Thursday, December 17, 2009

Off to the doctor

Sunday night BikerDude noticed that Tweak, the psychopath, was acting stranger than usual. She was grooming herself excessively, particularly her behind, and the fur around her butt was matted and stinky. We tried to clean her up with a warm, damp cloth, but that just got us a string of cat profanity, so first thing Monday morning I called the vet and took her in for an appointment.

I actually succeeded in bribing her into the carrier by tossing a few treats in, but something tells me that that's a trick that won't work again!

Dr. Bohne and I discussed her weight (16 lbs! I actually thought it might be more) and her general health and she agreed that we were looking at a UTI, complicated by both fleas and worms. She wanted a urine sample, so I left her there for the day to give them a chance to collect it.

When I went to pick her up, they told me that they hadn't been able to get a sample. They gave her fluids all day, but she refused to pee. I can just picture her there with her little kitty legs crossed, refusing to cooperate. They tried to draw some urine directly from her bladder, but that didn't work, either. The procedure involved flipping her over onto her back, holding her there by her scruff and using an ultrasound wand to locate the bladder and attempt a needle extraction. The mind reels with the image-- I can JUST IMAGINE how cooperative she was! When the vet tech explained the procedure to me, she saw the look on my face (which I'm sure clearly said, "Better you than me!") and said, "She was kind of... feisty." Hah! I bet! I'm going to guess she was a complete and total little sh*t!

Anyway, between her attitude and struggles and the many layers of fat, they weren't able to extract anything, but the vet decided to treat her with a course of antibiotics, anyway-- she was pretty confident of the diagnosis.

So, of course, as I was paying the bill, she peed in the carrier. A LOT! Like she'd been holding it all day...

Shortly after we got home, I got Brian to help hold her and I used the pill popper to give her her first antibiotic pill. I did give her several treats afterwards, but I figured that she would be trying to kill me in my sleep after all of that.

Surprise! Perhaps she a secret masochist, or perhaps she sees me as the Savior who rescued her from That Horrible Place where they did rude things to her all day, but she actually cuddled up to me! In fact, Tuesday night she slept on my feet for the first time EVER (if she gets on the bed at all, which is rare, she ALWAYS sleeps on BikerDude's feet. After all, he is God and I am simply staff).

Yesterday she followed both of us around and would drop periodically, roll over on her back to display her shaved and now clean and healthy butt to us, and generally look for attention. Last night, she slept on my feet again.

I guess I know how to win her over from now on: Take her to the vet and bring her home! I am the Rescuer!

Weird little cat.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Health care for everyone

I'm going to go out on a limb right now and predict something: There will be a health care bill passed before the end of the year and it will include a public option.

President Obama is a savvy politician-- probably the best that Washington has seen in two generations. He's also really, really smart and really, really patient when he has to be.

Everyone is crying right now because the White House hasn't presented a bill and the President has not spoken out to draw a line in the sand, letting legislators know what he will and won't sign off on. This is deliberate. The minute he puts a nail down, he provides the opposition with something to hang their hat on. He's not going to give them any help.

Also, by letting things play out, he's letting public opinion (a) form and (b) get back to the individual legislators, each of whom is primarily concerned with getting re-elected.

I agree that to some degree he has pulled a "take-away" on the public option, a car sales technique where the salesman tells the customer, who is drooling over the high-option vehicle but whining about the price, "Well, it's a shame you can't afford this beautiful Cadillac with the sun roof, leather seats, GPS and satellite radio. Let's go look at something in your price range-- I've got a some economy cars with cloth seats and crank windows."

Congress is now the husband who has to go back and tell the wife (the public) why he is jeopardizing the purchase of the Cadillac that SHE has fallen in love with. She's reminding him that they just bought a new, tricked-out truck for him and a bass boat last year, and he wants her to settle for a Chevy Cavalier? And what about that fishing trip you paid for last year and took three of your friends on?

No husband ever wants to have that conversation, and every husband knows how it will end: She'll get her Cadillac. She may have to compromise and get the 22" rims instead of the 24s and she may let the GPS go but keep the satellite radio, but she will have her Caddy.

I just wish the Dems were smarter about controlling terminology. Stop calling it a "public option" and call it a "nonprofit option."

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Stupid Bengal Tricks

It’s amazing how something that can’t talk can reduce you to complete, sputtering incoherency.

This morning, BikerDude had to get up early (at 6:00) in order to get to his 8:00 class, but I wanted to sleep in a little longer. Hah! All of the cats got the idea that since someone was up, everyone should be up, so they began a relentless campaign. After BikerDude had left and before my alarm went off, MonkeyChild's little Mama Cat Denny had taken over the bed-- quite an accomplishment for a cat that weighs less than six pounds. She was simultaneously tunneling under the covers, biting my hand to get me to pet her, purring LOUDLY and chasing off any other cat who tried to get onto the bed.

Meanwhile, Razor had stolen the drain plug from the bathroom sink and was playing hockey with it in the bathroom. Nothing like the quiet sounds of a hard rubber disk being smacked against vinyl floor, porcelain and the walls accompanied by the galumphing of a 15 lb. moose cat pouncing around after it to lull you back to sleep. A few minutes later there was a hissing and swatting match at my bedroom door, but I ignored it. Kaos retreated from his attempts to get on the bed (thwarted by Denny) and took up residence on top of the wardrobe, perched like a gargoyle on one corner and sizing up the opposition as the came and went from the room.

I had just about dozed off when I realized that someone was on the jewelry armoire next to my bed (a little chest on four spindly legs that has all of my jewelry in it and also serves as a bedside table for me at the moment, until I can find some good bookshelves that are the right height). I thought it was Kaos, who generally climbs on everything, but no. It was Razor. Who is (a) MUCH less agile than Kaos and (b) far too big to be climbing on such a precarious piece of furniture. Which he discovered when he let out a startled little yip as he lost his footing and fell to the floor. I turned over to make sure that he was alright and realized what he had been doing up there: Reaching down, opening a drawer and fishing out one of my necklaces!

Do you know how many swear words you can mutter when you are half-asleep? A lot. I think I made up a few.

Which will give me something to pray about later, I suppose, so it all works out.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Never enough time

Part of the whole blogging thing is to get practice writing, but never having time to write seems to be defeating the purpose.

I suppose, like most things, it's all about what you make time for.

I would suggest that I am willing to let the housework go so that I can make time for my writing, but, sadly, looking around it becomes painfully obvious that I have already given up on that.

Maybe I can give up reading the newspaper in the evenings?

Anyway, life has a way of staying interesting.

BikerDude and I are entering a new phase of our life with the advent of grad school/seminary. He started last month and it's already been a long, strange trip. We've spent the last four years so focused on him going to school full-time and working full-time and having very little time for anything else that we both have to get used to him actually having free time! He's a full-time grad student now, so you'd think he'd have LESS time, but after the schedule he's kept for the last four years, he's seeking a little more balance.

I'm in favor of this, not surprisingly.

Change doesn't have to be scary... it can be kind of fun!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Eight Year Later

It doesn't seem like only eight years ago.

At the risk of sounding like a cliche, it was such a beautiful morning. A perfect late summer-- the skies were a beautiful blue, it was cool with low humidity and just a hint of fall in the air.

I was running late (as usual) and was in the kitchen and first floor bathroom getting ready to leave for work when NPR, just finishing its Morning Edition broadcast and preparing to begin its morning classical music, paused and Seth Williamson said, "We're just getting news that a plane has hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York..."

There was still a lot of confusion. A plane? What size? Everyone was thinking a small, private plane, but how could a pilot have been THAT confused or lost on such a clear, beautiful morning with unlimited visibility?

Curious, I flipped on the TV and tuned in to CNN, figuring that they would have the most immediate coverage.

I was watching, casually interested, when the second plane hit.

I immediately knew what had happened, and felt a chill go down my spine.

The second plane was unmistakable. It was definitely a full-sized passenger jet, and it flew full-speed, straight into the building. It was clearly deliberate. The World Trade Center had been a target of terrorism just a few years before, and Oklahoma City was still pretty fresh in everyone's mind. I didn't immediately call up the name Osama bin Ladin, but I did recall that the Saudi guy who was behind the first bombing had never been caught.

I watched for a few minutes, then headed for work. The radio stations still hadn't caught up with events-- NPR was playing classical music and everyone else had their regular programming on. I finally found ABC radio on the AM dial and listened to Peter Jennings start sorting things out. He was the first one to use the word, "terrorism." I felt ill.

I got to work and told the receptionist and the facilities manager to turn the radio and/or TV on, two planes had just hit the WTC and it wasn't an accident.

When I got upstairs I told folks as I passed, "Turn your radios on!" Some already had-- word was starting to get around.

About the time I got to my office and got my radio turned on and my computer booted up, word was coming in that something had happened at the Pentagon. Reports were still sketchy: A plane had flown into it. No, a helicopter. No, a helicopter had blown up on the landing pad. No, it was a plane...

All of the news websites were overloaded and no one could get online. The radio now mentioned that a plane had gone down somewhere in central Pennsylvania, and that the Secretary of Defense had shut down all air travel and ordered all of the airplanes out of the sky.

Kristen, an Analyst who worked with me, was frantic. Her parents were scheduled to fly out of Pittsburgh that morning and she wasn't able to get them on the phone. There was no information about the plane in Pennsylvania and she was practically hysterical. We tried to assure her that the fact that she couldn't get through to their cell phones probably didn't mean anything-- communications were either down or overloaded all over the eastern seaboard, so most calls weren't getting through, especially anything north of us.

Meanwhile, Rachael, in the office next to mine, was calmer but still very worried--she had a brother and a sister living in New York, the sister in Tribeca, not far from the part of Manhattan that was under attack. No one in her family had been able to get through, but they knew that wasn't unusual.

Rachael and I tried, on our respective computers, to get onto a news website, any news website. CNN, NPR, all of the networks, the Washington Post, the New York Times... nothing. Too busy. Finally, I got onto the BBC website and we had our first look at the burning towers. We stood watching, horrified, listening to the live broadcast coming through from NPR. While we were watching, the North Tower came down. We started to cry, quietly.

The office was at a standstill. Nothing was getting done. Anyone who had gotten through to a website had several other people gathered around, watching in shocked silence. Several of our IT folks were supposed to be flying back to Charlottesville, some from Dayton, some from New York, and they hadn't yet checked in.

Before we could pull ourselves away, Security came through the building. They were shutting the company down and evacuating the building-- no one could stay behind. Across the street and down a couple of blocks from our building looms a tall, forbidding, fortress-like structure that until a few months before had housed the National Ground Intelligence Center for the US Army. Among other things, it tracked all of the air traffic for the country. Clearly the air traffic was under attack, and no one knew yet who was behind it or how current their intelligence might be. If whoever it was decided to do something to sabotage Army intelligence under such an attack, the NGIC would be a high-value target. Did the enemy know that the building on the edge of the Downtown Mall no longer housed this agency? Who knew? But all of the businesses in the area were advised to evacuate. Quickly.

I shut everything down and left. I went to the blood center to donate blood, but was turned away. The wait was over 2 hours and they were telling people to come back the next day. I headed home and called my parents, who were already watching, then Karen and Marcy who both live in Northern Virginia to see if they had gotten home safely. For the rest of the day I mostly laid on the sofa with my cats and watched the news, horrified, terrified, sad, angry. My only conscious thought, which I knew I would eventually soften, was, "Kill them. Kill them all and let God sort them out."

It wasn't a hot and angry response. It was a cold and furious one.

It turned out that Kristen's parents were fine. They had just taken off when the pilot came over the speakers and told them that they were turning around and landing the plane. I don't know how much explanation they got until they landed. Not long afterwards, Kristen decided to leave Charlottesville and move back to Pennsylvania to be closer to her family and to get her MLS so that she could become a law librarian.

Rachael's family was also fine, although her sister in Tribeca had to move out for awhile until power and services were fully restored.

Our IT folks all landed safely, but could get no further than Dayton. They finally rented a car and drove back to Charlottesville, arriving sometime Tuesday evening.

Unfortunately, two of our coworkers were not so lucky. Two Reed Elsevier employees from the New York office were on one of the flights that hit the WTC. The company devoted a memorial to them and has a scholarship fund in their names.

Over the next couple of days, the thing I remember the most is the expressions of sympathy and grief that came from around the world. Someone on the web compiled a collection of photos and it can still make me well up. It was so beautiful, and so humbling, to see the tributes outside of American embassies and consulate offices around the world--not the official expressions, but the heartfelt tributes from everyday people who wanted all of us Americans to know that we were not alone. It was all meaningful and touching, and I hope that they all know that.

This was also President Bush's one brief, shining moment. His speech at Ground Zero and later before the joint session of Congress were, sadly, the highlights of his presidency. He was never more articulate or more sincere than he was in those moments, which is one of the reasons that I hold him in such contempt. Clearly, he had the skills. He had it in him to be so much more than what he became. The fact that he squandered not only the national and international good will that poured out on him that day but also his own potential to rise up and be a genuine leader is disgusting. Sadly, for me that is going to be the epitaph of his entire administration: He could have been so much more.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Morning with Bengals

I was awakened this morning at the bright and early hour of 5:45 by the sound of Razor playing hockey with the drain plug in the bathroom. THUMP-scramble-scramble-scramble-THUMP! He then got into a brief spat with Tweak, where she growled and he yowled and they both stared, circled and occasionally took half-hearted swipes at each other. At least he's finally standing up to her, but I wish he'd do so quietly, especially before the alarm goes off...

Kaos prefers to sleep in, but he can be easily persuaded to wake up and join the fun. Usually Razor supervises my morning ablutions as well as any ironing I may choose to do. He likes to sit in the windowsill of the bathroom while I'm in the shower, then jump into the tub as soon as I turn the water off. That is, if Tweak doesn't beat him into the bathroom and park herself on the toilet first. Then he paces the floor and yowls indignantly while she pretends to ignore him, reveling in her momentary victory.

Once Kaos wakes up, though, it's climbing time. He gets on the dresser while I'm picking out my earrings and tries to paw through my jewelry box, then climbs onto my shoulder while I'm trying to get dressed. Once Brian is up, too, it's time to play in the sheets! Both of the boys enjoy a brisk game of "bed weasels," but Kaos can't get enough. I usually end up just making him up into the bed. He rarely misses breakfast, so it's clearly not terribly difficult to escape when properly motivated.

I think tonight I shall reprise the pork tacos that I made the other night-- I've still got half of a pork tenderloin to use up. I've become an expert on 30 Minute Meals-- thank you, Rachael Ray! Although I usually alter her recipes somewhat to lower the fat and calories and cut the pasta measurements in half (who the heck is she cooking for, the Offensive Line for the New England Patriots??!!!). Anyway, Brian really liked the recipe, despite the fact that it was a Weight Watchers one. As he was eating it, he said, "I usually don't really like chicken, but this is excellent!"

"Um, Sweetie, that's because it's pork..."


Monday, August 24, 2009

Settling in

MonkeyChild has been back with us for a couple of weeks now, one of which we spent at the beach while she had the house to herself, which may or may not have eased the transition. It's good to have her back. She brought with her six little buddies, however: Cydnee, former resident kitty, Denny, a small white-with-gray-spots cat who is less than a year old, and Denny's four kittens, the result of MonkeyChild missing the spay appointment, then letting her outside.

The kittens are, not surprisingly, adorable: A solid black girl (Fiona, aka Fifi), a solid gray girl (Lulu), a gray and white tuxedo boy (D'Artagnan, aka Tanner) and a white with gray boy who looks like his mom (Smudge). All six have been confined to MonkeyChild's room until they get their shots updated and a clean bill of health (appointments this Friday). The resident cats are fascinated by the sounds and smells coming out of that room, but so far there has been no interaction. Tweak will occasionally live up to her name, smell someone coming out of the room, hiss at them and run away. Little freak. The boys are more laid-back.

Anyone want a kitten?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Grandma Wright-Lawhorne

Dave Barry posted a link to an article today about a new fashion trend: Women/models shaving or waxing their eyebrows. He opined that this gives them all of the sexy allure of a lightbulb. I don't disagree, but I was reminded of my grandmother. Grandma Lawhorne (Grandma Wright for the first 11 years of my life, until she remarried) used to pluck her eyebrows until she had removed them completely, then pencil them in thinly with an eyebrow pencil. This was apparently quite fashionable in the '30s and '40s, and is a trend she followed her entire life. Unfortunately, after years of doing this her eyebrows stopped growing back. Also, she had a less-than-steady hand with the eyebrow pencil, so invariably one of her eyebrows would be higher than the other, giving her a permanent surprised look.

Anyway, I wrote this remembrance of her for her funeral in June of 2007. Since I'm thinking of her, I thought now would be a good time to post it:


When my college friends and I were first getting to know each other, we frequently exchanged stories about our families—our histories, hometowns, schools and relatives. Of course, we all tried to keep the various family members straight: Is that your Italian grandmother or the one who lives in Georgia? Do you mean your married sister or the one at UVA? I quickly learned that my stories about my grandmother had taken on a certain flavor when one of my friends asked me, "Is that the grandmother who's a great cook but can't drive?"

Yes, that would be the one.

As for her driving, what can I say? Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, passengers in Grandma's car were frequently forced to contemplate their own mortality—or at least to reflect seriously on their insurance coverage. She zoomed around town—one foot on the brake, one on the gas—a menace to everyone on the road. And the sidewalk. Even parked cars and buildings weren't safe. We frequently marveled at her ability to retain her license, but I think Mark was correct in assessing that no police officer wanted to be the one to give this sweet little old lady a ticket, so they just sent her on her way with a warning. If only they knew…

But as bad as her driving was, her cooking… well, that was in a category of it's own, as well, but for far different reasons. Grandma didn't just fix dinner. She put on a spread, worthy of the farm she was raised on and the eleven siblings that grew up around her table: Two kinds of meat, three vegetables (including, always, a green and a yellow one), homemade pickles, gravy and biscuits. Oh, those biscuits! Mom once tried to get her recipe and quickly realized that it was hopeless. Grandma made biscuits with instinct and skill that required no recipe. She just threw the ingredients together until they "were right"—measuring the flour with a broken teacup and adding the other ingredients with a practiced eye and a pinch or this or that.

And she always had at least two desserts in case someone didn't like one of the choices. The only thing that she could never master in the kitchen was making a cake from a mix. She would read the instructions that told her to simply add water and would exclaim, "You can't make a cake like that!" and would then proceed to add extra eggs, milk, oil, shortening, flavoring—whatever she thought was missing. The result was frequently a dense mess, riddled with toothpicks used to hold the layers together (we kids learned early on to cut the cake bites into small pieces with our forks before eating unless we wished to be speared).

But as wonderful as her cooking was, it was merely a reflection of what was really behind it: Hospitality. Grandma's house was always open to all, and visitors were welcomed with a comfortable place to sit, a big glass of tea or lemonade or an ice-cold Coca-Cola, and an invitation to a meal which few had the willpower to decline. Her brothers and sisters and their families gravitated to her home and her kitchen, as did her friends and neighbors. Grandma didn't always keep up with what was going on in the world and couldn't tell you what the latest Washington, DC scandal was about or who was starring in the latest movies, but she knew where all of her family members were and how they were doing and kept track of the ladies in her Sunday School class, the ladies she used to work with and both her siblings and Grandaddy Wright's eleven siblings and all of their families. If she didn't know the details, she knew the generalities of where everyone was living and their general state of health and well-being. Perhaps being from such a large family and marrying someone from an equally large family contributed to her ability to welcome anyone, any time to her home, but wherever the impulse came from, she lived the Christian virtue of hospitality as well as anyone I have known.

In Hebrews we are instructed, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." Any angel who may have had the good fortune to show up at Grandma's door would have left comforted and well-fed, and probably carrying a doggy bag with a slice of cake or a few cookies for the road.

Finally, when I remember Grandma's delightfully batty personality and her conversational leaps that no amount of logic would allow you to follow, I can't help but smile. But what I remember, too, is that she was the first person to laugh at herself. Isn't that a wonderful legacy? To have provided comfort and caring and laughter to her family and friends. I'm sure that where she is now, she is calling together all of her brothers and sisters, clucking and fussing and making sure that they are all ok. And well-fed.

I love you, Grandma, and I'll miss you.

Sharon Wright Bower

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Narrowing things down

Last night I watched a NOVA special on PBS about intelligence in great apes. The researchers conducted one experiment with chimpanzees, then wanted to see if more socially-inclined bonobos would behave differently. The experiment involved the apes pulling a rope that caused something else to move. As the cameras recorded the bonobo experiment, the voice-over said, "The first step is getting the bonobos to concentrate on the task at hand..." as the bonobos proceeded to swing from the rope, then pull themselves along the floor with it. I started laughing and BikerDude heard me, so I explained why I was laughing. He thought for a second and said exactly what I was thinking, "So what you're saying is that Kaos is a bonobo."

Yes! That's exactly it!

I'm not sure what Razor is-- whichever monkey species carefully observes then acts in a way that is easy to blame on someone else, most likely. Is there a sneaky monkey? (OK, ape, I know, I know...). Tweak would still be the psychopathic monkey.

We really need a tall cat tree/jungle gym that these guys can swing from...


On a sadder note, I noticed that my former employer, OJ, didn't follow the instructions of the Virginia State Bar when they suspended his license last summer, and when he lost his appeal he apparently disappeared without notifying his clients, the courts where he had cases pending, or the bar. His license has now been revoked and his practice placed in receivership.

Sigh. Same crap he was doing when I worked there 15 years ago. I guess it's good that it has finally caught up with him, at least for his clients' sakes, but it's still pretty sad.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Long time, no see

After Cinnamon's death, I didn't feel much like writing. That combined with work heating up and keeping me busy meant that I just haven't gotten around to doing any updates. I'm hoping to pick back up now, though.

I still miss my little girl, but I'm really glad we have the other three to keep me distracted. No matter how sad I feel, the boys can still make me laugh! And sometimes Tweak, too. She has actually started occasionally crawling up into my lap and napping-- I think she misses Cinnamon, too. Cinnamon was the only cat she ever cuddled up with-- they used to bathe each other and sleep cuddled up together. She still won't cuddle up with the boys, but they aren't as nasty to each other as they used to be. They seem to have settled into a detente.

Tweak still cracks me up with her little mind games, though. She knows that the boys are still intimidated by her, so she likes to place herself strategically-- stretching out on her back at the foot of the stairs so that they can't get around her, for instance, or laying in wait around a corner for them and pouncing them when they blithely stroll into her trap. She also guards the cat door at the top of the basement stairs, from either side. She truly enjoys positioning herself on one side of the door and slapping the head of whoever comes through. This is why we have to keep a litterbox on the second floor as well as in the basement-- she can't guard both flights of stairs simultaneously, so this way she can't block access to a potty.

Kaos is still his full-throttle, romping, clownish self. He likes to play The Floor Is Lava and see if he can get all the way around any given floor without touching the ground. So far he's broken one lamp, a glass plate and a couple of candles. He's also started Midnight Love sessions with us. He's figured out that about half an hour to an hour after we have gone to bed, if he walks around us, over us and between us purring loudly, he will have us to himself and will get concentrated love and attention. BikerDude particularly likes to watch TV for a little while before going to sleep, and Kaos uses that time to just be silly. He throws himself against use, taking turns headbutting first BikerDude, then me. He crawls up onto us and rolls around, with varying degrees of success depending on how we are laying (I have some hard-to-explain scratches on my hip because I was laying on my side one night when he tried to roll around on my hip, started to slide off, and dug his claws in to regain purchase). He does the Bengal purr-chirp during this time-- purring so hard that he chirps. It's really cute, lucky for him.

I keep telling him that those little love sessions buy him a lot of free spins. I think he knows this.

Razor is still figuring out the whole lap thing. He still insists on laying upside down-- with his head and front paws on my waist and his butt on my shoulder. He now lets me flip him around right-side-up most of the time, and will settle down, purring and chirping and enjoying the attention. His favorite time to do this, though, is in the evening when I'm trying to read the paper (operative word: Trying). He's also started to get into BikerDude's lap while he's working on the computer--that is, when Tweak hasn't already claimed the lap for herself.

Tweak is still unquestionably BikerDude's cat. I am a distant second-place servant/attendant, but she will come to me when BikerDude has thrown her out of his lap at the computer. She has also started regularly slaughtering her toys and bringing us the kill, frequently in the middle of the night. For some reason, she prefers wand toys, which makes me think she may have killed a few snakes or lizards in her feral days. Or she's just being a weirdo. Totally possible.

Anyway, the time has come to invest in a good cat tree. This ought to be entertaining...

Monday, May 4, 2009


I came home tonight and found that Cinnamon had died.  I am so heartbroken.

Two weeks ago she was diagnosed with HCM, a fatal heart condition.  I knew that she could go at anytime, but this still really sucks.

The good news is that I'm pretty sure she didn't suffer.  She was fine this morning-- a little slower, as she has been recently, but she sat on the dresser and messed with me as I put on my makeup as usual and ate her breakfast.  

She had already had two small blood clots because of the HCM.  Clearly the third one was bigger.

I'm so glad I have my other kitties, but I am going to miss the little baby cat.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Senioritis is an ugly thing

BikerDude is gearing up for his last push. Graduation is May 17 on Long Island, but he will still have to finish his last three classes-- simultaneously. The deal was that he could walk in May graduation if he finished his remaining classes by July, and he will meet that deadline, but the most he's ever taken at a time up until now is two, so he's going to have to work hard to finish out undergrad life. That seems appropriate. After that, he will have the entire months of July and August off before he starts grad school at BTSR in the fall.

Remember Senioritis? That blissful illness that befalls those about to graduate, when the end of the race is in sight, you know you only have to pass your finals, turn in your last English essay and try not to blow up the school with your chemistry final and then-- FREEDOM!!

Multiply that by about 10 and you get where BikerDude is right now.

He's been working full-time and going to school full time for four years now. He's still looking at four years of grad school, but that is going to be very different-- sort of like senior year after you had gotten all of your acceptance and rejection letters and knew where you'd be going to college in the fall. In fact, along with his formal acceptance letter into BTSR, he was given a grant for having one of the highest GPAs of the incoming class (he will be graduating Summa Cum Laude), but I have reminded him that he still has to actually finish the classes! He will, but he has been spending a lot of time recently daydreaming.

He is specifically daydreaming about his ultimate graduation present. When he graduates from grad school in four years, he wants us to take a month-long cross-country bike trip. For this, we will need, as best as I can tell, a camper and most likely a new bike. Or a second bike.

The camper is easy. There are these super-cool little pop-ups that can be towed by a motorcycle. I grew up camping in a pop-up camper, and I think this sounds fabulous!


As for the second bike, he has determined that we either need to seriously upgrade his current bike or, better yet, buy a bigger one. If you have ever known a biker, you know that one can never own too many bikes. This is his current bike:

This is the one he wants to upgrade to:

Undeniably more comfy-- a rolling Barca Lounger, one might even say. Not that I'm complaining!

The other plan would be for me to get my Piaggio MP3, get comfortable enough riding it to be able and willing to ride it across the country, and for him to take his old bike and us to ride in tandem. I'm thinking that the Barca Lounger has better odds, all things considered.

Anyway, he's got the routes all planned, right down to calculating gas station/rest stops along the way (important for cross-country biking, where you are unlikely to get more than about 100 mile on a tank of gas). We will, apparently, be iron-butting it directly to Denver before the more leisurely aspect of the vacation will kick in, where we will then spend about three weeks touring through the Rockies and the western national parks: Zion, Yosimite, the Grand Canyon, etc. We'll end up in the South Dakota badlands and head home via a more northern route.

This is all fun, but about those final classes...?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Children and dogs

The saying goes that actors should never work with children or dogs. Many cat owners feel the same way, but Bengals are odd cats.

Most cats are leery of strangers, but my Bengals have all, to a greater or lesser extent, been friendly. Cinnamon, however, is in a class by herself. We call her our little Wal-Mart greeter: She runs to the door when strangers come in and DEMANDS attention! She usually hops up on the table that is just inside the door and simply looks cute. Most people can't resist a quick ear-scratch or a pet along the back, but if they ignore her, she will give them a loud MEOW! If they still ignore her, she will begin to pat them, first with her claws in, then with her claws extended. I just tell people, "Do yourself a favor and pet her because she won't leave you alone until you do."

On Halloween, I have to lock her in the basement. She is convinced that all of those trick-or-treaters are there just to see her! Considering that we routinely have between 100-150 trick-or-treaters, she's safer in the basement.

Anyone who comes in and sits down gets even more attention. Shortly after I bought my house, I had a guy in to give me an estimate on siding. He sat on the couch with a clipboard and some samples, and while we were talking, she got on his clipboard in his lap and layed down! Fortunately, he thought it was funny. Even the locksmith couldn't get rid of her. She supervised all of his work and even sat in his lap while he drilled out the place for the new dead bolt. I offered to remove her, but he was fascinated by this little cat who didn't run when he fired up the electric drill.

But where Cinnamon's friendliness really shines is with children. All of my other cats, including my other Bengals, are reasonably friendly to strangers and will usually sashay into the room and check out any newcomers and look for attention and pets, but even they usually avoid small children. Not so with Cinnamon! This was something I noticed from the start. When she was only about 6 months old, some friends came to the house for a cookout and brought their 10 month old baby, who was just starting to crawl. He squealed with delight when he saw my cats (only 2 at the time). Winston took one look and beat it upstairs for most of the duration of their visit, but Cinnamon wasn't the least bit bothered.

With the baby sitting on his mom's lap, Cinnamon hopped up into her lap as well and sniffed the little visitor. He laughed and touched her fur and her ears, and other than squinting a little when he pulled her ear, she didn't react, just arched her back when he touched it. He was enthralled! It worked well for me-- I had assiduously baby-proofed the house, but was a little concerned that he would get bored since I didn't have a lot of toys or baby-appropriate things to play with. Not a problem! He spent the entire day following her around and around: Kitchen to dining room to living room back down the hall to the kitchen. She stayed ahead of him-- just out of reach-- occasionally pausing to let him catch up to her and pet her. She never scratched, bit or hissed and only hopped up into a chair out of his way if she felt the least bit threatened. The perfect baby cat!

I didn't know for sure if her reaction was specific to that child, but over the years I've discovered that it was not. Another friend visited with her young daughter and Cinnamon was equally comfortable with her. More recently, my sister had a baby girl (my niece Smiling Eyes) a little over a year ago and Cinnamon has adopted her as a Favorite Small Person. Every time my sister and her husband visit, Cinnamon immediately finds Smiling Eyes and touches noses for a greeting, much to my niece's delight. Sis and her husband have two cats of their own-- big old boys, a Siamese and a part Russian Blue that each had before they got married-- but they still stay pretty clear of Smiling Eyes. She's 16 months old now and quite mobile, so they have had to improve their evasive maneuvers! Not so with Cinnamon. She hops right up to the toddler and demands ear scratches and pets along her back. Even if Smiling Eyes grabs her tail or a handfull of fur, Cinnamon just steps out of reach to let her know this isn't acceptable.

Razor and Kaos are more wary and tend to steer clear and observe from a distance, but they also can't stand the idea of someone else getting attention, so when they were up Palm Sunday to visit, Smiling Eyes ended up petting all three Bengals. Kaos is almost as friendly and fearless as Cinnamon, so it only took a few minutes of Cinnamon getting attention before he had to insert himself into the scene. Razor approached from the rear and carefully sniffed her from behind before allowing himself to be gingerly petted, but when she let out a loud laugh, he high-tailed it to the staircase and watched through the bannister.

Last fall our church had a St. Francis of Assisi Blessing of the Animals service, so I took Cinnamon to represent the other cats. There was no way I was going to take all of them, but I didn't trust the boys. Even with a harness and leash, I would be the one standing under a tree with my arm straight up in the air, tightly gripping the end of a leash that disappeared into the foliage. I love my boys, but I am realistic about their behavior!

Cinnamon was in her element, once she got over being a little freaked at being outside (she's strictly an indoor cat). I had her in a harness and leash, but still carried her around. Once she realized that all she had to do to participate was let people pet her, fawn over her and tell her how cute she was, she was completely on board with the whole idea! She got lots of attention and had a great day!

Knowing all of this about our cats and their reactions, we thought we knew what to expect when we agreed to puppy-sit for one of BikerDude's friends. The puppy in question was a 10 week old Australian Shepherd named Maya-- a blue merle, odd-eyed ball of fluff and energy. We both work close to home, so it was easy for one of us to slip home during the day and let her out in the early months, until she grew enough that she could be left alone all day. It gave us a fun-but-temporary puppy fix and did a favor for the friend, as well.

We introduced the cat to the puppy gradually, by leaving her in her crate initially until they had a chance to sniff her and scope her out. Next we kept her on a leash or held her in our laps-- they were very curious and immediately checked her out. Once she was allowed to run loose, we blocked off the bottom of the stairs so that the cats could get on the stairs to get away. She's a smart dog, so it didn't take her long to bypass our obstacles, but we kept changing them around and foiled most of her attempts to chase the cats up the stairs. Patches, our old lady cat, was still alive during this, so she would usually just retreat upstairs and stay there while the puppy was around.

Maya was an energetic puppy and LOVED the cats! They were way better than any other toy! Much to our surprise, the cat who quickly adopted her was Razor. He was the most timid of the Bengals in every other new situation we had introduced them to, but he quickly discovered that the puppy was an excellent playmate! He would chase her, let her chase him, wrestle with her and play keep-away by jumping just out of her reach and tormenting her. Kaos and Cinnamon played along occasionally, but Razor was always up for a game of chase, and he would even put her in a headlock and bathe her ears.

Maya's instincts quickly emerged and before long she was trying to herd the cats. This was just as hilarious as it sounds: She would chase them and nip at their heels, which would earn her a swat on the nose. She would corner them in the kitchen, then they would confound her by either jumping over her or, when she got a little bigger (and a little wiser), jumping up on the kitchen counter and escaping over her head. The look on her face was priceless: Australian Shepherds are cattle dogs, and cows don't go vertical. This was not a move that her instincts could account for! She would look at them with a mixture of "That's not fair!" and "How did you do that?" that always made us laugh.

But she was really good at trajectories. When she would chase them and they would jump the barrier and run upstairs, she would run along the hallway into the kitchen, because if the stairs didn't go up to the second floor, that was where their trajectory would have taken them. She would run into the kitchen, looking up at the ceiling. She knew where they were, she just couldn't figure out how to get to them!

Because of the cats, she learned a lot of interesting techniques that I'll wager most Aussie's don't know. Our friend was a little precious and worried about his poor little darling, apparently thinking that because she was a girl she was a delicate little flower. What he clearly didn't understand was that she was a moose, a bull in a china shop. Female she may be, but delicate: Not! Early on he was terrified that she would fall off of a piece of furniture or trip trying to go down stairs and break a leg. Imagine his horror the first time he came by to pick her up and found her mid-chase with the cats, following them as the went through the dining room, into the living room, up onto the ottoman, then bouncing off the seat of the chair to clear the back like a low hurdle, landing at a full run down the hall to the kitchen!

She also liked to nap in the picture window, long past the time when she was really to big to do so. Seeing a cat or two curled up in the window is cozy; seeing a good-sized dog there is just weird, especially when she would roll over on her back to toast her tummy in the afternoon sun.

The friend finally decided that enough was enough when he offered her a dog toy and she turned it down in favor of one of the cat's catnip mice. By that time she was old enough to spend the day with his other Aussie. Her house training was complete and she was big enough to hold her own against the full-grown boy. Apparently she has now surpassed her brother in the number and complexity of tricks that she has learned, and her new favorite game is playing Frisbee with Daddy! And she still loves kitties!

What can I say. They were a bad influence.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Water Babies

One of the traits that sets Bengals apart from other cats is their attraction to water. I discovered this with Winston right away, because from Day One he thought of his water bowl as a toy, and he did so until the day he died.

When I got Winston, I didn't think I needed to buy a lot of stuff-- just food and litter, mostly-- because I had had a cat for 10 years. I had a lovely little matching bowl set for food and water-- typical ceramic "cat size" bowls, one for food, one for water. I kept them in the far end of the kitchen on a little kitty placemat. Shortly after I got Winston, I came home to find a toy floating in the water bowl. I thought it was an accident and that the water on the floor came from his attempts to get the toy out of the bowl, so I scooped it out, wrung it out and set it to dry on the kitchen sink.

Winston came in and sniffed around the bowl, then left. A few minutes later, he came in carrying another toy in his mouth and dropped it directly into the freshly-filled water bowl and began to smack it around, clearly enjoying the splashes he was making. Shocked, I told him to knock it off, took the toy, and threw it out of the kitchen into the dining room. He ran after it and fetched it back... and dropped it right back into the water bowl. A new game! Awesome!

A few days later, I came home and found a trail of water from the kitchen to the dining room and the water bowl upside down under the dining room table. I knew that this called for additional methods, so I went to the pet store and found a weighted food/water dish designed for large dogs. The thing was made out of some sort of resin with weights incorporated so that it looked like it had been carved from a block of black marble. It looked cool, but the key feature was that it weighed approximately five pounds with most of the weight in the base, so it was virtually impossible for a 6 lb. kitten to tip over or drag. It was, however, possible to splash all of the water out of it for an impressive distance in all directions around the fixed point of the bowl, as both Winston and I soon discovered.

He didn't limit himself to the water dish, either. I came home one day and found him bathing himself. When I scooped him up, I discovered that he was soaking wet up to his armpits. I searched the apartment to find out where he had gotten into the much water and discovered that I had accidentally left the lid to one of the toilets up. Apparently he had a little pool party in my absence! He had managed to splash most of the water out of the bowl all over the bathroom floor, and as I mopped it up, he was still splashing around in it, chasing droplets and the edge of the mop.

He also had to learn a few realities about water, though. Like the fact that if you play in water then get immediately into your litter box that contains clumping cat litter, you end up with a condition that can best be described as "concrete toes," and that despite your howls of protest, your mother will insist on chipping all of the offending material away, removing most of the fur in the process. He walked around with some very sad-looking little pink toes until the fur grew back.

I also learned the hard way to lock him out of the bathroom, again, despite his howls of protest, if I wanted to take a bath. He didn't usually get into the shower with me unless he fell in from the side of the tub (which he did fairly frequently as a kitten, less often as he got older), but he couldn't resist a tub full of water. The first time he got in with me, I had to be very careful to get him out without ending up with scratches in places that I didn't want to have to explain to my doctor!

I used to warn my guests that if they were drinking water, they should not set their cup down on the floor or the furniture. He ignored other liquids, interestingly enough (soda, tea, etc.), but if there was a glass of water he would walk up to it and stick his foot in it. I had to explain him a lot.

I think his favorite thing that I ever brought home was the kitty water fountain. I finally decided to give it a try because he kept splashing the water out of the water bowl, and I figured that he would be hard-pressed to make a BIGGER mess than he already was. Besides, the fountain had a filter on it, which would hopefully cut down on how often I would have to wash the whole thing (with Winston floating his toys and putting his feet in the water dish all of the time, I usually had to wash it 2 or 3 times a day). He LOVED it! Lots of water, some of it bubbling, and when he floated his toys there was enough water for there to be a little current that would spin them! Hours of entertainment!

When I had just him and then him and Cinnamon, I would take them with me when I visited my parents. Mom never got used to the water thing. We'd be in the dining room eating and we'd hear the tell-tale splish-splish-splish that told us that Winston was digging in the water bowl. Mom would tell him to stop it, he would totally ignore her, so she'd get up and go scoop him up and fuss at him while cradling him like a baby. I think on some level she knew that he was manipulating her-- he would splash in the water bowl to get attention, and boy, did it work!

Cinnamon has never shown any particular interest in water, but the new boys certainly do. We usually have one or both of them in the shower with us, sitting on the side of the tub between the shower curtain and the liner. They haven't yet discovered the fun of floating toys in the water fountain, but Razor did start to get into the toilet once when BikerDude left the lid up (fortunately I caught him before he could make too big of a mess). They both like to get in the shower after we're done and splash around in the puddles and get in the sink while the water is running and play with the stream of water.

Like Winston, their lack of fear of water can make discipline challenging, too. Long ago I discovered that water bottles can be effective, but with Winston, they were a game. I'd squirt him, he'd jump down and run away, but then he'd run right back as if to say, "Do it again!" Kaos does this, too. Tweak runs off and beats up another cat. But that's why she wears the "Bad Kitty" tag.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


It's been interesting watching the boys as they have settled into our household. It's fun to watch their individual personalities emerge as they become comfortable.

Kaos adapted almost immediately, but that's not surprising. He is a confident, laid-back cat with an insatiable curiosity and absolute confidence that he will be accepted, admired and treated well wherever he goes. He has never met a stranger: He likes to go up to "new friends" and give them a thorough sniff, check out any packages they may have brought in, stick his nose in their coat or shirt pocket, and offer his ears for a quick scratch. If you pick him up, he curls up into your arms and looks around from this new, interesting vantage point. Kaos is by far the most agile of our cats, but he therefore takes the greatest risks, occasionally leading to some spectacular crashes. It doesn't phase him in the least, though. He'll just keep trying 'til he succeeds. This is how he has learned to balance on the railing at the top of the stairs, perch on top of my closet door and lay down across the top of the clothes hanging in my closet.

Perhaps his most impressive trick, however, is balancing on the "cannonball" tops of our four-poster bed. This bed, a 1920s or '30s era reproduction of an antique set, has eyeball-level posts that culminate in balls about the size of a softball. Kaos can perch like a circus monkey with all four paws on one ball. He then bounces off of the matress and lands on another ball, leaps to the top of the shelves next to my side of the bed or launches himself directly onto whichever of the other hapless cats happens to be trying to nap on the bed. It's hardly a stealth move, but he still manages to catch them occasionally off guard.

Razor has been slower to settle in. This may be partly because he was in foster care longer, so it may have taken him longer to decide that this was truly his "forever home," but I think a lot of it is just his personality. Razor is a friendly cat, but not as exuberant as Kaos. He assesses situations before crashing into them, but his curiosity gets the best of him (especially if he sees Cinnamon or Kaos getting attention), and he likes to meet and greet visitors. He has only recently allowed me to start picking him up. He will relax for a minute and purr loudly, even letting me pet his head and snuggle him under my chin, but usually he will want to get down pretty quickly. I let him down when he asks so that he will let me pick him up again. Gradually, the lap time has gotten longer.

Razor does love attention, but likes to be in control. He loves to catch me when I'm reading and get behind me on the sofa or chair, then creep down my shoulder and walk across my lap between my eyes and the book, sometimes pausing long enough to draw his tail under my chin. Just passing through...

I call these his "drive-by" cuddles.

Razor is actually probably the smartest of the cats. He's the one who figured out how to work the toddler latches on the kitchen cabinets and still enjoys breaking into the food locker. He also likes to carry things around the house, so when something odd (a bottle of baby aspirin/Baby Jesus from the nativity set) turns up someplace where we usually don't keep it (under the dining room table/in the fireplace), I have a pretty good idea who is responsible.

Recently, he has started following me into the bathroom in the mornings and demanding belly rubs. He flings himself down on the bathmat in front of the tub and rolls around on his back, purring loudly, until I stop whatever I'm doing and rub his belly. Sometimes he will respond by clamping up on my hand with all fours, but usually once he has me in his grip, he just washes my hand.

His favorite game, though, is wrestling with the other cats. Kaos is his favorite target, and sometimes we will hear Razor walking around the house yowling, calling Kaos to come out and play. He doesn't usually bother with stalking: He just walks right up to Kaos and starts grooming him, then grooms a little harder, then pins him down to really wash those ears, then puts him in a headlock and pins him to the floor. Not very subtle. He does the same thing with Cinnamon, but she is quicker on the uptake and faster than Kaos, so she usually worms her way out of his grip before he can advance too far (she grew up with a bigger, older brother who used the same technique, so she's an old pro). So far he hasn't really tried it with Tweak. She still intimidates him.

I am so glad that we decided to get both boys instead of one or the other. They keep each other entertained and are a great outlet for each other. If we had just one of them, either of them would drive Cinnamon and Tweak crazy. As it is they can take out their aggressive play on each other and leave the other cats to join in or observe at will. It's a nice arrangement.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Remembering a Friend

I just found out that my former youth pastor passed away after an all-to-lengthy battle with cancer. Let me tell you about him.

Youth pastors occupy an odd place in the spectrum of ministerial positions. Many end up elevated to Personality Cult levels by their young charges, but at the same time, they are watched with skeptical eyes, always searching for that Greatest of Adult Sins: Hypocrisy. Nothing will cost a youth pastor his or her standing faster than being branded a hypocrite, and it is a charge that most teenagers will find unforgivable.

John came to West Lynchburg Baptist Church following in the footsteps of a youth pastor who had achieved that Personality Cult standard, and many of the older kids were prepared to despise him immediately because he wasn't the One Who Had Left. But John was made of stronger stuff. He was a Vietnam vet, after all, and yet one of the gentlest of souls. He was laid back and easy-going, engaging in conversations with us from the beginning, making sure that we understood that he was listening to us. Whether or not it was deliberate, it was the perfect formula: Every teenager, more than anything else, wants to be listened to.

John did not coddle us. He challenged us. He would not let us take anything for granted. It wasn't enough to show up to youth group and spout the appropriate phrases and Bible verses, he was constantly questioning us: WHY do you believe that? Is that what you really believe? Defend yourself. He was the Devil's Advocate in the best sense of the phrase, making us really think about our beliefs and refine them. He assisted us through that transition from childhood to adulthood, from believing what our parents and elders had always taught us to understanding and refining our own beliefs so that by the time we went out into the world, our beliefs were OURS. We knew what we believed, but more importantly, we knew why.

The greatest lesson that he taught us was to question everything. It isn't enough to repeat what you hear, you must consider the source, consider what is behind it and evaluate everything. This sounds subversive and, I suppose, in many ways it was, but he was a child of the '60s and had absorbed the lesson that Questioning Authority was sometimes necessary. Some parents were less than delighted that John encouraged their children to ask uncomfortable questions, but many, mine included, understood what a healthy approach this was.

By the time I went to college, I was not ready to fall for the latest trend. I knew what I believed and why, and this made me comfortable and self-confident when it came to meeting people who didn't share my beliefs. They were no threat to me, after all-- I knew what I believed!-- and I learned a lot over the years from some very interesting people by engaging with them, frequently with the same questions that John and posed to me: Why do you believe that? What are the ramifications of your belief? Have you considered these alternate approaches? It lead to some wonderful friendships and long, late-night conversations with people who I might have otherwise avoided because they didn't believe what I did.

And John never ducked the difficult questions. In youth group we discussed rock music and what effect it might have (a big concern in the late '70s and early '80s when burning and smashing albums seemed to be a national pasttime). We talked about dating-- not just "Don't have sex" but love and relationships and the importance of spirituality and family and, yes, sex. We talked about drugs and friends, crime and politics, theology and the importance of standing up for what you believe in.

Every teenager should have a John in their lives-- an adult who loves and cares and forces them to think for themselves. And most of all, someone who isn't their parent who says to them, "What you have to say is important, and I am listening."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Different Kind of Cat

After Sammy Cat died, I didn't really know what to expect with this new little bundle of fur who had found his way into my apartment.  Part of me felt guilty:  I was still mourning Sammy and I knew that I would never love another cat the way I loved her.  Winston was adorable-- and lovable-- but he just wasn't Sammy.  Of course, as anyone who has lost a pet and adopted a subsequent one knows, it's true:  You never love two pets the same way.  This is why pets are good for us, because the prepare us for life with humans, too.  Winston was no Sammy, but I came to discover that Sammy was no Winston.  

Samantha was the Queen of All She Surveyed.  She was the epitome of royalty, a beautiful, elegant seal-point Siamese with hyacinth-blue eyes that looked like crackle glass.  She was stunning, and if you weren't sure, you only had to ask her.  SHE thought that she was gorgeous!

Winston was so different.  Yes, he was a male, obviously, and he was still a kitten (five months old, but still a kitten), but it was clear from the beginning that his personality was just... different.  

Whatever Samantha did, she looked like she meant to do it.  Fall off the furniture?  I meant to do that.  On one of his first days in my apartment, Winston was bathing himself on the ottoman and simply lost track of where he was and fell right off the edge-- boom!  He looked around, startled to find himself in a different place.  But rather than shrug it off with an "I meant to do that" attitude, I could almost see him shrug his shoulders and say, "Whoops!  I fell!"  then immediately he resumed his bath on the floor, where he had landed.  

If Samantha was a Queen, Winston was the Court Jester.  Not a regal bone in his body.

Similarly, while Samantha enjoyed being picked up and would frequently climb into my lap for cuddles, she would only allow herself to be held certain ways, and NEVER on her back (as my veterinarian discovered once to the amusement of me and the vet tech).  When I picked Winston up, he would go limp, the Amazing Jello Cat!  I could cradle him on his back like a baby and he would purr and put his paw on my cheek.  He would climb up on my chest and tuck his head under my chin, then give me upper-cut head butts.  But his greatest trick was his dismount.  He would lay in my arms on his back, stretching his front paws out over his head and looking down.  I would slightly tilt him and shift his weight, and he would pour out of my arms, backwards and head first, then land on the ground first with his front paws, then his back.  I called it Pouring Out the Kitty, and he did it his whole life, even when he weighed 18 lbs.

Kaos will sort of let me do that, too, but he's the only other cat I've met who tolerates being poured.

The other thing I had to adjust to was deliberate disobedience.

Whenever I caught Sammy getting ready to do something she wasn't supposed to do-- say, eat a plant-- all I had to do was say her name, "Sammy Cat..."  She would then begin an elaborate charade of carefully sniffing the plant, the pot, the rug under the plant, and would eventually look at me with a wounded expression, as if to say, "I was just admiring this beautiful plant.  How dare you accuse me of eating it!  I know I'm not supposed to do that!"  Then she would casually saunter away, biding her time until I wasn't looking.

Winston was completely different.  If I saw him getting ready to eat a plant, I could say, "Winston!" and he would look at me then go right back to eating the plant.  His expression was more, "Want me to stop?  Make me!"  No cat is totally obedient (hah! no kidding!), but Samantha at least had the decency to pretend to obey when I was LOOKING RIGHT AT HER and she KNEW it!  Not so with Winston.  He would look at me and push something off of a shelf, maintaining eye contact the whole time.  Little twerp.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Winston Comes Home

My first cat after I left home was a beautiful seal-point Siamese that I adopted in law school named Samantha (aka, Sammy Cat or Slammy Cat). One of her most notable eccentricities was that she HATED other cats. With a passion! She would sit on the balcony of my apartment and growl at other cats sitting on their balconies, and on the rare occasion she actually encountered another cat, she would react with the Banshee Scream From Hell and scare the bejeebers out of them. Truly obnoxious.

Sammy Cat died after a bout with a nasty form of cancer and I was devastated. A co-worker whom I knew bred and showed cats had been kindly following the saga (it was 8 months from her diagnosis 'til her death) and had offered support throughout. She saw me a week or so after Sammy's death and stopped me to express her condolences. I told her that as much as I missed Sammy, I was going to have to get another cat soon because my apartment was way too quiet, and coming home to an empty apartment was just worse.

Janet paused and looked thoughtful. Finally, she said, "I normally wouldn't offer a cat to someone who had just lost their beloved pet, but I have a unique situation." Janet was getting ready to get married, and she was marrying another cat breeder that she had met on the show circuit, so they were going to be combining catteries. Between them, including pets, kittens and everything they had almost 40 cats, so they were looking to thin the herd! They had agreed that they were not going to keep any more kittens that they couldn't sell-- they had to find homes for cats who were not already household pets.

She went on to explain that she had this one kitten... he was five months old and all of his littermates had been placed. The folks on her "kitten list" didn't really want him because his markings were very poor. She said that he was a very sweet boy, very social, and from a litter from one of her favorite cats, a melanistic (black-on-black) girl. I asked her what kind of cat he was and she said, "A Bengal. Specifically, he's a seal-lynx point, or snow leopard Bengal." My first thought was, "What's a Bengal?" I had to go back to my office and look them up on the Internet to see what she was talking about.

The next morning, Janet played a very dirty trick. She left two Polaroids of this adorable kitten on my desk! He looked for all the world like a lynx-point Siamese: A cream colored cat with tabby markings on his face, ears, feet and tail. As it turns out, that was the problem: He was supposed to have spots on his body, and he didn't. He looked like this:

Now, I ask you, was this fair?

Cut to a year or so later. Winston was driving me crazy. He was certainly fun and lovable and incredibly goofy, but he CRAVED attention! From the time I got home he was Velcro-Kitty: Every time I sat down he was in my lap. He wanted to play all of the time, and we would play fetch with his furry toys for half and hour at a time. Winston was always a Night Crawler, so after I went to bed, he'd be up and around, getting bored, and he'd start to bring me toys. I would wake up surrounded by cat toys-- mice, fur balls, pom-poms, even his fishing toys with the long sticks! When he really wanted to get my attention, he'd dunk the soft toys in his water dish first then drop them on my bed. There's nothing like reaching over and finding a cold, wet, slimy fur toy right next to your pillow... If I still insisted on sleeping, he'd jump up on one of my dressers and start knocking things off until I yelled at him.

I was getting pretty exasperated and asked Janet and my vet what to do. They both had the same conclusion: Get another cat. Why on earth would I want to do that when the one was driving me insane??!! Janet explained that Winston had been raised in a house full of cats and was very social. He was lonely, and I was his only playmate. Get him a playmate and some of the neurotic behavior would cease. What sealed the deal was that my sister went out of town for 2-3 weeks and I kept her cat Ivan for her. Winston and Ivan were already friends (they were the same age), and Winston's behavior improved dramatically as soon as Ivan was there. After he left, the antics started up again. I was convinced.

I asked Janet if she had any more cats available. As it turns out, she did. She and her husband also did Bengal rescue and they had brought in a mother and kittens shortly before. They had all been placed, but when they came in they brought feline herpes virus with them, and two of Janet's kittens had gotten infected. The kittens would outgrown the virus (it's like a bad cold, but it lasts for several weeks or months), but she couldn't sell them because they had snotty, crusty noses and teary eyes and just didn't look healthy. She brought me: Cinnamon, a tiny brown spotted Bengal with the cutest turned-up nose you've ever seen.

I think Winston thought that I had brought him a pet, but he quickly discovered that even though she was a fraction of his size, she was clearly in charge. They remained best buddies until his untimely death in 2007.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Moment Has Come

Thoughts on an amazing, historic day.

The weather in DC was beautiful-- cold as all get out, but clear and sunny. The crowds, which are IMMENSE, are good humored and well-behaved. I understand the pull. It’s one of those events that in years to come, it would be fun to say, “I was there!” But personally, I enjoyed watching CNN’s telecast on the flat screen TV in the Newly Redecorated Lunch Room at our office, sipping coffee and comfortably seated. Apparently a woman fell onto the Metro tracks, but her injuries are, and I quote, not life-threatening.

The views of the Mall were just unbelievable: Solid people from the Capitol building all the way back and around the Washington Monument. There were even people sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial!

Aretha Franklin's hat was... amazing.

The John Williams air on Simple Gifts was amazing (shout out to Karen D!). Of course, it's hard to go wrong with Itzhak Perlman and Yo Yo Ma.

How sad that the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court messed up the oath of office. I guess he didn’t want to split the infinitive, but, Mr. Strict Constructionist, one should not edit the Constitution, even for sound grammatical reasons. :-) Obama hesitated, and you could almost see his dilemma: Do I repeat what he just said, or do I say the oath the correct way? I actually feel sorry for Chief Justice Roberts: What a way to blow your moment in the spotlight!

Great speech, not surprisingly. I especially enjoyed when President Obama (love typing that!) got to the part in his speech about how we will not succeed by our power alone, and the cameras cut to Former President Shrub. If a camera cut can be pointed, that one was!

Malia and Sasha were adorable. Michelle's chartreuse outfit was fabulous, and I was amused to see Malia recording her dad's speech on her digital camera. It appeared to be a Flip!.

How much fun to watch!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Bengals Gone Wild

BikerDude and I were lounging around the living room the other night watching the playoffs on TV and watching our two Bengal Boys wrestling. Kaos tried to escape Razor by jumping onto the coffee table, but he only succeeded in clearing it of an empty plate, a stack of mail and a dish containing random change and small objects. A few minutes later, Razor abandoned his attempts to eviscerate his brother and jumped on top of the TV and tried to nonchalantly step over onto the mantle. I said his name, so he withdrew... and promptly fell off of the TV, taking our three NetFlix DVDs with him. BikerDude opined that of the many ways in which we are compatible, how many people would find our Bengals' antics funny and not immediately send the little buggers packing to the shelter?

For those who are not acquainted with the Bengal breed, they are a designer breed of cat that have become disturbingly popular in recent years. The original goal of the breed was to produce domestic cats who look like wild cats. This is accomplished by cross breeding a small wild cat-- Asian Leopard Cats, a small jungle cat found in Indonesia and Thailand and thereabouts-- with a domestic cat. Bengals have to be at least four generations removed from a wild ancestor to be considered a Bengal-- everything prior to that is considered a hybrid or foundation generation cat. They are domestic cats. They are not wild cats. But they do retain some traits from their wild ancestors, not only their striking looks but also their athleticism.

I am always amused when I read something about Bengals and run across euphemisms like, "This is a high energy breed." Ha! No kidding! They are the Jack Russell Terriers of cat breeds. Anyone looking for a cat that will sleep quietly on the couch needs to look elsewhere-- Bengals are into everything. The tend to be very people-oriented, so they will likely be wherever you are, and they raise curiosity to an art form.

We got our two guys from Bengal Rescue last May. They were both about a year old at the time and came from very different backgrounds, but they had been together in the same foster home and played well together, so we got them both. They look nothing alike even though they are both brown marbles, and their personalities are very different, but we have discovered that in addition to playing well together, they also conspire. Working together, they first figured out how to get into the cabinet where I kept their dry food, eventually breaking the toddler latch. Yes, they figured out how to work toddler latches, at least from the outside. They let themselves into the cabinets, but sometimes get stuck and one of us has to let them out.

Since they were making such a mess of the cabinet by spilling kitty crunchies all over it, I bought a food locker from PetSmart:

Razor quickly figured out how to pry the door open (even though it snaps shut--he has long, monkey fingers instead of toes), so we started to find a cat butt sticking out of the food locker while happy munching sounds echoed in the kitchen. I retaliated by putting a small screwdriver through the tab in the top of the door (it's made so that you can put in a lock or a latch). That took him about 24 hours to figure out. I've stopped bothering because he just walks up to the locker, smacks the screwdriver out of the hole, flips open the door and starts eating, even though these are the exact same crunchies that are in the bowl not three feet away. Apparently kitty crunchies taste better if you hunt and kill them yourself. Next step is a padlock, although I wouldn't be surprised to see Razor with a little set of lock picks.

Here's a photo of the little delinquents. They are, from left to right, Cinnamon, Razor and Kaos:

Friday, January 2, 2009


Well, we knew that this day would come, but it came quicker than we expected.  BikerDude and I took Patches to the vet this morning and had her put to sleep.  A sucky way to start the new year, to be sure, but without a doubt the right thing to do.

The night before last, after we went to bed and were watching TV, she started wandering around the room and crying like she didn't know where she was.  We took her into bed with us and she eventually settled down and started purring, enjoying all of the attention, but she still acted like she couldn't see, and she was very unsteady on her feet.  She slept all day yesterday, but last night BikerDude found her in the basement.  She had wandered into a tipped over (empty) trash can and couldn't figure out how to get out.  He brought her upstairs and she spent the entire evening in our laps.  At some point when I was holding her, she settled down like she was going to sleep, but I told BikerDude that I thought she had lost consciousness.  She never really regained it.

We put her in a carrier last night just to keep the other cats from pestering her and to keep her from wandering around (although that didn't seem likely, it was a horrifying idea).  This morning she was clearly unconscious, but still breathing.  Barely.  I had called the vet last night and told them we were bringing her in first thing when they opened at 8:00, so we just wrapped her in a towel and took her up there.  The vet didn't arrive until 8:30, which they apologized for, but once he did it was quick and peaceful.  He confirmed what we suspected:  That the cancer had gotten to her brain.  He said the symptoms were textbook.

Poor baby.  She didn't deserve that.  But she had a very good life right up until the end.  We are going to miss her horribly, though.

This is the part about having pets that just SUCKS!

I'm glad we've got the other circus monkeys to come home to.  Cuddling another warm, furry, purry body in these circumstances definitely helps.  

BikerDude got Patches in California when she was just a kitten.  A little girl outside of a Target had a box of kittens that she was giving away, and Patches was the smallest one with the brightest eyes and most inquisitive personality.  She and BikerDude immediately bonded, and even though he had ostensibly gotten her for MonkeyChild, who was four at the time, they both say that it was quickly apparent that she had adopted HIM.  Everyone else was second place, at best.  They already had a big black male cat named Honey, and she proceeded to harass Honey to within an inch of his life.  

She never got to be more than about six pounds.  For the first three years, they couldn't get her spayed because she never weighed enough.  They finally had to deliberately fatten her up to get her over the weight limit so that they could do the surgery.  You'd never know it from looking at her, though.  With her, it was never about size, it was all about attitude!

More than anything, she loved to be held.  And she was determined.  BikerDude used to mess with her by rolling over while she was laying on top of him.  No matter how he rolled, she would log-roll with him and stay on top.  Finally, she would get disgusted with him and give him a fussy little "Me-yowp!" that rather clearly translated into, "Knock that shit off!"

When BikerDude and I were planning our wedding, we moved his cats into my house a few months in advance so that (a) my two and his two could get used to each other and (b) we wouldn't have to deal with introducing cats at the same time that we were moving him and MonkeyChild in.  The day we brought her in, she got out of the carrier, began to sniff around, and clearly decided, "This will do nicely."  Despite the fact that one of my cats, Winston, was easily three times her size, she was in charge from the moment she came through the door.  For the most part, Winston deferred to her, but occasionally he would challenge her authority and she would, not to put too fine a point on it, kick his ass.  Finally, a trip to the vet to fix a scratched cornea (she never messed around in fights, but always went straight for the head shot) convinced him to maintain a respectful distance.  I think she secretly kind of liked the big goofball, though-- I would occasionally catch her grooming him when she didn't know anyone was looking.

By the time Tweak and then the two current Bengal Boys came into the picture, she was older, grumpier and, we now know, sicker, and she didn't have a lot of tolerance for their foolishness.  But she still ruled the roost and frequently beat the hell out of Tweak to make her Respect Her Authority.    Tweak was younger, bigger and stronger, but Patches was still in charge!  All six pounds of her.  Occasionally, we would come home to evidence of a hellacious battle-- tufts of fur everywhere, looking like they had finished off a good sized rat.  But we noticed that all of the scattered fur was always black and white, and Tweak was the one who kept  showing up with gashes on her face, a split ear, scabs on the top of her head, etc.  Patches never had a scratch on her.  One time in particular I watched a quick skirmish on the back of the blue chair.  It was loud and fast, but at the end, Tweak was huddled on the floor with her ears flattened and Patches was on the back of the chair.  While I watched, Patches went, "Phoo!" and spit out a chunk of black fur that floated to the ground.  Game, match, set.

We're going to miss you, Baby Girl.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

I love this time of year. I actually think I like New Year's more than I do Christmas in many ways. No stress, nothing to do, no expectations. I like taking down all of the Christmas decorations, packing them away, cleaning the house and generally getting a fresh start.

The weather has finally turned cold, but last week we had a couple of perfect winter days: Temperatures in the 50's, clear blue skies, light breezes. Everything looks so-- clean. The yard and gardens, the trees and plants all stripped bare of leaves... there's something about the light coming in at a low angle and making the shadows interesting and long. As much as I love the idea of the tropics, I would miss this if I were somewhere that never really got cold.

BikerDude has today off, too, so he's downstairs getting the woodstove going. We had a pretty tame New Year's-- a glass of champagne at midnight, watch the ball drop in Times Square and go to bed. He was going to shoot off some of his totally illegal fireworks, but with the high wind last night he decided that probably wasn't a great idea. Having to explain yourself to the police and the fire department is just not a good way to start things off.

It's going to be an interesting year. This is more than just a new administration. This feels different. I think we are at one of those Moments In History where the country shifts gears. The new leadership has come not a moment too soon-- after several years of false prosperity and eight years with an absolute vacuum of leadership, I think our country is ready to rethink a lot, and thank God we've had the wisdom to put someone into office who can lead us in a responsible way.

May you live in interesting times, indeed.