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.