A Tale of Three Sisters

3 sisters

pretty sisters


There are three sisters living in my spare bathroom. They are very beautiful girls, each different from the other and I love them all. Their names are Joelle, Amelie, and Elodie. They are in fact triplets, although there is a big, middle, little connotation to their size and attitudes.


Joelle, the big sister. Confident and social, and physically the biggest as well. She’s also great at IT.
Amelie, the middle sister. A bit of a loner but always gentle with her sisters.
Last but not least, tiny Elodie. Never underestimate the smallest!

I find myself reflecting on sisters and sisterhood. I am the youngest of three sisters (the youngest of four siblings, but my brother isn’t getting much space in this post; sorry Steve!). Our mother gave us each one of these pins several years ago. I rarely wear mine, not because it doesn’t have meaning, but because I just don’t wear pins often. Mom, bless her heart, never seemed to understand that we didn’t really want to dress alike or get the same gifts.

Maybe I don’t wear it because the Far Fetched label makes it seem like an impossibility that three sisters are getting along?

There are many stories of sisters. I found several versions of Native American legends of the three sisters and planting “three sisters gardens”. This version is from the Cherokee:

Once upon a time there were three sisters. The first sister was very tall and strong; her name was Corn Girl, and she wore a pale green dress and had long yellow hair that blew in the wind. Corn Girl liked to stand straight and tall, but the hot sun burned her feet and hurt her. And the longer Corn Girl stood in her field, the hungrier she got. And every day more weeds were growing up around her and choking her.

The second sister was very thin and quick and fast, and her name was Bean Girl, but she wasn’t very strong. She couldn’t even stand up on her own. She was good at making food, but she just had to lie there stretched out on the ground, and she would get dirty and wet, which wasn’t good for her.

The third sister, Squash Girl, was short and fat and wore a yellow dress. She was hungry too.

For a long time, the sisters didn’t get along. They each wanted to be independent and free, and not have anything to do with the other two. So Corn Girl stood there with her sunburned feet and got hungrier and hungrier. And Bean Girl lay there on the ground and got dirtier and wetter. And the little fat sister Squash Girl was hungry too.

So Bean Girl talked to her sister Corn Girl and said, “What if I feed you some good food, and you can hold me up so I don’t have to lie on the ground and get all dirty?” And Corn Girl thought that was a great idea. Then little Squash Girl called up to her tall sister, “How about if I lie on your feet and shade them so you won’t get sunburned?” Corn Girl thought that was a great idea too.

So the Three Sisters learned to work together, so that everyone would be healthier and happier. Corn Girl helped Bean Girl stand up. Bean Girl fed Corn Girl and Squash Girl good food. And Squash Girl shaded Corn Girl’s feet and kept the weeds from growing up around them all.

And that’s why the Iroquois and the Pueblo people and the Aztecs and everybody in between planted their corn, their beans, and their squash together in the same field – the Three Sisters.

I accept my role as Squash Girl happily!

Unfortunately, my sisters live more than 3,000 miles away and we don’t get to see each other very often. I don’t have many photos of us together, and it is very rare that there is a photo in which all three of look as gorgeous as we really are. Pictures from our childhood are all packed away and not yet digitized.

sisters photo
Not so great photo from a few years ago after an Atlanta Braves game.
Yes, the brother is in this time.

Continuing the exploration of sisters, on the serious side there is the play The Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov, written in 1900 and first performed in 1901.


The three sisters in Chekhov’s play, Olga, Masha and Irina, are living in a drab town a year after their father’s death and finding life tedious. From IMDb:

Olga, Masha, and Irina Prozoroff lead lonely and purposeless lives following the death of their father who has commanded the local army post. Olga attempts to find satisfaction in teaching but secretly longs for a home and family. Masha, unhappy with her marriage to a timid schoolmaster, falls hopelessly in love with a married colonel. Irina works in the local telegraph office but longs for gaiety. Their sense of futility is increased by their brother’s marriage to Natasha, a coarse peasant girl. She gradually encroaches on the family home until even the private refuge of the sisters is destroyed. They dream of starting a new life in Moscow but are saddled with the practicalities of their quiet existence. Despite their past failures, they resolve to seek some purpose and hope when the army post is withdrawn from the town.


There are also several geographical sites named Three Sisters.

The Three Sisters in der Abendsonne
The The Three Sisters, Alberta, Canada.
Three Sisters, in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Australia.
The Three Sisters islands, Queensland, Australia.

But I prefer popular culture sisters. In Little Women, there are four sisters, so that never worked out for me to label them as me and my sisters. Meg was clearly my sister Cathy, sweet and nurturing and maternal. Jo was obviously Ellen, funny and athletic and the one who holds them together. But was I kind, sweet, sickly Beth or artistic, selfish and temperamental Amy? I think I was a bit of a mix, without the sickly part. Of course, we all had a bit of each sister in us.


Then we get to the Gabor sisters. I don’t think there are any personality matches there (thank goodness).


As a child of the 1960s, I watched endless reruns of Petticoat Junction.


And I can’t leave out the Brady sisters! Oddly, my favorite was poor maligned middle sister Jan. I couldn’t stand goody two-shoes Marsha or insipid youngest Cindy. And Jan had the long beautiful hair.

brady sisters

My favorite isn’t a story of three sisters but of two. The 1954 movie White Christmas is not the best (or the worst), but at the beginning of the movie  comes the song Sisters, by Irving Berlin.

There were never such devoted sisters

Never had to have a chaperone “No, sir”
I’m there to keep my eye on her

Every little thing that we are wearing

When a certain gentleman arrived from Rome
She wore the dress and I stayed home

All kinds of weather
We stick together
The same in the rain or sun
Two diff’rent faces
But in tight places
We think and we act as one

Those who’ve
Seen us
Know that not a thing could come between us

Many men have tried to split us up but no one can
Lord help the mister
Who comes between me and my sister
And Lord help the sister
Who comes between me and my man

In the film, the song is performed by the Haynes sisters, played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. Vera-Ellen was a dancer, not a singer, so for this song, her lines were actually performed by Clooney as well (i.e., Rosemary Clooney sang a duet with herself).


I, however, am partial to the version done in the film by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye.


But you are here to see kitten pictures! Here you go, the three beautiful sisters at their weigh-in yesterday.


Please consider fostering for your local shelter or other animal rescue organization. Not only do you help them save more lives, you get the wonderful opportunity to spend time with some amazing animals such as Joelle, Amelie, and Elodie. I foster for the East Bay SPCA in Oakland, CA. It’s one of the best things I do in my life.




Art and Activism

I don’t refer to myself as an artist. When I was much younger I wanted to be “an artist”, yes, but as I have worked in the arts for many years now I have realized that a lot of the game of becoming a “successful” artist is knowing how to market yourself. And that’s the rub. I have no desire to develop that side of my personality. But I do love to draw still.

Our first group meeting of activist-artists.

We recently started an art group at Direct Action Everywhere, and I was amazed at the wonderful artists in the group. It’s an honor to have been included.


Here is an artist statment I wrote not long ago when I was approached by art group organizer Leslie Robinson Goldberg, aka the Vicious Vegan of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) about a series profiling activist-artists.

Artist Statement

Genevieve Cottraux

As a shy and anxious kid, drawing and animals were two of the ways I connected to the world. My mother was always very tolerant about taking in the strays that my siblings and I brought home. At one point, we had 4 dogs and 7 cats sharing the house with Mom and the 4 of us. I drew a lot of pictures of cats, needless to say.

In college getting my design degree, drawing classes were always my favorite. My first job out of college was as an archaeological illustrator with a company in Sacramento, working on environmental impact reports and historic building surveys. After a couple of years, I was being phased out by computer applications, so I went back to school and shifted careers into arts administration. My love of drawing had really suffered, but never my love for animals! By finding a community of artists with the animal activism world, I’ve finally felt inspired to get out my sketchbook.

The project that I am contemplating working on focuses on the animals I meet and love during my volunteer shifts at the East Bay SPCA. I plan to do a sketch a week, picking the animal that most touches my heart during my shift. I mostly volunteer in the cat adoption area, but I’d love to start including dogs as well. The challenge will be finding the best way to include their stories with the sketches.

I think what bring me back to drawing is the personal connection I feel when I am with the animals at the shelter. My heart is involved, not just my eye-hand coordination and attention to detail. Someone suggested that I offer the shelter animal drawings to the eventual adopters of the animals, and I really like that idea, if I can bring myself to part with them!

I went through all of the work I have accumulated over the years, and was surprised at how little of it involved animals. I included an older piece (the endangered Smith’s Blue in the DxE blogpost, link below) because it is a drawing I am still happy with years later and it was one of the rare chances I had as an illustrator to draw something that made me feel like I was doing something important (plus it made me happy).

1. Smiths blue
Smith’s Blue, my rendering


Smith’s Blue, the real deal

The other 4 drawings, all unfinished, I included are of animals I recently spent time with at the The East Bay SPCA, the wonderful shelter where I have volunteered sine 2009. I plan to keep doing a sketch every time I go to the shelter, focusing on the animal that day who most tugs at my heart.

Logo 2.jpg


Check out the DxE blog, The Liberationist, for many interesting and thought-provoking articles, such as this one by the amazing Kitty Jones: Five Things Animals Would Say If They Could. Here is a link to the post with my drawings: Art and Animals: Genevieve Cottraux

Tofurkey, the sad-eyed chihuahua mix, has since been adopted! Yay, Tofurkey!  I can’t decide if I hope they changed her name or not.

5. Tofurkey
Tofurkey (unfinished drawing)

I started a new piece last night, of my newest foster kitten Babou. He is the sweetest, funniest little guy. He makes me laugh and I know he will find a wonderful forever home, thanks to the East Bay SPCA.


I Survived the First Semester! Or, I’ve Been Really Busy


When I applied to a Ph.D. program on an impulse last summer, I knew my life would be busy, but I didn’t realize just how busy. Call me a cock-eyed optimist, but I thought, sure, I can go to school full time while working full time. It hasn’t been the easiest thing I ever decided to do, and I have many more semesters to go. But having now submitted my last paper for the first semester (YAY), I can look back and reflect on just how crazy the last few months have been.

Before–the cockeyed optimist, ready to study!
Insane Asylum Entrance
This way madness lies…
after 1
Got my last paper in. Semester one done. Can I brush my hair now?

One of my first moves was to get a big dry-erase calendar to organize my life. I hung it, planned out the semester, and then pretty much ignored it until today, when I am wiping it clean for next semester.

calendar 2
I’ll pay more attention next semester.

As would be expected in any doctoral program, books are involved. Lots of books. Some I really enjoyed. Some I struggled with. And I faced the reality that I have to pick and choose what to read; I can’t read it all. Or I’m going to have to take a speed-reading class.

Read this book!
On Complexity
Foster cat Mouse and I struggled with this one.

My dictionary stays open to the “h” pages–I can’t remember the definitions of heuristic and hermeneutics to save my life.

I did have to change some things in my daily routine. My obsession with making the bed every morning is a thing of the past, I hate to say (sorry, Mom). As much as I like to do laundry, the laundry room is now the least visited room in the house.

unmade bed
I blame it on the cats.
I justify infrequent laundry by saying it’s because of the drought in California.
My mending and sewing pile gathers dust on top of the sewing machine.
I have become the queen of unfinished craft projects.

We might not ever eat homemade meals if not for the Purple Carrot. Similar to Blue Apron or Hello Fresh!, it’s a service that ships the ingredients and recipes for 3 meals a week. Purple Carrot happens to be vegan, and has the caché of having Mark Bittman on the team.

Purple Carrot logo

purple carrot 2
Quick, easy, tasty and healthy vegan recipes. A life saver!

Of course, we do end up eating on tv trays in front of television most of the time. But that’s not new.

tv trays


eating at desk
Eating at my desk is also not unheard of these days.
Clif bar
Yes, a Clif Bar with coffee is a balanced breakfast, really.

Have I mentioned coffee? There’s a lot of coffee in my life. Funny thing. it’s mostly decaf, but still gotta have it!

I have managed to have some fun down time. Maybe that’s why I scramble to get my papers in on time, but my idea of fun down time is going out on marches and protests, and I think of those as a part of my humane education program. As my friend and fellow future Ph.D. Suzy Fisher says, don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk.

Never Be Silent

Elephant March
Marching for Elephants with one of my favorite activists, Sara Muñiz.
Gene Baur
Farm Sanctuary Founder Gene Baur speaks at UC Berkeley.
Walk for Farm Animals
Walk for Farm Animals in San Francisco with my buddies Cláudia Santos and Heather Meyer.
I also spent a beautiful day at Preetirang Sanctuary thanks to Cláudia.
Brave the Cage
I Braved the Cage with Suzy Fisher. Animal Place was at UC Berkeley to demonstrate what the lives of hens in battery cages are like.
Fur Free Friday. The awesome Kitty Jones is behind me, holding the Animals Are Not Ours to Wear sign.

A trip to Chicago was one of the highlights of autumn for me. I got to live my Ferris Bueller moment at the Art Institute of Chicago and attend a wonderful concert by the National Brass Ensemble, thanks to the generosity of world’s best boyfriend and amazing brass player Robert Ward.

There’s always room for food in my life, maybe too much so sometimes, and cooking classes are a great way to spend the spare time I don’t have.

JL Fields
Fun holiday cooking class at the PETA Foundation offices with JL Fields.
Thanksgiving cook
Thanksgiving chef in pajamas and apron, with bed hair.

I bake for the monthly bake sales held to benefit animal sanctuaries by the Berkeley Organization for the Advocacy of Animals at UC Berkeley.

I continued to volunteer for East Bay SPCA. It’s because of my experience there with the animals that I am on this path, so I can’t give that up! And I’ve added fostering onto the list of things I do. Our guest bathroom has been turned into a foster cat habitat.

Mouse 2
Foster kitty Mouse and her babies. She did most of the work. All now adopted into loving homes!
kittens studying
The kittens were not particularly appreciative of the finer points of research methodology.
Honeysuckle preferred television to studying.
Kianna, not loving the cone, after surgery to remove her paralyzed tail (probably hit by a car).

During all of this, work was chaotic too! The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive moved into a new building. Moving is never easy unless you have truckloads of money to pay someone else to do it while you go on vacation.

I had a wonderful time volunteering at the Western Museums Association 2015 Annual Meeting in San Jose.

And just when I got settled into a new office and a new neighborhood, I found a wonderful opportunity to work at the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art at UC Davis. Let the commuting begin! Only it didn’t begin so well. My car should be done at the MINI service center soon.

Shrem build
The Manetti Shrem Museum, under construction, planned to open in Fall 2016.

Ask me how I’m doing:

I’d like to say life is like this, but…
thumbs up
A fellow Saybrook student posted this on Facebook; all of us in the program understand!

One day it will all be worth it: I will be one of the new Doctors of Philosophy getting to wear the coveted sash.

Saybrook graduates, August 2015. I want that sash!

I couldn’t be doing any of this without the love and support of aforementioned Robert Ward. Thank you!

vegan kiss

And for any possible naysayers out there (thankfully that would not be any of my friends or family), I will leave you with the wise words of Harold. Please excuse his language.



The Kitten Chronicles

My first experience as a foster mom was 17 years ago. I was working for California State Parks at the time. I was at the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park and Benicia State Recreation Area. A kind-hearted jogger came across 2 newborn kittens and brought them into the park office. I’d never bottle fed kittens before but I was game to give it a try. I named them Ben and Sara and spent the next few weeks feeding them every 2 hours and rubbing them with warm wet cloths to stimulate their insides to work. Momma cat does that by licking them. I waslucky to work in a place where I could take them with me, and the wonderful volunteers at the park helped me; we all had fun watching them grow.


Seventeen years later, Sara (brown tabby) is still with me. Ben (orange tabby) died of liver cancer in the spring. I miss him greatly! In the foster world this is called “foster fail”, when you end up adopting your fosters. Maybe it should be called “foster success” since they end up in a loving home!

IMG_6715 IMG_6799

I was reluctant to go that route again, but I want to stay connected with the East Bay SPCA, where I have volunteered for the last 6 years. As a new gradute student, I have a feeling extra and time will be words I don’t hear together for a while. By getting involved as a foster, I can contibute but have more time at home. I started with little Abracadabra, who I’ve written about here. I was at the shelter today and she is now available for adoption at the Oakland Adoption Center. She’s growing! I hope she finds a home soon. The sad thing is that black cats and kittens spend longer in the shelter because people are still superstitious about them in the 21st century.

logo FullSizeRender2

After having so much fun with Abracadabra, was ready to do it again. The wonderful staff at the East Bay SPCA were looking for aomeone who could take a mother cat with 4 newborn kittens. It’ll be easy, they said; you take care of the mother and she takes care of the babies. I figured that would work with my busy schedule, so the kitten nursery was established in the guest bathroom.


Mother cat Mouse with her 6 day old babies Sugar Glider, Ferrett, Chinchilla, and Ratticus.


Mouse is one of the sweetest cats I’ve ever had the pleasure to spend time with. And even though she is very young herself, she is an exellent mother.


It was suggested that I take daily pictures to document the changes as the kittens grow. I missed their 7th day, but today I start with the daily shots of their progress. Here is Day 8. Their eyes are just starting to open.

Sugar Glider:








So far the biggest challenge is getting Mouse to eat enough. Understandably, after being moved from a county shelter to the SPCA and then to my house with newborn babies, she is little unsure of her surroundings. She didn’t eat the first night but has been showing more interest in food. She’s eating for 5, so she needs a lot of calories!

More posts to come!

International Cat Day, volunteering with an animal shelter

Happy International Cat Day! I don’t know who decides these things, and it’s always cat day in my world, but today we celebrate cats.

I have been volunteering at the East Bay SPCA in Oakland, California since 2009. It was a time of much personal turmoil. My mother had just passed away after a battle with cancer; I had been spending much of my time up in Sacramento with her and I suddenly felt like I had way too much time on my hands when she was gone. I had been thinking of volunteering for a while, either in a library setting or doing something with animals. We were at the yearly Solano Stroll street fair in Berkeley and a friendly volunteer at the East Bay SPCA’s booth handed me a flyer; it seemed like a sign. It’s been almost 6 years ago that I went to a volunteer orientation and it’s the best decision I ever made!

front volunteer

I started as a cat socializer, and over time have trained as a canine companion (dog walker), adoption counselor, volunteer mentor, lead off-site event volunteer, co-taught the cat volunteer training, and am now a customer care volunteer. I spend my Saturdays helping people coming in to find their match (both cats and dogs) and facilitate the adoption process. And when it’s slow, I still socialize with the kitties and pups.

Today, for International Cat Day, I’m taking a look at a typical Saturday with the cats at the shelter. The East Bay SPCA was founded in 1874 and as an independent nonprofit is not affiliated with any other SPCA. With adoption centers, education centers, spay/neuter centers in both Oakland and Dublin and a full-service veterinary clinic in Oakland, the EBSPCA currently utilizes the services of about 375 volunteers.

Today when I arrived at the Oakland adoption center, there were 31 cats available for adoption and many more in the back holding area awaiting behavior and/or health checks and other procedures before being moved up to one of the two the adoption centers. The cat adoption area is bright and cheerful, having undergone a remodeling in the last couple of years. There is a hallway showcasing individual cats, currently mostly kittens, as well as 3 colony rooms where cats who get along live in groups, plus 2 “get acquainted” rooms for potential adopters to meet cats up close and personal.

cool cooler coolest colony 1 get acquainted

I first visited the holding area, off-limits to the public, to meet the new arrivals. My friend Judy volunteers in the back and always directs me to the cutest newbie of the day. It being kitten season, there were many adorable faces! Tiny but vocal Francine, 8 weeks old and underweight, really wanted attention. Her siblings Fanny and French Fry, in the next cage, were a little quieter but just as cute. Pretty Iris, recovering from the double whammy of spay surgery and having an infected eye removed, was still happy to have a tummy run and a neck scritch where the cone was bugging her.

Francine Fanny and French Fry Iris

Up in the adoption center, spunky kitten Antelope was not slowed down by having 3 legs instead of 4, eagerly exploring and asking for head rubs.


Of course, it’s not all kittens. Kittens are adopted pretty quickly. It’s the older cats who often wait at the shelter for longer to find homes. And sadly, black cats and black and white cats wait the longest. Even with kittens, the black kittens spend a little longer than the others. Black cats are not bad luck; give them a chance! Here is 8-year old Bloomer exercising patience with roommate 4-month old Ricky Bobby in one of the colonies.

Bloomer and Ricky Bobby

The oldest cat I visited today was 10 year old Norwegian Forest cat Tikka. She had lived with her family since she was a kitten but she didn’t get along with a new cat they brought into the home so she was surrendered to the shelter for adoption. A little shy but sweet and oh so beautiful, she needs a quiet home where she can be the only princess cat.


John Snow has been at the shelter since April. He’s quite the charming gentleman, and his Bengal roots mean he is active and playful. He was adopted during his stay at the shelter but returned because like Tikka, he needs to be an only cat.

John Snow

Six-year old Ma’am, brought in as a stray, doesn’t think much of my taking her picture to become a media star.


When I left after my 4-hour shift, 3 kittens had been adopted, 3 had been placed on hold, and 2 adult kitties, Poptart (surrendered because of a new baby in the home) and Aspen (surrendered because the landlord was asking for an increased pet deposit) were in the process of being adopted. Yay Poptart and Aspen!

Poptart Aspen

It was dinner time, so everyone was happy. Here is Sweet Pea enjoying her meal.

Sweet Pea

If any of these sweet faces grab at your heartstrings, next Saturday, August 15, is the Clear the Shelters event, with help from Overstock.com and NBC, with free adoptions from 10-4. Come on by!

Clear - Version 2