Still Life, With Cats

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What lurks there in the dark

We have had the tree up for a while – in fact, since the weekend after Thanksgiving. It is a fake tree, because several years back we both realized we were tired of dealing with the mess of a real one, and it has turned out to be a good thing because half the cats in our house feel that the Christmas tree is an awesome toy that must be scaled on a regular basis.

We own a decent collection of beautiful ornaments to put on that tree, but ever since we got Rupert and Ingrid three years ago, we learned the hard way that putting anything breakable on the tree is just a very, very bad idea. Granted, we did have a collection of cheaper, soft ornaments that were always hung on the bottom, since all of our previous cats thought the dangling toys were too tempting, and usually at least one or two of them would be ‘liberated’ through the course of the holiday season. But before getting Rupert and Ingrid, we never had any actual tree climbers.

Rupert and Ingrid were soon joined by Nutmeg in the tree, in 2010,  and all three of them continued the trend last year. In 2010, at the after Christmas sales, I picked up a handful of super cheap, nonbreakable ornaments – the sort you can find 10 for a $1 in the clearance bin. They’re not my first choice for decorating, of course – I much prefer the individual ornaments collected over the years – but when one has a trio of tree-climbing cats, one has to make do.

This year, we still have a trio of cats in the tree. Although Ingrid no longer seems to have much interest in climbing it, her place has been taken, quite enthusiastically, by Sherman. This has not surprised us in the slightest, of course. Since pretty much the day we brought Sherman home back in May, Rupert took him under his wing and has made it his mission to teach Sherman *all* of his crazy habits, plus Sherman is still young enough to have plenty of bad habits of his own.

Case in point. This is what happened when we finally put the ornaments on the tree this evening.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


We trickle in to the restaurant slowly, over the course of half an hour or so. There is no rush; there is plenty to do while waiting for each other – cakes and pies and pastries to ogle in the bakery case, and catching up, one on one.

We ponder cookies and truffles and whether we should save room for dessert. We ponder the fact that the place has a ‘polenta of the day’. We ponder the menu and wonder how we are supposed to pick just one thing.

We order our food and find a table; the only one large enough for the group. This is especially challenging because we’re still not entirely sure how many people are coming, but we will make it work. We always do.

We eat pulled pork sandwiches and grilled shrimp caesar salads and giant cheeseburgers and butternut squash soup, and we sip our drinks, and in between bites we silently eye each other’s plates and think to ourselves ‘Hmm, maybe next time I will have to get what she is having,” and there is never any question that there will be a next time.

We chatter between bites, sharing stories about kids and pets; about families and jobs and travel and good things and bad. A chance meeting with a friend results in a surprise plate of cookies brought to our table and we finish our dinners and then nibble on delicate cookies crusted with bright green crystals of sugar. The cakes and pastries and truffles are forgotten.

There is laughter, because there is always laughter when we get together. There is knitting, because that is also a given too. We are surprised and instantly apologetic when a waiter comes over to let us know they’re closed, and we hastily gather our things, having completely lost track of time.

The air outside is cold, and in the time between when we arrived and when we left, there has been a bit of rain; just enough to cover the cars in a light sprinkle of individual drops. We call out our goodbyes to each other as we each head off in a different direction, climb into our cars, and head for home.

Tis the season for Holidailies.

By stealth

The building in which I work prepares for a holiday by decorating. But it is done very, very slowly.

First, there was a tree. A fake one, obviously (less mess that way), all white and sparkly in the light of the building lobby. That went up shortly after Thanksgiving. Just a single tree.

Next came the ornaments – just a few here and there, over the course of a few days, until the tree was festooned  with a collection of beautiful red and gold and silver baubles. Here is where I admit to being a little bit jealous, since the only ornaments we can have on our tree at home are the sort of cheap plastic where if the cats (three of whom consider the Christmas tree an exciting jungle gym), or rather, *when* the cats break some, there is no great sense of loss.

Now that December has come, the decorating is kicked into higher gear. Yesterday someone hung garland – great, long strands of it around the ceiling. And tonight, as I walked out, I saw that the normally sterile ‘air lock’ between the two sets of entry doors had been transformed with holiday decor. The number of giant poinsettias on the floor has been slowly growing in number as the days pass. And at some point during the night an elf has been sneaking in and stenciling holiday cheer onto glass office doors.

I wonder if somewhere in this building there is a series of boxes, each labeled with a specific date. And if at some point someone devised a specific decoration schedule. Tree may only be erected on X date. Garland must not be hung until X days later. No poinsettias may be placed anywhere until two weeks in.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


There were a lot of things I needed to do today, before I headed off to sing.

There was laundry that needed doing. And dishes in the dishwasher that should have been put away. And a refrigerator that needs a good cleaning. And something on the floor over there that I probably do not want to investigate too closely (always a hazard in a house with cats). And knitting that needs to be finished. And…and…and.

But the past two days have been so busy. Work -paid and volunteer. Dress rehearsal and the first concert of the weekend. A five-hour marathon editing session.

So instead of doing the things that I should be doing, I did things I wanted to do instead.

I sat in my pajamas and caught up on my blog reading.

I drank a lot of  coffee.

I watched Rupert and Sherman scramble up the Christmas tree, one after the other, and was too late fetching my phone to get a picture.

I read four books on my tablet, one right after the other.

I ate leftover apple butter streusel cake.

And just for a few hours, I pretended that all the other things – the shoulds and the musts and the need-tos – were someone else’s problem.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


It is December 1st, which means that once again, it is time to kick off Holidailies – the annual project where a bunch of people do their best to post daily blog entries for the entire month of December. Or in my case, where I start the month full of energy and enthusiasm and then fizzle out a few days in and instead spend my time reading all the blog entries everyone else manages to still keep writing, with far more clever turns of phrase and witty banter than I could ever produce. I say this, of course, with the knowledge that a significant number of the other Holidailies participants are posting pretty much the same sentiment. Who knows. Maybe one of these years we’ll all rub off on each other and find that writing mojo that has been slowly fading for far too long.

But I digress. Welcome to December, and to Holidailies. If you’re new here, I would recommend checking out the About page, except that I never got around to scribbling more than a paragraph or two there, so…yeah. Hi. I’m Jennifer. I live in a 100-year-old house in a city full of trees, with my husband and six cats. I knit, a lot. I bake when I am bored. Sometimes I do a lot of canning. I am the grammarian about whom your mother warned you. I sing low alto in a women’s vocal ensemble. I recently made cheddar cheese. I like Brussel sprouts. I read really, really, really fast. I know all the songs in  “A Shoggoth on the Roof” by heart. I have no clue how to wear makeup. I prefer caramel over chocolate. You will pry the Oxford comma out of my cold, dead hands.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies

Normal now

I went out for lunch today.

It sounds like such a small thing, I realize. People do it all the time – get up from their desks and gather with their coworkers and go through the endless discussion of ‘where shall we go?’ and ‘what sounds good today’. Why would I even mention something so mundane.

I haven’t been out to lunch in months, however. Not since the majority of my coworkers got laid off. Now it’s just me here, sitting in my cube, in a big maze of cubes of people who are in completely different departments than me. And so I eat my lunch by myself, in the break room. I do my work by myself. I enter the building and I leave and days will go by where I have not spoken to another person the entire time.  Oh sometimes I’ll trade an inane pleasantry with someone on the elevator, or murmur a quick ‘hi’ when passing someone down the hall, or share a nervous laugh when a door opens too quickly and someone – maybe me – is nearly hit by it. But otherwise, it’s just me, all by myself. I have nothing in common with anyone else here. We do not work together. I am just…here.

It wasn’t such a big thing, before this. The big company bought our little company, but we were all still in our same groups, in our same offices all around the country. There was never more than a handful of us in my old office, but we all liked each other, most of the time (and on days when deadlines were looming and tempers were frayed, we were all very good at keeping carefully out of each others’ way). The big company has all the usual Big Company processes and procedures, but we were isolated by our location.

Not so anymore. I work in a cube maze, where there is never any escape from the people who bathe in far too much perfume or cologne, or the people who like to stand up when they take phone calls, so as to make sure that their voices carry further, or the ones who put conference calls on speaker, or the ones who cluster together to have loud conversations right next to someone else’s cube; someone who might be trying very hard to listen to a conference call or get something urgent done; someone who really wishes that everyone would shut the hell up and go away. I work in a building where the prevailing belief is that the air conditioning should be cranked as high as it can possibly go, so that half of us huddle over space heaters, or don sweaters and fingerless gloves, even in the heat of summer. And I work in place where in a sea of people, I feel completely alone.

Today I went out for lunch because I was so very cold that the thought of going outside in the late summer heat was preferable to staying inside and shivering over my usual peanut butter sandwich in the break room. I walked a few blocks away and bought myself a slice of mediocre pizza (mainly because it was cheap and quick) and then sat outside and tried to soak in as much warmth as possible so as to make the rest of the afternoon more bearable.

I do not speak of a lot of things on this space. I deal with change by turning inward, and then working out how best to handle it on my own. I do not want, nor need, advice, no matter how helpful the giver thinks they might be. This situation I am in is not unique; I am not the only one who hates working in cube farms but has no choice; not the only one who wishes things were different; not the only one who swore they would never work for a Big Company again but then somehow ended up there anyway through no fault of their own. This is my normal now. And today I went out for lunch.


May is Bike Month. And ever since our office moved downtown, for the very first time I now work close enough to home that biking to work is a doable thing. I calculated out roughly about how many miles, total, it would be if I rode my bike at least 3 times a week, through the entire month of May. And then I took my bike in for a much-needed tune-up (since it hadn’t been touched in an embarrassingly large number of years) and I took a deep breath and signed up on the site, and then I got to it.

Most mornings it is still a struggle to not just hit the snooze button and get just a little bit more sleep (because biking to work means I have to get up at least half an hour earlier than I’ve been used to). I still get really nervous every time I approach an intersection and see a car waiting to turn, and wonder if they’ve seen me, or if I would have enough time to swerve if they didn’t. And I am nowhere near confident enough to try biking after dark, or in the rain (although luckily the second problem, at least, seems to be over for the foreseeable future). But Sacramento has a lot of other bike commuters, and this month there’s even more than usual – or maybe it’s just that now that I’m one of them, I’m actually paying more attention. So I remind myself, every morning, that I actually *like* the ride once I get out there, and I strap on my helmet and do my best to catch the eye of drivers at intersections so that I know they know I’m passing right in front of them, and I nod and smile at passing cyclists and pedestrians, and I catch myself starting to come up with reasons to bike somewhere instead of drive, and I dutifully tracking my miles on the website, with every round trip that I accomplish.

More than 50% of my goal ridden, and the month is barely half over. It’s that easy. What do you know.

That one time? At nerd camp?

So that whole write-a-letter-a-day thing in February? Um. Yeah. I think I managed to eek out about a dozen letters, and that included the trio of postcards I mailed out from Aruba to family members. But I did get a good handful of letters from other people, and I used up some of the stationary that’s been lurking in my cupboards for mumble-mumble years, so even if I didn’t exactly hit the letter (ha!) of the challenge, at least I gave it a try. And it was kind of fun.

And now is the point when you say ‘wait, Aruba?’. Because one reason I had a hard time doing the whole letter-a-day thing is that Richard and I went on a cruise for a week during February. To the southern Caribbean. Just us and a giant boat and a whole pile of extremely elderly people, and oh yeah, a total of 541 nerds, with concerts and performances by the likes of John Hodgeman, Wil Wheaton, Jonathon Coulton, Marian Call, and so on and so forth. I know, I know, most of you likely have no idea who any of those people are but trust me when I say it was a level of nerdy, geeky awesome beyond compare.

The cruise itself was the random idea of Jonathon Coulton, the singer/songwriter responsible for the ending credit songs on both Portal games, such classics as ‘Re: Your Brain’s’ and ‘Code Monkey’, and a host of other songs about math and science and giant squids and monkeys and crazed news anchors, and all sorts of things that warm the cockles of a geeky nerd’s heart. The first JoCo Crazy Cruise was in 2011, and we did not go because we found out about it too late, and also, cruises are kind of expensive. Then they announced that they were going to do it again, and we sat down and pondered and pondered and looked at the finances and pondered some more and eventually figured out that we could make this work. And after we finished doing a little giddy dance of joy, we signed up and have spent the better part of the past nine months eagerly waiting to go.

Of course, the first thing everyone else wanted to know was where we were going, and no amount of ‘On a boat! With lots of nerds! Nerds on a boat! Squee!’ seemed to satisfy them, because apparently non-nerds do not comprehend that Nerds On A Boat with Bonus Extra Nerdery was enough of a reason to get on a cruise ship, and we really didn’t care one bit where the boat was actually headed. And then there was the added fun of trying to explain who all the special performers were going to be. Okay, see, there’s Jonathon Coulton. Yes, he’s the guy that wrote that song about the zombies. And..uh…Wil Wheaton. He was in that movie, Stand By Me. And…uh…John Hodgeman. Do you watch The Daily Show? He’s an occasional correspondent. No. Okay. Um…You know that commercial? I’m a Mac and I’m a PC? He was the PC. No? And then it would all break down and we were right back to our starting point of Nerds! People just like us! Nerds! On a boat! With singing. And also a boat!

But preparing for the cruise – even reading stories about the first cruise, and hanging out on the forums, watching the excitement grow as everyone else – all these strangers from the internet that would soon become 541 of our new friends – wasn’t enough to remotely prepare us for how amazing the trip was. There were fezzes. There were mustaches. There was gaming, and cookies, and singing waiters with Baked Alaska. There were a whole lot of extremely confused elderly people who couldn’t quite figure out who we all were and why we were on their boat with them. There were random zombies, and karaoke, and fancy pants, and an event sign that turned into the most awesome Word Jumble game ever. I am still working out how best to summarize all of it, and even though I didn’t take very many pictures, I still need to go through them and get them all edited and uploaded. So eventually I will tell you all the rest of it – the thing about the dolphins, and about how we met our very first Sea Monkey, and how we made Jonathon Coulton giggle, and on and on. But this is what you’re going to get for now. A placeholder. Nerds! On a boat! I am still not quite sure how else to explain.

Challenge accepted

A few weeks ago, Mary Robinette Kowal posted an idea to Google +. For the entire month of February, write one letter a day. It can be as simple as a postcard, or a quick scribble, or it can be a lengthy missive; it doesn’t matter. What matters is that each day, you sit down and write out something and the put it in the mailbox. In an age where the majority of communication is electronic, getting anything but spam or a bill in the mail is always a bit of a shock. So sending someone a handwritten letter (or postcard) would be a fun surprise for the recipients. It took off, it got picked up all sorts of sites (newspapers, the US Post Office, etc.), and she created a site to collect all the information together, where people could interact, make plans, and share ideas.

I pondered for a bit. I used to write letters, years and years ago, back before the age of computers and email and Twitter and Facebook and all the other ways we all communicate these days. But I stopped doing it, mainly because email is so much easier. My handwriting – never very beautiful to begin with – has gotten worse the less I use it, and these days I can type so much faster than I can write (Plus the bonus of typing is that it is virtually guaranteed that I can *read* it later. Not so much with anything hand written).

But then I decided. Why not. Getting any letters written at all, even if it isn’t one a day, is still better than my current record (in case it wasn’t obvious from the above, these days that would be a big fat zero).

Of course, there is the issue of finding people to whom to write. So if you’re interested in doing the challenge, go here and sign up. If you want to exchange a letter directly with me, send me an email to jenipurr at gmail dot com with your mailing address. And even if you don’t sign up, or don’t intend to write a letter every single day, why not take this month as an excuse to write at least one letter. It can be to anyone at all. Just try to send at least one, and see where it takes you. You might brighten someone’s day.

I can’t promise that I’ll get letters out to everyone, especially if I end up with more than 29 people on the list. But I can promise I will try. You might get a story about Rupert (the cat who is smarter than his own good and also immune to trauma) and his latest escapade. You might get a short little blurb about something I’m knitting, or the latest awesome recipe I found, or something else entirely. Who knows – there’s 29 days in February, so by the end I might be really struggling to come up with something more witty than ‘well. it rained today.’ But I’m up for the challenge. How about the rest of you?