Still Life, With Cats

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Putting on my cranky pants

Things that currently annoy me, in no particular order (and for no particular reason except I had to go to work today, and even though the office was nearly empty, the woman who marinates herself in perfume, and the guy who paces while on the cell phone were still there, and I’m crabby about it):

  • Elf on a Shelf – the entire concept is creepy and disturbing, and yet a bazillion parents out there actually purchase this thing, *voluntarily*, and then subject their small children to it. Why? No, really, why?
  • The use of lip liner without lipstick – Is this supposed this supposed to be somehow attractive? If you draw a visible line around your lips – a line that is not the same color as your lips, is it supposed to draw attention to them so that guys will magically want to kiss you, and not, say, ask if you’ve been drinking punch and need a napkin?
  • Uggs – I can only assume that these are a practical joke being played on the clueless. Yes, perhaps they are comfortable, but so are bedroom slippers and those weren’t meant to be worn in public either. Yes they look cute on little girls, but no one over the age of, oh, say, 6 really ought to be caught dead in them.
  • Crocs clogs – see above re. Uggs. Shudder.
  • The ‘war’ on Christmas – Really? Are you so self-centered that you are that incapable of recognizing that there are lots of other people out there who are not just like you; who might celebrate different holidays than you; who worship differently than you or even, GASP, don’t worship at all? Here’s a suggestion. Open your eyes and look around you. Guess what! America is a great big melting pot and there are all kinds of wonderful people out there with interesting cultures and fascinating stories. If you can manage to pull your head out of your own ass long enough, you might actually learn something.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Post eve

December 26th, which means time for the sacred tradition long held by all the women in my family – the after-Christmas sales. Because why pay full price for your decorations, cards, bows, and wrapping paper when you can get it for 50% off or more? Plus, it’s fun!

I remember, years ago, going out to the Hallmark store to pick up cards (before a lot of the department stores used to carry them) and fighting the mob; watching women send their little kids to crawl in underneath everyone else and grab boxes before anyone else could get them. These days, however, so many places put everything on huge sales a few days before Christmas that by the time the 26th rolls around, there’s really no crowds to speak of. But yet we still do it every year, on the day after Christmas, because that is tradition, and it is awesome. I like to think that eventually, my niece will be old enough to join us without being horribly bored, and we can pass on this tradition to the next generation.

This year my mom and my older sister and I met up at the first store at 7 in the morning. I remember years when the stores opened earlier, but I have to admit to being rather happy that they’ve stopped that particular trend. I was running a bit late, since I got a late start out the door, but I got there just a few minutes after the doors opened, and caught up with my mom and sister once I made my way to the back where all the Christmas stuff was gathered.

I’d already done a quick inventory before I left home, so I knew I needed to pick up a few rolls of wrapping paper (shockingly, we were finally running low from the last time I did a wrapping paper buying spree), and a box of cards for next year. Plus ever since we got Rupert and Ingrid and our days of an unmolested-by-cats Christmas tree died, I always keep an eye out for a few more cat-safe, unbreakable ornaments to add to the pitifully small collection I’ve accumulated so far, and every once in a while I find something to toss into the box for next year’s stocking stuffers.

After the first store, we all piled into one car and inhaled a few Christmas cookies while we headed off to the next place – one of those little shops that has all manner of cute little pieces of furniture and home decorations of the sort where I usually wander through fingering everything wistfully and pretending that I live the sort of life where these things would fit (hint – I do not, and I’m actually quite okay with that). But this time of year they also have tons of absolutely gorgeous Christmas decorations for sale, so we wanted around and oohed and aahed and pointed out all the shiny sparklies and generally had a wonderful time.

We hit a few more shops, since I wasn’t the only one who came with a list of specific items to find, but by then we were all starting to fade, so we gave up on shopping and instead went and got lunch. We ate eggs and bacon and biscuits and toast and chatted for an hour or more, and then eventually it was time to all head our separate ways – back home to put everything away and pet the cats and ponder doing something vaguely more productive but then finally just giving up and instead taking a nap because it’s a day off and why the heck not.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


Merry Christmas. We have had a rather lovely, low key sort of day today – the sort where you stay in your pajamas all day and never once step a foot outside.

I made doughnuts in the new doughnut pans that my younger sister gave me for Christmas, and we opened our stocking gifts to each other – silly books and toys and t-shirts and so on. And then I decided to start some sourdough bread, which is a several-day process, so I figured I could at least get the sponge going and then stash it in the fridge until I had a chance to finish it off later this week. I also got dough started for french bread, and as the afternoon progressed, turned that into two long loaves in preparation for dinner.

We nibbled veggies and dip during the afternoon, and then made pizza fondue for dinner, and dipped in cubes of freshly baked, toasted french bread. We had purchased the parts for s’mores for later, but were both too full after the fondue to even think about dessert, so those will just keep until much, much later.

Otherwise, we have spent the day doing very little at all. I finished half of a sock, and read a few books. Richard did a lot of reading. I caught up on my RSS feeds. We watched the Dr Who Christmas special and both liked it a lot (although I admit I say that while deliberately tamping down a lot of ‘oh come *on*, really?’ thoughts in my head, but I am trying to give Moffat the benefit of the doubt here because he has rarely disappointed in the past). Also, is it wrong of me that the killer snowmen made me squee from their adorable evilness?

I had intended to try to get a few other things done – a load of laundry, perhaps, or heck, even going for a run, but….ah well. I haven’t been as good at going running as often as I should be, considering there’s a 5K looming in my very near future, but…eh, it was Christmas, and it was raining, and while I don’t mind running in the freezing cold, I draw the line at running in the freezing cold while getting drenched. And naturally the rain didn’t end until it was getting dark outside, and considering we are talking about a woman who broke her foot walking barefoot down a carpeted hallway, I know better than to risk running in rain-soaked streets in the dark, where I cannot see.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


I am sitting at my desk in our home office, typing this entry. Behind me, on the floor, lies this toy, and a pair of cats, and I do not have to turn my head to know that they are busily playing with it, because I can hear the soft smack of paws against the track, and the gentle rattle of the ball as it rolls back and forth. They have, in fact, been playing with this toy since we got home and I put it together, nearly 1 1/2 hours ago – oh, not all six cats at once, of course, but in twos and threes, trading off who is flopped on their side, wildly smacking at the ball or stuffing their paw into the track, and who is lounging off to one side, watching the entire process intently. It is rare to have a toy that enthralls the cats for so long, but at least in this household, this particular toy gets six paws up.

The toy was acquired during the annual Christmas Eve festivities at Richard’s parents’ place, where we spent most of the day. We drove down this morning, collecting all the presents and the biscuits I made yesterday, and a jar of spiced pear butter I made this fall, and a CD of Christmas music to play in the car. Presents were exchanged and pets were entertained. We chatted and laughed and ate delicious brunch food, and drank coffee, and it was a lovely, low key afternoon.

So now we are back home, with new books to read and DVDs to watch and a toy where I am not sure who is more entertained – the cats who are playing with it, or the humans who are watching them and laughing at their antics. Time to curl up with hot chocolate and laptops; with eBooks and knitting, and allow the day to fade quietly away.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Eve eve

As I type this, Ingrid is sitting atop the tall bookcase beside my desk. Occasionally she chirps at me, although I’ve no idea what she is trying to tell me. Cat communication often errs on the cryptic side, at least to us humans.

Today’s focus has been on getting everything out of the way in preparation for Christmas. We did a massive grocery shopping trip (the sort where the final total makes you wince, but at least we’re all set for a while now. Or at least that’s the hope). We bought stamps and applied them to the giant stack of cards that will be dropped into the mail tomorrow. I made two batches of biscuits to take with us to tomorrow’s family gathering, using those as an excuse to pull out a few of the gadgets I don’t often use – the bands that go around the rolling pin that let me roll the dough to just the right thickness. and my circular biscuit cutters. And then, on a whim, I also whipped up a batch of English toffee which necessitated pulling out the thermometer and stirring constantly until the mixture of butter and sugar turned just the perfect shade of golden brown.

Otherwise, it’s been a fairly low key sort of day. We got all the presents for tomorrow’s gathering wrapped. We did a bunch of laundry and ran a few loads of dishes in the dishwasher. I did a whole bunch of knitting and finally caught up to where I needed to be by this time of the month. And I turned a bunch of leftovers into a scramble and we ate that for dinner while watching the finale for the current season of The Next Iron Chef.  It was a satisfactory ending for the show – both of us were ambivalent about which of the two final contenders we wanted to win, and to be perfectly honest, I think I could have been perfectly happy to have stopped watching once I found out who those two were, since I had more hoping and wishing riding on that decision than on who got to stand on the podium and see their giant picture on the stadium wall. Admittedly I kept hoping that a miracle would occur and Faulkner would somehow be back in the game, and then proceed to wipe the floor with the rest of them and take what should have been her rightful place a season ago, but as I do not rule the world, I have to settle for the next best outcome.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


It feels, this year, as if Christmas has just sort of snuck up on us. It is not as if I haven’t known, all along, that the 25th is exactly 25 days into December, or the date of each day as it passes, and we took care of a majority of the shopping early on in the month. But as for the rest of it – all the preparation for Christmas, like putting lights up around the porch, or mailing out presents, or writing the holiday letter and sending out the cards – all of that has been on hold for ‘some time in the near future’, until suddenly, here we are, the weekend before Christmas, and time has suddenly run out. Oops.

So today was all about trying to deal with all the last minute stuff that is still worth doing. We wrapped and shipped the last of the gifts that needed to be mailed (and paid an arm and a leg for the ability for them to arrive by the afternoon of Christmas Eve. We made a grocery list of everything we will need for Christmas day, along with the usual assortment of items like dishwasher detergent, and toilet paper, and cheese. And we finally sat down and dealt with the Christmas cards.

In years past, doing the holiday letter has been a several-day process. One person comes up with a bullet list of what to write about, the second person adds to the list; one person writes a paragraph or two about each item, and then we each edit the other’s contributions, until we get it all into one page, sometimes with a picture (usually of one of the cats). Today, however, we whipped that thing out in record time; printing them all out took longer than it did to write it. So while the letters were printing, we sat at our respective desks and addressed a bazillion Christmas cards, and then we sat in the living room and signed and stuffed and sealed all the envelopes while watching another episode or two of Charmed via Netflix streaming.

I took a few moments, during the process, to read back through the previous years’ letters. We still have copies, going back to the year we were married, and it was rather fun, to read through them all. Holiday letters only give a brief glimpse into a life – the highlights of the year, condensed into a one-page format. But even those brief snippets were enough to spark memories.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


Every so often, I get a yen to do those things that mature, responsible adults are supposed to do around the house – you know, things like checking the fire extinguisher, or replacing the batteries in the smoke alarms, or cleaning the gutters (although with a two-story house, we pay someone to do that last one for us). Tonight I decided it was high time we flipped the mattress.

I have to assume that in other households – normal ones, that is – flipping the mattress is a quick process that is done by two adults, who swiftly and efficiently pick up the mattress, turn it, and flop it back down with a minimum of fuss and bother. I suspect that in these (normal) households, making the bed is also a quick, albeit boring, procedure, where sheets and blankets do not mysteriously sprout lumps that randomly attack you when you try to smooth them, or purr when you poke them, but I digress. The point is that normal households likely do not have the following extenuating circumstances when trying to flip their mattresses:

  • An 8-foot ceiling with a a light fixture directly over the foot of the bed
  • Six hyperactive cats.

Step 1:

Start by dragging the mattress off the bed. The mattress immediately became three cats heavier. The instant an inch of space opens up at the top of the bed, a fourth cat dives directly into the space, meaning that you no longer have the ability to drop the mattress back down. Try to do this while giggling uncontrollably.

Step 2:

Discover that you cannot lift the mattress, even on its side, high enough to flip while still *on* the bed, due to the aforementioned light fixture. So after some careful rearranging of other furniture, get the mattress completely off the bed, and on its end. The *instant* it starts to go upright, it is immediately scaled by two cats. I will leave it to your imagination to guess which ones but I will give you a hint – they are both grey.  All remaining cats (that would be four, for those of you who are counting) immediately bounce onto the exposed box springs, because this is a New And Exciting Place For Cats. Take a moment to recover from laughing before you accidentally drop the mattress on your spouse.

Step 3:

Try to shoo the cats off the box springs. Fail. Try to jiggle cats off of top of mattress end. Also fail. Decide to sloooowly tilt the mattress back down (after turning it around, still adorned with cats, on its end) and hope that the cats figure it out before they get squished. Try to do this while not dropping mattress from even more laughing, because third cat  decides to scale Mattress Mountain, from below, as it is tilting back toward the bed.   Get mattress nearly onto the bed, but then one human must hold mattress slightly askew, while second human crawls *under* the mattress to rescue a cat who has decided that diving around between the box springs and the slowly descending, heavy mattress, is Very Exciting and who does not actually *want* to be rescued.

Step 4:

Finally extricate all cats. Position mattress fully onto bed. Do quick headcount to make sure that no one got themselves trapped. Heave sigh of relief and cross it off the list of Things Responsible People Remember To Do for another mumblemumble length of time.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


They descended in clusters of twos and threes, or one at a time, entering the door with a gust of cold air, as I tried desperately to simultaneously greet them and distract / catch a very determined Sherman before he could make good his great escape. They came laden with boxes, or bags, or great long cookie sheets, loaded with goodies pulled only recently from the oven.

At first we all gathered in the kitchen, everyone chattering at once and somehow still managing to follow most of the conversation threads, as we filled our mugs with egg nog, with coffee or hot chocolate or tea. Sherman took breaks in between trying to escape to investigate thoroughly every purse, bag or box that entered the house. The occasional cry of ‘stop the cat!’ started to become a common refrain.

Eventually we migrated to the dining room, still chattering, and assembled ourselves in a motley assortment of regular chairs, folding chairs, and a few of the smaller chairs pulled in from the living room. The table was completely covered with various bins of cookies. People started to pass them around, and we all took one of each, which still ended up being a lot of cookies. Several people wondered, ruefully, why they had even bothered to eat dinner, as we all nibbled and tasted, but it didn’t stop a single one of us from finishing all the cookies on our plate.

We drew numbers and in order, examined the table of possibilities – which one to open; which one to steal from someone else instead? Rosie sat on the piano in order to look pitiful and possibly garner attention, or even crumbs, and Nutmeg lounged in the cat bed in the living room, pretending she wasn’t paying any attention to any of us anyway. Sherman, meanwhile, prowled underneath the table and pounced on discarded tissue paper, or dove into un-watched gift bags. The rest of the cats, unnerved by the volume and the numbers, hid downstairs, or else peered cautiously around corners and then retreated somewhere else.

Too soon, someone noticed the clock – how did it get to be so late? And then there was the great cookie distribution – a roomful of women, filling tiny paper sacks with cookies. Who didn’t get the gingerbread yet? Wait, I don’t have any of the lemon ones! Who wants more of the shortbread?

And then they left, in ones and twos, arms loaded with just as many cookies as they had arrived with, but this time of different varieties. We hugged our goodbyes, me with Sherman tucked under one arm to allow them to leave unaccompanied. The house descended into silence again, and the cats crept slowly out, noses twitching.

And now there are all sorts of cookies, where there once was only gingerbread men, bearing all sorts of flavors – cranberries, white chocolate macadamia nuts, lemon, anise, peanut butter and more. I sip another mug of homemade hot chocolate, reluctant yet to go to bed. There is time for one more cookie, I think. Just one more.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Dozens of little men

I got this recipe from my mother, who likely got it from her mother. The directions are pretty sparse, and consist simply of a list of ingredients, the baking temperature and time, and a rough approximation of total number of cookies made per recipe.

When I was younger I used to continue my family tradition of making all sorts of different types of cookies. But these days, now that we’re older and (until recently) both worked in tiny offices so there weren’t as many people to foist cookies onto, I usually only make a few treats. This is the one cookie that gets made in our house nearly every year (sometimes the only one).

Gingerbread Men

1 cup white sugar
1 cup butter
1 cup molasses
1 cup sour cream or buttermilk
2 teaspoons baking soda
5 teaspoons ginger
Pinch of salt
Flour (to make dough stiff enough to roll – about 4 – 6 cups)

Bake at 350 degrees (F) for about 10 minutes. Makes about 50 men.

– – –

Here is the thing about these cookies. The amount of flour listed is NEVER enough. And it always makes a whole lot more than you are counting on. Also, you need to remember to have raisins and red hots on hand, because that is what you use for the eyes and the nose. You have to have made rolled, cut cookies before so you have some idea of the relative thickness of dough you’re aiming for (I have no idea; I just roll it out until it feels about right, which I realize isn’t the remotest bit helpful to someone who might never have done this but…that’s the best I can tell you).

The best thing about these cookies is that they are actually better the next day, once they’ve cooled and the ginger has had a chance to really come to the foreground.

Some people, I suspect, would decorate them once they’re out of the oven – give them little icing smiles and put candies on them for buttons and other adornments. But I never bother with that. I like my cookies plain (have never been that much of a fan of icing anyway – it’s far too sweet for me).

I baked an entire batch tonight. Most of them have been put into tiny bags, for a cookie exchange later this week. But as I mentioned above, this recipe always makes more than you think. So there are a few – just enough – left to nibble here and there. And the house smells deliciously like sugar and ginger and butter and Christmas.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


I didn’t intend to get up at 5 this morning. But the mechanical whine of the tow truck in the street woke me up, and once I was awake, my hands also woke up, and proceeded to remind me why it is usually considered a very bad idea to try to knit an extremely large project (the details of which I am contractually not allowed to share) out of certain types of yarn in a very short period of time. So instead of trying to fall back asleep, instead I got up and took some ibuprofin to make the hands stop screaming at me, and then I decided as long as I was awake anyway, I might as well finish the thing, so I sat down with some coffee (necessary) and some cats (not necessary, but you try telling them that) and two hours later, the last end was woven in, and I was done. Of course, my original plan had been to finish it this weekend anyway, so as to get it shipped off to where it needs to go and out of my hair with plenty of time to spare. I just hadn’t counted on all the extra work I’ve put into it over the past 36 hours.

Any other weekend I might have been able to just climb back into bed, but not today. I had just enough time to go take a shower and get dressed and scrounge up my usual black performance attire and stuff it into a bag (having learned that attempting to put on black concert attire in a house with six cats is an exercise in futility, massive fuzz, and usually a small amount of swearing), and then dash off to Dixon for the first cantata performance of the day. I zipped in and changed (I am very good and changing quickly when it comes to concert attire) and had time to spare, to chat and catch up with people I only see once a year or less now.

The cantata went well – the director always picks awesome cantata scores, so it’s always a lot of fun to sing – and then I said my goodbyes and changed back into my street clothes and headed back home.

I had grand plans that today I was going to try to get all the baking done that I need to have done for this coming week, but when I got home I realized that we didn’t have everything that I needed. I thought, for a very brief moment, of trying to get to the grocery store and pick up everything and then come home and see if I could somehow mix up the dough, roll out and bake roughly 5 dozen cookies. But it was only a brief thought. So instead of stressing myself out with baking (like I’ve been stressing myself out with knitting the past few days), we decided to go out and get lunch. We went to a new-to-us place downtown and ate brunch food with a lot of bacon, and then we came back home, and while Richard very nicely went off to the grocery store, list in hand, I stayed home and I and a few of the cats took a much-needed nap.

Then it was back to Dixon for the evening performance of the cantata. And my favorite part of that was that the handbell choir performed as well. I love handbell choirs, and they were absolutely terrific. Between the five of them, they were juggling something like 30 bells, and it was obvious they were all having a whole lot of fun.

So now I am back home. The cantata is done. The test knit is done. We curled up on the couches in the living room and watched the latest installment of “The Next Iron Chef” and I did not knit a single stitch. It was wonderful.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.