Sunday, December 31, 2017

No One Will Eat. Happy New Year!

Harris, zonked out from not feeling well. 

It was the strangest thing: our four boys wouldn't eat any breakfast on Friday. The cats all get along surprisingly well, but this was no show of solidarity or sympathy for Lion, who hadn't eaten since Wednesday. Only Wendy ate most of her food; Toffee nibbled a wee bit of his. I came into the kitchen in the morning and found the bowls still filled, a thing unheard-of around here.

The problem continued at dinner. I thought of my nightly ritual with Possum, where I ask him, in aggravated tones, to stop smacking at my leg and yelling at me as I fill the cats' bowls. On Friday, he wasn't even near the kitchen, and I missed him. Wendy ate a little; Harris tried. Lion and Possum hadn't eaten all day. We gave Lion fluids (I always dread inserting the needle, but we both did fine) and planned to syringe-feed him the next day if he didn't eat on his own, as the vet instructed.

Lion toasts a couple of legs on the radiator while the rest of him chills on the sill.

Our house is colder than it's ever been, so we wondered if they weren't used to it, if perhaps they couldn't smell their food. The thermometer refuses to go much above 60 despite my turning the thermostat to 80. We tried warming their food, and then we opened the smelliest food we have: sardines. No luck. We knew it was a silly theory but we were baffled. I reminded the cats that their feral brothers and sisters, out in the cold, will eat anything they can hunt or rummage from trash, no matter how cold it might be. They listened without comment, as I did as a child when I was made to eat something horrible while being told about starving children in Africa.

The cats all looked fine — otherwise I'd have been far more upset. They sat around, or napped, or looked out the window while toasting on a warm radiator. They purred when we petted them. They just wouldn't eat.

Five sick cats are a distraction. I haven't watched any news or worried much about the government since Lion ate that ribbon on Christmas Eve. It's refreshing to have something new to worry about; it was long overdue. I realize that sounds ridiculous to anyone who doesn't understand anxiety from the inside, but that's how it is. Usually, I can worry about many different things simultaneously, but five sick cats seem to have overloaded my brain circuits.

Lion, looking wise and noble and not like the sort of cat who'd eat 18" of ribbon.

On Saturday, we got dressed up and went to a holiday tea at L'Espalier although we weren't exactly in the mood. It was terribly fancy and civilized — huge white plates dotted with a few tiny treats we couldn't always recognize:

A chocolate thing, a lemony thing, a macaron, 
a ridiculous micro-scone. . . and don't ask me.

L'Espalier is an old-school Boston tradition but it's now a rather generic set of sleek, contemporary dining rooms in the Mandarin Hotel. I regret that we never had even one dinner in the original L'Espalier, which occupied a few floors in a gracious historic townhouse on Gloucester Street. It used to be the most romantic and popular place to get engaged, and it was also the nearest restaurant to our apartment. Yet, somehow, we got engaged over cheeseburgers in Jamaica Plain.

Fine snow was falling as we walked home after a few errands: syringes for feedings, more sardines. We took off our boots in the hallway. As I hung up my coat, I stepped in frosty-cold cat puke in my socks. We found more on the bed. Aha! Our vet confirmed my suspicions — Lion must have caught a virus at the hospital on Christmas, and it had spread to the other cats. Her official diagnosis, given over the phone: "Creeping Crud." Her term for the nameless viruses that appear out of nowhere, make cats miserable for a few days, and disappear.

No one ate supper on Saturday night, but a few of them still managed to puke. We've found many hairballs in the past couple of days, so this is clearing out their systems, at least.

Lion is hiding less and keeping his food down. We've been syringe-feeding him; my husband has a good technique and Lion is a trouper. He doesn't mind me giving him fluids, either.

This morning, my husband tried to feed everyone breakfast and reported that Possum. Wendy, and Toffee ate a little while Harris and Lion ate nothing. I was still in bed; our bedroom was so cold that I debated for a long time the pros and cons of leaving my cozy nest of flannel and down. I finally put one foot on the cold floor. I looked down and saw that I'd just missed putting it in a cold puddle of someone's . . . breakfast. I considered it a positive omen that I missed it. Usually, my foot is drawn to such messes like a magnet. Maybe 2018 will be a better year! Maybe it will bring the indictments I was hoping for from Santa and Robert Mueller. Maybe, maybe.

We tried to tempt everyone with deli turkey, something they normally snatch from our fingers. But it might as well have been dirt. We've begun feeding them poached chicken breast with broth. Some of them nibble tiny amounts but often it comes back up. Dinner looked like this, with all four boys eating very little, but something:


I never expected to be ending the year with five sick cats, but I know that we are still amazingly fortunate. We've survived much, much worse cat illnesses. I'm grateful it's only a virus that should run its course fairly soon. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it won't progress to anything worse, or even messier. I'm hoping that, in a few days, all will be well again, and I can go back to worrying about the country and the world. And for that, and many other things, I am grateful. It's just been a strange holiday week.

Happy New Year!

Lion Won't Eat

Apologies to anyone who has been worrying about Lion for the past few days since my last post. I didn't intend to leave anyone in suspense; I just haven't had time to sit down and continue the story, which isn't at the happy-ending part yet, although it will get there. (This post is long and I urge you to skip if it you're not interested sick-cat stories. I'm trying to put down the details so I have an accurate record for any future vet visits.)

On Wednesday night, Lion refused to eat. We assumed he'd bounce back from his ribbon-eating adventure; we were wrong. We called the vet and she said he'd need an ultrasound if he kept refusing food. He ate nothing on Thursday morning.

Angell Memorial Animal Hospital has always been our mainstay for after-hours care but their radiology department is understaffed and they often can't do ultrasounds. Our vet suggested another 24/7 hospital, Blue Pearl, in Waltham, a long drive. When I called for an appointment, they told me about their brand-new facility in Charlestown, much closer. Now we have two options for emergency care.

Thursday was as bitterly cold as the previous days, if not worse. Our appointment was at 2. We tried to stay warm in our apartment, which was 60 degrees and drafty despite our hot radiators. We bundled up in long underwear, sweaters, hats, and scarves, and drank lots of tea. My husband began calling me "Gandalf" because of my poncho-and-bathrobe ensemble.

As I drank tea, shivered, and checked the news on my laptop, I started having trouble seeing. Every few years, I get an ocular migraine. I don't get a headache but my vision darkens and I see flashing lights or much stranger things. Sometimes the lights resemble gorgeous Art-Deco movie marquees; once it was like watching two movies at once, with the film for both flapping around loose in the projectors. I banged into a lot of walls during that one. This time the flashers were just black. I always become very mellow when I get one. Since I couldn't read, I took a shower, which was warm and relaxing. Then I curled up with Harris until I could see again.

Catching Lion is hard. If we chivvy him out from under the bed, he will fly like mad to hide in the corner under the Christmas tree, or behind a door that has a small, empty corner behind it and a heavy chest in front of it. His most secure fortress is behind the printer, but we blocked the opening with a pillow earlier.

We needed all of our skills, powers, and strength to put him into his carrier, and then the three of us shivered on the drive to Charlestown; Lion on my lap. The new hospital is in an industrial area, close to Acme Bookbinding, where we have fond memories, from years ago, of watching our book projects (I as editor and/or designer; my husband as designer, editor and/or author) turn into books on the bindery floor. A newcomer might find the location is rough and rather scary, but we were nostalgic, remembering the talented staff at Acme.

Whenever we have a cat emergency, my husband brings our car around while I race around packing water, a phone charger, a book, snacks, and cat food, in case the patient must stay overnight. I also grabbed Exhibit A: an uneaten scrap of red ribbon.

We needed everything but the cat food; we were there for a few hours, and ate all the peanut-butter pretzels as we waited. The staff is friendly and professional; the waiting room is small, without separate areas for dogs and cats, although the animals go off with the vet assistants quickly after arriving. They offer free coffee, tea, cocoa, a decent assortment of magazines, and a TV that we found annoying.

Lion passed his ultrasound and basic blood work with flying colors. The vet suspected his digestive tract was irritated from the ribbon. They gave him fluids and a shot of anti-nausea medicine, which she hoped would help him recover his appetite. We went home with two more anti-nausea pills, a bag of fluids, and instructions to return for another ultrasound if he wasn't eating by breakfast on Sunday.

He didn't eat that night, but we didn't expect him to, after the excitement of the day. That night as I fed the cats supper, I thought it was boring to watch just four of them eat.

BOY, WAS I WRONG!

to be continued

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Christmas Day and Beyond

 Boston's first White Christmas since 2003. 

After the surreal yet familiar events of the night before, we weren't sure what the rest of Christmas would be like. It was very late when we woke up, and it was beautiful outside, snowing and blowing. It was beautiful inside, too, with our tree and decorated mantels. When my husband fed the cats breakfast, we were startled by the hissing. All of our cats are usually polite to each other, especially at mealtime, and you'd think they'd be extra gracious on a holiday. But Lion smelled like the animal hospital, and Harris passionately hates vets, so he hissed and growled nastily at Lion and in general. Wendy hissed and swatted at Harris for her own reasons. All that made Possum annoyed and Toffee jumpy.  Lion ate and went off to hide.

We were pleased that he ate in spite of the tension. We settled in to unpack our stockings, give the cats their presents, and unwrap our own, hoping all the time that Lion would suddenly upchuck a lot of shiny red ribbon, a terrific present for us. Even without that one, we both thought our presents were wonderful. In my stocking there was a tiny Hogwarts Sorting Hat. I got "Gryffindor!" so I hoped it might be accurate. Then I set it on Harris's head and it bellowed: "Slytherin!" so I knew that it was.

Our stockings were stuffed.

Lion didn't participate. He crouched among the rolling storage tubs and cartons of cat litter we store under the bed. We could see his round eyes shining, out of reach. The others went wild for freeze-dried rabbit treats, batted at their new toys, and played in the wrapping paper and tissue littering the floor. Then we had a leisurely, late breakfast: bacon, scrambled eggs, and toast. Usually Christmas morning is a hurried celebration because we have to get on the road to arrive in Pennsylvania before dinner. It was a treat to be able to take our time for a change.


Harris, Possum and Toffee have a Christmas nap.

The snow stopped and the sun came out, so we decided to take an afternoon walk across Back Bay to Beacon Hill.

This overdecorated house on our street looked better with its many tchotchkes covered in snow.

 A layer of ice under the snow made walking an adventure.

 Hardly any cars!

We bundled up and had a fun, frosty walk, slip-sliding along past many families and dog walkers. There was sledding on Boston Common. Snowmen were being built on the Mall. We passed a few of my wreaths, including this one on West Cedar Street that had been hung upside-down, with the bow at a rakish angle:

Whatever!

Beacon Hill's charming post office, decked with boughs and stockings.

I picked up salad greens at Deluca's just before it closed. We walked home down Newbury Street, where we were surprised to find some of the restaurants open and packed with chattering diners.

Take the shoes. Leave the cannoli. 
The holiday windows at Dolce & Gabbana on Newbury are always a treat.

Five sparrows on Newbury Street — if only they'd come home with us 
to be new friends for our five cats

Christmas dinner required creativity. I don't keep lots of food in the fridge when we travel. But I had a lemon and eggs, so I made Greek chicken-egg-lemon soup. I made a salad with a pear, clementines, dried cranberries, and toasted hazelnuts. We also had ham and a fresh loaf of "harvest bread" with figs, cranberries, and walnuts, meant for sandwiches in the car on the trip to Pennsylvania. So I made grilled ham-and-cheese sandwiches — spreading a little mayonnaise with the butter makes the bread extra brown and crispy.

We like simple food, so that was a perfect dinner, followed by Christmas cookies. Then we meant to binge-watch "The Crown" but we fell asleep on the sofa and woke up late. Lion was around. He looked fine and seemed hungry; he ate a little and went under the Christmas tree — a more festive place to hide than under the bed, at least.

And that was Christmas. And it was great.

Tuesday was uneventful. We watched Lion. He became a picky eater but, other than that, he seemed okay. He came out and asked for attention at night, talking to me, purring, asking for treats. He hid most of the rest of the time but he'd done that before he ate the ribbon. The holidays make him nervous.

He's also still afraid of my slippers, which I've had to wear since it's gotten so cold. Our apartment is 62 degrees right now even though I have the thermostat at 75. We have drafty windows and uninsulated walls. I'm wearing long underwear under my heaviest sweater and a long moleskin skirt. I wear wooly socks with my fleece slippers. I sometimes wear a red boiled-wool cloche and my husband gave me a long Ecuadoran alpaca poncho, dark blue with vibrant stripes, that adds a layer of warmth over everything and doubles as a blanket for watching TV. When I wear it over my crimson velour bathrobe with the cloche, I look like Dumbledore's colorful sister. And I don't care.

Wednesday morning, my husband woke me early, exclaiming that he thought he'd found some ribbon while cleaning the litter box. He put the evidence in a baggy and left it for me, the Forensic Poopologist. After breakfast and procrastination — I had low expectations — I began dissecting the two dry and crumbly little droppings inside the bag. They were connected by a telltale bit of red curling ribbon.

As I poked around, I found a lot of ribbon crumpled up inside: three long pieces. Excellent! I called for my husband and together we measured 18 inches. That was probably all Lion had eaten. We took a photo, which I won't share here. I called the vet at Angell Memorial to report the good news, and our own vet, and all agreed it was remarkable. Good job, Lion! He was probably safe from intestinal obstruction and other scary issues . . . unless he'd also eaten something else that we didn't know about. I may not know much, but I know enough to be paranoid.

I rescheduled our trip to Pennsylvania. If we left on Friday, we'd get there in time to see the relatives visiting from California before they left. I reserved one of the last rooms at the nicest inn in Bethlehem (if they run out of rooms, they put you in this drafty stable full of people and talking farm animals — no privacy). I rebooked the cat sitter, canceled our reservation for a fancy tea on the weekend, and told my family that we'd be home after all.

But that was before Lion refused to eat any supper.

to be continued

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Nightmare before Christmas

Harris wants his presents NOW.

Christmas Eve has always been my favorite day of the year, although all the days we spend on Mount Desert Island are right up there, too. This Christmas Eve was going along well: I'd finished the last-minute shopping and wrapping, and I'd even done enough cleaning. I'd gotten the seven stockings out, including four little red knitted ones for the older cats and an even littler (but fancier) green one for Lion. We made a quick trip to Watertown, where our cousins are staying, to drop off a couple of boxes of raspberry burst cookies from the Star. I'd gotten the cousins hooked on the cookies over Thanksgiving and had promised them more for Christmas. But I'd forgotten all about it until they asked for them at the family gathering at my mother-in-law's on Saturday night. I try to keep promises, especially when sugar is involved, so I did.

Old friends of ours always come over on Christmas Eve, and we go out for dinner. (We tried Terra this year — very nice.) Then we come back and sit around and talk over cookies, tea, and a few presents. The cats got their present while our friends were here:


I thought they might love it since they love this rolling ball toy. Harris, Possum, and Toffee played with it enthusiastically as our friends looked on: 


But they were just being polite. They've ignored it ever since. After all, there are twigs from the Christmas tree, and who can resist those?  And their other toy's ball lights up, so I may need to replace the cute spotted balls in this toy with more of those.

Our friends went home. No one else was home in our building; it's been blissfully quiet here for weeks and I'm both grateful and spoiled because a quiet apartment is heaven to me. When the noise returns, I suffer. We haven't even played our favorite Christmas music very much because the silence is golden. .

It had been a long, busy day. We were tired but still had to pack for our trip to Pennsylvania on Christmas Day. It's not a long stay so it's not a lot of packing. On Christmas morning, my husband and I (and the cats) unwrap presents, have breakfast, pack a lunch and snacks, and spend the rest of the day on the road, arriving at my sister's house in time for dinner. We stay only two nights since our cat sitter visits just twice and day, and leaving our cats alone with the tree for any length of time is risky. This year, we were worried about the morning snowstorm expected to hit Boston and most of western Massachusetts and Connecticut along on our route. We have a little sporty car that isn't good in snow. There's even a button on the console that says, "SNOW," but when we press it, it doesn't makes the snow stop, or start, or much of anything.

As I checked the forecast at my desk one more time, I heard a strange sound across the room by the tree. At first I thought nothing of it, but then I jumped up and ran over. Lion was sitting not far from the tree, gagging slightly and looking guilty. Then I realized that a long length of curling ribbon was missing from the gift bag my husband's mother had given him the night before. I don't know how we let that ribbon in the house; I don't know how we saw it but didn't instantly imagine a cat trying to eat it. I never use curling ribbon anymore. It's highly attractive to a string-loving cat like Lion. And now at least a foot of it was heading to his stomach. 

Sometimes Lion likes attention. As we hovered over him, he led us into the kitchen and asked for food. He doesn't do that often these days. He'd missed supper that night: we'd vacuumed in the afternoon, which scares him, and he is more skittish than usual anyway from all the holiday bustle. But now he finished his bowl. I hoped it would make him throw up. As I watched him eat, I wondered how we could possibly leave him to travel given what was inside him and what it might do to him. I knew we couldn't. And, my god, what he'd eaten! That ribbon has to be dangerous: indigestible, strong, and possibly sharp-edged. I called Angell Animal Medical Center. There was still plenty of time to induce vomiting. There's a two-hour window; I've been through it enough times to know the drill.

The voice answering the 24/7 emergency line at sounded familiar. (I chalked it up to making too many calls after our cats swallowed things.) She said they weren't very busy. We cornered Lion and it took all of our powers to get him into a carrier. I packed a phone charger and a book. The sidewalk was a sheet of ice. We hit every red light between home and Angell and arrived after midnight. Merry Christmas.


The receptionist looked familiar and gave me a big smile as I dashed in — she had worked for our former vet for years. We caught up as she located Lion's records, and said we were second in line. A tiny blonde came to take Lion away to try to induce vomiting. I warned her that he had bitten a vet assistant after he got loose on his last visit, and caused another to get a head injury as she tried to catch him. I said he was a sweet cat most of the time but he panicked when frightened. She studied our terrified, black-eyed Lion with respect. 

We sat on a wooden bench to wait. The phone rang and I heard the receptionist quietly describing various burial and disposal options. Others were having a much worse Christmas than we were. 

We waited some more. We heard heartbreaking sobbing from behind the closed door of an exam room. A vet tech escorted two devastated women to the reception desk, where they paid their bill and made burial decisions. They went back to the room and cried some more. They left, still sobbing. The clients in line before us left on a more hopeful note, carrying a big, empty birdcage and announcing to the nearly empty lobby that they'd be back first thing in the morning. A young French couple arrived with four large, unruly dogs; one was sick. Then an older man joined us in the cat area with a very ill tabby. 

I wondered how ill my cat was, and whether I'd soon be sobbing in an exam room. I've been there.

By about 1:15, we learned that the vet hadn't succeeded in making Lion vomit. (The last time this happened, I remember that they told me he was too nervous to vomit!) We gave permission to take X-rays. I tried and failed to nap sitting up. Sometime after 2:00, the lone vet on duty joined us on the bench to discuss the X-rays on her laptop screen. They showed foreign material in his stomach — but also so much food that the vet couldn't do an endoscopy. Damn; we need to remember not to feed him next time. Because — I may be a fool but I'm not that much of a fool  — there will be a next time.

We went home with instructions to watch Lion closely for any symptoms of obstruction for at least the next two weeks: lack of appetite, vomiting, lethargy, diarrhea, trouble moving, pain, weight loss, etc. We are supposed to feed him fiber. He likes sweet potatoes. 

The vet said we shouldn't leave him to travel unless we had someone staying in the apartment. We didn't. So much for our trip to Bethlehem, "Christmas City of the USA."

It was sleeting as we drove home; the storm had begun. Lion abraded his nose trying to escape the carrier. He cried. We felt awful. When will we ever learn?

I texted my family that we were canceling our trip and went to bed. Possum was curled up on my side so I had to curl up around him. I meant to get up in a couple of hours to check on Lion but I didn't. We awoke several hours later to a blowing, swirling snowstorm. A White Christmas, and five hungry cats . . . how nice! Then I remembered what had happened the night before.

to be continued

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas!


Wishing you a wonderful celebration with family, friends, cats, delicious things to eat, and lovely presents in your stocking and under the tree.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Friday Before Christmas

On our way to the North End on Friday afternoon, it started to snow. Walking along Charles and Cambridge Streets, we noticed that the sidewalks and shops seemed quieter and emptier than we expected.

We'd decided to pre-pay next year's property taxes so we were bracing for long lines and confusion at City Hall, and then probably another long line in the cold outside Regina's Pizza, which is THE place to get pizza in all of the Boston. But it's our holiday tradition and we never run out of things to talk about when we are stuck in line together (or anywhere).

There was one person in line ahead of us at City Hall: a friendly lawyer,who gave us free advice. The whole thing took maybe 10 minutes, and only that long because we had to go to two different offices and both clerks were chatty. (We knew the first one was straight out of Dickens even before he opened his mouth, from his striking expression he peered at us over his spectacles. He asked us who our mortgage lender was, and when we rolled our eyes and said "Mr. Cooper," he was as  incredulous and outraged as we could ever have wanted as we explained that Mr. Cooper is, in fact, a large financial institution and not some guy in Florida, sitting at a card table in his mother's basement filing mortgage payments into shoeboxes.)

We congratulated ourselves on a quick trip to City Hall and further braced ourselves to stand in line freezing at Regina's. But we were able to walk in and get a booth. I was too hungry to photograph the pizza while it was still intact:


It was delicious, as always. There were still empty tables when we left:


We decided to check out Mike's Pastry, where holiday lines are often out the door, although it's designed to handle large crowds. There were more than a dozen customers, but many were just gawking, so you could walk right up to the counter and place your order — a rare thing on any day of the year.


Another rarity: a clear view of the pastry cases:


Between you and me, I'm not a big fan of Mike's offerings, although the Christmas cookies are nice. But we'd already bought our cookies at Maria's. (They say they have a new cat! But he or she was not visible. There was no line there, either.)

Testing our luck further, we decided to attempt Modern Pastry, where the line can stretch out the door and around the corner at any time of day or year. First we went to the Salumeria. There was a man at the register ahead of us and we had to wait a while; the cashier had made a mistake and needed to consult all the other people behind the counter at length, in beautiful Italian. It was warm and dry, and we didn't mind. 

There were only a few people in Modern Pastry, where we got cannoli (of course). But I had to admire these cupcakes, dusted with sparkly gold dragées:


Another rare, clear view of one of Modern's many pastry cases:


Where was everyone? I have no idea but I was not complaining.

It was still snowing and the sidewalks were becoming slippery as we left, so we decided to take the T home. Along the way, we stopped in the winter village at Government Center, which was deserted. Then we got seats together on the trolley even though it was still rush hour, another Christmas miracle.

Wreaths Around the Neighborhood

We walked to the North End on Friday for our annual Christmas pizza (mushroom and sausage) at Regina's. Along the way, we passed some of the wreaths I decorated. I try to visit the wreaths that are in walking distance around Christmas to "foof" the bows and make sure everything is holding up.

Everything was holding up! And all the bows looked fine. Who needs me?

Beacon Street:



A single Beacon Street wreath:


Chestnut Street:



I was most curious to see the "dark aubergine" door on Temple Street and how it looked with the lime-green ribbon and purply accents I chose:


Dark, but kind of wonderful, if I say so myself:


Merry Christmas Eve!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Toffee and the Taco Pillow

Toffee has taken over the Taco Pillow — our goofy, half-moon-shaped pillow with ruffled trim, which I bought on a whim when we ordered our sofa and velvet armchair. It has four coordinating prints and, amazingly, looked just right on our goofy orange-and-purple paisley chair, which I recently hid beneath a tan velvet slipcover.

The Taco lives on the sofa now, and Toffee has been doing a Princess-and-the-Pea act by knocking it over to make it flat and curling up on top. Because down sofa cushions just aren't soft enough:


Today I caught him crouching on the round top EDGE of the upright pillow, which is only a couple inches wide. He was kicking and clawing it, trying to subdue it into flatness. He finally gave up and napped next to it. But he knows how to knock it over:



It's just his size and he knows he looks awfully cute on it:


So we have a second Pillow Cat in the apartment, a position previously held only by Lion. I rarely see him lying on top of the big pillow on the velvet chair anymore:


In fact, we rarely see Lion at all, except at mealtimes or late at night, when he suddenly turns social and chatty. He's still not entirely reconciled to the Christmas tree and the chaos of boxes and wrapping paper and so on. On top of that, I broke down and bought bedroom slippers recently, having rejected the entire genre as awful when I was about 7. Our floors are just too cold for wooly socks alone so I gave in after a half-century of resistance. I bought these, thinking they looked kind of awful, but they are as cozy as promised:



Lion is visibly afraid of them. He won't even risk coming over for treats. He's scared of boots, too. He's been like this since we got him; I imagine he had a painful encounter with a clumsy (rather than nasty, I hope) human's shod foot before his foster mother took him in.

I don't wear the slippers as much as I'd like.

Lion and Toffee were seen toasting together on the radiator the other night, though. Lion is a happy, loving cat when he isn't nervous. Maybe 2018 will be the year we figure out how to make him more confident and lion-ish. (I will also be doing more touch-up painting in 2018.)


Then it was back to the Taco Pillow for Toffee:


Here he's chosen a cat version of an Old Hollywood Studio pose, a trick he learned from Harris, who often seems to channel Gloria Swanson:


Thursday, December 21, 2017

Watching Lion Eat

Lion was nervous about the Christmas tree's arrival and wouldn't come out from his hiding spot until late at nigh, when he was very hungry. My husband shot these photos of Lion's supper, with his colleagues watching over him (or, more accurately, his dish) protectively.




Alas, there were no leftovers.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Recent Adorableness: In the Box from the Bag


I've been needing a new leather bag for a while. When we were in Paris last summer, I browsed boutiques and looked at designer bags in department stores. I decided that I'd rather have a handmade bag from a craftsman, preferably American. I discovered J.W. Hulme and Frank Clegg, but they are a little too rich for my taste, and I find that their leather is thick and unyielding. 

I kept looking, and finally bought my bag last month from a French artisan working in Bulgaria, after lots of helpful back-and-forth about measurements and so on. It is soft, washed leather, lined with beige suede fabric. It's big enough to hold my hat, scarf and even my down jacket, which I can roll into a little ball. It can also hold smaller library books and a loaf of bread, things that seldom let me zip my previous bag. It sits nicely on my shoulder so I don't need the long strap. The little side pockets hold my keys and phone, sort of, which reduces my frantic rummaging episodes to wallet, lipstick, and pen searches. It cost about half of what I'd budgeted for an everyday bag. And it is understated and not the least bit girly, which was absolutely essential, although I'm not sure why. Anyway, I'm delighted:
It took three weeks to arrive from Bulgaria because this is the holiday season and the postal service is slow on both sides of the Atlantic. I think it spent 10 days floating on a raft across the Atlantic. It ran aground in New York, and took another 10 days to hitchhike, I'm guessing, from Queens to my door. It was worth the wait. And it came packed in a terrific, cat-sized cardboard box with a lid and lots of pink tissue, so flattering to Harris's coloring.

I love these two photos because Harris has an unusually sweet expression:



In photos, he usually looks diabolical, calculating, grumpy, or pouty. (He is all those things, and also sweet, needy, intrepid, evil, babyish, goofy, snuggly, and magnificent.) 

He hasn't looked this innocent in photos since he was a kitten. I think the pink tissue must have had a calming effect on him.

Poor Toffee, who is naturally sweet and never calculating, diabolical, or pouty, rarely gets a chance to lie in the box. But he can sit nearby, admiring Harris as much as he likes.

By the way, nothing is safe from me no matter how much I like it. I put a packet of Harney's Hot Cinnamon Spice tea into my new bag the other day. We don't like the tea at all, and so I was giving it away. It opened and I had a layer of fragrant tea on the bottom of my bag and in my card case and wallet. I vacuumed that suede-y lining, but I will have a holiday-scented bag at least through the winter.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Thinking Around the Tree

"What terrible thing shall I do next?"


After I took a social anthropology course in college, I became aware of the weirdness of some of the rituals that I had previously participated in without a second thought. That course taught me how to step back from a situation and observe it with detachment, like Margaret Mead. It was eye-opening. College should improve your thinking in the course of teaching you how to think, and for me it did.

I remember being home for my first Christmas break after that course. My family decorated a 7-foot Douglas fir on Christmas Eve and went to Mass the next day. Coming home after a semester away was always a kind of culture shock, where I'd need to tone down my new, high-falutin' vocabulary, ideas, opinions, and cultural interests to fit back in with my blue-collar family. But on top of that, which was hard enough, I suddenly found some of our holiday traditions to be completely bizarre.

Resting before his late-night destruction of a few beloved glass ornaments.


What, exactly, is the point of cutting down a big, heavy, healthy tree, dragging it into the house, and covering it with lights, tchotchkes, and cat-attracting tinsel? As a lifelong Catholic I had absolutely no idea. It had nothing to do with the story of the Nativity, and I couldn't detect an ounce of Christian symbolism in the exercise. I knew that Christmas trees had first become popular in Germany, and later I learned a little about how Druids and other ancient people would celebrate the Solstice by bringing boughs and other natural things indoors and lighting Yule logs and candles. All that made more sense, but, alas, we were not Druids. So what the heck were we doing?

I still can't decorate a Christmas tree without shaking my head, and wondering what a visitor from another planet or even a very different culture would think of it. But I still do it.

"Oh, hi!" Possum, Harris, and Lion share the velvet chair nicely.


And forget Mass. Between my one religion college course and that soc-anthro class, my 12 years of Catholic training and practice slipped away from me as easily as a lace mantilla with no bobby pins. That religion course didn't exactly teach me to question the dogma I had assumed was true all my life; it taught me that it was just one of many dogmas, all equally valid or invalid. And that I didn't HAVE to believe any of them. Oh! I could stop tying my brain in knots over the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection. I could be a secular humanist. Or a Quaker. Or nothing much at all, and still not burn in Hell. Phew!

That Christmas that I was Margaret Mead, the pastor in our Italian church announced that he had a special treat for us after Mass. Mass was already an alien ritual for me; I no longer believed but I wanted to keep my family happy and from yelling at me. I braced myself for what I suspected was coming. Father Mento emerged smiling from the sacristy, holding a life-size plaster Infant Jesus swaddled in his arms. Everyone lined up to kiss the baby. He also held a handkerchief soggy with alcohol, which scented the air. I was never into baby-kissing to begin with so I was appalled rather than charmed. As I watched my grandmother, my uncle, and my aunts dutifully lining up, and I imagined our illiterate Italian peasant ancestors doing the same back in Naples and Sicily. And I couldn't do it. I stopped going to Mass and the yelling eventually died down.


I have since figured out why we have Christmas trees. They are essentially cat toys. For well more than a century, Christians have been victims of a vast feline conspiracy that parks a giant coniferous amusement park in their home for a one month a year. And if there is no cat in that house to enjoy it, the ritual of putting it up and down is just punishment for that.

Once you think about it rationally, it makes perfect sense.

So, you see, I did learn how to think in college. But I didn't learn enough to be smarter than cats, especially Harris.