How Cat Poop On My Computer Helped Me To Realize My Many Blessings (And A Few Holiday Stress-Relieving Tips)

Photo by duluoz cats via Flickr

It’s holiday time again.  The songs and carols remind us that “it’s the most wonderful time of the year,” and that we should be filled with merriment and holiday cheer.

Instead, many of us find ourselves riddled with stress, worry and anxiety as we anticipate family get-togethers, and race around trying to fulfill holiday obligations.

I’m by no means immune to the average run-of-the-mill holiday anxiety. It’s hard to release oneself from years of cultural conditioning, and all too often I’m chasing my tail in an attempt to create a “perfect” holiday experience for my family.

And this year a new and unexpected challenge sent my stress levels through the roof.

Kitty Wake Up Call

It all started a few weeks ago. I woke up and discovered that my elderly cat, Franny, had left me “a little gift.” I’d left my laptop open on my desk, and there splattered on the keyboard was the evidence of Franny’s latest bout of incontinence – or a symbol of her annoyance with me for being absent from the household most of the fall.

Whatever the reason, Franny had effectively derailed me from getting any work done that morning. I kicked into crisis mode, praying that my computer would emerge from this unscathed. (After all, I make my living with it these days.)

Hah! Wishful thinking.

I’ll spare you the details involved in the cleanup process, but suffice it to say I ended up with a computer screen that worked but a completely unresponsive keyboard. Fortunately, I was able to purchase a $10 external keyboard for a temporary fix.

However, I and my work were no longer very mobile.

I spent far to many hours discussing this with the owner of our local Mac store, and evaluating the various options – hoping to solve the problem without parting with copious amounts of cash.

And after half a day of dithering –with work responsibilities clamoring for my attention – I did what any reasonable person would do. I procrastinated the whole thing.

But this week my procrastination allowance ran out. I realized was just a matter of days before we were to leave on a 3-week trip. I need a computer to work from the road. I need to deal with this. Now.

I could feel my blood pressure rising just at the thought. I can have some fun geeking out with tech stuff – but when things go wrong I don’t handle it well.

Again, I’ll spare you the frustrating details, suffice it to say that Plans A, B and C were not working out. I had moved onto Plan D, which involved offloading some of my data to an external drive.

So, there I was at Costco, trying to find a low-priced external drive, but the flooding in Thailand has wreaked havoc in their factories, causing a shortage of these devices in this country. All that was left was the higher priced versions.

Why can’t things ever work out? I wondered.

Hmm, an indication of first-world problems? The factory workers in Bangkok are homeless, without work, and probably getting around by boat – and here I am moaning because I have to pay an extra $50 for a device that has nothing to do with survival.

But right then I wasn’t getting it.

Sweating, late, and hungry, I hurried through the store, expensive device in hand, steam practically emerging from my ears.

That’s when I ran into Teresa, a former neighbor from many years ago. Her children had been a bit older than mine and played once or twice. I never see her anymore. She didn’t look too good.

“My granddaughter just died,” she told me.

Her 14-year-old granddaughter had been killed in a car wreck over Thanksgiving weekend. I vaguely remembered reading the tragic story in the paper but had no idea I knew any of the people involved.

“My daughter’s just a mess,” she continued. “I don’t know what to do for her.”

Tears in my eyes I hugged Teresa as hard as I could. I choked out what condolences I could, I did not know what to say to heal the naked pain in her eyes.

And we parted ways, me holding this giant piece of cardboard and plastic encasing a device that had seemed so important minutes before.

And here I’d thought my little piddly computer problems were oh-so-important.

Talk about perspective whacking you in the head.

It’s not that I never remember to consider those less fortunate, or to enumerate all that I am grateful for. But it’s just so easy to forget and get caught up in an angry, stressed out state.

And that’s how cat poop on my keyboard helped me remember to count my blessings.

Don’t Let Stress Bite You

Even if your computer keyboard is fine, and your cat well-behaved, you might still find yourself whacked with a heavy dose of stress and anxiety this holiday season. Try these natural wellness ideas for taking that anxiety level down a few notches.

1. Rescue remedy

I’ve written about this life-saving flower essence combo before, but it’s not just for hugely traumatic events. A few doses (four drops at a time) of Rescue Remedy tones down that angry, excitable feeling and calms the mood.

A single flower essence that particularly targets tension and the three “i’s”: impatience, intolerance, irritation is called (of course) impatiens. I wish I’d had some on hand yesterday!

2.  Avena Skullcap Combination Tincture.

Herbal tinctures can be stronger and more noticeable than flower essences because they work on the physical body rather than the emotional vibration. Herb Pharm’s Nervous System Tonic is my favorite for daytime stress because the herbs are not sedating.

“Avena” is Latin for oats – the same kind you use to make oatmeal. Oats are known to be nourishing to the nervous system, hence their presence in many stress and anxiety formulas. So, if you’re really prone to getting stressed, think about including more whole oats in your diet.

3. Aromatherapy Bath or Massage

Lavender essential oil is my favorite for uplifting the spirits and it also produces a calming effect on the body. For instant de-stressing, place a drop on each temple and massage for a minute. If you can, take a few more moments to breathe deeply and relax.

You can also add several drops to a full tub of steaming bath water. Or make a bath oil using essential oils: 10 drops bergamot oil, 5 drops lavender oil, 3 drops geranium oil and 1 drop neroli oil mixed into two ounces of a “carrier” oil such as almond oil. Omit the neroli oil if it is too expensive or hard to find.

The same combination can be made into a massage oil, just double the amount of carrier oil to four ounces.

For more aromatherapy ideas, check out my post Beat the Blues With Aromatherapy.

4. Herbal Footbath

A great solution if you don’t have a bath tub. Some people feel that footbaths can be even more effective in relieving stress and anxiety than a full-on bath. Our feet are a passing point for all of the nerves in our body, so when feet are treated well, the nervous system benefits.

Combine some relaxing herbs such as chamomile, hops and lavender, add in a little rosemary or sage. Use an ounce or two of herbs for a large pot of water.  Cover the pot and heat till and simmer and let the herbs simmer on low heat for about five minutes.

Pour the herbal mixture into a basin and add some cool water – but not too much! Your footbath should be nice and hot. In fact, it’s a good idea to cover the basin with at towel after you’ve immersed your tootsies to keep the heat in.  Sip on some chamomile tea or other stress-relieving herbal tea as you let your feet soak and your entire body relax

5. Attitude of Gratitude.

As I was reminded while racing through Costco the other day, cultivating appreciation for what we have been given goes a long way to relieving stress and reducing anger.  A gratitude journal is one way to keep your appreciation in the forefront of your mind. I’ve read that spending just five minutes per week writing in such a journal can increase one’s capacity for happiness.


Uh oh, here comes Franny. I’ve forgiven her, but I’d better go find my gratitude journal.

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Showing 11 comments
  • bobbi

    Reminders are always helpful. It’s so easy to get lost in the moment and forget. Thank you Sarah and sending you Holiday wishes for fun and peace.

    • Sarah

      Thanks to you too Bobbi! It’s so true that it’s easy to get caught up in my little self-centered world – it was good for me to get that wake up call. Sending you joyous Solstice wishes as well.

  • Doug

    Very touching post, thanks for the perspective!

    • Sarah

      Glad it resonated for you Doug. I’m finding my own perspective again as I flounder my way through the U.S. holiday madness.

  • Lori Gosselin

    Hi Sarah!
    Perspective is so important! I remember the year my mother died a month before Christmas. It was so HARD to do Christmas that year. It made me realize how little we know of the silent hidden battles others may be fighting without our awareness.
    You list some great tips for stress relief. My favourite is Lavender – anywhere! It was my first essential oil purchase and I never get tired of it!
    I hope all is calm and bright for you now!:-)

    • Sarah

      Welcome to the blog Lori. Thanks for stopping by. My heart goes out to you right now – I’m sure each and every holiday season brings back memories of your mother. It’s particularly hard to lose a loved one at this time of year. It’s so true that the holidays are more full of sadness and grieving than cheer for many people.
      You’re right – lavender oil is the stuff! A good one to keep at hand during these busy days. Way more useful than all that pine cone potpourri.
      Bright holiday wishes to you!

  • Carole Jane Treggett

    Oh Sarah, what a great post, so vividly written. You brought our perspective right where it should be!

    Thanks so much for the wonderful herbal solutions for coping with anxiety and stress. I seriously felt much better even just reading the suggestions. Going to try your Aromatherapy bath ideas and I’ll report back 🙂

    Here’s wishing you and your family a wonder-filled holiday time. As your post amplifies, it’s so very important to appreciate and be grateful for each day(whomever and whatever it brings).

    • Sarah

      Carole, I’m so glad you enjoyed the story and the information. Do let me know how your aromatherapy baths work out. Maybe you will discover a great new stress-relieving bath combo!
      Warm and bright holiday wishes to you and yours as well. I’m so grateful for each day and for so many wonderful new friends!

  • Terri

    Sarah, this is one of the best stories I’ve read in a long time. It went to tender spot deep within. It just settles me knowing I’m not alone because I relate to all those feelings and thoughts you describe so precisely, especially, “I did what any reasonable would do. I procrastinated the whole thing.” I know that M.O.
    I relate to how raw life can be. I was with you all the way to the end of your story because of your candor(which is to your compliment). We just can’t make stuff like this up.
    That is a great line-up of things to do to reduce stress. I love Rescue Remedy! I think it’s the wonder cure of all time.
    If that is your Franny in the photo, I can see why you forgave her. She is elegant, stunning, very cat-ly.
    Thank you very much for this. I’m forwarding to others I think might be able to benefit…

  • Sue Mitchell

    I would have bet money you were a cat person! 🙂

    Thanks for sharing this very touching story. It is so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day stressors and lose sight of what matters most. And so many of the things that cause us anxiety during the holidays really aren’t all that important at all!

    I used to do foot baths all the time but for some reason my feet don’t beg for them the way they used to (which I guess is a good thing!) I still love a nice hot bath for stress relief, and lately I’ve been using some great essential oil bath bombs. In the next few days, I’ll be making your bath cookie recipe and trying that out. Also like valerian.

    Thanks for the very meaningful insights in this post and all the wonderful natural wellness ideas you share!

  • Annie Andre

    As many others pointed out it’s all about perspective. I feel like i’m constantly saying this to my kids.
    Tired things like
    ” eat your peas there are starving kids in china” or
    ” stop complaining about not having an HD t.v. anymore we’re lucky to have a roof over our head” I could go on but if there’s one thing i’ve learned, you can’t tell someone to have perspective. It has to come to them.
    The other day my middle child who is 13 turned to me and said, “mom, i can’t believe how luck we are to live in France”. I was shocked. after moving across country from California for a year to live like vagabonds looking for jobs to moving to France he was able to see the good through it all.
    Merry Christmas Joyeux Noel.

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