Friday, December 16, 2005

Tis the Season

‘Tis the Season

Lighting of community Christmas trees, carols in the mall, chestnuts roasting….

And Sethra is stealing ribbons again.

I am really lousy at gift-wrapping, so I buy as much pre-prepared Christmas packaging as possible—ready-tied stick-on bows, ready-to-assemble gift boxes, and stretchy-loop ribbons.

Sethra LOVES the stretchy-loop ribbons. For some reason, she is absolutely addicted to them. When I had them put away in a cardboard carton on the top shelf of the closet, she’d climb up the bookshelf, clamber onto the carton, fish one out, and carry her prize around the house till she’d finally gnawed it into pieces too small and insignificant to be worthy of being cat toys. And of course, once they are out on the desk, and wrapping begins, it’s open season on everything in the way of small decorations.

I have a bunch of packages of small stick-on bows that I got by mail order, and I put the box on my desk. I had another box on top of it, hoping to block attempted feline felonious abductions. When I came back into the office this evening, I found a trail of packets of bows in the living room and down the hall—fortunately, she hadn’t managed to open them.

Last Christmas, I was online when I suddenly noticed a suspicious silence from the cat. I looked over and saw that Sethra had a gold stretchy loop in her jaws. This really annoyed me, because the gold ones are MY favorites too—they go with every color of giftwrap—and it was the last one. So I grabbed for it and pulled.

Sethra pulled back.

I kept pulling.

She kept pulling, even as she began to slide backwards off the side of the desk as the loop stretched.

She pulled. I pulled. Finally, as she descended slowly down the side of the desk, she let go, and I triumphantly claimed the stretchy loop, more than a little the worse for wear.

Of course, she totally ignored the catnip toy I got her as a Christmas gift. What’s the fun in playing with something you are SUPPOSED to play with?

Gentle readers, what are you giving your cats for Christmas? Mine are getting this.

Words of Wisdom:

The motto of all the mongoose family is, ‘Run and find out.’ ---Rudyard Kipling

The motto of all the domestic cat family is ‘I’ll have what you’re having.’ –--Me

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and a happy, healthy, and successful New Year.
---Mole and Meezers

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Dreams of an Everyday Housecat

The Dreams of an Everyday Housecat

     The basic dream of every indoor cat is to become an outdoor cat.  I can remember Shadow-cat sitting for hours by the patio door, gazing out, obviously fantasizing about hunting small game—or possibly even large game, being an ambitious cat.  My two like to do the same, or to perch atop the bureau, gazing out the window, perhaps imagining that the swimming pool is actually a koi pond teeming with fat carp.

     But lately they have been doing something about it.

     Since the weather has turned cooler, the outdoors holds even more appeal for them.  For some reason they don’t try to go out the patio door—perhaps because free-roaming neighborhood cats have marked it for their own—but they’ve been making a dash for it out the front door whenever possible.   When I am trying to manage my cane, an armload of mail,  trash going out, or groceries coming in, they have both time and space to pop out the door before I can grab them.  They have even taken to tag-teaming me; Sethra dashes out; and when I grab her and open the door to pop her back in, Aliera pops out.

     But I have finally outwitted them.  Yes, I am proud to proclaim that I am smarter than two cats put together.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, they are fascinated with the bathroom; so all I have to do is to leave the door open and Sethra strolls in.  (Since Aliera perches atop a box by the front door when planning her dash for freedom, she’s easier to block; as long as Sethra is confined, I can manage her.)  I then close the door and go for the mail, groceries, trash, whatever.    It works perfectly, as long as I don’t grab a fluffy tail by mistake for the Charmin, and I remember to let her out again.

     Perhaps as a form of protest, Aliera has decided to live more or less permanently under my bed.  This is trickier than it sounds, because I have a captain’s bed, with drawers underneath, so there isn’t much space under there.  I don’t know how a full-grown cat fits—perhaps she just hangs out under the headboard.  I also have one of those SelectComfort inflatable Sleep Number mattresses, which means it rests directly on the board on top of the drawers, with no separate box spring.  This in turn means that it tends to slide sideways—I am a restless sleeper—leaving a cat-sized gap in the right-hand top corner.  When I look down there, I see this sweet little face peering out.  Every so often she emerges for refreshments, a petting session, and (I devoutly hope) a visit to the litter box.   Sethra occasionally drops by to poke her head and forepaws in to whop her sister a few times.

     I imagine that she lives a very active fantasy life down there.  Perhaps she imagines she’s a cloistered nun—a Little Sister of St. Bast Beneath-the-Bed—praying devoutly for world peace and fresh tuna.  Perhaps she sees herself as someone more adventurous, from a Dumas novel—the Cat in the Iron Mask, or even the Cat of Monte Cristo—to emerge one day (when it’s warmer) to get revenge on all her foes (i.e., Sethra and me).

     As for Sethra, I don’t think she has that much imagination, being the bimbo cat.  And the only reading matter I plan to provide for her is a manual on Proper Tail Maintenance for Fluffy Cats.


Thursday, November 17, 2005

So Much for Folk Wisdom; or, Aesop Was a Lackey of the Imperialists

(Proving to Bruce that I can too write something literary)

One of the books I remember reading over and over in my early childhood was Aesop's Fables. I remember the pictures, and the little stories; but I'm a bit weaker on the moral lessons.

Which may be just as well.

On looking at some of them again recently, I begin to wonder about the morality of some of these little life lessons.

Take the best known of the tales, "The Fox and the Grapes" , of which the moral is " It is easy to despise what you cannot get." As a five-year-old, I bought it; but as an adult, I've come to agree with the fox. What's wrong with convincing yourself you don't really want something you can't get? Of course, you should be sure that it is in fact inaccessible, and not just hard to come by, or unfairly forbidden to you because of your race, gender, religion, previous condition of servitude, or whatever. For example, as a less-than-sylphlike sexagenarian with coordination and balance problems, it would be futile for me to yearn for a career as a prima ballerina with the Bolshoi Ballet. (Besides, I can't speak Russian.) But it would be quite reasonable for me to hope to write and sell a novel. The fox made a decent effort, found obtaining the grapes to be beyond his capacity, and very sensibly went off--probably to catch a fat rabbit.

The one fable I've always hated is "The Ass and the Lapdog," with its rather cruel moral, "To be satisfied with one's lot is better than to desire something which one is not fitted to receive." This version is rather different from the one in my childhood Aesop, as it emphasizes the ass's desire for a life of ease. In my book, the ass was contrasting the affection and petting received by the lapdog with the blows and curses he received despite his hard work. I've always thought it unfair; certainly it was ridiculous for the ass to behave like a lapdog, but Aesop seems quite comfortable with the idea that no matter how hard-working and well-behaved the ass is, he can't hope for treats and petting. (Imagine how jealous he would have been if his master had had a cat instead of a lapdog!)

These fables have in common the theme of accepting one's lot in life, with the ass being condemned for aspiring to something better and the fox for not accepting that it was his own fault he couldn't get it, apparently. I wonder if this attitude derives from the fact that Aesop was a slave, and may well have been telling his stories to other slaves. Like the comments of Paul addressed to slaves in the Epistles, the moral seems to be "shut up and don't make waves." (I think both Nietzsche and Shaw criticized Christianity as a slave morality.)

Contrast this with another childhood favorite, the Uncle Remus stories of Joel Chandler Harris, which were ultimately derived from African folktales told by slaves in the South. The hero here is Br'er Rabbit, the trickster, who manages to outwit the powerful predator figures, Br'er Fox and Br'er Wolf, every time. The stories are comic, but the message is subversive. Uncle Remus has been criticized by modern Black Studies scholars as an Uncle Tom, and of course the Disney version made the whole thing terminally cute; but I think if I had the misfortune to be a slave, I'd rather listen to Uncle Remus's stories than to Aesop's.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Life in a Cat House

1. Everything--and I do mean EVERYTHING--is covered in soft fluffy fur--including your toothbrush.

And your teeth.

2. At four thirty a.m., you become a playing field for cat rugby. They hurtle down onto you from a great height (the top of the bureau).

3. A love triangle is you, a sausage biscuit, and a cat.

4. You can't so much as get a cold drink in the kitchen without being assaulted by a plump creature crying piteously that she hasn't been fed since 1893.

5. The bras you've tossed into the laundry basket get reclassified as cat toys and dragged into the middle of the living room.

6. You keep a spray bottle in every room for disciplinary purposes.

7. If you make the mistake of leaving the bathroom door open, you come back to chaos and a cat curled on the rug with an innocent smile on its sweet little face.

8. Your favorite comfy chair is usually pre-empted.

9. Flowers? Fergeddaboudit.

10. That lump in the bed that wakes you up when you roll over onto it is a cat toy.

11. You wake up to find something soft and warm and loving snuggled against you.

12. When you try to get up, it bites.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

My Sister, My Dominatrix

My cats are sisters, so therefore should be about equal in dominance, right? It's true that Aliera was the runt of the litter, but that doesn't necessarily prove anything. When Hilde and I adopted sisters Bastet and Lilith, Lilith was the runt of the litter; in fact, we had to wait to get her till the next day because she'd only just gotten big enough to be neutered. When the lady from the adoption group brought her to us, she said the kitten would be groggy for a while, not to feed her, and not to disturb or excite her, just let her sleep.

She forgot to tell Lilith. The cat lady had barely gotten out the door before Lilith was climbing to the top of the cage (a five-foot cube we use when new cats are introduced) and yowling for attention. When food was put in the cage, she growled her sister away from the dish and ate it all. And she was super-cuddly and affectionate and curious.

I can't recall any contentions between them; they were more likely to cuddle up together, or take turns chasing each other down the hall. Probably part of this was because once they were out of the cage, which was all the time except feeding time once the adult cats had accepted their presence, Bastet spent her time in Hilde's room at night, Lilith in mine. The cage was only so that they could be fed there, and the grown cats couldn't snarf up the kitten food, which they preferred to their own.

Aliera, perhaps as a result of her runthood, is the feistier sister--very ready with teeth and claws. She is the one who usually tackles Sethra, and Sethra usually runs off. But if I put down a single dish of food, Sethra will hog it, even if it's big enough for two cats to eat simultaneously (as when I put down a steak bone). It may be simply that Aliera is less food-oriented; on Cat Food Nights, she usually leaves more than half of her portion, which Sethra is happy to finish. And she still hasn't figured out how to eat a treat: she just stares at it for a while, sniffs it, licks it--and at this point, Sethra appears and eats it.

I don't know enough about the significance of grooming behavior to interpret it; I do know that in some species, being groomed signifies dominance, while in others, it is grooming another. Mine tend to indulge in simultaneous pugnacious face-washing and other mutual grooming, which makes it hard to tell anyway, and explains why it is Aliera who gets the hairballs even though it is Sethra who is the fluffy cat.

In playing with toys, it is Sethra who is the more active and aggressive. She will not share the feather toy or the toy-on-a-stick, and she will play toss-and-fetch all night if I would cooperate.

On the whole, then, it would appear that Sethra is the dominant cat, even though Aliera is actually larger and heavier. (Sethra looks like more than a match for her because she is so fluffy.) I don't know what if anything it signifies, but Aliera is the one more likely to be friendly with neighbors and strangers and tries the hardest to get out the door. But she is the most aggressive in paw-to-paw combat, too. So the actual dominance situation between them remains a mystery.

When I awoke this morning, they were curled up in a ball together on the foot of my bed, snoozing happily.

Peace, it's wonderful.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Cat Chess and Other Gamesmanship

It's proverbial that whenever you get two Greeks together, you have three political parties. I don't know if that's true, but it's certainly true that whenever you get two or more cats together, you have some sort of contention for dominance. Cat Chess, a careful mix of positioning and staring, was first described in Terry Pratchett's The Unadulterated Cat, and Diane Duane gave accounts of a few games in her fantasy novels The Book of Night with Moon and To Visit the Queen (UK title: On Her Majesty's Wizardly Service). The rules are even available online.

When the cats actually live together, it can get complicated--and hairy, in every sense of the word. When I first went to stay with my friends next door, there were five cats in residence: Jo's cats--Ewas, a tiny, elderly, disabled Cornish Rex female; and Jasper, a magnificent male Bengal in his prime. Hilde and Bruce's cats--Tia and Gremlin; Kay's cat: Shadow-cat, The Most Dangerous Cat in Glendale (so called by me for his talent for blending into shadows and dark carpets and tripping one up at night; he is a dark charcoal gray).

At the time Ewas was the undisputed queen of the household. Jasper was her courtier and champion--not her mate, but her devoted attendant. He was very people-averse, and the only reason he later became attached to me was that Ewas sat on me all the time (the only available lap) and he hung around her. Jasper was the dominant male. Gremlin was a young male attempting to assert his dominance; Shadow was just emerging from catolescence; and Tia was of course a wimp.

Gremlin was the cause of most of the uproar, as he kept challenging the others (except Ewas; he wouldn't dare). He would tackle Tia whenever she emerged from her closet, whereupon she would hide under the nearest piece of furniture that had room for her, with her usual distressed-damsel cries of "Help! They're tying me to the railroad track again!" When he tackled Shadow, they'd usually roll around on the carpet for a while, with the battle ending in a draw.

Sometimes he'd jump Jasper. If Jasper felt like playing, they'd roll around until he tired of the game. But if he didn't feel like playing, he'd just stand there, with Gremlin trying ineffectually to wrestle him to the ground. But Jasper was too big, and too stable.

Jasper was a rather weird cat, but I liked him best of all of them. Sometimes when he felt like asserting dominance, he'd mount Shadow, who would just lie there with a disgusted look on his face until Jasper walked away. Then Shadow would do something to assert his machismo, like jumping up onto a forbidden counter.

Jasper would also wander around the house wailing for most of the night for some unknown reason. And he had an endearing habit of sleeping on his back in the middle of the living room rug, with his paws curled in the sea-otter position.

Things have changed next door. Jo has moved out, taking Ewas and Jasper with her. Ewas has had to be put to sleep. Bastet, sister to my lovely lost Lilith, has been added to the mix and is now top cat, rivaled only by Cassie, Kay's new cat. Her kitten Jakk was a member of the family briefly but has now found a new home of his own. (Cassie got into contention for top cat when she first arrived, even though she is small and younger than the rest, because at the time she was the only one not yet declawed. Also, she had been living feral for a while and was a pretty tough cookie with other cats, though loving and gentle with people.)

The next installment will deal with my two.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Why you sometimes want to beat your little darlings to death with a stick

I was in the cats' office, making everything nice. As they sat there, side by side, watching me, I made sure that the water and kibble dispensers were full. And then I went to change the litterbox.

And they sat there side by side, watching me.

This is a chore that no one enjoys; it is the major downside of having cats. I have one of those automatic LitterMaid© boxes, so that I only have to change the disposable plastic liner every four or five days, and it's the work of a few minutes. I still hate it, because I have bad arthritis in my knees--but anything for my beloved pets. I changed the liner, and spent some time getting the amount of litter exactly right; too much, and the automatic sensor keeps going off, so the rake keeps on raking. Too little, and it doesn't provide sufficient comfort for their little behinds.

And they sat there side by side, watching me.

Then I turned to get the Renuzit spray for the carpet, so they wouldn't be tempted to crap on the rug.

And when I turned back, Aliera had crapped on the rug.

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Cat's Meow

...isn't the half of it; cats make all sorts of weird sounds. Gremlin, the Siamese bastard, has the true Siamese rusty-gate yowl, and no inhibitions about expressing his opinions. He adores Bruce and always runs to greet him when he comes home after work. Sometimes Bruce, who is a mail carrier, is so hot and sweaty and tired that he just wants to jump into the shower, so he goes into the bedroom and closes the door. Gremlin hurls himself at the door, yowling loud enough to be heard in Flagstaff. In fact, they had to put a new doorknob on the bedroom door because he learned how to open the old one.

The breeder of Siamese and Balinese cats whose cat chat list I belong to told of a neighbor two miles away who called on her, concerned because he'd heard a woman screaming at her place. Turns out it was her Balinese stud, Hairy Houdini, serenading the ladies in heat....

Sethra, half meezer, has a demanding cry, too short-lived to be called a yowl. She usually utters it while standing on me when I'm in bed, trying to read or sleep, and she wants me to throw her feather toy so she can fetch it. (A lot of people talk about how they've taught their cat to fetch--don't believe it. The truth of the matter is that the cat has taught its person how to toss. The proof: who gets to decide when the game is over?)

She and Aliera both yowl (and try to climb my legs) in the kitchen when they think there's a chance that it's Cat Food Night or that the corners of a slice of cheese are on offer. Cat Food Night happens about twice a week, when I split one of those foil packets of gourmet cat food between them. They have an automatic kibble dispenser for the rest of the time.

I told my British friend Catherine that I was going to put a sign on the door of the cats' office saying "GOURMET CAT FOOD IS NOT AN ENTITLEMENT." She remarked that the next day I'd probably find a little sign under it saying "WHY NOT?" I wouldn't put it past them.

None of the other cats makes particularly interesting noises, with one exception. (They purr, but I can't hear it; don't know if it's because of their too, too solid flesh, or if it's just my hearing loss.) Aliera, well, Aliera...beeps.

That's right. She usually greets me with a little trilling sound (all cat owners know what that is), but when feeling conversational, she makes a little beeping noise.

Do you suppose there's a twelve-step program for meezers who beep? "My name is Aliera, and I'm a beepaholic. It all started when I was a kitten....."

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

My Cat Sucks--I Mean Really Sucks!

My cat Sethra, like many other cats, has a habit of sucking on fabric--the fuzzier the better, while "making bread"--flexing her claws. This is a mimicking of the nursing behavior of kittens and usually signifies that the cat was weaned too early. (I don't know why this should be true of Sethra but not Aliera, especially since Aliera was the runt of the litter.) It can be endearing, but it can also be very wet. And it's really hard on the wardrobe and bedding.

What made it worse with Sethra is that her preferred position was on my chest or my shoulder, sucking on my nightgown and planting her paws on my face. This was the primary reason I decided to have my cats declawed--I was afraid she'd get me in the eye one night. She was really determined about this: when I tried moving her paws off my face, she simply put them back.

Does anyone out there know how to cure this behavior? The only advice I've ever gotten is "they grow out of it." Unfortunately, nobody has told Sethra this.

She still does the sucking thing, but no longer puts her paws on my face. Unfortunately, she has learned recreational biting from Aliera.

Monday, October 03, 2005


So this is a blog

Everyone else I know seems to have one, so why not me? Or possibly I?

According to my friend and neighbor Bruce, who introduced me to the wonderful world of blogging, "It's not a blog unless you post pictures of your cats."

According to romance novelist and blogger extraordinaire Jennifer Crusie, in advice given to romance novelist and novice blogger Jayne Ann Krentz, to blog really well. you need
a victim. (Jenny has a guy named Bob.)

So, in the spirit of synthesis, I'm going to make my cats my blogging victims. (I'll also post pics, once I learn how.)

I have two cats, sisters (or possibly half-sisters; they don't look much alike and I think their mother got around), half Siamese ("meezer") and half passersby. Sethra is the fluffy one who gives this blog its title: she is a typical romance heroine--beautiful, intrepid, and thick as two planks. She is also known as Fluffbucket, Fluff, Seth, and GET DOWN FROM THERE!

Her sister Aliera (the names are from Steven Brust's Dragaera novels, which I highly recommend) is also known as TubeCat (because she is round, firm, and fully packed), "you rotten meezer," and STOP BITING! Both were very pale at birth but have darkened with age (they are now about two years old) to a sort of cappuccino color. Sethra has Siamese/Ragdoll-type markings--black mask, ears, tail, and legs, but with a white nose and feet. Aliera is stripey, with white spats. And sharp teeth. Many, many teeth.

I adopted them as kittens from a local rescue organization, after the tragic death of my first kitten, Lilith. I will probably write about her later; she was my first very own cat, and she was perfect.

Before I moved to my present house, I was staying for some time with my best friend Hilde (wife to Bruce the blogger) and their other housemates, who had a total of five cats for starters. Some have left (along with a housemate) and more have been added: their household now includes Tia (the wimp), Gremlin (the bastard lilac-point Siamese), Bastet (who looks like a better-groomed version of Steinlen's Le chat noir poster), Shadow (The Most Dangerous Cat in Glendale), and Cassie, the unwed mother. If I ever run out of material about my two, I'm sure they will provide me with more. If Bruce doesn't use it first.

Well, this is just to get me started. More to come eventually.