Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Drama

It seems we couldn't end the year quietly, holed up in our living room, away from the one-million visitors who swarm our fair city on First Night. No, we had neglected the requisite hasty trip to the Angell Animal Medical Center ER in 2012.

My husband was making a cup of tea around 3:30 this afternoon. The kittens were in the kitchen. My husband thought Harris might be contemplating a leap onto the hot cooktop. As he was shooing Harris away, Toffee leapt from behind him onto the cooktop instead.

I heard hysterical, incoherent yelling. By the time I got to the kitchen, Toffee was running frantically though the apartment. So was my husband. Harris and Possum looked alarmed. There was a strong smell of burnt fur in the air; my husband eventually found words to tell me what happened. We caught Toffee, who was shaking his paws and limping as he ran. I examined him. His back feet looked fine but there were white areas on the pink pads of his front paws and the fluff between his toes was singed and yellow. My first thought was an ice pack, but Toffee had no patience for that. I dialed our vet as I tried to figure out what might help him. They were already closed for the holiday.

I ran cold water, soaked washcloths and wrapped them around his paws. He stayed still as my husband held him. I dialed the Animal Rescue League's vets since I have had that number memorized for decades, although I no longer remember why. They were there, but they were closing. They told me to head to Angell; the white spots were blisters and he'd need antibiotics and pain medication. I reached Angell and told them we were on our way.

Toffee was quiet in the car, and during the hour or so that we waited for the vet. I wished I'd brought the washcloths, but he was using his paws in his carrier and didn't seem in much pain. But cats hide pain. The vet was reassuring; she found only three small blisters on his toes, and washed his paws with antibacterial solution. She gave him his first painkiller dose and sent us home with more, plus antibiotics for a week. We also have to wash his paws after he uses his box.

The patient, on a happier day.

When we came home, Possum came over to the carrier and licked Toffee's head as he emerged. Possum is a prince. Toffee seems like himself, eating, playful, and chirpy. Pain medication is a great thing.

The two of us humans... not so much. My husband said he saw his worst nightmare come true, and I have rarely seen him that freaked out. (My worst nightmare involves our little, front-loading washing machine; I do a head count before I turn it on every time.) We asked the vet how we could have prevented this, and she said some people keep cans full of coins around their countertops and rattle them to scare their cats from jumping up. We can try that, but I think Toffee is smarter and more daring than that. Let's hope he's smart enough never to do it again. The vet thought it was likely. And let's hope he shares his new wisdom with Harris.

I can't say when we'll be in the mood for tea. I had the job of cleaning little charred footprints off the glass cooktop. I don't drink; alcohol makes me ill and I never liked the taste much anyway, so I seldom miss it. But this is one of those rare nights when a whiskey sour has tremendous appeal.

Toffee and Harris are playing at my feet together. Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Snowfall... and a Little Auld Lang Syne

The first decent snowfall in recent memory (less than 3 inches, but still) arrived last night and into this morning. With it came cold air that chilled our bedroom. In recent years, I'd stopped caulking our drafty, 134-year-old windows with Mortite, that ropey gray putty that comes in a blue box at the hardware store. This grim winter tradition always made me feel impoverished and pathetic, as if  my clothes should all be threadbare and food consist of gruel and potatoes. I don't miss that psychic blow at all. But the real reason I skip doing it is because we need fresh air for the cooking fumes that pour in whenever the neighbors use their exhaust fan.

I gather this is a common situation in these old Back Bay townhouses; I know other people who live with it. When my husband and I rented our first apartment together on Marlborough Street, our bedroom was above the studio of a Brazilian woman who cooked an eye-watering, garlic-laden dinner after 11 every night for her boyfriend. Smelling it was enough to wake us; it's something you don't get used to. But she was nice; when she wasn't cooking or tending to her boyfriend, she taught me to dance the Macarena in her garlicky little apartment. These days, when our bedroom fills with cooking odors, I don't put on heels and do the Macarena. I light scented candles and let the leaky windows do their work.

Last night, I turned up the thermostat and piled another coverlet on the bed. (The more I burrow under the covers, the less likely it is that Harris will nurse on my ear all night. He spent last night snacking on my husband's ear. We are both hopeless pushovers for that kitten.)

We awoke to beautiful snow, coating each little twig of the trees because it hadn't been windy. We went for a walk. It was slippery and blustery. My hands and face were freezing and I could not give you a single good reason why we live here instead of, say, California. We slid our way to the Public Garden and back, and then realized we had to clean off the car. It took a cup of cocoa, toast, a cup of tea, wrapping up in my throw, with a fleece jacket over my sweater, and my husband's knitted Patriots cap to warm me up.

But I continue to like snow, at least in the abstract. I'll probably remember why we live here... in a few months. In the meantime, I wish I was creative enough to have produced a snowman riding a bicycle, as shown below. Those extra-long arms were a stroke of genius.

When we came home, Toffee was languishing on a cushion, looking pensive, like a Victorian poet. He and Possum have been taking turns washing each other's faces, so I believe Toffee may be becoming an art history buff and flamboyant culture vulture like his mentor. For one thing, he watches Downton Abbey with us religiously and is all caught up on the story.

On the other hand, my husband just announced that Toffee is his favorite cat of all time (as if there were any doubt) because he somehow managed to open iTunes on my husband's laptop and play Buckethead, my husband's current musical obsession. Considering that no other cat was ever allowed near that laptop, whereas Toffee has been photographed sprawled, napping, across the keyboard, I can't agree that this Snalbert-esque achievement is all that remarkable. Snalbert opened my iTunes library on occasion — and selected Mozart or Christmas music, I'm happy to report. Snalbert had taste. If you follow that last link, you'll read that he did it almost exactly a year ago, when he was still in reasonably good health, although I was already starting to worry about him. (We had already been worrying about Snictoria for years.)

Poor, dear Snalbert and Snicky. What a year we've had. I miss them, and all their predecessors, even as I enjoy the antics of the kittens and the sweetness of Wendy and Possum. I think I'd better have another cookie and try to think of something else.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Just Playing with Our Toys

Sometime in 2013, I hope to have one or two interesting thoughts to share. In the meantime...

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Candy Sleds

I like to make things, but I don't have enough space to do much in our little apartment. There's no room for a work table; no storage area for materials. I guess that's why I love wreath-decorating with the Garden Club so much: I get my own space, plus an easel, to have fun (and make a mess) for four solid days.

When I saw a photograph of candy sleds on Pinterest, I knew I could handle making ten of them at our dining room table. I thought they'd be cute favors for Christmas dinner in Pennsylvania. I studied the photo and bought four bags of Hershey's miniature bars.

It was hard to find good-sized candy canes in Christmas colors. Who has been buying up all the decent candy canes? I never buy candy canes.  I had to go to Walgreens and three CVS stores before I found the last two boxes. That's also where I bought ten Kit Kat bars. The cashier said, "You seem to like Kit Kat bars." I said, "They're for a craft project. I'm using them to make candy sleds." He was scanning one of my boxes of Hershey's chocolate-filled candy canes, which conveniently had instructions for candy sleds printed on the back. "Oh, like this," he said, reading. "Cool."  It took me a while to get out of there.

It was fun to dump all the candy on the table and divide it into ten little stacks of ten pieces. I was not tempted to sample any of it. It was craft material.

The next step was to attach ten little Hershey's bars to the top of each Kit Kat. Some people use a hot glue gun for this; in my hands, it could melt the chocolate and would certainly drip all over everything. I used double-stick tape instead, which worked well. Of course, the kittens were interested in the project, so I spent a lot of time removing them gently and repeatedly from the table.

The next step was attaching ribbons. I happened to have rolls of narrow red and green satin ribbon that are too skinny for wrapping most presents. To attach the ribbons, I switched to regular tape.

Then I dealt with the candy canes. Removing them from their fortress-like packaging was the hardest step of all. I think the box was designed so you end up breaking most of the candy canes and need to run back to the store to buy more.

So THAT'S where all the good-looking candy canes went....

I had to take each box apart and carefully snip the two tiny pieces of cardboard between each candy cane to remove them safely. Candy-cane surgery. There were four broken ones already, but I still had just enough for ten sleds. I matched them in pairs according to their length and the shape of their crooks. Then I used a ton of both kinds of tape to attach and stabilize them.

At this point, I decided that the sleds looked pretty silly. But I was nearly finished, so it was too late to do anything but keep going. They only needed their bright little metallic bows stuck on top.

So here they are — and they were a big hit with my family.

For my next project, I will consult a book I just got, Crafting with Cat Hair. It shows you how to turn your cat's excess fur into felt to make little cat-shaped finger puppets. How could I resist?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

Toffee was wrong. Santa Paws came for all four cats and left them new toys, two feather "birds" for their favorite wand toy,"Da Bird," and dried fish flakes, oh boy. Santa was good to all of us. I didn't get any fish flakes, but I got some wonderful books, candles, fancy tea, a cashmere cardigan, and the nicest Hunter rain boots ever. My husband likes his presents, especially his new iPad case that looks like an old book. (With special thanks to Some Assembly Required for pointing me in that direction; he really knows his Stuff.)

Toffee is growling as he subdues his new toys amid the tissue paper crumpled all over the living room floor. Wendy and Possum are happy with their toys, too. Harris is lying on the windowsill, taking in the scene and watching the snowflakes outside. 

A Merry Christmas to all! 

We're off to Pennsylvania for a couple of days to celebrate with family in the Christmas City of the USA — and miss the cats.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve

Happy holidays from the PB, Possum, Wendy, Harris & Toffee!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Seen Around the Tree

We are just about ready for Christmas — and Christmas Eve, which we will spend in the company of our cats.

Here is Wendy, who has just told us that all she wants for Christmas is to be an Only Child:

Sorry, Wendy. Harris is still relentlessly posing for the front of the Christmas card, even though they were printed, signed, and mailed. There's always next year:

Such a soulful little angel. I've taken to calling him Mr. Polarbearpaws because his feet are still much too big for the rest of him.

Toffee is NOT an angel. Look carefully at the photo below. He has just told Wendy and Harris that there is no such thing as Santa Paws.

And where is Possum, the patriarch? Right where he usually is, on his back, thinking deep thoughts and looking magnificent:

I have broken it to him that, once again, there will be no bicycle rickshaw ($10,000) under the tree for him on Christmas morning... even though he was splendidly good all year, and so responsible about shepherding the kittens. But I promised him that, if we ever move out of the city (fat chance) and I get a bicycle, he can ride in my basket if he'll agree to wear a helmet. He can dream about that:

Have a Happy Christmas Eve!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Harris & Toffee & Presents

Most of the Christmas presents got wrapped and tagged today. Stick-on bows were stuck on, reinforced with tape. Everything is under the tree. As far as I'm concerned, my responsibilities end there. If Someone attacks those presents, and they get messed up, it's out of my hands.

Mine. All mine.

Mine. All mine.

And all so tasty, too.

"Poor Possum," thinks Harris. "I don't see a bicycle rickshaw under here." 

Smell of the Tree

All cats have a smell, and I don't mean the one they use to identify each other. It's fun to bury your nose in your cat's fur and take a whiff. I do this with all three boys but Wendy won't let me close enough.

I began sniffing cats with the orange tiger I gave my parents when I was in college, Harald. He smelled fresh and outdoorsy because he spent a lot of time in the shrubbery and grass around our house. He smelled especially great when he was wet with rain.

Snalbert's fur had a nice, clean, healthy scent, quite surprising since his breath was horrible. I'd gasp for air when he'd sit beside my chair, chattering away and yawning in my direction. But even toward the end, the rest of him smelled lovely. I miss his peachy Persian double coat.

Possum's fur barely has a scent at all. He smells like warmth. This is odd, since he could use a bath.

Toffee's back fur smells a bit like cat food because he keeps getting splattered while stealing from the other cats' bowls. If I sniff his belly, he smells very faintly of woodsmoke, which makes no sense since we don't use our fireplaces. On the other hand, I have caught him going behind the fireplace screens to investigate, so that must explain it.

Harris smells like one of those stuffed balsam cats from Maine. It's not a strong scent, so he smells like a really old one; I have a couple from college. This is an "adorability" aspect I missed about him until yesterday. I couldn't believe it when I sniffed his head. It's from our tree, for sure, but I prefer to think it's his natural Norwegian Forest Cat cologne.

Harris, endearing and sweet in every way.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

O Christmas Tree

Our tree is about 8 feet tall — about 18 inches too short, if you ask me. If you stand outside, you can tell we have a tree but you can't see much of it because it's stuck in the corner and it's too short. I like to be able to see our tree from the sidewalk. I sometimes stand outside other people's huge, parlor-level windows, admiring their gigantic, sparkling trees, and channeling The Little Match Girl (the most depressing Christmas story ever). Then I head home, wondering if my drunken father is going to beat me again because I didn't sell all my matches, and it's cheering to see my own Christmas tree.

Because of the kittens, the tree is sparsely decorated by my standards. I didn't use any of my precious, old glass ornaments, including those I bought with my mom (ornament shopping is a year-round sport when you live in Bethlehem, the Christmas City of the USA) or any she gave me. Instead I used mostly unbreakable stuff, which is mostly pretty silly, like cardboard cut-outs of kittens dressed in Victorian outfits, silver and gold plastic horns, and spiky Polish foil stars that look like sea urchins. 

The kittens haven't broken anything. So far. They just rearrange ornaments when they don't like where I've hung them. Okay, they pull them off the branches and knock them around like little mad creatures, is what they do. It's to be expected.

Harris and Toffee examine the tree shortly after I finished it.

Smacking a papier-maché ball from India. I could use a few more of them.

Harris critiques Toffee's technique. Toffee's best trick is to stand under
the tree and jump straight in the air, grabbing whatever ornaments he can 
reach on his way down. He's resourceful, this one.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Recent Adorableness

It's great having a camera again, and I try not to worry that it can break again at any moment. Here are a few sleepy or contemplative poses; my camera is not so fast that I can capture playtime without using flash.

The three boys all get along famously; I have finally seen Possum licking Toffee's head, and I don't think it was because Toffee manages to get canned cat food all over himself daily. I think he sneaks his head into other cats' bowls as they are eating, and they drop mouthfuls of food onto him in their surprise. I had to wipe him down again yesterday, twice. He'd also discovered the wet bathtub and got soaked. Harris is always spotless in his gray suit; he's going to be an elegant cat when he gets big.

I have no photos of Wendy here, mostly because I don't see a lot of her during the day, when the light is good for taking pictures. She comes out in the evenings and rules over the Christmas tree skirt, growling at anyone who tries to share her glory. Some Christmasy photos will follow soon.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"Term Paper" Done!

I just finished the first draft of my writing project. I'd sent it in this morning for a preliminary once-over and quickly got back positive comments and just a few edits! Yippee!

This is a Christmas "vacation" I am going to enjoy. Considering that I'm unemployed for much of the year, between projects, it's odd that they always arrive at the times of year when I most want to enjoy myself: summertime and December. The other eight months of the year, I'm twiddling my thumbs, feeling like the wretched underachiever I am, and casting about for work. But when it's Christmas or my husband's off for the summer from teaching, I've always got plenty to do and looming deadlines. Meeting those deadlines does feel extra good, though, because it means I can jump in a pool afterward, or go bake Christmas cookies.

Tonight, I feel as liberated and relieved as I did long ago, when I handed in my college term papers. This usually didn't happen until January and June because I'd requested and received multi-week deadline extensions. Many a college vacation was spent bent over my Smith-Corona portable (with the correcting cartridge that slid in and out in place of the ribbon cartridge, remember?), surrounded by index cards, books, and crumpled wads of typing paper. I remember one year where I spent my entire Christmas break writing about the American funeral industry for an anthropology course. What tidings of joy that brought. I also remember finishing up an art history paper (Lewis Carroll's photography, I think) on the 4th of July.

The other night I woke up wondering about my exams. What exams? 

Now that I think about it, I'm surprised I was dreaming because I've gotten so little sleep lately. I go to bed around 2, get up around 8, and spend the time in the middle dealing with Harris, who continues to nurse on our earlobes.

More on that subject later. I'm going to hang out with my four cats, and generally slack off for the rest of the night.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Going Boldly Where Cats Have Never Gone Before

We have our first two climbing kittens. We're in for interesting times.

Doesn't Toffee look comfortable? I didn't think so, either.

There's more than one way to jump into the tree.

We couldn't believe Harris got onto that wobbly floor lamp and walked around without knocking it over. 
I removed him, but not before he discovered the mantel.

Here's Sticky Toffee, with pitch in his fur after taking a Grand Tour of the 
interior of the Christmas tree. 

Friday, December 14, 2012


We adopted Harris from a rescue organization in Newtown, Connecticut. We were told that a family took his pregnant mother into their home and helped her raise her kittens before placing them at the rescue. There were children who cared for him, held him, loved him, played with him— that's why he's the sweet, friendly guy he is. I even have plenty of baby pictures, courtesy of his thoughtful foster mother. I've never had a baby picture of a cat I've adopted before; they are like gold to me.

I don't know how that family is faring tonight, but I'm thinking of them, and hoping with all my heart that they are safe. I've been feeling sick and sad since I heard about the tragedy — we were out doing errands and getting our tree so we didn't hear the news until later. The loss is unfathomable. I emailed Robin, who runs the rescue organization and has become a friend, and she told me she's devastated. The shooter lived down the road from her. On the news tonight, I recognized the pretty, woodsy neighborhood where she lives.

There was no way we could decorate a Christmas tree tonight. I don't know if it's hitting me so hard because we have a connection to Newtown. Maybe. But here's the thing: we're all connected.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

One Is a Lonely Number

Once again, I'm seeing how wonderful it is for a kitten to have a kitten companion. Wendy and Possum were my first kitten pair and converted me; I'd never thought about it, or viewed it from the cat's perspective before. But Possum's rescue organization has a rule that kittens must be adopted in pairs, or go to homes where there's already a young, active cat. And suddenly it seemed like the only way to proceed. Dual adoption is more than a kindness to these tiny animals, it's the very definition of "humane."

Possum and Harris are pals, but I learned from watching them together that adult cats will never have half the energy and the kooky interests that kittens have. Even with two youngish cats in the apartment, Harris seemed lonesome and bored when Possum was napping (and cats nap all the time). Then Toffee arrived. Now the two little guys are best friends, having fun times together. And they'll be friends for life.

Toffee and Harris keep each other entertained all day long — with interactive toy time from us, of course. And it turns out that two kittens are more than twice as cute and fun to have around as one.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Everyone Is Helping Me...

But I'm still not getting much accomplished. Toffee carries his sparkle toy onto the sofa to play among the books. Possum absorbs knowledge by osmosis — either by lying on me as I try to hold a heavy book, or by lying on the book directly. Harris is less interested in art than the other boys, but he still likes to chew on my hair and look at the pictures.

Back to it.

Toffee discovers post-Impressionism.

Chasing toys among the books

Possum on my lap; he will soon try to curl up between me and the page.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Work Work Work

I'm about halfway through my little Post-Impressionist script-writing project, which is taking a ridiculous amount of time considering how short the scripts are supposed to be. The topics are complicated, the concepts need explanation, so unfortunately, everything I've written so far is about twice as long as it should be. (Wait, does that mean I'm done?) I do have a tendency to drone on (I know you're shocked).

I'm relieved that I've managed to write anything even if it's dreck; I'm finding it extremely easy to procrastinate. I think it's my greatest talent next to selecting kittens.

At this time of year, I'd much rather be Christmas shopping, baking, reading, blogging, hanging out with my cats, going for walks, wrapping gifts, listening to my extensive holiday playlist, and playing with my kittens. Heck, I'd rather be housecleaning, and that's saying a lot.

My kittens would also like to be playing with me, but how nice that they have each other:

Toffee and Harris are easy playmates, having spent ten long days eyeing and pawing at each other through the big crack under our office door as Toffee was "quarantined." What a joke: Harris is sneezing and sniffling from Toffee anyway; viruses are airborne.... But keeping Toffee separate did prevent the other cats from getting his intestinal parasites. (Or so we hope.)

I've noticed that Possum hasn't wrestled with or washed Toffee as he did Harris. Maybe he will warm up to him soon. He doesn't seem to mind having him around. He might be jealous that Toffee has gotten more press coverage recently than he has. But Toffee joined us and watched "Downton Abbey" attentively last night, so he and Possum do have shared interests.

Possum has been helping me with my art history research. and we're going to get back to it now, even though it's late. I want to finish by the end of Thursday, so I can relax and get our tree on Friday without having to think about post-Impressionists.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Famous Toffee

I just found out that Toffee's photo appeared in the Boston Herald a week ago Tuesday, which was the day I met him at the Animal Rescue League.

The photo accompanies a story about charitable giving, and you'll see Toffee (aka "Adirondack") if you click for the second photo. Here it is:

Photograph by Matthew Healey,  The Boston Herald, Nov. 27, 2012

I've noticed something odd about Toffee: in photos, he looks like a tiny, perfectly proportioned, adult cat rather than a kitten. He already has a fluffy coat and a full, silky tail. Whereas Harris is instantly recognizable as a kitten with his wide-eyed baby face, long legs, big feet, and oversized tail emphasizing his tiny body. Harris also doesn't have his longer adult coat with a ruff and bushy tail, which I expect will grow in the next year or so. Right now, he just has hints of it in some very long guard hairs that stick out beyond his short kitten coat.

I don't think that Toffee will look all that different when he grows up, although he'll probably develop an even longer, more luxurious coat. His eyes and expression are already those of a wise old soul, and I gaze at his face and wonder where's he's been and what he's seen.

Friday, December 7, 2012

What Harris Knows

1. You can't have too many snakes:

2. Having fun is more important than making the bed:

3. Keeping up with friends is important, even when you can't see them in person. Here Harry plays with Toffee through the door: