Of Cats and Kids

It was very tempting to turn around, go home, and just not go to work. All of the signs pointed to a bad day ahead, beckoning me to heed their advice and call it quits. First off, my toilet over-flowed. Water streamed over the back rim as if it were fulfilling its dream of being an infinity pool. It quickly spread over the floor reaching all corners of the room. I scrambled for bath towels to mop it all up. The floor newly cleaned, I made my way to work.

Driving down the semi-country road, I saw it coming: a streak of black hell bent on getting to the other side of the road. I watched in horror as I tried to slow my car and swerve out of its way; my heart clenching inside of my chest as I tried to will the cat to stop. The thwack against my bumper was inevitable and I shot a glance into my rear view mirror and saw its black body twist and convulse against the asphalt. Shocked, I tried to collect myself–I had to go back. I was afraid of what I might see and the damage I caused. I pulled over to the curb and went to his body. His stomach rose and fell in quick succession: he was alive! His face was badly mangled and bloody. I found a piece of plastic in my trunk and carefully placed his body on it, put him on the floor of my car and took him to a nearby vet.

The vet tech hurried him into the back where the team of doctors could run tests and x-rays. The receptionist asked me questions. I sobbed. The cat wore a collar. He was somebody’s pet. Images of his bloody face and his concerned family wondering where he was– maybe he was a child’s favorite — haunted me.

“Okay, I have all of the information I need for the Good Samaritan report,” the receptionist chirped.

I stared at her, bewildered, “I didn’t find the cat. I HIT the cat.”

Distraught, I made my way to work. The only reason I continued to go was the fact that two of my classes were trying the new Common Core tests on chrome books, and after much training and preparation, today was the day to implement the test. I was not looking forward to it. I didn’t want to deal with the test, the chrome books, or the kids. The way my day was going, the Wifi would short out, the tests would freeze, and kids would riot. Not only that, but people from the district office were going to be on-hand to help out. Just what I needed, witnesses to the melt-down.

There’s a funny thing about kids; they’re like your pets in that they sense when you’re upset and try to make it better. One wrote me a poem accompanied with a Kit Kat bar. Another told me about how she watched Pride and Prejudice and loved it. Another connected Julius Caesar to Sex and The City. As we read the play, my “actors” tried to read with feeling. One boy brought cookies for our AP review. One former student came up to me holding something out in his hand, “It’s a lucky penny. I found it and it’s for you.” Another boy, seeing that I was upset, started monitoring the class and quieting everyone down. I didn’t tell them about the cat and had tried my best to be neutral, but they sensed it and tried to make things better.

The testing? For once everything worked. The helpers from the district? They wanted to see my duck collection and learn all about it.

The cat? I called the vet to hear how he was (if he was). “He’s alive, but I can’t tell you any more.” That’s okay. That’s all I needed to know.

A Year of Reading

When I first started this blog, I predicted that I would abandon it for the power of the written word, or more specifically, words written by somebody other than myself. It is especially challenging to have a steady balance of reading and writing (at least it is for me). After writing quite a bit in 2012, 2013 began with not having too much to say. I started the year recovering from an illness, longing for sleep and solitude; words, stories, reflections went elsewhere. I had nothing to say, even after I recovered and became myself again. The prescription for good health depended on a steady stream of books, and really, why ruin a good thing?

So without further ado, here’s how I spent my time not blogging:
1. Darwin’s Ghosts: A Secret History of Evolution by Rebecca Stott. When Darwin first published Origin of Species, a reader called him out for not crediting those whose ideas and studies paved the way for Darwin’s own revelations. Darwin’s compilation of his fore-fathers goes all the way back to Aristotle. Interesting, if somewhat dry at times.

2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Absolute delight! I received this as a “Crappy Day Present”, and it is THE antidote for a crappy day. It’s the saga of a magical circus– romance, competition, drama ensues!

3. Above All Things by Tanis Rideout. I don’t think this book has received the attention it deserves. Masterfully written double narrative of George and Ruth Mallory. George’s narrative spans several years as he is driven to reach the top of Mt. Everest; Ruth’s spans a single day as she reflects on her life with George.

4. Tiepolo Pink by Roberto Calasso. I read this for my art book club and take an exorbitant amount of pride in having finished it. It’s Calasso’s argument of why Tiepolo is an important artist and how Tiepolo used repeated images in his art to tell an over-arching story. I think. I mostly thought it was a load of BS, since Calasso didn’t really have a specific point to what he was saying– which is why I finished the book, to see if their was one. And, nope, not really. The benefit of having read this book is that I can now spot a Tiepolo in any museum, and distinguish it from a Fragonard (lucky me).

5. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Once you get past the fact that it is written in present tense and an interesting third person limited perspective (“he” always refers to the protagonist Thomas Cromwell), it’s a good book. Mantel brings to the reign of Henry VIII to life as she shows the wheeling and dealing that occurred to make his marriage to Ann Boleyn possible.

6. In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez. This was suggested for a book club choice by my friend who “says” she didn’t want to join. My question is: why suggest a great book if you don’t want to join??? Anyhoo, I got the best of both worlds: she joined and this book is amazing. It’s based on the true story of the Mirabal sisters who worked to overthrow the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. Not for the faint of heart.

7. Nothing Daunted:The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West by Dorothy Wickenden. The title says it all: two bored society girls tired of teas and husband-hunting take jobs as teachers in a one-room Colorado school house at the turn of the twentieth century. Needless to say, their lives are changed forever. A reminder of how we need to eschew routine for grand adventures.

8. An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin. Besides being a comedian and playing the banjo, Martin is quite the art connoisseur. This novel is about the schemings of the art world and those that get caught up in them. It was okay.

9. The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got that Way by Bill Bryson. Exploring the development of the English language the way only Bill Bryson can. Funny and informative.

10. Master of Shadows: The Secret Diplomatic Career of Peter Paul Rubens by Mark Lamster. Rubens, it turns out, was a jack of all trades at ease in the artist’s studio and the offices of various kings and queens. He used his role as an artist to influence and spy on his subjects as he helped reshape Europe. Rubens differs from the stereotypical flighty, scatterbrained artist as he had astute political and business acumen.

11. Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers. Romping around England solving crimes with the charming and urbane Sir Peter Wimsey. Need I say more?

12. The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow. YA fiction that also makes a good grown-up read. Coming of age story of Karl Stern, a Jewish boy who doesn’t consider himself as Jewish, growing up in 1930’s Berlin. He takes boxing lessons from Max Schmeling and learns what kind of person he wants to be as Hitler rises to power.

13. The Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell by Janet Wallach. Bell is indeed an interesting figure as she explored what is now modern day Iraq alone at the turn of the twentieth century. Her knowledge of the area and relationships developed with various warlords helped unite Iraq after WWI. However, Wallach is too enamored of her subject, and seems to feel every slight that Bell received in her lifetime while overlooking Bell’s horrendous treatment and betrayal of others. Not an even-handed biography.

14. Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut. This was one of this year’s biggest surprises for me. The only Vonnegut I had ever read is “Harrison Bergeron” because I teach it to my sophomores (it’s on the pacing guide), and it never inspired me to read more of Vonnegut’s work. Then at a book club Bluebeard was suggested, and inwardly groaning, I agreed to it as a “good sport”. It combines a curmudgeonly protagonist, WWII, and Abstract Expressionism. What more could I ask for? But it’s Vonnegut’s insights about the modern world and how we tell our stories that resonated the most.

15. Steal Like An Artist by Austin Klein. Cute little tome about developing creativity.

16. The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan. Fun adventure with teenage demigods struggling to find their purpose in the world while fighting scary monsters in a race against the clock.

17. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. Heartbreaking story of friendship, jealousy, and betrayal in China. Have your Kleenex ready.

18. After Visiting Friends by Michael Hainey. Hainey’s memoir about investigating the night his father died, which was always explained to him as “after visiting friends”. He is tenacious in his investigation to solve that life-long mystery. This memoir resonates because I think we all have those moments in our lives where what actually happened is not as it was told to us and we know it. For me, I think it also brings up the question, how much, exactly, do we want to know?

19. To End All Wars: A Story of Rebellion and Loyalty by Adam Hochschild. Engaging history of the anti-war struggle in England during WWI. The war started so quickly and there was such propaganda for it that those who opposed it are often overlooked.

20. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Burrows. Do not be put off by the cutesy title! (I was.) A wonderful epistolary novel set in post-WWII Guernsey, an island off the coast of Britain occupied by the Germans during the war. A testament to the power of books, friendship, and community while not shying away from the horrors of war.

21. A World Undone: The Story of the Great War 1914-1918 by GJ Meyer. A concise and compelling retelling of the war. I appreciated that it captured the human elements and casts an unbiased eye over all of the players. It does not get bogged down in the minutiae of battle maneuvers, but instead gives overviews of the battles. If you have to read one book about the Great War, let this be it.

22. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain. Probably THE civilian memoir that came out of WWI. Brittain recounts her life prior to the war and shows how the war transformed her values and beliefs. She brings the carnage and destruction of the war to a human level.

23. Chasing Cezanne by Peter Mayle. Wonderful art heist caper written in Mayle’s breezy style. Perfect summer reading or airplane book (even better if you’re flying to France!).

24. Regeneration by Pat Barker. Reading Pat Barker’s writing was a revelation– her style is spare, direct, and vivid. It’s hard to say this without sounding a bit sexist, but as I read I had to keep looking at her picture. The novel didn’t sound/read like it was written by a woman. Not to say it sounded like a man’s voice, but it was just the way she told the story. Regeneration focuses on Dr. William Rivers who treated shell-shocked soldiers in WWI such as Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen to highlight the inhumane treatment of those who fought bravely on the front. It’s an anti war novel that reveals how many soldiers wished to decry the war, but could not leave their units behind.

25. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. I didn’t want to read this one, but it was for a book club, and I hoped for a redeeming “Vonnegut effect”. None came. Bradbury explores what would happen if we colonized/invaded Mars. Lots of social commentary. Still not a fan.

26. The Eye in the Door by Pat Barker.
27. The Ghost Road by Pat Barker. These finish out the Regeneration trilogy. She continues following the life of Dr. Rivers and his patients. Highly recommend. A side note: I finished the trilogy right before I left for my trip to the UK. At this point I had read six books about WWI, and at the Edinburgh Castle there was a monument to the Scottish soldiers of that war. Inside, etched into the walls were the names of all of the battles: Ypres, Dardenelles, Verdun, the Somme; lining the walls were counters topped with thick books listing the names of the Scotsmen who died in the war (over 150,000) and how and where they died. Everything that I had learned was still fresh in my mind, and it felt very personal. It was quite overwhelming.

28. The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham. This was my first exposure to any of Somerset Maugham’s work, and his writing style places you squarely in the scene– you are there. This is a reimagining of Gauguin’s life in Charles Strickland, a middle class stockbroker and family man who shocks everyone by abandoning his comfortable life for art, poverty, and Tahiti. Ultimately forces us to ask ourselves, what is a life well-lived? What is art’s purpose and who is art for?

29. Love by Toni Morrison. Do not be fooled by the book’s small size (just over 200 pages). What it lacks in physical weight, it more than compensates for emotional weight. This is not an easy book to read, even by the typical Morrison standard. Set in an all-black resort town run by Bill Cosey, the novel explores the relationships of the women who loved Cosey, now deceased. No one is likable and the first 120 pages are the longest 120 pages ever (unless you’ve read Young Man Luther by Erik Erikson– it trumps this book), but it finally picks up and revelations are made, and before you know it, you feel for these characters and their shattered lives.

30. Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Perkins Gilman is most known for writing “The Yellow Wallpaper”; there’s a reason for that. Steer clear of this “feminist utopia”. It might have been revolutionary in her day, but it has not aged well.

31. Garlic and Sapphires: The Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl. Fun, fun, fun. Reichl’s memoir about being the NYT’s restaurant critic, and given the competitive nature of the NY food scene, all of the restauranteurs had the low down on her. This forced her to visit eateries in disguise. As she goes about her work as somebody else, she learns how people are treated and about herself. She also gets herself into many funny–and hair-raising–scrapes. Her reflections are down to earth, and if I were took look to a mentor on how to write a memoir, Reichl is an excellent candidate.

32. Oedipus Rex by Sophocles. Here is a story that has aged well: a good man trying to do the right thing, but is screwed over by forces outside of his control. My AP kids and I had many debates over how much control he had over his destiny.

33. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. One of my favorite novels, and this year’s Academic Decathlon novel selection. Finally, after The Grapes of Wrath (snore), Heart of Darkness (snore), and Dr. Zhivago (less of a snore, but what the hell is going on?!), the powers that be threw us a bone. Again, it’s another novel that grapples with the question if what does it mean to live–especially after your life does it turn out how you intended? Even though it is centered around Jake Barnes, all of the characters struggle with this this question (except Pedro Romero who is young, unscathed by war, and is saved by the church of “aficion”).

34. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. Good lord! Have some Prozac ready after this one. Miller’s timeless morality tale of the perils of false values and the American Dream. Dr. Phil would have a field day with the Loman family.

35. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. YA WWII fiction about female pilots and spies and unlikely friendships. This is an intricate plot chance, coincidence, and irony as one gets caught by the Nazis in a secret raid and the other seeks to set her free. Intense!

36. A Dog’s Purpose by Bruce Cameron. If you are an animal lover, go get this book! Told from the perspective of a dog, this story reveals the bond of a dog and his human. Cameron writes this tale with warmth and manages to not make this saccharine or corny. I guarantee, though, that you will cry a minimum of four times.

37. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. Neil Gaiman has a devoted following. I get it. However, after reading this fantasy of unleashed spirits that haunt a vulnerable little boy, I’m not part of that group. My response after reading this book was, “And? So?”. Maybe I’m too literal-minded, but I just didn’t see the point. But I have friends who love it.

38. The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser. In 1990 Boston’s Gardner Museum was robbed– most notably of a Rembrandt and a Vermeer. The paintings were knifed out of their frames, rolled up, and carted out. After years of investigation, the leads ran cold, and Boser decided to pick up the loose ends. Long story short: he doesn’t find them either. His book details the social, cultural, and financial value of art; problems museums face with hubris, funding, and security; the mafia and the art world; and a whole cast of crazy characters who may or may not have seen the art. This is especially upsetting to me since my goal is to see all of the Vermeers– there are only 36 (now 35)– and I,and everyone else, will never see “The Concert”.

39. Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg. This book sat on my bookshelf for years before I read it; for some reason–don’t ask me how– I equated it with Milan Kundera’s Incredible Lightness of Being. Instead it is a Danish crime drama where snow is an important motif. Smilla is the proto-type for Lizbeth Salander of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: single-minded, determined, an outcast. Very technical and, well, cold. If you’re into all of the Scandinavian crime genres, then you should add it to your repertoire.

40. Mary Coin by Marisa Silver. This is a quiet and beautifully written novel based on Dorothea Lange’s photograph “Migrant Mother”. It spans the life of Mary Coin, based on the mother in the photograph, and Vera Dare, a fictionalized Lange. It shows how both women survive tImes of great hardship, determining who they are as mothers and women, and the choices they make for survival.

41. The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder by Daniel Stashower. Edgar Allan Poe was one bitter, combative, and manipulative little man! Gee whiz! When you buy a book with a sensationalist title, you hope for a sensationalist book. I think Stashower tried to do too much here by showing how the 1830’s press, the fickle public, and the uncooperative New Jersey and New York police forces bungled up the investigation of the murder of Mary Rogers, the beautiful cigar girl. In the meantime, this inspired the habitually broke and scheming Poe to write a story about it that purportedly solved the crime. The most interesting thing for me was reading about NY and how it was in that time and trying to imagine 66th Street as farm land, but otherwise much of this was repetitive.

42. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. This is one delight of a novel. Simonson weaves together the clashes of culture, generations, tradition, and the expectations of others and creates two endearing characters in Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Jasmina Ali in a comedy of manners. It’s also set in England. So get your tea and biscuits and cozy up to this novel.

43. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. Where to begin? How about this? Italy, Hollywood, Edinburgh, Idaho, writing, acting, performing, building a tennis court on the side of a cliff, Liz Taylor, Richard Burton, Cleopatra, taking chances, staring over, search for love, identity, redemption, and last but not least: Pasquale Tursi. Don’t know Pasquale? Read this novel and meet him.

44. Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut. A biting and satirical (doesn’t this describe all of his works?) novel about an American stationed to work with the Nazis now on trial for war crimes in Isreal. I read this on the plane back from NY; I was really tired and sensed I was missing much of the sarcasm. I want to reread this one to get the full experience.

45. Othello by William Shakespeare. “Oh monstrous world! Take note, take note, O world,/ to be direct and honest is not safe.” The levels of irony and betrayal in this line from Iago and its effect on Othello is one of the reasons I teach this tragedy. Except this year one of my (AP) students missed the point and thought Iago was quite the matchmaker and rooted for #teamCassio. SMH.

46. Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl. Reichl spent her youth guarding her parents’ guests from eating her mother’s “cooking” to prevent untimely deaths and other disasters. With such a dubious background, it’s remarkable that she embarked on such a successful career in food. In this memoir she explains how she got from here to there.

47. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Let’s be real here. How can you not like this novel? It’s got everything: a proud but misunderstood and shy man, a woman prejudiced by her own abilities, a secret feud, elopements, great fight scenes, a creeper, a player, lavish estates, an imperious old woman set to have her way, a quirky family, and unrequited love. Every year I have the great joy of exposing this novel to teenagers, and what makes me happy is the amount of boys who like it. This year one of my boys wrote me note thanking me for introducing him to P&P, one of his new favorite books.

48. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. If you need to escape from reality, let this book be your portal. Set in post WWII Barcelona, ten year old Daniel Sempere and his father visit the secret Cemetery of a Forgotten Books. He chooses The Shadow of the Wind by the mysterious Julian Carax. This selection changes the course of his life and leads him to adventure, danger, and romance as he searches the past of the elusive author. Full of larger than life characters and plot twists galore.

49. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I didn’t want it to end, so I read it again.

50. Peace Like A River by Leif Enger. This is probably one of my favorite contemporary novels. This was my third time reading it. It’s about asthmatic Reuben Land whose father works miracles and whose brother is on the run from the law. He, his father, and younger sister go on a voyage looking for their outlaw. Together they grapple with what is legally right versus what is morally right. Enger’s other novel So Brave, Young, and Handsome is also worth a read.

51. October Sky by Homer Hickam, Jr. This was originally titled Rocket Boys, but they used the anagram for the movie. This is Hickam’s memoir of growing up in a coal mining town in West Virginia in the 1950’s. Inspired by Sputnik, he and his friends are determined to learn how to build rockets. The community rallies behind them as they create prototype after prototype. This is also a story about a boy trying to understand his father and his place in the world. It’s a bit dry in places, but overall a good read.

52. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. The great thing about teaching this novel is that it generates its own discussion. My kids came in everyday with some point they wanted to discuss. Janie Crawford resonated with my students; I wonder if it is because they, too, are going to be on their own journeys soon and will they find the bee to their blossom?

53. The Painted Veil by W . Somerset Maugham. Again, Somerset Maugham puts you right there in his books. This is the story of a Kitty Faine who enters a loveless marriage, gets caught in an affair, and is then taken to the cholera-plagued Mei-tan-fu region in a China where she can reflect on her actions. If you’re looking for “happy ever after”, move along. If you’re looking for a clear-sighted look at the confinement of women’s choices, this is your book. As I was surprised that Pat Barker could tell men’s stories so well, I was equally surprised how well Maugham could capture the thoughts and feelings of a woman.

54. Old Masters, New World: America’s Raid on Europe’s Great Pictures by Cynthia Saltzman. America, being such a new country, lacked great art, and as it became a greater player in the world, it needed art and culture to prove it. This is the story of Henry Marquand, Isabella Stewart Gardner, Henry Clay Frick, and other tycoons buying up art to display their status, rebuild their images, and leave a legacy of culture and learning to the American people.

55. The Woman Who Heard Color by Kelly Jones. One way to determine the type of book you’re looking at is seeing whose endorsements are on it. This particular book has one by Nicholas Sparks on the front. And on the back. AND inside. So is this romantic? Yes. Are there hardships? Yes. Are the lovers seperated? Yes. Does someone die? Yes. There we have it, folks! A novel Nicholas Sparks would like. Fortunately, the subject matter saves this book. It’s about a woman who becomes an art dealer alongside her Jewish husband in 1930’s Munich. They specialize in Modern art, or “degenerate art” by Hitler’s standards. She works to save what art she can before it is destroyed. How much art Hitler deprived the world of will never be known– my mind cannot wrap around how much death and destruction he caused.

This is my wrap up of 2013. On my shelves are more books yet to be read, so here’s to a new year full of reading , exploring, and learning. What book made an impact on you this year?

Rick: The Relationship-Saving Cat

One night Steve came home from being out with the guys and invited our neighborhood stray to spend the night.  I looked at our guest, a randy orange tabby, and replied, “The cat does not want to spend the night.”  Steve, who had been enthralled with the couch-surfing cat in our building, disagreed, “Of course, he does!  See– he followed me in!”  The cat looked at me expectantly.  I capitulated.

That night the cat, knowing I was the one he had to win over, climbed on my pillow, curled his body around my head, and purred into my ears all night.  It seemed he liked our place the best since he became a regular, and Steve and I decided to name him Rick.  The name captured his man-about-town nature.  Rick got free room and board and quickly learned that he could come and go through our back window.  It went on this way for three weeks, but we hadn’t officially called him ours.  There was the tacit understanding that he was a stray and could leave us at any time.

Rick on my pillow.

On Rick’s three week anniversary, Steve and I left town to visit my parents.  We kept Rick, by nature an outdoor cat, outside and had our neighbor Wendy watch out for him.  The second day of our trip, Wendy called us.  Rick had been hit by a car and crawled into the basement of the home behind us to die.  The owners found him and recognized him as the cat they often saw in our back window.  They came over to tell us about Rick, but finding us gone, left a note.  Wendy found the note and contacted them.  Rick was still alive, in severe pain, and they took him to a vet.  Because he didn’t have tags, the vet wouldn’t take him.  They called around until they found a woman who ran a cat-rescue who vouched for our cat in order for the vet to see him.  At the time of this phone call, Rick received care from the doctor.

Steve and I rushed to the vet once we rolled back into town.  The prognosis was not good.  Rick had not used his hind legs or walked at all and could possibly be crippled.  He was also unresponsive to people. The vet tech said, “He’s going to need help with everything, including going to the bathroom.  Are you up for taking care of him?”  We nodded our heads– we would do anything for Rick.  She took us back to his “hospital room” to see him.  He was a pitiful sight with dried blood on his face, bandaged legs and lying in the back of his cage.  When he saw us, he began to shift around and pulled himself up onto his hind legs to walk over to us.  The vet tech burst into tears.  I comforted her while Steve comforted Rick.  And so began our journey as Rick’s humans.

Family portrait.

As humans, Steve and I had our own issues.  We had just moved into together a few months before.  I was new to the area, having left college life full of friends, activities, and comfortable surroundings.  I had had three roommates and there was always something going on.  Now I was in an unfamiliar place, living in a tiny apartment with my boyfriend who had been living here for six months and had established friends and routines.  I had no job, no routines, and no friends.  Lonely and frustrated doesn’t begin to cover it.  By the time Rick showed up, I had a job and Steve’s friends were my friends, but he and I still struggled with what it meant to be together.  We are both independent people determined to have our own lives, yet be a couple.  We argued a lot, and there were times I wondered how long we would last.

The cat’s in the bag!

Rick, an easy-going cat, wasn’t receptive to our arguing.  He realized that he could make a bigger stink than either of us, and used it to his advantage.  Shortly after bringing him home from the vet, we had a fight.  As our words escalated, Rick hopped into his shallow litter box by the kitchen, impersonated Niagara Falls, and kicked urine-soaked litter all over the walls, cupboards, and floor.  Suffice to say, we stopped arguing.  Enemies seconds before, we were now comrades-in-arms cleaning up the mess, laughing at the disgusting mess and at Rick, who looked rather pleased with himself.  And so it went.  We’d argue; he’d make a toxic dump.

He was very good at holding the towels in place.
Sleeping in his favorite spot.

Rick also loved to get into trouble by climbing up on stuff and hiding wherever he could hide.  He loved to sleep in Steve’s underwear drawer.  One day I came home and couldn’t find him.  I looked and looked, growing concerned until I saw the underwear drawer closed.  I opened it, and there he was curled up asleep oblivious to the fact that he had been locked in a drawer all day. Rick also enjoyed riding in cars.  I had a little Toyota pickup with a bench seat, and I’d take him for rides.  He enjoyed putting his paws on the passenger window and looking at the other cars passing by us.  When he got bored with that, he ‘d climb up onto the back of the seat, curl up, and look out the back window.  Rick eased my loneliness and gave Steve and I something to work together on: taking care of him.  He made us laugh with his antics.  Especially the day when he caught a bird and strutted proudly indoors with it, still alive, in his mouth.  At my shriek, he dropped the bird which pummeled itself into the sliding glass doors and pooped all over the blinds.  I tossed Rick into the bedroom, and eased the bird to freedom.  Later as I cleaned up the mess, Rick swatted my hands and me, angry and disappointed that I didn’t fully appreciate his efforts.  His anger didn’t prevent him from participating in our bedtime routine.  He’d sit on the chest of drawers waiting for me to go to bed; once I did, he’d hop onto the drums to the bed, crawl onto my stomach and bite the bow at the neck of my pajamas.  Every single night he did this.

Perfect.

We had Rick for three years until another car took away his ninth life.  That was an awful night and the first time I saw Steve cry.  It didn’t hit me until I went to bed.  There was no good-night routine, and Rick’s absence permeated the room.  Steve and I realized that even though he was gone, we still had each other.  Rick had taken us through some of our most difficult moments and kept us laughing (and cleaning).  As it is with all pets, I have to ask, who rescued who?  In this case, Rick rescued us.

(I apologize about the quality of pictures.  We don’t have a scanner, so I had to do this old school.)

The Results Are In! What Toby Thought…

For the very first ever “What Is Toby Thinking?” challenge we have a tie!  To add to the whole competition fun, the winners’ names correspond so well: they are Dad Knows and Shut Up Dad.   If you have not checked out their blogs, please do so.  They both have wry senses of humor but about disparate topics.  Dad Knows will help you determine if that is really a praying mantis you’re seeing, while Shut Up Dad can help you determine your favorite instrument.

Here is how they both have given me insight to my enigmatic Toby:

The image in question.

Dad Knows: “The sunset sure is a fine one tonight. I wonder how quick first class mail is these days. Did I eat dinner? I think I’ll turn in and listen to Coltrane while I do some reading.” Oh, wait – what’s TOBY thinking. In that case, “I don’t think she saw me sneak that second sip of her wine. But, darn it, my tongue is numb.”

Shut Up Dad: Cat food? I said seared tuna…(in a “no duh” monotone style)

Round of applause everyone?

via Papermag.com

Remember it could be you on the leader board!  Watch for the next segment of the “What’s Toby Thinking?” challenge!

The “What’s Toby Thinking?” Challenge

Toby, unlike Molly, is a rather enigmatic fellow.  While Molly is very clear in her demands (pick me up, play with me, pet me, love me, NOW!), I feel like we misinterpret Toby. So here’s your challenge, if you choose to accept it: What’s he thinking?

Does somebody speak “cat”? What does this mean?

Put your suggestions in the comment box to be eligible for the ultimate Readncook-Round-Of-Applause Award, so don’t miss out! : )

Molly: Your Consolation Post

It’s the week before finals.  I have essays to grade.  I have a classroom to clean up and make sense of.  I have seniors to push and sophomores to motivate.  I have so much to do that I have lost my to do list. Again.  Needless to say, I have bags under my eyes that I’d have to check-in on a plane rather than carry-on.  I tried writing a couple of posts.  Today I’m waving the white flag and will just give you pictures of Molly instead.  Enjoy. (I didn’t have a functional camera for awhile, so all of these were shot using the handy-dandy iPhone.)

Molly when we first brought her home. She was so cute and dainty that I could scoop her up with one hand. This was before I learned that she was the very, very hungry “cat”epillar.
As you can see, she had a really hard time making herself at home.
She says, “Put the phone camera thing down and scratch my belly!”
She always puts her best paws forward.
She loves Toby, but it’s doubtful that Toby feels the same about Molly.
What happened to “dainty”?
Sometimes Toby loves Molly.
Sometimes he doesn’t.

She holds “Mommy” down to the couch quite nicely.

She prefers to use the wall to get into “downward cat” position. Or at least I think that’s what she’d doing. I hope.
Molly asks, “Do you have a square to spare?”
Happiness, apparently, is a cardboard box.
We must find shelter from the mean and evil garbage truck!
Although she loves me, she loves “Daddy” more.
She says that you’ve read enough!