He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother (okay, he’s heavy, but still, he’s my brother)

I never understood what the song that goes “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” really was about. It just sounded kind of cool back in the day (1969). You know, he ain’t heavy, but he’s groovy, man.

The phrase originates, as far as I can tell, from a story about Boys Town, in Omaha, Nebraska, founded in 1917 by Father Edward Flanagan as a community for homeless and troubled boys. One boy wore leg braces, and the other boys would take turn carrying him on their backs. One of these boys is reputed to have said, when asked, “He ain’t heavy, Father, he’s my brother.” A lovely story. True? I don’t know. But there are several statues titled Two Brothers at Boys Town, and the line made it into the movies in which Spencer Tracy portrays Father Flanagan.

 

photo for statue
Photo that is said to have inspired the stories.
statue
Two Brothers, Boys Town, in Omaha, Nebraska.
Boys Town
Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan in Boys Town.

This isn’t about my brother. I wrote about my own brother not so long ago. This is about 2 brothers, Ringo and Tiger, and their special relationship and what they’ve been through together. Ringo and Tiger are, of course cats, not humans.

human brothers
No, not these goofballs.
brothers 1
Yes, these goofballs.

Ringo and Tiger are very special cats, and I feel privileged to be a part of their human fan club. To put it bluntly, these cats would likely have been euthanized in many other shelters. They are 9 years old, which is considered “senior” in the world of cats, although it is the equivalent of only 52 in human years. So at almost 56, if I were a cat (oh, what a thought!) I would be a senior, even though I don’t think of myself as one at all as a human.

if i were a cat

Ringo is termed “morbidly obese” at 18 pounds. Tiger has cancer, and is not exactly a petite guy himself at 12 pounds. They’ve been together all of their lives. They were surrendered by their guardian to the Humane Society of Broward County in Florida, from where they were evacuated in advance of Hurricane Irma.

Florida

Wings of Rescue (a wonderful organization) flew them out with about 160 other cats and dogs on September 7, 2017. When they landed in Hayward, California, volunteers from Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) were there waiting to transport them to the shelter in Walnut Creek, California.

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Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation in Walnut Creek, California.

 

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Ringo and Tiger arrive at ARF from Florida.

Two very lucky cats indeed. According to the ASPCA, every year 5 to 7 million pets enter the shelter system. More than half of these are cats, of which approximately 70% (yes, 70) are euthanized. And who are most likely to be euthanized? Guess. Older cats and cats with medical issues. Ringo and Tiger are defying the odds.

 

 

 

Ringo is a laid-back cat, loves to sleep on the bed with his people and follow them around, and gets along with everyone! Tiger is sweet, sociable, and loves to cuddle. Those are pretty good dating, I mean adoption, profiles.

Because they have been together all of their lives and are attached to each other as one would imagine they would be, they are a bonded pair, meaning they have to be adopted together. Another factor that means it will be just a little harder to find a home for them.

 

bonded pair

 

Ringo obviously doesn’t carry Tiger on his back. But Ringo could live a long and healthy life if his adopter works with a veterinarian on a careful weight loss plan. Tiger’s potential life span is not known, but his adopter would basically be taking him in for hospice care. It will be a special person or family with big hearts who will take these brothers into their lives. It will be worth it. And I know that person or family is out there.

 

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Best of all, at ARF Ringo and Tiger have a great room to stay in together, they get love and attention from the staff and volunteers, and they have all the time they need to find their human family. I take great pride in working in a system that allows for cats like Ringo and Tiger a chance to start a new life. Please support in whatever way you can your local shelter so they can help more animals in need. And do consider a senior and/or special needs pet. They need love too, and will add so much to your life.

You can help support the work of Wings of Rescue as well.

 

Peace and hugs. And meows and purrs from Ringo and Tiger.

paw heart

Literary Pets (Cats Who Write Murder Mysteries)

There is a real cat credited as a writer of murder mysteries–Sneaky Pie Brown, who pens the Mrs. Murphy mysteries with her human, Rita Mae Brown. Mrs. Murphy is a crime-solving cat who works with a Corgi partner, in case you thought she was a human Miss Marple type.

Rita Mae Brown
Sneaky Pie Brown with Rita Mae Brown.

I think cats would make natural murder mystery writers. There always seems to be an implied “I could kill you but I won’t” message underlying the looks many cats give us humans, and sometimes dogs, and sometimes other cats.

You know this cat is not thinking good thoughts about you.

There is a book about this, How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You.

book

 

Maybe that’s what started me on playing the game, what author would that animal be? Or maybe it was that time I went to a reading and book signing by the author T. C. Boyle and thought he looked like a Borzoi. It turns out that Boyle, author of one of my favorite books, The Tortilla Curtain, is actually partial to the dreadlocked Puli, which is pretty cool.

 

Puli dogs
Puli dogs

Tortilla

 

I’ve only done this with dogs and cats so far, but I am sure you can play it with any type of animal if you can match up their personality, looks, and likely literary style with a human author.

My own companion animals were pretty easy to match up.

Sara, my 19-year old brown tabby cat, would clearly be one of the classic older ladies of the English murder mystery genre. Perhaps Agatha Christie, but I think really of a writer who had a bit more edge, like Ruth Rendell. Much darker things happen in Rendell’s books than Christie’s, and even thought Sara is an affectionate cat, she is a cat, and was also quite a hunter in her day.

agatha-christie---mysterious-author
Dame Agatha Christie, creator of the aforementioned Miss Marple.
Ruth Rendell
Dame Ruth Rendell, author of dark mysteries under her own name, and psychological thrillers under the name Barbara Vine.

Misty, our 6-year old Turkish Angora who was rescued from kitty death row, where she was placed for having a personality disorder that made her “unadoptable”, would be a perfect Gillian Flynn,  author of the disturbing books Gone Girl, Dark Places, and Sharp Objects. Misty is beautiful, but beware what lurks in that brain. I call her the Ferocious Beauty for good reason!

Scary, each and every one of them.

Marble, the new kid on the block, is hip and eccentric and a little wild, so I am picking Dave Eggers for him. Maybe Eggers, perhaps best known for A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, is a dog guy. I don’t know, but Marble would be a good hipster author who can be funny and profound and will always do things a little differently. And sometimes follows you around like a dog.

And then there is Einstein. Einstein is not named for his staggering genius, but for his unruly fur. I think he should be a humorist, and I know Dave Barry likes dogs because he has written about them frequently. And his bangs hang in his face, like Einstein’s.

Of course, I have to delve into memories of pets past as well. Our dearly beloved Ben, the classic orange tabby with a heart of gold, would be Calvin Trillin, winner of the 2013 Thurber Prize for American Humor. He’s a classic himself.

Then there is the dynamic dog duo, Bingo and Sadie. Bingo was a ham, always taking credit for Sadie’s work. She was a lovable free-spirit.  If we took them to the beach and threw sticks in the water, Sadie would swim out to retrieve them, but as soon as she got to shore, Bingo would grab them from her and run over all proud for having supposedly retrieved them himself. Obviously, to me, they are F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

Bingo, left, with Sadie.
F. Scott with Zelda.

I can go on like this for hours. Now I’ve started matching up animals at the shelter with their literary doppelgängers.

When I first saw Mordecai the mastiff, his stateliness made me think of Charles Dickens, the venerable author of so many icons of English literature. But I have revised my opinion lately to thinking he is really John Steinbeck, the venerable author of so many icons of American literature. Steinbeck, by the way, wrote a lovely book about his Standard Poodle Charley.

Dickens
Mordecai

When I saw scrappy little dachshund mix Facebook, I immediately thought of Alexander McCall Smith, prolific author of the series The Number One Ladies Detective Agency, The Sunday Philosophy Club, Portuguese Irregular Verbs, and Scotland Street. He has an infectious personality and his books are light and fun.

Facebook

 

I picked David Foster Wallace for Joey, mostly because for some reason he just looks like he’d write some of my favorite essays like Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. Joey will not follow in DFW’s footsteps in terms of early, self-inflicted death. Joey will live to be a grumpy old man cat with a sense of humor.

Joey

 

 

 

I’ll just do one more. Like I said, I could do this for hours. I read a lot, and I see a lot of animals in the course of my day.

Another of my favorite writers is Anne Tyler. I don’t know why it took me a little while to realize she would be my recent foster cat Merida. There is a sweetness to Tyler’s books, along with a faint melancholy, and always a theme of family and relationships. Merida is a sweetheart, had a rough start in life, is looking for her forever family, and could easily be the central character in a Tyler book if Tyler wrote books about cats.

Maybe some day I’ll actually write and publish a book. I hope so. I have a great author photo ready to go–I look serious and moody.

And then maybe someone will pair me up with my animal doppelgänger. I’m hoping for a sleek, dignified beauty, like an Irish Setter.

But I won’t be surprised if it is a roly poly kitten, either.

Meow!

The Perfect Moment (starring an orange tabby cat)

The artist James Lee Byars (1932-1997), known for conceptual works and performance art, did a piece called The Perfect Moment.

Not A perfect moment, but THE perfect moment. Byars seemed to like the word perfect; among his works are The Perfect Love Letter, The Perfect Kiss, The Perfect Performance is to Stand Still, The Exhibition of Perfect, The Perfect Quiet, The Perfect Death, The Perfect Thought, The Perfect Moment, Perfect is My Death Word, and The Palace of Perfect. That’s a lot of perfection! So when I thought of the idea of a perfect moment in my own life, as a former museum professional my thoughts went to Byars.

Byars smile
Byars: The Perfect Smile, 1994 performance, Ludwig Museum, Cologne
perfect love letter
The Perfect Love Letter (is I write I love you backwards), 1974, performance, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

In my personal experience, I think on the smaller level of having perfect moments, plural. Every now and then, there is a moment when all seems right with world. It doesn’t have to be something big and grand or momentous. It doesn’t even have to seem special to anyone but you. It can be fleeting, or it can stick around for a while. But in that moment, however long it lasts, all feels right and good and just the way it should. It speaks to the rarity of such moments that they are memorable. They can happen in the midst of tedium or of turmoil or, of course, when everything seems perfect already and then that one more thing happens, that cherry on top of the hot fudge sundae sits perfectly and beautifully, beckoning you and making it all worthwhile.

hot fudge sundae

I had such a moment recently on a long-awaited trip to Iceland. My interest in Iceland, a trendy travel spot currently, dates back from my days as a graduate student at UC Davis, back in the early 1990s. One of my textile department classmates was a beautiful young Icelandic woman, Thorbjörg, with her pixie-like features and cheerful attitude. During one of our graduate seminars, she presented some slides and facts about the Icelandic textile industry. The images of Iceland were so captivating—the color and the light and the natural beauty took my breath away. And animals—sheep, horses, marine birds like puffins—caught my attention as well.

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We finally made it to Iceland all of these years later. On my wish list, amongst other things, was to see these animals. And I did. But I kept wondering, where are all of the dogs and cats in Iceland? I saw very few dogs being walked around the city, and absolutely no cats. Zero. NO CATS. How is this possible? I was told that there were lots of cats in Reykjvik. I bought a t-shirt that shows the cats of Reykjavik. In one shop, I saw a sign regarding proceeds going to help Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) efforts for the stray cats of the city. But they remained invisible to me.

cats rule

 

On our last day in Iceland, we made a trek to the Snæfellsnes peninsula on the west coast.

stykkisholmur map

It was a perfect day. The towns of Borgarnes and Stykkishólmur were charming and picturesque.

Stykkishólmur
Stykkishólmur

We had good coffee and good food. We had sunshine. I saw sheep and horses on the road driving in. We booked a boat excursion to see puffins, and saw them as well as gray seals and a white-backed dolphin. I was thinking it had been the best day ever, and I was happy. It felt like a fitting and satisfying end to a wonderful week.

 

And then it happened. My moment. In an empty church parking lot on the edge of a small town on the west coast of Iceland, the friendliest orange tabby cat walked right up to us, like he knew us and was expecting us. He was clearly loved and well-fed. He had a collar and a lot of self-confidence. And he wanted affection. I immediately sat down on the asphalt and gave it to him. It made me ridiculously happy. It was a perfect moment.

bensson

 

Looking back on such perfect moments, I find they often involve sunshine, animals, and/or books. The first that comes to mind was when I was probably 7 or 8 years old. I must have had perfect moments before that, but this is the one that stands out in my memory. It was a winter day, and I was snuggled up in the den of our house in Atlanta. I can see the green nubby fabric of the upholstery on the chair and the tones of browns in the braided rug on the floor. A beam of sunlight has cut through the air and settled on me in the chair, where I am reading Hugh Lofting’s 1920 The Story of Doctor Dolittle, an old copy that was my mother’s in her childhood and had that particular smell and feel of old paper and old books. I was warm and sleepy and enjoying my book, the room was quiet, I was alone, and there was nowhere to go or be. I was just there, a little girl doing what she loved, perfectly happy. I might have had our cat Whiskers in the chair with me, but oddly I don’t remember. It would make sense. And he was an orange tabby.

220px-Story_of_Doctor_Dolittle

 

And yes, I came to find out that the author, Hugh Lofting, really was an animal lover. Forget the silly movie adaptations of Doctor Dolittle. Go to the original.

hugh-lofting-with-his-animals
Hugh Lofting

quote

Another time, much later in my life, I was terribly jet-lagged and unable to sleep on a very hot night in Istanbul. Tossing and turning and hating life, I was cursing pretty much everything and everyone. I could hear the beginnings of the call for prayer coming from the loudspeaker at the local mosque. Great. I was about to put a pillow over my head when I listened instead to the most beautiful male voice I had ever heard, singing out the call. The gorgeous yet haunting song gave me the shivers. I can still hear the voice and feel the sense of the beauty in the moment. I am not religious, and for me this had nothing to do with anyone’s God or piety. It was about beauty in unexpected times and places, and the realization that I am just a really small part of this world, not its center. My soul was soothed, and I eventually went to sleep.

Sisli_Square

 

There are no expectations attached to these moments. No preconceived ideas or possible disappointment. They just are. You can’t make them happen or predict them. That’s what is so beautiful about them. I know some will disagree; I see lots of articles along the lines of “Don’t wait for the perfect moment—make it happen now!” But I think they have to sneak up on you unawares; if you are trying to make it happen, that kind of defeats the perfection of it.

I am not a performer. I don’t know if Byars felt what he performed. Classical musician Bob tells me that the feeling that he’s played just the way he wanted is more rare than I might think. But that’s his idea of a perfect moment. Dabbling in art, I am usually dissatisfied at some level with the drawings and painting I produce. Once in a very great while, I think I’ve done just what I meant to or even more. It is rare. But this is something a little different; this is about self-satisfaction—something internal and based on when we expect from ourselves. These are from the inside out.

My perfect moments have come from the outside in. A friend put it that in that moment in Stykkishólmur, Iceland, the cat found me. I was, in a sense, perfectly happy already. And then I got that one more thing, the more than I could ask for, the cherry on the hot fudge sundae—I got my perfect moment. And I felt blessed.

bensson 2

Peace and hugs.

Ah, caffeine, you pernicious substance!

Monday and Tuesday are my weekend. That’s when I try to do as much in two days as humanly possible. And I start to stress out. Weekends aren’t supposed to be stressful, but when I signed up for a Ph.D. program, I gave up anything that might be called leisure time. I had coffee, real coffee, Monday afternoon.

wallpaper-amazing-cup-of-coffee
“A thing of beauty is a joy forever” (from Endymion, by John Keats, 1818).

It was kind of an accident. That all important word DECAF was left off my order with the barista. I realized it before I actually drank said coffee, but I had one of those “What the hell!” moments and down went the delicious beverage.

 

So here I am at 4 in the morning on Tuesday, my brain on fire. Not good for my beauty rest, but I am getting things done!

Brainfire.gif

The other human in the house is sound asleep. The dog here with me on the couch is snoring. Two of the cats are hiding from me so they can sleep. My only friend at this hour is a 19-year old cat who I bottlefed when she was a newborn and posibly thinks I am her mother. She loves me unconditionally.

me
According to the Cat Years Chart I found online, Sara at 19 is the equivalent of 92 years old.
E
Einstein at 4 a.m. Really, there’s a dog in there.

 

You might ask, why am I doing this to myself? Back in the day, if I was awake on my weekend at 4 a.m. I was probably having what I thought was a good time and not remembering it later. I don’t miss those days, believe me! Being a vegan teetotaler graduate student working at an animal shelter might not sound like the good life to many of you, but it’s turned out to be the ideal life for me. As long as I stick to decaf! I suppose I could just become an early shift barista since I am awake, but I am not anywhere close to the the level of hipster required for that.

 

hipster barista
This guy comes up a lot if you Google “hipster barista”.

 

These days, I dream of book caves and animal sanctuaries, not of wine cellars.

book cave
What’s missing? A dog and a cat or 2 (or 3).

 

There’s something magical about the combination of cats and books. Cats can make reading hard sometimes, but they just want to know what the book is about!

Cat-Tries-Reading-Bu-Human-Just-Doesnt-Like-Sharing

 

Throw in coffee (or tea, if you prefer), and you have the makings of a perfect day.

 

Why are cat cafes becoming so popular? Yep, you can have your cats, coffee, and a place to read all at once.

London cat cafe
Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, in London.

 

My particular favorite is Cat Town Cafe in Oakland, California.

cat+town+7

 

Given these ingredients–cats, coffee, books–I have the makings of a perfect day at hand! Plus it’s raining and I have nowhere I have to be, making the day even that more magical. So I am going to enjoy what’s left of my weekend in the best way possible. But first, I am going to add naps to that essentials list.

add naps

I hear there’s even a pillow to help me out with that.

pillow

If only I could get the dog to stop snoring. I could try this trick:

 

This may be the current popular image of a sleeping beauty:

sleeping

 

But this is the best I can hope for:

beuaty sleep

 

And this is what I am more likely to get:

cats and sleep

 

Sweet dreams.

Reminds me, add chocolate to that list, please.

add chocolate

 

 

Mary Pickford, the Girl with the Curls (and the cat, and the cool Google doodle)

I don’t usually pay attention to the ever-changing Google doodle. I don’t always get it, not being all that culturally hip, and I am often on a Google mission that keeps me from lingering on the home page. April 8 was a day on which I did linger. I was attracted to the blue background, the vintage female figure with the movie camera, and of course, the cat on the figure’s shoulder.

Mary Google

Who was the woman, a woman I immediately wanted to be? I clicked. April 8 would have been Mary Pickford’s 125th birthday. I realized I knew very little about Mary Pickford. I had a vague idea of her being a silent-film era damsel in distress, an early cinematic American Sweetheart. But she was so much more than that.

Here is the Google blurb:

 

    • Lights, camera, action! Today’s doodle honors the “Queen of the Movies,” Mary Pickford. An actress, a film director, and a producer, Mary Pickford proved that actors weren’t relegated to careers in front of the camera. She co-founded the film studio United Artists and was one of the original 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

      Before she became one of the most powerful women who has ever worked in Hollywood, she was “the girl with the curls,” and one of the most beloved stars of the silent film era. She appeared in as many as 50 films per year, and eventually negotiated wages that were equal to half of each of her films’ profits. She went on to demand full creative and financial control of her films, a feat still unheard of to this day.  

      She used her stardom to bring awareness to causes close to her heart. She sold Liberty Bonds during World War I, created the Motion Picture Relief Fund, and revolutionized the film industry by giving independent film producers a way to distribute their films outside the studio system. She won an Academy Award for Best Actress, for her role in Coquette (1929), and an honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement in 1976.

      Today, we pay tribute to Mary Pickford’s enterprising leadership on what would be her 125th birthday.

      MaryPickford

      Born in 1892 in Toronto as Gladys Marie Smith, she began in a traveling theater company at age 7, with her family, and was known as Baby Gladys Smith.

      gladys.jpg

      In 1908, a producer gave her the name Mary Pickford, changing her middle name Marie to Mary, and using her mother’s maiden name, Pickford. She appeared in her first film in 1909. 

      It was her performance in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm in 1917 that finally gave her the fame and fortune that she built on to become the Queen of Hollywood.

      Rebecca_of_Sunnybrook_Farm_(1917)_-_Ad_2.jpg

       

      This is from her first talking picture, and the one for which she won an Oscar, Coquette (1929). She is said to have been dismayed at hearing the sound of her own voice.

       

      In her autobiography, Sunshine and Shadow (1955), she wrote that as a young girl in Toronto, she would buy a single rose and eat the petals, believing the beauty, color, and perfume would become part of her.

      book cover

       

      rose petals

       

      Here she is in 1976 receiving her honorary Oscar; I was dismayed at the zebra skin rug in the foyer at her home Pickfair, but more on that in a bit. It’s a bit sad to watch but remember she is 84 years old in the video clip.

       

 

Pickfair, the estate where she lived in Beverly Hills until her death in 1979, was a gift to her from second husband Douglas Fairbanks.

pickfair-dougmaryhomepickfair2

 

Sadly, so-called actress Pia Zadora (“Who?” I can hear you ask) razed the house in 1990, having purchased it in 1988 from Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Russ. In its place, she build a “Venetian-style palazzo”, eventually claiming after much criticism that she did so because the house was haunted, not by the ghost of Mary but by one of Douglas Fairbanks’ mistresses. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. said in a public statement after hearing that the house had been destroyed, “I regret it very much. I wonder, if they were going to demolish it, why they bought it in the first place.” In its heyday, Pickfair was second only to the White House in American house fame.

Pia-lifestyle-shot
Pia Zadora, literal home wrecker.

Zadora sold the “palazzo” (17 bedrooms, 30 bathrooms) in 2006 to Korean businessman Cory Hong. It was listed for sale again in 2008, with an asking price of $60 million.

Despite the zebra skin rug, which seems much more Pia Zadora than Mary Pickford to me, made me think about Ms. Pickford and animals. Many images of her include animals, particularly dogs and cats, but also rabbits and birds.

with cat
Of course this one is my favorite.

I wonder, even though in some images I found she is wearing fur, if that is also of the era (like the zebra skin rug), and if she was in fact an animal lover. I feel she might be a kindred spirit.

She was a trailblazer, and even today not many women have the creative control and power she had.

votes
American woman finally get the right to vote in 1920. Canadian women first received the right in 1916 in Manitoba. The last Canadian province on board was Quebec in 1940.

 

 

I’m never going to be an actress or a director or a producer or any kind of “powerhouse”, but I admire Mary’s determination and seeming sweetness. I’ll have to read more about her. In addition to her autobiography, there are quite a few books about that early era of Hollywood and the people who made it happen. The one I am going to look for is Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood (2007) by Eileen Whitfield.

amazon book cover

 

In the meantime, this will have to suffice as my homage to Mary Pickford and women like her: strong, determined, and happy to have a cat climbing on her shoulders.

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Peace and hugs from me and little Chiclet, foster kitten extraordinaire.

P. S. Please support me in my fundraiser for Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation. My goal is fairly modest. Mary would approve.

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Why We Won’t Be Keeping Chiclet (meant to convince myself more than anyone else)

Meet Chiclet.

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Now that we are all in love with our current foster kitten Chiclet, here’s why this won’t be a foster fail. If you believe all of this, great! I’m trying. I haven’t been quite this attached to a foster since I’ve been fostering for the East Bay SPCA.

Last night, Bob broached the conversation of keeping her. Not because he thinks we should, but because he knows I want to. This was such a sweet gesture, and he firmly keeps the World’s Best Boyfriend crown on his head.

us

Of course I wanted to squeal in delight and jump up and down, but I was trying to be sensible. Silly me!

Here’s the rundown:

  1. She is highly adoptable. The minute she’s available, there will be people falling in love with her and wanting to give her a loving home. If I am going to foster fail again, I’d rather save my Keep the Cat card for one who is going to have a harder time. You know, that 3-legged, 1-eyed, snaggle-toothed one with a personality disorder. Who won’t have everyone oohing and aahing and filling out adoption paperwork at blink of a kitten eye.
Bill
Bill the Cat needs love too.

 

2. We have 3 cats and a dog living with us already. I don’t want to be a hoarder.

confessions-animal-hoarding-facts-020

 

3. Sara is going to be 19 this summer. Does she really want another kitten in the house? We recently added Marble, aka the Tasmanian Devil, to the lineup. Maybe Sara would like some peace and quiet in her twilight years.

Sara.JPG
Peace and quiet, please.
Sara meets Chiclet
Maybe, maybe not.

 

4. Poor Einstein can’t catch a break. He’s a very patient dog, but will another cat be the last straw? And he’d like some time and attention, too! Walkies!!!

Einstein
What about me??

 

4. The aforementioned Tasmanian Devil.

Taz-Looney_Tunes.svg

Marble isn’t a year old yet and is a handful! When we tried introducing him to previous foster kitten Pepper, he grabbed her by the throat. Not good. If I have to spend my time making sure one cat doesn’t kill the other, I will not be happy or pleasant to be around.

 

5. Misty. When we adopted Misty, she was considered “unadoptable” because she really doesn’t like people. Can’t blame her. She was treated roughly during the 4 years before she came to us. She’s slowly coming around, but VERY slowly. She’s great with Marble, and might be fine with Chiclet, but like Einstein, she could use some more special time and attention.

Misty
Unadoptable, says who?

 

6. The family just waiting to meet Chiclet. It would be selfish of me to keep her. I imagine the 8 or 9 year old me meeting Chiclet and falling in love. How can I stand in the way of another child’s destiny??? Those moments at the animal shelter when I hear a child say, “Mom, I NEED this cat!” are why I work there.

girl with cat

 

7. We aren’t getting any younger. If Marble lives to be 20 (perfectly possible), I will be 75 and Bob will be 81. Should we really keep getting kittens? Maybe we should adopt older cats when we adopt more. Senior cats need homes too, and what better match than a senior with a senior?

old-adopted-cat-37__605

 

8. When I take Chiclet and her mother Sugar Cube back to the East Bay SPCA, I make room in our home for another foster family, helping to continue the cycle of saving lives. Isn’t that the point? We have fostered 32 cats for the East Bay SPCA since we started back with Abracadabra in 2015.

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Mama Sugar Cube with her little Chiclet.
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Abracadabra!

This count does not include Marble, who was a rescue of a different sort (that might or might not have been entirely legal but it was definitely in his best interest).

Will it be hard taking her back to the shelter? Yes. Will I be sad? Yes. Will I sing sad songs? Undoubtedly. I’ve already got one picked out, Irving Berlin’s What’ll I Do? as sung by Rosemary Clooney.

 

 

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What’ll I Do?, Irving Berlin, 1923

 

But I’ll get up, dust myself off, and find out who my next foster family is. I’ll fall in love again. Life goes on.

Up next: Take Me Out to the Ball Game!, in which there will be no mention of cats but lots of baseball, the Arizona desert, and a side trip to the Musical Instrument Museum. Stay tuned!

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Once upon a time…

Ah, another sleepless night. Hello insomnia, my old friend. Often when I can’t sleep, my brain takes a nostalgic turn, so here I am listening to the dog snore and dredging up childhood memories again (see Be It Ever So Humble…). This happens more often than I’d like these days. Is this what my golden years are going to be like? And by golden years, I mean the “I am getting old” kind, not the cool David Bowie song kind.

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This isn’t really a new phenomenon in my life. I remember lots of sleepless nights. Often I would lie awake in the dark on the nights before a big day at school: the first day of the new school year, the day I had to do anything in front of the class (my biggest dread), if I had a really awesome new outfit to wear or new haircut, if I thought I might see whichever cute boy I had a crush on, all kinds of triggers.

It goes back even earlier. When I was a little one at Bassett Kindergarten in Decatur, Georgia, there was the worst time of the day–nap time. We’d roll out our mats, the teacher would turn out the lights, and while all the other kids drifted off to sleep, I’d lie there in the darkened room wishing it would be over or that I could have a book to look at. I do not nap.

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Kindergarten, 1960-something. I’m in the lower right in the stylish red knee socks. I still love colorful legwear.

Sleeplessness didn’t look so bad on me then. Now, I can use some beauty sleep.

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Sleepless in Oakland.
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Sleepless in Surry.

Sometimes I think I was a cat in a previous life. I like curling up in sunny spots, I prefer to be alone, I hate the wind and dislike riding in cars. But there are 2 ways I could never be a cat–I don’t eat meat and I have trouble sleeping. Cats don’t have trouble sleeping.

Some of my sleepless childhood nights have a soundtrack. I was afraid to sleep in my own room. There was a weird gleam off of the fence post outside of my window that made me think of eyes watching me. Even with the shade pulled down, I knew it was out there. So I sometimes acted true to the pesky baby sister stereotype and camped in my teenaged sisters’ bedroom, which in my mind was huge and fun and full of cool things (a television, a phone, inscrutable hair and make-up products, high school text books). They had a record player, and often put a stack of albums on to play through the night to lull them to sleep. So dark sleepless nights came with the sounds of their favorite music: Carole King, Barbra Streisand, popular movie soundtracks.

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There was a jeweled beetle pin that Cathy and Ellen would place on top of the stack of records for extra weight. Not sure why. Or was it on the needle to keep it from skipping?

Maybe to get me to sleep in my own room, I was given my own record player, a cute little portable in a red box.

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I got to pick out my own records! I loved playing my mother’s old 45 of the Mills Brothers singing Glow Worm (1957).

Like my sisters, I loved a good movie soundtrack, but in my case, it was mostly a Disney-leaning collection.

Peter and the Wolf

My first attempt at coolness was when I bought the 45 of Dobie Gray’s Drift Away in 1973, leaving Disney behind. Here is a 1992 performance:

We also had a record player (aka, a turntable) in the den. I have so many memories of that room! Mostly around either reading in the green arm chair or watching the miracle of color television (we had color, but this was before remotes or cable, children). I was not an active child, clearly. I seem to remember a Danish Modern stereo cabinet with a vertical filing section for the albums.

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Perhaps something like this.

But I don’t remember what records were stored in there! I know my mother loved the singer John Gary, so I’m sure there were a few of his albums. And I know we had the Andy Williams Christmas album, a classic and well-loved in the Cottraux home.

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John Gary (1932-1998) is probably someone not many people are familiar with anymore, but he was quite popular in the 1960s, known for songs like Catch a Falling Star and So Tenderly.

The song I remember is Once Upon a Time, written by Charles Strouse (music) and Lee Adams (lyrics), from the 1962 musical All American.

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It was performed by many artists, including Tony Bennett, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, and apparently, Tom Jones (if you trust Wikipedia). I have to find this recording, if it exists; I love Tom Jones! I did find a version of Bob Dylan singing it at a Tony Bennett 90th birthday tribute.

But the version I know is John Gary’s. And it’s beautiful. And I will always think of my mother when I hear it.

In my imagination, then and now,  it was my late father, who died young and tragically in 1962, singing to my mother from heaven (see Nancy and Pete: A Love Story). I was a romantic even then.

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One of the few pictures I have of my father.

As I write this, I wonder how accurate my childhood memories mwight be. According to some scientists, not very! Our brains are susceptible to false childhood memories. I’m not sure I want to know, but if you do, read this! Yes, human memory is fallible. But I like the bubble I live in just fine.

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The Swiss-designed Cocoon I. I want one. Now.

When my mother got her first and only CD player, my sister Cathy sent her a CD of John Gary songs. I thought maybe I had it in my CD cabinet, but if I do, I couldn’t find it. I might have a degree in library and information science, but I can never find anything on my book or music shelves. Like the cobbler’s children have no shoes, the librarian’s books have no order.

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If John Gary is in here, I don’t see him.

'Where in the world did I put the book, 'How to Organize Your Home Library'?'

I think I’ll add home library organization of things to do in my golden years. Unless I am too busy catching up on my sleep.

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Peace and hugs. And sweet dreams.

Making a kitten video becomes a music appreciation lesson

Smart phones and social media have made it possible for me to indulge myself in my fantasy world of talking animals that I so believed in as a child. I was a shy, quiet, bookish girl, lost in my stories of animals and little people like The Wind in the Willows and The Borrowers (see Some of the books that made me a life-long reader). If I had access to video and the internet in the 1960s, I am sure I would have been unbearable, dressing the family pets in clothes and making them act in weddings and other such human activities. But I can have my second childhood now and let my mind go back to that precious place.

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Today was the day that the most recent family of foster kittens left our care to return to the shelter for their next steps in the adoption process. So the 10-year old that lives in my head decided we needed to make a graduation ceremony video. My cameraman (cough, cough, Robert Ward) kept getting his hand in the picture, but we are still working on our technique.

 

You can’t have a graduation without playing Pomp and Circumstance.

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Which is where the story takes a turn from kittens to musicians. As we were driving the kittens to the East Bay SPCA, Bob, who happens to be a classical musician, said, “Elgar is the James Taylor of classical music.” Um, what? This required some explanation.

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Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
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James Taylor (born 1948)

James Taylor has a way of creating a sentimental, nostalgic, introspective mood that often seems to look back on better days and times.

 

Matthew Riley wrote an entire book on Edward Elgar and the Nostalgic Imagination (2007, Cambridge University Press). He uses terms like vanished greatness, a lament for times past, childhood and the countryside of an old England as musical subject matter. The end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th were times of great change, and Elgar’s music was a look at times past, not a look forward to the future. Arguably, the same can be said for James Taylor reflecting on the late 20th century/early 21st century.

While driving me and the kittens (I see a new story called Driving Miss Crazy Cat Lady in here somewhere), Bob put the car audio system on Elgar’s Piano Quintet in A Minor. It’s quite lovely. Here it is performed at the North York Moors Festival in 2013.

 

It was suggested by my instructor that I might like the Enigma Variations as well. I do have a taste for both nostagia and melancholy, but I usually lean toward sad and folky singer/songwriters since I am still fairly ignorant of the classical music world after all these years (sorry Bob).

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The Enigma Variations (1898-1899) comprise 14 variations on an original theme, each variation being a musical sketch of a loved one or close acquaintance. I won’t post all 14, but here is a selection, Nimrod, the 9th variation and tribute to Elgar’s great friend Augustus Jaeger, performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with conductor Daniel Barenboim in 1997.

 

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Music editor Augustus Jaeger (1860-1909).

Another singer/songwriter in the musical world I inhabit is Natalie Merchant.

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Natalie Merchant (born 1963).

Whenever I take a foster cat family back to the shelter, saying goodbye to them always makes me think of the song Break Your Heart.

 

Did Sir Elgar like animals? I have no idea. I assume Natalie Merchant does, although I couldn’t find an image of her with any. She did allow the use of her song My Skin on one of those heart-breaking and tear-inducing ASPCA ads, which is too hard to watch so I am not showing it here. But this is the song:

 

I know James Taylor likes animals. His cat, Ray Taylor, is often featured in JT’s social media.

 

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James and Ray Taylor.

Now that we’ve come full circle back to cats (I knew I could do it), I will leave you with this. Please consider fostering for your local shelter. It will add joy to your life, and help the shelter save more lives. You might even meet your new best friend, like Marble here, who entered our lives as a foster and now is a member of our furry family (see The one that didn’t get away).

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Peace and hugs.

Why cats need claws (and how to make me really mad)

Note: You may find some of the images included in this post disturbing.

I work at an animal shelter. We are against the declawing of cats. I am against the declawing of cats. There are so many reasons why it is wrong, and, to me, there is no good reason to do it. Drapes and furniture are not worth causing suffering to an animal, possibly for her entire life. It is not up to a human to make a choice to mutilate an animal. You want to tattoo yourself, put plugs in your earlobes, have cosmetic surgery, whatever, go for it. It’s your choice.

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If you want to do this to yourself, I will not stop you. (Although maybe I should.)

 

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If you want to do this to a cat, I think you and the vet who performs the surgery should both be prosecuted for animal cruelty.
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There is no excuse for this.

A cat is not given a choice when declawed. If someone asked you, “Hey, how do you feel about having  all of your fingers amputated at the first knuckle joint?”,  I have a strong feeling you would say NO as you ran quickly in the other direction.

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Why am I bringing this up? Recently at the shelter, we had 3 cats come into our care that had been declawed. Two were brothers who were only 7 months old. They are not done growing at 7 months old. And the people who had them declawed decided they didn’t want the cats anymore anyway. THIS IS HOW TO MAKE ME ANGRY! VERY ANGRY.

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You don’t want to make me angry.

Luckily, we were able to place all 3 cats in loving homes with families who understood the implications of declawing (cats must be kept indoors, they can be in pain and possibly have litterbox issues because it hurts to dig, they can bite since their first defense of claws  has been taken away, they are more more prone to joint problems such as arthritis) and were willing to give the cats a safe place.

But then we had a potential adopter come in who insisted that she would be declawing the kittens she wanted to adopt. Sometimes we have issues of language and come to find that people actually mean trimming claws when they say declawing. Trimming a cat’s claws is a good thing; declawing them is not. It’s good to clarify this going into any adoption conversation. The shelter informed her we would not adopt a cat to her. I am so relieved that our management stuck to their guns; this person was a potential donor to the shelter and we like to keep them happy. Funding is important. I am proud to say I respect my managers and director for saying no.

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If your furniture is that important to you, don’t bring a companion animal into your home! I wish I didn’t have to say that; I wish all homes enjoyed the love and special bond of having animal best friends. But honestly, it is best if some people do not; if animals are going to be left outdoors and/or mutilated because it is more convenient, then get a houseplant instead. You can talk to them. They don’t do the things that animals do that seem to be a problem to you. You can give them names. Dress them in little clothes. Get into bonsai. I don’t care.

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Declawing is considered an act of cruelty and is illegal in at least 22 countries, such as Finland, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands.

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The first declawing ban in the United States was instituted in West Hollywood, California, in 2003. Last November, New Jersey was on the path to becoming the first US state to ban declawing (the medical term is onychectomy), with a bill that was approved in legislative assembly. I need to check into the status of that bill. I hope it paves the way for other states to follow suit.

Why cats needs claws:

Parade.com’s pets and wildlife writer Michele C. Hollow summarizes 5 reasons cats need their claws:

-Protection

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aggressive

-Exercise

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-Marking territory (declawed cats retain the natural instinct to scratch; their scent glands are in their paws)

-Balance

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-Health

There are humane alternatives to declawing!

-Cat trees and scratchers

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-Nail covers (they look goofy and I’m not sure how the cats like them, but better than declawing!)

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-Keep nails trimmed. You can learn to do it. If you don’t feel comfortable with it, ask your cat-loving friends for help. Or ask for your cat to get a “mani/pedi” whenever you are on a visit to the veterinarian.

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-Cat aversives (double-sided tape on furniture, bitter apple or citrus sprays; best in combination with cat trees and scratchers)

-Products such as Feliway, which mimic cat pheromones, to reduce a cat’s need to mark territory

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-My approach: cats are cats and I am a trendsetter with my “fringed” furniture.

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It’s trendy in clothing.
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Women pay a lot for jeans that look like they should be thrown away.

I love cats so much that my tolerance for “furniture fringing” is pretty high. I also have a new sewing machine and am interested in learning to make slip covers for my upholstered furniture. A much less expensive way to get a new look in home decor!

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Apparently, there is even such a thing as cat-friendly upholstery fabric that won’t shred.

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Cats are living beings who suffer pain just like us. I have had special bonds with every animal I have had the pleasure to share a home with. I remember all of them (see Remembrance of pets past (National Pet Memorial Day 2016)). Do I remember my couches over the years? Not really. As my friend Molly said, “It’s just cloth.”

If you MUST have a declawed cat, please look at shelters for cats that are already declawed so another cat won’t have to go through this. There are sometimes ones in need of adoptive homes.

I will end my soapbox rant here.

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I have absolutely no reason to show this photo. I just think it’s ridiculously cute so I am putting it here because I can.

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The City of Oakland wins the battle, but I win the war (meow)

If you are one of my loyal readers (Hi Beth, Cathy, Ellen, and Bob), you might remember my call to arms over being issued a parking ticket on Indigenous People’s Day/Columbus Day when the meter was clearly marked that it was a meter holiday (see City of Oakland, You Suck! (Or, a Tale of a Valiant Fight against a Parking Ticket)).

 

I filed my appeal, and waited for the ridiculously slow snail-mail response.

I finally got the letter in the mail. Remember when going to the mailbox to get the mail was exciting? Those days are long gone.

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When I was a kid…
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…versus now.

 

Basically, the result of my so-called “administrative hearing” (how is it a hearing if I never got to speak?) is that I am being called a liar. M. Thornton, the Administrative Hearing Examiner, writes: “The pay station in the photograph does not match City of Oakland pay stations.”

 

 

WHAT?! Last I checked, Ultimate Grounds Coffee at 4225 Park Boulevard, Oakland (where I was at the time of the ticketing) was most firmly in the City of Oakland.

 

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M.Thornton advised that I had until December 16 to file another appeal, which would cost $25. I already paid the $58 ticket. I don’t really care about the money. It’s the principle of the darned thing.

 

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I enlisted my deputy, Bob. Armed with a mighty iPhone (and reinforcing our strength at Marzano restaurant, conveniently across the street from the alleged parking violation), we gathered our evidence.

 

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As you can see, not only is the pay station still marked with the meter holiday label in question, it also is marked with the City of Oakland logo. What do you have to say now, M. Thornton?

 

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I could smell victory in the air! Or maybe it was the coffee from Ultimate Grounds.

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The only problem was, I had to now actually find a time to go in person to Alameda County Superior Court. I work full time. And I am a full-time student. And it was coming up on the end of the semester with 4 major papers due. But I had plenty of time, so I said to myself.

So I procrastinated. I worked. I wrote papers (or procrastinated about writing papers). And all of the sudden it was December 15th! Argh! What’s a warrior princess to do?

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Then I got the email from the East Bay SPCA. A mother cat with 1-week old babies needed a foster home. Could I take them? And pick them up during my last two-hour window of time to file my appeal of the ticket on December 16 before I had to be at work? Of course I could. Kittens! Hello! Kittens will always trump parking tickets.

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The scales of justice will always favor kittens in my book.

 

I heeded the wise words of Goethe.

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And I did what would the best thing not just for the kittens, but for my peace of mind.

 

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Yes, this looks exactly like me. Really.

 

Meet Rosarita and her little beans. All are healthy and doing well.

 

I hope when the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future visit M. “Ebenezer Scrooge” Thornton, they scare the wits out of him/her.

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How I picture M.Thornton.
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Scrooge visited by the Ghosts. He became a nice man after this.

I’ll leave you with the words of Tiny Tim.

 

Oops, wrong Tiny Tim.

Even you, M. Thornton.