is sporting its own personal sewage system.

Chit Happens.

After making sure my baby was ok—she was—I sagged into my chair and snapped my recliner back into the “AHHH” position. “Finally, all is well and I’m home, relaxin’,” I sez to meself.

“Honey, we have to move spots,” Joe bellowed [at least in my mind], bursting through the door. “We’re right next to the septic tank, and someone flushed wipes and clogged the line. It’s overflowing all over the place out here.”

Oh, that’s what I smelled?

[I didn’t think to take photos of our noxious dilemma, no. And I was not the picture of wifely acquiescence; let’s just say “words were said” and fur was flown.]

Eventually, we did move to a spot further up, we got one night free, and the septic broke two more times while we were there. Luckily by then we were well clear of that particular war zone.

A path along the river in Houlton

We Shouldna’ Done it Twice

Joe and I made the mistake one time of going for a jaunt into Canada. And by jaunt I mean just a little in and out (like an hour or two), unplanned, on-the-same-day kinda’ trip. We thought nothin’ of it. Joe had flown with me to an animal conference in Montana and we rented a car for the final leg to the event location. When we realized our hotel was close to Canada we thought we’d just tuck in to have a look-see and then come along right out again.

They thought we were drug smugglers.

I mean, they didn’t say that to our faces, but apparently anyone who crosses the border for just a matter of hours is highly suspect of being some kind of smuggler, and drugs seem like the obvious choice.

[This is one of those things you don’t get if you’re not a bad guy. We were super confused when we got searched going into both countries.]

After we barely escaped with our lives, we made a pact never again to go into Canadia for the day.

Then we did it again.

There just wasn’t much to do in Houlton. Joe made the durn-fool decision to look for more of nature’s wonders in Canada, and found a covered bridge and some falls not too far from us.

“Hey, we should go see this stuff in Canada on Thursday,” he told me.

“We said we’re not going into Canada for the day ever again: remember Montana, remember the pact?”

“No, I don’t remember that,” he eyed me quizzically. “I’m sure it will be fine.”

“Right,” I grumbled, knowing I would live to regret my mealy-mouthed ways.

They thought we were drug smugglers.

I mean, they didn’t say that to our faces, but apparently anyone who crosses the border for just a matter of hours is highly suspect of being some kind of smuggler, and drugs seem like the obvious choice. [I know, dejavue.]

We were questioned extremely thoroughly by a grumpy Canadian border guard [apparently they exist] then the truck was searched by two more on our way into Canada, and when we came back even the U.S. guy eyed us up mighty suspicious-like.

This time I mean it. I’m NEVER-ever-AGAIN going into Canada just for the day. Trust me, you shouldn’t either.

My Bookclub of One

Campgrounds have this cool free library kinda deal—often in the laundry room or rec area—where you can leave or take a book that strikes your fancy. Sometimes these libraries are massive, spanning bookshelves, and sometimes a half dozen titles sit pitifully on a stand.

Even though I brought both kindle and paperback books with me, I decided to choose one random title per stop as a way to expand my book vocabulary.

At this stop I chose The Summer I Dared, by Barbara Delinsky, and wouldn’t you know it was about an island of lobster fishermen? Sigh. But at least one of them was concerned about conservation and ecology etc. so I guess that’s something…and, she writes well. The protagonist of the story is a woman who always neglected her own wants and needs to please her family and her husband, and she finally says “No more.” I wonder how many women can relate to that? Oh, I’d probably be a bad book blogger, eh?

A Couple More Funnies

I bought this magnet
And this one…
Found at Maine Walmart. Are you kidding me? Yes, please.
Me: “Aw, I love cows.” Joe: “No, you’re not adopting one.” Me: “Of course not. You gotta adopt TWO so they have a friend.”

Just when you think you and your hubby couldn’t be any more different.

Joe and I sometimes use the same first Wordle word so we can compete more fairly. I agitated for this concession because he was beating me by an average of 3-1, but I contended that he had more luck at picking the first words and so the results could be swayed. (I learned this logic from drumpf.) Now I think I’m slightly ahead by 4-3, but on whatever day this was (above) we both used ALL the same words…isn’t that romantic! Maybe I do love him after all…

P.S. We toured a potato chip factory in Canada…maybe some things are best left unseen. Just sayin’.

East Hampton, CT, Land of Father’s Days, Anniversaries, and Family Visits

One of the funny signs seen while camping in East Hampton

Happy Father’s Day, Male Readers! What, that was a week and a half ago? Well, no matter. Keep in mind that I thought of you that week, and make this retroactive to last Sunday like a good lad. There ya go.

Here, I’m leaving you this funny sign that was probably written by a man, which doesn’t in any way interfere with its ability to amuse. You’re welcome.

Who doesn’t love the word “amok”?

Camping signs are a definite “thing” out here in the RV world, and I’m all for anything that can make me lol. Therefore I’ll be kind enough to share with you any gems I come across in my travels. No need to thank me—I’m generous like that.

I love the word “amok,” don’t you? It’s just funny without even saying another word, which is a rarity. In fact, one of my favorite lines from a movie is in Two Weeks Notice, where Hugh Grant is eating cheesecake and he says to Lucy, aka Sandra Bullock, “There’s something amok with this cheesecake.” In his English accent? Hilarious. [Turns out it was made from tofu, which probably wasn’t as good back in the early 2000s, but is downright tasty these days. I’m looking at you, Daiya.]

Signs in Campgrounds Should be Funny or Kind…Not Anxiety-Producing, Amiright?

Turns out there are signs that aren’t amusing in any way, and I don’t understand why campgrounds won’t make their sites a politics-free zone. You know the ones I’m talking about. Ones that, say, worship a man who led a cult to assault our Capitol and our democracy? Yeah, that one. We trundled our way up to Connecticut, a blue state, eager to escape the stress-inducing world of drumpfdom.

The first sign I saw as we pulled into the Markham Meadows Campground read, “You are Now Entering a Stress-Free Zone.”

“Oh, Hallelujah,” methinks to myself. “Finally, I’m in a sane place and can relax into the moment.” Then we schlepp around the corner to park our camper, and lo and behold run headlong into yet another disturbing sign of drumpf worship—and it’s directly across the pond from us. I despair that this particular disease has spread well beyond the borders of trumpland, and folks like me are being ideologically assaulted everywhere we go. Bah.

All these campgrounds already give campers a list of rules you have to abide by; how difficult would it be to add one little rule that reads: “No political signage. Everyone is out here to leave daily life behind, so please leave politics at home and be kind to your neighbors. Thank you.” There. Problem solved!

The 11th Anniversary Bargain

We celebrated our 11th Anniversary on our first whole day in East Hampton, and a bargain to forego cards and gifts FOR THIS YEAR ONLY was struck in advance due to space constraints in the camper. I had to be very careful to ensure that the hubs understood this was a ONE-YEAR EMBARGO only, because he’s fully capable of extending the policy ad infinitum if I don’t keep an eye on him every second. How do I know that? There is precedent.

Consider this . . . every year we hold this particular discussion at Easter:

Me: Are we doing anything for Easter?

Him: We aren’t religious, we don’t celebrate Easter.

Me. The Bunny doesn’t care if you’re religious or not, The Bunny brings candy for ALL.

Him: But we aren’t religious.

Me: Buy me some fucking candy.

See what I’m sayin? He’s a sneaky one. He has also attempted to deploy the same argument in favor of boycotting Christmas, but that test balloon never made it off the ground. I’m watching you, Bud! (But I’ll always love you…)

We ate breakfast at a little local diner, and then headed in the direction of the coastline hoping for some beach time. We landed at a harbor in Old Saybrook where there wasn’t a beach per se, but there was putt-putt, so we shrugged our shoulders and the challenge was on.

Joe and I are both a trifle too competitive. He will deny it of course, but I for one shamefully admit to being the bearer of a competitive nature; he won’t even play Scrabble with me anymore because he claims that I get mad if I don’t win by ENOUGH. I don’t think he has any evidence to back him up on this foul accusation, though, so it will have to forever be his word against mine.

Hubs with his tiny putter

I immediately claimed the right to choose his putter for him and handed him the tiniest one for the tots. To get even he pulled the one for Andre the Giant out of the rack for me, and the game commenced.

I was distracted by the local pokemon go action (don’t be judgy) and by the third hole I was already bleeding profusely. I made the ultimate sacrifice of putting my phone away so I could focus on the task at hand, but my luck never improved and I was soundly trounced by my loving husband.

After the match we once again went in search of a beach, but Old Saybrook was charging between $25-$40 just to park at one of their beaches if you weren’t a resident. Highway robbery, I tell ya’. Nah…that wasn’t happening.

Visiting the CT coastline? I’d recommend doing a little better homework than we did.

In the end a nice dinner (Impossible burger for me, yum) and a couple different ciders rounded out the day nicely.

Grandma Pat and the Laundry Conundrum

This would come up as a topic of discussion at some point, so we might as well thrash it out now. I have a teeny tiny laundry issue—that’s not really even worth mentioning really—except it impacts my joy of travel.

I spend less time pondering the fun things we can do on our trip than the following crazily important questions: “What about laundry? Can I do laundry there? Is it gross? Crowded? What if I can’t do laundry for weeks at a time? How will I survive?”

I’ve never liked laundry to pile up, because then it seems overwhelming, like it’s something you’ll never get done. I’ve got enough overwhelminginity in my life without adding dirty laundry to the list. My fairly normal OCD worsened from my years in dog rescue, because then EVERY DAY became overwhelming. Not only did my laundry need to be done but all the dog laundry too. AAAHHHH!

I felt a touch bit better knowing we were going to visit Rayne’s grandma Pat; not only because I love her to pieces, but also because she’s a laundry nut too. She’s constantly doing laundry and even grabbing our laundry when we visit, so I knew she’d be onboard with us dragging our dirty clothes along behind us. We even washed our sheets and our comforter, so I can breathe a little easier for a week or two! Whew.

Dishwasher Despots

Every family’s got one: that person who knows the ONLY right way to load the dishwasher, and spends half their lives re-arranging it along behind the rest of the family. God help ya’ if you have more than one!

Joe is ours. Brynn and I never cared enough to argue about it with him, so we’d just shrug our shoulders and save our energy for more important battles. We don’t have a dishwasher out here on the road, and I think Joe relished the opportunity to put his considerable skills to use at Pat’s house.

Except here he ran into an immutable force: a fellow Dishwasher Despot, in her own territory! He was outgunned. As it turns out, there’s MORE than one right way to load the dishwasher, and Pat took the opportunity to school him on the REALLY real correct way: hers.

I simply sat back and enjoyed the show. In fact, “relished it” wouldn’t be a stretch. Sometimes it’s just the little things, ain’t it?

This week we’re in Massachusetts, and I will regale you with more splendiforous tales soon. In the meantime, enjoy some more photos from the campground and other Connecticut delights.

Oh, and P.S.

I put my Imagine: Life on a Chain novella into paperback and kindle formats if you’re interested in reading it or purchasing it as a gift. Audiobook to come soon.

I will definitely be offering nonprofit pricing to any groups who’d like to purchase to give away or sell at booths. Just reach out to me through my site at tamirathayne.com.

I don’t have it up on the site yet because I’m still figuring out how to make time for writing and publishing while I’m on the road, but I’ll get there!

Imagine: Life on a Chain

by Tamira Thayne

The dog awoke, feeling more uncomfortable than usual—which was saying something, given that he was chained to a dilapidated box the size of a grocery cart.

The world seemed off, the neighborhood quiet, even the woods behind him hushed—like everything waited…

He shifted uneasily, sniffed the air.

What was that? He brought his head up and inhaled deeply.

He didn’t recognize it—and yet…and yet. Something about the odor nudged a memory from his mind, of a time when life held promise, when he’d fully embraced the naïve enthusiasm that came with puppyhood.

He tugged on the mental string, and the flashback overwhelmed him. He sagged onto the ground, assaulted by memories of his first home…

• Based on true-life stories of rescue dogs •

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-954039-20-9
Paperback https://www.amazon.com/dp/1954039204

Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0B4BD34S8

Untethered Tour Stop One: Home in PA, an Engagement or Marriage?, and One Angry Feral Kitty

The Untethered Tour has officially begun! I’m not gonna claim that our first stop was particularly auspicious by any means…but every beginning is still a beginning, no?

New to the blog? If so, all you need to know to catch up is that the hubs, yours truly, and my feral cat Tootie are spending the next year traveling the U.S. in search of freedom (not the idiotic “patriot” kind), adventure (no rock climbing for this girl), and any interesting animals and people we meet along the way.

Since the three of us are freakishly shy, you can expect us to meet more animals than people. And by “meet animals,” I probably mean just awkwardly spying on them in the wild. Through the window. As one does.

Before we could commence on this daring adventure, however, we had to be out of our house by the end of April and Joe still had over a month of work to go. So he dropped me (and dear Tootance) at my mother and stepfather’s house in Bellwood, PA, so I could make myself useful for a couple weeks. My mom suffers from advanced dementia, is no longer verbal, and unable to care for herself; her husband Chuck is determined that she won’t die alone in a nursing home, which is so “god love the man” of him.

Mom with Chuck and her caregiver Celia. We went for walks on nice days.

I hadn’t seen them much since the pandemic started, both because I lived four hours away and because I was terrified of taking them out with covid. I knew he had his hands full, but without spending the three weeks with them I wouldn’t have understood the extent of his sacrifice.

Sisterly love. My Aunt Bee comes down a few times a week to help get mom to bed.

A huge Shout Out and much respect to all caregivers of dementia patients. To lose your husband, wife, or parent to this disease is horrific and cruel…the person you love is gone long before their physical body follows.

Watching Chuck behave so lovingly with my mother, however, gave me chills. He’d tease her by talking in a falsetto, and then he’d laugh and kiss her while she just looked at him like “who the eff is this dude taking liberties with my personage, I’ve never seen him before in my life.” He was inspiring.

Once in awhile, though, once in awhile, a slight smile would lift her lips and I’d be left to wonder how much of the world around her might still be getting through. As a test, I sang and danced for her daily, but she, alas, remained unimpressed. I mean, I’ve been told I’m a “very determined” dancer, so I can’t imagine she wasn’t secretly enthralled by my performance. She just has a good poker face.

Tootie mostly hid under the bed. What can one expect from a feral cat, anyway? She does love her mommy, though, so she would come up and cuddle me at night, yet never became comfortable enough to venture out during the day, what with all the “stranger-danger.”

After Mom and Chuck went to bed, however, party Tootie came out to play…or lay, as the case may be. Whatevs. At least she was out!

Joe picked me up Wednesday the 8th, and we drove the 12 miles to our campsite in Duncansville, PA for the next five nights. Why so close you ask? [Damn, it’s gonna take these moe-rons three years to cross the country at this rate…]

We had a reason, I promise. My handsome, almost 29-year-old son Rayne and his girlfriend Kristin got engaged, and we could hardly miss my first child’s engagement bash! That just makes for bad family drama, which we’re obviously way too mature for. (Duh.)

We decided to pick up Tootie the next evening, because we still had a lot of work to get the camper in order, and—to be honest—we were terrified of wrastling her out from under the bed. The little turd bit me recently when I was trying to give her medicine, so I’ve been left with a pretty healthy respect for her general chomper area and tend to avoid pissing that part of her off.

As a disclaimer, I fully hope that she will eventually “get” what we’re up to and docilely toddle into the crate to be moved from the camper to the truck and back on moving days. We remain far from this goal to date.

The wrastling went as poorly as one could expect, and included ferocious growling and gnashing of teeth. Tootie wasn’t happy either. I was a little too fluffy to fit under the bed (eh-hem), so I had to scour the garage for a primitive cat-sweeping tool, finding a set of old crutches which would fit the bill. I quickly learned that Tootie must have had a bad crutch experience in her past, because she immediately set to attacking the offending “cat sweepers” in a most unladylike manner. The ensuing battle spilled from the bedroom into the laundry room, where after some more “persuasion” she was finally cornered and morosely slipped into her crate, pouting in the corner.

I would have taunted her for being such a sore loser about it all, but I’d prefer not to have my face ripped off in the middle of the night; I wisely kept my commentary to myself.

Plus, I love her. She a little Tootie Monster, after all.

Engagement or Marriage? It’s All Very Confusing

I love my kids. I love that they are so different from me and from each other, and I love that they have minds of their own. And that they are pretty unapologetic about it, too! As they should be.

Rayne asked Kristin to be his wife on a ski trip in March, and—as women are wont to do—she immediately went into planning mode while Rayne looked about for a hiding spot. They worked it out amongst themselves eventually, and settled on an engagement party this year and a wedding at the Outer Banks next year.

Then they threw a wrench in the works by getting “technically married” at the courthouse so she will be listed as his next of kin when he goes off to school for the Air Force Reserves. But they still had the engagement party and the official wedding is still on for next year, so seize the day, you do you, and all that good stuff.

I love Kristin to pieces, and warned her that she picked a bit of a clunker family to marry into, but WELCOME! Guess she’s stuck with us now.

One of us has one pair of shoes out. The other has four.

Happy Camper Tips

  1. Drugs. I recently started taking anti-depression meds for the first time in my life, and I wonder why I didn’t do it much sooner! Now me and the other ladies I meet bond over our meds. Ha. And I’m much less concerned about the little things. Which is important when taking the plunge on a change like this! Campground is creepy? Stay inside and read, you say? Sweet, I’m in.
  2. Have a partner who likes to plan. In truth, Joe doesn’t like to plan either, but he’s been on the hook for most of it so far. Turns out his ex-wife did most of their itinerary stuff when they were together, so I figure why can’t we just ask her to plan our route? Seems like a wise compromise to me.
  3. Learn to live with your partner’s messiness. I want to be neat. I think I have the gene for it, somewhere buried under all those years of dog fostering. I don’t often succeed, but when it comes to a space as small as our camper, my mind automatically rejoices, “Yes, NOW our house can be unsullied, flawless even! Surely Joe will see how important it is that we keep everything in its place and then we’ll be the happiest of campers forever after, amen.” Wrong. I’ve mostly given up on my dream of the perfect little camper home already, and we’ve just hit our second campground. If you want to know how I’ve gotten over it so quickly, a reminder to see Tip #1.
  4. Don’t travel with a feral cat. The reasoning on this should be obvious to everyone who isn’t me, but just in case: the reality is that if said cat escapes the confines of the truck, camper, or carrier, you may never lay eyes on the angry little kitty again. No pressure, though.

Scorecard

I wouldn’t rely on me for great camping advise. I’m a total newb. That being said, I’ve been to three campgrounds so far, and Wright’s Campground in Duncansville made the top two. I think if you get a decent spot, you’ve got a full hookup, and they keep the place looking cared for and the grass cut, how bad can it really be? After all, we already bring our “hotel room” along with us. The people there were nice and the place was cared for. It was small and basic, but it worked for us!

Sightseeing at the Horseshoe Curve

I’m from the area but Joe isn’t, so we made an effort to visit one tourist attraction while we were in town. We chose the “World Famous Horseshoe Curve,” because anything world famous must be Ah-Maz-Ing, right? Most locals have been there, kids even take field trips with school like I did as a youngster, so it’s worth a looksee if you happen along. It cost us $8 for the two of us to get in with military discount, and we waited an hour for a train to decide to show up. With 50-60 trains per day, we obviously hit the lunch break or something, but there’s also a museum where I learned that during WW2 Nazis were arrested for planning to blow up the Horseshoe Curve. See? I told you it was THAT important.

For Pokemon Go players such as myself (no shame!), the Horseshoe Curve sports a gym and a coupla stops too, so go throw me out when you get there so I can get my 50 coinage.

Trumpers gotta trump

Speaking of Not-sees, the Cult of Trump still has to trumpet their loyalty even as their golden boy goes down for attempting to steal an election in what’s supposed to be a democracy. I’m out here tryna’ forget about all things drumpf, but these constant reminders could drive a girl to edibles. What states are they legal in nowadays, anyways?

Today we landed in East Stroudsburg, PA, so if you have any tips or animals for us to meet, give me a shout! See you on here next week with another tres-exciting update.

Road cat—as opposed to road kill—but just a little less grumpy.

Preparing for the “Untethered Tour,” aka Life on the Road with Tami and Joe

I started this “Untethered” blog many moons ago when I was daily advocating for dogs on chains. While I’m no longer on the front lines of the dog-chaining issue, I appreciate all those who still work on their behalf and am forever grateful to those who care for these “forgotten” dogs.

It turns out, however, that “Untethered” as a principle continues to fit many aspects of my life, so I’m just gonna keep on goin’ with it wherever the blog takes me today.

In 2015 I left the organization I’d founded to free dogs from chains, Dogs Deserve Better, and I felt “Untethered” from my life’s mission—an uncomfortable feeling given that I believed I’d work with and for chained dogs forever, and even had the tats to prove it.

Now what was I supposed to do?

My sweet hubby had bought us my dream home along the Thornton River in Culpeper County, VA, and I thought we’d live there forever, so I busied myself writing more books and publishing animal books by other authors, too.

But alas, at the grand old age of 58, I’m learning there may be many “Untetherings” in a person’s life; last August Joe and I began to discuss the greatest “Untethering” of all: selling our house and going on the road for a year to explore the country.

We’d just lost my precious cat Una, who tethered me to the here and now for each of his 18 years. You know when you meet that soul animal who becomes your reason to get up in the morning, the first kiss of every homecoming, and the one who might just sleep on your head (and you like it)? Una was that guy for me.

Joe had suffered a trauma in the form of a motorcycle accident 1.5 years ago which left him with ongoing health issues. He worried if he waited until he was 62 to retire that his health might be too bad to explore the U.S., so we decided to leap a bit early and JUST GO FOR IT NOW.

And So We’ve Become Untethered…

We sold our beloved home (yes, I cried) and had every intention of traveling without animal companions, too. I was concerned that my constant worry for the safety and well-being of the animals would dampen our joy at being on the road, so friends stepped forward to care for our dog and “the boys.” (Yes, I cried.)

We finished the fence at Joe’s friend Samantha’s house, and His Puppyness is making himself right at home with her and her children. It turns out he LOVES kids, something we didn’t know because we haven’t yet had grandchildren and had no young ones running around.

Then my high school friend Julie and I drove from North Carolina to San Diego with the bobtail brothers Jersey and Mike, where they will be hanging out with her, her boyfriend Joe, and their kitty Katy. We took four days to cross the U.S. and “lived it up” in cat-friendly hotels each night, which we found with the help of the Bring Fido app (recommended!)

In fact, no sooner had we reached the glorious shores of the Motel 6 in the glamorous town of Lordsburg NM, than we plotted to visit the Mexican restaurant across the street for some Cinco de Mayo beverages. The boys would be safely “hotelified” and we reasoned that we could have ourselves a little fun and then waddle on back to our room for a good night’s sleep before we tackled our last day of driving.

Julie went to ask for some shampoo while I put my feet up on the bed to enjoy a moment of peace and quiet. Twas a brief moment, to be sure, because next thing I heard was an ungodly shrieking that my rescue brain told me could only be the demands of a kitten. A very tiny and hungry kitten. Yikes!

(FYI, the second thing my brain always says in these instances is “NO! No, no, no, no, no…this isn’t happening! But alas it is…)

A thorough search and questioning at the office and of other Motel 6ers turned up no other kittens and no Momma. We were on our own. I don’t consider myself a kitten expert, but I knew we needed formula and we needed it yesterday, AND I consulted one of my cat-expert friends just to be sure. Unfortunately the closest Walmart—which I knew carried it—was almost 50 miles away! The only grocery store in town was a no-go, and there were no pet shops.

At first I was like, “No way am I driving another 100 miles round trip after we’ve been driving all day,” which makes sense; however, one shriek later had me in the car and putting the Walmart address in the gps.

We all knew who the boss was, and it wasn’t me!

Julie and I took turns playing Momma all through the night, and the kitten mews—a kind word for it—continued pretty much unabated if he wasn’t eating or napping. We stopped at the Hermitage No-Kill Cat Shelter in Tucson, AZ the next morning on our way through, where they graciously took our little boy in and will nurse him until he’s ready for adoption. Julie was already a little attached and feeling conflicted because she’d been the one to rescue him, but in the end we agreed that putting him in the hands of experts would give him the best chance at the life he deserved.

We may have missed our party, but we got to do a good deed for an animal instead, so in the end we were the better people for it. Right? Right.

I visited with Julie and Joe for a couple days while we got the boys acclimated, then I sold my car and took a flight back to VA.

Talk about “Untethered!”

Now I had no home, no car, and three of our companions were with friends…

There was still one more, though…

Enter Da Tootie Monster, aka Tootance

Tootie Monster has been with me since she came to the DDB Center in 2011. She was a feral kitty who was born near the Treasurer’s house in PA, and when we thought she was pregnant we took her in to foster with me at the center. When she turned out be “sans kittens” we got her fixed and she stayed on as one of my gang.

Tootie is still mostly feral but does love her Momma and her sister Bryn. She has suffered ill health for about two years due to ongoing throat issues; I thought I would lose her in November, but we opted to get her through Christmas with stronger meds. I was prepared to let her go in January, but then she was like “Nah, whatchu lookin’ at, Momma. I’m all good here. Move along. Nothing to see.”

So, the great irony is that we will indeed be traveling with a companion anyway—the one who is most guaranteed to hate every second of it.

Ah, life.

Test Weekend

We bought a camper and a truck to haul her with, waiting up to seven months for delivery due to new pandemic “norms.” We bought small, as there are only the two of us (plus one additional happy cat camper, eh-hem.)

Last weekend we trundled ourselves out for a test weekend to Gettysburg, ala the Drummer Boy campground. We weren’t there for sightseeing purposes, though, although there is much to see if you haven’t been there yourself…no, it was something much more nefarious: Exactly HOW MUCH of our lives COULD we squeeze into this 26-foot camper?

As it turns out…not nearly as much as we hoped. We’d divided our goods between a storage unit and boxes that went into the camper, and Friday night was another in a long line of packing and unpacking nightmares of which I’ll spare you the details. The pics speak for themselves after all, no?

By Saturday a.m. we finally had the place looking as promised in the brochure, but it was not without a meltdown or two. (It was Joe…ok, fine, it was me...picture me wailing and throwing myself on the bed proclaiming I was done and couldn’t do it another second and you could have been right there with us.)

I’d been invited by one of my long-time facebook friends, Stephanie Baum, to come visit her cat rescue Saturday morning while we were in Gettysburg, Forever Love Rescue. I went in expecting a home-based rescue the way DDB was until we got the center, but I was blown away by the beautiful building and all the precious cats waiting and hoping for their new forever homes!

One of the things we talked about was how people like me in the early 2000s had inspired Stephanie to get involved in animal rescue, and it was both thrilling and gratifying for me to see that the cycle continues—it’s now women like Stephanie inspiring others to take action on behalf of animals.

Forever Love was exactly what I’d hope every cat facility would be: cats who did well with other cats and had “graduated” roamed free throughout the facility, plus they have foster homes, and wonderful and dedicated leaders and volunteers. What a joy for me to experience!

I promptly plopped my butt down on the floor and tried to make friends with every feline who came within petting distance. Only one wasn’t amenable to my considerable charms, so I’d call it a win right there.

We’ll be heading to the northeast soon . . . if any of my other rescue friends would like a visit and a shout-out please let me know! I’d love to see your work for the animals.

We rounded out the test weekend with a lunch date with Joe’s sister Ibi and her family, and she gifted us an adorable Happy Camper sign and a book on the national parks. She’s sweet like that. [I understand that Happy Camper signs are a prerequisite to going on the road. I’m not sure what you do if you’re an Unhappy Camper, but we’ll figure that out when the time comes.]

Saturday evening was the first time in forever that we were “done” with our long list of chores and able to relax in our new camper. We sat beside each other and read and chatted for a bit, but then it seemed like we were getting on each other’s nerves. So I slunk on over to the bed to read to get a little distance, yet I remained at most only ten feet away from my beloved husband of 11 years.

Um…this might take a little getting used to for two very independent introverts.

My kids are betting how long it takes us to kill each other (I don’t think they mean that in the literal sense, right? I mean, a divorce would be a lot more socially acceptable.) If you wanna get in on that bet contact one of them. I’m not your bookie…unless you wanna give me a cut…

In another two weeks we will officially begin the “Untethered Tour,” and I hope to blog more about our trip and the animal and human friends we meet and make along the way. Follow me to get the scoop on all our adventures!

Can we say Bon Voyage if we’re staying in ‘Murika? Who knows…

Read FREE! Episode 7 of Imagine: Life on a Chain. Mom Comes Home

I hope the New Year finds you all well and rested! Apparently I just had a cold last week—not Covid, according to a rapid test at least—although I had another brush with “that darn virus” over the weekend. I await my body’s verdict on if it will take hold or not. With omicron sweeping the country, it becomes more and more likely we will all contract it at some point, alas.

I got a new calendar (yes, still old school there, also known as JUST OLD.) You’ll be happy to know today is National Spaghetti Day. Mangia!

That brings us to this week’s FREE read, Episode 7 of Imagine: Life on a Chain. Mom Comes Home. If you’re new to the story, start HERE and follow the links at the bottom of each episode to find the next.

Imagine…Life on a Chain

Episode Seven: Mom Comes Home

The End of the End

Two weeks went by in a blur of sadness, always waiting for Dad to come home from the hospital, always hoping for good news that didn’t come. Even Dream—the more even-keeled of the two—was losing her equanimity, often snapping at her brother.

Neither said so, but fear dogged their every waking moment, invaded their sleep.

“How long has he been gone this time, Imagine?” Dream whined. “Why does he leave us alone every single day. He doesn’t feed us the way Mom does, either…we’re lucky to eat once a day. Thank goodness we have the doggie door, or we’d be making a mess in here, for sure.”

It was Imagine who played peacekeeper now. He rolled onto his back next to his sibling, rubbing his face along her ear. “I think he’ll be home soon, Sis,” he said soothingly. “Want to go in the yard and play ball? It’s a nice day.”

“Who’s gonna throw it, Immy? In case you didn’t notice, we’re the only ones here.”

“I’ll throw it to you! And then I’ll chase you for it, just the way you like,” Imagine cajoled.

Dream smiled begrudgingly. “Fine, but get the new ball. Your slobber grosses me out,” she teased, then got to her feet and trotted out into the yard.

It’s Mom

“Incoming!” Imagine yelled as he whipped his head and released the ball toward the edge of the fence; Dream raced to grab it before it took a bad hop and disappeared from sight. Imagine was proud of his throwing ability . . . he’d taught himself in the “before days”—happier times when each morning brought new promise of adventure with his little family.

He sensed those days were gone.

“Dream tormented me about my ball obsession,” the dog remembered fondly, scratching his ear in tacit acknowledgment of the fleas already taking their blood breakfast. Dream would tire of the game quickly, as did Mom and Dad, so Imagine had taught himself—tossing the ball up into the air and catching it . . . over and over and over again.

“I never could get enough of that ball,” he sighed sadly, looking around at his empty, dirt-packed home. Not a ball, or any toy for that matter, in sight. How many years had it been since he had a ball? He couldn’t even remember anymore.

Suddenly Dream stopped dead in her tracks. “Immy! I hear the car! Dad’s home,” she cried, rushing past him and in through the door. “Maybe today will be the day he’s happy again,” she called over her shoulder to her brother.

Imagine shook his head. He didn’t think that day would ever come.

Afraid to hear any more bad news, he dawdled in the yard, pretending he had to re-mark the property boundary to keep intruders out.

“Well, that boxer next door needs to learn some manners,” he rationalized, grumbling to himself. “He’s always daring to stick his snout through that hole in the corner of the fence. He’s just lucky I’m a gentleman,” he huffed as he reluctantly took himself into the dark of the rec room and up the stairs to the kitchen.

Before he reached the top of the steps his gait quickened. What was that he heard? Could it be? Was that Mom’s voice?

It was coming from the living room!

Heart pounding, he charged into the room and ran smack into Dream, knocking her over. Neither dog said a word, though, as they pulled themselves together.

Both had eyes for only one person.

It was Mom, sitting small and seemingly shriveled in the corner chair, the good one, the one they never used. Her eyes met his, and he was struck by memories of his goodbye with Star. For in the eyes of the human he now knew as “Mom,” the one who made him feel safe and loved and kept his belly full, he again saw both sadness and resignation.

The only difference was that this time he wasn’t confused by the look—he understood what she was telling him: “Hello and all too soon Goodbye, my love.”

Next Episode: Homeless

Tamira Thayne is the author of It Went to the Dogs: How Michael Vick’s Dogfighting Compound Became a Haven for Rescue Pups. She’s also written other books for adults and children, including these for adults: Capitol in Chains, Foster Doggie Insanity, The Wrath of Dog, The King’s Tether, The Knights Chain, and The Curse of Cur. For kids of all ages she’s published No Guppy Puppy, Raffy Calfy’s Rescue, Spittin’ Kitten’s Speed-Away, Squirmy Hermie’s Heroics, Smidgey Pidgey’s Predicament, Happy Dog Coloring Book. She is the editor of More Rescue Smiles, and co-editor of Unchain My Heart and Rescue Smiles.

Happy Birthday to the Mother who No Longer Knows Me

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Mom, second from right, with her husband Chuck, visiting my cousins on one of their trips around the U.S.

My mother turns 79 today, but she neither knows nor cares about that.

Advanced dementia has robbed her of everything that makes life meaningful, rendered her not only incapable of holding a conversation, but taken away virtually all words aside from “Jeep”, which she assiduously uses to strongarm her husband into driving her about the countryside multiple times per day.

Oddly enough, she still points in the direction she wants him to turn, retaining some sense of direction and map knowledge in a brain which has increasingly revolted against her, against all of us.

She no longer knows her children, her sisters, her friends, or even her husband, beyond the understanding that he’s her caregiver and life is much scarier for her when he’s not there.

I’d planned to make the four hour trek for a brief visit today, even though I acknowledged that it would be for my sake and not hers. I wanted one last photo of her with her birthday cake (which she probably wouldn’t eat), because I have a clear understanding that this will be her last.

Yet my recent illness and fears of being the one to put the final nail in her coffin by unwittingly passing along COVID-19 kept me home today instead.

I won’t pretend that my mother and I had the perfect mother-daughter relationship, yet the inevitable ending has a way of softening the edges of the middle.

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A photo of Mom I found in the files from her computer. Most were blurry, ha.

My mother longed to be a writer, and although she never achieved any sort of fame or made much in the way of money at it, she did write and publish three Christian fiction novels plus a children’s book, and had a handful of articles and daily devotions published in magazines and books.

When her mind was addled to the point that she could no longer use her computer, I pulled all her writing off her laptop and saved it to my own. I’m now very grateful I had the presence of mind to do so.

As a way of saying “Happy Birthday”, and “I miss you, Mom” to the woman who birthed me and my two brothers, I share a couple of her pieces with you, below.

Help! I’m Not Aging Gracefully

by Lorena Estep
(A version of this was published in Mature Living)

Nearing retirement age, I began battling the aging process in every way possible. I didn’t mind getting older—I just didn’t want to look older. It was bad enough struggling in my 20’s and 30’s to keep the weight down, but from middle age and up, it became a Herculean effort! Each new fad diet worked for awhile, especially the lo-carb, hi-protein. That is until I began to dislike meat and crave carbs . . . especially the sugary ones with lots of icing.

Reaching the age where I was considered a senior citizen in some places and not others, I found I would rather pay the full price than admit to being in that age bracket, unless there was a significant difference in cost.

I had my first very rude (and I mean very rude) awakening while shopping in a department store with my husband one day. He said, “I’m going to the snack bar for a cup of coffee.”

“Okay, sweetie. I’ll be there in a few minutes to join you.” I shopped a little longer, then went over to stand in line for a cup of tea.

“That’s twenty-five cents,” the young girl at the cash register said.

Surprised, I asked, “Why is it so cheap? Are you having a special?”

“That’s the senior citizen rate.”

The feelings that ripped through me were hard to describe: a combination of mortification, indignation, and anger that was like a slap in the face. Of course, being a very determined person, I couldn’t let it alone.

“So how do you decide if someone’s a senior citizen?” I had to ask.

“I just look at them, and if they look old, I give it to them.”

I stared at her in icy disbelief, as she stood there in all her youthful glory, smiling so guilelessly. I grabbed my tea and stomped over to my husband. “How much was your coffee?” I asked in a snappish tone.

“Twenty-five cents,” he answered innocently, taking a sip.

I set my tea down with a thud and plopped onto the chair beside him. “Well, that’s because you look old,” I informed him.

“No it isn’t. It’s just a special sale.”

“Nope. The girl said that’s the senior discount, and if someone looks old, she gives it to them!”

He shrugged and placidly kept drinking.

That was my mortifying initiation into “seniorhood.” Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten any younger looking, no matter how many different kinds of facial exercises or creams I try. Nor have I gotten hardened to the offense of being given the discount without asking for it.

Occasionally there is the upside where someone thinks you’re younger than you are. Recently, I had my four-year-old granddaughter and ten-year-old grandson in a store at a mall. The man who waited on us referred to me as their mother. My smile was wide, and I didn’t bother to correct him.

When we left the store, I said to my grandson, “He thought I was your mother.” I was still smiling.

Giving me an indignant look my grandson said, “I know. I was rather insulted!”

Then he laughed, and Grandma still had enough pizzazz to chase him up through the mall.

Lorena Estep

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Mom with my son when she visited him in California

I found this amongst her writings, and am very touched she nominated me for an award that I’ve never heard of. I obviously didn’t win, but thanks for trying, Mom.

YOU CAN’T QUIT, MOTHER!

“You can’t quit, Mother. You know you love to write. That’s when you’re the happiest.”

“Sometimes it’s so discouraging and overwhelming,” I complain. “There are a hundred manuscripts I want to send out at once, and I don’t know what to work on first. If the ratio of rejections to acceptances were reversed, it would be more encouraging and worth the time, energy and frustration.”

We go through similar scenes from time to time, and my daughter is as tenacious as a dog with a bone. Since she determinedly rescues chained dogs, fostering them in her home, I suspect she has learned a few tricks from the assorted canines she lives with.

“Dwell mostly on the acceptances,” she continues. “Only allow yourself two hours to mourn when a rejection comes.

“That last article you had published was great, and I loved the full-page drawing they put with it. I was thinking that for Mother’s Day, I could take that picture out of the magazine and mat and frame it as my gift to you. If you hang it by your desk, every time you get discouraged you can look at it and know all the hard work is worthwhile.”

I always end up hugging her and getting back to work.

She also does much of my critiquing, diligently checking for mistakes and clarity. On a bi-monthly basis, I put together a ten-page newsletter for the church I attend.

When it’s time to add in pictures and the finishing touches, she comes to my home and uses her graphic designer skills to give it a professional tweak.

She’s a caring person who never gives up on what she sets out to do. Her home is full of children, dogs, cats and love. I’m proud of my daughter, and thankful for her love and the fact that she believes in me, and my writing venture.

On behalf of a person who won’t allow me to quit, I hereby nominate my daughter, Tammy, for the “Barnabas-Marcie” Brag award.

—Lorena Estep

Until you experience dementia in someone you love,  you will never know the unique pain this disease dumps on the family of those affected. In reality, I lost my mother years ago; now that she’s finally at the beginning of the end, I feel only relief tinged with sadness. The long, slow road to the final curtain has been replete with hurt, anger, and mourning, all while her body still lives.

I learned to celebrate a smile, and treasure the jolt of hearing her speak—because in my head she’s already gone. Her voice brings me back, for an instant, to the mother I once knew.

Happy 79th, Mom. I wish you were here to celebrate with me.

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Mom captured on our camera walking my dog Sloan and my cat Tuna in 2014

Reflections on 56 Years: Oprah Lied about the 50s, the Curse of Empathy, and Why Can’t the Real World be Sanitized like “The Call of the Wild”?

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Gorgeous drawing of my dog, Khronos, by Abbie Withers. He reminds me of Buck in the remake of “The Call of the Wild.”

Tomorrow I will turn 56.

Yesterday, my hubby Joe and I went to see “The Call of the Wild.”

Neither the harking back to a book I’d read as a child and remembered as being emotionally painful, nor the forthcoming years that promise the ongoing pain of aging has seemed very celebratory.

I liked “The Call of the Wild”; in fact, I liked it much more than I’d expected to. And while I couldn’t remember the details of the book—it’s been 46 years since my last reading of it, after all—I had a sneaking suspicion that the movie was a sanitized version. For which I am grateful.

Buck’s first beating in the movie consisted of only one hit; I thought the book was probably much worse. And, true confession, I escaped to the bathroom as the second abuse scene came up, not able to face what the evil man would do to the beautiful dog. A couple renegade sobs escaped my throat as I burst through the theater door into the emotional neutrality of the quiet hallway. As I hurried to the ladies room, I  corralled my wayward pain, shoved it back into the recesses, and went about the business of denying the ugly of life once more.

It occurred to me that way too much of my time is spent denying the ugly in an attempt at surviving my days here on Planet Earth.

I see this as the curse of having a heart, the ability to empathize, to understand and in some way feel the pain of others, both human and animal.

Apparently, my foggy memories served me right about the movie’s sanitization, according to this article. And yet I found even the couple abuse scenes, and the (very sparing) dog-fighting scenes, almost more than I could bear. I squeezed Joe’s hand at each attack during the fight between Buck and the pack leader, Spitz, and pondered—for the thousandth time—how anyone could actually choose to participate or watch such a thing as dogfighting.

I was in my late 40’s when I read an article in Oprah talking about how wonderful the 50’s were supposed to be for women. I couldn’t wait! Now THIS was more like it! Ostensibly, when we hit 50, we women would magically stop caring so much about our looks and how the world viewed us, would be free to be ‘ourselves’, and would truly enjoy the rest of our years on the planet.

What bliss awaited me!

Yet tomorrow I’ll be 56—over halfway through the magical decade—and I’m still waiting for this glorious epiphany to hit. Crap. Did I miss the bus, again?

Or, did Oprah lie to me? Maybe the 50’s are just good if you have plenty of money to mute the evils of the world.

Instead, I’m tubby, have decided to embrace my grays even though this will not enhance my appearance, and think it’s a wise idea overall to avoid the mirror.

And depression rides my coattails on the best of days.

Whereas empathy SHOULD be a trait to be celebrated, instead it’s become an anchor weighing me down in a world where cruelty toward animals and humans alike abounds.

Avoiding pain in the quest for emotional survival seems to be my daily modus operandi.

In a world under Trump, cruelty towards our fellow humans and animals is more the point that the consequence of our interactions with others.

I rarely blog anymore, because I can’t offer much in the way of support for those suffering. I can’t help others, when I’m in too much pain. I avoid Facebook, and most social media, most of the time. I find myself more attracted to Twitter, because at least there people are standing up to Trump and his ilk, and I need to feel like not all hope is lost.

It’s ironic that the kindest people on the planet are those who are most able to feel the pain of others: this is, indeed, specifically what makes them kind. It also makes them less able or likely to fight back against evil.

Those who are cruel are able to cage children at our borders, lie with impunity in the hijacking of America, and toss out of office anyone telling the truth with no qualms or twinges of conscience.

I messaged with a friend yesterday about the upcoming election, and we agreed we were afraid we couldn’t emotionally SURVIVE another four years of Trump. How sad is that? That a president causes so much emotional harm to those in the country they don’t know if they can live through it?

bloated-tick

THE TRUTH IS, at this point, I WOULD VOTE FOR A BLOATED TICK OVER TRUMP.

I’m already seeing so much infighting in the Democratic primaries, that I feel hopeless about our ability to focus, to rise above, and to effectively fight this evil.

Why? Why can’t we see that getting rid of Trump, by coming together as a nation, has to be the NUMBER ONE PRIORITY?

As Jennifer Rubin said in this The Washington Post editorial, “What, if anything, can Democrats do in the next week or so to change the trajectory of the race? There is very little chance that they will do what is necessary; that would require selflessness and self-reflection as well as party leadership, none of which is evident in today’s Democratic Party.”

Great. As if I needed more to be depressed about.

If you have a heart and soul; if you care about animals, if you care about people, if you care about our planet, then removing Trump has to be the first and foremost responsibility.

The death of our planet looms…our only chance for survival for us and our children is putting actual adults in charge.

Maybe it’s not all Oprah’s fault that I can’t embrace my 50’s. Still…if she can’t sanitize the world to make me believe it’s a kinder place, she at least shouldn’t make me promises that she can’t keep.

Happy 56 to me.

Lobotomy, anyone?