A Boy and His Cat(s)

I have written a lot about my son lately (My Son, The Train and My Son, The Birthday Train), but there are many other good things going on in my life, and in the world all around. I’m going to focus on some of those events next post, but for now I need to spend a few lines chewing on the special and unique relationship that my son, John Adams, has with his second best friend – his best friend after all is his blanket known as Best Friend Blankie or BFB for short – that black and white whirlwind of chaos with which he is growing up: his kid sister, Criseyde, or as we call her mostly, ‘Seyde. (Pronounced: “Say-duh”)

John Adams, who just turned three on September 11, has grown up surrounded by cats. The day he came home from the hospital he was sniffed, looked over, avoided at all costs, and given ‘the stink eye’ by any and all of the three cats that resided with us at his birth. Two of our cats, Duke and The Nix, chose to be wary of the little tyke upon arrival and, though each has mellowed some in their affections toward his rambunctiousness, maintain to this day a respectful distance when Bup (as we call John Adams) chooses to assert himself in their direction. The fact that he now assists in their nightly feeding has softened their attitudes considerably, but the guard is still up. Our third cat – the elderly, perennially irritated by everything tuxedo cat known as Kisaki – was far more inquisitive and hands on.


Infant John Adams watched over by “Mama” ‘Saki on their changing table

‘Saki, you see, was Nancy’s cat from kitten to grave, and dearly possessive of her mama. In fact, it was ‘Saki that firstly and correctly predicted Nancy’s pregnancy by climbing onto Nancy’s belly (an unheard of move for Her Curmudgeonliness), and staring into Nancy’s heart with the look of ‘What the hell have you done to us now?’ upon her face. When Bup arrived, she would be the last one to concede that he had earned a place in the family. Far from avoiding Bup, she went out of her way to maintain her status as Nancy’s Number One Child, as numerous family photos attest. And as the year they spent together went on (for ‘Saki eventually succumbed to illness and old age), we watched the jealousy morph into a grudging respect, then love, then finally a kind of beautiful maternal bond before the end. It was obvious to us that ‘Saki, perhaps sensing her own mortality, chose to put her last best efforts of love into the custody of her baby brother, and right before the end they seemed inseparable. Somehow this bond of love has never been forgotten, for two years later there remains on John Adams’s bed a prized little black and white stuffed cat with beautiful eyes that, if you ask him who that is, he holds her up and beams, “That’s ‘Saki!” Children sense love when they don’t understand words, and these two earned a love that remains unexplainably in his memory, if transferred to a stuffed likeness. ‘Saki was gone shortly after Bup turned one, but she’s never been forgotten. How is that possible?

Enter Criseyde.

In so many ways, ‘Seyde came into our lives as a therapeutic rebound from the loss of ‘Saki. Nancy was adamant almost immediately upon ‘Saki’s death that we needed to find a new “tuxy” to succeed the beloved ‘Saki, so that she could pour the attentions of her heart into a newfound love, rather than wallow in the long night of remorse. We went up to King George Animal Control the day after ‘Saki’s death, and there was this loudmouthed, pushy, affectionate tuxedo kitten that seemed to call deliberately and adamantly to Nancy from the room next to where we were. She also immediately took to the infant John Adams’s squealish advances, and a second visit a few days later produced similar results. Criseyde entered our lives just a few short days later, as if she had chosen Nancy and John Adams for her own, and I was along for the ride to feed her voracious appetite. Little of that has changed in the ensuing two years.

'Ceyde upon arrival and 1 year later

‘Ceyde upon arrival and 1 year later

But what has grown considerably is the bond that John Adams and ‘Seyde share as siblings growing up together, both babies turned toddlers. She desires to be with him, sleep with him, and race about the house with him with abandon, till his own 3-year old boyish tendencies prove to be too wild. Then she heads for high ground to let him cool down. He won’t let her sleep with him (yet), but he must constantly know her whereabouts, beams when she comes near him, feeds her nightly, insists she come up on the bed and sit with him when he wakes up, and romps about the house chasing after her after announcing, “I’m gonna go play with my cat!” He loves her, if sometimes a bit too roughly, but her tolerance of his energetic affection is quite remarkable.


‘Ceyde and Bup on the sofa with Best Friend Blankie between them

And, yes, like all siblings they have their share of spats, mostly as I said, because of Bup not understanding yet how to properly channel his affections in her direction. When he gets too rough with her, or scares her in any way, she consistently gives him at least two warning meows before proceeding to more corporal means of admonishment. In one now infamous family incident, Nancy and I from another room heard the meows, then Bup’s yelp of pain. When we arrived in the living room he was standing holding his arm while less than 2 feet away ‘Seyde sat on a small hassock glaring back at him. As we entered he pointed at her and bellowed, “No. You not gonna cut me! Ever again!” And Nancy and I, bemused and dismayed, could hear the sounds of Social Services knocking about our ears. He had gotten too rough, she had educated him, and ten minutes later they were the best of friends again on the sofa. Such is the almost daily dynamic in our household.

As a boy, I grew up surrounded by dogs, big and little. I love that about my upbringing and want to add dogs into our home as soon as we have a fenced in yard and a home that doesn’t restrict pets. I always think of dogs as ‘man’s best friend’ as the saying goes, but in the instance of my son, circumstances and serendipity have proven otherwise. In his case – Best Friend Blankie excepted, of course – his best friends have proven to be two black and white beauties. One that grew to love and nurture him as a baby before she crossed over, and one to grow up with and educate him in the ways of gentleness, play, and affection. What little boy could ask for more?



Kisaki, the Empress

Kisaki, the Empress. Remember me.

Onward and Upward (My 100th Blog Post)

I can’t believe this milestone has arrived. 100 posts! Back in April of 2015, I decided to revitalize my blog with the announcement “I’m Still Here.” I had been inactive for months, what with the care and maintenance of John Adams plus life, and I hadn’t done much writing. But after months of inactivity, I decided to jump back in the saddle and try to kick start my blog. There have been fits and starts of creativity and exhaustion, but after months of sticking it out, here it is: 100.


“What’s that you said? 100 Blog posts! You have got to be kidding me!!!”

Over the last year I’ve renewed my passion for writing, for poetry, for blogging, and for reaching out. I love to write things that make people think , that informs them of the good in the world, that shares something of my life in a way that might illuminate something in someone else’s. To that end, I’m re-branding my blog as of today. No longer “An introspective journal for spiritual growth,” but rather “A Journal of Joy, the Arts, Wellness, Parenting, and Personal Growth.” I want to inspire people, raise them up, and give them hope. I want to be a light in the dark, not the latest rant on Facebook. I want to make people laugh, cry, and think. I want to help people lead better lives, not remind them of the problems we all face. We already know.

Going forward I will continue to write about my personal experiences, my son John Adams, and my family. It’s what I know. I will include poetry, especially haiku of course, and I want to start including recipes, guest blogs, and other pieces of wisdom that promote better living. No extensive change here, just expansion. I want to stress that this will be the same Reflections from Shangri-La that you have read. I just want to expand the scope, hopefully net wider readership, and in turn, help more people any way that I can.

This last year has been one of some wonderful successes and milestones for my life and my family. My wife did a one-month teacher training fellowship in Kalamazoo on Beowulf through the National Endowment of the Humanities. My son has just turned three. I was a guest blogger for the first time on www.businessinrhyme.com . I just learned that one of my favorite poems, “My Greatest Treasure,” will be included in the Fall issue of Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review (more on this as it develops). I’m participating in the First Annual Fredericksburg Independent Book Festival this weekend, and reading both Daddy Doesn’t Purr (But I Love Him Anyway)and our forthcoming book Mommy Made a Beastie (But I Love Her Anyway) in their Kid’s Corner. And my arrangement, “God Rest Ye Jazzy Gentlemen” is being premiered by the area choral ensemble The Spotsylvanians. Much to be proud of, much to blog about, and much to inspire with, and bring hope to others. My life is far from perfect, with many struggles and woes, but there is also much to be thankful for. And that it what I wish to focus on here and share with you. This year alone, Reflections has had over 1,000 views from some 750 people. Two posts—“The Boy Who Lived” and “Still Wild About Hank”—have had over 100 views each. If you are still reading this, you are among those numbers and I can’t thank you enough for supporting my efforts, reading my thoughts, liking my posts, and being a part of my online life.

So here’s looking ahead to 2017, to post 200, and to all of the good things we can share and accomplish together.

Thank you again and see you next post.




My son, father-in-law, and I celebrating 100 Blog posts…Not!

My Son, the Birthday Train

It’s a unique and wonderful experience raising a train: The constant coupling up and getting dragged around the house by your shirt (because you have to be the caboose); the “Woo wooing” that goes on till way past midnight from the bedroom, to say nothing of the ‘saying goodnight to every train in the bed/shed routine’ of which there are easily over forty (FORTY!); the ‘train farts’ that sound like a loud “chush,” need to be announced proudly, and always come with a giggle. It’s unique, wonderful, noisy, and exhausting. These days my cow-catcher is always sagging a bit if you know what I mean. Don’t know? Don’t worry. He’ll tell you. It’s a train thing.

On Sunday, September 11, my son John Adams, the train, turned three years old. There were vestiges of speeches, red, white, and blue bunting, fireworks, and “Never forget” signs everywhere. He’s quite sure these were reminders about his birthday. After all, Thomas is blue and James is red, and it all must connect back to him somehow. His day started bright and early at the church where Nancy and I work. My choir was singing, and his grandparents decided to attend so we could be together. In the midpoint of the service is a congregational offering called Joys and Concerns, where parishioners can get up and share their…well, you get the idea. Nanny decided to bring John Adams up to announce his birthday into the microphone. Instead, he squawked loudly into it, got an enthusiastic reaction from the crowd, beamed like an idiot, and smacked the mike on its boom stand till it spun in a circle. He was then led away in amusement and mock horror by Nanny. He had his center stage spotlight, his public birthday moment of glory, and he relished it like a fiend.


A boy and his train carpet. Photo Credit: Mary Anne Furey

His afternoon visit to the indoor play area at the Spotsylvania Towne Center Mall was surprisingly festive and uneventful, and wiped him out for the late afternoon/early evening, but by 6 PM the ‘little engine that could and will’ was raring for presents and playtime at home with his extended family. A full-size train table from sitter Miss Susan, a train carpet from his “Uncle” Mary Anne, a 40-piece Thomas puzzle, more train minis (some of which glowed), plus other puzzles, matching games, Play-doh play sets, and train spirals were a huge hit with the candied-up toddler-train. And then the cake and cupcakes piled in courtesy of Nanny, and decorated by both Nanny and John Adams himself, to look just like (mostly) Thomas. In his words, “It smells delicious.”    We blew out our candles several times, sang Happy ‘Bursday’ more than once, ate messily, and ran around uncontrollably as only a sugared up three-year old can.


Thomas Cake and Cupcakes, as decorated by Nanny and “The Bup.” Photo Credit: Mary Anne Furey

When the party was over and bed was upon him, John Adams placed more than a dozen trains into his Clifford backpack, carried it into his room, and dumped his new and old friends onto his bed to settle into an hour’s worth of regaling them with adventures from his big day. Nancy and I, in bed and amused, listened quietly as he spoke to each of his trains – Old Ninety, 475, 89, “Sugar Day”, and many others. There was “woo wooing” and coupling up, dumping trains out of the Charlie Brown lunchbox and replacing others back in the same. About forty-five minutes after crawling into bed the sugar train started to crash, the shed-bed started to get quiet for the night, and each little steamie settled itself down to dream of new adventures, candy, bacon, Play-doh, puzzles, and what it’s like to be a big diesel versus a little steamie.

Such is the life of my three-year old who fancies himself a train.

Happy Birthday, my boy, my train, my John Adams.

Here’s to many, many more days hitting the tracks and riding the rails.



P.S. In case you missed it, my first ever Guest Blog Post, “The Healing Power of Haiku,” was published on September 12 on www.businessinrhyme.com. I’m deeply grateful to Maja Todorovic for this wonderful new opportunity. Please check it out, and check out all the other wonderful content and guest posts on her site.


Third Birthday Selfie. Photo Credit: Nancy Michael

Poetry improves lives: a guest post by Jason J. Michael

Here is my first ever Guest Blog Post, “The Healing Power of Haiku,” published on September 12 on http://www.businessinrhyme.com. I’m so thankful to Maja Todorovic for this awesome opportunity. Check it out, and check out all the other wonderful content and guest posts on her site.

Business in Rhyme

This is a guest post, a courtesy of a fellow blogger and poet Jason J. Michael. This essay is a bit longer than usual posts on this blog, but I encourage you to read it through – a touching story on how poetry, particularly haiku has changed his life, literally.

The Healing Power of Haiku

Believe in yourself,
And your ability to
Make a difference.

   On September 3, 2000, when I was twenty-nine, my father died. He smoked himself to death acquiring, in order, blocked arteries, throat cancer, lung cancer, emphysema, and finally congestive heart failure, which in combination with the others claimed his life. His untimely death was fully expected by everyone around him, except for me. A jazz musician, he had quietly sold off his instruments to friends, had delusions of teaching sax quartets in our kitchen, gone to the drugstore in his briefs, and had visions…

View original post 1,164 more words

My Son, the Train

My son is a train. I know how it happened. I know when it happened. I know who did it to him. But none of that changes the fact that my son is a train. More than a year ago, his grandparents – Nancy’s parents – took our sweet, blond-haired, blue-eyed baby human boy to the Strasberg Railroad in Lancaster County, PA. They left him ride in a car coupled up to an old black steam engine called Old Ninety. They took him in the Thomas the Train Gift Shop and got him a present. Then they took him home to their place, and thought it had been a nice day. A cute, once in a lifetime (or every few years) experience for a small boy. They thought nothing more of it. They couldn’t have been more wrong.


John Adams and Pop Pop posing with beloved Old 90 at Strasberg Railroad

It’s been going on two years now, and my son is a train. He “woo woos” and “chugga chuggas” around the house. He couples up with his parents and grandparents with a resounding “da-doom!” He watches (for hours) videos of trains – steamies and diesels – on the Nabi, or kids iPad, that his grandparents got for him whenever we go in the car. We have at least six motorized Thomas and Friends engines and their respective coal cars that zip under our sofa in fear and despair. He has at least thirty Steam Team “minis” that he plays with religiously and knows all, ALL, their names! Not a day goes by that Thomas isn’t on our TV, learning how to be “really useful” and getting smacked around by railroad owner-manager and iron-fisted mob boss Sir Topham Hat. Occasionally, it’s Chuggington or Dino-Trains, but most days, hours, minutes. It’s THOMAS!!! Making tracks to new destinations.

Mr. Perkins, the live-action engine driver that serves as a comic relief pitcher between Thomas episodes, feels like an old family friend that comes over for a visit, but never leaves. He’s constantly on the phone with Sir Topham Hatt, (and always shocked by this) sweeps up the Engine Driver’s Common Room, washes dishes, can’t get a vacation, works on his days off (Thanks, Boss Hatt) and makes cakes that look like Thomas the Train. John Adams’s Nanny has already bought the cake pan and, rest assured, next week when our son-turned-train turns three on Sept. 11, he will do so with a Thomas shaped cake as well as Thomas cupcakes. John Adams decided this mind you, and Nanny willingly complied.

We sleep in Thomas jammies, we wear Thomas shirts, we pee in Thomas pull-ups, we eat from Thomas plates. I am reminded of my own stint with Under-roos, but I was more culturally diverse, you see. I ranged from Spider-Man to Yoda  proudly and without irony. I could wear a Superman sleep shirt with Batman underwear and not feel conflicted. Not so my son. And as for Strasberg, well, he’s there again today for his umpteenth time. We have all lost count. He has been to “Day Out with Thomas” there three times! He visits Old Ninety like an old friend. He watches eagerly as the trains couple up. He names the parts – boiler, cow catcher, funnel – with ease. His grandparents lament that they didn’t purchase a season pass. The people that work at Strasberg recognize him and call him by name, like Norm from Cheers. That’s how frequently he is there. He fancies himself to be Sir Topham Hat, and at two years old no one can tell him different. He is the boss of the place.


Astride Thomas at Strasberg Railroad

All kidding aside, my son, not quite three, has a tremendous imagination. He talks in first person both to and as his trains. He has voices for each one of them, and holds real if simple conversations. We hear him in his bed rallying the team before slumber, and sometimes stifle the heartiest of laughs while eavesdropping. Nancy and I have voices that we must do when we are his trains – Old 90 is a wise Southern-drawled streamie from Strasburg, Charlie of Thomas fame must laugh before each sentence, Gordon sounds a bit like pompous Stan Smith from American Dad – and the list goes on. As the child of actor parents he has picked up our gift of voices and when he does his trains they often have distinct dialects of their own from out of his head. The whole thing is as wonderful as it is exhausting. Sit on a hard wood floor for hours at a time, trying to second guess the hyper-imaginative needs of a two-year old and you’ll see what I mean.

Next Sunday my little steamie will turn three. I couldn’t be prouder of him. He is handsome and headstrong; intelligent and healthy. He has gifted me with his love for almost three years, and with that gift have come the additional presents of play and imagination.  I didn’t play much in the years prior to his arrival. And I pretty much saved my imagination for onstage, where I liked to be paid for its usage. My little man has changed all that, at least for the time being. And I’ve laughed and loved a lot more as a result.

Yes, my son is a train. Nancy gave birth to a 7 pound steamie that day, complete with coal car, and pink tiny, shiny caboose.  Maybe someday, like Pinocchio, he’ll have aspirations of turning into a Real Boy. But I don’t see that day coming anytime soon. So if you happen to see my son next week for his birthday, make sure to give him a hearty Happy Birthday Woo Woo from you. And as for me, I’ll probably be hovering somewhere near the edge of the tracks trying to make myself “Really Useful.”

Oh, the indignity!!!


Bup with Sir Topham Hat0001

John Adams with his idol, Sir Topham Hat, at Day Out with Thomas at Strasberg Railroad.