Friday, January 31, 2014

Doubtful Guest Still Hanging Around

Lion is still here.... although we continue to think of ourselves as his foster family. We were going to send him to the Kitten Associates shelter earlier this week, but they're having a problem in their kitten room with a recurring eye infection. So until their kittens finish a two-week round of antibiotics, Lion will continue to be a Bostonian. 

He is a perfect guest, really, doing everything he can to insinuate himself into the household and our hearts. He walks around on us purring loudly and licking our faces in the middle of the night. He lies on our laps, he plays, he licks his plate clean. And, lately, he poses:

He helps me with my baking, as Harris disapproves:

He tries to think deep thoughts about Literature, to please Possum, although it's hard for him because he is too little to know how to read:

Our other cats continue to be polite to him but not affectionate. This is the first physical contact I've seen Possum have with him; unfortunately Possy was sleeping and didn't see how happy he made Lion: 

So Lion's story, and our uncertainty, continues....

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Casting Call for Sunday

It's not too early for all of us transplanted Pennsylvanians to start searching our neighborhoods for a reasonable groundhog facsimile. Sunday will be here before we know it. (I read somewhere that there's also a football game on Sunday but no one here in Massachusetts seems to know any more than that.)

Since my personal inventory of groundhog impersonators is larger than it was last year by 25 percent, I decided to start my casting call today, to allow plenty of time to consider the field of candidates, choose a prospect, and make sure it understands how to perform to Pennsylvania standards on Sunday morning.

We held some auditions on the sofa and others on the mantel:

There are no calico groundhogs, never. This one is also scared to death of just 
about everything, possibly her own shadow. "Thanks so much, we'll call you...."

With that little pink nose, this one looks more like an Easter Bunny than a groundhog. 
It also took a nap during its audition. Next!

While this one's coloring is good, it looks a little too... presidential to pass as a groundhog.

This? I don't think so. There are no black-and-white groundhogs except in old movies. 
This one also couldn't find Pennsylvania on a map and ran under a chair when I played 
The Pennsylvania Polka, the official Groundhog Day theme song. Deal breaker. Next!

So that left this Possum as our best local rodent facsimile. He has Punxsutawney Phil's 
pear-shaped physique, for starters. He doesn't object to polka music. And he has experience. Winner!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Harris is pleased with himself tonight. He has reached the pinnacle of expressing his emotions about the Little Lion encroaching on his position as Baby of the Family. So far, he's stolen the only toy Lion brought with him, a beloved red mouse with no tail. How he got it away from Lion while the two were separated by a closed door remains a mystery. Then, as I watched, he stole a green snake that Lion was growing fond of and carried it off, growling, to the bedroom. He also absconded with Lion's collar, which I'd left on my desk. It, too, got carried into the bedroom, with a lot of growling.

This afternoon, Harris pulled his biggest heist ever  — the little fleece blanket from Lion's carrier. His foster mother had given it to us so Lion would have some familiar scents as he settled into our place. Harris had to work to get it free, since I'd just tucked it in tightly. He dragged it the length of the living room and into the bedroom — growling continually in either triumph or in hopes of intimidating the blanket. My husband watched the whole episode in disbelief, without his camera.

The Victim.

Wendy wants to be the Only Child, while Harris wants to be the Youngest Child. And, unlike Wendy, he works hard at it. If he could, he'd pack up Lion's belongings and leave them and him on our doorstep. Harris has grown up to be spoiled and entitled, like so many of America's youth — and that's why we love him so. We have suggested that he do some volunteer work with the underprivileged — i.e., Lion, and perhaps Wendy — so he can develop empathy, selflessness, and kindness. But he refuses.

At least he has run out of things to steal.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Doubtful Guest Still Here

We're still on the fence about keeping our Doubtful Guest, the kitten we call the Little Lion, who has the run of our apartment now. He is interacting bravely with the other cats, sharing their food dishes and play sessions, and slowly making himself at home. He's sharing everything but their litter box. He has his own little one, which the others try hard to sneak in and use, although it's too small for them. It must be a territorial maneuver. Possum snuck in and tried yesterday morning, but he's so big that he ended up peeing on the newspaper instead.

Everyone eats together now.

Harris and Toffee treat the Lion politely but distantly if they aren't in the mood to chase and play. Possum is also detached; he has yet to give him a welcoming head washing, which I find somewhat telling. Wendy hisses but mostly ignores him. It's as if everyone is waiting to hear what we decide.

Possum listens to Lion's thoughts about books.

We'd given ourselves a deadline of last night to make up our minds. We were in agreement, until sometime yesterday afternoon, that five simply feels like too many. Our apartment is small; until we finally move to a bigger place, we've been warned to expect territory battles as two (or three) young male cats jockeying for positions in our feline hierarchy. Wendy seems to have chosen the lowest position, but Possum is Top Cat, and one or more of the boys might try to overthrow him. (We remember Snalbert campaigning to be Top Cat after Wendy and Possum arrived. He went around ritually biting us and the cats for weeks. He'd sneak up when we were minding our own business, and suddenly park his fangs in one of our arms. Then he'd sit, staring at us as we'd struggle to detach ourselves, hollering, "Okay, you win, you're Top Cat!" We want no more of that, thank you.)

"Do you see a kitten, Harris?" "No, Possum, I don't see any kitten. Do you?"

Then there's the fact that we'd be pushing our litter box deeper into the danger zone with five cats. Most cat care guides say that, to avoid protests and "accidents," we need N + 1 boxes, where N = the number of cats. Oh, well. Ours is very large and we clean it twice a day. But five cats and one box is asking for trouble, of a kind we've never experienced. We don't have room for another box, end of story.

Five cats are also expensive: our cat food bills are already outrageous; I think we spend as much on the cats each month as on groceries. Also, we are noticing that the others, especially Harris, aren't getting all the attention from us they'd like these days. We spend too much time with a purring kitten in our lap, or giving him extra play time.

We can't help it if Lion is a lap cat; Harris and Toffee outgrew that long ago, for the most part, although we hope they'll grow back into it again. Possum is a lap cat, but on his own terms, and he's been avoiding me lately. Anyway, it's clear that they all would like more quality time. Even Wendy, but only from my husband.

So, as you can see, we've given this a lot of thought, and the reasons are stacking up against keeping the D.G. But...

A friend of mine (who's had up to six rescued cats) wrote to me that our decision should "reflect the degree of happiness" the kitten gives us. When we look at it that way, he's a keeper. He brings us joy — he's sweet, loving, innocent, cute, playful, wide-eyed, all those kitten things. He's also fairly quiet, not crazy-active or destructive like many kittens are. So he's kind of right for us, it's just that the timing is wrong. So we — well, one of us, anyway — is back on the fence, wondering how sad and wrong it might feel if we hand him off to Robin one of these days. So the Lion will remain our Doubtful Guest for a little longer.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

More Adorableness

Harris graduated with highest honors from Miss Robin's School of Modeling, located on the campus of the Kitten Associates cat rescue in Connecticut:

He was generous enough to give the Little Lion a tip or two, after seeing how abysmally my photos of him have been turning out:

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Doubtful Guest's Visit Continues

We continue to "foster" the Doubtful Guest, or Lion, as we call him, while we try to make up our minds about whether we can be a five-cat family. He's begun mixing with the other cats, running around the apartment and exploring everything as we keep an eye on him and the others in case of disagreements. Toffee acts as Lion's escort, or bodyguard, trailing him everywhere — unless Lion decides to turn and chase him. Toffee doesn't mind; I think they're friends. There was a lot of racing around today and very little hissing.

Possum has been keeping his distance. He hasn't been washing the kitten's head or doing any of the other proprietary, paternal things he did when Harris and Toffee arrived. It's as if he's waiting for us to make our decision. He gives me appraising stares. I don't think I'm measuring up to his expectations.

Wendy is miserable. At least she's eating. She refused to come for meals for a while after Harris and Toffee showed up. She hisses and growls at all of us, but she is too gentle to do anything else beyond a little half-hearted swatting.

Harris is having some difficulty, too. He loves being the pampered baby of the family. He had to share his play session and favorite Neko Fly with both Toffee and Lion this morning:

And you can see that he isn't very happy about sharing:

We need to make our decision soon. Should Lion stay with us or go to our friend Robin and Kitten Associates? He is a perfectly perfect kitten, snuggly, sweet, and smart. But we already have four cats in 800 square feet. Sigh.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Recent Adorableness

The Doubtful Guest is feeling very much at home.

He alternates between wild/playful, and cuddly/sleepy.

Harris stole the Lion's collar from my desk this morning and carried it into the bedroom. He hissed and growled as he had his toothy way with it.

Possum listens to the goings-on behind the office door from a secure location.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Inquiring Mind Wants to Know

Yesterday, I heard from my friend Penny that she's been unable to post comments here for some time. Then she helpfully researched the issue for me, and found possible solutions. (Penny is one of the most resourceful and helpful people I know, and she's a fine writer, photographer, animal lover, cook, and storyteller on top of that.) She can leave comments now, so I think we may have fixed the problem.

If you've been having trouble leaving comments, too, please give it another try. I really enjoy hearing from readers. I am also expect to repeat any relevant ones aloud to Possum, who is not the type to become conceited, or at least not more conceited than he already is.

In other news, the Lion got out of his room last night while we were watching "Sherlock," or possibly even "Downton Abbey." Along with the open door, I found Possum doing his best imitation of Lord Grantham as he was pacing around in the kitten's room, pretending the kitten was Branson, I suppose. Harris and Toffee were in the living room, alertly guarding or babysitting the stranger, who was under the sofa. Wendy was there, too, hissing and growling at anyone who would listen.

The Lion dashed back into his room after I shooed Possum out. But then he escaped twice more before we figured out how to wedge a chair under the doorknob. No one was the worse for a little excitement and he was in a playful, snuggly mood after meeting the three boys, which shows that he is brave. They outnumber him and are so much bigger. But it's against the rules, so he's back in isolation... and that's where I'm going, too.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Kitten Time

I heard a lot of hissing and growling as I was lying in bed this morning. I assumed it was Wendy, airing more of her grievances against the Doubtful Guest, aka the Little Lion. Unwilling to get out from under the comforter, I said, "Oh, Wendy, get a grip." More hissing and growling, and I realized it was Harris.

I got up and saw he was parading around with a red toy mouse in his mouth. This was the Lion's favorite toy, which Connie had packed for him.

The Lion is a nice little guy but I don't think he pushed his toy under the office door to share it with Harris. He's also pretty smart and doesn't seem to lose his toys easily; he keeps an eye on them. 

More likely the Tiger Mafia paid Lion a visit, sticking their paws threateningly under the door and using their best Brando accents to mutter the cat equivalent of, "Listen, mister, we'd hate to see some... terrible accident happen to that little mouse of yours. You'd better hand it over to us... for protection." 

I pried the mouse out of Harris's mouth and gave it back to the Lion, who was happy to see it. He is a playful, friendly, occasionally shy and skittish guest. He likes to lick our faces and noses, as he snuggles, kneads, and walks around on us, purring loudly. He's settling in nicely; he just needs to eat more. And learn to stare down the Tiger Mafia.

I'm going to play with him some more before the next installment of "Downton Abbey." (I'm mostly eager to see Edith's dresses and hear more about that amazing electric mixer from the first episode. And I hope Julian Fellowes won't wreck any more Puccini arias, or main characters.) 

I did manage to get better photos today:

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Doubtful Guest Arrived

Meet our guest!

He is hard to photograph! He's in constant motion, either scampering away to hide or he's coming toward you to stick his nose in your face and snuggle. He's in that interesting stage that Wendy never left, where he loves attention but also thinks he has to protect himself.

This is the Little Lion you first saw here on December 6, grown up a bit. We've been thinking about him ever since we saw him via our friend Robin at Kitten Associates in Connecticut, where we adopted Harris. He was in a great foster home in Maine, being cared for by a friend of hers, Connie. Another mutual friend adopted his sister, a sweetheart they named Penelope Possum, in honor of You Know Who. So I was not the only person intrigued by him. Robin eventually decided she wanted to bring him to her shelter, to make sure he goes to a great home, because he's a little shy.  So my husband and I volunteered to drive to Maine to get him, and then the plan is that we'll foster him until Robin can drive here and pick him up. In a few days. Maybe (he's awfully cute).

We'll see how that goes.

I am too busy entertaining the Lion, and keeping him from eating string toys, to write much here. I don't have many photos because he's been a difficult subject. We had a long, tricky drive to Arundel, Maine, today to pick him up, for it started to snow heavily as we were out of Boston. We weren't expecting this. I only had a raincoat; it was supposed to rain. The flakes were clumps, and a winter wonderland seemed to surround us in just a matter of minutes.

We had only the quickest visit with his foster parents, because they live a ways off the main roads, the snow was accumulating quickly, and we have a light, little sports car. We were afraid we wouldn't make it out of their driveway.

As we were slip-sliding around in the slush, going no more than 25, my husband remembered there's a "SNOW" button on the console. He pointed it out and pressed it. "Nothing's happening," he reported. "It's still snowing."

The little Lion has a loud purr when you pet him, even if he's sitting in a strange carrier in a noisy, slip-sliding car. He spent most of the three hours it took to get home resting quietly near my hand.

As we came in the door with his carrier, the boys caught a glimpse of him. Tails were up, eyes were curious, and noses sniffed the air. We settled the Guest in our "isolation room," my husband's tiny office. The Guest spent a few hours curled in his carrier, purring when we'd stroke him, and kneading his little fleece blanket, which his foster mom had thoughtfully tucked inside to remind him of "home." She also packed his favorite little red mouse, all chewed up, with no tail.

When I came out to make dinner, Possum gave me a considering look as if he'd decided I might have possibilities after all. He likes kittens. Harris and Toffee were sniffing the door, sticking exploratory paws underneath. Wendy noticed the commotion, came over, sniffed, and began hissing and growling at everyone. Wendy likes cats, but she doesn't like change, so she has grievances.

I'm going back in there to play with the guest and try to persuade him to have some supper.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Another Doubtful Guest

A Doubtful Guest be arriving tomorrow. Here are the cats investigating our first Doubtful Guest, in this case an ornament of the Guest, which came from the Edward Gorey House in Yarmouthport:

Edward Gorey liked Doubtful Guests like the one we're getting. But we're pretty crammed into this apartment, so we're not sure how long it will be able to stay. We have no idea — it might stay with us for only a few days, or perhaps the ending will be closer to the original story:

Now and then it would vanish for hours from the scene, But alas, be discovered inside a tureen.

It was subject to fits of bewildering wrath, During which it would hide all the towels from the bath.

In the night through the house it would aimlessly creep, In spite of the fact of its being asleep.

It would carry off objects of which it grew fond, And protect them by dropping them into the pond.

It came seventeen years ago -- and to this day It has shown no intention of going away.

from The Doubtful Guest by Edward Gorey.

This... and That

A little surprise will be arriving here on Saturday, so stay tuned for that news. I'll say no more. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.

Now, let's talk clothes. I went shopping the other day. I am years overdue for updating my work wardrobe lounging clothes. I spend most of my time at home hanging around, working, reading, and sleeping, and I do all that in pathetic rags. I have a good, substantial burgundy bathrobe, and it's a darned good thing because I have met too many repair and delivery people in it at all hours of the day. But two of my three pairs of pajama pants are 12 years old. They once had different background colors and the same Japanese print; now I can't tell them apart. My "new" pajama pants are 11 years old. For tops, I mostly wear a tee that's older than the pants, or a boucl√© sweater that's older than the tee.

At Anthropologie, I found soft, jewel-toned patchwork lounge pants. And then I spotted this, on sale:

It may not look like much, but it is the softest sweater I've ever felt. After I touched it, things happened very quickly. The sweater practically threw itself into my arms and forced me to try it on. Then it unzipped my wallet and handed my credit card to the cashier. Finally, it rolled itself in tissue, crawled into a shopping bag, and slipped the handles over my arm. I truly had no intention of buying a sweater, especially an oversized, synthetic (read "mothproof") cardigan that doesn't close in the front. I'm still firmly against any such idea. But this is some sweater. I read the reviews of it online when I got home and wasn't surprised to see that it had the same effect on other women. It is irresistible.

Admittedly, it has a strange, clumpy texture that reminds me of a matted Bedlington terrier, but that's okay. It's too cozy and warm for trivial details to matter. It only needs a camisole or tank under it because it feels so wonderful. I'll probably never wear it outside the apartment, but it sure beats the crazy-too-big, fleece-lined flannel shirt I've been stealing from my husband for looks and fit.

I think I'm going to have two new work companions for the next 12 years or so. I'm not sure how long we'll have the Saturday surprise.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Simple Gifts

When our cats leave us hairballs (or worse) on the floor (or worse), we refer to these deposits as "gifts with purchase," à la Clinique Bonus Time in department stores. We paid for the cat, so whatever else we get along with it is our Free Gift.

It sounds better than "hairball," doesn't it? And we like to think that it reflects the spirit of the cat in making this very personal donation to our decor.

This is off-topic, but look how small and kittenish Toffee and Harris were, exactly a year ago today.

Today was Bonus Day. I had gone to bed around 2 this morning and didn't sleep well. Around 8, I heard strange sounds in the bathroom. I put on my glasses and peered from my cozy spot under the covers, and saw something on the little Persian carpet. I figured it was a Toffee hairball, and looked forward to using my feline forensics skills to hunt for criminal evidence. That is, I transfer the mess to a baggie and smoosh it all around under strong light, hoping to spot foreign objects, including but not limited to: flecks of gold fiber, bits of nylon cord, our vet tech's rubber hairband, and shards from five Christmas tree bulbs. (I also lost my favorite comb recently. Even the old Toffeepot couldn't swallow that, but if he bit off and ate a few of its teeth, it wouldn't surprise me. It's hard for him to shock me with his creative definitions of "food" now.)

I got up to investigate and found that someone, probably Toffee, since he was nearby and had a mildly startled expression, had returned his breakfast to us. This is unusual around here; cats fed simple, high-protein food rarely have stomach troubles. I will have to keep a closer watch on him, to be sure he's not showing symptoms of intestinal blockage. (He plays, he eats, he chatters, he flings himself about as we pet him, purring. So far, so good.)

There was no worthwhile forensic evidence on the rug, so I cleaned it up and went back to bed. But I heard more racket, so I got up again. In the kitchen, I found another Gift with Purchase. This was the other kind, and mercifully it was very hard and dry. It Happens — our cats all have long fluffy "pants" on their back legs. I cleaned again.

I believe that spraying Nature's Miracle immediately neutralizes every cat accident because it's smelly and full of chemicals and sanitizing alcohol. I need to keep believing this because, otherwise, we are living in an 800-square-foot crime scene.

Later on, drinking my cold tea, I spotted yet another Gift with Purchase in front of our bookcases. This one appeared to be a very near relative of the one in the kitchen, also hard and dry. Sometimes It Happens twice. But here's the interesting thing: Someone had jumped up on my desk and carried off a used tissue I'd left there the night before, when I was too tired to put it in the kitchen wastebasket. The tissue had been thoughtfully placed right beside the Gift.

So I did as I was told, and cleaned that up. Sprayed more Nature's Miracle. And then I stopped looking around.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Cat Food Revisited

Possum in wider times, a couple of years ago.

Possum recently, pounds thinner but not exactly bony. But his head looks bigger, doesn't it?

It's been a while since I've written about what we feed our cats, and it's because we've had a successful routine in place for many months now. But I'm remembering what a tizzy I was in a year ago, as I struggled over online research, trying to figure out a healthy diet that we could handle and they would eat.

And we did it by feeding foods I picked from an excellent, periodically updated list from the Natural Cat Care Blog. The owner of this site, Liz Eastman, did all the heavy lifting to find the safest, healthiest, best commercial foods, so we don't all have to wear ourselves out trying to do the same thing. I special-order our picks by the case from our local pet store, Fish + Bone, and they deliver them for free. 

Last January, when Possum went to the vet for a weigh-in, he was 16 pounds and needed to lose at least a pound and a half. He was down from his all-time high of 17.5 pounds, but he hadn't lost any weight in a very long time. He'd lost that pound and a half after we stopped free-feeding our cats dry food. When we switched to feeding only canned food, his weight still held steady. It was only after we switched again, to low-carb, low-starch canned and frozen raw food (all grain-free, obviously) that he slimmed down nicely, over the course of several months.

When he was at the vet last September, he was 13.9 pounds, an ideal weight. Wendy is 9.5 pounds, down from a pudgy high of 13 pounds. As long as they hold steady and don't get any skinnier, we're golden. We've won the obesity battle that plagues so many cat owners. Possum may still look like a flabby tabby, but I can feel some ribs under that fluffy coat. And Harris and Toffee are both sleek and healthy at around 10 pounds each.

Each cat gets the equivalent of one 5.5- to 6-ounce can of food per day. We feed four different foods each day, over four meals, for four cats. So each cat gets 1/4 of each can (or a whole raw medallion), unless he steals some from his fellow dinner guests' bowls. Everyone loves Tiki Cat chicken and frozen raw chicken. They also gobble up all the other brands in all the flavors — except chicken. They sometimes get picky about the other brands of chicken, so we seldom order those anymore.

To provide Omega 3 fatty acids, we give all the cats one can of water-packed, unsalted sardines (Trader Joe's) about once a week. Usually there are four sardines in a can, so it's easy.

For the record, our current brands and flavors are: Nature's Variety Instinct canned and raw (chicken, duck, lamb), Tiki Cat canned (grain-free chicken only), and Hounds and Gatos canned (rabbit, lamb, chicken), and occasionally some Nature's Logic canned (rabbit, lamb).

Reading back over this, I realize that having four cats makes feeding everyone very easy. Even the frozen raw chicken medallions come in bags of 48, easily divided up into 12 bags of four patties to thaw in the fridge for each meal.

If we had a fifth cat, the math would get much trickier. But I'm pretty good at math... hmm. Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Cat Maintenance 101

Along with regular tooth-brushing, grooming, and claw-trimming, you should rotate your cats periodically, so they wear evenly. We rotated Harris today:

And he perked right up!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Toffee Update

No news is good news so far. We have found no signs of the gold cord or the Christmas tree light bulbs he allegedly swallowed. He eats heartily, and plays and hangs out with us during our meals same as always. He is getting a little tired of the other cats asking him to stick his tail into an electrical outlet so they can watch his belly light up....

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Wendelina Pantherina

Here is Wendy, keeping warm and airing her grievances:

1. I spotted Evil Mommy putting drops of Poison [ed.: Rescue Remedy] in my second breakfast. And not anybody else's. So I stopped eating second breakfast because I Knew I Was Going To Die.

2. My brother Toffee's tail is bigger and floofier than my big, floofy tail. That is against regulations and I plan to file a Formal Complaint as soon as I can afford a lawyer.

3. So, Evil Mommy and Dearest Papa got a Christmas tree and put stuff all over it like every year. But just when it was all dry and crunchy and tasty, and just when my brother Toffee was figuring out how to electrocute himself with the lights, they took it down. What was the point?

4. My brother Toffee only ate five lights off the Christmas tree when I told him he needed to eat one for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

5. My brother Toffee also only ate one gold cord off the Christmas ornaments when I told him that six would make him grow wings so he could fly.

6. It's been really cold in here. I think they are trying to Freeze Me To Death. Evil Mommy goes around wrapped up in sweaters and boots and a hat and a blanket, but I Know It's Still Her.

7. Toffee and Harris hide in their new tunnel and jump out at me unexpectedly and I Think I Am Going To Die.

8. Evil Mommy still lives here.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Winter Cheer

January is a bore. Aside from post-Christmas bargains and the return of long-awaited Downton Abbey and Sherlock, it's a tedious month. (So are February and March but that's another story.) It's been bitterly cold for much of the past week, it gets dark too early, the sidewalks are slippery when you least expect it, and you can't find a half-decent tomato to save your life. Chicken soup, hot chocolate, roasted sweet potatoes, and daunting quantities of macaroni and cheese are necessities, along with the leftover Christmas treats you swore you'd swear off of.... but, really, you need extra fat and calories to stay warm. And it's too cold to fulfill the exercise aspect of your New Year's resolutions — what if your toes fell off? 

What is it they always used to say about working out? "Just Don't Do It"? "Just Say No"? Something like that.

Stout snow boots, heavy turtlenecks, long scarves. Fleece-lined leggings under long corduroy skirts — the Eastern European peasant look is back— and these are my indoor outfits I'm describing. Flannel shirts, flannel sheets, and flannel shirts worn under flannel sheets. 

I keep stealing my husband's new, loud fleece-lined plaid flannel shirt from L.L. Bean, which I gave him for Christmas. It's somewhat too big and bright for him and it looks far stupider on me (especially over a clashing plaid flannel shirt). But when our apartment is 10 degrees colder than our thermostat setting, who cares? It's soft, heavy, and thick. We battle over it. I wear it to bed.

Try to hibernate under blankets as much as possible in January, with eyes closed or with a perfect novel (try The Fountain Overflows, by Rebecca West, my official all-time favorite). A very warm, very welcoming bed is more important this month than ever. (Furry hot water bottle, anyone?)

The more cats on your January bed, the better. But you didn't need me to tell you that. 

Underneath the cats, I like some wintry charm. Along with our super-warm down comforter, we have a bright red quilt and soft pillowcases printed with a vintage Vermont-y landscape. They are "Winter Village" from Pottery Barn's 2012 holiday collection. I fell in love with them on sight (but their Christmas catalog arrives in September, when I'm still in flip flops). They sold out long before I was ready to buy them, and didn't reappear this year. Thus began one of my relentless eBay hunts, executed with craftiness and discipline. I got 'em, and they make me happy.

They make Harris happy, too. 

Don't go out there if you don't have. Stay in.

Monday, January 6, 2014


Some cats never cause us a moment's worry:

 After sleeping late with me, and resting much of the day, Possum was quite worn out by 4 o'clock.

He opened his eyes long enough to make the point that he spends a great deal of time thinking Important Thoughts while lying immobile, with his eyes closed, and snoring gently. It may look like sleep, but it's cogitation, he says.

Later on, he was kind enough to pose with a feathered lobster on his head.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

No News, and Just a Little Shopping...

All the cats seem fine, including Toffee. The Christmas tree is in the alley, chopped into little bits. I've seen no signs of blue light bulbs or gold cords. Just more and more pine needles, everywhere, even though I spent the afternoon sweeping and vacuuming.

Our vet was off today so I spoke to her colleague, who cheerfully told me about times when she pulled two feet of twine, and an equally long balloon ribbon, out of her own cat's mouth. He lived to 13, and he never learned. Oh, great, I thought. I'm doomed to eternal vigilance for the next 20 years, if I'm lucky. At least she also told me that we were doing all the right things and that light bulbs and other small objects usually pass through the intestines without incident.

In times of stress, there's nothing like a little shopping to distract and console. And there's no better time to shop online than after Christmas. Garnet Hill is having their usual winter clearance, so I ordered a burgundy cashmere turtleneck marked down to $49 from $148. I have a black one like it and it's perfect. (Given our moth situation, that's the right price for cashmere. And I really shouldn't wear that gray Irish turtleneck every single day.)

Then I checked out Crate & Barrel since I had a 20% off coupon. That made their 50%-off merchandise even more of a bargain. I bought a one-pound tin of Swedish gingersnaps for $1.95. Gingersnaps keep fresh for a long time and soothe a troubled stomach.

I bought little packets of petits fours shaped like snowmen. (I love petits fours and you should, too. They are cake and frosting disguised as bonbons, and they are so small that you feel can virtuous eating them... they are like eating nothing. Almost.)

And then I ordered lots of little pinecone ornaments covered in glittery gold beads. These will fill my beloved apothecary jar (replacing the one Toffee smashed last summer) now that the Christmas ornaments are packed away and it's too early for seashells. I'm a sucker for pinecones, and these glittery ones are much nicer than the spray-painted ones we use for wreath-decorating.

A lot of work goes into making them and they are quite a deal at less than 50 cents apiece. They will look great in a bowl or on the mantel, too, next Christmas — once I cut off all the gold cords (and carefully discard them) in case Someone decides they are cat toys. 

In all, I spent about $20, and felt quite cheered up. Now I just need a little blue bulb and a certain gold cord to reappear in this apartment, and I'll be all set.

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Bad Day for Christmas Spirits, Part II

Here's Wendy, sitting in front of our beautiful Christmas tree during the snowstorm last night. She even let me move in for a close-up:

Is it me, or does she look a bit guilty — like she knows something's up, but isn't about to rat on her brothers?

While sweeping up needles under the tree this afternoon, I noticed that yet another light was out. Then I noticed the bulb was GONE. As in, chewed out of its socket. By A Cat. I panicked and freaked out, called to my husband to come over and witness this horror, and then found that a couple more bulbs on that string had been chewed off, too. I found little fragments of them on the floor, including the tips, among the needles. I pressed the shards against my fingers, hard, and they didn't seem all that sharp, at least. 

Deep breaths. We had no idea when this had happened, and all the cats seem perfectly well: eating, playing, using their box, getting into trouble. We often heard crunching under the tree, but thought it was just the boys chewing off twigs and sprays, which they carry proudly around the house, trotting with their ears back. 

I called our vet, of course, but her office was closed because of the storm. There seemed to be no point in going to the ER when all the cats seemed fine. And I already knew what to do, thanks to last month's Mystery of the Missing Gold Cord: watch closely for the various signs of trouble (for weeks, if necessary), keep checking the litter box for other signs, and squirt 2 or 3 ml of vaseline into Harris and Toffee's mouths up to three times a day. 

We knew we had to take down the tree, pronto. So we spent several hours on that project, a week sooner than we'd planned. Unfortunately, we forgot to buy a tree disposal bag and no one has them anymore, so we'll be sawing our 9-foot tree into convenient little pieces and taking it to the alley in lots of trash bags tomorrow. (It will remind me of what Huck does to his victims on "Scandal," a recent guilty pleasure of ours; we rarely watch TV but we inhaled all three seasons via Netflix around Christmas. We'll even use a vinyl shower curtain, like he does.)

We checked every light string multiple times as they came off the tree. The talley came to FIVE chewed-off bulbs; we also found one completely bitten-through wire. Don't ask me why I don't have an electrocuted cat or two, or why the house didn't burn down from a shorting wiring. All I know is that one of my cats, probably Toffee, is down to maybe two of his original nine lives. 

I found decent-sized fragments of four white bulbs, and many little shards... possibly enough to make four complete bulbs, or close to it. (I will pull everything out again tomorrow and see what we've got. Tonight, I just couldn't handle the truth.) But a blue bulb is also missing; all I have is a tiny bit of it. 

The apartment will be a mess until we get the tree out of here, sweep and vacuum, and rearrange the furniture. All the while, we'll be hunting for that blue bulb and awaiting further instructions from our vet.

I'm a wreck, of course. But the thing is, I'm getting USED to being a wreck over these cats. They keep trying to off themselves — or Toffee does, anyway. He's a great guy except for his... delusions of immortality or whatever.

Taking down the tree always depresses the heck out of me, by the way. I get morose, morbid, and even teary some years... not to mention frustrated and crazed as I struggle to put hundreds of fragile ornaments into their flimsy original boxes. Then I have to fit those dozens of boxes very precisely into the big storage boxes that we stuff into our tiny crawlspace. At least this time, I had legitimate reasons to be thinking about things like, you know... death.

This latest disaster, like the last one, is all my fault, of course. I should have known that, just because a certain He (or They) pretended to ignore the lights for the first several nights the tree was up and we were vigilant, He (or They) intended to lull us into a false security so He (or They) could snack on them later. I don't know what we'll do next year, if we're stupid enough to have another tree... see if there are cat-proof lights, for one thing. 

We love our cats, but we also love having a Christmas tree, and this is the first time we've had any kind of medical drama in 30+ years of having both. Maybe next year, we should adopt the old European tradition of lighting lots of little wax candles all over it instead. Now THERE's an idea. A pretty hot idea.

At least we wouldn't have to spend hours taking it down.

A Bad Day for Christmas Spirits, Part I

This morning we caught Harris tiptoeing across the mantel, which I'd covered with fir boughs, lights, glittery pinecones, and my collection of glass spheres and paperweights. Those had been brought out of safekeeping because I figured no cat of mine would be crazy enough to try to get up on such an overdecorated mess of a mantel. 

Silly me. While calling him terrible names, we were also laughing and grabbing our cameras. Everything except a branch or two survived, but it was still a Harbinger of Bad Things to Come.

But before I get started on that grueseome subject, I need to tell you that it's COLD! We didn't leave the house today, so I won't be posting any charming Back Bay snowscapes for now. I was expecting a lot more snow than we got, which looks like a measly 8 or 9 inches from our drafty windows. The more interesting numbers are the temperatures. It's 5 degrees tonight, but it feels like -22 degrees because of the wind chill. It's been like this all day, and that's why we stayed in. 

Our bedroom thermometer reads in the low 60s, even though the thermostat is set much higher. Our new, super-warm, super-light down comforter is working like a charm, at least, although I still get "cold flashes" for the first hour or so that I'm under it. But by morning, its warmth and mine make it very difficult to get up and put my feet on our cold floor. And today, I wish I hadn't.... 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

Boston's New Year will have a snowy start, with a storm arriving late tonight and lingering into Friday. I'm looking forward to it — partly because true New Englanders think winters should be snowy, but also because I'm taking my first long break from my multi-year, 10,000-step daily walking routine. Slacking off indoors and snowstorms go perfectly together. I'll return to my pedometer and walking habit soon, but not until the sidewalks are clear enough for walking instead of skating. In the meantime, we have plenty of food, reading, cats, and projects to keep us happy inside for a few days.

Ahead of the snow, sub-freezing temperatures have arrived, so I am about to make the bed with our new Level 4 down comforter from Cuddledown. This is their warmest comforter level, designed for people who are always cold when they sleep AND who are crazy enough to keep their bedroom at 55 degrees or below. We keep our thermostat at 75 but our place is drafty, poorly insulated, and much cooler than that. Plus I am a ridiculously cold sleeper; I get cold to the touch when I get into bed and it often takes me a few sleepless hours to warm up despite flannel sheets, a hefty down comforter, a quilt, cashmere socks, and a knitted blanket I wrap around me. So I've been looking forward to this "ultimate" comforter, which we bought on clearance at the Cuddledown outlet in Maine last summer. We were using a less expensive Level 3 in the coldest months. (They tried to talk us out of buying that one, saying we'd roast unless we lived in an unheated cabin. Ha!) But that one is quite heavy, with 3-1/2 pounds of goose down. I wanted a lighter one, but lightness + warmth = very expensive. Our new one usually costs an insane $1,400, but we saved more than a thousand dollars on clearance, and used up some store credit, too. It was an amazing deal. I think it must have been made to order (in Maine) and returned. There aren't a lot of super-cold sleepers like me out there.

Its materials are top-of-the-line, with lots of extremely lofty white goose down and a baffled design so it's nice and plump. But here's the thing: the shell is fine cotton batiste that is so thin and crisp that it crackles! I spread it out to air and puff up before I tucked it into its duvet cover... and it rustles. So we tested it by lying under it and tossing and turning a bit — and found that Toffee had already sneaked under it and was toasting himself by our feet. My husband insists the crackling won't bother him at all, but I remain skeptical. I'm hoping it will become less crackly over time. We'll see how it goes tonight. This place is already chilly, and the storm hasn't started yet. I can't wait.