Saturday, June 25, 2005


We're off to Dinosaur National Monument for a few day's family vacation. We are going with nephew, Julian (and his family), the kid who first led us all into researching dinosaurs. Now Rees and Kadin are big dinosaur fans. We have a great collection of dinosaur magazines some dear friends in Oxford got for Rees at a boot sale. There are over 100 different issues and both boys can't get enough of them. They are pitched in just the right way. We read at least one a day. Now I know, among many other interesting facts, that the Stegaseras (not to be confused with the Stegasaurus) looks like a Pachycephalasaurus and so on. We are hoping to find some gastroliths in Utah.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Say “no” to grackles

I got a coupon in the mail from a local store, “Wild Bird Center,” for Safflower Seed, called “the grackle problem solver.” In a previous post, I wasn’t even sure we had grackles around here and I didn’t know they were a problem. In fact, I was looking forward to meeting one as they seemed to generate strong opinions. The ad says, “Squirrels don’t like it either. Say ‘no’ to grackles and squirrels.” So hey, if the Wild Bird Center is anti-grackle, something must really be going on. What is up with these birds that they are so despised? Why are they spreading? Why is the common grackle uncommon? Clearly I am going to have to look into this.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


I have been surprised by how much the info on kittens I am reading is like the childrearing literature I have read. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, but it is so interesting. The answer to the question, "Where is it going to sleep?" for example, has all of the extreme views and fear-mongering found in the childrearing literature:

Your bedroom is not the proper place, although it will never refuse to sleep with you. Just remember that you will not be able to take away from your adult cat what you have allowed it to do when it was a kitten. …Its proper place is in its basket, in the room you have chosen. On the first night, above all do not give in to the temptation of going and fetching it, even if it is crying. Stay calm, this learning period generally lasts 3 or 4 days.

That is from a book about kittens given free from the pet food company. It is similar, I think, to the free babycare books given out at the hospital to new parents from baby food companies.

On discipline, it (predictably) recommends: "The kitten needs to understand as soon as possible the limits that it must not go beyond before its weapons (claws and teeth) are fully developed." (And did you know that stressed cats can bite their nails? "If your kitten is chewing the claws, it may be in a state of anxiety which could turn into depression." Biting nails must be very deeply ingrained in our animal minds.) There is little in it, however, about how to do this in a firm yet gentle and loving way (similar ommision in childrearing literature).

There is one big difference between the kitten- and childcare literature, however, and that is in acknowledging that each and every cat or kitten is different and has its own distinct personality. Somehow I missed that in the kid literature. Only a few cherished books had it. Certainly in cat books there is lots of info on the personalities of the different breeds (obvious reasons why this is not done for humans) but also the recognition that each cat’s own genetic makeup and life experiences will play out in different personalities and that differences can be as great within the breeds as between them. (Dog breeds in general being more diverse and distinct than cat breeds.) It is just accepted that some cats will be shy or reticent and some cats will be more outgoing or social, some quieter and some more vocal, etc. We don’t seem to have a similar acceptance or respect for differences with children.

I got this book called The Kitten Whisperer by Claire Bessant, the same woman who wrote What Cats Want. It's kind of a cats-eye view of the world, how they evolved in the wild and how they evolved to be pets. I never bought The Baby Whisperer and have only heard horror stories about it. But somehow the idea of getting advice from someone who has an expert knowledge seems okay with cats. I do want to know what cats want, them being a different species and all. (Somehow I can’t imagine a book called What Babies Want. That would be nice to see, though!) It seems good to understand their behavior from an evolutionary perspective and to see how and why these little carnivores have adapted as pets. (One of my favorite childrearing books, called Our Babies, Ourselves, was written from such an evolutionary perspective, but that is not the norm for childrearing literature.) I liked the section in The Kitten Whisperer about how cats train us. I thought it true also for childrearing, just that a childrearing book would never be so permissive of the child and acknowledge that an adult being manipulated is okay! We allow it and smile at it in other species, but not our own:

How Do Cats Train Us?
Your kitten is a very bright little character. It is on a steep learning curve and is making new discoveries every day. It learns by watching, by trial and error, and by the reactions you give it to things that it does. It learns which of its actions result in something it likes and which don't. In particular, it learns how to make you do what it wants (just like any child worth its salt!). It is up to you to decide when you are to be manipulated, when you want to be manipulated because it is actually what you want as well, and when you definitely do not want to give in!

The above paragraph, or something like it, with maybe a different spin on the manipulation part, could easily be found in a childrearing book, but the one below wouldn’t, I don’t think:

Cats are amazing teachers—most of us know we are the slaves of a cat rather than the owners.…Cats can do this because their affection rewards us—they do not have to offer food, just a meow or a purr of praise and we are putty in their hands. They seldom revert to aggression but rather give us a slow drip, drip, drip of reward for our attention—that's the way to do it!

It is nice to see the fun part, even if it is pure manipulation, acknowledged!

As far as differences go, Rex and Pearl certainly have distinct personalities. Pearl is perfect, or as I am tempted to say these days, purrfect. She is confident and calm and outgoing and playful. She rationally accepts new things and change and is not pushy or demanding. And then there is Rex. Rex is a little wackier. He is more energetic, more influenced by change and what is going on around him and he is a little needier and wants more attention. It’s funny because even though in my eyes Pearl is perfect, Rex is more endearing. Pearl being the more self contained one, I interact with her less. It is definitely good that they have each other. And I have to say that I feel ever so much more confident and competent raising them and setting limits now than I did (or do) with the children. It seems such a breeze in comparison and not only because they sleep 16 hours a day.

They actually seem to acknowledge and appreciate me, which rarely seems to be the case with the other dependants around here. (I’ll have to teach the kids about that drip, drip, drip of praise and affection!) I sat down yesterday to trim the kitten’s claws and they calmly let me do it and even purred. My kids have never let me trim their nails without a protest (or wash their face or hair—I wonder, did I raise feral children?). I have to give a lot of credit to the breeder who did an excellent, loving job of socializing them, but she told me no cat was going to love getting their nails trimmed, you just had to do it and let them know you were it charge. If that was something they disliked, I am amazed. Today I am going to try giving them a bath. Wondering how that will compare to bathing the kids. Oh yeah, and then there were the websites I just read about training your cat to use the toilet. I think I might try that next.

Friday, June 10, 2005


This is not going to be easy. It’s the first day of summer break. It has been raining all day. It is 6pm and I am fed up to here with the constant interruptions. The kids finally went outside a few minutes ago and I sat down to read a bit. Found a nice poem by Lucille Clifton. I remember reading her explanation for why she writes short poems: “I have six children and I can only hold about twenty lines in my head until the end of the day.” A good thought for me to ponder at this difficult time. Hmmm. Just noticed that the thumping I hear outside is Kadin working the lawn with a huge pickaxe. Here is Clifton’s poem while I go stop him from chopping his foot off:

blessing the boats
by Lucille Clifton

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back | may you
open your eyes to the water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

Okay, I'm back. Happy summer! (Dinner’s burning, Rees is snacking.) Might not be able to write much more any time soon.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


Okay, so I’ve sent in the forms to register the kittens. They are purebred Devon Rex kittens, a sort of very, very short haired cat that tends to be less allergenic. Luckily, this lack of allergy part seems to be true and I can pet them with abandon. On the forms I need to register their purebred names. It’s all part of the purebred world where kitten births are registered in birth certificates. My first instinct was to register some sort of lighthearted, funny, spoof names, but then I had second thoughts. It doesn’t matter so much for Rex because Rex is of “pet” quality, so he will be neutered and will not sire any kittens. His name will not live on. But Pearl, Pearl is special. She is, according to the breeder, of “show” quality. And she is a pretty amazing little cat. The breeder asked how I would feel about having a litter of kittens with her as the mother. Well, that sounded like it might be fun, so we agreed to try to breed her at some point in the future. If we do, her name will be on the pedigree of her offspring and their offspring and so on.

The first name on the pedigree is the name of the cattery, in this case, Castilleja. I chose the name Pearl for the girl and Rees chose the name Rex for the boy. So their registered names would be Castilleja and something Pearl or something Rex. They are “brown mackerel tabbies” and when I looked into the origin of tabbies, it turns out it was a kind of silk with a watered stripy look that was made in the Attabiyah district of Baghdad. Attabiyah became atabbi and then tabby and the cats with patterns similar to the silk were called tabby cats.

After some debate about names, we settled on Catilleja’s Attabiyah Pearl for Pearl (suitably exotic for a family tree) and Castilleja’s Tabbysaurus Rex for Rex (suitably silly for him and our family). And, tiny as they are, they really do live up to their names.

And that’s not all. The breeder now wants me to show Pearl at a cat show in September in Denver, this year's site of "Devon Heaven." Hmmm, I seem to be slowly getting drawn into this purebred world. Maybe I will get those cat motif checks after all. Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Travelogue: NY, NY

Whew! Am waiting to board my Jet Blue flight after my 36-hour junket to NYC. It's been a whirlwind weekend and was pretty much everything I had hoped it would be: galleries on Saturday and celebrating Clare's 40th birthday then Chinatown today and the reading of a play.

Just getting into NY via subway early Saturday morning was an adventure, one I was very glad to do on my own. It has been nearly 8 years since I have traveled by myself and it was nice to have minimal baggage and only myself to look after. All my senses were immediately heightened as I navigated the Air Train to the subway and tried to decipher that peculiar subway-speak of the train conductors and the body language of fellow passengers. The first train, for some garbled reason, stopped, so I got off and crossed a platform to another waiting train. And then there was not knowing where I was or where I was going or where I should transfer until the subway stops became more familiar (Lexington, 5th Ave, Rockefeller Center). The trains seemed to get nicer, the ads in them more upscale, and the people more diverse as I got closer to the heart of Manhattan. I made some lucky guesses and a quick exit from at least one train that turned into an express, and in the end found Jen's parent’s apartment without a hitch. It was gorgeous, like walking into a movie set. Special surprise was that Bart and Kate and Cuillin and Clare were all there to meet me along with Jen and Tanya (whom I had been dying to meet).

Of course they had bagels waiting. After breakfast and a latté excursion, I took the best shower of my life in the amazing old shower. Water sprayed out in a deluge on this parched Coloradoan, not only from the top, but also, when I wanted it to, in from the sides. Wow.

That was followed by another subway adventure, this time with two strollers, down to the galleries of Chelsea. The first show we saw, by a friend of Jen's sister, was an intricate sculptural collage of all kinds of found objects arranged around a grid of string that covered the gallery from ceiling to floor. (Hard to describe, guess you had to be there.) It was fascinating and tactile, but fragile. Kate had to keep a close eye on Cuillin in between getting messages on her cell phone from potential buyers of their RI house.

Next stop was Nina's exhibit. First, a genealogy of the grocery store: a family tree of the De Cecco Pasta woman, Mr. Clean, Betty Crocker, Aunt Jemima, etc. A humorous regrouping of familiar brand-name personalities. Then behind, in a hallway, a sampling of found video tape that had been restored. And in the back room, videos of Nina interviewing her parents about their background and unique accents and language history. The best part was video of Nina and her parents working with a speech coach to learn each other's accents. Then you saw her doing the interviews again in her parent's respective accents and their attempts to answer back in her accent.

The kidos fell asleep at this point (or woke up, it's all a blur, Tanya being an easy, contented baby), so we surveyed the adults present to determine desires for lunch. We met all desires at a small Italian place and had a peaceful, relatively inexpensive lunch. Peaceful as far as kids went, that is, but Clare showcased her mediation and debate skills with an intense, in-depth discussion with Bart and Kate of children and religion. After lunch we saw Laura Wulf's exhibit of etched photograms in rich colors and pleasing shapes.

Clare wanted to see more photograms (images made on photographic paper without camera, film, or negatives) so we hit one more exhibit before returning to Nina's again for closer inspection. Clare and I got unusually fascinated by one particular video clip, which made us late to Clare's apartment. She had specifically told people to be there right at 4pm. Oops! We grabbed some food and a taxi and hightailed it across town.

Clare’s exquisite, wonderful, small apartment was filled with fantastic food and people and a harpsichord. Most amazing was the best chocolate I have ever had. There was a crème brulée truffle that needed to be eaten right away. The freshest most fantastic cream taste possible. Then there was a sesame truffle with sesame seeds toasted to their peak of flavor. Fresh and clean and delicious. A small taste of the black tea truffle transported me to China, and the pistachio truffle was creamy and divine. I heard rumors of a balsamic vinegar truffle and a Thai curry truffle, and though I didn't get to sample them, I am sure they were equally amazing.

EVERYONE was at Clare's apartment, many people I hadn't seen in years and some I met for the first time, they included (but were not limited to): Jane, Michael, and Mario, Maggie, MJ, Ashley and Fred, Bill and Diane, Liz and Alex, as well as Bart, Kate, and Cuillin, Jen and Tanya. I'm sure I have forgotten some! Great, great to see old friends.

We returned to Jen's parent's apartment and, though exhausted, stayed up a bit, talked, and watched part of Sling Blade.

This morning we slept 'til 8, made another latté run, cleaned up, packed up, loaded the cars, and Jen and Tanya headed back to Boston while the rest of us headed downtown to pick up Clare and visit Pearl River. It was a quick jaunt to SoHo (thanks to Kate's excellent city driving skills) where we found parking in the nick of time and enjoyed nearly an hour in Pearl River, an Asian imports department store.

I grabbed a sandwich for the train and Clare and I headed back uptown to see a reading of a play by Jane Wulf, Laura's sister, whom I had met the night before. Jane's haiku for Clare's birthday:

From mud pies to now
I'm sorry I broke your leg
You're great, I love you

(Not sure I got it totally right, especially the last line, but you get the idea.)

The play, about couples and careers and parenthood, was insightful and thought provoking. Laura Wulf and Tessa (another old friend from Brown) were also at the play and we all went out after for an iced tea (it proved to be a very hot day), a quick update of lives, and a discussion of the play.

Then it was time for me to head back out to the airport. Trip was, in the end, uneventful, but once again I was never sure when I would need to quickly hop off a train and change to another. At one point, the conductor was shouting, "Listen up, and listen up good, this E train is becoming the F train. If any of you want to go to Jamaica center or the airport, you need to…clattering… transfer… tunnel noises…shuttle…static… If you don't understand, now is the time to ask questions." Hmmm. Something about "union?" I get out my map. Yes, there is a station coming up called Union Turnpike, I gather I should get off this train there and find out what next. My experience is that even when you think you've got it made, there is always a new wrinkle and always a possible new plan that might arise, a detour, a better way to go, a better train to ride. Never a dull moment to be sure, and this was just as true for the drive down to Clare’s this morning when there was a change of plans a minute. Got off the train at Union Turnpike and sure enough, got on an E train shuttle to Sutphin Blvd., my desired destination and the Air Train.

I arrive at the airport with plenty of time to spare, have a nice dinner, and am happy to find one Oasis Day Spa, with locations at 108 East St. (Union Square), 1 Park Ave, the Affinia Dumont Hotel on East 34th St., and, miraculously, JFK Airport, Jet Blue terminal. How lovely! And yes, after a hot sweaty day of walking around New York, I can have a pedicure before I board my flight. This is the best.

Friday, June 03, 2005

The promised post: Rex and Pearl

So the kittens. The kittens are amazing. Just the cutest little vicious things you can imagine. The have big eyes, big ears, are small, stripy and furry. They melt your heart. And yet they are real carnivores. Under that soft fur are sharp claws and teeth, their keen eyes alert to any sudden movement, ready to pounce. It is amazing to watch them play with each other. Well, actually, not that amazing as I also have two boys and it’s all the same. It’s like the boys and the cats are in parallel. Rees and Kadin will be wrestling (“take that!” “ah!” “arrh” “ugggh”) and Rex and Pearl will be play fighting (bite, hiss, scratch), then they will all stop and Rees will look at the kittens and say, “You are so cute!” and they will all take a cuddle break. How is it that these little violent carnivores have so seduced us? How can something so cuddly be so brutal? How can sweet young boys be so aggressive? I often wonder if Rees and Kadin are actually enjoying themselves when they play like this. I’ll ask them, “Are you having fun?” And they’ll inevitably reply, “Yes!” all glowing with the effort of battle. I just can’t imagine. And it’s hard to watch these sweet cuddly kittens really going at it, though I know they are learning important hunting behaviors. And of course, I will forgive them anything if they purr when I pet them.

The kittens are Rex (boy) and Pearl (girl). They seem like very healthy and well-adjusted kittens. They are playful and active but also cuddly and loving, smart, and eager to please. These creatures that have evolved to be charming are really quite amazing. Their wiles work extremely well. I don’t know how we got on without them. Though tonight at dinner Kadin said thoughtfully, “I really liked that crawfish.” Sigh.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Memorial Day weekend goes retrograde

I don't know if mercury is in retrograde or something, but we have not been having much luck with electronic appliances of late: it’s one malfunction/breakdown after another. The robot vacuum got in a fight with the bathmat after I inadvertently forgot to shut the bathroom door. I thought it was supposed to turn itself off, but it fought on valiantly (I wasn't home to help) until it started smoking and burned itself out. Then there is the camera. My camera has been flakey for a while, suddenly and randomly deleting pictures without notice. Card often gets damaged and becomes unreadable. But we have Greg's camera from work too. I was using Greg's camera to take pictures of the kittens (we got kittens!) and I was excitedly running up the stairs with it to get a shot when I tripped and dropped his camera and completely broke it. Ughh. Then, Greg was drinking water by the computer when Rees spilled it into the keyboard. We are still waiting for the keyboard to dry out. Maybe tomorrow? In the meanwhile, Greg has brought home an extra keyboard from work. So after a few days hiatus, I can type again.

Despite the technical difficulties, we had a fun weekend. We got the kittens on Saturday and they are, predictably, extremely cute. I am finally a cat owner (see R#x quest and Flickers, finches, purrs, and hugs for more on this), but perhaps not a normal one. There are pending forays back into the purebred world. More on that later. The kittens add an interesting new dynamic to life around the house. For example, Rees woke up in a really bad mood the other day, but in no time the kittens had melted his heart, and Kadin gets to try out being a “big” brother for a change. I love the way the kittens are so good at using the litter box and feeding themselves. It seems mostly what they need is the occasional cuddle.

On Monday we did the Bolder Boulder, a 10k race/walk. It is a big deal here with about 50,000 people participating. It is very well organized and upbeat and was lots of fun with people in costumes, a great variety of bands, and cheering crowds all along the route. Rees wanted to run and Felicity and I were planning to jog/walk, Greg and Kadin would watch from the sidelines on the bicycle (no wheels or strollers allowed in the race and nobody wanted to carry Kadin). Rees went on ahead and Fe and I jogged most of the downhills. About an hour and a half later we all met up again at the designated spot in the stadium. Greg and Kadin had seen Felicity and me twice, we had seen them once, but no one had seen Rees. I even searched for pictures on the web registered with his racing bib number. Nothing. It seems he was invisible for 90 minutes, completely free and anonymous. I asked Rees how it felt to be alone amongst all those people, “was it scary or fun?” “Fun!” he replied.

Of course, we have no pictures of our own from this event.