Big Cats in Tampa

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I’ve always loved cats.

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I learned that from my mom. At one point, when I was a child, we had as many as nine cats. My Mother was simply incapable of turning away anyone or anything that was hungry or unloved or needed a place to crash for a while. So you can guess that every stray animal (or human) ended up at our house.
She gave me a good foundation in responsibility to animals.
I’ve always had a cat or two or four in my life. I’ve always helped turtles cross the road. I’ve always helped animal rescue organizations when I can. And I’ve always known it’s a bad idea to personally own a tiger or a lion. But at the same time I’ve always wanted to own a medium sized cat of my own.
I love cats. They are all gorgeous. And their personalities please me. All of them. Even the mean and crotchety. So the idea of owning an extra large house cat-well it can’t help but be appealing.

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The truth is that big cats, even the small big cats, are not meant for house living.

Last week, in Tampa, FL., I paid a visit to Big Cat Rescue.

What a fantastic organization!

They are one of the world’s only accredited big cat rescues. And they are very good at what they do.

A tour of the grounds consisted of a leisurely meander among the cat cages, heartfelt tellings of many of the cat’s individual stories, and a good dose of education about the plight of large and medium sized cats forced to live in quarters designed for humans.

I’m very glad an organization like this exists. They take great care of these majestic felines and it shows. The cats are happy and lolling about smiling and grunting and licking bloodsicles. (Bloodsicles are just what they sound like.)

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Many have access to lakes and ponds for swimming if they like. Animals who were rescued together continue to live together. Ah, the story of Cameron the lion and Zabu the white tiger, rescued from a zoo. Or the five servals saved from a NY basement after nearly 14 years!
The biggest cats have a sort of vacation land. They rotate time on multiple acres where they can run with enough room reach their top speeds.

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I hope you enjoy these photos as much as I enjoyed my visit to Big Cat Rescue.  (And just for the record, I’ve given up my desire to own a bobcat.)

If you have 10 or 20 or 100 bucks you’d like to toss their way, you can find their donation page here and their wishlist page here.

If you aren’t moved to do that then consider a donation to your local dog or cat shelter.
It’s good karma to help beings that cannot help themselves.

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Goin’ Walkabout… or something like that.

This is the rough draft I wrote for a speech I gave the other night.

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Somehow I found my way to the very first MoMonday ever in New Haven. That was back in the spring.

Since then I have become friends with Rich DiGirolamo, who is the driving force behind MoMondays in CT.

My use of the term friend is quirky. I don’t call someone friend unless we actually do things together. Maybe we don’t always, or currently, but to get the friend title, we’ve got to spend some real time.

One of the things I love about Rich is that he makes it happen.

Actually. Makes. It. Happen.

When we met, and looked at each other and said “OMG, I love you! We could be friends!” Rich made the first call and said we had to do lunch. Truth be told, I’m not always so good at that. I meet folks I might love to be friends with but I don’t always find the time to pick up the phone. But he made the call, made the plans, made it happen. Just like he does here at MoMondays. He’s making all this happen with sheer will here in New Haven.

That kind of determination and relentless push to get things done inspires me.

You want something done – you gotta make it happen.  No amount of wishing is going to bring results like a couple of well placed actions will.

And I’ll tell you a little secret; If you move through life, always saying “I want X” or “I want Y” and then the chance for it comes along, you’d better jump on that chance. Otherwise your life is just wishes.

Me?

I’ve been walking around this earth for nearly a decade saying I want to get back out on the road. I want to see different scenery every day, eat different places, sleep different places, drive different roads, meet new people, make new friends, and have long conversations into the night with them if at all possible.

My chance to actually do it is now, so I’m taking it.

I’m packing up my car and driving off on December 8th. That’s just over a week from now.

It’s true I’m the script writer for this play I’m starring in, but I’ve often had trouble with the plot.

I’ve always envisioned my life as somewhat of a Hero’s Journey.

Joseph Campbell says we all want to be the Hero.

The Hero has a decent life. Nothing to complain about. Even a life of happiness and contentment. Then he’s called, often without the desire for such, and  somehow given to see a bit of a different life, a different world. It may not be what he wants, but our Hero doesn’t quite say no. Not really. Because this is the way of it. This is the path of things. This is how it goes. Whether she wants it or not, the Hero heads into the new world.

There are challenges. There are ups and downs in this new world. There are pitfalls and beauty and fun.  Sometimes a dangling carrot brings great rewards. And sometimes it only nets a carrot. And always. Always. There are dragons to slay.

I wanted this story. The excitement. The adventure. But I couldn’t see how this plotline related to my life of late. So much of my life’s excitement, travel,  and adventure happened when I was younger. But it’s always been sort of a dream of mine to have this mythic life.

And then, last week, a close friend of mine with whom I was sharing all this, pointed out something very interesting. It’s all just a matter of flipping the story on its head.

I’ve always been aware that the key to happiness is to constantly readjust what you know, believe and feel, to suit both your reality and your story.

You are the author of your own life. This play is yours to construct.

If you don’t like your story, create a new story.

And if you saw me the last time I spoke here you know I wasn’t much liking my story. After traveling the country in a van for nearly a decade I came home for family reasons and to be with my mom during a rough time and I ended up starting a cafe. It was a very successful business for a while and I loved it for 13 or 15 years. But the sameness of my days began to wear on me until I felt like my life had been reduced to ordering large cups.

I was pretty unhappy deep down. I wasn’t living the Hero’s Journey I felt I needed and wanted.

And if you were here before, you know that I began to make the changes that would bring my life back in line with this blueprint I’d always had for myself. A life of excitement, adventure, new people and new scenery.

I got rid of the majority of my material possessions. I sold the Coffeehouse and stumbled blindly around doing little bits of things that helped other people free themselves from clutter and objects that add little value to their lives, because for the moment, that was something I could understand. Though for a few years now I’ve been unable to move myself past that stage.

And with a simple flick of the wrist, my friend last week, flipped my whole story around and I’ve seen it all in a new light that I find exciting and exhilarating.

I know now that this sojourn in Connecticut was my long dark night of the soul. Okay that sounds a bit dramatic, because truthfully it was fun and fulfilling for a damn long time. But it became tedious. A burden.

And there were dragons to slay.

I lost my mom, to cancer. I miss her every day. Selling the business I’d poured my heart and soul into for 17 years. Getting rid of my possessions. Selling, just recently, my childhood home. Dealing with releasing old loves that no longer suit me.

But I’ve done it.

I’ve killed those dragons.

I’ve completed all the quests and like a video game, I get to move on to a new level .

And like the Hero on her journey, I get to return home now.

I get to go back on the road.

My chance is here and I’ve said I wanted it for so long, that I have to take it.

I’d be full of horse hockey if I said I knew what the road holds for me now. I haven’t a clue.

I’m going alone, if you’re wondering.

And one of the things that pushed me over the edge into actually doing this…

I have a friend on facebook. We knew each other in grade school and I haven’t seen her in 35 years. Last month she took a solo trip to Italy for 3 weeks. I was so impressed. I asked her what prompted this and she said “Because I always promised myself I’d go to Italy before I turned 50, and since I’m turning 50 next year I decided to get on it.”

That echoed in my head for a couple of weeks and I knew I was about to get on it.

I’m terrified. Of course I am. This is HUGE.

But I’m also open. Completely open. And ready.

And I’m going back out on the road.

In ten days.

I don’t want any of this to sound like I’m tooting my own horn or like I think I’m better than anyone else – “Hey look at what I get to do.”

But it’s the people who get out there and get going on what they want, the one who get things done and make things happen who inspire me.

So I hope to inspire you.

To never give up on the dreams you have.

To always keep your eyes open for the opportunities.

To make a new story if you have to.

And to remain open to the world and all the beautiful souls who inhabit it.

And if you do all that, and if you’re really lucky…

You just might meet a new friend who’ll give you the opportunity to stand on the stage at MoMondays and tell your story.

Thanks Rich.

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P.S. Yes. I’ll be blogging about my journey here on this blog.

Erté and the hippie

As a hippie in 1986 or 1987…

It was just another long grey day in San Francisco. One in a stretch of many.

We had no where we had to be, no one we had to see. The extent of our responsibilities was to get properly stoned.

We could wander down to the Haight and straggle around with the usual bunch, standing on the corner of Haight and Schrader, or go down to the Panhandle to get stoned. We could go for a walk in the Park. That always made for a nice day.

We’d emerge from 2332A Fulton St’s door, cross the busy street, pass the bus stop and plunge into Golden Gate Park. We’d go straight in for a while then start aiming West. A whole day could be enjoyed walking on paths, lounging in meadows, watching geese and tourists, scrambling on or under or around statues and carvings and bridges, eventually reaching the beach if we’d been industrious in our journeying, or popping out whenever we got tired and hopping a bus back to the house.

But today was too grey and misty for a day in the park.

For a lark we decided to go to Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s where all the locals are expected to take their visitors. We’d go tourist watching, maybe get some Ghirardelli chocolates or perhaps some seafood, depending on how indulgently rich we felt ourselves to be at the moment we looked upon the fried crabs.

We were quite stoned and giggling along taking in the sights when it started to downpour. We ducked into the nearest alcove and saw that it was an art gallery. We fluffed our selves up a bit and decided to play curious tourist as opposed to jaded and wet hippies just trying to get out of the weather. It was an actual quick conversation. Do we go in? We knew we weren’t wanted; stoned, disheveled, wet, happy. It’s raining awfully hard.

“I shall be a tourist.” I said as I swung open the door and strode through.

I think I lost my breath for a moment. It was an striking little space, maybe 1,000 square feet, if that. The overall tone was a tad somber, the walls were rich and luxurious, the flooring silent. Rain streamed down the window adding a flickering quality to the elegant ambiance.

But what took my breath away were the statues. Spaced around the room on pedestals and long tables were sinewy women in retro outfits of high society’s yesteryears or the garb of ancient history. Each stood twelve or 15” high and seemed to shine.

From one to the next I moved, transfixed by the subtle details that brought these images to life. The drape of a gathered garment, the bend of a leg, hint of a shoe. Peacocks and leopard women, sirens and goddesses and one I had to imagine was the Statue of Liberty in her alone time. And some of these sensuous beauties were men! The beaded hairpieces, exotic faces, and the colors so vibrant they seared into my stoned brain.

I had just met Erté and I was awestruck.

Nothing was in that room but myself and thirty or so Erté bronzes.

The rain stopped. My companions we eager to be on our way and likely so too was the proprietor ready to see us leave but I felt like I was dragged out of there, nowhere near ready to leave.

There’s been a tiny hole in my soul ever since.

Lazy luxurious hippie days filled my time in San Francisco and though I told myself often to go back again and look, I never did.

I’ve never since been in a place with a real Erté bronze.

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Simple Pleasures

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I dreamed, last night, of playing Jacks. My dream was so clear and detailed it made me smile to think of so many hours sitting on the floor, tossing the ball and scooping up the proper number of jacks.

I haven’t thought of Jacks in decades. When I was a kid I played Jacks endlessly. One might even say I was, for a time, obsessed with Jacks.

Did you ever play Jacks? Were you good at it?

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.

Don’t we all want to be happy?

Aren’t all our motives for doing anything to reach some level of happiness?

 

Psychologist Ed Diener, author of Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, describes what psychologists call “subjective well-being” as a combination of life satisfaction and having more positive emotions than negative emotions.

 

Happiness isn’t a destination, you won’t be happier when you’re thinner, or when you make more money, or when you get that big screen tv.

You’ll be happier by having more positive emotions than negative emotions on a daily basis.

 

Here’s three very effective ways to do that.

Simple things anyone can do. Scientifically proven to alter our brain chemistry to produce positive emotions.

 

One – Gratitude.

Without a doubt, gratitude is one of the most important traits one can nurture to increase happiness.

 

You probably woke up this morning with a few aches and pains, but you woke up.

Maybe you’ve seen better days, but you’ve also seen worse.

Life isn’t perfect, but it sure is good.

 

Acknowledging that makes you happier. That’s just a fact.

Looking at something and saying “I’m so pleased that that’s in my life!” Makes you happier.

 

Feeling gratitude is a choice we can make every single day in a hundred situations.

 

The only parking place is at the back of the lot? Instead of feeling inconvenienced, I try to be grateful that I have healthy legs and that I’m able to walk all that way without too much effort or thought.

 

Next time something is inconvenient, find something spectacular about it all and give yourself a big “woohooo! Life is good!”

 

That’s gratitude.

 

Too often though, we forget to acknowledge what is good in our lives.

 

Some people espouse the benefits of a Gratitude Journal, whereby you take a few moments each day to write a short list of things you are grateful for. Keeping a Gratitude Journal forces you to acknowledge the good in your life.

I’m grateful the puppy didn’t get into the trash while I was at work today.

I’m grateful for my new computer.

I’m grateful that my significant other is a good cook.

I’m thankful my boss was in a good mood today.

 

All of us CAN find things we are grateful for each and every day.

 

Two – Attitude.

Another important factor in your personal happiness is your attitude.

So what is attitude anyway? On the surface, it is the way you transmit your mood to others. But attitude is more than that actually, it’s the way you see the world, so to speak.

 

That means attitude is everything.

Attitude is more important than facts, appearance, giftedness or skill. It is more important than the past, your education, the money you have or don’t have, more important than your circumstances.

 

And we get to choose our attitude.

No matter what life throws at you, you can decide what these events mean to you, how you choose to feel about them, and how you will react. That’s attitude.

 

It was Charles Swindoll who said – life is about 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond to those events.

 

Granted this is not the easiest task on my list.

Attitude doesn’t stand still; it is an ongoing perceptual process. There’s always negativity around you that can easily alter your perspective and affect your disposition.

A constant focus on burdens and complaints makes the world a rather annoying place.

 

The big trick is to choose to see the best that any situation provides.

If negativity creeps in, you have to consciously substitute something positive in its place.

Consciously…

Like that parking place at the back of the lot – wooohoo – I got legs! It’s all good!

 

That’s how to be keep a positive attitude.

 

Three – Awareness.

 

There’s a one-in-two chance your mind is on something else as you sit here right now. Are you thinking of what you have to do when the meeting is over? Wondering when you’ll have time to schedule that oil change you know you need? Thinking about the argument you had with your kid this morning?

 

Harvard psychologists found that we spend 46.9% of our time doing one thing while thinking about another.

 

If you’re stuck on tomorrow or yesterday, today, right now, trickles away like water down a drain.

Today isn’t preparation for tomorrow. Today is the main event.

 

Do not get caught up in the lie that happiness only exits in the future, the possibility for it exists in every instant of your life, if you’ll consciously acknowledge it.

 

In a world of abundant stimuli and incessant movement it’s so easy to overlook seemingly minor joys.

If you want to be happier, appreciate as many moments as you can manage every day.

 

Next time it’s sunny outside, turn your face up to it and really feel that early springtime warmth.

I bet you’ll smile.

 

As you walk to your car tonight, notice the feel of the steps you take, notice the grace of your body as you shift weight from one foot to the next, smell the springtime air, listen to the sound of your shoes on the pavement. Look at the moss in the sidewalk cracks.

 

Sometimes I’ll even take it so far as to marvel at the engineering feat represented by the tiny sound of the snick of my door lock when I press the fob.

 

Life, and time, go by very very quickly. Grab at those chances to cultivate positive emotions.

 

Savor the moment is almost cliché, but do you know that if you savor each bite of food you put in your mouth you’re almost guaranteed to lose weight? Have a craving for potato chips? Try eating them one at a time.

Notice the delicious salty crunch. The way a thin chip practically melts on your tongue.

It’s highly unlikely you’d eat half a bag this way, 10 or 12 chips would be plenty.

 

Our minds are amazing. Brains perform calisthenics and perceptual twists that science hasn’t  fully explored yet. We know that choosing to practice gratitude, consciously altering our attitudes and appreciating the moment changes the chemical makeup of our brains and makes us feel and experience more positivity.

 

While the studies are out we can use this rudimentary information to shape our days and our lives into a vast collection of positive emotions.

 

Because even when we have reached our goals and succeeded in our dreams, we can only experience true happiness if we really notice and absorb the beauty and joy of the little moments and the wonderful world that surrounds us.

And it’s not what you look at that matters, but what you see.