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

Isn’t it romantic?

 

 

In my dreams, I’m swept off my feet by grand romantic gestures.

 

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As I’ve alluded to before, I have a guilty addiction to the Hallmark Channel and the endless stream of pretty much identical romantic comedies they produce.

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The Prince Charmings in these movies always make the grand romantic gestures look so easy. Et voilà–a room filled with flowers and lit with twinkly lights and an orchestra playing oh so softly and discreetly as the couple waltzes around said room in their designer jeans bought in the adorable boutique in America’s most charming small town filled with lovable, quirky characters.

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Abby and Trace in Chesapeake Shores on the Hallmark Channel, set in Maryland but filmed in Vancouver.

 

The movies are mostly filmed in Canada, so those impossibly charming towns aren’t really American. This only fuels my desire to move to British Columbia.

 

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Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

 

After one of these dreams, I woke up feeling a little melancholy. Where were the grand romantic gestures in my life? Then I realized, it depends on how you define romantic.

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In the romance department, I’ve received some pretty grand gestures from my significant other and my life is enriched because of him. We may never be the center of a Hallmark Channel movie, but we have a good life. Not that it’s always been easy, but we’ve worked hard and learned along the way.

Bob and Gen

 

Bob is my biggest cheerleader, always supportive and encouraging without being pushy.

 

cheerleader

 

I knew he was a keeper the first time he came to my house and wasn’t taken aback by the fact that 5 animals shared the house with me. I had kind of left that little detail out of the conversations we had had up to that point. Didn’t want to scare him off before he had a chance to meet them!

 

He loved these animal companions, and he loves the ones with us now.

 

collage

 

When I bring home foster cats and kittens, he jumps right in to help care for and socialize them. When I brought Marble home a little more than a year ago, he was the first to say we should keep him with us. Sharing our love for these animals we live with is pretty romantic in my book!

b and marb

 

Bob also acts as Barista Bob, fixing me coffee when he has time in the morning. Seriously, real romance is the smell of coffee in the morning. Flowers are nice but coffee is essential! He spent hours researching espresso machines to get just the right one. She’s been one of my best friends for a few years now. AND he got me the world’s best coffee travel cup–the Zojirushi “super-size me” in blue. One of the better “no ocassion” gifts I’ve ever received.

 

When I was divorced and thinking of dating, one of the things I worried about was finding a guy who loved books and reading as much as I do. Bob! He loves books, we both gravitate to bookstores when we explore new towns and cities. He’s even writing books now! Our bedside tables match in the growing piles of books we each can’t wait to read. Romance!

 

A couple of years ago, on Valentine’s Day, he did the most romantic thing I could have asked for–he installed the Little Free Library in our front yard. I swoon!

 

 

Every night after dinner while we binge watch whatever series we’ve been sucked into (currently Bloodline; intense!), we share a chocolate bar. Bob makes sure he buys the vegan ones that have animals on the labels. Of course, this routine might have something to do with me needing to lose 20 pounds, but he never says anything about that. That’s love!

 

Traditional romantic gestures still abound as well. He took me to Paris, a dream come true. He went up the Eiffel Tower with me even though he’s afraid of heights. He led me on a mission to see the Biblioteque Sainte-Geneviève.

 

 

On our recent trip to Iceland, knowing how badly I wanted to see a puffin, he made absolutely sure I got to see one, getting us on an excursion boat and taking that all important puffin photo. He also stopped the car every time I wanted to get up close to the gorgeous Icelandic horses and picture-perfect sheep.

 

 

I doubt he orchestrated it, but Bob was equally excited to meet the one and only cat we saw in Iceland. We named him Benson (after Ben, who is shown sticking his tongue out above). It was one of the best moments of the trip!

Iceland Benson

 

Next time I have a Hallmark Channel style dream of being romanced, swept off my feet, showered with flowers and stars, I will remember what romance really is to me–someone to share the things I love with, someone who accepts me for who am, someone who makes the gestures that really mean something over the long haul. Flowers fade, twinkly lights burn out. But this smile will always be with me.

Iceland Bob

 

As always, James Taylor has a song for this. Don’t take your loved ones for granted, and think about what true romance really means.

 

 

Peace and hugs.

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.

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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.

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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.

Made to Order (Or, Just Accept Us All for Who We Are)

I woke up thinking about the little girl I never had, who I wrote about a little bit in Broken Dreams. In my fantasies, she loves to do the things I love to do. We would read together, I would teach her how to cook, of course she’d love animals, and we’d fingerpaint whenever possible. But maybe she wouldn’t have enjoyed these things. She might have prefered super heroes and running outside, climbing trees, and getting into mischief. Or maybe she would have been a math and science whiz, and smarter than me! Or maybe she’d have been all kinds of things. And of course I would have loved her no matter what.

 

Maybe in a science fiction movie or some weird clinic somewhere, you can put in your order of what your child will be, but it doesn’t work that way for the most part. On internet dating sites, you can look all you want for that perfect person who meets all of your criteria, but no one is exactly perfect and we shouldn’t expect them (or ourselves) to be so.

charlie

Working with adopters at an animal shelter, every day I talk with someone with very exact criteria of what they are looking for. For example: a small, white, hypoallergenic dog who is house-trained, doesn’t bark, likes kids, cats, other dogs, and can be left alone all day. Or a short-haired female kitten who is snuggly, playful, good with small children, dogs, chickens, litter-box trained, won’t scratch the couch, and just this shade of brown tabby. These are not realistic parameters.

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I’ll try to direct people to what I think are good fits for what they describe, but then they also expect to feel an instant bond, for the animal to look into their eyes and give them the sign that “this is the one”. Much like when we are meeting people, friendship can be slow to develop. Love at first sight is common in movies, but not so much in real life. We need to spend time together, get to know each other, and look beyond the superficial traits to the ones that really matter.

love at first sight.jpg

Love at first sight might not turn out well. Look what happened to Romeo and Juliet, or to Tony and Maria.

 

Picking a companion animal based on looks often fails. Take the ubiquitous family with toddlers and an older dog who insist that the big beautiful young German Shepherd is the perfect dog for their family despite what we tell them about breed traits, jumpiness, keeping working dogs both physically and mentally engaged, energy levels, etc. Yes, sometimes it works beautifully. And sometimes the dog will be returned to the shelter within days for “being more than they could handle” or “knocks the children over” or “doesn’t get along with resident dog”.

bored dog
A bored dog is a naughty dog, as we say.

 

It reminds me of women who yearn after the cute bad boy only to find out later what a jerk he really is, while the really nice guy has been sitting there all along. All of her best friends warned her, but she wouldn’t listen. Of course this is a common movie theme, much like love at first sight, but it happens. Trust me. I have an ex-husband out there.

bad-boy

Don’t get me wrong. I am thrilled that people are coming to the shelter rather than going to pet stores or breeders. Sometimes love at first sight works for the human and the dog or cat. Just the other day a young woman took home a scruffy little dog who had been returned once already; she met him and loved him, went home to think about, and came back about an hour later, hoping he was still available, because she was sure he was right. And I believe it. They were perfect together.

scruff

Sometimes the so-called “imperfect” ones, the one-eyed cat or the three-legged dog, are the most awesome friends you could ever ask for. And they deserve a chance at love and a good life just as much as any others. It’s what I call the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree approach. Love and attention made that tree beautiful; it was the one nobody else wanted but Charlie Brown saw that it needed him and it showed itself to be the special tree that it was all along.

What frustrates me is people who come in having seen a picture of an animal on the shelter’s web site. They want that one. Only that one. They don’t want to meet any other animals. And if the one they want has been adopted or isn’t perfect when they meet, they aren’t willing to meet a different dog or cat. Maybe the one you haven’t considered is the one for you. Think about it. It doesn’t hurt to give love a chance.

chance

 

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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.

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“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!

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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

 

 

Please support your local animal shelter

Believe me, I hate asking for money as much as anyone. I could never work in development in any of the non-profits where I’ve worked or that I support. I am terrible at schmoozing, and I’d love it if we didn’t have to ask. But we do.

Yes, we all work hard for what we have. Most of us have causes near and dear to our hearts. I give money when I can, usually to animal shelters and rescues. I know people are in need as well, and I am glad that there are advocates for children, the homeless, the hungry, the environment.

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In searching for numbers, I found that in 2015, Americans gave $373.25 billion to charity in 2015, a record whether measured in current or inflation-adjusted dollars. That is incredibly generous. Americans also gave their time. Also in 2015, about 62.6 million people volunteered through or for an organization. Non-profits depend on generosity of heart, mind, and, obviously, wallet.

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My cause of choice is animal shelters and rescue. For more than 6 years I volunteered at the East Bay SPCA in Oakland, California. I made many friends and met some of the animals who now live with me. I still try to help out by fostering cats and kittens.

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Chiclet, my most recent foster for the East Bay SPCA.

 

I have been fortunate enough to change careers to now work for another animal shelter in the community, Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF).

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Baseball’s Tony La Russa founded ARF after the famous incident of a cat, later named Evie, running onto the field of an Oakland A’s baseball game.

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Located in Walnut Creek in the East Bay area of California, ARF is a wonderful facility. A private shelter, we rescue animals from the over-crowded public kill shelters and give them the time they need to find their forever homes.

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ARF offers many wonderful programs and services in addition to adoptions: many youth programs (my favorite being All Ears Reading), dog training, the Pet Hug Pack therapy animals, FoodShare (pet food pantry), the ARF Emergency Medical Fund, low cost spay/neuter services, a mobile clinic, and the awesome Pets for Vets program.

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Children develop reading skills by reading aloud to Pet Hug Pack animals through All Ears Reading.

 

 

So, here’s the part where I ask for money.

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I am fundraising for ARF’s yearly Animals on Broadway event, a pet walk and festival on Broadway Plaza in Walnut Creek on Saturday, May 20. I won’t be walking in the event, as I have to be at work at the shelter helping adopt out animals! I am a virtual walker, a walker in spirit.

 

My fundraising goal is fairly modest, at $500. I have $300 as of the writing of this blog post. Thank you from the bottom of my animal-loving heart to those of you who have donated. I love you all!

If you can give any amount, please consider helping out. If not to my fundraising page, to someone else’s, or to your local shelter, or to whatever cause is important to you. If not money, time if you have it. Getting involved was the best decision I ever made. You won’t regret it.

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Snuffalufagus says Give!

 

 

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.

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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.

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      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.

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      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.

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      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.

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      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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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!!!

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What about me??

 

4. The aforementioned Tasmanian Devil.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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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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.