A … her name was Alice — June 10, 2020

A … her name was Alice

93004098_227775398576073_309184473616875520_nAlice, the youngest member of my cat army, died two weeks ago.

She was a kitten when she showed up on my front porch in spring 2010. She was black and white in color, long-haired, and beautiful. She wore a flea collar, so I kept her in my garage while I looked for her humans. I asked around, ran an ad in the paper, and rolled my eyes when friends and family predicted that I’d keep her.

Truth be told, though, I was relieved when nobody claimed her.

She moved into the main house and I named her Alice Aurora in honor of Alice Horton, the “Days of Our Lives” matriarch who had recently died on screen, and Aurora Greenway, the strong-willed character from “Terms of Endearment.”

Alice settled into the household, but she never bonded with her feline siblings. Although I encouraged her to form an alliance with her canine sister, the lovely and talented, Mia Frances, that relationship never came to fruition, either.

Instead, Alice kept to herself. Like most cats, she slept approximately 23 and a half hours a day. She was as soft as a pillow, stood low to the ground and didn’t have much of a vertical leap. When she was younger, I started noticing that my bedroom light was on every evening when I arrived home. I couldn’t figure out why that was happening until I saw her jumping on the bed and swatting the ceiling fan cords. She had madder hops than I had thought.

She also enjoyed chewing strings. She chewed the strings on the shorts I’m currently wearing and once chewed through a bra strap. As recently as last month, I had to shoo her away from my pile of workout clothes. I think she was also drawn to the smell of sweat.

Unlike the rest of the cat army, Alice also enjoyed human food and would climb into the trash can and scavenge for scraps. I eventually tired of keeping the can behind closed doors and replaced it with a taller, lidded trash can. On the day of its arrival, she scurried to where the trash can sat, only to find the fancy new version. She turned and gave me a look that was tinged with sadness and disappointment.

Alice began her mornings by meowing until I emerged from the bedroom. After I’d break my fast with some hearty oatmeal, I’d put the bowl in the floor and she’d clean it for me. The last video I made of her showed her licking mashed potatoes from my dinner plate. (If you think this is gross, then perhaps you should BYOB – bring your own bowl – if you come for a meal.)

She also enjoyed cuddling with me before bedtime – and sometimes during the day — and lounging under the Christmas tree. Indeed, it seemed like I no more draped the skirt around the tree before she had settled underneath it.

Alice was afraid of thunder storms, but not of heavy winds, and acted shy around most humans. On occasion, her eyes made her look evil, but she was the sanest member of my cat army and rarely caused me concern. Well, there was the day she sneaked out of the door to the garage and then through the open garage door. That was during Memorial Day weekend 2016. She died during Memorial Day weekend 2020. I’m so grateful a neighbor helped me find her four years ago – she was hiding under a house – and that I was able to enjoy hundreds more breakfasts and thousands more cuddles with her.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Common ground — June 3, 2020

Common ground

As I finished a recent work day, I noticed that something in the back yard had captured the attention of Cady, the leader of my cat army. With wide eyes, she paced at the French door, moving her head to follow the action. From the way she was acting, I knew that whatever had captured her attention had to be more exciting than a bird or a bug.

So, I joined her at the door, hoping I wouldn’t spy a snake.

I didn’t.

96772544_188395462296916_5362753069807304704_nBut I did find a small critter sitting on the back step like it had a clear deed for the property. I grabbed my phone and took photos and shot videos of the critter, which was nibbling on the remnants of a raspberry. (Don’t ask.) I then shared the evidence with others and asked them to identify the critter’s species.

My sisters and niece agreed that the critter was a ground squirrel, which made sense to me because whilst I recorded it enjoying its supper, I had said to myself, “Self, it looks like a miniature red-ish squirrel.”

Besides, I also recalled hearing my dad refer to scurrying critters as ground squirrels. Of course, I had never been up close and personal with those critters.

Anyway, I posted the video to Facebook, where it proved to be one of my most popular posts of all time. However, several of the dozens of commenters called the cute little critter a chipmunk.

Huh. A quick search indicated that those little critters I had spied scurrying over lawns my entire life had not, in fact, been ground squirrels. That means that, unbeknownst to me, I had been in the presence of chipmunks for my aforementioned entire life.

Even as a wee lass, I was never a big fan of cartoons, but I made exceptions for certain shows including “Alvin and the Chipmunks.” So, I should be forgiven if the cartoon skewed my idea of what real-life chipmunks look like. For the record, I did not think chipmunks wore glasses, walked upright, and/or sang. Well, at least not all of them. But I did figure they were larger in size and had chubbier cheeks that the critter I spied on the on my step.

Regardless, after I studied various photos of chipmunks and ground squirrels, I came to the realization that I’ve probably never seen a ground squirrel scurrying across the lawn or anywhere for that matter.

I have, however, repeatedly seen my resident chipmunk, which continues to demand Cady’s attention. She frequently sprints from window to door to monitor its activities. Of course, I’m not sure if she spied it this morning as it relaxed in the shade like it had a clear deed for the property.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

That smell — April 1, 2020

That smell

A couple weeks ago, I walked into the kitchen and found Cady, the general of my cat army, staring at the stove as if she expected it to move. I’ve spent enough years with the cat army to realize this behavior typically means a vermin intruder has penetrated the perimeter, so I checked the previous points of entry. I didn’t see any evidence of vermin, though. What’s more, the rags I had stuffed inside holes remained there and my makeshift spackling jobs had held. Nonetheless, I moved the food from the pantry and to the oven, the refrigerator and the microwave.

We went on with our lives and, a few evenings later, I heard a scratching noise underneath the bathtub. The next evening, the cat army and I gathered around the wall between the bathroom and hallway and listened to what sounded like a rhinoceros crawling up the wall. A few nights later, I heard a ruckus that sounded like a crash of rhinos galloping throughout the house.

I didn’t want to interfere, so I returned to slumber. The next morning, I didn’t see evidence of foul play, so I assumed the cats had spent the night engaged in paw-to-paw combat with one another.

That brings us to last weekend. Whilst cleaning, I moved a box so that I could sweep. That’s when I spotted vermin droppings. They were few in number and concentrated in a small area near a corner.

I was perplexed.

I asked myself, “Self, why did the vermin only poo here? And how did it get in?” I returned to previous points of entry, but once again found nothing. But this time I also checked the cabinet above the stove, where I found a few droppings. That made sense because the cabinet was in the general location of the smell…

Oh, wait, I had forgotten to mention the smell that had been offending my nostrils for three or four days. I assumed it was coming from a rhino that had somehow lost its life in the wall behind the stove.

As I had no plans to tear down the wall, I also assumed I would have to live with the smell, which at times took my breath away. And not in a good way. Regardless, I went on with my life, cleaning the cabinet above the stove and stuffing old rags and spackle into holes.

After I cleaned my mess, I attempted to return the stove to his usual locale, but I quickly stopped, backed away from the stove and gasped. The smell overwhelmed me. Apparently, the offensive odor was coming from inside the stove. Specifically, from the top right corner of the back of the stove.

Whatever had died in there wasn’t going to get itself out, so I borrowed a tool from my neighbor and removed the stove’s back panel. When I saw a dead mouse staring at me, I backed away from the stove and gasped.

For moral support, I called to Cady, who quickly joined me in the kitchen. But she gave me a look that suggested she felt the cat army had done their job and now it was my turn.

So, I used napkins and a tool to dislodge the mouse. That’s when I noticed the trail of dried blood. I’ve watched dern-near every episode of “CSI,” so I reconstructed the scene. Apparently, the cat army had corned the mouse, which accounted for the droppings, and then chased it to its death, perhaps even fatally wounding it, on the night of the ruckus.

Either way, the cat army had done their job. So I showered them with praise and treats, and then we held a private service for the mouse.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Skirting the issue — December 4, 2019

Skirting the issue

78708555_427740308110462_7948906814651760640_nMy gently-used Christmas tree has a lovely new skirt. And, to think, it took me only four years to buy the tree skirt.

Well, the transaction didn’t take four years. But it did take four years for me to find a tree skirt I deemed worthy enough to play an important role in my holiday decor.

Of course, there wasn’t anything wrong with my previous tree skirt. It was winter white and featured a silver-and-gold Santa and snowperson as well as raised stars. Well, I don’t think it was genuine silver and gold, but as I didn’t have it appraised, I guess I’ll never know for sure. Anyway, I can still remember the day I bought it at the Supercenter. Feeling guilty for behaving so extravagantly, upon my return home I called my mom and asked if $12 had been too much to spend on a tree skirt.

She assured me that it wasn’t and, for the next 16 years, the tree skirt added a touch of grandeur to my household. But thanks in part to my cat army, the silver and gold had frayed and many of the stars had quietly disappeared.

So, four years ago, I started shopping for another tree skirt. But choosing one represented a huge commitment. After all, I would have to live with my decision one month a year for the ensuing decade or even longer.

Faced with that realization, I struggled to find a tree skirt that suited my fancies. Sure, I’d run across one I considered cute or even cozy, but then I’d focus on a feature such as fake fur or felt reindeer antlers and reconsider.

This year seemed like the right time, though. Indeed, I welcomed a hand-me-down tree into my household and it would have been gauche to drape an aging skirt underneath a gently-used tree.

As luck would have it, I spied a lovely tree skirt during an autumn visit to the home improvement store. The skirt, resplendent in Christmas red, featured the words “merry and bright” stitched on the front in white as well as white scalloped edging.

Of course, I didn’t buy it right then and there. I needed time to mull over my decision and make sure an even lovelier skirt didn’t reside in various and sundry stores or on websites.

When I failed to find lovelier décor, I scurried back to the home improvement store and bought the aforementioned tree skirt, which now decorates the floor underneath the tree.

In spite of its loveliness, I was worried that Alice, the youngest member of my cat army, would not care for the new tree skirt. So fond was she of its silver-and-gold predecessor that she seemingly took up residence on it before I placed it under the tree each year. My worries, however, were proven fruitless. Alice, who regards Christmas as the most wonderful time of the year, quickly settled onto the tree skirt as if it were an empty box or freshly-laundered clothes. What’s more, she and/or another member of my cat army has already deposited a fur ball on the lovely new tree skirt.

Yes, it’s officially part of the household.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

In a nutshell — October 16, 2019

In a nutshell

Last week, a Pittsburgh woman stopped at the library to return movies and detected a “burning” odor emanating from her car. Noting that the car had also been making a “weird” noise, she popped the car’s hood and discovered oodles of walnuts, as well as grass, nestled among her car’s innards.

It was later determined that more than 200 walnuts were under the hood. While it appears that no one thought to weigh the grass, it was also determined – or maybe just assumed – that enterprising squirrels had stored the walnuts and grass in the car. And they had done so in only a few days.

According to news reports, it took nearly an hour to rid the car of the nuts and grass. What’s more, when mechanics later removed the car’s protective plate, more nuts fell from underneath the engine. Luckily, the car suffered no damage.

The same can’t be said for the squirrels. What are they going to eat this winter? Apparently, they read and understood the moral of “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” Still, all their hard work went for naught.

Of course, I have to question the wisdom of selecting a car as a pantry. So many things could go wrong. What if the car’s owner moved or sold the car? What if you – an enterprising squirrel – became trapped under the hood whilst retrieving said nuts and ended up taking an unplanned trip? Or what if the nuts and grass caused some sort of non-damaging burning sensation that led to the removal of said nuts and grass?

The presence of the grass also makes me wonder if the squirrels planned to squat in the car during the winter. If so, it further proves that they did not put a lot of thought into this endeavor.

They also didn’t learn their lesson. They day after the 200-plus nuts were found, they stored more nuts in the car.

Although I admire the speed at which the squirrels worked, I once again must question their judgment. First of all, didn’t they immediately notice that their oodles of nuts were missing? Second of all, why didn’t that lead them to deduce that maybe they shouldn’t use that there car as a pantry?

Regardless, I feel bad for the squirrels. It’s similar to the feeling I have when I sweep away spiderwebs. Spiders go to all that trouble weaving those webs so they can catch unsuspecting insects and then it’s all gone in one or two swipes.

Then again, I guess I am saving the lives of unsuspecting insects. But what are the spiders going to eat?

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

A raccoon’s lifetime — August 21, 2019

A raccoon’s lifetime

Last week, police in a Florida town responded to a call at a school to find a raccoon trapped in a vending machine.

The photos that accompanied this breaking news, especially the one that showed the varmint with his/her head resting between bags of gummies, elicited an, “Ahh,” from me. And then I remembered that raccoons are disease-ridden, potential assassins.

Of course, it’s not that I dislike raccoons. In fact, as long as they’re not bothering me and mine, I mean them no ill will. After all, except for spreading rabies, roundworm, salmonella, and whatever giardiasis and leptospirosis are, I’m sure they also serve a positive purpose in the animal kingdom. But it’s been my experience that they’re not nearly as cuddly as they appear.

Then again, the only raccoon with whom I’ve been in close contact was in a cage. So, that could have accounted for the animal viciously baring its teeth and lunging toward me all the while snarling and hissing. This aggressive behavior convinced me that, if the raccoon were to break free, it would sink its sharp teeth and/or even sharper claws into my exposed jugular. (By the way, the animal was freed – far, far away from me – without injury to him/her or anyone else.)

This experience represents only one reason I’m apprehensive about raccoons. According to my late father, a raccoon slit the throat of one of his dogs. Now you know why I was so concerned for the safety of my jugular. (In an unrelated story, Daddy also told me about the time a fox bit the toe of another dog, which might or might not have belonged to my uncle. Yes, he used the word “toe.” And, yes, bad things apparently happened when the brothers Goff’s dogs encountered wild critters.)

As far as I know, the masked bandit who broke into the vending machine didn’t slit any throats, bite any toes, or give anyone rabies, roundworm, salmonella, and whatever giardiasis and leptospirosis are. Although none of the stories I read explained how the varmint gained access to the school or the vending machine, the reports did explain that authorities loaded the snack machine on a dolly, wheeled it outdoors, and released the animal on his/her own recognizance. I only hope he/she grabbed some Pop Tarts and potato chips for later.

See, I told you that I mean the disease-ridden, potential assassins no ill will.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Cuddle up — November 27, 2018

Cuddle up

It seems like every day we’re inundated with anti-feline propaganda. Sometimes this propaganda comes in the form of earth-shattering news alleging that cat poop is dangerous or that cats kill birds. Other times, it’s simply so-called friends and family members alleging that cats aren’t smart and that they can’t be trusted because they’re sneaky.

Lately, it also seems like my social media feed has been filled with folks talking a new kind of expletive about cats. Specifically, they’re alleging cats don’t like to cuddle.

I don’t want to pass judgment, especially on humans and felines I don’t know personally, but there’s no other way to say this. If your cat doesn’t want to cuddle with you, then there’s something wrong with you and/or your cat.

Indeed, I can barely compose this-here post because a snuggle-seeking cat will not leave me alone. At this very moment, she’s buried her head in the crook of my left arm. In case you’re wondering, that makes typing a tad difficult. I shan’t complain, though. After all, she’s so content that you can probably hear her purring.

Besides, I’m lucky that only one cat presently seeks my attention. At any given moment, three cats could be jockeying for position on my person. I’ve learned that I can fool them by hiding my hands. But if they so much as spot me scratching my head, they’ll wrap themselves around my finger.

That’s why I don’t understand humans who complain that their cats won’t cuddle. Sure, I’ll concede that if you try to force a cat to cuddle on human terms, you’ll probably lose a pint of blood and perhaps a couple digits. It’s best to let them make the first move.

Of course, you can take steps to hasten the hugs. For starters, if you lie down, the cats will come scurrying to snuggle beside you. They’ll cuddle so close that you won’t be able to move. In fact, you might lose feeling in every part of your body. Well, every part except for your bladder.

But if you don’t have time for a nap, there’s one simple thing you can do to entice your cat to leap on your lap – pick up something. It doesn’t have to be anything heavy or large. I’ve found that something as small as an emery board or a bottle of nail polish will do the trick. If you’re not into doing your nails, however, focusing your attention on literally anything – a book, a remote control, a phone, a cup, a toothpick, a piece of lint – will instantly make your cat feel like cuddling.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

A (Gypsie) Rose by any other name — September 30, 2018

A (Gypsie) Rose by any other name

gypsieApproximately one month ago, my mom called with the glorious news that a kitten had hopped a ride from town in my sister’s car. Before I ever met the kitty, I fell in love with her determination. After all, it takes a tremendous amount of intelligence and grit to navigate your way to a safe place under the hood of a car and hang on for a 20-plus minute trek.

Indeed, the kitten, an all-black beauty, must have considered the car a place of safety because she had to be coaxed from her hiding place. She eventually came out, though, and my sister eventually decided to keep her, installing the kitten in an out building.

My sister considered several names, finally deciding on Gypsie Rose due to the kitten’s traveling spirit. Gypsie also displayed a fighting spirit in a melee with my sister’s dog. A melee, I might add, that Gypsie won.

Gypsie’s addition to the family brought the number of members of our collective cat army – mine, my siblings’, and my nieces’ – to 10. What can I say? We’re a cat-centric family.

Anyway, Gypsie’s a ball of energy who slides across the floors when she comes to the house for a visit. She plays with her toy mice and darts around the room, hopping from lap to lap. This past weekend, she took a power nap in my arms, purring the entire time. In the words of my great-niece, Gypsie’s really cute.

But on a recent visit, I learned a secret about my lively new feline niece – she’s actually my nephew.

Or at least that’s what they tell me. As I am not a pervert or an ob/gyn, I don’t go around sneaking peeks at cats’ private parts.

Looking back, though, I should have deduced that Gypsie was a boy when she didn’t immediately take to the litter box. If living amongst a cat army has taught me anything, it’s that male cats are harder to house train that are females. Trust me on that.

Regardless, Gypsie’s shifting gender created a pronoun problem. We said to ourselves, “Selves, do we continue to use ‘she’ and ‘her’ when referring to the kitten? And what about that name? Gypsie Rose doesn’t exactly ooze masculinity.”

In the end, my sister decided to stick with the name Gypsie and we decided to continue using “she” and “her.” Sure, this could lead to gender confusion, but if living amongst a cat army has taught me anything, it’s that all cats are confused about something. For Gypsie, it might as well be that she’s a he.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Among the wildflowers — August 19, 2018

Among the wildflowers

On the morning of Jan. 6, I said goodbye to my dog, the lovely and talented Mia Frances Goff. She was approximately 14 years old and had battled various infections for the last few months of her life.

miaI knew I made the right decision, but it was still hard to let her go. For nearly 13 years, she patiently listened to my rants about the outside world, brought dead rats to the back door, and allowed the cat army to use her as a pillow. She rarely barked and only acted aggressively when dogs charged at us during walks. She wanted in return only food, treats, occasional car rides, and attention. And to send me judgmental looks whenever I did something stupid like straddle the window ledge and a wobbly stack of cinder blocks.

When the time came, I realized I hadn’t considered what to do with Mia’s ashes. Fortunately, one of the employees at the vet’s office mentioned he knew a lady who had planted a tree with her dog’s ashes.

I liked that idea. A couple days earlier, I had dropped Mia off at the vet’s for observation and IVs. When I returned to my car that day, the first song that played was Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers.” What’s more, I still had that free packet of wildflower seeds I had ordered from General Mills. I decided at the vet’s that I would carve out the area in front of my porch and grow a garden of wildflowers in honor of Mia.

With help from my family, that’s what I did. The packet didn’t contain many seeds, though, so I bought another one during a trip to Lowe’s.

Then, I waited for the flowers to burst forth from the earth, watering the garden on the rare occasion we went a few days without rain.

I waited weeks before I spied green emerging from the ground. But I couldn’t be sure if the green things were flowers or grass or weeds. One day, my sister said to me, “You’re growing something. I’m just not sure what it is.”

We weren’t sure because the green things had no buds. Still, they continued to grow and grow and even attracted the attention of a hungry bunny. Then, an actual weed – there was no mistaking it – showed up in the garden.

I was so upset by the appearance of that weed that I pulled it up and then moved on to those life-sized flowers or whatever the heck they were. As I did so, I ranted, “Why did you think you could grow flowers? You’ve killed two cacti and an African violet. You should invite the bunny and his friends over to feast on this greenery. At least they could get some good from this so-called garden.”

flowersAnd that’s when I saw them – tiny white flowers in the midst of all that greenery.

I stopped vandalizing the green things and enjoyed the splendor of those tiny white flowers. As I crouched in the middle of the garden, I imagined Mia’s reaction to my overreaction. I could see her pretending to mind her own business whilst stealing glances at me. And I could hear Tom Petty singing, “You belong somewhere close to me.”

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

April fools — March 30, 2017

April fools

Near the end of February, a live stream of a pregnant giraffe caught the Internet’s collective attention. Since then, dern-near everyone on the planet has been watching April, the pregnant giraffe, hang out in her stall at the Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, N.Y. Apparently, they’ve been waiting for April, who’s been pregnant forever, to finally birth a baby giraffe.

Through a combination of determination and lack of interest, I managed to ignore the dozens of references to April that popped up in my news feed. At least I did until a certain meme caught my eye.

This particular meme accused April of faking her pregnancy.

Oh, now she had my attention.

I was raised on soap operas. I still can’t resist soapy goodness, so my mind immediately recalled the lessons I learned from the pregnancy-faking characters who populated my favorite soaps.

I imagined April fooling everyone by wearing a well-placed pillow under her clothes. All the other lady giraffes would say to her, “You’re so lucky to only be gaining weight in your stomach. When I was pregnant, I gained weight all over. My face was so swollen it looked like I had just lost a UFC fight and my butt was so big I was mistaken for an elephant.”

Even April’s man, Oliver, would be none the wiser. One can only assume that he, like all the clueless male soap characters who came before him, would never ask to feel the baby kick, to accompany the mother of his child to the gender-reveal ultrasound, or to request some loving.

Of course, April, like all the pillow-wearing female soap characters who came before her, would eventually need to produce a calf. Obviously, she would have to find a young giraffe who had fallen in love with the bad boy of the savannah only to end up with a broken heart and a baby in her belly. With nowhere to forge for food, she would accept April’s generous offer to adopt her baby. Sure, she would wonder why she had to spend her 13-to-15-month pregnancy hidden in April’s attic, but April would reassure her that the peace, quiet, and low ceilings were good for the baby.

It all made sense to me. But just to be sure, I did minimal research on April, the pregnant giraffe. It turns out that the zookeepers are now saying she might be past due. Uh-huh. Any fan of afternoon soaps has heard that one before.

What’s more, Oliver is allowed only minimal contact with April, allegedly, to prevent him from fighting her or stealing her food. But I think we all know the real reason April is avoiding Oliver.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.