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All That Fall

There are days when life at Stratford Palace flows as smoothly as butter and honey over a warm croissant.

And then there are days like today.

Having arisen at 4:07 to serve gushy food to two ravenous cats, the caretaker shuffled back to the comfort of her bed, thankful for Caturday mornings. When the alarm sounded at 7:00 am, she rolled out of bed, slipped on her sandals, and headed to the kitchen to switch on the shiny new coffeemaker.

But a funny, not-funny, thing happened on the way to the coffee. One minute the caretaker was striding down the hallway and into the dining room, owning life in all its glory, and the next minute her forward motion was cut short as her right foot was accidentally introduced to the left side of a furry beast who was snoozing in the middle of the floor.

As an aside, let us now take an inventory of the designated sleeping surfaces in the palace:

  • a large couch
  • a large chair
  • six smaller chairs
  • two twin beds
  • a cot
  • four cat beds, including Sock Monkey and a covered cave bed
  • four boxes lined with blankets

All of them are clean, soft, and inviting. None of them is in the designated walking spaces. Yet Buddy was sleeping in the middle of the cold, hard floor, directly in the path between the bedroom and the kitchen.

But we digress.

Being a law-abiding citizen, the caretaker was careful to observe Newton’s first law of motion. Her uniform motion in a straight line was compelled to change its state by the presence of the sleeping external force, to wit, 14 pounds of muscle, bones, and fur. She also obeyed the second law of motion; her velocity changed when her foot met the previously mentioned external force. Further, she obeyed the law of gravity. All of that forward motion thwarted in mid-stride had to go somewhere, and that was down. Meanwhile, the cat’s inertia had immediately converted into hysteria, as he scampered off to avoid the falling object, to wit, the caretaker (weight undisclosed).

All the while, the caretaker’s frantic brain was continually reassessing the situation. Should she try to catch herself? No, that could cause even more damage. Should she yell really loudly and hope the force of her voice will buoy her up? No, that’s not even a thing. Should she fall as gracefully as possible and hope for the best? Welp, there’s really no other choice.

So she did a Humpty-Dumpty right there in the middle of the dining room.

For a few awkward minutes, she lay stretched out upon the floor, moaning through a wellness check on her limbs. Then she sat up, wincing, and Buddy slowly approached. He stared solemnly into her face as if to say, “Are you going to going to be okay? Because if you’re not, you need to call someone to come over here and feed us. Now.”

Overcome by his concern, the caretaker slowly stood up and began learning to walk again, with almost as much grace as Frankenstein’s monster. Almost.

A quick internet search indicates that there are anywhere from 650 to 840 muscles in the human body. If the caretaker’s level of pain is a good indicator, there are exactly 841, and they have banded together to challenge the constitutionality of the laws of physics.

Despite the caretaker’s agony, her love for Buddy has not waned. After all, who could resist this face?

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Rude Dawn

As has been mentioned before, not many nights go by without the caretaker’s being awakened at some point during the wee hours by Buddy the Bellicose. The caretaker has been researching this problem, and while her misery has found no comfort in the apparent legions of company dealing with similar rude awakenings, she has at least finally begun to understand the full nature of the problem.

You see, Buddy’s feline instincts tell him that the best hunting is to be done by the dawn’s early light. But his royal instincts tell him that it is beneath his dignity to do his own hunting. And his male instincts tell him that other activities are much more fun, and he must, above all, save his energy for what is fun. Besides, such menial tasks as storing up food and filling plates are obviously woman’s work. Therefore, he takes the only sensible course of action. He wakes the primary hunter/gatherer/predator in the house, the person who has proven herself responsible for keeping the food bowls filled. The lioness. The caretaker. And when he is sure she is out of bed and on the job, he jumps into his window seat and goes soundly back to sleep. So soundly, in fact, that he sometimes spills right out of the bed into the lovely, warm sunbeams.

Buddy spilling out of bed

Buddy spilling out of bed

It all makes perfect sense now, doesn’t it?

Mind you, it isn’t just a simple matter of Buddy’s being hungry at that very moment of waking the caretaker; to behave in such a way would be short sighted. Besides, it would be entirely unnecessary to wake her if he only wanted the next meal, for she ensures that the dry food bowls are filled and the snack bowls topped off before she goes to bed.

No, in Buddy’s mind she cannot properly provide for the pride if she lazes about during the best hunting hours of the day, which are apparently somewhere between 0330 and 0515 military time. So the insistent yowling, the claws digging into skin, the carefully planned four-paws-landing-in-the-stomach-after-a-perfect-trajectory-from-the-floor-to-the-bed, and the skillfully placed cold nose in the eye are all small irritations designed for a greater purpose: the survival of the species. Or at least the survival of the very well-fed bi-color Domestic shorthair known as Buddy. Some would call him a cow cat, but at heart he is a lion.

A cat’s reach, after all, must exceed his grasp or what’s a caretaker for?

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Daily life at the palace is much like a liturgy, for it is both predictable and complex. Since the feeble-minded caretaker is unable to order her own path through its complexities, she is quite blessed to have two resident liturgists.

Buddy begins the order of the day by announcing the arrival of morning. Depending on the requirements of the day (which are known only to Buddy), his announcement consists of a running leap into the caretaker’s stomach or a loud “marrooouuuu!” delivered from the middle of the room. Sometimes he combines the two events, and yells in mid-jump. Regardless, the desired effect is achieved. The caretaker’s rises for the opening act of service required by the cats: breakfast. At this point, Bear takes up her station as the breakfast liturgist. Mewing out versicles that require no responses, she precedes the caretaker into the kitchen and then stops at the foot of the cabinet containing the cat food. When the caretaker arrives, Bear processes and recesses along the back of the caretaker’s ankles, singing the breakfast blessing. When the caretaker places the beloved dish in its place, Buddy hangs back, like a gentleman, allowing Bear to complete her meal before he moves forward to take his portion.

While Buddy eats, Bear leads the caretaker into the bathroom for the ablutions. Continuing as liturgist, Bear chooses her location from which to oversee the proceedings: sometimes from the fluffy toilet lid, sometimes from a pile of clothing on the floor, sometimes from behind a towel. If events do not transpire according to her liking, she gently reminds the caretaker of the proper order and method, and she continues to do so throughout the rest of the morning’s versicles and responses. As the caretaker stumbles through the final moments preceding the morning benediction, Buddy takes his place in the window, where the shafts of sunlight will lull him to sleep. Rising so early has sapped his strength, and he must needs rest so that he will be prepared for the evening liturgy.

Buddy Rests from Morning Duties

Buddy Rests from Morning Duties

Upon arriving home after work, the caretaker is met at the door by both liturgists, who lead her to the kitchen to prepare the evening meal. The order of events must be as follows: open the door, go to the kitchen, prepare the cats’ dinner.  If anything, ANYTHING, is done out of order at this point, the liturgists strongly protest. The next few events during Vespers may transpire as the caretaker wishes, but they must always be followed by her spending some time to adore each cat in turn. On very stressful days, Buddy returns for a second round of adoration, which leads the caretaker to believe he may sometimes confuse his position as liturgist with that of the One who is alone to be worshiped.

Then when Bear decides the day’s liturgy has ended, she leads the way to bed and waits for the caretaker to join after all the chores are finished. And so, gentle reader, Stratford Palace is once again draped in the blessed cloak of sleep (Deo gratias!), at least until Buddy abruptly sounds the call to Matins once again.

'night, Bear

‘night, Bear

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Cabin Fever

Over the past few weeks of winter, most days at the Seafoam Cottage have passed with little more than sleeping, eating, and an occasional viewing of Cat TV, which has much less to offer since Tabby Lee and Mr. Shorty have sought shelter from the cold. But today the cats woke up in Crazyville, where the trains run only one way.

First, the stage must be set for Bear’s foray into madness. Despite the caretaker’s providence of a Drinkwell fountain AND a gravity-operated water dispenser, the cats greatly prefer to drink from the bathtub faucet. Rather than waste water by leaving the faucet dripping, the caretaker provides a small stainless steel bowl filled with fresh water, and oddly enough the cats have accepted this compromise. They seem to enjoy jumping into the bathtub, stealing a drink of water, and then jumping back out. Apparently water tastes better if one has to obtain it surreptitiously.

This fine morning, however, the clandestine mission went terribly awry. As the caretaker scurried about getting dressed to attend the early service at church, she was startled by a huge clatter that arose from the bathroom. Running to see what great tragedy had befallen, she was met by the sight of a soggy Bear, who had somehow misjudged the location of the water dish and jumped directly into it. Confused and frightened, she then apparently jumped straight back out again, so that by the time the caretaker found her, she was sitting perfectly still, dripping on the bathroom rug and failing miserably at pretending nothing was wrong. Anyone who knows cats will understand what a great strain it was for Bear to maintain her composure, but she managed to strike a regal pose that belied her circumstances. The situation was so pathetic that the caretaker couldn’t laugh at her, but instead spoke soothing words and carefully wiped the water from her back. Mercifully, the house was at peace again before the caretaker left.

When she arrived home, the cats were asleep on the couch, snuggled in each other’s arms. But shortly after the cats were awakened by the caretaker’s presence and the eternal hope of impending snacks, the idyllic scene was ended by Buddy’s impromptu production of “Lion and Gazelle,” and as always Bear was cast as the reluctant gazelle. With the caretaker ready to defend Bear from certain destruction, Buddy had to divert his aggression, and he soon spied the perfect victim. While playing on top of a box that the caretaker had brought into the living room, Buddy turned around suddenly and caught sight of a long, black, furry snake-like object trying to sneak up on him. In an instant he formed his battle plan:

* Whirl, pounce! Whirl, pounce! Whirl, pounce! Whirl, pounce! *

Though he spoke not a word, his face developed an expression of sheer frustration, and it was obvious that he was thinking, “What in the wide, wide world of fish is going on here?”

This foe was crafty indeed, for every time Buddy whirled, it darted out of striking distance, moving at exactly the same speed as he did. Unable to best the beast, he jumped down and loped into the bedroom, hoping to escape its hideous clutches. All this time, Bear had calmly observed him from her perch on the sofa table, her smug expression conveying one message: “Who’s the gazelle NOW, Buddy Boy?”

Eventually Buddy lost sight of the monster, so he settled down in the window sill behind the caretaker as she typed away at another dull blog post. He felt this was the one place of safety in the house, and he was corrrect. For if the caretaker is so willing to defend Bear from Buddy, she would certainly be willing to defend Buddy from a sneak attack by his own tail.

At the moment, therefore, peace reigns in the Seafoam Cottage; both Buddy and Bear have settled down to watch Cat TV. They will soon drift off into a cat’s version of religious dreams befitting a Sunday afternoon: Bear will dream of accidental baptisms and Buddy’s nightmares will include snake handling. Meanwhile, the caretaker would appreciate any and all ideas for curing cabin fever, but keep in mind that we’re all out of cowbell here.

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For some reason, this winter has been much more difficult for the cats than last. What makes this situation a curiosity is that the weather this year is milder than last year’s. The cats’ attitudes, however, are not. If it were not for blankets, box dragon, floor dragon, and the fireplace, the Seafoam Cottage would be a tense place indeed. (For readers who need an introduction to the dragons, this post will provide the background.)

Buddy’s main pursuit these days is searching for a new warm spot. This morning, he was spied lying on the floor dragon, at least until the heat cranked up and threatened to bake him. At present, he is crouched on the shelf beside the door, drawing a tiny bit of warmth from the caretaker’s gloves. Mind you, there is one consistently warm place in the house, but he is determined not to become a couch potato. Of course, the fact that he now watches television for long stretches of time probably means that his battle against essential potato-ness is already lost.

Buddy’s previously catalogued mood swings have escalated to the point that the caretaker takes her life into her own hands simply by walking through the house. The only safety to be found is when Buddy is watching the weather forecast or when he has drifted off to sleep. At other times, the Seafoam Cottage is a jungle. Sometimes he’s up on tiptoes, back arched and tail puffed, daring the caretaker to make a move toward him. Sometimes he’s flying through the air, having bounded from the floor to the couch and then on to who-knows-where. Sometimes he’s just loping through the house like a lion in pursuit of a gazelle. Sometimes the gazelle is invisible. And sometimes the role of the gazelle is played by poor Bear, who is always a reluctant actress in these improvisations.

When she is not being chased, Bear is eating or sleeping. A creature of habit, she does not share Buddy’s ambitious search for warmth. There are currently four corners to her napping world: the couch, the Purr Pad nest on the sofa table, the caretaker’s lap, and the bathroom rug in front of the box dragon, which provides Bear’s brightest spot for the entire day. Sometimes she doesn’t nap but merely sits with her eyes closed in front of the box dragon, allowing it to blow its lovely hot breath into her face.

But even though Bear’s usual routine has not been substantially altered by the cold, she is crankier than usual. Her normal irritation at hearing music has heightened to the point that she is as much to be feared as the resident lion. A few days ago, the caretaker broke out into “song” while Bear was enjoying the warm box-dragon breeze. With more energy than she has shown in many months, Bear whipped her head around, opened her mouth as wide as possible, and emitted a fearful cat roar. In the history of horror films, there has never been anything so much to be dreaded.

When Bear was certain that the singing was silenced, she slowly turned her head back to the box dragon. Though her composure was recovered, it took some time for the caretaker’s heart to return to normal rhythm. Whatever it takes, she will try to avoid making Bear angry again. Take her word, gentle reader, that you do not want to encounter Bear’s “Night of the Living Dead” attitude first thing in the morning.

Don't judge me. It's cold.

Don't judge me. It's cold.

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One important lesson the caretaker has learned is to conduct a head count before leaving home for any length of time. Even during the first year of cat bliss at the Cottage when there was only one head to worry about, there were still a few mishaps when the caretaker forgot this important duty. The most memorable occasion was the day that the caretaker was distracted by a family member’s illness and accidentally left Bear trapped in the bathroom for ten hours without the benefit of food, water, or litter box. As soon as the key turned in the lock, Bear began making her presence known. She was very forgiving about the whole ordeal, but not until after she had received her dinner and a visit to the “sandbox.” Furthermore, she made sure not to be alone in the bathroom for several days after that. But given her love for hiding, it was only a matter of time before conditions were right for another “Bear-trap” incident. In fact, Bear has been trapped for short periods of time in the laundry room, the shoe closet, the extra room, and once in the television
cabinet. Thankfully, the new head-counting rule has kept her from enduring long periods of incarceration. It does add a substantial amount of time to the morning routine, however, when one or both of the cats has chosen an unusual spot for a nap and doesn’t answer to his or her name. Bear recently cost the caretaker 10 minutes in an already frantic morning by choosing an obscure napping location behind the clothes basket.

Buddy plays hide-and-seek

Buddy plays hide-and-seek

Buddy is usually too lively to get trapped anywhere, but sometimes his explorer’s license gets him into trouble. When he finds himself unable to run free, he generally raises such a loud ruckus that people several houses over look puzzled because they can hear a cat quite plainly but don’t see one anywhere and can’t remember having one in the house. Yesterday morning was one of those occasions. Lately, the caretaker’s mind has been absent more often than usual,
and in her rush to get dressed for work, she walked into the spare room to store a pair of shoes and thoughtlessly closed the door on her way out. Almost immediately, Buddy began scratching and screaming so loudly you would have
thought he had been confined in a dungeon for days. Baby Jessica who was trapped in a cold dark well for five days did not raise half the noise that Buddy made after two minutes in a well-lit bedroom with all of the amenities to support a
supernap.

Recently Buddy has branched out into using his “help meh, I’m trapped” voice when he wants to go outside. His previous efforts at demanding freedom have frequently backfired, so he has added a frantic but helpless timbre to his
utterances that would wrest tears from the hardest hearted Vandal or even Senator. Although such distractions make it difficult for the caretaker to think straight, she still manages to count two heads in the house before she leaves home, as well as two heads on the porch when she serves as lookout. We’ve already learned that addition and physics are not her strong points, but perhaps she can continue counting to two without a great deal of difficulty.

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For-Bear-ance

Anyone who read the previous post about feline learning deficiencies will no doubt have raised an obvious question and observation: “Isn’t it really the caretaker who can’t learn? After the first incident of losing her telephone under a napping cat, she should have started to put things where they belong rather than tossing them onto the couch.” And all things being equal, that would be an astute assessment. Yet all things are most certainly NOT equal; it has already been established that felines are superior. One cannot expect an inferior being to demonstrate such higher order thinking skills, though the cats are frequently annoyed at the need to be on their guard constantly. But they are remarkably patient with the caretaker, despite her many and great faults.

Bear, for example, has shown great restraint—as well as a great capacity for learning, she would add—when it comes to the treatment that she receives during the morning routine and the scoldings that the caretaker really deserves because of it. The woman consistently closes the closet door, thus sealing off the best hiding place ever. She refuses to place her towel on the floor to soften the napping surface. She insists upon standing in (and walking through) the nap zone in front of the bathroom sink. But the day that she indiscriminately squirted chemicals into the air, accidentally assaulting Bear’s fragile eyes, was almost the last straw. If Bear had known how to post a job opening, the caretaker would have been dismissed without notice, possibly even terminated with extreme prejudice.

And so the stage is set for the tale of Bear and the hairspray.

If the caretaker works very hard at it, she can manage to be moderately presentable when she leaves the house, though she has never been the sort of woman who would be considered even remotely beautiful. (Actually, that is not true, for the more remote she is from the viewer, the more beautiful she appears to be.) For this woman who is long past what little prime she had, being even slightly presentable in public takes great effort, lots of paint and spackling paste, and strategically applied goops and sprays. Knowing that a curious cat is underfoot during the process should raise any sentient being’s awareness of surroundings, but on this particular morning, the caretaker was not paying attention and is not particularly sentient on her best days. Having brushed her hair strategically so as to cover most of the thinning spots, she reached for the aerosol can to seal her graying coif in place.

Now, hairspray, though virtually invisible, actually has some substance and is thus subject to the law of gravity. A few of the irritating particles landed in Bear’s eyes, resulting in a frantic attempt to bathe away the sting. (It is remarkable how efficient a cleaning machine can be found in a cat’s paw, liberally covered with spittle.) When Bear could finally see again, she stomped out of the bathroom in a huff, refusing to speak to the caretaker for the remainder of the morning. The caretaker, of course, felt awful about angering the beloved Queen, so she provided special treats as a peace offering. Bear eventually forgave the witless woman, and all was right again by the next morning.

Nevertheless, Spray Day shall never be forgotten. To this day, whenever Bear sees the caretaker wielding a spray can or bottle, she slams her eyes shut and begins to blink slowly and deliberately, assuming a pathetic, wounded look, as one might imagine was worn by Anne Boleyn on the way to Tower Green. After Bear is certain that the caretaker has noticed her pained reaction and felt the proper amount of guilt, she glides regally out of the room to let the poor misguided hag continue indulging in vanity.

Thank goodness there is comfort to be found in second breakfast.

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