Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Deep Discounts on Fabulous Furballs: Get Yours Now!

Sorry I’ve been MIA. But you can see in the photo who’s been in charge of the computer lately.

This is Zuzu (my nickname for her), who was staying with us while her person vacationed. She wanted me to give you a heads-up that June is Adopt-A-Shelter-Cat Month.

It’s Adopt-A-Shelter-Cat Month because this is the season when unexpected litters of kittens overwhelm shelters across this country. Most shelters counter the situation by offering incredible deals to folks willing to adopt a feline, old or young. Some shelters are even GIVING away cats.

I realize there aren’t many days remaining in the month, but if you’ve been thinking about adopting a furball, now is the perfect time.

“The smallest feline is a masterpiece.”
—Leonardo da Vinci

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Pets in the Workplace: Enjoyment Up, Stress Down

Tomorrow is the 14th annual observation of Take Your Dog to Work Day. (Actually, for those of you feeling snubbed because you have an iguana or rabbit at home instead of a pooch, this entire week is apparently Take Your Pet to Work Week.)

But since it’s (temporarily) All About Cats here at Lull Central, I thought we could direct our focus to the mixed-species household, the one that embraces both cats and dogs. After the dog has been taken to work tomorrow, what is the feline thinking? What happens in the dog’s absence? Here are a few ideas from Stanley, the spokescat for the CATalyst Council:

1. Your midday nap will not be interrupted by incessant, frenzied yapping sparked by the mail carrier’s arrival. Or a squirrel in the yard. Or the wind blowing the tree leaves. Or absolutely nothing at all.
2. No sliding in the drool puddles left behind on the tile floor.
3. You’ll finally get to eat your own food. All of it. No sharing.
4. A rare opportunity to use the dog bed as a scratching post. Or litter box—it’s your choice.
5. Being spared the humiliation of the most base of all canine greetings: the infamous and oh-so-annoying Butt Sniff. How uncivilized.

Stanley cautions his brethren, though: “You must remember that if the dog is at work with your person, you can no longer frame the dog for any of your transgressions.”

I hope your employer is open to having pets in the workplace. For at least one day a year, management could pat itself on the back for having provided its workforce some humanity—in the form of nonhumans.

Read The Bark magazine for info on pets-in-the-workplace policies and a profile of the dogs at Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show.

[Dog art by Paul Boddum; cat quilt by Martha Tabis.]

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Fix at 4

Here’s a tender father-daughter moment brought to you by the Best Friends Animal Society:

The Ties that Bind

One of the letters published in Tim Russert’s Wisdom of Our Fathers describes a father who quit school in sixth grade because his own father voiced increasing contempt for education and beat his son for bringing home books.

This is not the first time I’ve read of such a reaction to reading. Even yesterday at the library I witnessed a mother rebuking her young daughter for wanting to borrow more than two books. The girl tried to explain her choices, but the mother didn’t bother listening. She held firm in her position.

My goodness. I can’t even imagine who I would have turned out to be had my father not encouraged my love for books and reading—a love initiated by my mother, who religiously read stories to me during my pre-K years. Most of the quality time I spent with my father involved books and libraries. Books remain my favorite leisure activity and my trusted source for expanding my knowledge base. My fascination with interpreting the printed word paved the way to interpreting music notation and to (proof)reading for a living.

I’ve much to thank my father for, but I think I’m most grateful that he shaped and nurtured my bond with reading and learning. He created more than memories for me. He fostered my desire for continued personal and intellectual growth, armchair traveling, creativity, and pleasure.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. No tie or soap-on-a-rope for you this year. Just a genuine, humble thank-you.

[Art by Eugene Manet.]

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Les Chats Have Arrived

My pet-sitting obligations have begun and so far, no good.

The two sibling felines are so terrified they’ve not stirred from their hiding place: a large cabinet that sets on a hollow pedestal. We’ve had this piece of furniture for years, yet I had no idea that from the back of it, its base is open and stands about 6 inches high. (Silly me. I thought we had nowhere the cats could escape to and in less than a minute, the cats knew right where to go.) The poor cats can’t even stand up, which I suppose was fine for the first few hours of their concealment but makes for a poor long-term choice of refuge.

They talked to me momentarily this morning when I tried to entice them out with their favorite canned food, but they couldn’t bring themselves into the light. I’m heading to the store next for some premium catnip toys.

I’m trying not to take this personally, especially in light of the fact that other neighborhood kitties follow me around, RUN to me when they see me going down the street.

While I’m trying to prove myself worthy of the sisters’ trust, you might enjoy watching Will Braden’s Henri, a cat whose ennui reminds me of our Burmese. (Then, don’t miss Henri 2, Paw de Deux.)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Memory Keeper’s Father

Father’s Day is approaching and I gave myself an assignment:
Read Tim Russert’s Wisdom of Our Fathers and let it guide you through memories of your own father. Write down all the things your father did and said for which you’re grateful—the things you should never forget.

Why the Russert book in particular? Because several years ago I bought it for my father for Father’s Day, then got the wacky idea that I’d get a copy, too, and we’d read it and talk about it together. It would structure our phone conversations and, I’d hoped, prompt my father to tell a few stories I’d never heard—perhaps about his own father or grandfather. Together we would also reminisce about our father-daughter relationship.

Of course, it didn’t work out as planned. Instead, we each owned the book, and we each did not read it. Like father, like daughter.

Yesterday I removed the Russert book from a shelf and added it to the 20 pounds of books I’m about to part with (some I’ve read, others I haven’t). But it gnawed at me. Reminded me of my failed plans and guilted me into action. I felt like ONE of us should have read the blasted thing and since my father had already taken off for the Great Beyond, the responsibility fell to me.

So far it’s working! The reading is sweet and easy (the book is a collection of stories written by adult children about their fathers) and I’m creating a list of the ways in which my father positively influenced my life. This will become the list I’ll never want to forget—a fatherhood torch of sorts.

I recommend my assignment to you, though you don’t need the Russert book to do it. If you’re lucky enough to still have your father around, perhaps your list could become your Father’s Day gift to him this year.

I know some of us have/had fathers who aren’t/weren’t great role models. As one man wrote for the Russert book: “My dad was a beast. … I learned much more about love from my dogs than I ever did from my dad.” Even so, even learning from a father that you want to live differently is a lesson to be thankful for.

Do you have a favorite memory of or lesson from your father to share on Lull? Is your father a closet inventor or tireless prankster? What role did he play in your childhood? I’m not asking for masterpieces—just a line or two will do. Do it for your dad.

[Art by Norman Rockwell.]

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Finding Kindness by Land and by Sea

Did you see yesterday’s news? A fellow has been hitchhiking across the lower 48 in search of material for his upcoming book on kindness. Specifically, on the kindness of strangers. As he made his way across Montana, a stranger in a pick-up truck drove up to him and shot him.

I wonder if that incident will be included in the kindness book. Or maybe the author will encounter enough people behaving badly to write a second book. [My thanks to the Lull reader who e-mailed this story to me. Her subject line: “It may not be kind, but it’s America.”]

In contrast, another Lull reader sent me a 2010 headliner about kindness. It happened a little farther north, off the coast of Alaska.

The strangers were in a large boat instead of a truck, and they were headed to a small town for a leisurely brunch. Their plans shifted as four unidentified creatures in the distance swam ever closer to the boat. The creatures turned out to be four Sitka Black-Tailed Deer, swimming for their lives and clearly needing help. Where had they come from? How long had they been in the frigid waters? Where were they originally trying to go?

Ship captain Tom Satre wasted no time in answering any questions; he immediately rallied his companions—his brother, sister, and daughter—to help the animals. Everyone worked at lifting the deer onto the boat and getting them warm and calm. The operation was touch-and-go for a while, but the humans managed to keep all four deer alive until reaching land, by which time the deer appeared to have recovered their health and were released. [Click through to a full news story for details, or to Tom Satre’s Web site where you may view more photos of the ordeal.]

With the world in economic and environmental turmoil, it’s sometimes hard to see how we can possibly make any difference. For most of us, I think the first step—and maybe the only step—is to act with kindness every day. It’s the simplest, most direct way of improving our world—one encounter at a time, human or nonhuman.

[Photos by Sharon Kelly.]

Sunday, June 10, 2012

In Praise of Art

“I feel that art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. A stillness which characterizes prayer, too, and the eye of the storm. I think that art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction.”
—Saul Bellow

[Art by Gustave Caillebotte.]

Dreams DO Come True

Most of us have dreams, but only a few of us get to see them come true. Yesterday, Phyllis Wyeth watched a horse she believed in spring her dreams out of her imagination and onto the Belmont Stakes finish line while thousands watched.

Thank you, Union Rags. You’ve rekindled hope for the rest of us.

[Photo by Mark Lennihan.]

Saturday, June 9, 2012

BOOKreMARKS: DEWEY Rises Above Other Animal Memoirs

The day I purchased two stacks of animal-related books from the library sales cellar, I threw in Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World at the last minute. I’d tried to borrow it from my Chicago library branch years ago when it was first published, but someone else always got to it before me. After buying it, I wondered why I did when I could easily have borrowed it in the Bluegrass. After all, it was only a sweet little tale about a rescued cat’s life in a library. Like so many similar memoirs, it would be touching at first read, but it wouldn’t linger in my mind. It wasn’t a keeper.

How wrong I was—on so many counts.

I have to confess upfront that I missed all the media fanfare about Dewey back in the ’90s. So every page was new to me. That said, I was hooked by the heft author Vicki Myron gave the book, for she told not only Dewey’s story but also that of her town and her family. Readers come away enriched with insights about: living in a small town; the metamorphosis from family-owned farms to corporate farming; the effects of joblessness on rural communities and libraries; city and library politics; and, of course, the influence animals exert over humans. I got so much more than I bargained for—plus it’s not dripping with saccharine language and it’s not full of typos as are so many books of this genre.

“Sometimes a cat is more than an animal…”

Above all the insights, though, Dewey remains the star of the book. He was certainly much more than a cat. He was also a library promoter, Web traffic manager, storytime consultant, family counselor, workforce mediator, and affection magnet. His intelligence, his comic antics, and his empathy are lovingly illuminated. In fact, a film is in the works and Myron has penned two additional books featuring the golden feline.

Add Dewey to your summer reading list. It’s a fast read that you won’t soon forget. But be warned: You might be struck with the unusual desire to visit Spencer, Iowa.

[Photos of Dewey from his Web site.]

A Dewey Sidenote: Twisted Thinking
As testament to the secrets that small-town residents can harbor, no one ever discovered who threw baby Dewey down the library book-drop chute that frigid evening in 1988. But curiously, once Dewey later met with stardom and acquired a fan base, numerous people stepped forward to claim credit for abandoning him!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Bird Briefs

Plumage-Watch Duty Ends
It pleases me to inform you that LuckyBird now sports a full and glorious tail of red and black. The tailless Cardinal has frequented our feeder ever since I first reported him to you—sometimes alone, other times accompanied by his Sparrow pal. He always peers through the window at us, as if to say, “Hey! Are you in there?” or “Hi guys! Watcha doin’ today?” or “Are you ever going to invite me in?” He acts as if he’s part of our inner circle.

Horsepower and the Urban Barnyard
Walked down our street the other day and saw the Chickens again. They were exploring their new next-door neighbor’s driveway. I love that I can see a Maserati parked there one evening and the next watch some curious fowl strut around the same area. (Yes, my quaint, manicured neighborhood of tiny, storybook homes occasionally offers a little eye candy to car enthusiasts: Ferraris, Aston Martins, Porsches, vintage Mercedes and Jaguars… Interesting demographics here. You can’t pigeonhole these folks.)

See Me! Feed Me! Love Me!
It’s baby-bird season now and I have delighted in watching their feeding rituals. The Sparrow mothers have been feeding their offspring from our feeders—sometimes in the yard, sometimes on our window ledge. The youngsters flutter their wings at a hummingbird pace while crying at a frantic pitch. They hold their mouths open, reaching their heads toward the sky in anticipation of their mothers’ next nourishment drop. Once these babies are on their own, their first few trips to the feeders are both comical and worrisome. They teeter on the perches, fighting to remain upright. They struggle to figure out how to turn toward the food while maintaining their balance. And just when it looks like they’re about to relax into a meal, an older bird swoops in and scares them back to Square One. The laborious process begins again, but their confidence is shakier than before. The feeder is a class in bird behavior and an inkling of how much the fledglings must learn in order to survive.

Hearing a Different Tune
Confidence was no problem for one unusually small young Sparrow. He swiftly mastered the balancing part of the feeder routine, and approached the eating stage in a far more direct manner. He worked his way down the perch until he could lean against the ceramic wall of the feeder. After a bit of maneuvering, he managed to extend his right foot up onto the edge of a feeder opening and hoist his upper body in through the opening. All I could see of the diminutive acrobat was his tail and his left leg. He got what he came for and I haven’t seen him since. But I will never forget his resourcefulness and chutzpah.

“The moment a little boy is concerned with which is a jay and which is a sparrow, he can no longer see the birds or hear them sing.”
—Eric Berne

I know precious little about birds. Many times I wish I could match the song or call I hear to the bird it’s coming from. Part of me wants to know more about their behavior and social structures. But I think I derive greater pleasure from their mystery, allowing it to stoke my imagination and my fondness for them.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I Dream of…

Scattered about this blog are references to one of my grandmothers. She’s pictured here in a photograph I’m pretty sure she never wanted to share with anyone. She NEVER let anyone see her unless she’d styled her hair and makeup for the day. She didn’t mind you seeing her in her robe, but she had to “have her face on.”

I like this pic largely for its naturalness. My grandmother isn’t posing for the photographer.

I also like it because it’s my grandmother at an age of dreams instead of memories. Everything’s possible in this moment. She hasn’t yet created all the stories of her life.

Today would have been her 100th birthday, an age she vehemently opposed reaching.

Happy Birthday, Gammy! I hope you’re rediscovering your glamour and your dreams.

I’m TRYING to Be a Good Little Vegetarian, but…

Many years ago in an office I was working in, the topic of conversation turned to vegetarianism. At that time, a lot of folks strangely equated vegetarianism with cutting back on red meat consumption. One such person in the office asked a vegetarian friend of mine, “But you eat fish and chicken, right?”

I’ll never forget her answer: “I don’t eat anything that has a face.”

I thought of her the other night as I was preparing a vegetarian meal. I was peeling and chopping potatoes and it was taking much longer than I wanted it to. I wished I’d inherited my mother’s culinary magicianship. She could peel a potato in one long slice—a single, unbroken curlicue of skin the end result. Not me, though. Chop and peel, chop and peel (yes, rather than peel the whole potato, I chopped it into wedges first, and peeled second; it seemed more manageable somehow). Then the next little golden potato I brought to the cutting board was the one in the photo.

Do you SEE its happy little FACE?! It befuddled me. I could hear my friend again: “I don’t eat anything that has a face.” I didn’t know what to do.

What would my friend have done? Not eat that particular potato but have no problem with the other faceless tubers in the bag? Stop eating all potatoes altogether in honor of the happy-faced spud?

Does every vegetable have a face and we just fail to recognize it most of the time?

Oh dear. I must stop pondering this. Otherwise, whatever will I be able to eat?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Back to the Grind

If you’re having trouble getting excited about your next project/shift/week at work, here’s something from Garfunkel and Oates that should either renew your sense of purpose or make you chuckle.

A Barnyard Lady Killer Bids Farewell

He arrived at Catskill Animal Sanctuary with 13 ewes and lambs and he was bad to the bone. There wasn’t a stall that could pen him in, not a creature who had authority over him. The humans called him Rambo, for he was all horn and rage—until…at last…he wasn’t. He transformed from wild to wise and became the self-proclaimed guardian of all the barnyard animals. He herded them, rescued them, guided them, and comforted them. They looked up to the Jacob ram and, if they were female, had a crush on him.

Yes, Rambo attracted the fairer sex of many species, especially the wingèd variety. Barbie, the rescued broiler hen, was one of his favorites. In Animal Camp, CAS director Kathy Stevens describes seeing Rambo approach Barbie and hoof the ground, the signal he used with humans to get a massage out of them. But Barbie didn’t understand the signal, so Rambo showed her what he meant: Ever so gently, he massaged her body with the tip of his horn. A few days later, Rambo could be seen relaxing in the barn with a busy Barbie at his side, pulling hay from his coat. As their relationship intensified, so did the jealousy of Hannah the sheep.

Hannah fancied herself the rightful mate of Rambo, in a Fatal Attraction kind of way, and was never far from the object of her affections. In fact, she fretted if he wasn’t in her sightlines. As Stevens entered the barn one day, she saw Rambo but no Hannah. This was odd and prompted her to ask a CAS employee about Hannah’s absence.

“She’s in time out.”

“What happened?” asked Stevens.

“She head-butted Barbie halfway across the aisle.” Hell hath no fury…

As Rambo aged, arthritis gripped his body and slowed him down, but it didn’t impair his sense of responsibility to his flock. A couple of months ago when the cows escaped, he couldn’t round them up himself so he did the next best thing: He hobbled to the humans and alerted them to the situation. Stevens knew Rambo would soon face his final transformation and she tried to steel herself for it.

She was right. Last Saturday Rambo transformed from earthbound to spirit while surrounded by everyone who loved him, both human and nonhuman. In a fitting portent, just the day before, the sanctuary had welcomed 14 sheep rescued from neglect—one of them a Jacob ram. While a new era begins for the flock, it seems Rambo’s legacy is sure to continue.
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