Saturday, November 29, 2008

Failed Flight

The kits were born on September 6th. This means they’re 12 weeks old today. They’re as frisky as ever, but with their slightly larger size, their speed has increased and their ability to wreak havoc has taken an exponential jump. Where they were going down the stairs one step at a time, they now race from top to bottom in a blur of brown-tipped fur. Where they once just gazed at far-off places — the top of the desk, the surface of the antique buffet — they’re now launching themselves onto these things with ease.

I’m quite sure Winston would prefer I not reveal his most recent attempts at scaling the heights, but it’s a "growth milestone" so I shall. :) Win spied a previously unexplored piece of furniture and, with his typical fearlessness, decided to inject himself into the stratospheric heights of the tall dresser (called, with typical French charm, a "semanier"). Winston stalked back and forth on the edge of the bed, judging the angle of trajectory and the potential landing spot. Then, despite my "Winston, I don’t think you want to..." he crouched, he wiggled, and he was off!

However, the top of the dresser was farther away than he had judged. And at the summit, unbeknownst to Winston, was not a smooth wood surface but a small attache case resting on the wood surface. The kitten's head barely crested the edge of the dresser; I saw the startled expression and the ears going back as he realized he'd missed his touchdown spot. However, he did manage to snag a paw onto the case handle itself and for just a split second, I think he believed he’d be ok, swinging himself up from below, Tarzan style. However, the case — in slow motion — slid towards the edge of the dresser with Winston still attached. Before I could make it across the room, both kitten and case had plummeted to the floor.

I tried to scoop up the little guy and check for any injury. He was perfectly fine, however, and was having none of my attentions. Clutching at the shreds of his catly dignity, Winston crawled out from under the case and stalked away, turning to look at me over his shoulder as if to say, "Next week — despite whatever obstacles you place in my path — I shall reach The Summit!"

Kitty Tip: All the best decorators know that having a pile of pillows under every piece of tall furniture in the house is "all the thing" in today's interior landscapes. ;)

Winston after his "expedition." 11 weeks old.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

21st Century Technology Meets Kitty Litter

Things sure have evolved over the year in dealing with the dirty, unspoken matters connected with cat ownership. We all know that with pets, as with any creature, input = outgo. Back in the day, a cat did his business outside. Heat, cold, rain, snow – “Gotta go? Out ya go!" *boot* Never mind the neighbor really resented the "bonus gifts" amongst his flowerbeds, it was a call of nature, after all!

After a while, someone invented the cat box and, nature abhorring a vacuum, the 10-pound bags of chopped clay aka "cat litter" to fill it. Then, simple clay not being quite enough for the upwardly mobile feline, you started seeing varieties of cat litter, like "Multi-cat" and "Fast Odor Control" and so forth. Then came "clumping litter," where your cat could use the same stuff for months (oh pul-lease!) if you removed the solid bits. Then it was the clay or clumping stuff with extra-special additives, like enzymes, vitamins, booster packs, or sparkly crystals that, when a paw hit them, released a cloud of Eau de Rose Petals.

The latest in the matter of Dealing with the Unmentionable is the kitty restroom facility, like Littermaid, the Self-Cleaning Cat Box, or the ScoopFree System. The latter has the advantages of offering automatic poop scooping and attractive blue sparkly crystals! Your kitty does his/her thing and the machine takes care of the rest. Everything *ahem* is raked, removed, stored, and conveniently disposed of on waste pick-up day.

So help me, I was going to go with the traditional clay litter box, but this geek has a family with a similar level of geekiness, and that seemed to require we get the fully automated, crystal-enhanced, you poop/we rake ScoopFree system. Winston and Franklin, coming from a more-sane and less-geekly household, were quite off-put by the whole operation. Not content with a mere inch of sand—albeit with sparkly crystals—they attempted to excavate to China by defiantly digging through the outer tray. “Motorized cleanup? Who does that!?” they asked, as they eyed the rake machine and tried to figure out how to pounce upon and silence the ravaging beast.

At this point, The Boyz have become reconciled to the whole unseemly experience. But underneath it all, I suspect they’d easily give up 21st Century technology in exchange for having a go at the neighbor’s rose garden. :)

Kitty Tip: ScoopFree(tm)? I'm waiting for scientists to develop the best in genetic engineering: the PoopFree(tm) kitten!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Kitten Confusion

I like people names for my cats. Spot, Ziggy, and Blackie are nicknames I give to the street cats I feed during my walks. I figure those cats are ok with such names because dignity isn’t a watchword; all they really care about is the bag of kibbles in my pocket. (Or, in the case of Spot the Cat, the dog biscuits she seems to prefer.)

But for family cats, I think a name is pretty important and should suit the character of the cat himself. I’ve had cats named for a Civil War general, a Tolstoy heroine, a Delibes ballet based on a Greek goddess, and the Prince of Wales (not because I'm such a fan, but because "Chuck" is a cool name for a cat ;) ). This time, I considered a lot of “duo names,” like Bert and Ernie or Stan and Ollie. But history called, and they’re name for two individuals I greatly admire: Winston and Franklin.

At first it was easy to tell them apart. Franklin was a bit darker on his points and had a slightly narrower face. Winston spotted a silvery blaze on his forehead and seemed to lean towards being ever so slightly cross-eyed. As I would pet each one, I’d say his name, so he’d get used to it. Plus, I figure it was sort of cool being the namesake of a famous British statesman or an amazing American president.

Three weeks later, the kitty’s points were evening out to a dark chocolate/seal point appearance, the faces are starting to adopt the same shape, and in a certain light, both look just a bit crossed eyed. Or not. (Mind you, everyone in my family believes that cross-eyed Siamese are preferable, not matter what the snooty cat show people may say, so if these kits are heading in that direction, so much the better!)

So these days, calling them is a mess. “Fran…Winston – get out of the trash bag!” “Here’s your portion of the cheese, Wifrankie.” “Win..lin, come chase the mouse with your brother.” “Has anyone see Fra -- ohthat’sthisone -- Winston?”

More and more, I’m petting them both at the same time and calling them “The Boyz.” :)

Franklin - 10 weeks.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Kitty Basket

Last month, I attended a charity fundraiser for Children’s Hospital and Medical Center. It’s such a good cause, who can resist bidding on the silent auction? They had all sorts of cool baskets on offer: wine, chocolate, book lovers, travel, spa, and… one each for dogs and cats.

The chocolate and wine baskets were good, and I made a few bids. But the truth is, the kitty basket looked great: A soft cat bed as the base, it was filled with toys, gourmet treats, a book about cats, and even a certificate for an overnight stay at a really nice Seattle hotel that accepts pets. “Wow, that’s cool,” I thought. “Too bad I don’t have a cat right now.”

But as the evening passed, that cute little basket kept calling me back. I think it was the fishing pole and the matching food dish and treat canister set. Finally I thought, “Well, I don’t have a cat now, but I will get one someday, so why not bid?” So I did, checking back from time to time to raise with a higher bid when mine had been topped.

Silent auctions end with a flurry of activity, because all highly interested bidders scramble to put in their last best bids in the hopes of ending up as the final high bidder when the timer sounds. I stood by the pet baskets with a number of other folks, all with the same objective: be the final bidder, support charity, take home a cool item.

One friendly gentleman asked me, “Are you bidding on the cat basket or the dog basket?” When I told him I was bidding on the cat basket, he asked me what kind of cat I had. Feeling a little foolish, I mumbled something about how I didn't really have a cat right now because mine died a couple of months ago, but I figured I’ll get one someday and I was bidding for a future cat or two, I guessed. I said it quietly, but the guy turned to tell his wife and this odd hush fell over the group. One bidder set down her pen. Another whispered to her friend. A third turned to his date and said, “I can’t bid on the basket after that story,” and walked away.

“Oh whoa, way to clear the room,” I thought guiltily. “Way the play ‘the pity card!’” laughed my family later. Honestly, I hadn’t thought of it. The guy was making friendly conversation, I answered truthfully and didn’t even think anyone else was listening. *gulp*

But it’s ok, I guess. In the end, Children’s got a tidy donation and the kittens are really lovin’ the goodies! Especially the fishing pole.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Finding a Life Partner. Or two.

Well, ok, maybe I don't exactly mean "life partner" like it's usually used. Maybe "making a longterm commitment?" ;) The point is, indoor cats live 15 years and more. This means a search for a kitty is serious business. ('Scuse me, srs bsns.)

Losing George was rough. But after a few weeks, at the urging of friends and family, I began a semi-sorta search. I'd check online ads but not call. Visit a few pet adoption places but leave without. I started getting telephone pep talks: "Look at the face in that ad!" "Aw, that one was abandoned; you should go get him tomorrow!"

I don't know what prompted me to follow-up on the ad from the family in Puyallup. The ad was pretty much like any other, but for some reason I dropped the family an email and asked for pictures. I received three: one of the adorable kittens and one each of the gorgeous parent cats. I set up an appointment for the weekend.

I woke up Saturday morning after a very late Halloween night. I was feeling a little peckish and almost canceled, but I didn't want to be rude. So we headed south to meet the cats and kittens and the family they owned. The family was really nice; the kitty family was very attractive. (Gorgeous parent cats; the daddy has the silkiest fur I've ever felt.) The litter consisted of one female (the leader of the pack, although the tiniest) and five males. The female was already spoken for, as were two of the males, and the family was keeping one, so that left two kittens on the table. Or under it. Or behind it. Or in the other room wrestling with their siblings.

The kittens were rather shy around people. Just 8 weeks old, I don't think they'd seen a lot of strangers. They looked at us curiously but weren't making too many forward movements. In fact, the darker of the two threw a wee hissy fit (literally!) when I startled him with a sudden movement. So, they were very cute, but face it, it's a kitten's job to be cute. I wasn't sure, maybe it was too early, maybe this wasn't a good idea...

And yet, after an hour (and bless the family's patience with our long visit!), the choice was clear: that one over there, showing off on the scratching post after pouncing on my shoelace.
After a second hour, it was impossible to choose.

We took them both. :)

Winston - 8 weeks

Franklin - 8 weeks

Saturday, November 15, 2008

George the Cat

I work for a video game company. Before that, I was a freelance writer. I had a variety of different clients, but my favourite jobs back then included writing game reviews and serving as a writer/admin for a gaming website that hosted more than a million visitors a month. For that site I wrote a blog-style series of features and sometimes, my pet, George The Cat, made a contribution to the articles. Here's something I wrote in August in response to a few friends' requests for an update on George:

Through the years, I’ve written about my “gaming kitty,” George. A few folks have mentioned him from time to time -- in emails, comments in the game, on our wiki -- and I thought I would share a bit about my noble feline companion of 17 years.

George the Cat first joined the gaming community in fall of 1991, when he jumped onto my keyboard during a gameplay session and somehow caused a hard reboot of the system. Since he had been in my house for only a few days, the poor little guy wasn’t accustomed to the strange noises – the beeps and boops and whirrs – of the reboot process, and George beat feet… errr… paws to retreat to the back of the keyboard shelf, peering out with wide blue eyes, as if to say, “Did I do that?”

After a few months, the keyboard shelf offered too small an opening, he was less spooked by the noises, and George graduated to the desk, where he’d recline with one paw over the edge, his tail swishing lazily as he dozed. After a while, I noticed that the swish would increase in speed as I was pounding the keys – “don’t die, don’t die, don’t… arrrgh!” – and with time, George started showing a decided interest in certain games. If I were being fanciful, I might say he knew the difference from a gameplay perspective, but I imagine he recognized what I was playing by the ambient sounds, the music, and the combat FX. For example, the narrator from Warcraft unsettled him; he liked the Protoss sounds, but the Zerg made him restless; he was ok with certain themes from Civilization, but others were not his cup of tea; and he always, always woggled an approving an ear when he heard the Guild Wars theme begin.

In short, George was perkier and more attuned to some titles than others. I was writing game reviews by the late 90’s – I probably should have capitalized on his …errr… “intuitive recognition of quality AAA titles” – but his lack of ability to fully exploit the multi-button mouse would have restricted his legitimate comments to that of observer, not player. :)

Some years ago, Matt Uelmen, the gifted composer of the scores for Diablo and Diablo II, gave me a CD of music from the game. At the end of the CD, as a little Easter egg, Matt added that famous, maniacal Diablo laugh. But Matt was clever, he placed it about a minute after the music ended, so that everything goes silent for a bit until Diablo bursts forth with that signature sound. It's a "gotcha" every time. The CD winds down and then, suddenly, erupting out of the speakers is this earth-shattering "Mwahahahahaha!" George would jump a foot… but then, so would I.

From his desktop perch, George eventually moved to a spot on the floor: in the desk’s footwell. Many are the times he warmed my feet during 3:00 AM gaming sessions when I was too committed to the game to get up and find my slippers. If I dared move my feet too much, though, George would open one eye and fix me with a beady glare, thus warning me that gaming was all fine and well, but napping was serious business!

More recently, George took to sleeping beside my chair, directly in front of the PC. I think he enjoyed the companionship and I’m sure he appreciated the "personal heater" for his old bones, where said heat only increased with my incessant desire for always better (and therefore always hotter) video cards. I joked with players in Guild Wars that all my Ranger pets were named George The Cat, and it’s true. I exceeded 20 Georges and have a few Georgettes, as well.

Early this year, as he neared his 17th on earth, George started slowing down. He developed feline hyperthyroidism that required twice-a-day meds and, later, kidney problems as well. He was brave about the pills, and still loved spending time at the computer or watching television at my side, but he was sleeping more and more and it was clear that his age was catching up with him. On a rainy Sunday in August, George slipped away in my arms.

I imagine there will be another kitty, someday. George was the natural choice so long ago because he was outgoing as a kitten, standing paws and tail above his littermates in charm and personality. It was no surprise to anyone that he took naturally to the family hobby of games and gaming. Perhaps in the future, the choice will be equally clear. The way may be guided, in part, by an approving ear woggle in response to game music.

George the Cat: August 8, 1991 – August 24, 2008.


Welcome to my own space for Internets nonsense, a spot for various bits of personal stuff and such. (Yeah, that name was already taken.) I suppose this is the place for me to say the almost-obligatory "I hate blogs" or "I think bloggers are self-indulgent egoists" or something of the like. I mean, isn't blog-bashing sort of required for the blogging set? :) But hey, I've always thought blogs were a rather nice way to keep in touch, so I'll keep my disdainful sniffs for... I don't know... people who eat "Processed Cheese Food Products" or who recoil from Halloween as "Satan's birthday."

I tend to keep in touch by writing letters and emails. Loooong letters and emails. And when I'm super busy with work or other things -- which is usually always -- I tend not to write at all. Which means for some people, I've essentially fallen off the face of the earth. Nothing major there, but it does make me feel guilty. So I figure this is a new way to update friends on miscellaneous life things, like travel, personal projects, friends 'n' family, and other random news. And yes, I feel oh-so web-two-point-oh now! (Don't even get me started on that!)

You're free to read and comment. Or make a disdainful sniff and go about your business. :)