Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Box of Harris: Advanced Packing, Part 2

Earlier, Harris demonstrated Part 1 of "Packing Techniques for Your Harris." Now he's moved on to the second part of the program. If you've been observant, you will have noted that Harris's various appendages have proven problematic — except for his tail. And that, it would seem, is the key to successful Harris packing. Keep the tail in the box, and the rest will eventually follow. More or less.

Without further ado:

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Box of Harris: Advanced Packing, Part 1

Harris has thoughtfully provided a two-part demonstration on advanced techniques for packing a Harris into a small box — I guess this is his "carry-on" demo. It is not simple to fit a Harris into such a container, but it can be achieved with sufficient patience, creativity, and fortitude. More or less.

Here's Part 1. Carry on, Harris:

Stay tune for Part 2, tomorrow.

Sunday, March 29, 2015


I promised Possum that I would stop posting so many photos of him out cold on his back, showing his belly. He's embarrassed; he thinks that's how you all think of him. (Which is how you should think of him because he does indeed look like that much of the time, including right now.)

Anyway, I told him that if he wanted me to stop taking belly photos, he had to help me out by being awake every so often. So here he is. 

This is a rare photo because Possum is A) awake, B) in a non-compromising pose, and C) not sitting or lying on my husband. I won the Trifecta. I doubt it will happen again any time soon.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Flowers for (Another) Snowy Morning

We're having a snow shower this morning, with big wet flakes coming down hard and fast. I don't really mind but I bet plenty of people do, so let's enjoy some flowers from Boden. Their spring prints have a bright, 1960's look that suits my current mood, since Easter is next Sunday and the last episodes of Mad Men will start airing that night.

I almost never wear floral prints but I enjoy seeing them on other women and these are a treat for the eyes after during this long winter.

Vintage Bow Dress in a watercolor floral (when I was little, my mother and my aunts had lovely summer dresses cut like this one):
 Pandora Skirt in silk organza (sheer organza is a rarity... check out the pastels on white, too):

Easy Printed Tee (I'm ready for a flowery tee, to brighten up jeans and denim skirts):

Navy Bella Slingback Flats (rhinestones + paillettes = blossoms):

Bistro Shorts (remember shorts? Boden makes a tee and some dresses in this print, too):
Chelsea Leather Slingbacks (if you wanted these last spring, they're on sale now, and also in blue):

Silky Vintage Top (I'd wear this with white jeans if I could ever keep a pair of white jeans clean for more than 10 minutes, which I absolutely can't do):

Soft Leather Bowling Bag (vaguely "Liberty" and half-price):

It's still snowing...

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Five Cats

We usually see four, not five, cats together on the bed. I'd left some clean laundry there, which proved irresistible to Toffee, who usually curls up on a nearby chair. This was taken in the evening without flash, so it's not a great photo (although you could call that effect chiaroscuro, I suppose) but it documents that all five are friends.

It also shows that five isn't that many, even in a small apartment. When they are gathered here, the rest of our place is cat-free or, as some might put it, bereft of felinity. My husband and I only discovered they were all together because we were alone in the living room grumbling: "I thought we had some cats? Didn't we have lots of them? Why aren't there any anywhere?"

This is not to say that we think we need more cats. We realize we are at budget capacity, since the food we've chosen for them is quite expensive. We are also at litter-box capacity, at least until we move. We are also at attention capacity, since three cats want plenty, and the other two want it sometimes. And three also like a few play sessions with pole toys every day. So we're busy enough with five.

And then there are times when most of them are lounging in the living room and we have nowhere to sit.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


The slumbering beastie...

The little Lion stirs...

And behold:

So there!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The New Appliance

Suddenly, there it was, sitting on the counter: a new, serious-looking piece of kitchen equipment. But what was it? 

It was not a coffeemaker, blender, or seltzer machine. Nor was it a cookie jar, although I have one that's very similar that used to sit right there: a ceramic orange tabby. The head on this one doesn't come off, though, and that capacious belly is not hollow.

It could be some type of dishwashing device but it doesn't seem very reliable or hygienic. 

It could also be used to prop up a cookbook but, again, not reliably.

It could be a toaster. You could put the bread underneath it and eventually the bread would get warm, which is about all we can expect from our electric toaster, with whom we have a longstanding disagreement over its household duties.

So, yes, perhaps it's a new, improved toaster. But I wanted to be sure.

So I asked it. "What the heck are you supposed to be doing up there?"

It said, "I'm a popcorn tester. Give me some, and if it's any good, I'll tell you."

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Cake for Breakfast

The other day, the cats' breakfast chef discovered that they had tried to help themselves and give him the morning off. Our talented Harris (it's always Harris, trust me) had even managed to get the cake to land face up although he couldn't get the lid off (I have trouble, too). He got extra points for not making a mess, but he still had to settle for chicken, lamb, or duck for breakfast.

Notice how no one is looking at the crime scene, just everywhere else.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Our Fluffy Academic

My husband calls Possum "Professor Crossypaws" for obvious reasons. He also took this picture, which I love. I adore all of our cats but Possum and I have a special bond... even if he's been spending most of his time curled up with my husband instead of ME.

Feeling a little jealous, you ask? 



Don't worry, I won't fall into total despair and down a mango-Drano smoothie. I'll just sing along to Roy Orbison as I watch my most precious, beloved, soulmate of a cat snuggling day and night with someone else — although it's painful to see his rapt, adoring gaze. And all the while, said husband is struggling to remain glued to his laptop despite the large distracting object that keeps appearing inconveniently between his head and the screen.

My weapon is Truth. I've taken to reminding Possum that I had to fight to get him. That a certain party didn't want him because of his clipped ear. I won't waste your time listing the pithy points I used to demolish his argument that Possum was not right for us because of his ear. (Oh, for god's sake....) I'll just say that I was "emphatic" and that a certain party was forcibly gotten over the ear thing long ago.

And then I can't help mentioning to Possum that, back when we'd first met him, a certain party also demanded that we only get a female kitten, which the rescue people had said Possum was. I'd wanted a male, because we already had Wendy, but I fell in love with Possum. (The other party preferred his sister, with two whole ears.) "He's a little BOY!" I crowed in delight after his foster mom called with the surprising news after his pre-adoption vet visit. (He was fluffy and already neutered.)

I won that argument, too.

Possum doesn't even blink when I tell him this stuff. He's heard it before and moved on: no grudge-holding from Possum. Male bonding and intense academic collaboration continue.

So then I'm forced to strike where it matters. "Possum," I say, "He might MAKE the popcorns, but who GIVES you the popcorns? Did he ever spare a single piece from his bowl for you? No! Never!"

Possum is a new popcorn convert — a popcorn fiend, in fact. My husband acts oblivious to his intense pressure tactics, but I dutifully take handfuls of popcorn and carefully inspect and edit them to a few perfect pieces with no sharp bits of unpopped shell that could cause choking. And when Possum gets them all soggy and disgusting because he's lousy at eating popcorn, I scoop up the wet bits with my fingers so he can finish them off.

I deserve a ton of credit for this, I do.

Talking about popcorn always gets his attention, so then I say, "And what about the bicycle rickshaw? Spring is coming! WHO is going to have time to pedal you around to the restaurant dumpsters of your choice, and WHO is too busy working 80 hours a week to ever take you anywhere but to the vet?

If I'm lucky he'll feel guilty and visit me in the middle of the night, walking around on me as I'm curled up on my side. It's awkward and his feet feel very hard and pointy at that hour, but I'll take what I can get.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Singer

Wendy likes to sing when she carries her green snake around the apartment. "Singing" is the best way to describe her vocalizing; it's more operatic and sustained than meowing, and more varied and tuneful than howling. (Try singing with a fuzzy toy in your mouth and see how you do. It's not easy.)

She performs for a couple of minutes several times a week. We love hearing her, even when she wakes us in the night, because she sounds so happy and confident. When she does it while I'm on the phone with someone, the caller always hears her loud and clear.

We have no idea why she does this; our vet says it's a victory song, and she does sound proud. But it's not like that snake puts up more of a fight than her other toys; and she never sings with anything else. She's ignored the many other snakes I've gotten her after I noticed that old Green Snakey wasn't looking so chipper after years of being carried around in her mouth. And I never knew an outdoor cat to walk around singing while carrying a dead bird or mouse. Cats tend to keep that stuff on the QT so other cats won't try to take the victim for their own supper. The point is to eat it; not serenade it.

While none of my other cats has ever sung while carrying anything,* I know that plenty of cats do this sort of thing. It's hardly unique, but that doesn't make it any less baffling. I would love to know what's running through their minds... but then I would always love to know that.

But there's something else that baffles me, which other cat people can enlighten me about: do all cats sing in key and in rhythm when music is playing, as Wendy often does? She just sang along to a Traveling Wilburys tune, meowing on the beat and in the right key. She's harmonized with a few Springsteen songs, too, and meowed along to a few Christmas carols as well. Since cats aren't supposed to care for our music, that seems very weird, and it's happened too often to be a coincidence. Wendy is a near-total mystery to me for many reasons, but I do know that she likes Tom Petty and Bruce.

* I once had a cat who meowed along to certain Chopin and Brahms piano melodies, but he didn't have a toy in his mouth.

Monday, March 16, 2015

One More for the Record

We had a little snowstorm yesterday. We got just a couple of inches, but it was enough to officially break Boston's record for the highest seasonal snowfall since 1872 — a little over 108 inches, or 9 feet of accumulation.

I was glad the record-breaking snow finally came. I like winter, and I feel it might as well snow if it's going to be cold anyhow. I especially liked the way the new snow covered the filthy old snow piles with a clean, white layer. Even those of us who like winter agree that dirty snow is a depressing sight if there ever was one. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Pairs Slacking Revived... Again

I found Toffee and Possum practicing a pairs slacking position (the Symmetrical Curl) last night. Pairs slacking has always been our cats' favorite competitive sport. I haven't seen anyone training in a while. It's a fairly nerve-wracking activity and it helps to have a coach. Our cameo Persian Snalbert used to coach Wendy and Possum, and we all miss him... and his catty, Dick-Button-esque demands for perfection.

For those of you who are new here and don't know about Pairs Slacking, here's my standard explanation:
This sport's competitions are high-pressure, breathtaking and emotional — similar to those in [human] figure skating. But here, the nitpicking international judges are looking for unison in lazy posing and an exquisitely lethargic attitude in each lounging couple. 
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....
If you want more background on how pairs slacking has been practiced by my cats, you can browse or look at my sports photos here.

Keep in mind that we live in Massachusetts. Some states require the slacking cat couples to be of mixed gender, beginning with Pre-Junior Level events. Massachusetts was the first state to allow same-sex couples to compete, and more states have been adopting the Massachusetts Rules.

That's a lucky thing for our cats because Wendy gets terribly nervous, even when practicing. She'd probably blow a gasket in actual competition. The boys do much better training with each other.

As you can see, Toffee and Possum are working on a fairly elementary pose and aren't taking themselves too seriously. They both look like they are really asleep and appear to be sunken into the sofa like two little sacks of cement. Their tails have pleasing curves and they look casual and graceful — but not to much. But they have a looonnnnng way to go. Both of them are displaying considerable tension in their right ears. It can take years of practice to master ear control. They also need to work on their pose because they are not identical. Possum is showing too much foot, while Toffee is showing too much front paw.

If Snalbert were still with us, he'd be yelling his head off at them and moving them closer together because they aren't advanced enough in their technique to perform so far apart. At their ages and ability levels, they are still Juniors, although Possum is 5 years old now, and could transition into Intermediate — if he were more committed and put more hours into training.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Recent Adorableness: Toffee

Toffee decided to be photogenic today after noticing that he hasn't appeared here recently. He's not the kind of cat who keeps score, like Harris. He doesn't register disapproval of my less-flattering photos with withering looks, like Possum. He's doesn't register disapproval of everything I do by fleeing the scene, like Wendy. 

Toffee is confident and mellow (unlike Lion, a nervous little guy who hides all afternoon.). He let me photograph him because he knows he's superior to the other four in every way. He's humble about this; it's the truth and he has come to accept it.

Here he's hanging out on the mantel. According to Possum, he is posing like one of the preppy suit models in a Brooks Brothers catalogue. We don't get those, so I didn't know. But apparently Toffee is trying to look like an exceptionally attractive fund manager or tax lawyer, in an expensive suit and white sneakers.

Here he's trying to use Psychic Mind Control to compel me to unpack the food and open all 72 cans:

Here's he's just showing off. Can't blame him.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Winter to Spring to Winter

Yesterday it hit a sunny 61 degrees in Boston. It's been very cold, gray, and snowy here for a long time, so it was almost surreal. Everywhere I went, I heard the sound of dripping.

While many sidewalks are clear and dry, others are still narrow pathways covered in packed snow and ice. Some paths are blocked by puddles ankle deep. I was glad I wore knee-high rubber boots. It's going to take weeks for all the snow to melt and in the meantime, there will be slippery sidewalks, flooded gutters in the streets, and puddles everywhere. In Back Bay, the sunny side of the major streets is melting far ahead of the shady side, so it's the better choice for walking. 

It has been a while since many of us have voluntarily walked further than the minimum distance we needed to get to work or get our errands done. There were suddenly many more bikes on the road these past few days, too. It's gotten easier to see traffic over the piles of snow. That makes it safer for walking and biking although, sadly, a cyclist and a pedestrian were killed yesterday afternoon by trucks in Cambridge and Beacon Hill. Both were women in their 60s.

I had to remember to use the "tourist in London" technique I invented last year, where I look both ways quickly and repeatedly when crossing any street, including one-ways and little alleys. Bikes frequently come out of nowhere, often going the wrong way on one-way streets. And both bikes and cars often ignore lights, stop signs, and pedestrian signals. 

People were ordering iced coffees and sitting outside at caf├ęs yesterday. (They would have been sitting on park benches, too, but most of those are still buried in snow.) Many people were strolling around in shirts or sweaters, and I carried my coat as I strolled around the South End for the first time in months. I even rolled up my sweater sleeves. 

And, naturally, many people remained swaddled in down coats, gloves, scarves, and furry hats. That's spring in Boston. Someday soon, I hope to photograph a few of them passing sunbathers in bikinis lying on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. It happens.

As I squinted through my sunglasses in the bright sunlight and felt its warmth trying to burn my head I have to say....  it was welcome for maybe 10 seconds. Then it became unpleasant. 

I prefer fall and winter. I like cloudy days and deep shade. If the temperature never rose above 80, I'd be fine with that. 

So this morning, when the temperatures returned to the 30s and felt like the 20s, I was happy to put on a sweater. But I did spot a woman walking down our street in sandals and a tee around 8 this morning, when it was 34 degrees and felt like 22. She was walking pretty fast, at least.

Because of yesterday, some people will stay determined to dress for spring even when real warmth is weeks or months away. Usually it's students and young women who make the silliest choices. Yesterday, my husband reported seeing a student wearing a midriff top in Harvard Yard. I asked him if the midriff had been tanned or pasty white, and he replied that he hadn't bothered to look that closely. 

Whoa. He is either getting old or the student was very far away.

Our favorite weather site is Weather Underground. You can choose from a number of nearby weather stations for a very close-to-home report. We choose between stations monitoring conditions at Fenway Park, the Green Building at MIT, or "Back Bay West." Along with accurate predictions and the usual data, Weather Underground supplies another valuable piece of information: it tells you how today's weather compares with yesterday's, so you can adjust accordingly:

"Today is forecast to be MUCH COOLER than yesterday."

I will be going out for a long walk later, and I'll end up in Harvard Square. I hope to spot someone who doesn't know about Weather Underground (and who isn't training for the Marathon) in a tank top and shorts. I'll keep you posted.

New Ways to Kill

Harris has always had a remarkably vicious demeanor, especially toward Da Bird.

As everyone knows, the standard way to kill something is to crunch it between your jaws, worrying it (i.e., shaking your head slightly but repeatedly — not talking about global warming or Ebola) until you've broken its neck and it gives up its ghost.

This technique is usually effective on mice, birds, the larger species of bug, pom-poms, socks, fuzzy green snakes, and anything suspended from a pole and a string.

Lion kills a sparkly ball.

Harris kills a comb.

For tougher victims, like recalcitrant catnip cigars and bananas, you should grab your prey with your front legs while kicking the heck out of it with your back ones. The kicking probably doesn't kill the prey any faster but it gives the impression that you are a murdering machine and helps ward off other predators. It also gives you something to do besides biting, which gets old for some of us pretty fast.

It's difficult to kick a collar.

Along those lines, I'd like to present two alternative, tooth-free, killing techniques for your consideration, courtesy of Possum. These methods are still in the early stages of development so I can't show you any photos of him in action. (This is too bad because he's been highly entertaining.) They are also still in patent review. But Possum is very excited about their potential.

Technique #1 is not uncommon among killers but so far, no one has optimized it for maximum lethality. In a nutshell, it's smothering — crouching, lying or sprawling on top of the victim until it either suffocates or dies or boredom under the confines of your fluffy torso.

Occasionally victims have also been crushed to death by this technique; this works decently on moths, for example, and the more indifferent kinds of catnip mice that don't put up much of a fight. The mere possibility of this is a good reason to bulk up one's belly by stealing food from your colleagues' bowls, says Possum.

More often, however, the prey just gets annoyed and crawls away. This is especially true when the technique has been applied to another cat. Before abandoning this method entirely, Possum is going to keep studying it. But he is also working on something new.

Technique #2 seems to be Possum's own invention. I've been watching him practice lately and, while he won't let me photograph him, I can tell you that I've never seen a cat do this before. While I'm not permitted to reveal all the details, I can say that is is an innovative, upright style of killing, possibly the only method that can be used while sitting perfectly in Ancient Egyptian Cat Statue Pose. (I guess it might be possible to kill someone by singing really badly while seated in this pose, but it would take hours.)

Our scientist, in the lab.

Possum's technique, which he has been developing experimentally with the red "cherry bomb" shown above, involves him sitting on the cherry bomb and then kicking it to death with his back feet — which are also kind of important for stability when you are sitting and you are a cat.

I never said it was easy. Possum keeps falling over. Rome wasn't built in a day.

Possum insists that I mention that he received generous grant funding for R&D from an anonymous supporter and that he is a 501(c)(3) organization, so all donations to him are tax-deductible. I have not been able to review his paperwork to verify this. It appears to be handwritten in Norwegian, so you'll have to do your own diligence before you dash off a check. (He plans to accept PayPal soon.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


A rather pensive Lion came to visit Possum on the leather chair last night,. He got his head washed as a reward.

Lion often wants to play with Possum. He'll lie on his back, smacking at Possy with his paws and taunting him until he surrenders and starts fake-biting and wrestling. Lion enjoys being the victim of Possum's mighty fangs, which always just miss their mark.

But Possum would rather talk about books, I think.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Joys of Vacuuming

Vacuuming can be an adventure around here. To be accurate, it's a treasure hunt; I never know what I'll find. Last week, in addition to recovering Wendy's sparkly pompoms and Lion's plastic straws and tiny mice under just about every heavy piece of furniture, I turned up my favorite old comb. It had been missing for about six months. Somehow it had exiled itself under the wooden radiator cover in the bedroom. Why it did that is anyone's guess. (Perhaps it was embarrassed by its prominent missing teeth?) Why it chose to reappear last week, when I vacuum there all the time, is also anyone's guess.

I'm happy to have it back.

Last month, I made a less pleasant discovery.

Actually, before I tell you about that one, I should report last week's other Find. Someone put a large, dried "gift with purchase" (as we politely call them) under the refrigerator. My trusty Miele crevice tool hauled it out to my horror. Strange. It was not a hairball, but the other kind of "gift" that belongs in the bathroom. And I swear I vacuum under the fridge all the time, too.

I washed the crevice tool, which was a smart move because my comb materialized at the end of it a few minutes later.

So, anyway, about a month ago, I was wielding that crevice tool under the glass-fronted bookcases when it pulled out what I thought was a piece of some folksy Christmas ornament, made from natural materials. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that it was not a rustic flower, but the woody base of a head of garlic. Someone had chewed all the papery skins away and played soccer with the base.

Garlic is toxic to cats. I has always kept our garlic in a tiny bowl on our counter, "safely" "hidden" behind a much larger bowl.

Not anymore. It's in a cabinet now.

First I panicked. Then I remembered, or thought I remembered, throwing out a used-up head of garlic a few days earlier. It was down to one little clove, which seemed tired. A quick check around the tiny, empty bowl turned up that last clove, so it appeared that someone had just eaten all the papery skin attached to the base.

I called the vet in fear and trembling; this was around the time that Harris hadn't been feeling well.

She said she'd never heard of a cat helping itself to raw garlic.

You have now, I said.

She reassured me that the papery skin contains next to no toxins. She said that cats typically get sick from eating garlic when it's been cooked with other foods they like, such as meat. At which point I calmed down and realized that no one had been acting sick at all for some days. They were all eating with good appetite, keeping it down, and keeping busy stuffing toys, etc., under furniture. All was well.

Still, I vacuumed with trepidation after that. But I always procrastinate over vacuuming; I hate it. It's boring, it requires energy and core strength, I'm lazy, and it takes forever to get all the cat fur off the rugs.

And now I've got my comb back! So, so much for vacuuming. Any other "treasure" I excavate is likely to be Something I Do Not Want.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Another Box of Harris

I don't think it's possible to have too much Harris-in-a-box. Harris agrees. So please indulge us as we present a series of instructional photos on various ways to pack and store your Harris.