Monday, January 22, 2018

What to do for Kanga?

Kanga has been peeing outside of the litter box for months. A lot. As in, destroyed a carpet and will soon destroy another if we can't solve this. I've tried every solution I could find on the internet, from Jackson Galaxy, and my own imagination. I've been convinced it's an anxiety issue and most of my focus has been on trying to solve it that way.

The biggest problem is that her special needs put the nix on most of the proven solutions, such as giving her places to climb up out of the way. She can climb up, but not down, which is a major safety concern and means that for her, part of "catifying" means making sure she CAN'T get up higher than a couple of feet anywhere. Add to that the fact that the many limitations of our cramped apartment are frustrating even for the humans, and we have a bit of a nightmare.

Sadly, I'm afraid that the true solutions may be ones I simply can't provide, such as a calmer and more spacious environment. I tried the "No Mark" pheromone spray; she peed on the floor where I sprayed it 3 times in the next 18 hours, a big jump from the usual 4-5 times a week (that I know of). I took her to the low-cost vet clinic at the shelter where we adopted her and Smidge, for blood work to see if she has kidney problems. (It would have been roughly 3 times the cost at our regular vet.) She doesn't, but they think she might have parasites, which could explain her occasional diarrhea and recent poor appetite. Not the peeing on carpets, though. The shelter vet seemed to think it was really a mobility issue, but we've already gone through several litter types until we found the current one which she likes, and several pan styles as well, and currently we're using those under-bed storage containers to give her more room for scooting around. She's perfectly content using them - about 75% of the time. UGH!

The shelter seems in a hurry to take her back, which frustrates me. I was hoping they'd at least try putting her on some anxiety medication to see if that helped. They said they weren't ruling out the possibility, but would prefer to re-home the cats. Perhaps it is selfish of me to try to keep them, but I am very resistant to letting them return to the shelter. It was a terrible environment for Kanga with her difficulties. They did suggest trying a pheromone diffuser (do you know how dang expensive all that stuff is?!), and I put one in the bedroom where they have most of their squabbles. Now Kanga has decided to pee on that floor too. AAAGGGGHHHHH!!!! Of course, it does seem to help with the squabbling as advertised. But at that cost it isn't worth it. Maybe the vet is right about the mobility issue, and she prefers to pee where she feels most relaxed. *headdesk* They said something about "observing her behavior at the shelter to see if the problem persists." Of course she will use the litter box at the shelter, because she can't even leave the dang cage!!! She'll never be more than 12 inches from it!! What a stupid idea.

Anyway, yet again today I started searching ideas for a shallower litter box. The wide boxes we're using are about 6" high, which isn't really shallow enough for Kanga; but cutting into them creates a different problem because of the way she has to hitch herself over the side. I foresee lots of scraped elbows with cut plastic edges. I considered putting foam tube insulation on cut edges, but she will scratch at that and possibly eat the shreddings; she samples some strange things. Until now I really haven't found anything for cats with serious mobility challenges. But today I found this post from Fundamentally Feline. And that led me to search for litterboxes for senior cats. Viola!

It costs a mere $40 on Amazon. (sarcasm) It's actually a puppy training box, but hey, whatever works! I'm saving up for it - and searching Craigslist. Maybe by tax return time I'll be able to spare another $40. The shelter vet also suggested putting carpet in the bottom of the litter box, which would be a great idea if I was rich and could afford to throw out a cheap carpet tile EVERY OTHER DAY!!!

I'm pretty annoyed with the shelter, to be honest. I feel like they weren't up front with me in the beginning about a problem they had every reason to know existed. True, she didn't start peeing on the carpets right away. But she did start within just a few weeks, and she continued the habit in a new room when we took the carpet out of the old room. I have a hard time believing this is something entirely new. And it makes me even more concerned about giving her back, because if they aren't honest with the new adopters, these kitties might get stuck in a cycle of being adopted and returned again and again. I don't want that. They're 3 years old and lived in one shelter until 11 months, then in another until they were adopted at 16 months, then were returned again after a year. I'm seeing the start of a bad cycle here.

I am going to put carpet tiles on top of the real carpet all around the litter box. Maybe that will help to prevent the good carpet getting ruined, even if it doesn't solve the underlying problem. Meanwhile, I just couldn't resist sharing this photo from yesterday of both cats sitting with me. First time ever. :D

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Of Cats and Daughters

The Princess turned 6 years old recently. She's an amazing daughter in every way. Sometimes amazingly difficult, hehe. But always amazing.

A few weeks ago she started being actively, sneakily mean to the cats. Like throwing a toy at them and then denying it, or swatting them for turning away when she tries to pet them. Which I guess makes sense in 6-year-old logic. Or deliberately stomping her foot next to them as she passed by to startle them away.

I had a feeling it was jealousy, but there didn't seem to be much I could do about it. I began to get very upset and a couple of times she went off and cried after I yelled at her. Then one evening she said: "Mommy, if I ran away would you look for me?"

I wasn't sure what to make of that, but I replied, "Yes, of course! But I really hope you never run away because I'd be so super sad."

"But how would you look for me?" she asked. "You have to take care of the cats."

Light Bulb.

I explained to her that there is no way I would ever not look for her or her brothers because of pets; I can get other people to take care of the cats if I have to, and they are very special but they aren't my kids, and my first responsibility is to her and her brothers, and if one of them was lost I would never stop looking until they were found.

I've been trying to make an effort to spend at least a little time reading and writing with her in the evenings now, at least the evenings when we're home. She's being nicer to the cats. I think she still gets annoyed that Smidge curls up on my twin-sized mattress with me at night, because she isn't allowed to sleep with me any more. She's not ready to accept my explanation that there is room on the bed (not really, but I can't reason with a cat) for an 8-pound cat and not for a 50-pound child. Some things will take time, I suppose. She still occasionally cries about not having a kitten, and she cried last night at my sister's house because my sister's kittens have grown up and don't like her any more (of course in reality they didn't like being manhandled any better when they were little, but they couldn't escape as effectively hehe). She still wants a pet that belongs only to her, that will fawn over her and sleep with her and follow her everywhere and let her squeeze and snuggle and love it to her heart's content. What she needs, in reality, is a fluffy dog. And I wish I could give her that, but I can't.

There is just nowhere nearly enough of me to go around, these days.

Monday, September 18, 2017

I'm a Cat Mommy with troubles! Lol

Okay, so nobody said it would be easy, right? But I still fondly imagined that giving Smidge more cozy spots would stop Kanga's peeing problem. It did seem to help, after all; just not enough.

I have rearranged furniture. I've added yet another litter box which is now totally in the way. I opened up the drafty hall closet (the one with no storm window, but it's still painted shut so God forbid you could actually make use of it for air circulation when the weather is nice; oh no, it is strictly for draining away money on the utility bill) and decided to make it the laundry closet, and added Smidge's stool that she likes, strategically placed to give her access to the shelf and from there to the windowsill. Nope.

She has taken over the new cat tree by now, and at this point to be honest I think Kanga's problem has more to do with the Princess than with Smidge. She deeply resents not being allowed to pick the cats up or invade their sleeping quarters, and she has started playing with them a lot using the wand toys. Which, by the way, are bloody expensive and NOT meant for little kids to use because they break easily. In spite of my constant nagging at her to be more gentle and not use the toy like a horsewhip, she continues to thrash them around violently. I know it's bothering the cats because they will often come running from one end of the apartment to the other, and sure enough if I go to check, she's in there swinging a toy around and insisting that "It was an accident" and "It didn't really hit her SO hard." AAAAAGGGGHHHHH!!

Since peeing on the floor in a particular area is supposedly associated with the need for a safe space, I thought this weekend I'd clean our reeking carpet - not with that foul-smelling Nature's Miracle stuff again, which the cats and I both abhor, but with essential oils of lavender and chamomile, the advertised ingredients for the expensive "cat calming" spray at PetSmart that I can't even begin to afford. To me, the Nature's Miracle smells just as bad as the cat pee. It's only advantage is supposedly leaving the carpet odor-free after the fact, but I have not found that to be the case.

The lavender and chamomile certainly did seem to, however. I was so happy last night after I finished; the room smelled lovely, the cats weren't holed up on the other side of the apartment looking miserable, and in fact Kanga kept coming in every time I shut off the carpet cleaner and lying on the wet carpet as if she enjoyed it. So I was certain of success.

Oh, and I added the third litter box the night before with fancy Dr. Elsey's expensive litter for cats who hate their litter boxes, and she used it four times in 24 hours! A big improvement over the previous litter change to SWheat Scoop. (Note to the wise - that stuff breeds meal moths. Avoid it.)

So I was extra certain of success. I went to sleep enjoying the fresh, clean smell of an apartment where cat pee exists only in the litter box. I woke up to the old stink.

Yes, she peed on the floor again. Right in front of the litter box, which she then hopped into for pooping. Gooood kitty.... *headdesk*

Someone at church told me to put black pepper into the carpet, since cats always sniff before they pee, and the pepper is unpleasant. I'm going to spot-test that theory after the carpet dries. However, since she can't climb on things, I don't want the floor to be unpleasant for her. It's the only place she can be. Somehow I have to find a way to make her feel that peeing on it isn't necessary for owning it.

And she needs her nails trimmed again. They're catching on everything already. I'm going to ask the vet about those little nail caps so she can go longer between trimmings. I'm also considering having the two most troublesome nails amputated. I know that declawing cats is a rotten practice, but these are special circumstances. Her paws are already deformed, so it won't affect her walking or balance in a negative way, and it might make her less anxious if she's not getting stuck halfway down the hall whenever she wants to get from one place to another.

We'll see what happens.

Friday, August 18, 2017

I'm a Cat Mommy!

At the end of June, I decided we needed a pet. Studies show they help with depression, and both Little Bear and I struggle with that. Besides, all three kids have wanted a pet since forever.

A dog was out of the question. We knew a couple of people with kittens, but I felt a kitten would be more expensive (even if they're free to take home) and require more attention that we could offer. Considering how little waking time we actually spend at the apartment, it made the most sense to get two adult cats who already knew each other and would keep each other company throughout the day. We also needed indoor cats because the traffic in our area has ballooned over the past decade, and cats who go outdoors don't last long.

This meant adoption, obviously. I looked at the website for the local shelter and searched "bonded pair." Smidge and Kanga popped up. Two-and-a-half year old sisters, one with Radial Hypoplasia that results in her two front legs being shortened and turned inward so she hobbles along on her elbows, and one missing a front leg (due to the same condition in only one leg). They were up for adoption together. I thought it sounded perfect. They were young enough to spend (theoretically) a long life with us, but old enough to have outgrown the destructive stage. Their mobility issues meant I wouldn't feel guilty about keeping them indoors, and also that they'd be less likely to escape. I also assumed - incorrectly - that I wouldn't have to worry about the expense of climbers and cat shelves since they would have trouble getting up and down from heights. Ahem. More on that later...

Anyway, we went to visit them, and even though Kanga was unfriendly and scratched us a few times, I had my mind made up. The kids unanimously begged for a kitten instead, but in addition to my practical reasons, I wasn't going to subject such a small creature to the obsessive, controlling snuggles the Princess dreams of giving. She has a hard time accepting that live animals - especially soft fluffy ones - aren't toys and cannot be treated as such. If it was just the boys, that would be different.

They assured me that Kanga was not herself due to the pressures of the shelter environment, which could not accommodate her deformity. She refused to come out of her box or interact at all. I felt I'd do the same in her place. My opinion was that even if our apartment wasn't perfect, it had to be better than their current situation, and they'd been there for two months. Besides, I totally fell in love with Smidge; she reminded me so much of my old cat. So we adopted them. This was their second time at the shelter since they'd been adopted the previous year (after transferring from a shelter in New Jersey) and then brought back due to electrical fires in their owner's building.

When we brought them home, Smidge came out right away and dove under the couch. Kanga didn't budge. We left the carrier open and went grocery shopping. When we came back, she was out but ran back in when we got too close. We left the room, and later when I saw her out again, I closed the carrier and took it away.

We kept them in the big room for a few days. Smidge warmed up right away; Kanga took a little time but she did turn into a very different cat over the course of a week. I noticed that a couple of her claws wouldn't retract, probably due to her deformity, and one was quite overgrown and giving her trouble when playing. It was also the one everybody got scratched with. When we took them to the vet for their initial post-shelter checkup, the doctor did a fantastic job trimming her nails even though Kanga did her best villian-from-a-slasher-movie impression. Lol. It appears her claws on those crooked front paws are hypersensitive since she immediately reacts to having them touched, no matter how gently. Because neither cat can scratch properly to keep the nails worn down, trimming will have to be a regular thing.

It turned out that Kanga was the dominant one, and it annoyed me that she insisted on eating first and would butt in if she saw me petting Smidge. I assumed that Smidge's slender build and Kanga's chunky build had resulted from food issues, especially because Smidge would gobble her food very fast as if afraid it would be taken. I also assumed that Smidge didn't settle down and let me pet her for any length of time because she was nervous. Turns out she's just hyper, hehe. She can't sit still.

The pecking order shifted after Smidge killed and ate (yuck) two beetles on our deck one night, and decided she was the boss kitty and guardian of the household now! To my surprise and distress, Kanga didn't even try to stick up for herself, but just seemed to shrink down and give up everything to Smidge; all her cozy spots and safe corners, the first turn at the food dish, etc. If I sat down to pet her, she'd keep looking nervously around and sure enough, within seconds Smidge would come running in and give her a look, and she'd move away. Grrr. She also started spraying the sofa and peeing on the floor around the litter box. I steam-cleaned the carpet with pet odor remover once, but she's kept on doing it. She began throwing up constantly and stopped eating for a few days. It seemed pretty clearly an anxiety thing, so I kept giving her extra attention and fed them separately, and it got better slowly. I rearranged some furniture and added a second litter box, put out paper bags for her to hide in, and made her a cardboard box hideaway which Smidge sprayed right away and refused to let her go into. Ugh. Smidge also tried to monopolize the new litter box, but that has smoothed over. The first time Kanga got away with using it before Smidge caught her, Smidge ran up and sniffed the turd she'd left, then promptly hopped in and peed on it. I had to laugh at that one.

Because Smidge likes to be up on top of things, I decided to bite the financial bullet and order a cat tree from Groupon. Most cat trees I found would not accommodate a tripod, since they require the ability to leap down from level to level. Finally I found one that looked pretty reasonably spaced. I've seen other tripod owners talk about placing two climbers next to each other to provide more levels as well. In the meantime I picked up a small one off of Craigslist, which neither cat will use yet - not sure why, maybe it smells like the previous owner's cat or maybe they don't like where it is - and I rearranged the closet in the back of our Ikea loft bed/entertainment center/drawer combo with shelves for Smidge to climb on. I bought a pack of sticky-backed carpet tiles at Home Depot and cut pieces to put on top of the shelves so they'd be more comfy. My plan was to give Smidge places up high where she could enjoy hanging out and leave Kanga in peace down below.

A couple of days ago I put the big cat tree together, and Kanga immediately took it over. Lol so much for that plan! But hey, whatever works for them. They do seem to get along better now; Kanga has a new favorite place to sleep during the day and Smidge is free to keep the cozy cat bed she stole, haha. I also started feeding them next to each other, instead of the original setup where they shared a dish, or the second attempt where they ate in separate rooms. Smidge would run back and forth between the two rooms and eat from both dishes to keep Kanga away, little stinker. Now they eat together with minimal fuss. Smidge also seems to have partially subsided back to her more timid self, which wasn't what I hoped for, but as long as they aren't squabbling I suppose I can't complain.

I did have to find lightweight objects to put on the higher shelves of the new cat tree, since Kanga has decided to live there, because she can climb up but not down and that presents a major safety concern. That first morning she was apparently more comfortable attempting the nearly 4-foot leap to the kitchen floor than the 16-inch leap back through the hole she had come up through, and I had to grab her and set her down because it was obvious she was about to jump, which would have inevitably resulted in injury. Just in case, I'm keeping a pizza box on the floor in front of it for now, to cushion her fall if she should attempt it again and hopefully prevent serious injuries. So far I haven't seen her make any further efforts to go up there, but my ability to observe is limited.

It's going to be a fun journey!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Make the most of it!

There is another less-famous quote from Patrick Henry, the founding father who made the renowned "Give me liberty or give me death!" speech. After his dramatic conclusion, there was a cry of "Treason!" from one or more dissenting listeners, and he responded with "If this be treason, make the most of it!"

Patrick Henry was awesome.

That quote has been on my mind a lot lately because of this repulsive and destructive administration, but really it applies to many life situations. The past few months I've been trying very hard to make the most of everything. My new job is going wonderfully, I no longer miss my old boss in spite of myself, I tried dating someone and came to the conclusion that I'm much better off single and shouldn't mess with a good thing, and my parents expanded our apartment a bit so that we can actually have a family life now. Things are really going very well, comparatively. Financially, I have just had to accept that I will struggle for quite a few years still. Everything else is much better, so I'll take what I can get and make the most of it!

The kids' dad was moved to a closer location in January, so we can make the trip in a day now, which is very helpful. There are attractions along the way where we have free entry through our NARM membership, and I also learned of a local organization that provides low-cost entry for families on assistance to various attractions in our area. I'm thrilled! The Princess is 5 years old now, old enough to manage a good bit of walking, and now we have all these possibilities of places to go, plus I got a "new" car last month that is much more reliable. It's also a stick shift, and I love it. Yes, it has its drawbacks, since we have a lot of traffic around here. My ankle hurts from pressing the clutch so frequently. But it's a huge improvement over the old car, which wasn't going to pass inspection this month anyway. This one actually has room for my growing boys and their suddenly long legs, hehe. And I like the sound of it. I think my earliest memories of a car must have been my dad's old stick-shift Datsun, and I find the hum and shifting of the manual transmission to be relaxing. It sounds like I've always expected a car to sound.

I hope all the people I met here years ago are doing well. I miss you guys, but I expect we're all busy with better lives and brighter futures, so here's to making the most of it!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

A New Chapter

In 3 days I start a new job. A very promising job that I hope to make a career of. To tell the story, I suppose I have to go back to Helen's passing.

I'm not sure why her passing hit me so hard. I didn't even think we were that close, once I became an adult. I probably saw her 4-5 times between Whiz Kid's birth and her coming to my parent's home for end-of-life care. Perhaps she was associated with something traumatic that is too far back for me to remember. Whatever the reason, I had a bit of a breakdown in the weeks that followed. My parents kept bringing her things back to their home to sort out, and the smell of Helen's house permeated the downstairs for a while and made me very emotional. I kept feeling drawn to her grave, and would go there sometimes on my lunch break and sit for a while and cry. Then I would sing a song and feel better.

As things began to settle down, my take-away from all of it was that I needed to stop giving so much of myself to people who are actively ungrateful, people who either use me or who simply ignore my efforts. Number one on that list was my boss. I was getting uncomfortable with the emotional closeness I felt for him, knowing that he almost certainly didn't feel the same way and was only getting so personal with me because he feels the same sense of entitlement in an employee's life that he does in his dog's. So I decided to find out. I asked him one Friday, as I was leaving, if he would fire me if I asked him out. He looked shocked and immediately replied, "I don't do that." By which he obviously meant going out with employees, not the firing people part.

So it was clearly time to move on. Funny thing was, I thought it would be easy to do that, once I heard his answer. It wasn't. I tried to put up some emotional walls and stop engaging in so much banter. Apparently, this was unacceptable. He doesn't tolerate boundaries in other people. So the work environment deteriorated rapidly. When he lashed out at me again for something stupid one day, I got angry. He told me that it was necessary to "take the good with the bad here," which left me wondering exactly what the "good" was. So after a couple of days when I was calm enough to respond rationally, I emailed him and copied his sister, the HR manager, saying that I was willing to continue taking the good with the bad, as long as he was.

He told her he had no idea what I was talking about and that she should find out what my problem was. The utter deceit and lack of responsibility in that meant it was over before it ever started, but I talked to her anyway. I told her that he was quite simply a bully. She was as cold and manipulative as before. As always, she reminded me that he just is who he is, he's never going to change (translation: He just isn't capable of doing any better, so lower your standards accordingly). She even went so far as to condescendingly tell me, in a "you poor ignorant little thing" tone, that I'm a smart girl, and if I really wanted to throw away a job like this! over some emotional issues, well, I was an adult and there was just nothing they could do for me. She went on to remind me that he does SO MUCH for his employees, buying us lunch! (usually because he's asking us not to clock out due to coverage issues) and giving us bonuses! ($180 total in the over 18 months I worked there, OMG what will I do without that!!!), and that furthermore he is absolutely the kindest and most generous person I will ever meet.

That last really offended me, although I didn't say so. He also added, when he joined the meeting, that he is NOT on an equal level with the employees, and as owner he is entitled to say and do whatever he wants. Yadda yadda, blah blah I'm an entitled little prick and you're a nothing, yadda yadda. So, that was the end of that. Still, being the people pleaser that I am, I somehow let them manipulate me into feeling like I was the one who needed to prove myself, and asked them to give me 30 days to see how things were going.

After I went home and had a chance to think about it, I realized how full of BS they were, and that yes, I AM a smart girl and have a 4.0 GPA to prove it, so why am I throwing that away on these jerks? I decided to look for other work. I waited the 30 days to tell them so, out of fairness, and during that time he completely stopped working with me or talking to me any more than was absolutely essential for the business to function. It was the most pathetically childish thing I've ever seen from a grown man. Although, he still occasionally would start teasing and harassing me for a reaction just because he needed the attention, which I found intolerably offensive. If you can't handle working with me, you definitely shouldn't be pestering me for random attention. Grow up!

Once I told them I was going to seek other work, things went from ridiculous to downright toxic. And in the end, I'm glad. Just like with my marriage, the one good thing that came of staying so long is that I will always know I made the right decision, in the end. He turned into such an absolute a**hole that I couldn't believe I ever saw anything good in him. In the meantime, I got a call from the staffing agency I worked with before, and they sent me for an interview with a company closer to home, with better hours and of course a much better atmosphere. The job involves extensive proofreading, so being a Grammar Nazi came in handy! Lol. And I got the job. If I stay long enough, they will provide tuition reimbursement to go back for a degree in their field, and I would like to do that. Social work is important to me, but this seems like a company and field where I'd love to make a career. Standing up for myself is finally paying off!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

For Helen

Last Sunday my family lost a very dear friend. She died of cancer at the age of 86, after living her last few months in my parents' home to receive hospice care. She was a unique and amazing woman, and there is so much I feel about her that can't really be put into words. But what I can, I will.

Helen was present for the births of most of my younger siblings. Since the 7 youngest of us were born at home, and only one with a midwife, her help and support were invaluable. That's the first thing I remember about her. We met her when I was too young to really remember not knowing her, and hers is the only church I remember attending. It may have been the only one we ever attended with any regularity. By the time I was 7 we had begun home church services, but Helen would often come on Sunday evening and present a lesson to us.

Her life represented much more to me than just the things she did. She was an accomplished artist, but that wasn't really something that was part of her identity in my mind. She used to make beautiful little drawings on the Sunday School papers she gave us, and her handwriting was lovely. Her backyard is probably the thing I associate the most with her. It was a beautiful, well kept, tiny place of peace and joy. Her hydrangeas were lovely, her roses fragrant, her birdbath full and usually busy when we weren't outside (sometimes even when we were). Her brick path seemed like a work of art in itself when I was small enough to run on it. It was a road into my imagination, and her backyard was the place where I could be anywhere and do anything. It was a magical place to me. Her porch swing was big enough to accommodate at least three of us, if we didn't fight. Her wrought iron gate seemed to set her yard apart from the busy street and sidewalk, like a little pocket in time and space where everything was peace and harmony.

She always kept books behind the basket in her living room, and we spent many hours poring over them on Sunday afternoons, even after we stopped attending the chapel her husband pastored and where she took over the preaching after he passed. I didn't realize until her funeral that she was married a comparatively short time out of her years on this earth. He was many years her senior, and died suddenly one day on a walk. I think I was around seven years old. He was a unique person as well, blessed with the gift of healing, according to those who knew him. I remember that he was someone who just seemed to make every one around him feel better. She always had a jar of hard candy in her front room as well, and I think we frustrated my mother as we got older by always pushing for a piece of candy as soon as we could get a word in. Hehe.

You would think that the home of someone like this would feel peaceful too, but for some reason, I never felt comfortable in her house. I always felt it was haunted, that something unfriendly watched me everywhere I went. Since I also felt that way in a couple of other places growing up, it may be the problem was with my own psyche. Be that as it may, the feeling was intense at her home - especially on the second floor - in a way that it wasn't anywhere else. I don't think it was something that came with her, and I seriously doubt that it left with her. What it was, I'll probably never know. As I grew older it ceased to frighten me quite so much. It never seemed to ruffle her, if indeed she was even aware of it.

Most of all, Helen's life seemed to be one of unquestioning faith during the time we knew her. She witnessed miraculous occurrences, and was absolutely certain that anyone else could experience the same. She also had hardships, of which she never complained, and most of which I probably don't even know about. She walked everywhere, and was fearless in a way that I wished very much to emulate. She was always kind to us children, and was at times the only kind person who had any real relevance in my life. She was a good listener, and to my knowledge never betrayed a confidence, but her advice always came directly from Scripture. There were many times I wished to ask it, but did not because I already knew what she would say.

My mother described her very well as being "Valiant... without being vicious." She did not believe in using harsh words, or giving in to negative thoughts and self pity. She was indeed a warrior without violence. Her life during the time we knew her was one of constant helping. The week before she passed, some of my siblings and I had it out with the woman who had been our cult leader growing up; and hearing some of the remarks at Helen's funeral drove home for me the reality that religious beliefs alone cannot fundamentally change a person - for better or for worse. Helen would have said she believed many of the same things that this other woman believed, although they were not in agreement on all doctrinal points. But their beliefs manifested in such different ways, directed by the heart inside. Helen loved all of God's creatures, no matter how fallen, and would lend a helping hand to anyone in need, even if she admonished them the while to change their ways. My own mother is much the same way, generous with her material goods as well as her advice. So different from the attitude that one is receiving their "just desserts" if they face insurmountable obstacles, and must first change their ways to be deserving of help or love. Helen was ever sorry to see others suffering, while the other woman seemed to rejoice in what she always perceived as justice being meted out.

I feel as though a chapter of my life has closed. I have to decide whether I will go on from here following in the footsteps of harshness and arrogance, for whatever reason - the reason isn't relevant - or in the footsteps of kindness and acceptance. I really, really hope I take Helen's path. I will never believe all the doctrines she espoused, but I want very much to be the sort of person that she was.

Memory Eternal, Miss Helen. May God grant you peace and rest, and the reward of your hard labors.