Saturday, October 31, 2009

Annals of Stupidity, Part 3

This week has been all about cat nursing and housecleaning. Every cat gets an antiviral supplement, lysine, mixed in its food twice a day, but not every cat will eat it. Snalbert is on twice-daily antibiotics and pain injections and is being fed by hand; little Possum is on the same antibiotic and gets little nose-cleaning treatments. Wendy, the kitten with possible ringworm, has had two (difficult) antifungal baths (Possum had one), finished her worming meds, and is being treated with topical gel twice a day. And Snicky is getting her usual steroid and appetite pills, plus potassium mixed in her food.

It's a job to keep track of it all and to make sure the right cat eats the right food. If we end up having to add ringworm meds to the mix, and twice-weekly baths, it will feel like a regular, part-time job.

We're awaiting the first of three weekly calls about the ringworm culture from the vet, after they get the lab's report. Maybe we'll get it on Monday. If there's nothing developing in the culture, that's a good sign; the vet says ringworm usually replicates quickly. But even so, we'll still have two more weeks to wait until we're in the clear. If we get bad news, we start our cleaning and cat-bathing regimen full-blast. In any case, Wendy definitely has something we'll need to keep treating; she has strange gray spots on her ear.

We'd been wondering why my husband's office had a terrible litter-box odor, even though the new, kitten-sized litter box wasn't terrible at all. The smell was affecting the whole apartment. After days of cleaning the box and all its accoutrements, spraying Lysol, airing the place, and lighting candles didn't help, I scrutinized the entire office once more and found the culprit: a large, squashed "cow patty" on the carpet directly in front of my husband's Mac Pro, which sits under his desk. The patterned oriental rug had camouflaged it well; it had been sitting right under my husband's nose as he'd worked for days (actually, he'd given up sitting in there several days earlier). The fan in the computer has been doing a good job of both warming the mess and wafting the odor.

I called my husband at work; he said he was not responsible. Having narrowed the possible culprits down to four, I proceeded to remove the mess and treat the stain with this excellent stain/smell spray remover I got from our vet. I was proud of myself for remembering we had the stuff. 

Then this (click on the image to enlarge it and read the brief transcript):

You're supposed to spray the carpet stain from a standing position to keep away from the fumes, holding the can upside-down. Naturally, I didn't think to cover the Mac, which has a perforated cover in the front and, naturally, my first shot sent a stream of carpet cleaning right into the CPU. I immediately called the spouse to confess. And he was remarkably calm; I think he was in shock. Much of his professional life, including an upcoming book, is in one of the four mega-terrabyte hard drives in that expensive, souped-up Mac.

Then I called Apple, and after reading the tech the ingredients on the can and making a frantic search for the Mac's serial number so he could determine what was directly behind the cover, he suggested keeping the computer turned off for 24 hours to let it dry out. Mercifully it wasn't on when I sprayed it; that would have send the cleaning solvents throughout the circuitry. He also guided me in unplugging the thing; there's a snakes' nest of cables under that desk.

A few hours later, all signs of the bad smell were gone, except for the stain on the rug, which I rolled up. That was Thursday.

On Friday morning, we took most of our rugs to Bon Ton, in Cambridge, which has been cleaning rugs since 1901. This is the place to go for rug cleaning. The man in charge spread out our rugs in their back room/warehouse, and explained differences in knotting techniques to show us why our pretty living-room "Bakhtiari" is really a Sarouk. When we pointed out the nasty smell on the office rug, he didn't flinch.

Back in the incredibly overheated front office, two teeny-tiny, shriveled, ancient ladies silently mended rugs using wool in every color of the rainbow, which hangs all over the walls. They looked like sisters, and must have been hired shortly after the business opened; the excessive heat was clearly keeping them alive in some way we couldn't understand. But if a cool breeze hit one of them, she'd have been done for.

We came home and turned on the computer. It's working fine.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cheating on Toast

I could gross you out by describing what I've learned so far about ringworm, but I think I'll save that scary story for Halloween. I'll just say that I'm slightly less freaked out than I was but only because I'm apparently a very strong person who adapts well to the horrors of this world.

We don't yet have a positive result for the culture they did from Wendy's cute little ear — those can take 3 weeks — but while we wait, we have to take precautions in case she does have The Fungus. So the kittens are getting antifungal shampoos three times a week and Wendy also gets a topical ointment on the little spots on her ears and toe.

And I've been busy with cleaning, Web research, and calling local vets and groomers to see what my options are. I'm getting a lot of conflicting advice; everyone handles it differently. One person will tell me not to panic, and the next person will tell me to panic more. I'm still trying to set up shampoo appointments for our Persians, who are too old and fragile for the traumas of home bathing.

Vets and groomers in this area don't see a lot of ringworm, and so far I've found only one groomer who might do the twice-weekly lime sulfur dips on all four cats that our vet is advising if Wendy is positive for the fungus. This dip smells of rotten eggs so everyone expects you to do it yourself. In your garage. As if. We certainly can't do it here at home.

To reduce the possible microscopic spore population, I've been wiping down walls, mopping, dusting, cleaning under bookcases and radiators, and vacuuming floors and upholstery like mad. I do laundry day and night. Our curtains are down, as is the shower curtain and the bedskirt that covers all the storage tubs stowed under there. Our armchairs are covered with a motley collection of old sheets that are easy to wash. Our rugs will all go away for cleaning on Friday, and I don't expect to be seeing them again for many weeks. The place looks like a very clean wreck, in short.

It's been an interesting week. Well, I said I wanted a "project." And I was stupid enough to name the kitten Wendelina Pantherina, knowing that "pantherina" is the name of a poisonous mushroom. Or fungus. As Tevye says in Fiddler on the Roof: "When you spit in the air, it lands on your face."

Today I cheered myself up with a fake grilled cheese sandwich. You make one by toasting the bread, adding the cheese, and microwaving your creation for about 20 seconds. You get a double-toasty sandwich and no one would be the wiser if you weren't laughing under your breath. It's delicious and fast. I had mine with some roasted tomato-basil soup I froze from last summer. The soup had taken hours to make but the sandwich took about 2 minutes. I preferred the sandwich.

I remember emailing Some Assembly Required about this when I discovered it a few years ago. We correspond regularly on a miscellany of shallow topics, and I remember him saying how odd it seemed that I would like such a sandwich because I'm fussy about cooking. But it's not like I took it out of a mylar package like a Pop-Tart. It's not made with high fructose corn syrup or artificial coloring. It's still an honest-to-god toasted cheese sandwich. It's just been created by someone too lazy and messed-up to get out the frying pan.

A person who has to launder a dozen cat toys and scrub the underside of her box-spring simply does not have time to wait for butter to melt on the stove.

Monday, October 26, 2009

No Retreat, Baby, No Surrender

The Boston Herald reports:

Bruce Springsteen cancels Kansas City show due to death.

Not his own, I was relieved to discover. 
Some people will go to any lengths to avoid Kansas City.

The Worry List

I just need to get this off my chest. Then I can feel better. Maybe you'd like to worry about some of these for me, to give me a break?

1. My husband's job. He is losing a big chunk of his salary next year. His university moved him from full-time to part-timel lecturer status, so even though he'll have the same workload, he'll have half the salary and fewer benefits. Wasn't that nice? He gets rave evaluations from his students for his enthusiasm and teaching skills, has an international reputation in his field, and has published a ton of scholarship. But that's beside the point. He's still waiting for news about the Job of His Dreams, for which he interviewed exactly one year ago tomorrow. He's one of two candidates left standing, we hear, and the university might make a decision in two or three months. Or they may not.

2. My lack of a job.  To make up for that lost income, I need to get a full-time job. But I've been looking for more than a year, and no one is interested an old lady (okay, a very young Baby Boomer) whose top skill these days is whining in her blog. I spend whole days crafting perfect cover letters for appropriate jobs and I never hear a peep. How can I take 15 years off my résumé?

3. The ringworm possibility. I figure we'll know within two weeks. In case our kitten has it, I'm taking precautions now, including cleaning, vacuuming and lots of laundry. I'm going to talk to the vet about vitamins and other supplements to boost all four cats' immune systems, and an antifungal shampoo (that isn't stinky) to use on the two kittens. I'm going to find out if the vet will do the nasty, twice-weekly lime sulfur dips, if the cats need them; I'd rather not be involved in that at any cost. Then I'm going to try to stop worrying about it for awhile, while continuing to vacuum, do hot-water laundry, and wipe down the house daily.

4. The economy. There are no jobs, the banks are still screwed up, and I'm ready for some strong signs of a recovery.

5. The flu. We both need both shots, and there aren't any. I have asthma and my husband teaches 130 students, so we're both at risk.

Okay, that's enough. Time to clean and think positive thoughts. We're healthy, our friends and families are, too. We have many wonderful friends. Ringworm isn't fatal, just icky and tough to eradicate. There's still money in the bank. The kittens are heavenly, if infectious little buggers.  Deep breath, Deep breath....

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Oh, No....

We took Wendy to the vet for her shots today, and Possum joined her in the carrier voluntarily, so he came along. Both finally saw our regular vet for the first time; she hadn't been working on the two days when we needed right-away appointments recently.

Snalbert also had an appointment. Our vet anesthetized him briefly and look down his throat. It is horrendously inflamed, probably from a virus. He'll be getting more pain meds and more soft food. He should get better....

But then the vet spotted a strange patch on Wendy's ear and another on one claw. Thus it begins.

We're waiting for a culture to tell us if she has ringworm. It may take one to three weeks before we know, and if she does, all hell is going to break lose around here. It will be the end of the world as we know it.

It's not terminal, or even life-threatening. But few things suck more than ringworm. I've been Googling it for hours and it's horrendous.

All the cats will need to be bathed a couple of times a week in a disgusting lime-sulfur solution that can be caustic and will turn white fur yellow, along with anything it touches, like marble, wood, jewelry, and fabric. We'd have to saturate each cat, and not rinse it off, just let it dry. And it smells like rotten eggs. (People who have done this advise doing it outside and letting the cat dry in the garage. Ha! What do those of us in little Back Bay apartments do, I wonder?)  These "dips" can go on for a month and often longer, until two new cultures come back clear for all four cats. A culture costs $92.

All four cats will also need oral medication, which costs hundreds of dollars per cat, I hear. There are topical medications for any lesions, as well.

Oh, and we humans can get ringworm, too. Can this get any worse?

Yes. The ringworm spores — it's a fungus, not a worm — can live for 2 years anywhere, so we'll have to disinfect the house and vacuum it to death, and launder and dry clean everything we (or should I say I?) possibly can. And then pray that we and the cats don't get infected down the road. If it sounds like a losing battle, it often is.

I don't think our two old Persians can handle this; they are both fragile right now, and they hate baths in water to the point where we think they're going to die of heart attacks. And their beautiful fur will have to clipped short for this, too. Their fur is their dignity.

Our two kittens may suffer just as much. Wendy thinks getting a liquid medication once a day is sufficient torture for her to avoid us the rest of the time. And poor, gorgeous Possum just doesn't deserve this. Unless he's the carrier. Sometimes a cat can spread ringworm without having any symptoms. Fun!

I know I'm getting ahead of myself because we don't have a positive test result yet, but I think I can see the writing on the wall. It's the most common skin disease in cats, and I've spent the night reading forums about how people are coping with it, or not. At least we don't have 26 cats, like one poor guy. But even eight baths a week is likely to kills a few of us around here before it kills the ringworm.

I think I need to look up the patron saint of skin diseases and light a lot of candles.

Perhaps we should have expected more trouble than a few parasites from adopting feral kittens. I'm not sorry we did it. We love the new kittens. I am sorry we didn't take them to our sharp-eyed vet before we ever took them home. Live and learn.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Why We Jaywalk

Last week, The Boston Globe ran an article about the prevalence of jaywalking in town and the increasing number of pedestrian injuries. Today, I jaywalked all over Back Bay and asked myself why I do this. I'm basically law-abiding. I never litter, loiter, vandalize, or commit arson. I buckle up, pay my taxes on time, and follow the historic commission's guidelines. I don't even let my husband double-park. If I had a bike, you can bet I'd obey traffic signs.

So why do I jaywalk, along with so many of my fellow pedestrians?

I do it because I have a brain. It makes more sense to jaywalk in this city than not to, because our traffic systems have failed to prove to us that it's sensible to stand on the curb and wait. It might be safer, but it feels stupid. And we'd much rather be smart, take a calculated risk, and get where we're going sooner.

I'm the kind of jaywalker who will cross a street against the traffic signal because there isn't a car in sight. I'm also the jaywalker who has decided she's wasted enough collective hours, weeks, and months of her life standing at a "Don't Walk" signal despite the fact that no cars are moving in front of me because they also have a long red light. As a group, we pedestrians have decided we're too busy for that. My neighbors are as savvy as I am: We turn around, peer up at the traffic light on our corner, note that opposing traffic still has a green light, and then cross before their light turns red, or even yellow.

We do this because the synchronization of most of the traffic lights and walk signs in Boston is a mess. And we do it because, no matter what we do, chances are we're going to be hit eventually by a lawless bicyclist, not a car — and if not on the street, on the sidewalk. We feel we have nothing to lose.

I'm not the arrogant jaywalker who steps into moving traffic expecting drivers to slam on their brakes or swerve. I will do that in Cairo because it is the only way to cross streets in a chaotic city with almost no traffic lights or stop signs. It's expected; you simply make eye contact with approaching drivers, keep a steady pace, and let the drivers swerve around you, honking, as they're taught to. It's the only way to get around. It's also one of the most exhilarating, terrifying things I've ever done. But I don't do it here because I want to live. Visiting Cairo can actually make one fond of traffic signals.

I considered whether I jaywalk because I have some of that proud old Boston revolutionary spirit in my blood, that legendary, swashbuckling independence that threw crates of English Breakfast into the harbor, making salty iced tea, which never caught on. I wish that were true of me, but it's not. I'm from Pennsylvania. Instead I have been infected with that other proud old Boston spirit: impatience. We all hate to wait. Just ask anyone waiting for an E train if you disagree.

I jaywalk because, sometimes, if I actually wait for the "Walk" signal, I won't have enough time to cross the street before the light changes.

I've noticed that I don't jaywalk in Manhattan. It's not because the streets are busier, bigger, or scarier. There are neighborhoods in Manhattan that have streets and traffic similar to Back Bay. I don't have to jaywalk because I never feel stupid waiting for the light to change. In NYC, traffic lights and pedestrian signals are synchronized and the rhythm is fast, geared for the impatient driver and pedestrian. You never feel like you are wasting your time at a Manhattan intersection; you feel like you are saving your own life.

And that's a good feeling. It gives you self-confidence, and it also gives you the secure, pleasant feeling that your town isn't run by a bunch of nimrods who can't figure out how to handle traffic. You feel like your city officials respect your life and your time. That much city-fostered self-esteem could probably take a town all the way to the World Series...

But I digress. Boston's pedestrians are generally not arrogant, stupid, fiercely independent, or daredevils. We're simply smarter than the traffic signals.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Quiet Day in Back Bay

I spent the day hanging around the apartment, enjoying my four cats, and waiting for a contractor to show up to finally install the thermostat he'd been promising us repeatedly since last Christmas. He was supposed to be here more than four hours ago. Why am I not surprised?

But today was blissfully quiet, unlike a year ago. Then, we were being barraged by noise from a huge, messy renovation project in our building. That lasted for 10 months and finished up just as two gut renovations of entire buildings began nearby. One is right across the street from us and the other is in the back, in the alley. Those buildings were quiet today, too. Seems like old times.

So it's looking like we're not getting a thermostat yet again. When we're too cold, I can switch on the heat for our unit and the two above ours. The "thermostat" is outside my door, in the hall. But if I forget to turn it off, it will keeping roaring until the temps are up into the 80s because there's no thermal control. It's only a conceptual thermostat. It's also annoying and a huge waste of energy to say the least. We wake up freezing in the night, of course, because if we don't turn off the heat before bed, we'll be dry-roasted overnight. Our apartment has big, drafty original windows and with the heat working normally and the storm windows down, parts of our bedroom can reach the 50s on a cold winter night. But without any thermostat, our radiators become mini blast furnaces; the smell of hot cast iron reminds me of the steel town where I grew up.

But at least it's quiet....

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Frankenbert and Possumstein

I never intended this to be a cat blog, and I'm trying to think of other things to discuss, but my life revolves around cats these days and I'm having too much fun not to document it. I promise to get a life soon.

I had no idea that cats get laryngitis. Our computer-loving Persian, Snalbert, loves to talk; he's loud and raucous. A howler — especially if he's sitting next to me when I'm on a conference call. But for the past couple of days, he's had nothing but a silent meow and a startled look on his face. So he went to the vet. He usually exhausts his repertoire in the car, and today he tried hard. It sounded like the faint, monster-voiced soundtrack of a haunted house: rusty, raspy, hoarse, creepy.

We noticed that our singing kitten, Possum, also seems a bit hoarse, and mentioned to the vet that he sounds like a tiny, creaking hinge these days. We figured he was just giving too many performances. But the vet suspects that Possy has an upper-respiratory virus that spread to Snalbert, which is probably not serious, just painful. And expensive. Snalbert is getting $47 in pain meds for the next few days. I hope he enjoys them.

Tonight, the vet taught us how to approach our skittish calico kitten. Wendy has recently remembered out that she's feral and runs desperately from us as soon as she's tired of, say, purring on her back in our laps as we stroke her belly. She's got the "Please, don't kill me!" look down perfectly, and she does the feral slink with a practiced attitude as well. Nevertheless, I've still got her pegged to be next my lap cat. So she needs to be handled a lot every day. Our vet told us never to approach her directly, because our towering over her will freak her out. Instead, I'm supposed to sidle up to her sideways, crabwalking with my face turned away from  her. I just tried it and failed. But I have to keep in mind that I chose her because I wanted a project. That's certainly what she is.

Tortoiseshell cats are the temperamental redheads of the cat world. Our elderly Persian is no exception. So why does our grande dame let little Possum steal the food she's eating from her bowl? Normally, she'd attack any cat dumb enough to even think about such a move. Is it possible that she is as charmed by Possy as we are? Despite his many parasites and germs, he is the George Clooney of kittens, and seems to have bewitched everyone.

He's already both a lap cat and a shoulder cat. He stares into my eyes as he gets nose to nose with me, licks my fingers, nibbles my ring. He tries to crawl into sleeves and pockets; he just can't be snuggled enough. He flings himself against me, purring and nuzzling. When I feed him a treat, he grabs my hand in both paws to hold it in place. He joined us for dinner tonight. This is Snalbert's nightly tradition. He keeps a polite distance; he's just there for the conversation. Possum is there to eat everything. He got more than 10 lessons in "Down!" tonight. Slow learner? He also figured out three different ways to get back up on the table. He closes his eyes in enjoyment when we talk to him. As much as I adore all my cats, he is proving to be the kitten of a lifetime.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Long Thin Slimey Ones, Short Fat Fuzzy Ones....

Passamaquoddy, or Possum, with one of his wrestling partners, the one that doesn't bite.

Our new kittens have worms. We think the calico has them, so she's been getting liquid medicine for a week, with two more weeks to go. We know the male has them: he just tested positive for roundworms, giardia, and coccidia. He'll be getting all sorts of meds for a week, provided those big pills will fit down that tiny throat.

I've seldom had a kitten who didn't have worms, except for our two pedigreed Persians. Worms and kittens go together; I used to dose them and be oblivious. But I'm older now, and I know more about creepy health issues than I did years ago, so the oogeyness quotient seems a lot higher. Eeewwww! They are contagious to other cats, of course — and to humans.

I feel bad for our poor little guy, named Passamaquoddy by the shelter. These days we are calling him Possum, Possumus (Latin for "we can"), or Possy. He has a white face with a black lower lip, which looks cute and wild-possum-ish whenever he's singing or meowing, which is frequently. He's full of fun, appetite, and good will, even though he must be feeling weird with all that wildlife in his belly and diarrhea.

We're supposed to isolate him from the other cats. For two weeks, until he's retested. Yeah, right! We couldn't isolate him for one night when he arrived. He's a Chaton Sans Frontieres, and the only thing he despises more than a closed door is an empty food dish. He gets frantic when we shut him in a room, and makes a heck of a racket for three pounds of fluff. Besides, he's supposed to be bonding with his cat roommates at this crucial stage in his evolution from feral baby to gentleman of culture. His sister Wendy really needs him for her development, too. All she likes to do these days is hide under the bed, except for occasional wrestling and chasing matches with him. She's in some kind of feral juvenile pouting stage, and I'm counting on Possum to charm her out of her funk and into our laps. And back onto our camera lenses, too, because all we see of her these days is a blur.

Since isolating him would as unbearably painful as, say, separating my husband from his iPhone, I threw myself on the mercy of the vet assistant. "Since it's impossible, how necessary is this isolation, really?" I asked. She said that, since Wendy is getting worm medication, too, she's partially protected. As long as we clean the litter box immediately when he uses it (and wear gloves to do it), it might be okay. We have to keep him out of the older cats' litter box (ha!), and wash our hands whenever we touch him.

I hope we won't have to test and dose the other cats (or ourselves). Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday Papers

One of these Sundays, we're going to bring home a big, fat NY Times and a box of big, fat doughnuts. But not today: too cold, wet, and windy. So, as usual, I read the Globe and the Times online.

Much as I'm relieved that the Globe won't be sold, I wonder why I bother with the online version. In case you haven't figured it out, my interests are uniformly shallow, so I gravitate first to the magazine. But in the online version, there are almost never any photos, even when the story is a photo spread. So forget enjoying, or even deciphering, the decorating articles, the houses of "On the Block," or anything having to do with fashion, travel, or food. (And what else is there, really?)

The online version of the Globe always manages to insult and disappoint its readers and I don't know why I continue to be one of them. Hope dies hard, I guess. I know it's not rocket science to post photos, so I figure, someday, they'll accidentally hire someone with a clue who can take care of it in an hour or two.

I did find one decently illustrated article — about disgusting things to do with your jack o'lantern. Believe me, you don't need the link.

It's always fun to read about people I know in the Times. Today, Zahi Hawass, Chief of Egypt's Department of Antiquities, made a splash by demanding that Germany return the head of Nefertiti, centerpiece of the newly opened Berlin Museum. I agree with him: there should be an investigation. C'mon, would you have let that glorious statue leave your country under any circumstances — except being deceived or tricked into it? Way to go, Zahi. 

I was also pleased to see Maureen Dowd making sense in the Times for a change. Years ago, we thought she was clever and hilarious, but then she wrote that silly book about the sexes and since then her brain seems to have filled itself mostly with feathers. Today was a refreshing change of rant.

I liked this story about the movies of 1962, a banner year for American cinema. Since we're watching "Mad Men," it's interesting to think about the pop culture of that era since we catch glimpses of it, along with key current events throughout each episode. But, whoa, the reporter left out my favorite film of 1962, The Miracle Worker, which won Anne Bancroft an Oscar. For heaven's sake.

This article on the revival of Shabby Chic was encouraging. Whenever the economy dives, people decide they want comfortable sofas again. I consider this healthy. Since my personal economy has been diving since I got out of college, shortly after the Spanish-American War, my instinctive decorating style is secondhand furniture, ancient rugs, and overstuffed upholstery. I get a little nervous when my style gets close to being In Style, but the Dow hit 10,000 this week, so it's only a matter of time before people will want to seat themselves chicly on cold, hard leather with chrome arms again. My personal decorating rule is to avoid all trends at all costs (unless they involve paisley).

I like to cheer myself up by reading the "Vows" section. It's comforting to read, week after week, about how people met, fell for each other, and courted. These true stories are usually better than the plots in contemporary chic lit. I then think of all the happy couples I know, and their stories. And then I realize it's after 12, and I'm still in my bathrobe.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Why All the Empty Posts?

Sorry about those 14 blank postings from 20 minutes ago. Our male kitten discovered the joys of blogging while exploring my desk this morning; those were his. I believe he'll volunteer plenty of actual content as he gets older; he's only been alive for 12 weeks, most of which were spent in the wild, so his typing skills are way behind the other cats. He will certainly have plenty to say about food. He was very upset not to get any pizza or Florentine cookies and ice cream last night, and I think he was asking for sausages and a pot of good coffee this morning. He sings long, passionate songs that seem to be about unrequited food encounters. But he's not in perfect health; he and a stool sample are making a trip to the vet this afternoon, so we aren't catering to his gourmet tastes just yet. He is on the kitten chow diet right now, and resents it.

He still has no name. I think he's aristocratic with his good manners and vocabulary, and his gray striped suit and white ruff. It suggests something like "Baron von Rumpuspusse." But my husband said "No." "Opera Man" doesn't roll off the tongue, either. And there is just no man's name out there that conveys his sweetness and personality. So we're stuck with Passamaquoddy, which is all wrong. We just put Soft Paws on him for the first time: eight tiny clear plastic caps to cover his claws, which will keep our furniture from being destroyed. He was perfectly behaved during the application and is napping instead of trying to chew them off, which is what cats usually do. Wendelina is next; I suspect she won't be so easygoing.

Because Sister Wendy has been trying to kill Passy all morning. She's surprisingly territorial. We had to incarcerate her, briefly, in her cage, as a "time-out." It's still too early to know if they'll eventually become friends, but it's looking grim right now. And we continue to think about Passy's equally lovely, and even more affectionate, sister, Abenaki.

If we end up with five cats, you are permitted to cart me away for psychiatric testing. I agree it's a reasonable line of action. But keep in mind that you'll have to feed the family and clean their litter boxes while I'm locked up.


We took both kittens to the vet so Wendy could socialize with the staff. The head vet assistant warned us against getting Passy's sister, or any third kitten. She said that a four-cat household is pushing it, and their clients who have five cats, especially in smaller apartments, often see behavior problems, from fighting and spraying to not using the litter box. She also said that cats' personalities mature between ages 3 and 5, and this is when new territorial battles to move up the cat-family hierarchy can happen. We can't know what to expect from these kittens when they reach that age, but adding Kitten 3 to the mix increases the chances for trouble. Finally, she said that the two siblings may not recognize each other by now, and may turn against each other as the mature. So she settled our dilemma, and we are a two-cat, two-kitten household for the foreseeable. And we feel good about that. Now, to choose a real name for Mr. Opera Man.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Things I Wonder About

You know how Jesus, Mary, the saints, and ancient Biblical, Greek, and Roman people are always depicted wearing tunics (if they're lucky enough not to be dressed at all) topped with elegantly draped stoles, mantles, or similar blankie things? The mantle usually goes over one shoulder and wraps around the person perfectly. It looks effortless, even when worn by some poor nymph who desperately needs a camisole under hers.

Have you ever tried to wear one of those? Do you know how impossible it is to keep it in place, to move your arms, or walk without tripping?

I know, because I've been stuck wearing one for the past two days. Thanks to our fancy new boiler, the "Mercedes of Boilers," according to our building manager, we've had no heat, even though it's been down in the 40s and 30s. So, on top of my sweater and fleece, I've been draping this super-long, moth-eaten, knitted cashmere stole/throw/thing that my husband gave me for Christmas years ago.

I spent 12 years in Catholic school taking religion classes, and in college I took plenty of art history. And then I spent 17 years in an art museum. You'd think I'd have that draping technique down cold. But no. I trip, I get tangled, I can't keep the damn thing on me, and I'm still freezing.

No wonder they're worn by saints and gods. They had to have magic wardrobe powers or they couldn't walk around dressed like that.

Introducing.... What's-His-Name

It's before 4 am as I'm beginning to write this; I spent the last several hours trying to sleep on the cold floor of our tiny office, to keep our new(est) kitten from wailing his heart out. He has a very plaintive, sustained meow. If we leave him alone, he performs heartbreaking arias from the 19th-century feline oeuvre. He doesn't have his new name yet, but Opera Man is a possibility.

When we picked him up at his foster home last night, he was cuddled up on a chair with his sister, who is a lovely, purring, friendly little girl. Our guy, called Passamaquoddy by the shelter, is more reserved and there were several tough minutes where we wondered if we'd selected the wrong cat. And it was painful to separate them since they are such loving friends. At least this shelter never allows anyone to adopt just one kitten: they have to be adopted in pairs, or go to a home with another kitten or young cat for companionship. But they are so perfect together....

Driving home, Passy gave us a few bars of his favorite feline tunes. He immediately made himself at home in the office, where we closed the door. He was excited to share our burritos, eating chicken from our hands, in our laps. He purrs, climbs around on us, and loves to be petted. He's much more trusting and people-friendly than Wendy. In less than an hour, he explored every corner the office, ate, used the litter box, and started asking to see the rest of the apartment. We let Wendy in to meet him and she hissed and growled her head off for the first time. What a disaster. I keep wishing we had taken his sister, Abenaki, too. But five cats? That's just crazy in a one-litter-box apartment. It's a big, built-in, custom litter box, but still.

I didn't want him to be lonely and crying all night, so I put a few cushions on the floor and tried to sleep with him. I found him curled up by my legs in the middle of the night. This morning he ate in the kitchen with the rest of his new cat family, including a growling, furious Wendy, who still runs off to hide from the world, under the bed, every chance she gets. Our two older cats deserve a Peace Prize of their own for their tolerance (or denial — whatever it is, it's great!).

We have three days to stay home together and watch the fun. I hope it's fun.... If only Wendy would learn to like her new brother.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


When I'm not obsessing about kittens these days, I'm obsessing about fabric. I was the only bidder on a handsome set of antique bentwood chairs on eBay last May. They were made around 1910 and one still has an ancient Josef Hoffmann label — so while they are not genuine Thonet, they have an excellent European provenance.

For months they sat stacked in our living room while I tried to decide what to do next. A couple of weeks ago, I made a pilgrimage to a fabric store outside of town and got the contact info for an upholsterer they highly recommended. He came to see the chairs one rainy Saturday. I liked him and his price, and the chairs went away in his van to be taken apart and reassembled to be sturdy. I also decided to have him make cushy seat cushions, since cane isn't comfortable and one of these chairs will probably become my desk chair, upon which I spend far too many of my waking hours.

When it comes to fabric, I'm always attracted to paisley. Paisley is a key motif in this apartment, along with dust, books, cat fur, and tiny fake mice. We have a paisley-slipcovered sofa, a paisley quilt and shams; a raucous orange and eggplant paisley armchair in the study, and a red paisley shower curtain. There's paisley in every room except the kitchen (except for some paisley dessert china I seldom use).

For the cushions, I looked at scores of sample books and the only patterns I liked at all were.... guess. I knew it had to be a muted design that wouldn't compete with the nearby sofa. And I found this:

I only saw a tiny sample, but the pattern is soft and subtle, the colors are just right, and I think it will look great. A local fabric store offered it for $72 a yard, which seemed too high. I found it priced from $40 to $47 a yard online. I decided to try Zimman's, in Lynn, first, to see what all the fuss was about. Maybe they'd have a roll so I could see what it looked like. Maybe they'd have something equally beautiful and less expensive.

This morning, I took the commuter rail to Lynn, a 20-minute, unscenic ride. I asked a kind-looking stranger where the store was, and he walked me over to it. People nodded at us from their cars at us as we crossed streets. Lynn might be a deserted shell of its former glory, but the residents are very friendly.

Zimman's is overwhelming; those stories are not exaggerations. They have a gazillion rolls of quality fabric on the main floor; downstairs, there are a million elaborate trims, tassels, and fabric remnants. There are also two floors of expensive, quirky accent furniture, lights, and accessories. The fabric and trim prices are discounted.

As I was wandering, dazed, a saleswoman spotted me and offered her help. I showed her "my" fabric in one of their sample books, and described the chairs and my living room, saying, "I'm a sucker for paisley." She said, "Yeah, me too. I named my daughter Paisley." I noticed she was wearing a paisley lucite bracelet. How nice to find a kindred spirit, here in the City of Sin.* Her house probably has paisley everything. Together we combed through aisles and piles of paisley rolls. There were many. Many, many, many.

It just goes on, and on....

We eventually decided that there was nothing in the store quite as perfect as the sample in the book. The manufacturer had only 4 yards in stock, which was exactly what I needed (it was destiny!). The price was $46/yard. I'll be happy if it really materializes, so to speak, and I can't wait to see it on those chairs.

And, by the way, I am not naming our new kitten Paisley.

* The town is perhaps best known for this old rhyme:
Lynn, Lynn, City of Sin
You won't come out the way you went in.
You ask for water, they'll give you gin.
The girls say no but they soon give in.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Does this look like a BOY?
According to the vet used by the Marlborough shelter, Passy is a boy. We are stunned. But it's fine. Chances are he will get along better with Wendy than another girl. Our vet even advised us to choose a boy, but we fell in love with this alleged girl instead of the gray tiger fellow to the right. My husband prefers flirty female cats, but this little guy should grow up to be a charmer, too.

We've spent almost a week trying to invent a name as goofily appropriate as Wendelina Pantherina for another girl, and failing. Boys' names should be easier. I came up with a couple of good ones several days ago but naturally I've forgotten them now.

I hope his missing chunk of ear will give him some tough-guy "street cred," as a friend suggested, because he's certainly going to need some with that sweet little face. No, he's never going outside, and our teenage male cat is still a big fluffy baby himself. But word gets around.

Monday, October 12, 2009

My "Mad Men" Days

Whenever the characters on "Mad Men" are particularly obnoxious to their colleagues, it takes me back to my first real job after college, when I worked as a copy secretary in Boston's slickest ad agency. This was nearly 20 years after the time of "Mad Men" but office life hadn't evolved much. The offices, on a high floor in the window-popping Hancock Tower, had glass walls and doors so everyone could always see what everyone else was up to. And it was often no good.

I sat in a low-walled cube in the middle of the creative department, where I typed, proofed, and filed copy for about ten writers, using a Wang with a tiny green screen and a big floppy drive. Seven of the writers were men, and they all smoked cigars in the afternoons, a bonding ritual that nearly killed me. (I asked HR to have them stop, so they did a mock survey of the staff and reported that the vast majority didn't mind a smoke-filled office. Right.)

People arrived hung over in the mornings, left in groups for 3-hour lunches, and came back drunk and/or coked up. One of the older creative directors had a fully stocked, pub-style wooden bar in his office instead of a desk. Every Friday, and often on other days, he had several cases of liquor and beer delivered. Staying for happy hour was mandatory. (Years later I heard that he was fired, his wife left him, he lost his home, and died on the street.) Everyone was expected to party hard. If John Deere had been a client, and someone had brought in a riding mower, I'm sure that someone's foot would have eventually been mangled, just like on "Mad Men."

It was a cut-throat business to begin with, and there was a recession; jobs were scarce. The management announced that there would be significant layoffs on the day after Christmas, effectively ruining the holiday for a scores of people. On Boxing Day, I was told to take over the jobs of two stunned, sobbing women who were told to train me before they could leave. I got a new boss, too — a shrew. She tried to be "one of the guys" by being mean and raunchy. There were plenty of decent, considerate people in that office (especially in the art department), but there were also obnoxious, dumb, loud brats. Generally women picked on other women, while men picked on everyone. The way Don Draper criticizes his writers always has a familiar ring for me, as did the way Roger Sterling went after Harry Crane, and then Don last night. No one dared to be gay at this ad agency in the early 1980s, so I don't know how the Sal Romanos would have fared.

I did not fit in, but I was good at my job so I survived. I thought I wanted to be a copywriter, and took adult ed classes to build my portfolio. I was fresh from a very studious Quaker college. I wore my skirts and hair long, my heels flat, and my necklines high. I didn't drink, smoke, swear (in those days), or flirt. I took everything seriously. I was a Quaker version of first-season Peggy. Unlike her, I decided that getting along with the guys was not worth it.

One of my jobs was ordering lunch and dinner for the department when they were struggling with a campaign. I didn't mind, but when I was asked to make coffee, it bothered me. I had absorbed certain principles of the Women's Liberation movement. I believed that people who wanted coffee should make it themselves. There was something condescending in the way I'd been asked. So I mentioned that I made terrible coffee and got ready to prove it. I took the carafe, filled it with with hot water and several squirts of dish soap, swirled it around, and poured out only about half of it. Then I made the coffee on top of it. I was never asked to do it again.

I hated my job. I spent weekends exploring New England from Maine to Vermont to southern Rhode Island with my boyfriend. At the first sight of the Hancock Tower on our trips home, my stomach would turn. It was an unavoidable beacon of doom; I dragged myself across Copley Square toward it every morning. As I rode the elevator to the 39th floor each day, I would observe everyone but me sporting a trench coat, carrying a briefcase, and making jovial small talk about how much they'd drunk, golfed, or watched sports on the weekend. What was I doing there?

One day, about 9 months after I started, I arrived at my desk the day after receiving a glowing job review and a small raise from my formerly nasty boss. I worked hard; people noticed, and I'd been making her look good. Through the glass wall and door of her office, I saw one of her friends, the junior copywriter, sitting across from her, sobbing. She'd had my job before being promoted. I'd heard rumors that she was in trouble; her review had not gone well. She sat in the cube next to mine, and often arrived hung over in the morning, resting her head on her desk until she was interrupted.

Less than an hour later, my boss called me into her office. She told me sternly that I'd been doing a terrible job and that my days were numbered unless I improved. I mentioned the positive review I'd gotten only the day before. My boss mumbled something about being mistaken. It was clear that the junior copywriter was hoping to be the copy secretary again.

That night, I slept on my decision. The next day, I put on a new outfit (a short black skirt and heels) and marched into my boss's office to quit. She looked astonished. I felt euphoric and in charge of my destiny. I turned around and left forever. I foolishly missed out on collecting unemployment, but I never ordered a pu-pu platter or made a pot of coffee for a bunch of jerks again.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Cleaning Up the Clutter Zone

My desk is a French bistro table about 4 feet long. It has a striking gray-and-black striped marble top; sometimes I go for so long without being able to see its surface that I forget how pretty it is. It has no drawers or filing cabinets, of course, and is continually piled with papers, note, articles, mail, useless but intriguing info, old bills and bank statements, coupons, cat toys, phones, photos, hand creams, measuring tapes, kleenex, notebooks, a calendar, and other miscellanea. It could easily convince anyone that it belongs to a person with a hoarding disorder.

Because it's the first thing visitors see as they enter our condo, they often seem taken aback — and then pleasantly surprised as they discover that the Collyer brothers didn't decorate the rest of the place.

I've managed to do my freelancing — writing, editing, and graphic design — at this poor excuse for a desk for 11 years now. Before that, I didn't have a desk of my own, so it seemed magnificent at the time. My next desk will have DRAWERS.

The rest of our apartment, except for my husband's tiny office, is relatively neat, with a place for everything. We don't have much clutter beyond our desktops, except for a few big piles of overflow books because we've run out of shelves. But our cabinets, drawers, and closets don't overflow. Clutter in this little apartment is under control, except for the desks (and, uh, well, my teetering stack of bedside magazines).

Back to my desk: In lieu of a sensible filing system, I've been keeping unsorted wads of important papers stuffed randomly in an antique silver-plate toast rack that was a wedding present. Whenever I need to locate something, I have to dump the whole thing on the sofa and sift through it.

Pens, clips, pad of sticky notes, and other supplies live in an antique candy tin commemorating the San Francisco World's Fair (1915). More bits of junk live in tiny oval Japanese woven trays. I have a wooden box on the floor next to the desk that holds a few, rarely touched file folders, notebooks, CDs, and cables. I also have a shopping bag brimming with random stuff, which has been sitting around, waiting for me to deal with it since Christmas.

I could have saved you from reading all that simply by posting a photo, but I couldn't. It's too embarrassing. And it's beginning to affect me; I forgot to pay a bill last month because I mislaid it among the piles. I persuaded the company to drop the late fee and finance charge. And I promised myself that it won't happen again.

Today, I cleaned it all up. A cluttered desk, especially in the entryway, has got to create bad feng shui and I'm tired of being ashamed of the mess. We could use more good fortune around here; I believe that a clean, comfortable, healthy home leads to a happier, healthier spirit. If you want to explore this idea, read this excellent book (and just disregard the chapters at the end about decluttering your digestive tract).

I piled all the papers, junk, and onto our bed, and spent the Red Sox game (sad, so sad) going through it. I filled a shopping bag with recycling and a wastebasket with trash, labeled new file folders and filled them with items from the toast rack and some other stacks. I sampled the iced-tea-flavored hard candy I've been hoarding since I found them in Prague in 2001 (meh, I tossed it). I still have a few papers in the toast rack (mostly current information along with silly things I can't part with), but I hope I will remember that most of that stuff is neatly sorted in a folder now.

I have a bag of things to sell on eBay or give away. And a pile of non-paper junk (cute little tins, ribbons, etc.) still has to be dealt with.

But the good feng shui is already beginning. Our elderly Persian, Snalbert, who has spent the 10 days since Wendy the kitten arrived looking so grave and pompous that he resembles Winston Churchill, just let Wendy play with him a little. They were smacking each other next to my desk and having a bit of a chase as I wrote this. I was hoping that my clean desk might lead to good fortune of the financial/employment kind, but I'll take whatever I can get.

I wonder what will happen if I can persuade myself to get rid of a few dozen books next.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Worried about Wendy

We have a sick kitten.

I've been mildly worried (and let's face it, I'm a congenital worrier, just like my mother and her mother) about Wendy's lack of interest in food. When we got her a week and a half ago, we were give a medium-size ziplock bag of kitten kibble to tide us over until we could get to the store for the same brand. It's been 10 days and we still have almost a cup left. She does swipe the other cats' kibble, but not much. And she's not interested in all-meat chicken baby food or "people" tuna, which are the top weapons in my arsenal for tempting cats who won't eat. She doesn't look ill, just a little bonier than she should be. She nibbles at food, but never with enthusiasm.

She spent most of Thursday out of her crate, hiding and running from us. I figured she was regressing a little in her social skills; when we caught her, she'd immediately purr, so I wasn't too concerned. But she isn't active and playing, either. On the other hand, our vet told us that ferals don't play as much as regular kittens. I don't know enough to judge her behavior.

Yesterday, I got an email from her foster owner, saying that Wendy's litter mate, a timid black-and-white guy named Amos, had been put to sleep because he had a congenital defect called megacolon, which had become very painful. I'd never heard of it; it's rare, and usually develops in older or injured cats. She didn't think we should be alarmed, but wanted us to watch Wendy for problems like severe constipation.

Wendy obediently developed weird-looking diarrhea a few minutes later. After two episodes, with her crying a bit, she threw up in her box, too. I didn't hesitate; I called the vet. It's a holiday weekend and I didn't want to be heading to Angell Memorial in the middle of Saturday night. Again. It's hard to believe we lost Bunny just five weeks ago.

It was our vet's day off, so we saw a new doctor. She didn't feel the need to check for megacolon yet (with an X-ray) but took the stool sample I handed her to test for parasites. She gave Wendy fluids because she was dehydrated, wormed her again, gave her a rectal exam, prescribed worming pills, and told me to try more kinds of kitten food in case she's just a fussy eater because she needs to gain weight. Wendy was splendidly polite and non-feral through all this.

All the women at the vet's came by to coo over her; I finally realized that it's truly an all-woman practice. I met a young tech, M., who took care of Bunny when we boarded her, and who discovered her heart trouble. She said she kept calling our vet over to show her how Bunny was breathing strangely, but she would breathe normally as soon as our vet came in. But M. persisted, and probably saved Bunny from dying of heart failure that week. She spent a long Saturday night watching over her. She told me how much she enjoyed Bunny, and how sorry she was about her death. M. said Wendy reminded her of a possum. More like a baby fox, I suggested, having seen possums up close. Possums are UGly.

Wendy spent the rest of yesterday afternoon and evening curled up in her carrier, inside her crate. I sat on the floor beside her, reading. At one point, she started purring, all by herself, which delighted me. So she likes it here. I didn't mind missing that crummy Red Sox game to be with her. Around the 7th inning, she wanted to come out of her cage, escaped into the apartment, and spent the rest of the night testing our three armchairs. I slept on the sofa with the lights dimmed to keep an eye on her. Whenever I checked on her, she was either asleep or curled up, steadily watching me. She briefly crunched on some of the cats' kibble. She's hasn't been in the mood to play for awhile, but she must not be feeling well.

The vet called this afternoon, and it's not parasites. Her main concern is getting her to eat, and my husband is having some success by hand-feeding her kibble and introducing her to Fancy Feast "Savory Salmon." This is great. She eats it up, but in tiny amounts. Soon we will be heading to the store for every brand of kitten chow they sell, and a rotisserie chicken, which is Weapon #3 in my cat-feeding arsenal.


Wendy snarfed down a lot of Wild Harvest chicken breast and is sleeping it off. Before that she displayed no interest in her new kitten chow and tried to bury more Savory Salmon.

If our only problem is that our kitten has expensive taste in food, I can live with that. She still doesn't feel like playing, just watching me play with various toys on strings and poles. But the eating is a good sign, and here's hoping it continues.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Yeah, We're Crazy All Right

Meet our future Cat #4. It was a quick decision, made just a couple of hours after my last, questioning post. Other people were coming to see and choose from the kittens, and I didn't want anyone else to fall in love with her and scoop her up into their life. She belongs in ours. I think it's impossible not to be charmed by her despite her having 1.5 ears. So our second feral kitten will be arriving next week, after a last check-up at the vet. I'm a little stunned. But we had four cats for many years and all was well.

Her name is Passamaquoddy and her siblings are called Abenaki and Ossipee. We'll give her a new name, which might be just as odd as Passamaquoddy but more pronounceable. And it will be uniquely hers.

Along with my Inful-Outful Dichotomy Theory, in my post-college days I developed the Geometric Theory of Cat Ownership. Think of your home as a graphical area, on a page, say, or in space. Having just one cat is about the same as putting a random dot in that area. You've got a cat, but it could be anywhere. Chances are, it's not anywhere near you. With two cats, you can plot the space between them as a straight line. So you've got linear cats, and your chances of locating and interacting with one of them are double. With three cats, you've got a planar experience and are much more likely to be in proximity to one of your cats. Add a fourth cat, and you've got the whole Omnimax three-dimensional cat experience without needing the stupid glasses.

And sometimes, when you lose a cat, it takes two more to fill the hole left in your heart. At any rate, two wild kittens will be a spectacular distraction!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

How Crazy Are We?

We've had our fabulous "feral" kitten for a whole week now, and she's settling in nicely, as are we. She's spending much less time in her crate and more time exploring and hiding in the apartment. She's figured out that it's nice to nap on armchairs, and attack lace curtains. We have so much in common.

At the moment, she's sneaking the other cats' kibble and not fooling anyone because she's purring loudly and crunching at the same time.

When we can catch her — and we do several times a day — she's purring putty in our hands, but she has yet to shake her idea that we're scary.... Run! It's only been a week, so I'm not that concerned. I wasn't even expecting her to being purring, playing, and enjoying life as much as she already is by now. She watches us pet, hold, and play with the other cats, so I think she'll learn to trust us soon. She's a joy to have around, anyway.

So life is good. But I can't wondering if life might be even better with a second kitten. It's great when a cat has a lifelong buddy, and our older ones aren't warming up that much to Wendy, so far. They're tolerant, but you know... kids these days....

It's hard for me to stay away from Petfinder because, now that I've met a few of the wonderful adult cats in area shelters, I keep checking to see if they've been adopted. And in the course of checking on them, I search for kittens, too.

At first it was "comparison shopping," to be sure we'd found the best kitten ever. And, of course, we did. But then, thinking about a friend for her, I found:

These Maine Coon–type 3-month-olds are probably siblings and were feral until a couple of weeks ago. The kitten in the middle has a badly clipped left ear — this means she was caught in the wild, spayed, feral-clipped, and released. (The clipping tells shelter folk that she's spayed.) Then she got herself trapped again, with the other two.

We went to visit them today, and were both charmed and ambivalent. At our vet's, the thinking is that a male kitten has the best chance of bonding with a female. This is the male:

He's adorable but rather shy and withdrawn, although I suspect he has great potential. But we need a braver, more sociable kitten to give Wendy confidence. So we were more attracted to the two females, who are a little more outgoing. I'm most drawn to this one, who is said to be the bravest of the three:

I think her clipped ear gives her character; my husband is having a hard time with it, but can't deny that she has a marvelous expression on her face. Her foster owner, who is a terrific person (all the foster-ers we've met have been warm, kind, generous, thoughtful, and wise), told us that she hadn't purred yet. But she eventually purred in my lap and looked up at me very sweetly. Her sister is more of a purr-box, and is also very appealing. But she's just not as irresistible as this one.

So we're in a quandary. Will two kittens upset the older cats more than one? Will a new kitten calm and befriend Wendy or will they avoid each other, or worse? And what are we doing getting another feral when we're supposed to be looking for Mr. Congeniality? Do we really want to be caring for four cats again? Three seemed like an ideal number. And we only have room for one big litter box....

And wasn't I the one who was quite recently insisting that I only wanted a purebred? So "I would know their parents and be assured I was getting a kitten with great personality genes"? Then I read that as many as 30% of breeds I like (Maine Coons, Ragdolls) are at risk for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is often undetectable in kittens but can cause sudden death in young cats. You have to test for it annually, with ultrasounds, hoping the disease hasn't presented itself. Ugh. So much for our getting a purebred kitten.

I wasn't seeking out feral kittens, but I kept finding them. There certainly are a lot of them, and they present a challenge I can't resist: winning their love and trust. I can't replace the amazingly affectionate and demanding lap cat we just lost, and I have much lower expectations for our kitten (along with hope). But hearing a feral kitten purring for the first time is an addictive experience, I've discovered.

We'll be up late tonight, watching the ball game and thinking about the options. As always, I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

North End Update

Things change. The pointless yoga store that took over half of Dairy Fresh Candies is out of business — an empty storefront, just begging for someone to open up, say, a small candy store.

I am happy to the report that the pumpkin cupcakes at Lyndell's on Hanover are cuter than ever, now with little pretzel-stick stems for authenticity. I wanted to photograph the ones I bought, but after carrying them around for more than an hour the bottom of a plastic beg filled with bread and deli stuff as I did more errands, they are sadly flattened and misshapen. Sighhh. I'll just have to go get more.

I didn't bring my camera on this trip, so you'll have to use your imagination: The Mercato di Mare window now features two lobsters sharing a loveseat, wearing curly wigs and jewelry, and watching a Ben Affleck movie on their flat-screen TV. See? You didn't really need a photo; it looks exactly like you're envisioning it.

I haven't visited the newly incarcerated Cheese Man's shop since it changed its name because I tend to get lost lost finding Endicott Street. But I like to go in there and ask for squacquerone, although they never have it. I just like saying it. "Squacquerone."

In, Out and In-Between

It's one of those days where the weather can't make up it's mind. I was all set for a lazy, rainy day (as opposed to my usual lazy, sunny-to-partly-cloudy days) so I went back to bed. When I woke up the sun was shining. After I decided to walk to the North End (more pumpkin cupcakes), it began to pour. So I changed my mind, and the sun came out. Now it's darkening again.

Thanks to our new kitten, I'm reminded lately of a theory I developed during the summer after college, when I was living in some suburban woods, house-sitting for a retired professor. I lived with a future philosophy professor and an intrepid gray kitten named Harris Winfield. According to my theory, known as the Inful-Outful Dichotomy, a cat is always contemplating the advantages of being somewhere else. If the cat is inside, the idea of going out is always tempting to some degree. And if the cat is out, it's always thinking about being inside, where the food bowl is. My proof for the theory is how much cats always love standing in the doorway as you hold open the door for them. The happiest place, the best of both worlds, is right in the middle, as you wait, letting in the mosquitoes or the cold. When the cat finally makes a decision, you can sense a touch of regret in their hesitation — because as soon as they choose, the opposite choice becomes appealing.

Harris Winfield missed the woods and wanted to run free when we moved to Boston; he disappeared on the streets of Back Bay within weeks. Heart-broken, I searched for him in the shelters for over a year, adopting two other cats I met on those sad visits. I was young and learned the hard way with poor Harry: he was my last indoor-outdoor cat. And the Inful-Outful Dichotomy became a dim memory. But because our apartment is full of potential hazards and bad hiding places for the kitten, we've started keeping the bedroom door closed when she's out of her crate. This, of course, presents the Inful-Outful Dichotomy in an indoor-cat paradigm. Guess where our adult cats love to be?

The human version of the Inful-Outful Dichotomy is the Grass-Is-Always-Greener Principle. When I'm not working, I'm anxious to find work, and I have nothing much to do with all my free time. When I get a project or an office assignment, I resent it for taking up so much of my valuable time, because suddenly I have a million other tasks that must be done. The equivalent of the half-open door is an interesting job prospect that may or may not materialize. I wish....

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

24/7 Tech Support

We awoke this morning to a broken Mac Time Capsule. This is our lifeline to the Internet. Without it, I can't do freelance work, keep in touch with friends, do my daily sudoku, shop online, job hunt, read the news, or waste most of my day.

Our first question was: Did the kitten disconnect it? She's got the run of half the apartment now, and surely explored the unbelievable mess of wires and cables under my husband's desk. But, like Marley in A Christmas Carol, the Time Capsule was Dead. Dead as a Doornail.

And it was only a year and a half old. Out of warranty. We sent it an early grave from sheer exhaustion.

So I read Harry Potter 6 this morning, while my husband went to the Apple Store. About $500 and an hour later, we're back in business. I can waste all the time I want and periodically earn my living.

I've always joked that I married him (a Mac devotee since the early '80s) for his free 24/7 tech support. I shouldn't joke about this. It's a fact.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Kitten Proof

A general rule about kittens is that they instinctively locate the filthiest, most hazardous spots in your house and go there as soon as they can. Wendy got herself wedged behind the century-old cast-iron radiator in the living room last night, during "Mad Men." She flew off the bed and in seconds her kitten radar took her to the 3rd-most disgusting spot in our house (the others are fireplaces).

My housekeeping skills are not bad, but I've been slacking off for the past couple of months. Between nursing a sick cat who needed quiet, mourning her afterward, and then hanging out with my kitten, vacuuming and scrubbing haven't been priorities. And, honestly, I rarely clean behind radiators because I can't get tools back there. And who goes there, anyway?

Wendy got stuck in exact middle of the wall behind the radiator, and my husband had to jam his arm back there to help her get free. I hovered, helpless, wondering if we'd have to call for help (where, exactly? The Animal Rescue League? Surely firemen only respond to cats in trees), and vowing to keep the kitten in her carrier or in our laps until we figure out how to protect her from three radiators and two fireplaces. I'm not sure how we'll do that; kittens are brilliant about going where they shouldn't.

The kitten that eventually emerged resembled Wendy but with many gray patches along with the black and orange. Wendy's right ear is half white; this kitten's was gray, for example. I carried her to our bathroom sink, which is bathtub-sized for her, and went at her with wet paper towels, running water, and soap. She was surprisingly docile. My husband held her as I lathered her gray feet. Wet, she was a scrawny, pathetic little creature. I wrapped her, purring, in a bath towel to warm her and help her dry off. This morning, the original Wendy has reappeared.

I'm not sure what we're going to do when she stops loving her crate, but certainly a number of Method cleaning products and our new Miele vacuum cleaner will be involved.

We missed most of "Mad Men" through the commotion, but we'd recorded it and watched it later. Even though we saw parts of it twice, we still have no idea what it all means. We seldom do this season. I think all the characters should get kittens. They'd be a lot happier.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Pumpkin Time

October is possibly my favorite month: the brilliant leaves, the return of my cashmere sweaters from the storage trunk, the Sox in the playoffs, and the arrival of pumpkins of all kinds, wherever I look. We're using a handsome pumpkin soup tureen (on sale last year at Crate & Barrel for $8.95) to store our phone and camera chargers on our kitchen counter. I have an equally roomy silver-plated pumpkin full of truffles at the moment. And we have three fresh midget pumpkins on the coffee table, and more are coming.

We'll get a hefty pumpkin at a farm stand in a week or two, and my husband will carve a striking face, using a template he'll create in Adobe Illustrator. He always surprises me with a new design and he does a great job.

The key to picking a pumpkin is to consider not just the overall shape, condition, and color, but also the stem. The stem is often the most "expressive" element of the pumpkin, and it's too bad that harvesters just hack them close to the gourd so they're generally short and uninteresting.

I'll be baking pumpkin bread with pecans and chocolate chips this week, using a recipe I begged a friend to give me back in high school. On Saturday, I found imported pumpkin gnocchi at the Salumeria Italiana on Richmond Street. Wow... but there must have been something wrong with the pricing gun — we thought it was $45, not $4.50, as it says on their site. I'll be going back.

I also have plans to roast a sugar pumkin stuffed with bread, cheese, eggs, broth, spices, and a few other yummy ingredients. The pumpkin becomes the tureen, and when it's empty, you can eat it in slices along with the filling.

But the best pumpkins — and the ones that won't linger around here — are the pumpkin cupcakes from Lyndell's.

I'm already proclaiming these the best cupcakes I've ever had, although I'll be heading over to the North End shop again this week to get a few more, just to make sure. I think their perfection lies in the way the spices temper the sweetness. Unlike many local cupcakes, this one's pumpkin cake is light and moist, with just the right amount of spice to keep it tasting like a cupcake instead of a quick bread. The frosting isn't overly sweet, either. It's not the basic Lyndell's vanilla buttercream colored orange, which is too sweet for me. I think this might be a sour cream or buttermilk frosting, and it's flavored, too. I couldn't tell what the flavor is, because I was too busy devouring it. I might figure out by Cupcake #3 or #4. This is a substantial cupcake, but you don't feel stuffed after you eat it. And it's $2.25, a small price to pay for an outstanding treat.

My photo is garish; you can't see the true color of the frosting or the heavy coating of sprinkles. Both are satisfyingly orange and loud. Be grateful that the cupcake stayed whole long enough for me to take a photo.

The green stem is some kind of gummy icing. I don't like gummy sweets, although my husband enjoyed his. I can eat around it. Just watch me....

Krazy Kitten

I take back everything I said yesterday about being worried about our kitten, Wendy. She didn't tremble a bit today, displaying perfect coordination while emptying all the water out of her bowl several times, even though we bought her a miniature version of those untippable steel ones. She doesn't tip it, she splashes in the bowl like a raccoon. She managed to soak books shelved a few feet from the dish, the floor in-between, and just about everything in her crate, including herself.

She chased, attacked, chewed on, smacked, walloped, carried, vanquished, harried, surprised, and tortured a trio of fake-fur mice, dragging them into her lair/carrier by their tails. She discovered the joys of chomping on her carrier, climbing the walls of the crate, and tearing up the newspaper under her litter box. Three days ago, she didn't know how to play. I'd say she's making up for lost time.

She meowed, she purred, she howled, and yelled. Whenever our other cats spoke up, from other rooms, she responded in paragraphs. She ate and drank and used her litter box. She even napped; we documented those few precious hours:

In short, we have a normal, nutty kitten.

We are not going to get a decent night's sleep for more than a year.

We couldn't be happier.

We went to the MSPCA's Kitten Adopt-a-thon this afternoon, just for kicks. We just wanted to experience 40 kittens in one room. It was fun, they were cute, and we came away eager to get home to our own much more amazing, beautiful, and funny kitten.

At the beginning of this blog, a year ago, I said I wouldn't bore my readers with cat stories. I said nothing about kitten stories. So there.

Friday, October 2, 2009

There Are Two Kinds of Laptops

We're having Internet problems tonight; pages are loading on my ancient PowerBook G4 like it's 1999. There's no better cure for an Internet addiction than service that's slower than dial-up. I think I'll go read and watch the game instead of waiting for the Flying Pinwheel of Death, as we call that colorful Mac thingy.

I hope the speed gets back to normal tomorrow. If I can't do my morning sudoku puzzle, my whole day is off-kilter.

Let's see if I can at least load one of the photos of Wendy we took today.... Hooray. Today she learned that it's nice to lie in laps while being petted. She is so relaxed at times that she rolls onto her back in our arms so we can stroke her belly.

She also learned to meow her head off. Yesterday she squeaked; today she's giving speeches. She also likes to splash water from her bowl far and wide when we're not looking. This might just be kitten behavior, but it could also be that she has some Maine Coon heritage. Those cats have raccoon-like habits with water, including washing food, toys, and other things they find around the house and carry to their water bowl. Some Coons like to knock over their bowl and spread the water thinly all over the floor with their paws. If only they'd dust, too, I'd adopt several.

Being me, the A-level hypochondriac, I'm already worried about Wendy's health. It's not my fault: I've been through the mill lately with all the feline health problems we've experienced this year. We had, or have, just about all of the major ones among our older cats. What's troubling me about the kitten is that her feet tremble sometimes when she's lying on us, and she trembles generally more than seems normal. She does it when she's nervous, of course, and when she's purring, but I don't think purring kittens are supposed to have twitchy feet. On top of that, she's still the least active kitten I've ever seen; I bet Queen Elizabeth jumps around more than Wendy does. I'm wondering if she's had a reaction to the shots and worm and flea medications she had at the vet on Tuesday. That stuff can be nasty, and she's a tiny, feral animal, without a lot of natural immunity at this stage of her life.

Fortunately, we received a free 30-day health insurance policy when we adopted her. I'm going to activate it tomorrow and if she's still got a trembling foot, she's off to the vet ASAP. My husband thinks she's fine and I'm crazy, which is somewhat reassuring. But I'm already so thoroughly attached to her that I have to know that she's perfectly okay.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Kittenhood 101

I'm new to the art and science of socializing a feral kitten, but I believe we hit the jackpot with our Wendy.

On her first day with us, Wendy remembered how to purr. Kittens begin to purr when they are nursing, but Wendy hadn't purred once since she was captured a few weeks ago. Trembling with fear was Wendy's method of communicating. So purring lessons were a top priority for me, because success would mean we'd succeeded in making her feel safe and happy, at least temporarily.

I periodically made purring sounds as I was talking to her last night and this morning; she seemed attentive. Around noon, as I was gently stroking her, she began rumbling. I was so thrilled that I dialed my husband and put the phone in her carrier. Now she purrs whenever we pet her, and rolls on her back, too, another sign that she trusts us. I thought this might take weeks. She's clearly at the head of the class.

When we went in to greet her this morning, she squeaked at us. We squeaked back, of course, and she replied, and we had a brief kitten conversation. (I love vocal cats, even though our male, Snalbert, likes to join my conference calls with clients by yelling at the top of his lungs beside my desk until I bribe him with kibble or yell back at him to shut up.) Wendy occasionally spoke to me during the day, and when she heard Snalbert talking in another room, she meowed a blue streak in response. I take this as another great sign of sociability and intelligence. I think she's meowing in Italian or Portuguese, because it sounds lovely but I have no idea of what she's saying.

What worried me today was that she never wanted to eat, drink, use her litter box, or run around. A couple of friends assured me that lack of appetite is normal as a kitten settles into a new environment, but I was relieved when she finally ate kibble tonight. She may have eaten while we were sleeping last night, but if she did, she eats very neatly and symmetrically.

I never dreamed I'd be happy to clean out a litter box, but I'm looking forward to it.

Although Wendy doesn't race around or do any of the normal kitten antics, she did learn to play with a toy today, another red-letter event. Her foster parent told me that Wendy got excited while watching other kittens play around her, but that didn't know how to join them. I spent several of her waking hours trailing a "moth" (a frayed piece of cloth) on a string around the carrier that she uses as her hideaway. The top opens as well as the side, so I could dangle the toy in front of her. She watched carefully but wouldn't move. Finally, finally — she scooped it up in her little paw and bit it. She batted it a bit as she lay there, and then fell sound asleep from all her exertions. Later, she learned how to whack a toy mouse off the top of her carrier so it would land inside. Big congratulations all around.

We're going to work further on her new purring and playing skills tomorrow, and see, perhaps, how she feels about being picked up and held. Then we'll start basic math, vocabulary, and music appreciation.