black cloud · cats · personal crisis · prayer · thanks

The second goodbye was the hardest – farewell my Chaucer and welcome Murder Mittens

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img_0187After Dante died last year, Chaucer became an only-kitty. I briefly entertained the idea of adopting another cat or two so he would have a friend…but he seemed to expand to fill up all the spaces in the house that were empty. He was already a champion reading buddy and upped his game by plastering himself down my front whenever I sat down to read. He kept up a vigorous schedule of garnering people food, doing his tricks for treats, and napping.

He napped a lot.

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In April, I came home from work and found Chaucer behind the bed. He was asleep. And  wouldn’t come out when I refilled his food bowl (strangely, he hadn’t eaten anything). He would purr, if I reached behind the bed to pet him, but he wouldn’t come out. It was Good Friday.

Saturday morning, he was still behind the bed. He wouldn’t come out to eat, or eat a treat, or cheese, or bit of tuna fish I put down there with him. When I finally dragged him out and blocked up behind the headboard Chaucer just sat and cried and cried and cried until I let him get back behind the bed. He was still there when I came back from work. His food hadn’t been touched and he hadn’t used the litter box.

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I called the emergency vet in tears and they told me to bring him in immediately. He peed in the carrier in the car – a very foul-smelling urine. On examination, the vet found a significant heart murmur, where Chaucer had never had one before, and a mass in his belly.

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I knew, when I called the vet, that it was unlikely that I would be able to keep my Chaucer any longer. He was clearly in pain and trying to tell me it was time. This was it. The veterinary service at Bright Eyes and Bushy Tails was once again the absolute best I could wish for. They let me sit with Chaucer until I was ready for them to start the infusion, then it only took seconds for my Chaucer to be gone. The vet and his assistant sat with me while I held his little body, and his woobie, and let me tell them about the night I brought Chaucer and Dante home. Where Chaucer got his name, from a secondary character’s horrible cat in Elizabeth Bevarly’s The Wedding. That he had to have abdominal surgery to remove a blockage when he was 18 months old because he’d eaten a thread and many other things (including the spare wire for the cheese slicer – that’s radiopaque, luckily) and then got a wound infection because he wouldn’t take his antibiotics. That he would sit in the bedroom window of our old condo and watch for me to come home and if the window img_1905was open I could hear him meow down at me as I walked from the car. That he was the chattiest cat and would “talk” to you or at you. That he would pat the pantry door and meow when I asked him where the treats lived then do a trick to get his treats. That he thought the treat dispenser was the meanest trick of ever. That he would loudly haunt the kitchen while I cooked. That he thought he was a people and liked to sit at the table during mealtimes. That he ate Golden Grahams like they were going out of style. That he was obsessed with Clean Sheet day. That he had a love affair with my desk lamp. That one of his main objectives was to sneak into the closet and hide in the laundry hamper. That he hid whenever I had handymen into do work in the house while Dante would try and make friends with them, the reverse of what happened with friends. That he made excellent blanket nests. That he was the loudest barfer on earth. That he was an absolute stoner on catnip. That he was the best snuggler. That he was the best cat I could have ever wished for. They were so kind.

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It was very early on Easter Sunday when I paid the bill and drove home to a house that was miserably empty. It was too quiet – not the quiet of “the cat is sleeping” or “the cat is silently getting into trouble.” This was a quiet that was stark and empty and eerily silent. I hated it. Nobody yelled at me to feed him when I opened the door. Nobody talked shit to the birds and squirrels in the backyard. Nobody yowled at the top of his lungs while dragging his woobie around the house (his woobie was a ratty blue puffball on a spring that he liberated from a toy when he was a kitten). Nobody tried to drink out of my coffee mug at breakfast (or water glass or wine glass or beer, etc etc etc).

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c75f7a9c-1694-45d3-bec2-d2587216c9e8And I couldn’t write about it. Every time I opened this draft I would start sobbing and have to stop. It has taken months to get it all written down, to give Chaucer a tribute that he deserves because he really was the best cat. A snuggly weirdo who photographed well in the social media era. I loved how much he made people smile. I have thousands of pictures of my silly goofball. The outpouring of good wishes carried me through the first weeks. And I felt guilty, that grieving Chaucer was almost paralyzing. It hurt more than grieving Dante and that didn’t seem fair. It just…sucked…on a spiritual level, that I only got to have my Chaucer Stinky-pants for fifteen and a half years, that I couldn’t keep him forever.

These are two of my favorite pictures of Chaucer, both printed and framed on the mantel.

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When I came back from vacation at the end of May, I started looking at the kittens and young cats available for adoption in various rescues and shelters. No one really stood out to me (plus it was hard to tell from the sites which cats could be adopted as pairs, since I wanted two cats again). Then I heard from a mutual friend that a former co-worker had a family member with kittens just ready to adopt. So I DM’d Lily, and we texted back and forth a bit, and yes, there were still three kittens in that litter who needed a home. I chose two of the kittens based on the pictures she sent – a fluffy beige tabby and a mottled gray fuzzball without a tail who looked to be a budding tortie. I was originally going to pick them up on Memorial Day, but it turned out they weren’t weaned, yet, so we decided to wait a few more weeks. Another gal who was also adopting two kittens from the litter offered to pick mine up as well in mid-June.

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1b411e95-e7f1-4d5f-95ff-df8e1d5f9d96And so, on June 10 – a day when I miraculously didn’t get scheduled to work at the store – I drove over to her apartment and met my not-quite-seven-weeks-old babies. I indeed had a beige tabby – a boy – and a gorgeous gray-and-cream tortie girl, without a tail so someone has some Manx or something in her. They are both gloriously fluffy, so I get to try my hand with long-haired cats. The boy had (unfortunately) just finished a bath when I got there bc one of the kittens had done an oopsie in the carrier and he got into it. My girl had not (atta girl). So my new boy got to ride home wrapped in a towel and tucked down the front of my hoodie – he shivered for a while, but by the time we pulled into the garage he was purring and making biscuits. The girl napped for a bit then made peeping noises the rest of the way home. They were both a little apprehensive when I let them loose in the basement but after a visit to the litter box and a full belly of kitten chow they both passed out.

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I had been musing on names for a few days, not sure if I had boys or girls or one of each. I went back to a back-up name I had when I adopted Chaucer and Dante, in case one of them had turned out female. One of the first women to write for the English stage – and make a career out of it – was Aphra Behn in the seventeenth century, author of The Rover and Oroonoko (and also probably a spy for Charles II). So my tortie girl, with her tiny torti-tude and pugnacious off-center chin patch, would be Aphra. What name would match her? I thought about other Restoration playwrights – Etheredge, Dryden, Congreve, Farquhar (yikes) – but kept coming back to the most famous playwright of all, a little earlier in the century, William Shakespeare. Strangely, it seemed to fit. So Aphra and Shakespeare came to stay (I had planned to nickname him Bard, since Shakespeare seemed like a mouthful, but that didn’t stick.)

3523cb4e-1916-4968-9df6-7cb4f035d598My house is filled with purring and squeaking again. Aphra and Shakespeare turn three months old today, July 19. I had forgotten how curious and stubborn kittens are. They jail-broke out of the downstairs bathroom about 24 hours after they arrived home, forcing me to find a better solution than the baby gate I borrowed from a neighbor (I bought a 6’x3′ sheet of plexiglass that I could put across the bathroom doorway or move back to barricade the hallway and let them have the run of the basement). I had to put no-chew spray on the electrical cords and no-pee spray in a few corners (Shakespeare had an incident of stress-peeing in inappropriate places after a few too many visitors one day). When they sit still long enough, they are the softest kittens I’ve ever petted; Shakespeare especially feels like you’re petting a fluffy cloud. They purr the loudest, rumbliest purrs for two-pound kittens. Shakespeare is a loud-mouthed goofball who gets hyper-stoned on catnip and likes to comfort-nurse on my shirt when he’s tired. Aphra is an independent little mite with the tiniest meow, freckled toe beans, and her funny little puff-ball bunny butt (she turned out to be a “stumpy” not a “rumpy”) who likes to sit on the headrest behind me and “groom” my hair. They quickly caught onto the routine of human comes home and feeds them, goes up and changes clothes, then comes back down to sit on the couch and read or watch a movie with the foot-rest up (they love lounging on the foot-rest between my knees). They come by for scratchies in between rounds of Kitten Wrestlemania, Zoomies, and naps and have been finding toys (and years-old containers of basil) Chaucer and Dante had hidden under the furniture.

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They are collectively known as the Murder Mittens! Kittens are very spiky – razor-sharp baby claws and sharp, sharp, sharp baby teeth – and at one point I tried to say “you’re such murdery kittens!” but it came out “You are murder mittens!” And it stuck. Apparently, “murder mittens” is a thing – there’s a hashtag on Instagram for cats’ paws – I didn’t invent it but it’s so apt!

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I hadn’t realized how sad I was after Chaucer died (I knew I was sad but this was a new level of sad, bordering a bit on depression). Once the kittens arrived I started feeling lighter and less alone and more relaxed. Even if I traded my snoozy snuggle-bug for two anarchists who are bent on setting the house on fire. There’s a lot of “Aphra, no!” and “Shakespeare, stop that!” but I love it.

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I miss my boys. They were my first pets and solely in my care from the time they were eight weeks old. I turned into an adult with them – I started my job, bought my condo, adopted my boys, and graduated with my Master’s degree all between August and December of 2003. I will always miss my kitty-boys but now I think the jagged edges of that missing feeling are starting to smooth over. In a strange cosmic sense of balance, the Murder Mittens were born as my Chaucer was leaving this world. It feels like fate that they came to me.

Chaucer – mama loves you and misses you like crazy every day. Thank you for being my Chaucer-kitteh for so many years. Be at peace, my very best boy. Dante is waiting for you.

In memoriam, Chaucer Ward, September 1 (?), 2003 – April 20, 2019

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black cloud · cats · personal crisis · prayer · thanks

I would like to tell you about a little beige kitty named Dante

gotta check out these booksI adopted Dante and his brother Chaucer when they were about eight weeks old. On a rainy night right before Halloween 2003. From a farm, during which visit someone (not me) had to shoot a possum that got into the barn.

Dante and Chaucer were part of a litter of five boys: a big gray kitten, two orange kittens, a brown/gray striped kitten, and a kitten so light beige he was champagne-colored. When the striped kitten immediately laid belly-up on my foot I knew he was my Chaucer (I had that name picked out years ago), but it took a bit to decide which of the other kittens I would take. Then I realized the little champagne-colored kitten was being pushed away from the food by the bigger kittens. So I decided that he would be mine, too. He needed a name to match Chaucer so I named him Dante.

IMG_4267He grew up from a tiny one-pound fluff ball into a rather round-in-the-middle cat, with dainty, turned-in front paws and a slim tail. His coat darkened to a solid beige color with darker stripes on his legs, tail, and tabby “M” on his forehead. He had the softest fur to snuggle. He loved having “brain” and chin scritches. Lots of them.

He loved his toys, usually the ones his brother was playing with first, with emphasis on the cheapest things around: cardboard boxes and milk jug rings. He had special dislike for the “kitty in the mirror” who frequently talked smack and needed correcting. Dante and Chaucer frequently napped in a little kitty pile, the way that sibs often do, and they loved all the soft furnishings, especially my bed (even under the covers).

IMG_1047He was the one who would give me kisses when I held him. Even if he was also gifted with the nickname “Hissy Pants” since he would be the first to hiss when annoyed, particularly as he aged. (He also got called Baby Kitty, since he liked to be held burp-a-baby style.) He had this weird meow that sounded like “moo” so sometimes I would moo back.

Dante both equally loved and hated the “got your tail” game, which involved me touching the very tip of his tail. He would growl and pull his tail away….then start purring and lay his tail back over my hand to do it all over again. He had the best purr and was a champion snuggler. But he didn’t like my friends or family that much. He always had to let you know it was his house. Unless you were the piano tuner, electricians, plumber, or cable persons – those guys were always presented with his tummy to rub.

IMG_1971Did I mentioned he had the softest fur? He hated having it brushed, with any kind of brush. He yowled so loud I worried the neighbors would think I was murdering someone. Unless I was trying to trim his claws – then it sounded like I was being murdered.

He wasn’t very fond of cat treats or even his food (though he was usually first in line come mealtimes) but he loved people food. Especially cheese – the sharper and greasier the better. He could hear me open the deli drawer in the refrigerator – even if he were sound asleep in the basement – and come running to wind around my ankles and beg for cheese. I only ever gave him small crumbs, though. Cheese isn’t the best food item for cats. To offset his gourmet tastes Dante would drink water out of the bathtub after I finished showering.

IMG_1544He loved to sit on a chair by my desk and look out the window, chattering at the birds in the backyard. I suspect he chose this spot because it just happened to be over the furnace grate in that room because he also liked to sit with his face over the grate in the bathroom when the furnace was running. He loathed car rides, which is unsurprising being an indoor cat. Unfortunately that is where this story ends – a car ride to the vet.

Friday night I came home from work to find that Dante had started having diarrhea. Everywhere. So I took him in to the emergency vet and they started treating him for a bacterial overgrowth in the gut. But when his blood work came back in the morning the blood chemistry showed renal failure and a further workup showed that it was likely due to his age.

IMG_1580In other words, untreatable.

With this news, the fact that his diarrhea wasn’t responding to medication, and he was refusing to eat or drink, I had to decide to put him to sleep. I have never sobbed harder in my life. I had hoped for a few more years with my crotchety old geezer before saying good-bye or to be able to let go slowly. I had not anticipated such a short illness of less than a whole day. The vet’s office was wonderful. They let me sit in the exam room with Dante as long as I wanted, rocking him in my arms, crying, and watching the snow falling outside the window with him one last time. I said “I’m sorry” and “Mama loves you” too many times to count, I kissed his tabby “M” over and over. When I was ready, the vet came and gave him a sedative and the euthanasia solution through his IV while I held him. My Baby Kitty was gone in less than a minute. They let me stay in the room and hold him as long as I needed. Until I felt ready to lay him down and kiss him good-bye.

IMG_5410I have never felt so selfish. I felt so guilty, wondering if I missed something that would have had me taking him for a checkup earlier, that maybe it could have been caught and treated and I would still have my baby for a little while longer.

I came home, laid down on the floor, and sobbed. I held Chaucer until he protested I was squeezing him too tight. I watched as so many friends commented on my post containing the final picture of my Dante, taken just before the vet delivered the bad news. I have never been so grateful for my friends. Even complete strangers came across the post on Instagram or Twitter and offered their condolences. I will never be able to thank everyone enough.

IMG_7434I never had a pet before I adopted my boys. I had fish as a child, but a tank of guppies is nothing compared to a cat. I did not know it was possible to love them this much. I felt ready to break for a few hours. But I made it through the first day of missing him. I called when I got out of the shower “Where’s my Dante kitty?” before I remembered he wasn’t here. I almost cried at the grocery store when I remembered I wouldn’t need as much cat litter. I cried when I got Dante’s collar and tags out of my purse, to hang them on a frame with his picture, and Chaucer came running, crying, when he heard the tags jingle; Chaucer sniffed all around the collar and tags and let out the saddest meow that had me scooping him up to cuddle immediately. I am crying now typing this.

IMG_7955I am writing all this because I don’t want to forget my Dante-kitteh. My sweet, grumpy dude mooing his way around the house. I am so grateful for the social media era, that I took so many pictures. There are times today when I’ve done nothing but sit and stare at my last picture of him. There is no way out of this but through.

Rest In Peace, Dante. Mama loved you so much she had to let you go so you wouldn’t hurt anymore. I hope I gave you the best life a cat could possibly have, with all the love and snuggles you wanted. Chaucer has only just started to realize that you aren’t hiding somewhere in the house, that you’re gone. If you’re watching over us, please help him understand. Love you, Baby Kitty. Always.

In memoriam, Dante Ward, September 1 (?), 2003 – February 17, 2018

new books (yay) · personal crisis · stuff I read

What have I acquired now?

We are having a clearance sale at the store. Clearance sales can be bad news…..and I’ve purchased other books….and been sent others. Yipe! I need to purge some of the office [painful *ow* ].

Books purchased:
Cheri and the Last of Cheri by Colette
The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce
The Film Club by David Gilmour
Portnoy’s Complaint and Operation Shylock by Phillip Roth
Vanessa and Virginia by Susan Sellers
The Angel’s Game by Carols Ruiz Zafon
My Father’s Tears and Other Stories by John Updike
Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper
Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
The Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr
The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir

Books purchased in the 50% clearance sale:
Under Western Eyes by Joseph Conrad
Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley
Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster
The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West
How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis
The Kingdom of God is Within You by Leo Tolstoy
The Damnation of Theron Ware by Harold Frederic
The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
The Enormous Room by e.e. cummings
The Master of Ballantrae by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Knight of Maison-Rouge by Alexandre Dumas
The White Company and Sir Nigel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Darling by Russell Banks
On Grief and Reason by Joseph Brodsky

Books received from publishers and the BN editors:
The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton
Hot House Flower and the 9 Plants of Desire by Margot Berwin
Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
The Pickup by Nadine Gordimer

Oh my….I need some ice cream or a lie down. Or some counseling. I need to get some things read!

food · personal crisis

Food crisis (crises, rather, because they are many)

Crisis #1: I have a secret – I really can cook. I can. I’m very good at cooking; I can take pretty much any recipe and make whatever that is and it tastes good. What I’m not good at doing is time, planning (if you’ve ever met me, you know this is a perpetual problem, along with procrastination), and cleaning up.

I have plenty of cookbooks, some of which are useful and some are just for drooling over. The Opera Lover’s Cookbook: Menus for Elegant Entertaining is a drool over; with chapters like “English Pub Supper with Gilbert & Sullivan,” “Vodka Tasting with Russian Composers,” “Mozart Dinner Party,” and “Bel Canto Elegant Five-Course Dinner” I need a different lifestyle to get mileage out of the book’s recipes. I love the recipes in the Earthbound Organic cookbook, they just take quite a bit of time to get the dishes made, which I know is the secret to great-tasting food, but when you spend most of the day at both jobs and then curled up in bed asleep a speedier (but still healthy) cookbook is necessary. So I’m consulting my Canyon Ranch cookbooks – mmm, spa food – there’s a great frittata recipe right at the beginning of Canyon Ranch Cooks.

Crisis #2: I really need to lose about a stone because I look like food and I spend a lot of time together. My relationship with food is not good. I’m an ex-dancer and I have about as many hangups and binges as the rest; I just have slower metabolism. I’m not terribly overweight for my frame (I refuse to look at a BMI because all the number does is induce a major depressive episode and a succession of binges) but I’ve nearly passed the first third of my life and my metabolism was never speedy. I need to get a grip on feeding myself correct portions of good food so I don’t eat out so many times; I love the noodle place and the bagel place but they are murder on my waistline (the coffee shop, too, since my biggest weakness is scones). I did actually cave and pick up several of the South Beach diet cookbooks. I don’t ascribe to the no-carb theory; humans were not made to function on a no-carb/low-carb diet because the brain actually needs something like 60-70 grams of good carbs/day (if you’ve ever met me on a day when I haven’t eaten much, you know I do not function at all; worse if there’s no coffee or tea in sight). The Quick and Easy version has a great pear and goat cheese salad and the regular one has a really yummy Apricot Muffin (made with Splenda, it surprisingly tastes good).

Crisis #3: I am cooking for one. ONE. A recipe that makes two servings is great because I have a leftover for lunch or dinner the next day. If there are more than 3 or 4 servings, the dish gets kind of old. Some are really hard to halve – how to you divide three eggs? What is half an egg?

So this is my wish: A healthy/natural foods cookbook with recipes that take less than 20-30 minutes to prepare, has a proposed meal plan for those of us are calorie-impaired, uses ingredients that are available in the landlocked areas of the country, does not attach itself to any silly diet craze, and serves two (or one). Can I find a cookbook like this? Not really.

Current book-in-progress: Whatever I was reading yesterday.
Current knitted item: Eeyores (the little buggers are complicated – who thought this pattern up?)