Category Archives: Pets

The Cat Who Came In From the Cold

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If you’ve been following our story, you may have noticed that our family is gaga for animals. We collect them as casually as people collect, say, matchbooks or Pez dispensers. Oh, look! A _______________! We don’t have one of those yet! You can fill in the blank with any number of the fish, rodents, lagomorphs, and dogs that have passed through our house. My daughter has most recently been drawing up an action plan to convince her father that having a couple of sheep in the paddock out back would not only be a good idea, but essential to her happiness.

She has a tough road ahead of her. My husband is one of two people in our household, who do not think that sharing your space with an abundance of animals is delightful. His mini-me, our second son, rolls his eyes heavenward and heaves a weary sigh whenever a new animal is added to our menagerie. He dutifully helps take care of the dogs, but with no great enthusiasm. Whenever one of us starts talking about adding yet another hamster, or a couple of ducks, or a fish to the mix,  our very own Jiminy Cricket  issues dire predictions about the troubles that are likely to ensue as a result of our animal profligacy. He tries to warn us of our folly, and then eventually throws his hands up in despair and retires to his own bedroom, one of the only places in our house where peace and order reign.

In the past we have considered providing shelter to horses, llamas, goats, ducks, guinea hens, quails, turtles, and even snakes. The one animal I was never tempted to keep was a cat. But…sometimes you choose, and sometimes you are chosen. Parson, a cat we only latterly discovered to be a “she” rather than a “he,” chose us, or rather chose to let us live in her/our house.

My daughter took over Parson’s care and feeding, and we tried to make her as comfortable as possible on our back porch. In the corner of our porch, we installed a pet carrier outfitted with a cozy bed and a self-warming pad. For the two years we’ve lived in our house, Parson has spent her days and nights there. She has expressed satisfaction with our services by rubbing up against our legs when we go out to greet her. Our dopey little dogs have repeatedly tried to make friendly overtures to her, signaling their goodwill with their cocked heads and wagging tails. She will have nothing to do with their foolishness. As soon as she catches sight of them, she hisses at them as if she is ready to start World War III.

The polar vortex had us worrying about Parson. It’s been so cold the kids have now twice had an hour school delay.  One day we opened the door to see if we could coax the cat inside to warm up for awhile. We finally managed to lure her in with some treats, but as soon as the dogs came running up to greet her, she hissed and ran under the oven to hide. She was still there a few hours later when I had to leave the house. I was dreading what I would find when I returned home.

“Did the cat ever come out?” I asked my children when I got back.

“Oh yeah! She came out,” Jiminy Cricket replied casually.

“How did you get her out?”

“I just put some food out in the kitchen and she came out to eat.”

“And she’s back outside now?”

“No.”

No? Where is she?”

“She’s in my room. She likes it there.”

Oh! Well, let’s let her outside so she can go to the bathroom.”

“Not a good idea,” Jiminy Cricket said, shaking his head, “It’s way too cold out there for her.”

“Well, but…how’s she going to go to the bathroom?”

“We set up the guinea pigs’ litter box in my room.”

There are so many reasons for being shocked by these revelations I don’t even know where to begin…

“So what are we going to do with her? She hates the dogs…”

“She’ll live in my room.”

Forever?

“Yep.”

Still shaking my head in wonder, I braced myself for the difficult conversation I was going to have with my husband about the matter. I explained to him our son’s surprising position on the cat.

“Well, that’s no good.”

My heart sank.

“She can’t stay in his room forever.”

“I know…”

“Eventually, I want her to come out and socialize with everyone, including the dogs.”

And that, my friends, is a Christmas miracle.

Darwin helps us evolve…

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Perhaps as a result of having lived in a basement for many years in my youth, I try to avoid them as much as possible now. The house we live in now has a lovely, partly-finished basement with French doors. The kids like to play ping-pong, pummel the punching bag, and run on the treadmill there. I am never tempted to join them.

The other day I was hunting around for something and ventured to the basement for the first time in months. What I saw there literally made me gasp in horror…and then gnash my teeth in rage. I gingerly picked my way over empty food wrappers. I surveyed dirty dishes and plates on every surface, and dirty clothes and towels strewn about the floor. It was a crime scene.

It’s a good thing my husband had taken the kids to a movie, because it took a good two hours for me to stop seething. They returned from the theater in high spirits after having spent the afternoon with their dad, the fun parent. For those of you who may be unaware of this sad universal truth, only one lucky person gets to be the fun parent. This of course means that I am the mean parent. Not only am I the mean parent, I am The Meanest Most Unreasonable Parent That Ever Drew Breath In This Universe. The minute those happy, carefree children walked through the door, I confiscated their cell phones and sent them directly downstairs to tackle the unholy mess they had made.

Whenever the kids get in trouble collectively, they begin acting like rats in an overcrowded cage. A lifetime of human civility evaporates like a dream. They turn on each other with feral ferocity. I listened from the living room upstairs as they bellowed and bawled, hurling their grievances to the indifferent heavens above. My 17-year-old was the most vocal about his outrage at the unfairness of life and of his mother’s absurd and irrational insistence on maintaining a minimal level of order and hygiene.

It took some time for the turbulent feelings to subside. That evening we were in the kitchen together and began to make small conciliatory overtures to each other.

“Is this what you’re looking for?” I asked as I handed him the spatula.

“Yeah. Thanks, Mom.”

I pulled out the big guns, (emotionally speaking), by inquiring about a topic especially near and dear to my son’s heart.

“How’s Darwin doing?” I asked, “Has he fully recovered?”

For reasons beyond my comprehension, the kid dotes on his mudskipper, Darwin.  He  assiduously monitors his food intake and constantly frets over his general health and well-being. He spends hours hunting for choice, live insects to feed him and keeps his tank scrupulously pristine. When we went away to England recently, he penned a tome which outlined in excruciating detail the care and feeding of Darwin. I had to condense it down to a single-spaced page to spare the poor girl who was taking care of all of our animals while we were away. As far as I can tell, there is no return on my son’s considerable investment of time and effort. The mudskipper lolls about on his log, a glassy-eyed, overfed pasha consuming his food and dirtying his waters. No thanks given. No affection returned.

About a month earlier, my son had been doing a water change for Darwin, when the mudskipper freaked out. He started thrashing wildly around his aquarium, tearing his fins as he hurled himself in a panic from log to log. Ever since then my son has been nursing him back to health.

“He’s getting better,” he replied, “His fins are still ragged, but you can tell they’re starting to grow back.”

There was a pause before he added, “I wish he could understand that I’m just trying to help him.”

“Mmmmhmmm,” I murmured sympathetically, “I know exactly what you mean.”

“Leave me alone, Dad” I snarled, drawing upon my thespian background to channel all the wrath of a wronged mudskipper, “Why do we have to clean the room?! It’s fine the way it is!!!

There was a moment of silence followed by a low chuckle of acknowledgement: “Yeah, OK, Mom.”

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I’m a sucker

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Anyone who knows me knows I have a weakness for pets…My husband neither supports nor endorses my penchant for collecting extra mouths to feed and poop to shovel, but he tolerates it with the stoicism of the English.

Last week I was in Portland, Oregon with two of my siblings. We stayed at the historic Benson Hotel. As I perused the menu of guest services, my eye was immediately drawn to the “Fish Program”:

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I relentlessly pestered my sister with whom I was sharing a room until she broke down and let me order up a “companion fish.” I gleefully called housekeeping and made the request.

A young man came to the door bearing this beauty…

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I announced the betta’s arrival into my life to my friends on Instagram, and named him “Benson” at the suggestion of one of my cousins. My husband, a rare consumer of social media, spotted the post and countered with his own suggestion for a name: “Blood Clot.” (You see what I’m saying? This is a man who is not at all into animal husbandry).

I tried to freak him out a little by telling him that the hotel was going to let me bring Blood Clot home, but he did not rise to the bait.

My next attempt to yank his chain was to send him a picture of the “emotional support companion” dog who happened to be sitting next to me on the flight home from Portland.

“They wouldn’t let me bring Blood Clot home, but…meet Sprocket! I know you’re going to adore him!” I wrote:

IMG_9049My little joke was met with deafening silence. Perhaps because I had already tried to play that dirty trick on him a couple years ago:

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I’m not the only one in my family who loves animals. My daughter really wanted baby goats, and for a hot second I actually considered getting them for her:

I came to my senses and we reached a more reasonable compromise:

So when my son asked if he could adopt his friend’s mudskipper, I could hardly refuse, although I had no idea what the heck a mudskipper was. “Mudskipper” didn’t sound at all cute or cuddly.

The name was somewhat alarming, but more alarming still was the fact that my son’s friend wanted to unload him in the first place. I happened to know that this friend of his has an even larger and more diverse menagerie than we have. He has a falcon, two dogs, a whole aquarium full of fish, geckos, chickens, a snake…Hello?! The boy has a pet FALCON, for Pete’s sake!

Why in the world would he want to get rid of his mudskipper?

I agreed to let my son bring the mudskipper home, but I told him we could only take him after Christmas since we would be traveling over the holidays.

To my dismay the mudskipper arrived well before Christmas.

“Hey! I thought we’d agreed that we couldn’t take him until after Christmas?!”

“I know, but we had to take him now, because getting rid of the mudskipper is [my friend]’s Christmas present to his dad.”

May I remind you that my son’s friend has a falcon, a gecko, a snake, two dogs, chickens, and a whole plethora of other fish? The kid has his own chest freezer full of dead mice to feed his falcon. But the one pet which his dad objected to was the mudskipper. He was SO anxious to get it out of his house, that he asked his son to get rid of it as a Christmas present to him.

Meet Darwin, the mudskipper:

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So adorable, right?IMG_7674

Why in the world would anyone want to get rid of such a sweet little creature?

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Darwin arrived with a jar of food, which he begrudgingly eats:

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Mmmmmm….dinner!

…when he can’t get the fresh food he prefers.

The other day I came upon my son, who was sitting on his haunches rooting around in my garden.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Just getting some dinner for my man, Darwin.”

Blech.

My birthday isn’t until September, but I already know exactly what I’m going to ask for!

 

Weekend Snapshots 46

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Friday

The primula my mother-in-law brought from Scotland to England to America is blooming again. This humble little flower made its way to me from across the ocean wrapped in a napkin stashed in my mother-in-law’s handbag. It’s held a spot of honor in every garden of each of the three houses we’ve lived in here in Charlottesville. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve divided this sentimental favorite to share with friends…

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In the evening I picked up my daughter and three of her friends after their second ever quartet practice. I laughed during the entire car ride home as the young musicians discussed their plans to get rich busking on the Downtown Mall.

“Whose case should we use to collect money?”

“Definitely mine,” said the cellist, “It’s the biggest.”

“Yeah, mine is way too small,” agreed the flautist, “It would fill up with money way too fast and we’d have to keep emptying it all the time, which would be a pain.”

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Dream big, girls. Dream big!

Later that evening we had family movie night.

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Little Mr. Muffet sitting on his tuffet, watching The Lord of the Rings.

We’ve been watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy over the course of several weeks. Though Tolkien wrote his great epic in the 30s and 40s about hobbits, elves, dwarves and wizards, it’s uncanny how many parallels can be drawn between the trilogy’s war between the forces of good and evil and current events. Trump, Daesh, the refugee crisis, the environmental crisis…they’re all in there. I found this gorgeous edition for my daughter who has only read The Hobbit, and still has the pleasure of reading the trilogy ahead of her. The rest of us are lined up to re-read them when she’s done!

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Saturday

MarieBette Café & Bakery and their brioches feuilletées are one of the many reasons I love living in Charlottesville:

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Breakfast!

There are only about two and a half days in any given year when I want to be outside, and Saturday was one of them!

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My husband took the kids to play frisbee golf:

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…while I had fun getting my hands dirty in the garden! I transplanted a few things, planted some seeds…

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and finally finished the oyster shell path I began last year! It only took three more 50 lb bags of crushed oyster shells and the last dregs of my will to carry on. If you see me hobbling around clutching my back like an old woman, you’ll know why.

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Winter Jewels Hellebores are one of the very first plants I put in my new garden. These flowers are so great! They bloom crazy early and then continue on for months, untouched by deer, insects, late snows and other gardening catastrophes. They self seed and are easy to divide too. img_2969

In the evening we all met up again for dinner at Smoked, a bustling barbecue restaurant in the newly opened Piedmont Place in Crozet. There was a rather long wait for a table, so we spent a lovely hour at Over the Moon Bookstore.

I’ve been trapped in a loveless marriage with Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall for what seems like an eternity, but has really probably been less than a year. I thought I’d step out on Wolf Hall to have a meaningless fling with Carl Hiaasen’s Razor Girl, but I’m not enjoying that book nearly as much as I thought I would. So now I’m condemned to slog through TWO books before starting some of the books I bought at Over the Moon. I was discussing this with the bookseller and she told me she didn’t understand this at all:

“Life is too short. I give a book ten pages at the most, and if I’m not hooked, I just stop reading it.”

Do you feel obliged to finish a book once you’ve started? Even if you hate it?

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Sunday

Spotted on my way to book group brunch…

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Did I mention how much I love living in Charlottesville?img_2981

This month my book group read my sister’s novel Tiger Pelt! I artfully posed some copies on the table only to realize with bitter disappointment once I got home – you can’t see the books!!!img_2984-2

You may not be able to spot the books in the photo, but you can find your own copy of Annabelle Kim’s Tiger Pelt online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound. It’s a great pick for book clubs! No loveless marriages here…I promise it will move and inspire you. Readers of this blog may recognize some of the events in Tiger Pelt, because the boy’s story is inspired by my father’s life story. If you read it, I would love to hear what you think.

After I got back home, I began to redecorate for spring:

img_2987My daughter and I gave her guinea pigs’ pad a new look for spring too:

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I feel that it’s still missing a certain je ne sais quoi…A seagrass wallpaper to pull in a little more texture? Some ambient lighting perhaps? Some cushions for a pop of color? A chaise longue in the corner? Nothing but the finest for these round-the-clock industrial poop factories:

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Countdown to V-Day, Pt. 1

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In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’m republishing some of my past posts about love…My first repost is my rendition of My Funny Valentine(s), featuring Tallis and Chloe, my cute, but rotten dogs. They’re still not 100% housebroken, they tend to yap, and they’re exceedingly lazy. But we love them anyway:

 

I need therapy

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There are many ways to deal with life when the going gets rough…

The hardiest among us can simply:

img_8048Being of the non-hardy variety myself, I find that eating a cookie can help:

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Eat your heart out!

Sometimes animals are the best therapy of all. At the university where I work, various groups will often hire a petting zoo to roll onto campus to alleviate stress during exam periods. The students abandon their books and fly out of the libraries and dorms as soon as they catch wind of the fact that the animals have arrived…Wouldn’t you?

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“It followed her to school one day…”

Even my grumpy colleague can’t help but crack a smile when the petting zoo arrives:

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Of course we have our own cute and cuddly therapy animals at home:

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What’s that you say?! You mean you don’t find Darwin the mudskipper cute and cuddly?

 

 

Are you SURE?!

My friend Tina is a child psychologist. Her trademark tools of the trade are her therapy guinea pigs. They earn their keep by going to work with her every day. For years she’s been telling me that guinea pigs make great pets. If you’ve been following this blog, you may recall that my daughter was pining for a more exotic variety of pet. First she wanted goats, which I considered getting for her for a hot minute before coming to my senses. Then she decided she wanted to have ducklings. I was about to get her the ducklings, when I discovered hawks and foxes in our backyard. Remembering my friend’s advice, I finally convinced my daughter that guinea pigs would make far better pets. I made absolutely no move to actually get them for her however.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day we all had a day off from school and work, and I had scheduled dentist appointments for the kids. As we left the dentist’s office my son asked me if we could make a quick run to the pet store so he could pick up some marine salt for Darwin, the mudskipper…(Don’t all these stories start so innocently)?

My daughter was in a foul mood, having just had a recalcitrant baby tooth yanked out of her head and sealants placed on her molars ahead of the braces both she and her brother are scheduled to get next month. At the pet store, she grabbed me by the hand and dragged me to the back corner of the pet store. And there they were…two unfathomably adorable baby guinea pigs. Obviously, they came home with us.

My crabby girl perked right up. img_2640img_2635img_2655

We played with them all day long. They were so cute, my daughter and I could only tear our eyes away from them to look at each other with these expressions on our faces:

Not everyone in our household finds them to be so irresistible:

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“Aaaaagh! Take it! Take it! Take it!”

Now when I get home from work, my daughter takes me by the hand and says, “Come. Let’s have some guinea pig therapy.”

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And it works like a charm.

Now I totally get why Tina took those guinea pigs to work every day…because as everybody knows: therapists need therapy too!

Glass Menagerie

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I came home today to this cozy sight:

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Chloe and her human.

I went upstairs to discover that while I was at work, we acquired a new member of our ever growing menagerie…Like Chloe, my husband’s favorite foot warmer, our new pet has big, round eyes. He/She/It (?!) has a wiggly tail. It mostly likes to lounge around, but every once in a while it scampers about. It likes to swim…

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Meet our new mudskipper. It’s an amphibious fish who can motor around on land and in water. My son’s friend brought it over to our house, because his mother asked him to find a new home for it as a Christmas present to his father. As you might imagine, I find this to be rather ominous, but I will keep an open mind.

My son is taking suggestions for names. Let me know if you have any by commenting!