Columns

Sometimes you just need Christmas to linger awhile longer

Perplexed, he peers into our dining room from his perch on the deck, a red Christmas ornament dangling from his ear.

Rudy the Reindeer rarely sees this far into January.

That’s because I’m a by-the-book kind of holiday decorator.

In my home, Christmas music, movies, and décor are forbidden until the day after Thanksgiving. That’s when the autumn wreaths go down, and the Christmas greens go up. Our everyday boring, white stoneware dishes are packed away, and my fleet of Pfaltzgraff Winterberry is deployed.

All the artwork on my living room walls is replaced by Santas, skis and holiday prints. I pack away the garland of harvest leaves from atop the piano and unearth evergreen garlands dotted with twinkling white lights.

Out come the Nativities, the Norwegian Christmas candelabra, and of course, the leg lamp replica from our favorite holiday film, “A Christmas Story.”

I’ve finally embraced the artificial – our tree goes up when our sons join us for post-Thanksgiving Turkey Noodle Soup. We appreciate having all hands on deck to trim the tree, not to mention hefting heavy holiday bins from the basement.

The hanging of the greens occurs outdoors as well, with lighted garlands and small wreaths draped along our stair railing and around the front door, a small lighted tree replacing my cat figurine on the front steps, and a wreath with a burgundy bow bedecking the door.

After hanging the snowflake garland above the backdoor slider, Derek affixes Rudy the reindeer to his watchful post on the deck.

But what goes up must come down. Preferably on Jan. 2, and certainly no later than the Feast of Epiphany (Jan. 6 this year for those keeping track at home).

Like I said, I’m a stickler for rules and am counted among those who groan when my neighbors leave limp holiday inflatables in their yards well past the New Year.

However, as 2020, blessedly drew to a close, I surveyed the glimmering green and red warmth of our home. Our sons had untrimmed the tree before the New Year chimed, but I was left to dismantle the rest of Christmas alone, and frankly, for the first time I can remember, I wasn’t done with Christmas.

I wasn’t ready to dim the evergreen lights and quench the candelabra. I love our ski-themed wall, with the cross-country Santa figurine, swooshing on the table below.

And to my surprise, the leg lamp has grown on me, and I enjoy switching it on as darkness falls, knowing Derek will see “the soft glow of electric sex” welcoming him home when he pulls into the driveway.

Since our oldest son’s birthday is Jan. 8, I always keep the Winterberry dishes out until after his cake has been cut. That way he can eat birthday cake from a plate that says, “Joy” or “Cheer” or “Wish.”

But this year, Ethan enjoyed his birthday dinner among all the other Christmas decorations I hadn’t begun removing.

After his celebration, I slowly filled the green and red bins. Walter, our junior tabby, inspected each bin from within, as I carefully wrapped candles, glassware and greenery.

Derek was even slower to remove the outdoor décor, not that there was much to take down. Our youngest son, his usual holiday helper, was busy with work and school this year, so no lighted candy canes, reindeer or trees dotted our front yard. Even so, he was reluctant to remove the garlands and wreaths.

We didn’t talk about it much.

He didn’t complain about the bins stacked in the dining room, even though he knows I’m a creature of order, not clutter.

I didn’t mention the outdoor lighting that lingered until this past week.

Honestly? I think this year with the world so filled with discord, disharmony and despair, had left us drained. But the beauty that is Christmas, reflected in simple lights and cheery decorations, offered a much-needed lift to sagging spirits.

As I write, the holiday bins are neatly stacked in the basement, the greenery gone from the front door. But Rudy still peeks at us from the deck each evening as we sit down to dinner, and I smile when I close the blinds.

To heck with rules.

Rudy can stay as long as he wants.

Columns

Sir Walter Scott’s Work Life

Sir Walter Scott, 15 months, takes his responsibilities seriously.

When you’re the junior feline in the family and in charge of entertainment, mischief and cuddles, it’s a full-time job and then some.

Knowing that Thor, the senior tabby in the clan, keeps a scornful eye on him, Walter adheres to a strict daily schedule.

His first job of the day is to assist Thor in obtaining breakfast. Around 7:30 a.m., they take their positions outside my bedroom door and commence polite requests for food. If none is forthcoming, Thor ratchets up the volume and intensity, while Walter sticks his paws under the door and grabs at the carpet. If that doesn’t work, they take turns scratching and banging on the door.

When I emerge, they both enter manic mode, careening through the house and dashing around the kitchen table. Then comes the wrestling.

I have to feed them in separate rooms, because Thor will wolf down his breakfast and finish Walter’s, too, and Walter will just sit and sadly watch his food disappear. Though he passively lets Thor take charge of food once it’s served, before it appears is another matter. As I dish up their kibble, Walter pounces on Thor, attempting epic takedowns.

Thor is a lover, not a fighter, so it’s a good thing he’s bigger and has a longer reach. While Walter sizes up the best way to pin him, Thor bats him away. Undaunted, Walter stretches up into full Godzilla mode and tackles. Thor hisses, which scares both of us.

I’m not sure why Walter decided this was his job, but Thor is not thrilled to find himself headlining these twice-daily bouts.

Walter’s next self-appointed chore of the day is sweeter – morning cuddles with me.

I return to bed after feeding them, because I mean, it’s 7:30 (or 8, but still). By this time, Derek is getting ready for work, so Walter has me all to himself. He jumps up on the bed, lays his head next to mine on my pillow and curls up in my arms. He purrs contentedly, while kneading his sharp little claws under my chin. Usually, he falls asleep and sometimes so do I.

Morning cuddles with Mom

We take turns deciding when it’s time to get out of bed. If I don’t have a deadline or an appointment, I doze until Walter brings me a toy and pats my face to let me know it’s playtime. If I get up first, I bring my coffee and my phone back to bed and check emails and messages. Walter fetches a toy because playtime is next on his agenda.

He usually brings a small white mouse with a rattle and bats it around until I throw it down the hall. Then he tears off and brings it back. Walter is a fetch champion until he gets bored.

After I’m ready to face the day, Walter follows me to work in my downstairs office. His favorite thing is stalking the printer and waiting for it to whir to life. He doesn’t grab the paper, he just likes the hunt.

He takes his editorial responsibilities seriously and prefers to plant himself in front of my screen or on my keyboard.

Obviously, this is not an ideal working situation, at least not for me. I repeatedly scoop him up and put him on the floor until he gets the hint and wanders off to nap.

Walter, the editor

I’m usually out in the afternoon, so Walter takes advantage of my absence to forage for carbs. I’ve previously written about his carb addiction, and I’m sad to report he’s had a relapse. We’ve taken to storing our bread in the microwave and securing any open chips, rolls or baked goods in a cupboard he can’t open. All was well until one afternoon when I went to the pantry for dinner ingredients and found a bag of barbecue potato chips scattered on the floor.

It seems Sam had left the shopping bags on the floor instead of putting the items on the shelves, and Walter got the munchies. He tore open the bag, sampled a few chips, but evidently didn’t care for their tang.

Bedtime brings a nightly dilemma.

My husband likes to sleep with me. So does Walter. I’m usually in bed first, so Walter saunters in and makes himself comfortable. Then Derek arrives.

“Okay, buddy, time to go,” he says.

Walter rolls over on his back and looks at Derek. Upside-down kitty is universally irresistible, but Derek is made of sterner stuff.

Upside down kitty fails to impress Dad

“Night, night, Walter, out you go,” he says.

Walter stretches, then curls up next to me.

Finally, Derek scoops him up and takes him to the living room.

Just as we turn off the light, we hear a faint scratching at the door and the saddest, most forlorn meows.

“Go to sleep, Walter,” Derek says.

And eventually he does. After all, he knows he has a full slate of responsibilities awaiting him in the morning.

Columns

Cat’s in doghouse after hot, sleepless night

It’s a good thing he’s so cute.

It’s also a good thing I have the Facebook Memories app to remind me of how utterly sweet and tiny Sir Walter Scott was when we first met him last year in June.Baby Walter Love at First Sight

Love at first sight. June 11, 2019

I needed those reminders, because recently Walter (no longer tiny) was the cause of a very long sleepless night.

To be fair, it wasn’t entirely his fault. On May 29, the temperature soared, reaching 90 degrees for the first time this year. Derek and I weren’t prepared for the sudden warmth. We don’t have central air and since we were both out all day, we didn’t turn on our dining room air conditioner until we got home. Our bedroom window unit was still out in the shed. Even with fans running, our house was hot and stuffy.

“We’re going to have to sleep with the bedroom door open,” I said.

My husband eyed Thor and Walter.

“Great,” he said. “You know we’ll have company.”

I wasn’t too worried. After our older cat Milo died, we let Thor sleep with us whenever he wanted. He’s a placid fellow, and just drapes himself at our feet and snores. Derek can outsnore both man and beast, so Thor’s nasally rumblings didn’t bother me.

Walter is a different cat – he’s all about the action. Apparently, he didn’t get the memo that kittens sleep 16 to 20 hours a day, because from the time we brought him home at 8 weeks, it was clear he could catnap, but long stretches of sleep were not in his wheelhouse.

It also became clear that Walter is a fervent Mama’s boy. My son paraphrased a Bible verse to describe his devotion thusly: “Where Mama is, there Walter will be also.”

And he’s a cuddly cat. While he’s not allowed to spend the night in our room, he does curl up in bed with me every morning after breakfast. We both catch a brief bit of shuteye before embracing the day in earnest.

He also knows the nighttime drill. Each evening I get into bed to read before Derek joins me. Well, joins us, because as I mentioned, Walter is rather attached to me. He likes Derek, too, but not at bedtime. Derek’s arrival means Walter’s exit.

Our furry feline tries to circumvent his ouster by feigning death or hiding under the bed.

“Walter, it’s night-night time,” Derek would say to the prone cat.

No response.

Walter squeezes his eyes shut and won’t budge when Derek pokes him. If he doesn’t make a sudden dash under the bed, my husband picks up the tabby’s inert body, carries him from the room and deposits him on the sofa. Then it’s a sprint to see which of them will make it back to the bedroom first. Personally, I think the exercise is good for both of them.

On the hot night in question, after cranking up the fans, we let sleeping cats lie. Thor slumbered on when we turned off the light. Walter trilled questioningly.

“Go back to sleep,” I said.

So, he sunk his head into my pillow and snuggled up next to me. A few minutes later, he patted my face.

I ignored him.

He licked my eyelids.

ignored him.

He laid his whiskery chin on my nose.

I couldn’t breathe, so I nudged him off.

A slight thud and the tinkling of his bell, notified me he’d left the room.

I’d just nodded off, when I felt a soft body land at my side. Then a wet, slobbery piece of felt hit my cheek. Having taken his required catnap, Walter decided it was playtime and brought his beloved gray mouse to bed. The mouse is attached to a string, and usually I wave it around while he chases it and pounces on it.

“One a.m. is not playtime Walter,” I whispered, tossing the toy toward the door as hard as I could.

Big mistake.

Walter loves a good game of fetch. He had the mouse back in bed before I could close my eyes. I refused to throw it again, so Walter found someone else to annoy. He discovered Thor, sound asleep on Derek’s feet and launched himself toward the unsuspecting senior tabby.

Hissing, growling and mayhem ensued as Thor fled from his tormentor.

“One cat down, one to go,” Derek mumbled.

His mumble alerted Walter to his next victim. He sprang from Derek’s feet, landing with a thunk on Derek’s stomach.

“Oof! Get him off of me!” Derek roared.

And so went the rest of the long night. Sometime around 5 a.m. I noticed the house had cooled considerably, but my head was sweating due to Walter’s proximity to my pillow.

I scooped him up, put him in the hallway and shut the door.

Piteous, heartbreaking, tiny meows poured from the hallway.

I put my cat-warmed pillow over my head.

“You’re in the doghouse, Walter,” I said.

A few hours later I opened the door, and Walter came running. Weaving in and around my ankles, stretching up his paws, eager to be in my embrace.

Like I said, it’s a good thing he’s so cute. It’s also a good thing Derek has our window air conditioner ready to go. Who knows? We may see 90 degrees again someday, and this time we’ll be ready. No more cats on hot, sleeping Hvals.

Walter Scott Not a Bit Sorry

Walter the morning after. Not one bit sorry.

Columns

Toddlers, Teens and Sir Walter Scott

Question: What do you get when you combine the terrible 2s of toddlerhood with the terrifying tenure of teenage years?

Answer: A kitten. Specifically, Sir Walter Scott.

I recently read this quote: “Dogs prepare you for babies, cats prepare you for teenagers,” and boy, is that true. At 4 1/2 months, our tabby is still more toddler than teen, but I swear he just rolled his eyes at me.

Since I sat down to write this column, Walter has knocked every pen off my desk, gotten stuck on top of the filing cabinet and waged war on his own tail.

I just heard a huge crash from Sam’s room, but at this rate I’ll never make deadline, so that investigation will have to wait. (And people say working from home must be so much easier.)

Walter is a whirlwind of energy and enthusiasm. He adores jumping, galloping, wrestling and exploring. Unfortunately, Thor, our middle-aged tabby, is often the focus of Walter’s enthusiasms.

Thor does not play.

He never has. He’s a strictly low-key, lounge-around-the-house lap cat. Unless there’s food involved, then he’s energetic, bordering on obnoxious. He is not amused or entertained by Walter, but the rest of us sure are.

Walter keeps a busy schedule. After our son feeds him an early-morning breakfast, he gallops to our bedroom to ensure I’m awake. Of course, I’m not. So he hops onto my chest and nudges my cheeks with his cold nose, and softly pats my eyes with his paws until I open them.

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Early morning wake up call.

I stagger to the kitchen, grab my coffee and the newspaper and return to bed, where Walter has thoughtfully kept my spot warm.

Here’s the sad part. Walter hates The Spokesman-Review. The minute I shake out the pages, he goes into attack mode. He slinks to the foot of the bed, wiggles his behind and leaps into the newspaper. If he can successfully grab a section from my hands, he’ll proceed to shred it with his tiny sharp teeth and claws.

This makes it difficult to read the paper and dangerous to drink my coffee.

Walter also has animosity for my cellphone. He’ll squirm between my phone and my face and smack it until I put it down.

Perhaps it’s not so much the paper and the phone but that they come between him and my undivided attention.

When he’s received his expected amount of adoration, he’s off to share the love with Thor.

As previously noted, Thor does not want the love.

Toddlers, teens and kittens all suffer from poor impulse control. How else to explain the 2-year-old touching a hot stove, the 13-year-old careening down a steep hill on his skateboard and Walter’s mistaken belief that Thor enjoys being ridden around the house like a pony.

Thor does not enjoy being used as a racehorse with a pint-sized jockey on his back. He has demonstrated his feelings repeatedly by hissing, growling and smacking Walter silly.

To Walter, it’s all part of the fun.

Toddlers, teens and kittens also have inflated beliefs about their own mortality. That’s why toddlers dart into traffic, teens text and drive, and kittens climb things like bookcases and entertainment cabinets. It’s also why parents and cat owners get gray hair.

I know Walter is edging toward his teens because he’s angling for more screen time. He enjoys watching football and soccer on television. Unfortunately, he prefers to be part of the action. He parks himself in front of the screen and tries to intercept the passes.

My husband prefers to watch sports sans kitten. He actually downloaded the Cat Alone app on his tablet so Walter can chase bugs and flies on the screen while Derek watches the game in peace.

There’s another troubling sign that Walter’s teen years are near. On Saturday morning, he was even more manic than usual. He could not seem to settle down.

Then Derek discovered a small baggie behind the couch.

It was Walter’s stash.

Somehow, he’d gotten the catnip out of the cupboard, punctured the plastic and had himself a party. We’ve locked up the catnip and are hoping to avoid an intervention.

For all his boundless energy, Walter is extremely affectionate and a world champion cuddler. In fact, right now he’s sprawled across my desk, snoozing. Unfortunately he’s lying on my arms, which makes typing difficult, but he just sighed and made that adorable kitty chirp, so I’m not inclined to dislodge him.

Sweet moments like these are why we love our toddlers, our teens and our kittens.

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Classic case of writer’s block.

Columns

The pitter-patter of little paws

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I didn’t get much reading done this week. Every time I picked up a book, Sir Walter Scott scooted his head beneath it, and collapsed on my chest, obscuring the pages.

Coffee proved difficult to drink, because Walter kept trying to dunk his nose in my mug.

And I’m not sure what kind of texts I sent, because Walter believes nothing should come between my face and his, and keeps batting my phone away.

Walter is our new addition – a tabby kitten – approximately 2 1/2 pounds of fuzz, energy and affection.

When our senior cat, Milo, died in November, we knew we’d adopt again. However, our hearts needed time to heal, and that included our 7-year-old tabby, Thor, who missed his nemesis/best friend.

This spring we started looking at animal shelters and pet adoption centers. There were plenty of beautiful adult cats who needed homes, but we agreed it would be too much for Thor to have to fight for space with another big cat. A kitten he could boss around seemed like a better fit.

But there were no kittens to be found.

“I hope that means people are doing a better job at spaying and neutering,” Derek said.

We kept looking.

And then my friend Haley, told me about a litter of kittens being fostered by Mona Richardson.

Mona and her husband, Dave, own the Hub tavern on North Monroe Street. Mona also works at Northwest Seed and Pet.

A friend of hers had a neighbor who moved away, abandoning a litter of kittens, but taking the mama cat. Mona is a cat-lover and an experienced kitten foster mom. Of course, she took in the kittens.

Several weeks ago she brought the brood to the tavern and invited Derek and me to take a look at them.

They were all adorable. Tabbies, black kitties and even a homely Calico. I held a couple of them, but when I picked up Walter, I knew he was the one.

His blue-green eyes are lined white, and each tiny paw looks like it’s been dipped in a bucket of white paint. He squirmed, then snuggled.

From then, it was just a matter of waiting until he had gained enough weight to be neutered.

Derek dubbed him Walter. I added the Scott. The Sir is optional.

On Friday evening we returned to the Hub to pick him up.

Walter proved popular with the tavern regulars who gifted us with bags of cat treats as we said goodbye.

At home we took him out of the carrier, and Zach and Sam each held him, and then he was off, exploring his new home at full speed. In fact, our tiny tabby’s throttle appears to be defective. It’s either flat-out or dead-stop!

He’d just been neutered the day before and was supposed to take it easy. Apparently, no one told Walter that.

Thor’s reaction? Stunned horror.

He cautiously sniffed the new arrival, but when Walter bounded toward him, Thor backed away with an angry hiss.

Then he mumbled some mean meows, which if I translated, could not be printed in a family newspaper.

Zach, our third-born, sympathized.

“I know what it’s like to be replaced by someone younger and cuter, Thor. The same thing happened to me,” he said.

After several hours of nonstop action and exploration, Walter was having a tough time calming down.

I took him to our bedroom, shut the door and got his new bed ready. He had other ideas and made a flying leap from the floor to our bed. He jumped from square to square on our quilt, like a kid pretending the floor is hot lava, and then he bounced back down.

I’d forgotten I had a mirror on the floor next to a stack of stuff to donate to the Goodwill. Walter took one look at the kitty in the mirror and promptly attacked. That’s how we learned his Ninja skills include somersaults, sideways rolls and stealth pouncing.

I turned the mirror to the wall and got into bed with the exhausted kitten. He tucked his head under my chin, commenced purring and conked out. Five hours later, he woke us up by bouncing on our heads.

Which is why my husband revoked Walter’s big bed privileges. However, as soon as Derek gets up in the morning, Walter races to the bedroom and launches himself on our bed to join me. Sometimes, he even falls asleep.

Thor is slowly warming up to him. Extra treats and affection, and a new cat tree, so he can look down upon the new arrival, helped.

Meanwhile, the rest of us cannot resist a kitten that stands on his back legs and holds up his front paws when he wants to be picked up.

Sir Walter Scott is equal parts entertaining and exhausting. and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

For us, the pitter-patter of little paws is what makes a house a home.67768753_2463199130385366_8603458589316612096_n