Friday, November 30, 2012

Can't Win

There's nothing quite like unzipping a sweater bag that holds two cherished, heavy cashmere turtlenecks, carefully stored year after year... and having a moth fly out.

I guess I should be grateful that it was just one moth, although god knows how many eggs are in there. I found its cocoon, and the cashmere is thick enough so there didn't seem to be a full-blown hole. But dry-cleaning reveals many moth secrets, as I've learned time and again, when sweaters that had a couple of suspicious areas came home looking like Swiss cheese.

I washed the sweater that didn't have the cocoon, which seems fine. The other one is going to the dry cleaner. I might put a heavy sweater on my Christmas list (which doesn't include a bicycle rickshaw). Don't tell the moths.

In other news, we are madly in love with our two kittens, who are doing cute, photogenic things all the time. Possum is behaving wonderfully and Wendy seems to be keeping an open mind about the new guy, so far. He's still squirreled away in the office where he'll remain for about another week until we know he's healthy. And my camera has just come back from being repaired at the Canon factory so I can start snapping away.

Oh, no....

Possum is already hard at work on his Christmas list. At the very top is this year's Anthropologie Rickshaw; he was so disappointed not to receive last year's version. I think this model is in unbearably hideous taste, and it's even more appalling because it's $10,000. So I said this to Possum. He tried to roll his eyes in response but cats can never pull that off. So he threw me an injured look and returned to his list. I suspect he agrees with me but he is desperate to be driven around in a rickshaw, any rickshaw.

Possum doesn't know that $10,000 is a lot of cash. Cats have no concept of money, except they think it's fun to knock coins on the floor, so they assume those are much more valuable than paper currency, which can only be chewed and tastes terrible. Cats only care about food, warmth, comfort, prey, praise, and fun. (Possum has several more intellectual interests but he's unusual.)

My cats certainly wouldn't give a thought to poor me, forced to pedal all over town at the whim of three tabbies and a calico, lolling on that loud upholstered seat in driving goggles and linen dusters. I said to Possum that it would be undignified. He said, "You have to use water to give yourself a bath, so there's no hope for you anyway."

The previous model had storage inside the seat that could 
hold cans of cat food for impromptu picnics.

At least this model would frighten away most dogs, says Possum.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Four Cats, Day 1

I'm still in shock at having a four-cat household again. It happened pretty suddenly, after all, even though I'd been looking for months. I realize that most people who want a new cat go to a shelter and pick one out a few minutes later. I think that's laudable but I'm different. I shop, I assess, I make it complicated... but I ultimately choose on intuition. And that sometimes surprises me, as it has in this case. I'm also skeptical about this little guy (I can't call him "Adirondack"): he is so affectionate, purr-ful, attractive, and comfortable with indoor life that I can't believe that some poor soul isn't desperately looking for him. I'm nervous about getting too attached to him because I can't help thinking he's somebody else's cat. Update: I did my due diligence and checked at other shelters and on every lost-pet site that I could dig up, and there were quite a few. So that's it... he's ours.

There has been some hissing, from mostly from Wendy. She is under the bed for the day, which is normal for her; she purrs when I pet her there. Possum and Harry have done some hissing, too, at the door and even at each other. I guess a new-cat smell is confusing. But at least some of the hissing seems to be pro forma. It's too soon to get worked up about it.

* * * 

In other news, I suddenly have a writing project with a deadline in late December. I'm going to try to get it wrapped up early, so I can enjoy all the usual Christmas-y things that keep me busy at this time of year, plus spending time playing and hanging out with the cats. (Man, we seem to have a lot of cats all of a sudden.)

Designing and printing our Christmas card will be delayed until we can take a photo of both kittens together, with or without Possum (almost definitely without Wendy). The new kitten can come out of quarantine early next week if he's healthy, but he can't be left unsupervised with the other cats until we're sure everyone's entirely friendly. Unfortunately, that's right when The Back Bay Garden Club has its four-day wreath-making fundraiser from 8 to 7 daily. I'm not sure how I'm going to swing both, but it will work itself out.

It sure would be nice to have a working camera....

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Now We Are Six

Mr. What's-His-Name came home with us from the Animal Rescue League this evening. He's had an eventful day, neutered in the morning and adopted in the evening.

But I am more shell-shocked than he is. He's purring and resting next to my husband in his quarantine room (husband's office), which we hastily set up as he cried for liberty from his carrier. I fished out the kitten-sized litter box from the back of a kitchen cabinet; we moved some furniture and covered some with towels; we brought in food, water, and toys; and tucked the lace curtains up high, safe from little claws. It was lucky that the pile of cables under my husband's desk was still blocked by a big piece of cardboard. We'd left it that way for Harris.

I'm reeling, I am. My husband met me at the shelter this evening; he hadn't gone with me yesterday. We spent a long time with the little guy, who lay quietly in our laps, purring. We explored our decision from every angle and we were both more than a little reluctant and scared. And I thought we had convinced ourselves that it was too risky to bring another kitten home to Wendy, who is just now getting back into her routine after adjusting to Harry. While I believe kittens should be in pairs, so they have playmates and lifelong close companions, Harry has a nice friend in Possum, even if Possum's idea of playing is to roll from side to side on his back after a toy instead of chasing it. And what would Possum think, having another protégé thrust upon him? We had no idea.

This kitten is also not the ideal baby I had imagined to complete our quartet someday. That one had big round "bug eyes" like Possum's, and long, fluffy silver or peach fur. This guy has little lion eyes, a clever face like a little bear, and a wild-looking (if surprisingly silky) dark coat. 

I reported to my husband on the talk I'd had with our vet this afternoon. She thought it was risky to upset Wendy and the new status quo, too, and said it would be hard to predict whether there'd be bad dynamics or behavior problems. It would all depend on the four individual personalities. It would be a gamble.

So, as the clock ticked toward closing time at the shelter, I thought we were walking away. I'd put the kitten back in his cage just as the volunteer photographer came over. She took his picture to post online, exclaiming about how cute he was. And we got our coats and prepared to leave him behind. 

Only we couldn't. We could not leave without him.

Life is short. Let there be cats! And cake! 

I don't take risks easily. I'm awful. I need to do some deep-breathing exercises after this post. I will worry about everything in the next few days, as the kitten lives in his quarantine room. I will worry about how to give all four cats the attention and time they want and deserve. I'll also worry about everyone's health and habits, and Wendy, and our furniture, and the cost of premium cat food, and traveling, and vet bills when they are all geriatric, and many more things.

I will try to remember that we have had four cats, in various permutations, for years. And all was well. (It helps to ruminate on families who have four — or more — children! Boggles the mind.) And four cats is truly enough; I've removed the Petfinder site from my bookmarks; my shelter-haunting days are done. I no longer imagine myself fostering cats or kittens, either, because I am too susceptible.

I don't think I'll worry about Possum. He's already been hanging out by the office door, tail high in the air, assessing his new accomplice. I think Harry will be okay with the new kid, too. Wendy is another story, but maybe Possum can bring her around again as he did with Harry.

It's going to be interesting. And if things don't work out, for some reason, the shelter encourages us to return him within 30 days for a refund. So there's a safety net, just in case all hell breaks lose. Ha.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Met a Guy Today

His name is Adirondack (don't ask me...), and he's a stray at the Animal Rescue League. He spent an hour purring in my arms and seemed unusually mellow, although they tell me he talks a blue streak when he wants attention and can be as crazy as a 3-month-old kitten should be. I think he must be older because he's bigger than Harry, who is big for his age. I admire his wild, rugged looks, an interesting contrast to Harry's tailored elegance. His fur is like silk, and he seems unusually sociable, healthy, and gentle for a stray. 

Does Harry need a playmate? Can Possum be persuaded to babysit and mentor two? Will Wendy pack her bags and move permanently under the bed? Will my husband fall in love when he meets him tomorrow afternoon? Am I crazy? How crazy am I? I wasn't expecting this, and it's not a done deal, so I'll keep you posted.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Scourge of Microwave Popcorn

It seemed innocent enough, that box of Smart Balance Microwave Popcorn we picked up in the supermarket yesterday. I don't eat popcorn but my husband loves it, especially in front of a football game. He usually makes it the old-fashioned way, in a heavy pot on the stove, but that leaves a greasy pot to clean post-game. Nuking a bag seemed easier. He popped a bag, and it tasted fine, he reported.

Through the evening, the apartment smelled of popcorn, but that seemed normal. I remember how that smell permeated every corner of the offices where I've worked that had a microwave oven in the kitchen. At first, it was delicious enough to cause swooning among popcorn fans, and then, as it aged, it began grating on everyone's nerves.

This morning, the kitchen — actually the whole apartment — still reeked powerfully of the chemicals and/or oils from the popcorn. I washed out the microwave, dried it with a towel, and discovered that the smell was clinging to both the sponge, which I eventually chucked, and my good dishtowel, which had to be washed in hot water. I switched to paper towels. After lots of cleaning spray and scrubbing, the microwave looked pristine, but still smelled.

When in doubt, I go online. I googled, "Gross smell microwave popcorn." That turned up useful results, including the recommendation to boil a lemon in water, or a bowlful of vinegar, for several minutes. I tried both, many times. The smell remained. I scrubbed the interior of the oven with Bon Ami; the smell persisted, although every used paper towel came away scented with popcorn grease.

I went back online, and read an account by a woman who figured out how to take the casing off her microwave to clean the interior after microwaving some popcorn. According to her the smell, or the grease, permeated the moving parts and can't be eliminated any other way. Great.

I went for a walk; I was sick of the microwave. When my husband came home, I asked him to clean it for a while. It's very boring work, and after a while he declared it didn't smell anymore. That wasn't true, it was a ploy to get out of the kitchen. I was out of lemons, so I boiled a lime in vinegar for awhile. That actually made some headway, I think. Either that, or my nose is burned out on the smell of crappy-chemical popcorn grease.

I will know the truth tomorrow morning, when my nose is fresh. If the smell continues, I will ponder replacing the microwave. The smell is that annoying, and the microwave is 14 years old, anyway. I've been using it a lot lately, mostly to bring the cats' canned food to room temperature after it's been in the refrigerator. I also still like an occasional bogus grilled cheese, a creation I invented during a plague of scary fungus and ferocious housecleaning that we survived three years ago. Compared to that, a stinky microwave is a piece of cake.

The three remaining bags of unpopped popcorn are in the trash. We couldn't think of anyone we dislike sufficiently to give them to.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

That Time of Year

Possum thought he had the starring role on the front of our annual Christmas card all wrapped up for the next decade or so. After all, he's irresistibly handsome and understands the appeal of a good pose:

Possum says his belly is much admired.

He also understands the power of product placement, as you see here, where he deploys a candy-cane fleece toy to great effect:

He was sure this was the cover of our 2012 card.

Or surely this one, working the candy cane to the max.

But Harry turns out to be a quick study, a natural when it comes to dramatic flair. Here, even Possum had to admire Harry's dynamic pose and the elegant contrast of using the reverse side of the toy:

We'll keep our [surviving] camera charged and let them duke it out.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

My Owl-Watching Souvenir

I managed to get one photo of the owl when it was lit by another photographer's spotlight. My husband's Canon S100 point-and-shot provided the "interesting watercolor effect."

I think I need a better camera....

Friday, November 23, 2012


I went back to the Public Garden this afternoon to see if the owl was once again sleeping in the beech tree. It was, and a small crowd of people was watching it. I'd brought binoculars, and shared them with some of group. Eventually everyone else left and I had some time alone, staring straight up at the bird. It perched on a narrow branch far up in the tree, like a fat, tawny hornets' nest with a tail.

During one of my neck-stretching breaks from tipping my head all the way back, since looking straight up gave the best view of the owl, I found a woman with bigger binoculars standing next to me. She'd heard about the owl in the beech tree, she said, and when she saw me, she knew she'd come to the right tree. She had been sitting near a guy in Burdick's yesterday, and she couldn't help listening to him rambling on. When she heard him say "barred owl," that got her attention. He'd seen the bird yesterday, told her there were five barred owls in the area, spotted perching in willows around the Lagoon, in the beech, and in a tree by the sandwich shop on Boston Common. She'd vowed to visit the beech tree today to see what she could see. She also pointed out that the owl is perched very near the Bagheera Fountain, a statue of a mountain lion catching an owl in flight, inspired by The Jungle Book. We wondered if the owl had a sense of irony.

My fellow owl-watcher was as excited as I to see an owl in downtown Boston, although she's seen owls elsewhere, and confirmed that there are many Snowy Owls on Plum Island. (Field trip!) We stood together, watching and admiring quietly for a long time, as passersby came and went, often asking us what we were looking at and then stopping to take a crappy photo with a cellphone.

We talked about what a gift it was to see such an amazing bird right in the city. Like me, she'd spent forever looking for owls, and finally saw one after many years of living in the country.

At sunset, the owl woke up and began preening, stretching its wings a bit, and looking around. We found this exciting. These birds have a surprisingly large wingspread and we hoped to see it fly before the sky got too dark. I was shivering, but I stayed put.

A few more owl-watchers showed up as the light faded, having heard rumors from a bearded guy named Peter. As we talked and craned our necks, the owl finally took off, and we followed on the ground, exclaiming over the magnificence of its wings as it swooped through the trees. It landed on a high branch that gave us a much better view of its yellowish beak and dark, round eyes. Barred owls have beautiful brown, camouflage feathers and we had an excellent view of it now. Behind us, a group of serious photographers with massive telephoto lenses had materialized, setting up lights and tripods. One trained a spotlight on the owl. This troubled my owl-watcher friend and me, but the owl didn't seem to care. It stayed put and suddenly regurgitated a lump of whatever owls regurgitate... feathers, fur and bone fragments, I think. It was neatly done, but I was glad it was too dark now for us to locate and investigate whatever it was.

I gather there's an Owl-Watching Underground in Boston; each photographer had heard about the owl from some vague source and no one could be sure if it was the same guy. Most had heard the five-owl report (which I just read on a Google bird group that I joined a couple of hours ago.) There's also a three-owl report. 

When it was completely dark, after the photographers had taken plenty of spectacular shots as it posed in the spotlight, the owl flew off again and disappeared into the trees where I couldn't see it. I shook hands with my fellow-owl-watcher and we agreed that we'd probably meet again soon under the beech tree.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Finally, an Owl

Before our Thanksgiving dinner, I went for a stroll around the neighborhood, thinking about all the things we can be grateful for, as I walked along the Esplanade and into the Public Garden.

In the Garden, by the Lagoon, I noticed a small crowd of people staring up into an old beech tree with golden leaves. They were mostly speaking Italian but they were gathered around a handsome, blue-eyed photographer with a tripod and a serious zoom lens on his camera. He was speaking English, trying to tell them about owls and squirrels. There was a lot of gesticulating and laughter. I asked him what was going on and he pointed upward, to a large owl sleeping on a branch.

For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to see an owl in a tree. Whenever we drive anywhere where there are woodlands, I pass the time staring into the treetops, hoping to spot an owl. I've seen dozens of hawks but never an owl. This one was big and round, mottled brown, a Barred Owl, I think.

So my wish came true. (And, of course, I had no camera to document this occasion.) The Italians asked me to take a few photos with their cameras as they posed with the photographer, and then they went off, thanking us. The photographer and I introduced ourselves. He told me that he heard that there are three owls in the area. I told him about some of the photos of local owls that I'd seen recently on Universal Hub.

He said that if I came back to that tree tomorrow, I might see the owl again, perhaps in the same tree or one of the other tall, old ones.

He also told me that Snowy Owls are flourishing along the Eastern Seaboard, and then he told me about this guy, who has banded hundreds Snowy Owls at Logan Airport, of all places. I had no idea there were so many local owls.

He gave me his card — he is an extraordinary wildlife (and landscape) photographer and expert. Here's one of his websites, and here's another.

I'll be back in the Public Garden with my binoculars soon. It seems like a very sensible way to spend a chunk of Black Friday.

I went off to an amazing buffet in the Oval Room of the Copley Plaza hotel, where I had not only turkey and all the fixings but also sampled the lobster salad, crab salad, prosciutto, salami, several cheeses, striped agnolotti, a tiny quiche with smoked bacon, cornbread, and a miniature lemon-poppyseed muffin. Then I had an excellent slice of red velvet cake, a few bites of salted chocolate fudge tart, a shot-glass filled with Boston creme pie, and a bite or two of a couple of tiny cupcakes. Herbal tea helped me digest. We walked home.

Right now Possum is hanging out near me on some crinkly tissue paper, Harry is learning about the Patriots in front of the TV with my husband, and Wendy is wandering around with her favorite green snake in her mouth, singing her head off.

Life is fabulous. So many reasons to give thanks.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Bromfield Camera

An update to my Dead Camera post:

I got some sympathy at Bromfield Camera... after standing and waiting at the counter for a good 15 minutes as they took care of other, slow-moving customers. I shouldn't have gone at lunchtime. Their bookkeeper felt sorry for me and kept me company until one of the guys was free.

They've only seen this problem on one other Canon S100; my information about the lens-error defect was news to most of them. I had to pay $13 to ship the dead camera back to Canon. They said they'd look around and call me "later" to see if they could lend me a camera until mine was repaired. I never heard from them.

They remembered I had been a frequent visitor last year, when I was waiting for them to get their first S100 in the silver color I wanted. I'd wanted it for months; I even held out for weeks after my ancient Leica died and I was camera-less. They also understand — I was rather emphatic — that I no longer want the camera because I can't trust it anymore. The part that broke tends to break again, without warning. But they said I must wait until it's repaired before we can negotiate a trade or some other deal. That's fair.

I asked what was new in point-and-shoots. They showed me a Sony they said is the best small camera on the market. It was all right, but bigger and clumsier than my Canon. While it has a better sensor, it doesn't have as wide a wide-angle or as zoomy a zoom as my Canon. So there.

After I left Bromfield's, I consoled myself in front of the diamonds in E.B. Horn's window and then had my first Chilean sandwich (chicken, cheese, steamed green beans, and avocado spread) at Chacarero. It was good.

While my camera's in the shop, I can take photos with my iPhone and my husband kindly put his S100 on the mantel for me to share. (We expect it to break any minute.) I'm not exactly camera-less. But I'm cranky.

I was not cranky when our dishwasher's door broke and landed the floor the other day, after many years of regular, reliable use. I was not cranky when we blew a tire on a pothole in Cambridge last weekend. Stuff happens. But a Canon camera is supposed to last for years, not months.

I know I have at least a million things to be truly grateful for, including just about everything in my life. I hold and cherish that thought. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Dead Camera

My husband and I bought ourselves identical Canon point-and-shoot cameras last New Year's Eve, and we've been happy with them ever since. That is, until mine died this evening, refusing to close its lens and shut itself off after I took yet another photo of Harry being adorable.

The Canon S100 is not one of their inexpensive models but, almost from the beginning Canon knew it had this widespread defect that suddenly renders it useless. At first, it was thought to affect just a few cameras; now we know it's affected thousands. Canon acknowledged this last spring, and will repair the cameras for free. But I've read that cameras that were repaired are breaking again (imagine if your camera fails while you're traveling in some far-off country). So now I've permanently lost faith in my camera and the brand; this will likely be my last Canon. I figure it's only a matter of time before my husband's S100 fails, too, since our serial numbers are consecutive and both are within the large range of numbers posted by the company as potentially defective.

I'll probably be stuck without a camera for at least a week, and a week is A Very Long Time when there's a photogenic kitten in the house. At least I have an iPhone. I could use my husband's camera, but I don't want to be the one holding it when it decides to bite the dust, too. I still have my old Leica point-and-shoot but, now that I think about it, it broke around this time last year, which is why I replaced it. I tend to hang onto a camera for years.

We bought the Canons at Bromfield Camera, downtown. Although we buy plenty of stuff online, we felt it was worth paying a little more to patronize an excellent local business. When we're camera shopping, we need to try out different models and talk them over with salespeople. I have to handle a camera, test its controls, and enjoy how it feels in my hands before I buy it — sometimes a perfectly good camera just feels awkward to handle, or the controls are hard to use, or the operating system is counter-intuitive. So it would be terrible if more camera shops (farewell, Ritz...) went the way of most of our bookstores. Now I have another, unfortunate reason to be glad that we bought locally. I'll walk over to Bromfield Street tomorrow and report back on what they tell me.

In the meantime, I still have a few more photos of Harry being adorable:

He's an unusually tall kitten, I think, with long legs and good posture.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Big, Busy World Out There

Harris likes to watch birds and other critters from the safe vantage point of a windowsill. We are lucky to have seven very wide sills, which look like they were made for cats. They're also ideal for plants; I'm planning to grow some cat grass in a sturdy planter, since I've read recently that it's very good for them. They will be able to munch while watching the world go by.

It's been a long time since I've seen an outdoor, stray, or feral cat roaming our neighborhood, and I'm glad. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Bits and Pieces

  If you're interested in abandoned buildings and other forms of architectural decay, here's an interesting site.

‡ Pottery Barn has resurrected its Faux Fur Hot Water Bottle in time for the holidays. But before you pull out your credit card, please read my post where I weigh the benefits of the bottle versus those of a cat. You could end up going to your local animal shelter instead.

Furry Hot Water Bottle

Bella, at the Animal Rescue League, who loves to cuddle.

 I don't usually get worked up about breakfast, but lately I'm crazy about multigrain toast with goat cheese and jam. We like the little multigrain pullmans from Trader Joe's (I love hearing the grains popping in the toaster). My jam du jour is the Cherry Peach Conserve we picked up on our visit to Nervous Nellie's Jams and Jellies in Deer Isle Maine in August. It's full of whole cherries and perfect for me, because I can never make up my mind between those two flavors.

‡ Garnet Hill is offering email subscribers and Facebook folks an extra 40% off sale items through November 17. This means that lots of good stuff, like cashmere sweaters, is about half-price. To click through to the offer, check out the posts on their Facebook page.

Very tall boots, a Garnet Hill bargain

‡ Crate & Barrel is already offering 20% off their holiday sweets. So if you can't wait until Santa puts those Maple Bacon Caramels under the tree for you, you can get a tin for about $12.

I don't know how I feel about bacon, caramel and chocolate together...
I'd need about a dozen to settle the question.

‡ If you live in the Boston area, you have until November 28 to order a holiday wreath made with exquisite care and skill (unless it's Yours Truly wielding the pinecones) by a member of the Garden Club of the Back Bay. Visit the Wreath Store to place an order.  

Wreath by a truly awesome Garden Club designer (NOT Yours Truly)

‡ On a less cheerful note, here's a terrifying study by a former Harvard Law School student that will convince you to take a closer look at what you're feeding your animal: "Deconstructing the Regulatory Facade: Why Confused Consumers Feed their Pets Krispy Kremes and Ring Dings. The section on rendering explains that six to seven million of the dogs and cats killed in animal shelters make their way into rendering vets annually, along with expired meat from grocery stores, complete with its styrofoam and cellophane packaging, which ends up described as "meat" and "bone meal" on food packages.

‡ I see I need to cheer you up again, so here's a photo of little Harris, who likes to chew on antique Austrian bentwood chairs:

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tonight's Adorableness

Yesterday, I said I'd post about a non-cat topic today... oh, well. Maybe tomorrow. At least you aren't getting another soliloquy on all the stuff I learned today about the pet food industry and my struggles to find the best raw and canned foods. There's a maze of conflicting, confusing, and hair-raising information. I'll write about it later, if and when I get some clarity.

Tonight, Harry sprawled across me as I was reading on the sofa and decided my old cashmere sweater reminded him of his mother. He closed his eyes and "nursed" on my sleeve, near my armpit, kneading my arm with his newly trimmed claws and purring deeply. He kept at it for at least 15 minutes as I watched, amazed. From the other room, Possum and Wendy recognized the tiny noises he was making, and came over to us with huge eyes, wondering where Harry's mom was. Eventually Harry looked up at me with glazed eyes and staggered away, collapsing beside me in a contented stupor. I expected to find a hole in my sweater (and didn't care, since I have extra yarn and plenty of experience repairing moth holes). But my only souvenir of this unforgettable experience is a small, soaked spot on my sleeve.

Possum returned, licked Harry's head, looked me in the eye, and walked away. It's nice of him to check in when I have baby-sitting duty. I do the same when it's his turn.

Harry is noticeably bigger than he was two weeks ago, but he still has a baby face and all of his roly-poly kitten charm. His feet still look too big for the rest of him, and his legs and tail are longer. He's going to be a tall cat if not a huge one. In the meantime, I'm enjoying scooping him up with one hand and holding him in my arms. Trying anything like this with Possum these days is akin to cradling a giant fur-covered ham.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sampling Raw Food

It's high time I posted about something besides cats... but what is there besides cats? Maybe tomorrow.

We know that our kitten Harry was raised on a raw diet, and I've had a packet of free raw samples in the freezer for months, since I was nervous about trying them. Our vet thinks raw food is dangerous. But it seems that canned food hasn't been agreeing too well with the little guy, and I've heard nothing but praise for raw diets from every "civilian" cat person who's talked to me about it. So I caved, and thawed some Primal human-grade raw turkey pellets, made from the whole bird, including bones, mixed with organic veggies and essential nutrients. I did it for Harry, who was both gassy and always hungry. But everyone wanted to try it, and they were all crazy about it.

Wendy and Possum pretend there's something exciting behind me,
hoping to distract me and my camera so I won't see what they do next.

Wendy plays the lady card and muscles in on Harry. Harry is a gentleman.

Possum muscles in. They always swap bowls at mealtime so I can't worry about the hygiene of this.

Wendy uses her paw to get every bit. A week ago, she wouldn't come near Harry
and was very hissy. Now they eat and play together.

Harry is no longer gassy; it could be because last week's parasite treatment worked, or it could be that Wellness Core agrees with him, since we're feeding that, too. (Everyone hates EVO and they aren't fond of most of the other canned brands we're sampling.) But they LOVE raw. They lick their paws forever after the bowl is empty. They lick the floor clean. And I see the appeal.

But it's a dilemma, weighing the vet establishment's fear of raw food against the glowing, zealous endorsements of every cat person I've ever talked to who feeds raw food. 

It's true that cats are generally living much longer lives these days, especially if they are kept indoors. We can thank veterinary science for this, and I believe that the improved quality of "nutritionally complete" foods — even bargain-priced supermarket brands — has played a role, too. But too many cats still develop thyroid disease, renal failure, and cancers like lymphoma. What's causing those? How can we try to prevent them? We can't control environmental factors like air pollution, or genetic predisposition, but we can control what goes into cats' bodies: food, water, vaccines, and litter.

There's a growing list of reasons not to feed kibble — cheap, crappy, highly processed ingredients; not enough moisture, so dry food is thought to stress the kidneys and urinary tract; too many carbs, since cats primarily need animal protein but vegetables like sweet potatoes are cheaper ingredients; too much grain, since cats have trouble digesting it; chances of its being stale or rancid despite its long expiration dates and preservatives. And my own particular reason — guilt, since Snicky and Snalbert ate only  Science Diet kibble until they were into their teens, because our vets told us it was good and I was oblivious. Eventually we all got smarter and the cats ate a combination diet of mostly canned food, which has a much higher water content and more animal protein. But both of those beloved cats developed chronic renal failure. 

There's another more reason drawing me towards raw food: common sense. Would I eat a diet that came from cans and bags exclusively? I eat very little that comes out of such packaging besides granola, dried pasta, and cranberry sauce. Eating a diet loaded with highly processed and preserved food is unhealthy for any mammal. Feeding it to the cats doesn't feel right.

While raw food can be contaminated with bacteria, my conscience has been telling me for some time that I should be at least equally afraid of what's in those little cans and kibble bags, given the melamine disaster of a few years ago and last spring's extensive salmonella recall, which included brands I'd chosen after doing research. Healthy cats, having short digestive tracts, are supposed to be less affected by bad bacteria than humans are, so there's probably more risk from raw food for us than for them. Lots of hot water, soap, and hand-washing are necessary when feeding raw.

One final reason, I promise: raw food is food. As in Michael Pollan's rule for a healthy diet: "Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much." (For cats, change "plants" to "birds and mammals.") I don't need my cats' food to look appetizing to me.* I never fell for Fancy Feast's silly Elegant Medleys line, with flavors that sound like restaurant entrées. But I do want my cats' food to look like food. Raw food does. Canned food, not so much. One day, in Maine, I was thrilled to watch Ruby eating an entire bird she'd caught, except for the claws. Raw food is pretty close to that ideal feline diet. 

Despite all this self-convincing, I'm not yet ready to feed an exclusively raw diet. We'll take it gradually and feed a variety of high-protein, grain-free canned foods along with raw, at least for now. Our freezer is tiny, so we can't store a lot of frozen food. It's also simpler to feed canned food in the morning when we're running around getting ready for the day. But the writing is on the wall... and it's in quail, rabbit, and turkey blood. 

*Well, I do sort of fantasize about eating Weruva's Paw Lickin' Chicken with a spoon. It's shredded chicken breast, mmm.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pairs Slacking Continues

Possum can't bring himself to tell little Harry that Pairs Slacking is still for male-and-female cat couples only:

Massachusetts is proud to have been the first state to allow gay marriage; now it's time we challenged the mixed-couples rule in Cat Olympic Pairs Slacking and affiliated competitions.

And it certainly looks like we have more natural slacking talent in our household. Look at that mirroring of pose and attitude! Look at how relaxed and limp they both appear, like a pair of lead doorstops! Harry is too bright-eyed, but even the judges don't deduct points for that in a kitten. It's enthusiasm for the sport.

Harry also proved to be a talented obstructionist as I tried to change the sheets today. That took a couple of hours because he needed a nap:

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pairs Slacking Revived?

I've posted previously about the competitive cat sport called Pairs Slacking, which was most likely the inspiration for Pairs Figure Skating for humans. In 2011, Wendy and Possum began training together in hopes of making the Cat Olympics someday. It takes discipline and thousands of hours of effort beyond using one's natural slacking ability:
The judging criteria include flopping down in unison, equal mastery of slacking technique, lack of energy, lack of choreography, lack of interpretation, sloppiness of pose, sleepiness of eyes, and graceful foot and tail positions. They get points for achieving all of that.
Points are deducted for seeming too alert or creative, excessive tail energy or ear movement, twitching, being startled by noise (a big challenge for Wendy), and falling or slipping off the slacking surface. Teams lose major points if there is more than one element in their program, i.e., they change position, or if they appear to have practiced too hard. It's a really tricky sport, I'm telling you.
When I last posted about this in April, they were feeling frustrated and decided to take a break It seemed unlikely they'd be able to compete in 2012, even at the pre-Junior Level. Then our Snictoria died, and Snalbert became ill, the rest of us were busier, and training lost its appeal.

Snalbert had a Dick Button–like instinct for coaching our pair, and one of his last gestures in early July, before he died, was to give Wendy and Possum some individual, parting wisdom about several Required Elements of the sport. Here he keeps an eye on Wendy's technique as she practices looking deeply relaxed in one of the Nap Positions.

As you can see, her sleepy head and closed eyes are convincingly stuporous. She also looks glued to the table — heavy and lethargic is an ideal Cat Slacking attitude. But, to the end, Bertie was sharp enough to detect (and attempt to correct) that latent tension in the tip of her magnificent tail — an automatic points deduction in competition. And her left ear has always been rather wayward; any sign of ear alertness is another significant deduction.

After we lost Bertie, the four of us were desolate and abandoned hope for the cats ever succeeding in Pairs Slacking. It seemed they'd never have the discipline and knowledge to train without a coach. But I found them training just the other day. I believe they've recovered their focus and their enthusiasm for working together. It's a testament to Bertie's own dedication to the sport and belief in their ability. And they didn't look half bad. Here they are, practicing the Symmetrical Curl position, another one of the Required Nap Positions:

Now, it's obvious that they are still at the pre-Junior level — Possum looks convincingly comatose, but his tail should be much closer to his nose (it's tough for him to position it correctly with that well-upholstered belly in the way). His right ear is also too alert, and his head is overhanging his right paw, a big points deduction. But he's clearly remembering some of Snalbert's instructions, at least. And Wendy is looking really good: unselfconscious, completely relaxed, like she's made of lead, with a strong, graceful curve to her back that appears effortless. (Compare her to Possum's more amateur form.) Wendy is presenting a terrific nose-to-tail relationship, too. She still needs to work on her ears, but her left ear is actually looking better than her right one this time around. And, best of all, look at the dramatic distance between the two. That demonstrates true aptitude and successful risk-taking in Pairs Slacking. 

We are very excited about their prospects once again.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Possum Takes a Break

He was wearing himself out with babysitting and tutoring, and needed some "me" time, if only to give his tail a rest:

So we got him a hotel room:

Friday, November 9, 2012

Kitten Has a Name

He may seem blasé, but we are pleased and relieved that the kitten finally has a name: Harris, with Harry for a nickname. (He will have many outlandish nicknames invented for him, but it's nice to start simply.) 

My husband and I always liked the name "Harry" and more important, the kitten looks like a Harry. He is also named in honor of the first kitten I had as an adult, Harris Winfield, a gray tabby who moved with me to Boston after college and was reportedly abducted on Exeter Street, where I'd foolishly/ignorantly/stupidly let him wander, when he was about 8 months old. (He'd lived with me in a house in the woods before we came to Boston; in those days, I barely knew indoor cats existed. After losing him, I learned quickly.)

I initially thought our Harry was Italian because he enjoys arias, but Possum pointed out, patiently, that all nationalities respond to Puccini. 

Did I mention that the kitten is now Possum's kitten? Possy is brother, tutor, babysitter, and role model in one. He is proud and somewhat harried (pun intended) to have all this responsibility and takes it seriously. He went so far as to bite Wendy on the neck yesterday, which is the traditional way to exert authority over a cat with less status in the local hierarchy. He didn't like how she behaved toward his kitten. And so she cleaned up her act:

Harry and Wendy share a ribbon toy as Possum looks on with approval.

Possum says the kitten is Scottish; don't ask me how he knows this. (The kitten is too little to talk, not that he will ever get a word in edgewise around Possum.) Possy pointed out how the kitten's tabby markings have beautiful, subtle, gradations of silver-gray and tan along with rich, pure black. 

"Very striking," I agreed. "Like an expensive tweed." (Possum's perceptive, curatorial eye makes me so proud.)

"Precisely. Harris Tweed, in fact," said Possum. So the kitten is now Harris T. McBeastie, since Possum says he needs a Scottish surname that reflects his remarkable ferocity as a hunter, doing more damage to Da Bird in a few minutes than Wendy and Possum can inflict in a year.

Possum also says the kitten needs a title. "Oh, no! Not again!" we said. "Really, Possum," I said, "We don't want to go there. This is America and we don't care about that stuff. One title in the family is almost too many." Through a strange turn of events, Possum inherited the title of Baron von Rümpüsspüssë from his aristocratic Norwegian father. We tried not to let it go to his head, but it did anyway. My husband sometimes refers to him as "The Barrel," rather than "The Baron." For reasons that should be obvious in any photo....

But Possy insisted that his kitten would always feel inferior to him if he didn't have a title, too. So the Barrel Baron bestowed an honorary one; I didn't realize that there could be such liberties between the Norwegian and Scottish feline peerages, but what do I know? So, according to Possum, the kitten is now the Baron von Greywacke. I looked it up. "Greywacke" (pronounce the final "e") is a hard, dark, shimmery gray sandstone, used in ancient Egypt for statues and also common in the UK, including Scotland. I don't know how Possum came up with it since he's too busy babysitting and having his tail attacked to do research. But he gave us one of his winning looks, and we surrendered and let him have his way, as usual.

And so that's the story of the kitten's name. And now it's time to give little Harry some attention.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

No Name for Exploding Kitten

We failed. We were supposed to provide the kitten's name to the cat hospital tonight but we're still having trouble finding a perfect name for this perfect kitten. We know we need to hurry up before he's old enough for an identity crisis. 

KITTEN:  "Who am I?"

PEOPLE: "We have no idea." 

KITTEN: "Okay. That's it. I'm running away to a house where they'll call me Fluffy."

Have I mentioned that the perfect kitten is a GASSY kitten? We've been noticing it off and on since he arrived and figured it was just a normal kitten phenomenon since his parasite tests were negative. But he was quite the stinky (if adorable) spectacle in the vet's crowded waiting room, and there were more episodes in the exam room while the vet felt around and was surprised by his full gas tank. When we could breathe again, she decided to treat him for coccidia just in case. Let's hope it works. If it doesn't, we know she'll get to the bottom of it, so to speak.

Don't worry, we won't name him Methane, Xenon, or Argon.

In other news, Wendy is out and about, eating with the boys, and not growling. She hasn't exactly befriended the kitten but she's more tolerant. I'm sorry to report that Possum went after her this morning. ("Possum," I said, trying to distract him, "What can she be doing to upset you? The election is over.") She growled and complained as he straddled her and bit her neck — the classic dominance move, where one cat asserts superior status over another. Wendy doesn't question Possum's being Top Cat, so I think he did it because he wants her to be nicer to His Kitten. We do, too.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What I Had in Mind

Now that Possum and the kitten are friends, we just need to get Wendy in the picture. She's stopped hiding and growling, and eats with Possum and the kitten. I haven't heard much hissing, so we're moving right along.

The kitten (who will have a name tomorrow, when he has his first meeting with our vet) spent his first night of freedom zonked out on the bed between us as we struggled to stay up for the President's speech. We made it through Romney's concession speech, and that's all I remember. I woke up later to find the little guy stretched out along my back. He's a glorious kitten.

More Scenes from Woodstock, Vermont

I am tempted to call the kitten "Woodstock" because it's a wonderful place and I miss it, plus we drove from there the day we adopted him. It's not a bad name... better than calling him "Southwest Harbor" certainly. But I'm not convinced it suits him. 

Like Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island, the area around Woodstock is preserved with sweeping stretches of conservation land (there's a national park) through the generosity and foresight of a Rockefeller son, in this case Laurance (we can thank David for Acadia). Both places seem untouched by time but are splendidly maintained, the best of all possible worlds.

The Ottaqueechee runs through town.

Orchard views by Billings Farm, another Rockefeller site

Antique grocery items at Gillingham's General Store.

Shopping cart loaded with gourmet chocolate. We'll take it!
Gillingham's has everything, including too much candy.

Our inn, north of Woodstock, on a misty morning.

Two good shops among many in the Village:
Primrose Garden gifts, and Who Is Sylvia? vintage clothing.

A shot from the porch behind Primrose Garden.

The main intersection, showing Bentley's, 
a favorite restaurant of mine.

The First Congregational Church, raised in 1806. 

Miniature pumpkins dotting fenceposts

Another village shop decked out for the season

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Problem, in a Nutshell

The Naming of Cats 
The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there's the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey--
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter--
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that's particular,
A name that's peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there's still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover--
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

                                                     — T. S. Eliot

Yesterday's Adorableness

Someone found the toy collection.

Kitten (still nameless, but we're trying) was chasing Possum around the apartment last night. They also wrestle: the kitten lies on his back, legs flailing and teeth flashing, while Possum swats and gives air nips. Possum also licks the kitten's head. Possum has a buddy, and my hopes are fulfilled.

I am pleased to report that the kitten is showing excellent potential to revive the Cheese Patrol, having snarfed some bits of American (I thought it best to start slow) two nights in a row. Possum and Wendy tried to upstage him and failed as usual. Wendy still doesn't recognize cheese as food despite watching the kitten eat it enthusiastically. Possum can't keep cheese in his mouth long enough to swallow it and drops each soggy bit on the floor. The kitten doesn't just eat the cheese; he also races into the kitchen whenever I'm in there. A key aspect of Cheese Patrol duty is knowing that cheese doesn't come to you, you must detect its presence and demand an inspection.

Wendy reappeared in our lives after a week of protest, eating and hanging out more-or-less as she did before the kitten came. Her growling and hissing have diminished, although she gave him a few quick swats that I didn't like. The kitten wasn't fazed, though. And all three cats played together with their new Cat Dancer toy. Wendy watches the kitten play without getting upset (although her expression is priceless: I never knew a cat could manage to look so disapproving and supercilious). She allows him to get within a couple of feet of her before she feels threatened and reacts. So the kitten is still spending lonely hours in the office when we're sleeping or if we both go out, until Wendy can be trusted. And she's getting there; maybe it's due to the Rescue Remedy. She is at heart sweet and gentle, so we're confident she'll make friends soon.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Houses in Woodstock, Vermont

Woodstock has some of the most beautiful 19th-century wood, stone, and brick houses in New England:

A splendidly ornate porch with black steps, ceiling, and benches

Whitewashed brick faded to a beautiful shade of pink

This Federal-style house is next to the covered bridge.

Clapboard with fancy trim

Another of my favorite brick houses

An earlier house, simple but elegant.

Arched windows with matching shutters plus an autumn display

I first knew this house when it was painted white with green trim. 
Its colorful paint scheme completely transforms it. It was always
charming but now it's spectacular.