Photography Friday: Rewards

Today’s photo challenge at the Daily Post is to show what “reward” means to us. It turns out that I’ve taken a few photos over the course of the last few weeks that exemplify the term in various ways. Looking back through them has made me realize how easily I forget the simple pleasures encountered every day. I tend to notice details, and love the little scenes captured on my walks through New Orleans (and elsewhere), but it would be nice to hold on to the feeling of discovering these vignettes in my heart, rather than having to be reminded by looking back over my Instagram page.

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I walk through the French Quarter every day, and often pass a little art gallery full of really cool/creepy art. Every now and then there’s a cat sitting in the window, along with the artwork. Each time I pass, I look for the cat, and when I see her I’m always happy. It feels like a privilege, somehow; she’s so regal.

The other part of the story that makes this an even better reward is that you can’t see it in this photo, but the cat’s other ear is docked at the tip. In New Orleans, when feral cats are part of the catch and release program (where they’re caught, spayed/neutered, then released), they get one ear docked. This tells me that this gorgeous girl was once living on the streets, but has since become the queen of her own art gallery. Pretty sweet rags to riches story.

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I love looking for good new graffiti, no matter what city I’m in. Thus far, my all-time favorite street art has been in Venice, but New Orleans’ scene isn’t too shabby. Our city attracts a lot of outside artists, including WRDSMTH, a Los Angeles-based writer/painter who’s been posting awesome stuff like this typewriter and message around town for awhile. This popped up in my neighborhood, and every time I look at it I end up laughing. So I guess that the reward is two-fold for this photo, as well. First finding it, then getting to laugh over and over.

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This shot was taken on Lundi Gras night (the night before Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday), down by the Mississippi River. I was with friends, just hanging out, and we didn’t know that there were going to be fireworks. This was a great reward for me because I really hadn’t felt like leaving my house that day, despite (or maybe because of) the celebration that was going on. I adore fireworks, so getting to see them was like a little “thank you” from the Universe for just pushing myself to lighten up a bit and go have fun.

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While in Chicago last week, I decided (quite stupidly) to walk from the restaurant where I’d just had dinner, all the way to the nearest movie theater. A distance of about a mile and a half isn’t bad in decent weather, but when it’s 10 degrees out and you’re not at all accustomed to that kind of cold, it’s just a crappy idea to try to do it on foot. But I did, and it all worked out just fine. Still got all of my digits. Bonus: it was beautiful and quiet out, didn’t meet very many people on the way, and every now and then a scene like this would present itself.

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This is the least exciting photo, but my favorite. I took it last night; it’s the parking garage that sits behind my gym. I had a good workout, then left the gym to see that the parking garage was looking really nice with the contrast of streetlights and night sky. Sometimes I feel like being allowed to notice and appreciate beauty in such mundane things is its own reward. The fact that it showed up after a particularly good night of working out was just that much sweeter.

One Foot In Front Of The Other

“It is no use walking anywhere to preach, unless our walking is our preaching.” – St. Francis of Assisi

When I first started seriously considering going on pilgrimage, I made this silent agreement with myself that I would only approach the concept of the journey from a place of positivity. I guess that might sound strange – after all, what’s there to be negative about when you’re considering a soul-shaking adventure that promises to completely change the way you encounter the world from that point forward? Positivity wasn’t part of my grand plan; it wasn’t something that I carefully decided on and then tried hard to fulfill – being positive was just something that happened, then continued to happen. And now that I’m writing this blog post, I’m finding that indeed, I’ve been used to thinking about this trip in such glowing terms that it’s hard for me to put words to any underlying worries.

(Side note: Yay for positive thinking! It actually works! This is especially important since I’m generally kind of a realist in the day-to-day, definitely not anything near to being a Pollyanna.)

There comes a time, however, when you must confront potential issues, if just to work through them and visualize what your solutions might be should problems arise. For me, my greatest concerns about this trip have been focused on either side of the Atlantic: my cats’ wellbeing while I’m gone, and my physical stamina on The Camino. 

If you’ve ever read my other blog, Compass & Quill, you’ve probably seen me mention my two cats, Izzy and Munky, at least a few times. Though I wouldn’t go as far as some cat ladies and say that they’re “my life,” they are definitely my fur babies, and I love them. When you decide to share your home with another living creature that depends on you, there are always going to be some sacrifices made for their wellbeing. For instance, though I don’t always have the money to go to the doctor, they always get a yearly vet visit, stay current on their shots, and get the healthiest food I can afford. They make a mockery of my upholstered furniture, despite constant claw clipping, double-sided tape, pheromone spray to keep them from being stressed, and a dozen other tries at possible deterrence, but that doesn’t mean that I’d ever consider declawing them. And now they’re going to cost me a pretty penny for a pet sitter while I’m gone.

But even though I’ll most likely have at least a couple of people looking in on them on a regular basis during my absence, I still worry. Izzy is high strung and only likes one human – me. The last time I left for a couple of weeks, even though she had constant care and companionship, she still meowed herself hoarse at the door, waiting for my return. What’s she going to do when I’m gone for a month and a half? Luckily, Munky loves everyone. I doubt he’ll even notice that I’m gone as long as he’s still getting back rubs on a daily basis. But I’m afraid to think of the stress I’ll be putting poor Isabel under by being gone for an extended period. There’s no real solution, so I guess it’s really not something I should think about too much more. I’ll shower her with love for as long as I’m here, and I’ll make sure that their cat sitter is the best possible choice for a loving surrogate while I’m out of town. After that, it’s out of my hands.

The other thing that worries me is the physical toll of walking 500 miles. Unlike the cat situation, this is something for which I can prepare myself. However, much like the cat situation, no matter how much preparation I undergo, it is inevitable that there will be a considerable amount of pain involved. If there’s anything I’ve learned from reading so many Camino autobiographies, it’s that I will think that I’ve thought of every eventuality, but I’ll miss something. But the best I can do is try to go with the flow. Put in as much work as I’m capable of, then take my chances.

Right now, I’m walking about seven miles a day on average, with a 15 lb. backpack. I’m going to try to keep upping that number (pack and distance), until I’m closer to walking 10 miles a day with a 25 lb. pack. Hopefully that will negate some of the shock to my system when I kick things off in St. Jean Pied-de-Port. I’m also going to need to start doing some thorough stretching on a daily basis to try to get my hip and back pain under control prior to leaving. If anything has a real chance of sidelining me, it’s going to be hip/back/knee pain or a major blister. Unfortunately, I’m really prone to blisters, so I’m not sure if there’s much I can do to avoid them, other than properly breaking in my hiking boots, wearing good socks, applying some sort of non-chafing cream/lotion my feet every day, and bringing along plenty of bandaids and moleskin patches for hot spots. One thing I should be much more worried about, but am not letting bother me just yet, is the fact that there are no hills or mountains anywhere near my home in New Orleans, yet much of the terrain I’ll be covering in Spain is hilly or mountainous. The best I’ll be able to do is start walking at steep inclines on the treadmill, and hope that helps a little bit. Other than that, all I can do is put my boots on and just put one foot in front of the other, and trust that they’ll get me where I want to go in the end!

Have you had any worries about walking The Camino, or about leaving your life behind to go on pilgrimage? How did you address them?

R.I.P. Mufasa (2000 to 2013)

Rest in peace, sweet man.

Rest in peace, sweet man.

This afternoon I got a phone call from Mum, and she was crying. For a second I thought the worst – that maybe my father had had an accident in the wood shop, or a heart attack while driving to work (active imagination). Luckily, the news wasn’t as terrible as that, but it was pretty bad. Another member of my family, my adopted feline brother, Mufasa, had to be put to sleep today. Mum is devastated.

Mufasa and his sister Tabitha moved into my parents’ house pretty soon after I moved out for college, probably around the Spring of 2000. They both had abnormally large eyes, and for a few years I liked to tease Mum that they were actually aliens here on a surveillance mission. Fasa was a light orange and cream-colored tabby, and Tabby was a rust and black tabby. Their personalities couldn’t have been more different; they were the opposite ends of the cat spectrum. She was aloof, demanding, and often cruel, while he was trusting and sweet, goofy like a puppy, and always visibly desperate to be picked up, petted, and cuddled.

While Tabby was a holy terror, peeing on the belongings of people she didn’t like (including me), and generally acting like a evil, furry little dictator, Fasa was ever the lovebug. He was crazy about smelling fresh flowers, and he’d spend hours sniffing any flowers Mum put in vases around the house. He also made friends with little critters that got into the house. Mum was always simultaneously annoyed with and admiring of his sweet way with household pests. She wanted him to kill mice or cockroaches, but would always find him happily watching them go about wreaking havoc. He always seemed to take it personally when one of the other cats would kill a mouse; Mum said he went into a depression for weeks when my father’s goldfish died off, and only started to purr again when new fish were put in the tank.

One of the most curious things about Fasa was that he loved pink toys. They say that cats can’t tell much about colors, as we know them, but he could always pick the pink toys out of the bin. He didn’t much care for toys of other colors. When he and Tabby were little, Mum got them both fuzzy mice for Christmas. She bought pink ones and blue ones, a few for each cat. Tabby quickly dove in and began dissecting her mice. That cat was a killer, through and through, and had “murdered” all of the mice within hours of receiving them. She carefully ripped each mouse apart at the seam that ran along its belly, then ripped out the little leather ears, tore the fake fur “skin” off of the plastic core, and moved on to her next victim.

Meanwhile, Fasa eagerly selected one pink mouse to love, and Mum kept his others safe in the hall closet. Fasa groomed his mouse and cuddled with it, then hid it away carefully when there were other tasks on his kitty agenda. He knew his sister well. It took her a few days, but Tabby found his hiding spot and gleefully dissected Fasa’s pink mouse in front of him. For the next couple of days, he sadly cuddled with the only part of his mousy friend that was left, the little pink fur covering. It was heartbreaking.

Eventually, Tabby’s destructive behavior got her put out of the house, something that I do not normally support, but in this case don’t have much problem with. Outside she went from tormenting her brother to becoming the full-fledged maniac she was always meant to be, killing wildlife left and right and generally having an awesome time being a badass. Fasa, meanwhile, stayed indoors, being an adorable little muffin. Eventually he was joined by two other partners in crime, CB and Lucky, both of whom were much kinder.

Mufasa and his pal CB.

Mufasa and his pal CB.

He and I didn’t hang out that much, just because I’m very seldom home in NC. When I was in town, he’d always come and cuddle with me in bed at night. But most of the time I’m here in New Orleans, so he’d listen in on my phone conversations with Mum. He couldn’t bear to be away from her too long, and never left her lap unwarmed. He especially liked to butt his head up against the phone receiver when she was talking, so he could be a part of every single thing that she was doing. As she and I would talk, I could always hear him, just under the receiver, purring deeply and listening in.

I guess he hadn’t been feeling well this week, so Mum took him to the vet, and when they got there the vet said there was nothing they could do. Fasa was suffering from heart failure, and it was his time. Mum bought him a few new toys – pink, of course – and she said he batted them around and purred. He loved her so much, and she him. She was with him when he died, which must have been of great consolation to him. She’s not doing too well, though. Please, if you’re reading this, send my Mum some good energy. She could really use that love right now.

Fasa, you loveable lump of a cat, you will be missed. You were full of goodness and light, and didn’t have a mean bone in your body. If the pet psychic is right, and cats reincarnate and come back to owners that loved them, do it quickly. Mum’s a mess without you, sweet boy. But if the rainbow bridge is a final thing, I hope that the other side is full of everything you love most – soft, soft pink fake fur, bowls of tuna, whole fields of fragrant blossoms, and friends to give you cuddles and rubs, to pick you up and carry you around 24/7, and who let you listen in on their phone conversations. Kisses.

A New Pet Fish

Simon the Betta Fish

Simon the Betta Fish, chillin' in his tank. He's named after my favorite actor, another pasty dude.

When I was growing up, my dad had many, many fish tanks throughout our house. There were four or five in the living room, more in the kitchen, and we even had a 50 gallon tank on the dining room table (which meant that I didn’t eat at a dining table when I was growing up). I actually didn’t mind the one on the dining table, since it housed goldfish that were initially mine, and lived seemingly forever. My mom got me goldfish in kindergarten, and then I won a few more in second grade at my school’s fall festival. Those lived for a long time, and a couple were still alive when I got to take home the class goldfish, Spot, at the end of 7th grade. Spot was still alive while I was in college, and there were other fish with him in the tank. Goldfish grow to match the size of the tank you keep them in, and these fish were very large. Several of them loved to be petted, and I spent some quality time with my hand in the fish tank.

Despite liking my goldfish, overall I’ve never really been a fish person. The things that seem to make most people love fish are the exact things that I hate. They say that the sound of running water is supposed to be relaxing, but to me that sound in your own home is akin to nails on a chalkboard. Then there’s that thing about how watching fish swimming in a tank is supposed to be tranquil and put people at ease. I can’t watch them swim back and forth – it drives me crazy, the idea of being cooped up, swimming back and forth with no purpose and no escape! That’s why, other than one failed attempt at setting up a goldfish tank in college, I’ve stayed away from aquatic creatures. The rapid death of my college goldfish had a bit to do with it, as well (R.I.P. fishies!)

Then a few months ago, I set up a SeaMonkey tank, and started growing those tiny shrimp. I love them! They’re adorable, insanely easy to care for, and very hardy. The only thing I’m not a fan of is the constant SeaMonkey sex. They’re always doing it. I don’t know if I would actually buy SeaMonkeys for a kid; not because I’m puritanical, mind you, but because I don’t know how I’d explain the fact that they have sex for weeks at a time, take a day off, and get it on some more. Maybe kids don’t notice stuff like that? Big questions, lol.

Anyway, so I asked for a small tank for Christmas, thinking that I’d set up a humongous SeaMonkey colony, and have hundreds of tiny little fuckers (literally) swimming about. But then after I got the tank, I thought that I’d rather get something else to go in it, like bigger shrimp. I set off to the pet store to buy some ghost shrimp, as The Man and I had seen some a few days before, but when I got there, there was only one left. I felt bad taking just one, so I turned to leave, thinking I’d come back again in a few days to check their stock.

On my way out the door, I saw the betta fish display. I said that I’m not a fish person, but I’ve always been ESPECIALLY not a betta person. I hated their little jars, and the fact that they’re supposed to be somewhat aggressive. I didn’t really like their fancy colors or tails, either. So maybe I am a bit puritanical, because what I was really thinking was that they had some nerve, being so pretty but so rude. So anyway, here I am, in the fish section, looking at bettas, when suddenly I realized that this is what I needed in my life…a mean little fish that can live in a small tank, and probably survive anything I mistakenly did to it. So I looked through all of their individual fish tupperwares, and found the least attractive fish I could find, figuring he wouldn’t get chosen by anyone else, and would most likely die there in his tiny plastic prison. Plus, when I picked him up, I thought we shared a moment. There was a hopeful look in his glassy little eyes. I took him home.

Simon is a Blur

This is Simon, swimming away. I love that he can sit in the same place for a very long time, then swim like a little crazy man when the mood strikes (or the cats freak him out).

His name is Simon, after Simon Pegg, since he’s also pale and pretty nondescript. Munkey keeps trying to push his tank off of the ledge at night, so he has to be covered with a towel and bolstered with a couple of large sweet potatoes. Other than that, he’s doing peachy keen. The Man thinks I’m a nutter, but I talk to Simon a few times a day, and he always comes to the front of the tank to stare at me. We’re best buddies, this fish and I. I do hope I don’t kill him.

Munkey the Cat and Simon the Fish

Munkey spends a lot of time at the fish tank now. When he's not watching Simon's every move or trying to push the tank off of the counter, he curls up with his butt to the tank. Simon has become desensitized to the giant slavering beast that waits on his doorstep. Good chap.

Being Sneaky

While Murphy prefers a warm lap or at least a spot very near to said lap, preferably somewhere within a belly-rub’s distance, Izzy is all about solitude for most of the first half of the day. Most days she beds down somewhere quiet and secluded until around 2pm, then comes out to say hi, play for a while, then nap next to me until I’m done with work. Sometimes her quiet spot is right out in the open, at the end of the bed or in a laundry pile if one is convenient. Other times she hunkers down under the bed. Lately, though, I’ve had no clue where she was hiding during her ‘me’ time. Until today.

I should have known she’d take her towel obsession to the next level (literally), and get up into the linen closet.

Isabel Cat Hiding in Linen Closet

Isabel Cat Gets Dramatic

Another Day, Another Laundry Pile

Everyday isn’t laundry day in my house, though sometimes it sure does feel like it. I don’t mind doing the laundry, though. This is my first apartment with an in-unit washer and dryer, and they’re both brand new and awesome. For the first time in my adult life, I don’t have to hunt for quarters any time I need clean underwear, and the dryer actually DRIES my clothes. It’s revolutionary, I tell you.

Of course, we all know who absolutely adores laundry day – the gorgeous Miss Isabel. She’s always happiest when towels are part of the mix, but earlier today I was on a roll, and thoughtlessly unloaded and folded a dryer’s worth of towels quicker than she could make it to the bedroom to come play. Realizing my mistake a few minutes later, I threw a couple of the clean towels in with the next load of things to dry, so she could still enjoy a good snuggle. I’m such a sucker, but as you can see, it was totally worth it.

Isabel the Cat in a Laundry Pile

"Mmm...so toasty warm!"

Isabel the Cat in a Laundry Pile - Image 2

"Seriously Mum, this is the best ever..."

Isabel the Cat in a Laundry Pile - Image 3

"I'd invite you to share, but you see, it's such a small pile. It's really only big enough for one of us."

Isabel the Cat in a Laundry Pile - Image 4

"Seriously - you're not going to fit. Especially not with that black box thing strapped to your head."

Isabel the Cat in a Laundry Pile - Image 5

"Oh, all right, you can come play too!"

And much cuddling and purring ensued.

The End.

Made of Stars

Sorry that the last post was private. There are two reasons for that:

1) I needed to vent about a problem I’ve been holding inside for the last year or two, a problem that has become more intense since my move. I wanted to share without making my musings public, something I have tried to do in my private journal in the past, but found unsatisfying. I’m a fast typist, and it’s nice to be able to see many full thoughts come out of my head and start to live and work themselves out on the electronic page. Maybe in the future I’ll share my thoughts with the world. For now, however, if you really wanted to read, I wouldn’t mind, I think. The post is password protected, and I’ll share if you’d like to write me for it.

2) Since the problem concerns another person, I didn’t want to air something I really should be able to talk to them about in person. Since this person’s demeanor makes it virtually impossible for me to share real thoughts without getting laughed at for “thinking too much,” and this in itself seems to lead to a much darker future path in our friendship, I didn’t think it good to air grievances quite as publicly as I would like. My few readers know me well enough by now, I think, to know that I really don’t mind telling all about myself. There’s not much about my life that I don’t find is made richer by sharing, but this is one of those rare times when I believe the problem might come back to bite me in the proverbial ass if I let it live outside of my head and one protected blog page. I haven’t even been able to tell my best friends. Another interesting way the internet has changed relationships forever.

But enough with that. I’ve already written a major post on it today, and now I’m tired of letting negativity into my borders. From now on this afternoon, only positive thoughts. The most positive? I’m back with my band again! I have some photos I’d like to share with you of the band’s practice space, so I’ll save more musings on that precious topic for another post, but let it be known that I’m insanely happy about getting to sing again, and also to hang out with dear old friends that I haven’t seen in years, and love, love, love collaborating with.

Also in my personal news? I’m taking two free online courses in pagan studies at The Pagan Campus. I know I told you about these before, but I’m having so much fun that I had to mention them again. One class is in Numerology, and the other is in Sabbats and Esbats. I’m learning a lot, but also learning how much there is to learn, and that I’m only touching the tip of the iceberg. I love it. I’m so excited to spend the rest of my life honing my craft, and following the right path for me. Having grown up in super heavy-duty Christian country, where people believe that the devil ‘planted’ dinosaur bones in the earth to fool the weak-minded (lol, btw) into believing that the earth is older than a few thousand years, among lots of other weird, backward-ass thoughts that make very little sense, it’s so nice to get to meet people who believe in something that makes all the sense in the world, and find a religion where appreciating and honoring Mother Nature is the common thread. I don’t care to separate the Universe into multiple gods and goddesses, as many pagans do, but I also love the fact that for once I’m being given the right of way to practice what the Universe keeps proving to me every day is real and right and logical, and to finally see and embrace the abundance of love and energy we have at our fingertips, just by opening our eyes to the possibility of being proactive healers instead of sheep. Like Moby says, “We Are All Made of Stars“.

What else? Well, I made 100 overall in my last marketing class, which is good. I think that this next class is going to really kick my butt, so I should probably actually be doing homework right now instead of writing a blog post or two. But that leads me to the next interesting bit…

I dreamed a book last night. Not a short story, not part of a storyline, but an entire book. It’s not an earthshaking novel or anything, something more like a Harlequin romance, but hey, a book’s a book, and now I’m going to start putting it together. In all, I have three books in my head now that need to be written. One’s about an old haunted house in NC, one’s about ghosts and voodoo in New Orleans, and this last one is about a centuries-old curse on a New England family. I have got to get a routine developed. This is just getting silly. Think of the money I could be making, or at least the ways that I could be so much freer in my life if I just got some kind of order mapped out. With three books and the idea for a very strong small business in mind, I believe the only thing that’s truly holding me back right now is not procrastination, but rather fear. And for the life of me, I have no clue why I should be afraid of success. After all, I want so much to be self-sufficient.

So I’m sitting in bed on a rainy Saturday afternoon, listening to The Man curse at the pieces of a bench he’s been trying to build from scratch all day, my beloved Miss Isabel cat curled up beside me, thinking of this new book, the many paths of my life stretched out before me in my mind’s eye, trying to choose the right one, trying not to hurt anyone too much, or disappoint anyone too much, but trying most of all to be true to myself.

Esse Quam Videre.

I’m trying.

 

Murphy

Murphy in October of 2011

You’ve already read about my beautiful eldest cat, Isabel. If you’ve been reading along, you’ve probably caught on by now that there’s another fur child in my household, Izzy’s younger brother Murphy. His story is a little less involved than his sister’s, but every bit as important to our household’s history. Some of you might have experienced the feeling of being a family with loose ties, and how those ties tightened in the face of a major event, good or bad. Murphy’s simple story is the event that brought Isabel, The Man and myself together as fully-functioning family unit.

In the years BM (before Murphy), there was Isabel. She started out smelly and small, and grew to be snappish and larger. She loved me, and I loved her. I also loved The Man, whom I had started dating a few months prior to the disappearance of my late cat, Matthew. There was no love lost between Matthew and The Man; in fact, when The Man and I first began dating, he told me that he “didn’t really like pets.” He’s really fortunate that I can spot a lie a mile away, and understood his asinine comment really translated to “I haven’t ever had a pet of my own, so I don’t know what it means to love one.” Well, Matthew would have gladly raised a leg on The Man if he were a dog and The Man stood still long enough, so for awhile I resigned myself to the possibility of eventually having to dump this guy in favor of my cat. Fate chose a different route for us all, however. Matthew passed on, and Isabel entered our lives, so tiny and at first so sweet that The Man’s heart of stone was turned to mush – for awhile. Until she went half wild and took to treating The Man, in particular, like a favored scratching post. So much for their short-lived love affair, but at least there was mutual interest and healthy respect on The Man’s part. I figured it was a good starting place.

Two years later, we moved in together. We were in a new city, in a new house, with a two year old cat who was getting a little bored all on her lonesome. I started to put out feelers. We needed a new member of the household, but not just anyone. This cat had to be special.

I spent a lot of time researching cat personalities, and realized that Izzy was a bit of a mash-up of Beta and Gamma, being talkative, pushy, thoughtful, and very eager to please when dealing with me, but also very shy and non-verbally expressive in some realms, especially if other people are in the house. She’s a tricky little beast, and I spent months envisioning the type of cat I’d be bringing in to be her brother or sister. I knew there was only one chance to get this right, and it could be very difficult for everyone if I didn’t take my time.

A few months later, a friend of a friend moved to town from Texas, bringing with her SEVEN cats, four of whom were part of a litter of kittens. While out at a party one night, the new girl mentioned her kittens, and that they were weaned but she wanted to keep the mother and family all together a little longer. I found it refreshing, a complete 180 from the life Izzy was born into, so I asked for more info. What were their markings and personalities? What was their mother like?

The Black One (Murphy), napping with his litter mates Tooken and Saki, and their Aunt Ro Rittens

Cat 5, the kittens’ mother, had been an indoor cat who went into heat younger than anyone expected, and pretty much immediately got out of the house and knocked up. As her human mother put it, “babies having babies.” When the resulting progeny arrived, the first was a little brown tabby. Their human was happy – an entire litter of dark kitties, just like their mother! Then the next kitten arrived, and the next, and the next – in the end there were four orange and white tabbies, and one little dark kitten, who picked up the moniker The Black One. That night, the story of The Black One stuck in my head. I knew I couldn’t afford to choose a new child by looks alone, but I promised the girl that when the time came to give her kittens new homes, I’d be waiting.

Murphy's brothers & sisters

Murphy's mom, Cat 5, and her daughter Kitteh Fluff (a.k.a. Flurf)

A few weeks later I got a phone call. I’d just had all of my wisdom teeth out the day before, and was heavily drugged. The call was from two of my friends, roommates, who were on their way to choose kittens. Since everyone knew I was looking for something specific, I was to be given first dibs on the litter. All I had to do was get across town, my cheeks swollen like I was chewing softballs, my mind complete mush. Awesome.

A few hours later I sat in my new friend’s living room, surrounded by cats. I ended up sitting there for about five hours. It was a surreal experience, and not just because of the painkillers. I was watching kittens like my life depended on it, rating their actions in my hazy little mental scorecard. My friends humored me, sitting, watching, waiting, drinking beers. Of the four kittens in Chicago (one had remained behind in Texas), there were two males and two females. The long-haired female, the sweetest, silliest ball of fluff, was to stay with her owner. She and her mother are still as thick as thieves, or so I’ve been told. Of the others, there was The Black One, a mostly-orange male tabby named Tooken, and his sister, an orange and white tabby who was later renamed Saki (I can’t remember her original name). It was a very tough decision, but as I watched the kittens play it became obvious that Tooken was the alpha of the litter. Saki deferred to him, and hung tight to his side. The Black One wandered happily about, attacking the broom, crawling inside of a wicker table, jumping on his siblings, and getting bathed often by everyone. It was clear that he was the baby, and he loved it. He looked high maintenance, though. I was gravitating toward Tooken, even though he wouldn’t be the best choice for Isabel. It was a moment of drugged weakness. Luckily, I came to my senses when Tooken climbed up the back of the television. With The Man having just bought a new flat screen beauty a few weeks earlier, I realized the orange tabby was not the most intelligent pick.

And so that’s how I made one of the best decisions of my life, and came to carry a sleepy, utterly calm brown tabby kitten home that night. The Man greeted me at the door (I have no clue why he wasn’t in attendance for the choosing, but it’s probably best), and there was a brief moment where I was sure it was a mistake, he’d hate the new cat, Izzy would hate the new cat, it was all going to go awry…

Murphy still naps belly up, though he doesn't do it mid-play any more.

Then, wonder of wonders, I watched as The Man began to fall in love with a pet for the first time. Over the next day, I tried the method of introducing cats through a closed door, with the kitten in the bathroom and Isabel outside. He was very happy with the arrangement. She – not so much. Eventually he bounded out on accident, and when Izzy didn’t kill him immediately, I decided to let it slide and see what happened. The first few weeks were oddly sweet. The kitten, who became Murphy after taking a sip of my Guinness, trailed after Isabel constantly, despite her obvious disdain. She hissed, spit, and batted, but still he followed her around, looking like her pint-sized doppelganger. He made a habit of ambushing her from high places as she walked, and pouncing on her as she settled into her naps. He stole her toys. In general, he made such a cute little ass of himself that I’m inclined to think she couldn’t help but fall in love a little bit, herself.

Murphy wore Isabel down with good old fashioned love. This is about two weeks into their relationship, when she'd finally given up and let him nap beside her.

Isabel was orphaned as a very young kitten, and had never had this kind of relationship with another cat. When I walked in to find Murphy giving the perfectly relaxed Isabel a bath, I knew they would be just fine together.

One day I walked into the living room to find them giving each other mutual baths, and I knew that all would be well.  Now, Isabel and Murphy have been together for a little over two years. Once less than half her size, now she’s about half of his. At about 14 lbs., he’s a linebacker of a cat, with the sweetest, most lovable personality. He still tackles his sister once or twice a day, and their epic battles rage through the house, but they also nap together, take baths together, and generally pal around together like siblings should. They look so similar that people assume they’re from the same litter. Since Izzy prefers to remain out of the way and Murphy likes to come out and meet people, some folks that see both but never at the same time just assume it’s the same cat, moving around quickly. Of course it’s easy for me to tell them apart, as Isabel is petite and sharp, and Murphy is bulky and soft, but at night, it’s easiest for me to tell by their tails. Like the witch in “Hansel & Gretel”, I often find myself reaching out in the dark, running a hand down an encroaching cat’s back, and gently squeezing the tip of its tail. If it’s a calm, bony tail, waiting for me to ascertain its owner, it’s Isabel, come to curl up for the night. If it’s a thickly padded tail, twitching with impatience, it’s Murphy and he’s only come to tell me he needs more kibble.

True love - Munkey and The Man napping together a couple of years ago. He's too big to sleep on someone's neck now, but this basic scene still plays out most days at our house.

Murphy (a.k.a. Murph/Munky/The Munky/Munky-man) has always been The Man’s cat, even though I feed him, change his litter, take him to the vet, and give him belly rubs whenever he pleases. He likes me just fine, but he and The Man have bonded in a way I’ll never get to be part of. Their mutual love of napping during baseball games probably has something to do with it. He is a gentle cat, interested in simple pleasures – kibble, belly rubs, shoulder massages, tastes of coconut oil, naps on a velvet throw that we keep on the couch just for him. Like his mother, he can’t meow properly, instead squeaking or just opening his mouth and exhaling loudly when he’s perturbed. He can’t stand the idea of an empty bowl, and often lets me know that he’s going to be running out of food in a few hours. Even though he’s not a big eater, a bowl with less than several teaspoons of kibble is cause for complete red alert-style meltdowns, with much frantic squeaking, so I’ve learned to keep an eye out. He loves to knock the water bowl over in the night, as well, so I get woken up pretty often for that calamity.

He’s never been interested in toys, but he is scarily obsessed with straws. You can’t leave a cup with a straw in it alone for even a second if Murphy’s nearby, and he will be nearby because he has a 6th sense that only works to pinpoint a straw’s location in his domain. I’ve forgotten and walked away from a cup a couple of times, and come back to either a spilled drink with no straw, or just no straw if he’s been particularly clever. A few days ago I brought home a cup with a straw and he sat on the end of the couch, his eyes never leaving the straw for the entirety of my meal. I swear he didn’t even blink, just followed the cup’s journey to my face and back every time. His normally sweet, teddy-bearish face was taut with the kind of intense emotional hunger he only experiences when tubular plastic items are around. Once gifted with the desired object, he becomes a furry little madman, batting his prey about the house for ten minutes or so, then leaving it lifeless on the rug, perforated with tooth marks.

Well, there you have it – my weird little fur family, in a nutshell. I consider myself to be so blessed to have found a brother for Izzy who surpassed my expectations, and who has brought so much joy to our lives. The Man will never again say he doesn’t like animals (in fact, I often catch him telling others that he’s “more of a cat person”). My beautiful Isabel will never be a lonely, maladjusted orphan again. Over the last two years, she’s mellowed, become less inclined to bite, stopped using her claws when she plays or reaches out, and has even started being affectionate to The Man on occasion. As for me, there’s nothing like being woken up at 3am to clean a litter box again, or wondering what on earth could be making that weird noise, just to find it’s a by-product of crazy cat games. In other words, it’s the best.

My beautiful little man, all grown up.

Nighttime Rituals

 

It’s been a long day, and I’d like nothing more than to close my laptop, turn off the living room lamps, and head toward the bedroom. I worked hard today, and accomplished some great things: an important presentation and accompanying handout for my boss, 2 miles on the treadmill, another 45 minutes of spin class, and a full day of staying on track with my diet. I’m proud of myself. I’m ready to treat this tired body to a well-deserved rest period.

But first there are things to be done. There’s the requisite brushing of teeth, accompanied by a 15-minute facial peel (only on Mondays), followed by careful moisturizing. I also have to clean out the litter box while I’m in the bathroom. That completed, I also have to pour a new bowl of fresh, filtered water, not too hot and not too cold, for my eldest cat, making sure she gets the first sip. If the younger cat gets to the water bowl first, Isabel turns up her nose at it. Sometimes I pour her a glass of water and leave it on the counter for her to sip genteelly while her brother is getting his dram on the floor. Izzy’s fancy like that; Murphy – not so much.

Once the litter is cleaned, water has been delivered, and lights are out, we all go to the bedroom. I still can’t sleep, however. I have to play at least one game of Scrabble on my Kindle, and sometimes two. I play at the hardest setting, vs. the computer. The computer is aptly named AI (A-eye), but I call him Al (as in Pacino) instead. It’s more fun to mutter, “Screw you, Al!” when I lose, which is more often than not. Still, one can’t help but try.

The other day, I also picked up a free grid logic game for Kindle. I’m still not sure why it appealed to me, since I was horrible at them as a kid, and not all that great now, either. For the last few nights, I’ve been tasked with completing a grid puzzle, then moving on to Scrabble. Typically I’m dying for sleep by the end of the Scrabble game. I love my Kindle for its lack of back lighting, which makes it just as relaxing to your brain as reading a book, if only I were to read books on the thing more often.

You’d think that at this point, eyelids drooping, I’d take the hint and float off to dreamland. Not so much. Instead I must go to the bathroom one last time. Even if I don’t have to. It’s like going on road trips when you’re a kid, when your mom makes you go to the bathroom one last time “just in case.” So I pop into the bathroom again, which wakes up the cats, who until this point were settled in sweetly. Don’t let that sweet and sleepy ruse fool you, though. They’re nothing if not completely calculating and manipulative, and most of all they want TREATS. They want treats all the time, but I got into the ridiculous habit of giving them treats before bedtime, so it’s really all my fault that they demand crunchy snacks before they’ll leave me in peace. I’ve learned the hard way that if I go to bed without dispensing kitty crack, I will not actually be allowed to sleep. They wear tap shoes. Tap shoes with needle-y little spikes.

So. Treats are begrudgingly shaken out. Fights erupt and are broken up. Isabel inevitably gets a few more snacks in during the commotion, and Murphy sulks. I give him one extra when she isn’t looking. Then the water must be changed out again. Everyone purrs. Everyone drinks. I turn off the kitchen lights and race to the bedroom, jumping into bed and fumbling blindly to get the blankets arranged before Isabel arrives a few seconds later. She doesn’t like the blankets covering her, but refuses to move and complains mightily, so I have to make sure to get covered before she settles in. The blankets sorted, I snuggle down and close my eyes.

Light little footsteps at the right side of the bed, padding up toward my head. Whiskers play over my forehead as a nose snuffles in my hair. A tentative bite, fangs lightly grazing my scalp, and then a gargling sound as a mouthful of my hair is lightly shaken and pulled, then released. Done with whatever strange grooming she feels compelled to complete on her human, Isabel lightly settles for the night on my pillow.

Murphy does not arrive until a few minutes later – where does he go in those first moments? As I’m nodding off, I feel the bed shake slightly, then a heavy mass flop itself unceremoniously across my knees. Motorboat purring commences, accompanied by a g-r-a-d-u-a-l stretch and turn motion. He sleeps on his back, and always on a human heating pad. “How uncomfortable,” I think, “I should flip over and kick him off.”

Instead, like always, I fall asleep.