Wednesday, June 29, 2011

R.I.P. Seamus Patrick O'Kitty

It's a sad day here at Old Maid HQ. Seamus Patrick O'Kitty, beloved cat of Monica of 5 Cats Shy and friend to spinsters coast to coast crossed the rainbow bridge last night.

Seamus was the strong, silent type. He didn't say much, so when he did talk, you knew he had something important to communicate. Things like "My brother just pooped in the cat carrier," for example -- vital information on a cross-country roadtrip.

Seamus and I really had a chance to get to know each other on the road trip we took together in January. Before that, he'd always viewed me as a stranger and best avoided. But he warmed up to me on that trip. I would wake up in the middle of the night, sick with the flu and worrying about my own kitty boarded at the vet for the first time ever, and he'd be on the bed with me -- still silent, not asking to be petted, just there. It was very comforting.

I also like to remember the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona, where Seamus and I snuggled on my bed in the evening while I read. I petted him while he purred and purred. It was a happy time.

Seamus is survived by his mother Monica, his brother Ringo Stu Kitty, his grandma Kathleen, his aunt Michelle, his aunt Maria, and his cousins Huckleberry and Daphne Clementine Katz. Godspeed, Little Boy.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sunday at the Park and Beach with Auntie

I was inspired today by Laura over at Rhinestone Armadillo, who posted about playing in the water. It's part of her "Summer of Awesomeness" series, for which I will be guest blogging during the week of July 17.

It occurred to me, when I was reading Laura's suggestions about going to the city pool or driving to the beach, how lucky I am to be able to walk to the beach.

I didn't actually go play in the water. You'll notice nobody was playing in the water and it was noon on a Sunday. That's because this is Rhode Island, where the water temperature is 68 degrees. (Really. I looked it up on

The part of the beach I stood on to take the picture is known as Reject Beach -- it's the public-access part of the fancy-schmancy Bailey's Beach Club. You can't see it in the photo, but there is a rope just past where the guy is sitting all by himself that goes right down into the water and separates the fancy section (with the buildings) from the section used by lesser mortals.

The rich folks can't block public access, but they can put up up a sign limiting our activities. I guess it's okay to sunbathe topless, though. Good to know.

Reject Beach is at the very end of Newport's Cliff Walk. As you can see, there was some fog along the shore today -- just a normal day in coastal RI. Actually, I enjoy watching the fog roll in off the ocean.

Cliff Walk takes you past some pretty fancy real estate. This is just somebody's house; the path also meanders past The Breakers, Rough Point, and other celebrated Newport mansions.

Look! It's the SS Minnow! Wow, they really got lost in the fog. The good news, though, is that there aren't any headhunters on this island. Nor, as far as I know, are there any bats who will bite you and turn you into Dracula.

On my way home, I decided to show you my favorite park: Rovensky Park on the corner of Bellevue and Rovensky Avenues.

The park is very well kept and has the prettiest trees -- many of which are marked with informative plaques about the trees' species and origins.

For example, these Japanese Cedars are natives of Asia. From a distance they appear to be one tree, but when you get closer you can see that they are four trees planted very close together. I'm sure the planting was done for solid horticultural reasons.

But standing within the trees is like being in the middle of a group of sisters dancing with their arms entwined. I've always sought out spots like this to think about things or to read a book. I was a dreamy child, full of fanciful notions like trees being able to dance. Everyone thought I'd outgrow it. Thankfully, I never did.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Breaking BVM News

Okay, it's not really breaking news because I bought this icon a couple of months ago. But it's news to you, since I totally forgot to tell you about it.

This is Our Lady of Vladimir, which was painted in Constantinople in the 11th or 12th century -- long before Constantinople became Istanbul. (Why'd they change it? I can't say. People just liked it better that way.) The icon was moved to the city of Vladimir, where folks built a cathedral to house it. It was later moved to Moscow, where a monastery was built to commemorate its arrival. It's an important icon in the Russian Orthodox church, is what I'm saying.

My particular icon was decoupaged onto a piece of wood by an unknown person and then given to a convent in the south of Rhode Island. I guess the nuns were doing some heavy spring cleaning this year because I bought it for six bucks at a consignment shop in Wakefield.

The original is credited with saving the Russian people time and time again. My copy probably isn't that powerful, but I still feel pretty confident that if any rude Tatar invaders show up, I'm good.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Are You Positive About That?

I have a confession to make: I've read a lot of self-help books over the years. I like to read and I learn easily through reading, so if I have an issue, I'm likely to read a book about it. Also, although I am obviously fabulous, I always feel like there is room for improvement. But in the past few years, I've found that I keep coming across the same "you create your own reality" teachings over and over again.

The concept, in case you're not familiar, is the idea that everything is made up of energy and that you can actually picture an outcome and make it happen by "raising your vibration" to match it. It doesn't matter if that outcome is healing from a disease, a new car, or untold weath. You can have whatever you want, according to numerous self-help gurus, as long as you picture a positive outcome and hold it firmly in your mind. Anyone whose outcomes are less than satisfactory, of course, simply "allowed negativity" into their minds.

I began to wonder: am I the only one who thinks this sounds an awful lot like faith-healing for secular folks? I also began to wonder if I was the only one who had noticed that this prevailing attitude inspires an appalling lack of compassion -- after all, if "you create your own reality," then any illness or misfortune you may have is your own fault. If someone is unkind to you and you don't like it, it's your own fault for "focusing on negativity."

I am partucularly horrified by a popular corallary: the idea that we each make a "contract" before we are born, and "agree" to all the events and people we will encounter in our lives. Now, my life is pretty good. I have terrific friends and family, and I'm healthy as a horse. I live in a great place, and I have plenty of food to eat and clean clothes to wear. But I refuse to believe in a pre-birth contract, and here's why: Jessica Lunsford. I was, coincidentally, in Florida in 2005 when 9-year-old Jessica was abducted and authorities were hunting for her, so I followed her story. (Spoiler: it ended very, very badly. You can read her story here, but be warned -- it's not for the faint of heart.) If Jessica was the only person that ever happened to, in her honor I would refuse to believe that she either "contracted" before she was born for what happened to her or made it happen by "attracting it." And Jessica is not the only one.

Where did these ideas come from? It didn't take a lot of research to find out that the same "New Thought" that brought us Christian Science brought us "positive thinking" and "the law of attraction." It's simply been repackaged many times in the 150 years or so since Phineas Quimby first began teaching it.

It turns out, I'm not the only one thinking about this. Barbara Ehrenreich wrote an entire book about it called Bright Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America. In it, she discusses the roots of the positive thinking movement, and how it has seeped into churches (where the concepts of faith and positive thinking are used pretty much interchangeably), into business (where people facing layoffs and the survivors of a series of layoffs who are facing a burdensome workload are sent to motivational seminars to keep them loyal to a company who has no loyalty toward them), and even into our culture's attitudes about debilitating illnesses such as cancer. It's a really interesting, and often very funny read.

Do I think it's a good idea to face life with the attitude that good things can happen, and that the world is, in general, a pretty nice place to be? Sure I do. Do I think it's healthy to expect an axe murderer to jump out from behind every bush? Of course not. But equally, I think it's unhealthy to believe that we are each individuals creating our own realities independently, so things like kindness, compassion, and cooperation don't matter. They do matter. They matter a lot.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Early Summer Musings

The irises outside my back door are in bloom. Their shades of purple and graceful shapes are so pretty. I know they are old-fashioned and out of style, but I just love how they don't know that and keep coming back year after year anyway. I would no more uproot a bed of irises to be "fashionable" than I would throw away my great-grandmother's teapot.

And I'm pretty sure this little gem was never in style.