Sunday, July 31, 2005

Ma vie sans chat

This will be the first time in 15 years I have not lived with a cat. As I got out of bed today and walked to the bathroom, I kept watching my feet to be careful not to step on a cat eager for her breakfast. Although I've noticed that before during periods when Betty was staying over at her Aunt Oddrun's, it was especially poignant this morning. Then this afternoon I sat down to watch TV and had to keep myself from calling her to join me. (We both loved lazy TV days sometimes.)

George and I had a nice quiet little "service" for Betty. We laid her to rest in a quiet spot in our backyard. We buried her with her hand-made kitty bowl (since food was her favorite pasttime), an old t-shirt of mine, a few of her toys, and pictures of me, George and Oddrun (who was her sometimes-mommy). Then we lit a pretty citronella candle holder that looks like a miniature gazebo, some other candles and incense sticks, and sat at her grave for about an hour sipping tawny port wine. It was very healing.

Thanks to everyone for all the very sweet phone calls, emails and notes on the blog entry. We are sad, but compared to the other two deaths we have dealt with the past few months, at least this one wasn't tragically early. It's the difficult part of having pets - having to say goodbye at the end of their lives. But we know what a difference we made to Betty, having saved her off the farm and giving her 14 years of food, warm beds and love. And she returned it all tenfold (at least the love part of it.)

We're going to be pet-free for a while until we get settled into our apartment after it is rebuilt. At some point after that, be prepared for a blog entry to introduce you to our two new pets: a French bulldog for George and a new kitten for me. We're going to raise them together, and also bring them over right away to meet Oddrun's cats, Clarence & Lucy, so that they can all be pals and have sleepovers together.

Friday, July 29, 2005


There's a new angel in heaven.  Posted by Picasa

In the fall of 1991, when I was still living in Minneapolis, I decided to get a playmate for my cat Shirley, who had recently moved in with me and away from her step-brother, Atticus. I was doing that stupid thing where you assign human emotional norms to your pet. I figured, Shirley is lonely and she misses Atticus! She needs another cat around to keep her company while I'm at work! Only later did I discover from Shirley's previous owner that she HATED Atticus, and couldn't wait to get away from him.

So, in keeping with my stupid human plan, one chilly Sunday morning my then-boyfriend Mark & I drove out to Vasa, Minnesota, where my friend Aimee's parents lived on a large country estate with lots of random animals, including a pack of barn cats. The most recent litter of kittens had been born just a few weeks earlier. Autumn is late in the year for kittens to be born on Minnesota farms, where the early cold can make it hard for a non-house litter to survive. So I knew that whichever kitten we chose was going to be one lucky cat to be able to go home to a nice warm apartment.

I really wanted a grey kitty. There were several that I thought were really cute, but they were already a bit long in the tooth to be handled by humans, and kept running away from us as we tried to catch them. At one point Aimee did grab hold of one very pretty grey tabby, who subsequently bit her finger almost clear through to the bone. We let that one go.

Betty with prey.  Posted by Picasa

After a while Mark said "look at this little orange and black one. She keeps following us around." I looked down and saw the tiniest little tortoise colored kitten in the world. She was only about as big as one of my fists, but she was plenty feisty, walking around on all fours, mewing up a storm. When you looked at her she would return your gaze and head straight for you, meowing as if to say "Pick me, pleeeeeease, pretty please, pick me!!!" I wasn't that fond of her coloring, and besides that she had a pin head with a strange orange stripe running down the length of her forehead. I kept on with my search for a grey kitten.

But she would have none of it, and would not leave us alone. Finally Mark said "well Tom, I think this one is choosing us!" And I had to admit, something about her insistence was really endearing. She was clearly very intelligent, which I figured would make up for her strange appearance. I decided to take her home, and the second I picked her up she started purring.

I drove home, and the new kitten slept on Mark's lap the entire way. "What should we name her?" I asked. Mark suggested the name "Stripe" because of the orange stripe on her forehead. Hmmm, not really my style. I've always preferred old lady names for my female cats: Shirley, Lucy, Samantha - that sort of thing. I never wanted to name a pet something that might be confused with a beer commercial mascot.

"How about Sabena?" I replied. Mark was of German descent, and I thought he would appreciate it. "Sabena? That's weird. Let's think about it some more."

Betty was an avid connoisseur of house plants. Posted by Picasa

I took the kitty home that evening, and set up a tiny little bed for her in a corner of the bedroom. (Shirley, who had not reacted well to the kitten's entrance, was banished to the living room for the night.) I didn't want the kitten sleeping in my bed because she was so tiny, I was afraid I'd roll over on her and not hear her meows. So I put the kitty in her bed, got into my own bed, turned out the lights - and then about 10 seconds later heard this little scratching noise. Then I noticed the comforter moving slightly - and up appeared the kitten, who climbed up the comforter into bed with me. After several attempts at putting her in her own bed, I had to let her sleep with me. And we succeeded - she curled up on a pillow next to my head where she was remained safe from possible suffocation.

The next morning I was talking to my friend Laurie, and we were reminiscing about an old joke of ours where we thought it would be really funny if we started calling our friend Beth "Betty". It was really, really stupid, but for some reason it just made us laugh uncontrollably. My friend Sarah had always gotten a kick out of that joke as well. Later I started thinking "Betty. Why not name the cat Betty?" I made a mental note to speak with Mark about it. I also called my friend Sarah and left her a message to tell her about my great idea for the cat's name.

Normally I would have wanted my boyfriend to like the name of my new pet. But as fate would have it, Sarah called me back later that day, before I had a chance to see Mark, and left me a message on my answering machine: "Hi Tom! Hi Betty! So how is Betty enjoying her new home?" It seemed too much like fate that the cat was already getting answering machine messages addressed to her by her name, "Betty."

Betty was a notorious cover and pillow thief.  Posted by Picasa

A few hours later I talked to Mark on the phone and told him why I had decided, finally, that the new kitten would be called "Betty." "Betty?" he said. "How about Sabena? I guess I really like Sabena!" I detected downright panic in his voice. But it was too late. Betty was already becoming known in my circle.

Betty was nothing if not a charmer. She was very bright, and had a distinctive and sometimes rambunctious personality. When we lived in West Hollywood she used to sit outside in the front yard of my house and greet all the passers-by. Sometimes I would sit out front with her and complete strangers would walk right up to us and say "Hi, Betty!" She had more friends in the neighborhood than I did.

Betty loved food almost more than anything else. I used to call her "Concentration Camp Kitty" because if left uncontrolled, she would eat as if she'd been intentionally starved for months. Those early days on the farm without enough food for all the cats must have made a strong impression. I remember the first week that I had her home as a kitten in Minneapolis. I was having my dinner, and Betty was sitting on my lap while I ate. She was obsessed with trying to taste all the food on my plate. I let her sniff a piece of meat before I put it in my mouth. She wanted it so badly and she actually reached up and stuck her entire little paw in my mouth to try to get it.

Betty's religion considered it a sin to let humans eat alone.  Posted by Picasa

Probably my favorite thing about Betty was her love of cuddling. I used to call her the "Teddy Cat" because she would cuddle on demand. If I was in the living room watching something sad on TV, sometimes I would decide I needed Betty to come keep me company. I would call "Betty! Come see me!" and in about five minutes she would appear from whatever she had been doing to join me on the couch. I'd never had a cat so willing to drop everything for a cuddle. She was an absolute sweetheart. She would also sleep right next to me in bed every night, letting me clutch her like a teddy bear.

There are too many Betty stories to share right now, as we mourn her passing earlier today. I had her for fourteen wonderful years, and George enjoyed her company for eight of those years. I will write more Betty blog entries as the thoughts come to me. Meanwhile, we drink a toast to the life of this remarkable and wonderful cat.

Betty 1991-2005 Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 22, 2005

Is John Roberts a Total 'Mo?

Maybe Souter won't be the only closeted justice on the Supreme Court. See this link for details.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Monday, July 18, 2005

My new summer drink

One of the best things about being a transplanted Midwesterner is that everyone thinks you're some kind of genius just because you know how to mix a drink. It just doesn't seem to dawn on people that if you grow up surrounded by drunkards you have to learn these skills at a tender age.

I'll admit that I'm not always that swift in the kitchen. I can manage just fine, but I'm not always the kind of cook who knows how to add "just enough." I like measurements, approximate if not exact.

But when it comes to drinks, I do it all by feel. I just know when I've got the right mix of vodka to orange juice, for example. I can tell by the smell of the lime how much sugar I'll have to add to make that cocktail delicious instead of too tart or bitter. I know how to eyeball a jigger, even if I'm a bit heavy handed (another Midwestern bonus.) It is a proven fact that my mixed drinks are so delicious and deceptively strong that I can put an entire dinner party under the table before the first course is on the table. (I've learned, the hard way, to give the chef half strength drinks to avoid having your dinner ruined before it's served.)

With that, I will share with you my latest summer cocktail advenure, Planter's Punch.

 Posted by Picasa

Squeeze the juice of one lime (or 1.5 limes if you like it tart) into a collins glass. Add sugar or sugar syrup - up to a tablespoon's worth (more if the limes are especially tart.) Mix well. Add soda, about twice as much as the amount of lime juice. Add a bunch of ice cubes and stir until the glass becomes frosted. Throw in a few dashes of bitters, and fill the glass almost to the top with light rum (a shot or two.) Add more ice, then top with grenadine (I like to see the grenadine drizzle down over the ice cubes.) Garnish with lime wedges & whatever other fruit you have. DELICIOUS!

Advice from my mother

One time when I was a teenager I was complaining to my mom that people don't automatically like me because I don't smile enough. She said "so do you think you should walk around like you have a mouth full of shit?"