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.

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Byars: The Perfect Smile, 1994 performance, Ludwig Museum, Cologne
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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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Hugh Lofting

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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According to the Cat Years Chart I found online, Sara at 19 is the equivalent of 92 years old.
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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.

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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!

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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.

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Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, in London.

 

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

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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.

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

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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.

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.

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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!!!

Einstein
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.

NPG x11894; Sir Edward Elgar, Bt by Charles Frederick Grindrod
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.

When an irresistible force meets an immovable object

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In physics, it’s called the irresistible force paradox: What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? The paradox exists in that at its center are two incompatible principles–an unmovable object and an unstoppable force. The logic arises that neither such thing exists.

In music, it’s a  wonderful 1955 song called Something’s Gotta Give, with words and music by Johnny Mercer and famously sung by Frank Sinatra.

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Johnny Mercer

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In my life, I am the unmovable force and a dog named Snuffalaffugus (a misspelling of the Sesame Street character’s name Snuffleupagus) is the irresistible force.

 

As many of you know, I work at Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF). I am Proud to be a Crazy Cat Lady. I love dogs, yes. The world’s cutest dog lets me live in his house.

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Einstein, another irresistible force, adopted from the East Bay SPCA.

At the shelter, I am more comfortable over on the cat side than I am on the dog side. I love scruffy terriers, and if a dog remotely resembling a Cocker Spaniel arrives at the shelter, I immediately start singing songs from Lady and the Tramp.

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A Cocker Spaniel and a scruffy terrier–I’m in! Plus there are cats, evil Siamese cats. A Disney classic.

 

Then along came Snuffalaffugus, who I call Snuffy. This 91-pound American Staffordshire Terrier (also known as the Amstaff or Stafford or by the more common pit bull terrier) mix does not look like a dog I would hang out with. I confess to a lingering fear of large dogs, especially the “bully breeds”. In short, I am afraid of pit bulls.

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The classic American Staffordshire Terrier. This is not Snuffy.

 

As an adoption counselor, I remain neutral on breeds and help potential adopters with whichever dog or cat they’d like to vist. The first time I was called on to show Snuffy, I went into an internal panic. But I pulled on my big girl panties, grabbed a leash, took a deep breath, and entered her kennel. And fell in love.

My first meeting with Snuffy. The irresistible force won.

 

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Meet Snuffaluffagus.

 

We were recently asked to submit photos to use on the Foundation’s organizational chart. A group of us decided to take each other’s pictures with ARF animals. I went against Cat Lady character and decided to pose with Snuffy. It took quite a few shots, but we finally got one with both of us sitting still.

 

Now I spend every spare minute I have visiting Snuffy in her kennel, getting doggy kisses and singing to her. We both need to lose a few pounds, so I really should be out walking her around, but I prefer sitting on the floor while she tries to fit herself in my lap and knocks me over in her enthusiastic face licking frenzies.

 

Amstaffs are one of the several breeds referred to as pit bulls. Pit bulls have had a lot of bad publicity and have become subject to insidious breed restrictions. These restrictions make it harder to place loving dogs like Snuffy with good families.

Amstaffs historically were considered to be loyal family dogs and good with children. In old photos, you often see pit bulls pictured with children.

 

The classic early comedy short films from 1922 to 1944, Our Gang (The Little Rascals), featured the gang’s loyal companion Petey. Petey was, you guessed it, an American pit bull terrier.

 

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The RCA Victor dog is a pit. So is the dog from the Buster Brown stories and shoes.

 

So, what happened to lead us up to the days of stories like Michael Vick and his dog fighting pit? (I will not show the horrible images of the maimed dogs he is responsible for.)

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The concept of pit bulls as Nanny Dogs may be a bit overstated, but the bad reputation of the dogs is something fairly recent. For reasons I don’t know and won’t investigate here, dog fighting rose in popularity in the 1980s and continues today. Pit bulls are incredibly strong dogs and super smart, meaning they are highly trainable. Which can mean trouble if the dog trainer has bad intentions. With the pit bull’s massive head and jaws, their bite can be deadly. In addition to fighting dogs, they have come to be seen by some as cheap, effective guard dogs. I prefer an alarm system myself.

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At the animal shelter, our aim is to place companion dogs in homes with loving families. Snuffy’s previous family was displaced by a house fire and had no choice but to relinquish their beloved dog to the shelter system. They loved her dearly. She was a member of their family. Now she is with us at ARF, and we will do our best to match her with guardians who understand her and will give her the love and exercise she needs.

You might ask why I don’t adopt her myself. One, I have a full house: Einstein, 3 cats, and a continuing rotation of foster cats. Two, I am at work full time, as is Bob. We aren’t able to provide Snuffy what she needs. Three, I want to see her make another family as happy as she makes me. It’s one of the rewards of my job. I can’t adopt each and every animal I fall in love with, but I can feel the joy of someone else falling in love. I get to be a part of something special.

Consider donating to or volunteering at your local shelter so they can continue saving lives like Snuffy’s and Einstein’s. Adopt, don’t shop. And spread the word for Snuffy and all the other animals who deserve better than the cards they’ve been dealt in life.

 

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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When a Danish Modern Minimalist tries to live with a Whimsical Collector (and they are the same person)

For Christmas, Bob gave me a book titled Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives by Tim Harford.

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The note attached said something like “it will all be okay”. I’ve been stressed out by what I perceive to be chaos and mess in our home. I have always prided myself on being a neat freak, with a tidy home and everything in its place. Apparently I have Benjamin Franklin to thank (or curse) for the saying.

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As you may know if you ever read this blog, I not only work full time, but I am working on my Ph.D. full time as well. It’s hard to keep everything in its place when you have deadlines and timeclocks. And some of the things I try to keep in their places are alive: right now my extra bathroom is home to a beautiful momma cat and her 4 lively babies. I foster for the East Bay SPCA, plus we share our home with 3 resident rescue cats and Einstein, the ridiculously cute terrier saved from doggy death row.

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Foster family Rosarita and her 4 little beans, Fava, Garbanzo, Lima and Lentil.
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Einstein; just look at that messy face and try not to fall in love.

 

Trying to get everyone to sit still for a family Christmas photo proved impossible.

 

It’s hard to have a houseful of animal companions and not have a certain amount of mess and chaos. Is it a coincidence that one of my other gifts from Bob was the movie The Secret Life of Pets?

 

I adore Danish Modern furniture and home design. I see the clean wood lines and open spaces and think, “That’s where I want to be.” In my minimalist daydreams, I picture kitchens of big empty countertops and gleaming stainless steel.

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And living spaces like Don Draper’s apartment on Mad Men or the Jetson’s sky pad.

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Don Draper’s New York apartment on Mad Men.

 

If asked, I would say the kitchen I drool after is the set for the Eric Ripert show Avec Eric. It doesn’t hurt that Chef Ripert is drop-dead gorgeous, but that’s beside the point.

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This picture of a minimalist home makes me swoon.

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Think of all the reading and writing I could do in this clean, quiet space.
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And the tidy meals we would eat in the dining area.

I think I’d sleep so well in this bedroom, but then I think “where are the dogs and cats?”

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My favorite television character of all time is Mr. Monk, played by Tony Shaloub. I identified completely with his dislike of dirt and chaos. Other viewers might think he’s an exaggeration, but I can tell you he’s not.

 

But in reality, I don’t live this clean, ordered life, as much as I’d like to, or think I’d like to. And if I did move into one of these fabulous spaces, I’d probably start assembling one of my little collections of things and cluttering up the space, and bringing home all of the stray dogs and cats in the neighborhood, and loading the kitchen counters up with gadgets and appliances.

I think of the kitchens that look like they have produced not just good food but good times and family togetherness.

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This looks like a kitchen where memories are made.
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Julia Child’s kitchen. She lived a good life.

In my own experience, just recently one of the best times I’ve had was cooking Thanksgiving dinner with my friend Bev in her tiny San Francisco apartment kitchen. The crowd of 12 (15? I lost count) of us sat with our plates on her bed and floor and had a blast.

 

When I finally got my dream trip to Paris a few years ago, the kitchen in our apartment was eclectic country French something-or-other, and it was wonderful. (Note to my vegan friends: I wasn’t vegan yet then so please excuse the cheeses and butter and fish.)

When we went to Oslo a year later, our tiny cabin had a tiny kitchen and even though it was designed for someone 7′ tall, I loved putting together meals there.

 

My whimsical side has always loved the idea of living like the characters in one of my favorite childhood books, The Borrowers. I could fashion furniture out of thimbles and spools of thread and matchboxes and make my own whimsical clothes (a la Stevie Nicks) from scraps and wisps of fabrics.

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The Borrowers, illustration by Emilia Dziubak.
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Stevie Nicks

I love the idea of Hobbit Houses and tiny houses and Steampunk houses.

 

Every time I visit the Berkeley store Castle in the Air, I think I want to live there, with its puppet theaters and doll houses and troll villages.

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So which is it, less is more or more is more?

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In fashion, I admire Coco Chanel and her classic looks.

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But I also want to be Stevie Nicks twirling around in my scarves and skirts.

 

Mae West said:

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But should I take her as a role model? I bet she had a good time and didn’t worry about chaos.

The late fashion designer L’Wren Scott, whose work I only just discovered but find to be quite lovely, said:

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I am confused! But that’s okay. 2017 is going to be the year that I embrace disorder and chaos. Tim Harford says it’s okay and will make me more creative and resilient.

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After all, Einstein (the other one) was a pretty smart guy and he embraced chaos. So here I go, and I plan to enjoy the ride!

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Peace and hugs.