Wednesday, January 7, 2015
I’d like to tell you about a heartwarming friendship between two cats. It began six years ago, when we adopted Carl, our little brown tabby.
Carl was a kitten, maybe three months old at the end of 2008. He showed up one cold December day in the company of our neighbor DeVante, who was about 10 back then. They’d met up in the street somewhere and had spent the day together. Carl was the cutest kitten I’d ever seen—round-headed and upbeat and ridiculously cute. He had such sparkle, such star power, I kept saying he reminded me of Shirley Temple. We all thought he was a girl, and DeVante was calling him Daisy, which was a fine name, I thought, for such an innocent, sunny little being.
When DeVante went home that day, “Daisy” followed him. But when night fell, the kitten came back—alone—and cried at the door. Rob and I weren’t really in the market for a new pet in those days because our beloved cat Pittle was sick and dying and we were trying to nurse her . . . but we let the kitten in anyway, even though we were too sad to really enjoy any kitten antics.
About a year before that night, we had adopted another stray kitten, a temperamental tortie we named Buntin. Buntin was needy. Buntin was easily offended. She was lonely and had no cat friends because she growled and hissed and charged at everyone she ever met.
Enter Carl. (We soon discovered he was a boy and changed his name.) Carl didn’t care if Buntin growled and hissed. No, it was music to his ears. He was fascinated by her and followed her everywhere. Even though we had four other cats, he chose her for his attentions. He’d roll around and try to look extra cute for her, making bunny paws and puppy eyes. He persisted, until finally he began to get results.
Buntin and Carl became friends around the kitchen table. Buntin would sit on top of the table, and Carl would run around on the bench below and bat at her. Then Buntin would start running and batting too. It was the funnest game, and they would play it every day for hours. Next they started chasing each other around the house, and wrestling in the bathtub. But what Buntin—loving, insecure, lonely Buntin—really wanted to do was lick and groom Carl. She wanted to baby him and take care of him—and she’d feel very betrayed if she was licking him and he tried to start wrestling and having fun. She’d run off in a huff and pout.
But Carl didn’t mind. As Rob would say, “Carl understands that’s just Buntin being Buntin.”
Carl never took offense when Buntin was moody, when she got mad at him for no good reason. When she was jealous. Impatient. When she lashed out.
And so these two cats remain best friends to this day. It’s always the same between them. Buntin will sit and lick Carl and tend to him, shower him with affection, but then somehow she’ll get her feelings hurt and run away, hissing. And Carl will have to win her heart all over again. He’ll have to roll around and make his best bunny paws.
It’s always so mysterious—the beginning of things. Where did Carl come from? And how did he find us just when we needed him most?
Monday, December 15, 2014
This weekend we finally painted the front bedroom. It went from shabby white to a pleasant pale gold color called "Straw."
The hardest part of painting was getting ready to paint. It took us three hours just to empty out the bedroom, a project we finished at about 9:30 on Friday night. A lot of our furniture is really big and heavy--way too heavy to lift--so we had to slide it into the living room (our designated storage spot) on towels. Gradually the living room became a crazy jumble of chests, tables, chairs, lamps, picture books, and miscellaneous decorations. In the end it was packed to the gills and we had to leave a bunch of stuff in the hall. We spent the night on the hide-a-bed in the Little House because our usual bed was in pieces and the mattress was lying on its side against the front door.
It's always fun to spend the night in the Little House because it kind of feels like camping . . . or sleeping in a playhouse. (The "Little House" is what we call the old detached kitchen in the backyard.) We made popcorn and watched Parks and Recreation on Netflix. The cats loved the hide-a-bed . . . because what's not to love, if you're a cat, about a surprising, instant bed in a room that's usually sadly bereft of cuddle spots?
We painted pretty much all day on Saturday. We listened to Serial while we worked so we wouldn't have to try to make conversation. Rob started up Serial after I said, "So, um, do you like painting?" He really didn't need to do this. I had lots of other great conversation starters in mind. I'd planned to ask him what his favorite part of painting was. Then I was going to ask him about his least favorite. Then I was probably going to start singing.
I'm happy to report that we finished all our painting (including touch-ups with an artist's brush) in a single day. We even got all the furniture back into place on Saturday night. We celebrated with more popcorn and more Parks and Recreation, and then all day on Sunday we stood around admiring our new golden room.
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Last weekend Rob and I bought three rugs--one for the back bedroom, one for the dining room, and one for the back hall. I was really excited. We've wanted rugs for a long time, but we've put off buying them because we have a lot of cats that might like to scratch them--or throw up on them. I don't know what made us change our minds. We've still got the same ridiculous number of cats . . . though the other day I needed a white elephant gift for my office Christmas party and I did briefly consider using Elroy and Leroy.
The cats, of course, have been very interested in the rugs. They were especially intrigued on Saturday, the day these new items arrived in the house. Some of the cats had never experienced sitting on a rug before--and they obviously found it very luxurious. Fifteen minutes after installation, each rug had attracted at least three sitters.
"Look at these dummies," Rob said, smiling. "They're sitting on the rugs like it's something to do."
On Saturday night June spent a good half hour chasing her tail on the rug in the hall. Rob was charmed, in spite of himself.
"Oh, Junie," he said, "that's great. You're so happy, aren't you? You're so playful. Usually you chase your tail in the bathtub, but it's even more fun on a nice new rug, isn't it?"
June said yes indeed, it was. Oh, well. Even if our rugs don't last, at least our cats will have some sweet memories. Rugs are kind of expensive, but cats' memories--those are priceless.
Friday, December 5, 2014
Last Saturday Rob and I put up our Christmas tree, and I was reunited, once again, with all my funny, dear decorations--the dapper, pipe-smoking fox, the misunderstood Bumble, the dancing hippo in a pink tutu. . . . Most all of my ornaments have faces. They're basically stuffed animals with hangers.
"I can't help it," I said to Rob as I hung a small, kimono-clad bear on a glittering branch. "I still love toys. I never grew out of them, I guess." I smiled: "I know it's nothing to brag about."
I'm fond of dolls and teddy bears, stuffed pigs, stuffed cats, stuffed anything. I'm a sucker for their kindly expressions, and it's hard for me not to feel sorry for them, not to believe that they're "real."
Rob's niece Amanda told him some years ago, when she was in second or third grade, "In Heaven, you get to be whatever age you want."
"Ah, I like that," I said to Rob when he told me about their conversation. "If I'm lucky enough to get there, I think I'll be eight. Yep. Eight sounds about right for me."
Sunday, November 23, 2014
On Saturday I did some extremely early Christmas baking. I was too excited to wait until a more normal date to do it. I made Vegan Cherry Coconut Bars.
When I was a child, Christmas baking was an important ritual, an activity my mom and sisters and I anticipated all year. It was a bright spot in our lives--a beacon. See, our house was a spartan place with precious little in the way of sweets or treats or anything fun or pretty. It was my dad's idea to live this way.
Poor Mom and us kids chafed under his rule. We'd spend our time (when Dad wasn't around) gazing at Betty Crocker's Cooky Book and dog-eared, hand-me-down copies of Southern Living, dreaming about cakes and cookies and "pretty things." We were always full of longing.
Dad controlled the money (he controlled everything), but Mom was sneaky. She'd save up her birthday money from Grandma and change she found on Dad's dresser, and in early December we'd sneak over to Pantry Pride and load up the buggy with powdered sugar and brown sugar, chocolate chips, candied cherries, coconut, marshmallow fluff, sweetened condensed milk, and other such marvelous luxuries. We'd hide our ingredients here and there about the house--under the beds, in dresser drawers. . . . And then one day when Dad wasn't home, we'd do all our baking in a mad, giddy frenzy. We'd laugh and laugh and make a huge mess, but all evidence of our activity would be cleaned up and hidden before Dad returned. Mom would pack up the fudge and toffee and sugar cookies in old coffee cans and Cool Whip tubs and squirrel them away in ingenious spots where Dad would never find them, and as the days of Advent slipped by, we'd delight in our secret riches. My sister Kris and I would dine upon fudge in our closet.
Anyway, Christmas baking is still dear to me, though it's no longer a clandestine activity.
I believe in celebrating. Sugar may be bad for the teeth, but it's good for the soul.
Vegan Cherry Coconut Bars
2 cups flour
6 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 cup softened vegan butter
3 teaspoons Ener-G egg replacer
4 tablespoons water
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped maraschino cherries
1/2 cup coconut
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Make the crust first. Add the flour, powdered sugar, and butter to a large bowl. Using your hands, mix until smooth. Press the dough into the bottom of an 8x8" square baking pan pan. Bake for 25 minutes.
Next, make the topping. Prepare the "egg" by adding the egg replacer and water to a medium-sized bowl and whisking until frothy. Add the rest of the ingredients to the "egg" and mix.
When the crust is done baking, pour the topping over it and bake again for 25 minutes. Let cool and cut into bars.
Sunday, November 16, 2014
“It’s like having a very demanding parrot,” Rob remarked the other day with a smile.
“It is!” I said, and I ran and got the bag of treats, hoping to quiet Josie down.
After I fed Josie her treats (which she nibbled from among the couch cushions), I went and sat at my desk and tried to do some work. Rob was sitting at his desk, working too.
After about 10 minutes, Josie squawked again. I fed her a few more treats, then returned to my desk.
After another five minutes, she squawked one more time.
“So, do you like having a pet parrot?” I asked Rob.
“No,” Rob smiled. “It sucks.”
But we both went over and gave Josie her third round of treats and petted her silky old head. Then Rob tried to get her to settle down. He carried her over to her twin sister, Foxy (or “Foo”), who was sleeping nearby on a blanket. “Now, Josie, why don’t you cuddle with your little Foo sister?” he said. “Foo says there’s a lot of cuddling to do. She needs you to help out, okay?”
And Foxy started licking Josie’s head and kept licking it until Josie fell asleep.
Josie, right, and Foxy in their babyhood
Today, with new cuddle pal Becky. Please excuse all the cat fur on the blanket.
Monday, November 10, 2014
Lately I've made a little project of adding some finishing touches to the back bedroom. I've been scouring eBay for vintage solid-brass switch plates, curlicue picture frames, and Roseville and McCoy pottery in blues and greens. Boxes have been arriving on our doorstep, and I've been saying to Rob, sheepishly, "Don't worry. I got a really good deal. . . ."
Well, on Saturday I finally opened all the boxes, arranged the various new bowls and vases, and screwed the switch plates into place. Then I cleaned the room from top to bottom. I dusted and polished and swept and tossed out dustpans full of cat fur, and when I was done I just stood there at the foot of the bed, for a long time, admiring my work.
It's funny how much it means to me to make a little place of peace and beauty in the world. When I was a child I always had a fort in our backyard (I called it my "cottage"), and I would thatch the roof with fragrant cedar and fill the dim interior with bits of carpet I'd find on trash piles. My sister Kris and I furnished the place quite elaborately--with doll-sized beds we built ourselves (for our teddy bears) and shelves full of the sea shells and sand dollars we used for dishes. In the living room sat a little couch whose cushion was a burlap bag stuffed with fresh pine needles, and Boo, our cat, liked to doze on it. Kris and I would sit beside Boo in our small but tidy quarters and chat with her and do word searches or maybe some stitchery as the cicadas buzzed and the hours drifted by.
My new cottage is a lot nicer than my old one--that's true--but I haven't changed. My main ambition is still the same--to make a pleasant, safe place where I can sit with a cat or two.
June and I sat in the bedroom on Saturday night.
"I did a pretty good job choosing everything, didn't I, June?" I said, fishing for compliments in my usual way. "Do you like the decorations I chose?"
June was happily kneading a pillow. She definitely approved of the pillow.
Thursday, October 30, 2014
Saturday, October 25, 2014
On Thursday Mom had a pumpkin-carving party and she gave me these adorable felt ornaments she made. Whenever you go to Mom's house she always gives you something: old newspapers to use as garden mulch, maybe, or an interesting catalog she got in the mail. This time, she gave me these tiny handmade decorations--a jack o'lantern, a cat, a ghost, a bat, a witch, and some sweet little monsters.
All the guests at the party (Bunny, Kris, Sophie, and me) were exclaiming over them.
"Aww, they're so cute," Sophie said (in her scarecrow costume and new blue braces).
"Look at the little cat!" Bunny cried. "She's got so much personality!"
"Each one is a little character!" I said. "I just love their expressions--they're so . . . expressive!" (I always say something dumb.)
Mom didn't think the ornaments were any big deal. She gave them to me in the exact same way that she'd give me some old newspapers. "Oh, and here are your ornaments," she said after we'd carved our pumpkins and eaten hot soup and cobbler and were about to head home.
But I was really enchanted by them. I can't believe Mom can still sew so well even though she had a stroke and went blind in one eye last year. She'd be embarrassed and pretty mad if I ever said anything "sappy" to her (and so I won't), but I can say what I want to here (she's not a blog reader): My mom is an amazing person and I will always treasure these special gifts.
Saturday, October 18, 2014
Last night I made Vegan Orange Coconut Muffins, flavored with a little orange extract.
Whenever I bake, something always goes wrong--maybe not horribly wrong but at least slightly wrong. Last night was no exception. I ended up spilling pretty much an entire bottle of orange extract on the floor. I had to drive to Winn-Dixie to get another, which was kind of a pain, but I must admit, now that I've safely returned from Winn-Dixie, that the mishap had its upside: The kitchen smelled delicious.
While the muffins were baking, I did some peaceful, easy little chores, like winding the clocks and brushing our very large, ball-shaped cat, Leroy, whom Rob has recently taken to calling "Mr. Hunky."
"Just relax, Mr. Hunky," I was saying.
When the muffins were done, I ate one in the living room while watching an episode of The Rockford Files in my pajamas.
Rob likes to make fun of how lame I am. Last night he got home around 10 and I told him about my evening: "I ate a muffin and watched Rockford with a bunch of cats," I said as we stood in the curiously orangey-smelling kitchen.
Rob grinned and replied, "Now that's partying Leslie-style!"
Vegan Orange Coconut Muffins
11/2 teaspoons egg replacer
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup melted vegan butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup orange juice
1/3 cup almond milk
1 teaspoon orange extract
11/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
11/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup coconut
1/3 cup canned mandarin orange sections, chopped small
2 tablespoons melted vegan butter
3 tablespoons sugar
In a small bowl, beat together the egg replacer and water until foamy. Add the "egg" to a large bowl. Add the butter and sugar and mix. Add the orange juice and almond milk and mix again.
In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just blended. Gently fold in the coconut and mandarin oranges.
Pour into a lined muffin tin and bake at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes or until slightly browned on top.
When the muffins have cooled, dip the tops in melted butter and roll in sugar.