Still Life, With Cats

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Life

For you have slipped the surly bonds of earth to dance the skies

I have wanted to write this for months, but have been unable to find the words. Perhaps the first day of Holidailies isn’t the best time, but here we are. There are so many things that will burn 2020 into our memories, but for my family, the one that burns the most is that this is the year my dad died.

I hold my grief deep inside. I cried once – when my older sister called, before it was certain (although I think we all knew the final outcome), but otherwise I grieve dry-eyed and quiet. Loss is a thing that sneaks up on you when you least expect it, and I have found myself looking for memories of him, wanting to remember him how he was, years ago before his slow decline.

There are so many things that connect the two of us. The analytical makeup of our brains. Our fear of heights. The shape of his eyes that stares back at me from the mirror. Every time I write something down, there is his handwriting – eerily similar enough to have fooled (inadvertently, usually) more than one person over the years.

The memories keep sneaking up on me, these past few months. Riding in the back of that ancient VW bus, that would pour cold water from the cooling system onto those of us in the back seat every time it went uphill. Building things in the garage. Laughing until we all were crying. Playing duets on the piano, or gathering together as a family to play together, on whatever instruments we had on hand. Him teaching us to ride bikes. Singing together in the car. Playing together in the recorder ensemble – both the one he formed, and then later the one in Sacramento. All the instruments he built over the years; all the ones he taught himself to play, just for fun – including banjo and bagpipes, among the dozens of others.

He told me for years I should try programming and when I finally, in desperation, did so, it turned out he was right. His gentle nudging shaped my entire adult career.

This is the year my father died. Perhaps at some point it won’t feel so strange and wrong to write that. I’m not sure I believe in the traditional version of heaven, but I do hope that somewhere out there, some part of him still exists. And if that’s the case, I hope that wherever he is, there is music.

*Title is taken from High Flight by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.



This is the world we live in

When you think about plagues and pandemics you think of the dark ages; of times when they didn’t know much of anything about medicine and thought that illness was brought about by vapors and immoral living. And so it is strange to realize that here we are, right smack dab in the beginning of one.

We here in California are no strangers to being told to stay indoors, due to regular fire (and its accompanying smoke) season we get every year. But this time it’s different, since while we can go outside and walk around and not have to worry about the air quality, we can’t gather together in one place. The entire state is now under a mandatory ‘shelter in place’ order. And this makes me so incredibly glad that I live in California, where at least the government seems to get it, and is taking steps, even if it has been a crazy jumble of changes over the past few weeks. And, panic buying of toilet paper aside, it has been nice to see people rising to the challenge, forming volunteer groups to make sure the elderly and infirm have access to what they need, checking in on each other, and generally recognizing that society works best when we all chip in. Yes, there will always be those few who try to find a way to profit off the misfortune of others, but humanity could not have survived as long as it has without the vast majority of people recognizing that working together for the common good is the better way.

It would be interesting to see how this pandemic is written about in the history books, hundreds of years from now, where countries like South Korea are held up as shining examples of how to respond (mass testing, etc.), and where countries like the US are held up as prime examples of how to do everything wrong, where the government is being systematically destroyed by the GOP and their orange sock puppet, they deliberately withheld both vital information, and access to tests (offered willingly by the World Health Organization), because it was more important that Trump keep the total numbers artificially low so it wouldn’t impact the stock market, or his chances at reelection. I hope history treats him and all his despicable cronies no better than they deserve for everything they’ve done that has led up to this.



A whole new world

When we bought our house, back in 2007, it had a huge second-story deck off the back that was in really bad shape (massive dry rot in some places, wobbly railings, etc.). Over the years, it slowly went from bad to worse (railings broke off, stairs collapsed), but we left it alone because there were more pressing projects to address inside. We blocked off the door to the deck so no one could even go out there, and figured we’d deal with it some day.

Eventually though, the whole thing started to sag, to the point where we realized if we left it much further, it was going to come down on its own, and take part of the wall with it. So a couple months ago we finally bit the bullet and had it redone.

The next step, of course, was to turn half of it into a catio, because we do not believe in spoiling our cats around here, nope, not at all.

So here it is, in all its finished glory. I freely admit we’ve already been having our coffee out here since the frame and doors were put in place, and the cats have been able to start investigating.

These are views from the kitchen door. The screening above the railing is all chicken wire, and there’s screening over the top, so they can’t sneak out that way (and nothing can sneak in). We had the benches added because 1) the space is huge and this way there’s plenty of seating for when we have people over, and 2) it’s a way to give the less agile cats (cough, Nutmeg, cough) a way to get up to the higher levels.

And this is the view from the far corner. There’s a set of double doors, so we can open it out onto the rest of the deck.

Action shot (with Sherman and Timmie)

It’s exactly what we were hoping for, and so far the cats seem to be just as happy. At some point we’ll get another light put in, and possibly an electric outlet so maybe I can bring my work laptop out there every once in a while, but for now, it’s done.

As for the citrus things, today’s was Tuscan Lemon Muffins, made with ricotta.

Pretty tasty. I’d definitely make these again. We enjoyed them with our coffee this morning in the catio, while watching the cats enjoying the outside world.

Citrus used so far: 6 lemons, 5 tangelos.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.



The dark of night

This has been one hell of a week. There have been multiple visits to hospitals (both people and animal variety) for various emergencies, several expensive repairs (plumbing, electrical, and automotive), and the discovery that our credit card had been hacked so a lengthy process of figuring out which charges were / were not fraud. The house is a disaster zone – there are dust bunnies large enough to gain sentience gathering in corners and suspicious spots on the floors, and every surface is cluttered with stuff that needs to be sorted, or thrown out, or put away, but with everything else going on, tidying has been last on the priority list. It has been the sort of week that culminated in standing in front of the freezer, eating ice cream directly out of the carton at nearly midnight, because that’s the best I could do.

Today is the first day of February, which means it’s also the first day of Thingadailies. Last year I did lemon related things every day, due to our extremely prolific Meyer lemon tree in the backyard. This year I decided to expand that a bit, to just encompass anything citrus, since we still have a pile of tangelos in the fridge, and there are a bazillion mandarins on the tree in the front yard, still waiting to be picked.

I have been looking forward to this, because things have been pretty dark around here lately (politically), and citrus is the sort of flavor that makes you think of spring and hope and new beginnings. So today, in between trips to the emergency vet, and nervous monitoring of a very sick little kitten, and a power outage (where I grimly knit by literal candlelight because my phone was nearly dead and there was nothing else I *could* do) and trying to keep on top of the suspicious hairball stains on the floors, I decided that the best way to kick off the month would be with pie – Lemon Chess Pie, to be exact. I’ve seen recipes for Chess Pie over the years but have never made one (or even tasted one, for that matter), and the concept sounded intriguing. It’s supposed to be a thick, sweet concoction, sort of (I assumed) like a custard or a cheesecake. The filling includes cornmeal, which seems odd to me, but all the recipes I found have it, so sure, why not. Cornmeal it is.

Pie is supposed to comfort food, tucked into a tasty shell, and I desperately needed some of that this evening, coming home at nearly midnight from the second trip today to the emergency vet, where I dropped the sick kitten off to spend the night. But this wasn’t. The cornmeal in the filling gave it an unexpected (not in a good way) gritty texture. The lemon was too sharp, and not bright and soothing at all. The crust was perfectly done but I have no idea if the middle was set to where it was supposed to be, since it seemed a bit looser than I was anticipating, or even if it tasted like a chess pie should. I took a few bites of my piece and then pushed it away, disappointed, and with an unpleasant taste in my mouth.

Sometimes ice cream straight from the carton is the only suitable option, if only to clear the palate of an extremely unpleasant experience. Here’s hoping next week brings healthier family, healthier foster kittens, zero nasty financial surprises, and much better news.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.



Uninterrupted

We put up the tree today.

In years past, it’s been quite the production, with us having to remove cats from the box and from the tree as it’s being assembled. But Rupert is now ten years old, and more interested in sleeping than in wreaking havoc (most of the time), and Sherman, at seven, has also gotten a little less interested in the Christmas decor. So we had no help at all, and in a way it was kind of sad, to accept that last year might have been the final year of having a cat in the tree.

But then, this evening, while hanging out in the living room, watching a holiday baking competition show on TV, I heard rustling from the branches, and I turned around to see this.

This is our tenth year of having cats in the tree. The poor thing is looking a bit lopsided by now, since the branches weren’t meant to support that kind of weight. But somehow it just wouldn’t be the Christmas season without at least one self-decorating ornament, so we were both quite happy to see that Timmie has taken on the mantle and was willing to continue the tradition.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.



Channeling my inner Katy Perry

This morning I eyed the remains of the first batch of Black Friday Bread I had made. It was starting to get a little stale, plus there are two more loaves waiting to be eaten, so I needed to use it up some how. So in a move that will shock every single member of my immediate family, I decided I would try making something I have actively avoided my entire life: french toast.

In theory I should like french toast because it is made of a collection of lovely things – bread, cinnamon, eggs, milk. But the problem with french toast is that it takes all those lovely ingredients and then goes horribly wrong. It wants to be toast, which should be crisp, except that french toast invariably is disgustingly soggy in the middle. Combine that with the usual eggy overtone, and no. Just….no. Shudder.

But as I am wont to do (with varying success, because I am constantly trying to challenge my own innate picky-eaterness,), I decided to see if I could find a way to make it so that I would actually *like* it. And when it comes to french toast, this means using a sturdy bread so it won’t go mushy, thinning the batter to keep it from being overly eggy, dipping it lightly enough so that the inside remains the lovely toast it was always meant to be, and the gross soggy middle is avoided.

I found a promising recipe and mixed up half a batch, and sliced the remains of the bread into thick slices, and then dipped it and plunked them onto the pan. A few minutes later, we sat down to plates of french toast. I took a tentative bite, and hey, what do you know, I ate french toast and I liked it.

I suspect I’m always going to continue to be extremely picky about french toast in general because the rest of the world fully embraces the soggy middle thing that has put me off it for so long, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. But at least I’ve found a way to make it palatable for *me*.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.



Comfortable

Last night we looked in the fridge and pondered what remained of the Thanksgiving leftovers. Mostly, with the exception of one lone turkey leg, it was veggies – garlic thyme sweet potatoes, garlic butter green beans, mashed potatoes, gravy, and a little stuffing.

I’d already turned a bunch of the mashed potatoes and stuffing into a batch of Black Friday Bread which, by the way, is excellent for making grilled cheese. Another bunch of potatoes and stuffing were turned into potato pancakes, which we’ve been eating for breakfast, along side scrambled eggs and the cheese of the day. But there was still quite a bit left, and I was determined to use up every bit of the leftovers, one way or the other.

So this evening we made shepherds pie. I diced up an onion and tossed that in a deep skillet along with some mushrooms and leftover celery from the fridge. Then when those were just soft, I tossed in the remaining sweet potatoes and green beans. Normally I’d add some garlic and thyme to the mix, but there was plenty in the leftovers so I figured I didn’t need it.

I stirred in a little flour, and then some chicken stock, and poured in the leftover gravy. Once that was bubbling on the stove, I stirred the remaining potatoes and stuffing with a handful of Parmesan and cheddar, then spread that on top of the whole thing. The skillet went into the oven to bake, just long enough for the top to warm up and brown, and then it was done.

Verdict – delicious, and there was just enough potatoes and stuffing left to whip up another batch of the bread. Granted, I did find a little container of cranberry sauce left in the fridge when stashing the remains of the shepherd’s pie, but I’m pretty pleased that we managed to use up nearly every single bit of Thanksgiving, without having to just eat it straight from the containers for days on end. Yay!

*****

Today’s cheese is a Jarlsburg, which is some kind of swiss.

I am not a fan of swiss, unless it’s buried inside of something else and had other cheeses to mask it, so Richard got this one entirely to himself.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.



But wait, there’s more!

So how’s that Cheese Advent calendar going? Why, thank you for asking! It’s great so far!

Yesterday’s cheese was a lovely Applewood with a smokey undertone.

and today’s is a Red Leicester, with a nice sharp flavor.

I know there’s some kind of swiss coming, which I’m not looking forward to, but the first three have been quite tasty.

But wait, you say. The title suggests something else!

Why yes! Yes it does! I didn’t notice when opening the first two doors, but I finally caught sight of it opening today’s. Each little compartment comes not only with a tasty little round of cheese, but printed on the back of the little door is a joke about cheese.

Yes, folks, that’s right. It’s cheese, with a side of cheese!

Here’s the first three days, just so you can share in the joy. Put your best guess for the punchlines in the comments.

Day 1: What cheese would you use to coax a bear from the woods?
Day 2: What do you call cheese that doesn’t belong to you?
Day 3: Where can you buy second-hand cheese?

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.



This is why I need coffee

2 AM
Cat: Hey. I want under the covers.

Me: Tries to ignore cat, knowing full well that this never works, but holding out hope anyway.

Cat: Hey. Hey! Covers! Lift the covers!

Me: You manage to get under the covers just fine without any help during the day. Go ahead.

Cat: Covers. Now. I can do this all night, human.

Me: Gives up, lifts covers.

Cat: But do I really *want* under the covers?

Me: Yes you do. Now go to sleep.

2-2:06 AM: Cat settles herself.

2:12 AM
Second Cat: Hey! How come she gets to be under the covers?

Me: Tries to ignore cat, hoping he will think I’m sleeping and go away.

Second Cat: Paws at my face, claws barely out, just to make his point. I said lift the covers, human!

Me: Fine. Here. Get under the goddamn covers.

Second Cat: But do I want under *those* covers, or do I want to just sit here?

Me: Why are cats?

2:12-2:18 AM: Second cat accepts head scritches and eventually settles under the covers.

2:22-2:31 AM
Brain: Hey, while you’re awake, remember when you did that really stupid thing ten years ago? Let’s revisit that in excruciating detail, over and over.

3:45 AM
Second Cat: Hey! Hey! I need back under the covers.

Third Cat: Horks wetly, somewhere nearby, thus setting up the daily minefield for bare feet.

Second Cat: Deliberately steps on the First Cat-shaped lump under the covers.

First Cat: OMG, someone stepped on me! Grr! Hiss! Whine!

Brain: Hey, while we’re awake, let’s plan out a schedule for the day.

4:08 AM
Fourth Cat: Remembers how much she loves the track toy that is in the room directly overhead, and begins to play with great and loud enthusiasm.

4:15-4:25 AM
Brain: Hey, have you ever thought about what would happen if –

Me: OMG, seriously? Gets up, goes upstairs.

Fifth and sixth cats: Yay! You’re awake! Pet us! Play with us! Hey! Hey! Hey!

Foster kittens: We hear you out there! We are starving! We are lonely! We have not been fed in twenty seven years and no one has ever given us any snuggles EVER in all our tiny little lives! Hey! Hey! HEY!

Me: Sigh.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.



Daily cheese

Yesterday morning my friend texted. Could she swing by on the way home? She had something that needed to be stashed in my fridge.

Sure, I replied, a little confused. It wasn’t until an hour or so later that it finally dawned on me what her cryptic words meant. She had found the Cheese Advent Calendar!

We heard about this magical thing a few years ago, but it was only available in the UK. It did eventually make its way over to the US last year, but only in a very few locations, none of which were anywhere near us. This year it was going to be sold at Super Targets in the US, which was a problem because there’s no Super Target anywhere around…except that then she remembered there’s one in the town where some of her extended family lives, and she was going to be seeing them for Thanksgiving.

There were only 3 left on the shelves when they checked. We got two of them.

So this morning I ceremoniously opened the first little flap and pulled out the first cheese of the season.

It was a lot more neatly packaged but I forgot to take the picture before I opened it.

Verdict – not bad for a tiny little wheel of cheese. Richard and I split it and had it with potato pancakes (made from Thanksgiving leftovers) for breakfast. Yum!

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.




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