Reigning Cats and Dogs

 

One of the first places I went back to see again on this trip to Milwaukee was Black Cat Alley – a new discovery on my last visit. It looks pretty horrendous at the start, but once inside, there are treasures to be found:

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I have written about this place before, but a new element has been added. As you leave the alley at the other end and turn the corner, you find yourself in front of the Sip Purr café.

        

It’s a combination coffeehouse and cat shelter with a side room full of seating and mostly/usually sleeping rescue cats. For an extra eight bucks (for the cats), you can go in there to drink your $6 lowfat frappamochaccinomacchiato (or whatever), but only if you have a reservation.

     

There were no time slots left for us, so we just watched through the windows as the 1:00 o’clock group went in. Two young women marched right up to a table currently occupied by two sleeping cats expecting . . . who knows what. The gray cat immediately took a clawed swipe at one of the intruders and then both cats got up to find new sleeping quarters. If we had felt any envy for these women, it quickly subsided. Still! – the idea of the café was a nice one, even if maybe not completely thought through. Those cats are nocturnal and will surely stay that way. Some of the humans, however, will adapt – especially the caffeinated ones – and become night-active too.

 

It’s not just the cats that direct human behavior here. Dogs are a constant presence in every trip to Milwaukee. My sister’s house is across from a park that seems to be a particular favorite of dogs who own people. They traipse by from left to right and from right to left and from morning to night, their servants in tow. The humans make sure that their leashes don’t drag on the ground and that their poop is picked up. They are well trained.

 

As I sit on the front porch, I watch these odd couples pass by. Big burly man with little foofy poodle. Fratboy with wiener dog. Gay couple with pitbull. Grandma with nervous greyhound. California couple with Husky. Fashion plate with sheepdog. Pony-tailed, baseball-capped working guy with Chihuahua and Pekingese. That last guy is my favorite. He’s been showing up faithfully for about 10 years. It’s comforting somehow, because as much as I like to see what is new each time I visit, some changes bother me. For instance, I was appalled when the nearest iconic Milwaukee bubbler was replaced by this green atrocity:

                     

But then I noticed the ground level spigot and realized that the designers and city planners were thinking about the dogs. Sure enough, as I was taking the picture above, a dog came by and his person obediently turned on the water for him. Suddenly, I figured I could get used to this new fountain.

                            

I meandered back to my sister’s house, passing the park benches and reading their dedications. (Local sponsors pay for the benches so each one has a memorial plaque for some lost loved one.) Here is the one closest to the dog bubbler:

 

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Cat Pit Ululation

 

The same scene plays out over and over again. I go to the desk where my laptop sits and begin . . . watching the news, doing work or a translation, blogging . . . whatever. At some point Devil Cat leaps up onto the desk, often spilling my coffee or knocking objects off. I pick him up, put him on the ground. He leaps again. I remove him again. He leaps again, and this time he quickly prances across the laptop keyboard. Menacing messages appear on the screen such as “Shutting down . . .” or “Delete file?” or “Restore computer to factory settings?”

Sometimes things heat up and I just shove Devil Cat off the side of the desk, trusting that he will land on his feet. Sometimes he digs his claws in and pulls the table cloth along with him. Sometimes, as he is leaping, I block his landing spot on the desk, sending him sprawling.

This battle went on for years. And then . . .

I gave up.

 

Addendum: Oddly, it seems history does sort of repeat itself. It was during my last sick leave with a similar ailment that an altercation made me think my cat might be possessed by the devil . . .

 

Gerontogynophobia

 

It’s official. In the Best Vacations competition, Easter beats Christmas hands down. The weather is warm, the sun sets at 8:00 pm, there is no present-procurement stress, and no one asks if you want to go skiing. The supply of chocolate in the house grows dramatically, while the surplus of eggs in the fridge gets reduced. This last point is particularly fortunate, now that we are getting up to seven (!) a day (she says proudly).

Despite a long mental list of Easter vacation projects, including catching up some more with blog friends and long overdue house improvements, I — somewhat inexplicably — spent the first two days crocheting this giraffe. It is my very first stuffed animal:

This was all before Notre Dame started burning, before an overnight trip to Vienna with my two daughters, and before the Mueller Report landed with a thud, kicking off the collective hyperventilation of America’s journalists and pundits. No, for those two days, I happily binge-watched silly Sci Fi series and counted stitches. My greatest concern was what to do with the giraffe once I had finished. Gingerbread Man to the rescue! Since he is my only other crocheted stuffed animal thing, I introduced the two and they became immediate bff’s.

Speaking of new friends, I have one too. And it is none other than Mean Neighbor Lady! For more than two decades I suffered her Daily Disapproval Tours and disparaging comments about my (lack of) gardening skills.  Hundreds of times, when my Nice Neighbor Lady (NNL) and I walked our dogs past her house, I stood back silently while those two had a friendly chat or MNL gifted her a plant from her garden. All I ever got was half-nod and a grunt. MNL became a constant source of bemusement between NNL and me.

But then things changed. The thaw began with Dog Four and was helped along by the chickens. MNL and I began to have very short talks about various plants and I sometimes saw her bringing kitchen scraps to our goats. About two weeks ago, on my dog walk, I heard someone calling my name. I turned around and it was her. Up to that point, I wasn’t aware that she even knew my name.

I retraced my steps back to her. She wanted to know if it was true that the noise her grandson made when he rode his moped around the cornfields bothered . . . . . . my husband. I assured her that he had never complained. She replied, “That’s what I thought.” Then she offered me a plant from her garden. A week later she complemented my new flowerbed. On my next dog walk with NNL, she got the icy grunt and I got the friendly hello.

“I guess I’M her favorite now!” I crowed as we walked on.

 

I have no illusions that this new friendship will endure. One escaped goat munching on her flowers would surely be enough to end it. And then there is my well established fear of little old white-haired ladies, especially those with scowly faces.

I checked the official list of phobias to see if I could find my particular condition, but the closest things I found were a general fear of women and the fear of growing old. This made me realize something. Maybe it wasn’t the scowling little old ladies I feared; maybe what I really feared was becoming one of them myself. Which brings me back full circle to my giraffe.

Crocheting stuffed animals is something grandmas do!

In fact, my own grandma must have been almost exactly my age now when she made the Gingerbread Man. I did the math.  And in the ensuing years she proceeded to shrink as her hair turned white.

But then again . . . I came to think of her as one of the most beautiful people I knew – ever more so the older she got. She was still able to live on her own at the age of 90. She loved to dance. And she never scowled.

 

German, English, Norwegian, Scottish, Irish, and Roman

 

I’m back to talking chickens.

Loyal readers will know what that means: there has been too much NSFB (“not suitable for blogging”) stuff going on and occupying my thoughts lately. Add to that the fact that I also subjected blogworld to two political rants in a short space of time, making me feel like I have to make up for it somehow. I have been rooting around for a nice, easy, non-political topic I can spend some time on . . . now, let’s see . . . what could I write about? . . . I know! . . . chickens!

 

 “We’re going to be grandparents of three,” my husband said to me a few days back. He had just checked our third batch of incubator eggs with his special illuminator device, homemade out of a toilet paper roll and some tin foil. Of the six eggs, three of them had dark shadowy innards. It takes almost exactly 21 days for the eggs to hatch, so in about two weeks’ time, I will be able to tell you if he was right.

Our first attempt, some of you may remember, resulted in the deformed, short-lived Quasimodo and the equally doomed Fred, the German Reich’s chicken who was clearly too beautiful to live. Those two were accompanied for their short time by some hastily purchased Wyandotte chicks, all four of whom turned into roosters and, subsequently, three of whom turned into dinner. The fourth is the father of our current incubator batch. This time I am actually hoping for a rooster. I want to name him “Pete Buttig-Egg”.

Our second attempt at incubating was more successful – it produced four hearty Orpingtons who managed to survive the harsh winter in a small henhouse with an open door. They did it by sticking close together. By March we had three full grown hens and one rooster but, sadly, no eggs. For months I fed them, checked the empty laying box, and then informed them that they were a bunch of good-for-nothing losers. But then – on the very same day Mueller finally submitted his report to the aptly named Barr – one of them laid an egg:

Surely there will be more to come. There has to.

 

All this focus on progeneration naturally led me to other thoughts. What about me? Where do I come from? I still remember asking my mother about it way back in grade school when the topic of nationalities was first introduced into my consciousness. Just like Elizabeth Warren’s mother’s tale of a Native American ancestor, my mom had a theory of her own to tell:

“Well let’s see . . . you are German, English, Norwegian, Scottish, Irish and Roman. Pretty much in that order.”

“Roman?” I asked. “Where does that come from?”

Mom told me that her own mother was 100% English, but that she had dark hair and olive skin – so that probably went back to some Roman soldier from the Empire’s occupation of England in the first millennium. It seemed pretty feasible.

In defense of my mother, I assume now that she was being a little facetious and never thought I would go on to repeating that list of nationalities – including the last one – for the next two decades. Thank goodness there was no “Roman” box to tick on my college application form!

The mystery surrounding my heritage was further complicated by my elder sister who has spent years compiling a massive database of our genealogical tree. I only know a tiny bit of it, but I vaguely remember her correcting my version of our connection to the Mayflower and – more importantly – not being able to confirm the “Irish” part of my nationality list. This disturbs me greatly because I once distinctly heard the call of my ancestors while wandering around the peninsula of Dingle in Ireland. On the other hand, when I was in Rome a few years back, I listened for a similar call and . . . nothin’.

Fortunately, modern science might offer me a way to prove or disprove my mother’s and sister’s theories. My Cuban friend (whose mother told her she had some Chinese ancestry) did a DNA test through “MyHeritage” and got some surprising results. To cut to the chase, she now walks around feeling less connection with the Ming dynasty and more with the Massai.

Of course, after hearing her tale, I went online and ordered two kits for me and my husband. They have been sitting on a shelf for weeks, but I’ve decided that today is the day to force the hubby to swab. Once that is done, I will mail the spittle off. So . . . in about six weeks’ time, I will be able to tell you if my mother or sister was right. I’m curious to find out who, if anyone, will be exonerated.

 

 

Halftime Report

Never fear, Ladies. This post has nothing to do with the Super bowl. To be honest, the only things I know about it are that Maroon Five was boring and everyone hates a guy called Tom Brady. I couldn’t tell you what teams played, but I saw Tom Brady on Colbert doing Hamlet’s soliloquy and thought he was charmingly awful.

 

The reason that “halftime” is in the title is because I just had a week off for semester break. It was a welcome relief after what has been a somewhat crappy school year so far (only with the adults, not with the kids). I know I have been declaring my love for my job forever, but this year started off badly with a bunch of conflicts I barely understood. And from there it got worse, culminating in yet another somehow obligatory group therapy session. The moderator lost control of the discussion, so we all ended up suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous accusations. Afterwards, I found myself pondering “To quit or not to quit?  That is the question.” Of course the problem, at its core, was not life or death. It was just about money. And all arguments about money suck by definition.

I didn’t want to spend my whole break brooding about work, so on the first day, I invited my two female coworkers over for coffee and a long chat. We all converged on the realization that we three were married to working men and financially secure, whereas our other two colleagues were single earners with housewives and families to support. The whole situation was not an existential one for us. Although we agreed that everyone is responsible for their own life decisions, this new insight gave us three a patience with their behavior and the situation as a whole. The talk did me a world of good and allowed me to put all work-related questions out of my mind for the interim.

Let the vacation begin!

As tradition dictates, we headed to my husband’s aunt and uncle in Tyrol for some skiing (them) and dog walking (me). A five hour drive westward took us from relative spring into the deepest winter. Ten straight days of snowfall in previous weeks meant white walls were lining all the streets and walking paths  – some of them up to five feet tall or more. The snow returned while we were there, giving us all another excuse for taking it easy (as if we needed one). While my husband took the kids skiing and sledding, I took long dog walks with my aunt and cousin and . . . that’s about it. Otherwise it was just reading and Sudoku and Level 8 and podcasts and wonderful meals cooked by Austria’s greatest chef.

My one excursion was to the big flea market where, last year, I found my old dial-up phone (which works!) and which I absolutely adore. This year the pickings were slimmer. There was a nice set of hand-carved wooden crèche figures, but with the baby Jesus missing. I already bought one of those this year. Later, I did find a cool vintage children’s sewing machine – but then the seller not only wanted too much for it, but he was also fairly unfriendly about it. He had turned his back on me to talk to another potential customer, but I remained standing there, mulling over whether to make a counter offer or not. While waiting for him to finish his conversation, I picked up a wooden box from his table and opened it. Inside were a bunch of big carved wooden objects. It slowly dawned on me that they were penises. I quickly shut the box, dropped it back on the table and moved on.

So . . . no new mini-sewing machine.

After four gloriously relaxing days, we hugged our goodbyes and thank yous, and piled into the car to head back east- and homeward. A five-hour drive later, we landed back in spring. Temperatures in the low 50s quickly lured us out into the garden to do post-winter clean-up. One of my projects was reopening bathing season for our ducks.

 

And speaking of clean-ups, I came home to discover my chicken on the wrong side of the front stoop, my glass jars in the wrong formation on the kitchen counter, and all the bottles of cleaning supplies empty. There was a message from Vera that she needed more. I went out and replenished the whole stock. Here they are:

Notice the hostage-picture-style of this photograph with the newspaper in front to prove the date. You are all my witnesses. The next time Vera comes (and has gone), I’m going to line up all these bottles again and compare them to this picture. If it turns out that they are all half empty, I’m gonna . . .  I’m gonna . . . seriously think about saying something to her! But then again . . . I think her husband is unemployed and she is working two or three jobs just to get by. So I’ll probably stay silent. Just like I did at work when it started up again.

Conscience does make cowards of us all.

Unceremonious Endings

Two of my activities today got me thinking about all the times I have lost jobs. Technically I have never been fired – at least in the sense of someone looking me in the eye and saying “You’re fired!” But that is only because two of my former bosses were simply too chicken to do so. One of them took 9/11 as an opportunity to quick give my class to someone else. (I had missed the start of the semester because I was stuck in the States waiting for a chance to fly back to Austria.) That new teacher ended up calling me to tell me the news. Never heard a peep from the boss about it.

About 10 years later I got fired by forwarded email from my boss’s boss instructing me to clear out my office and give back any of the Institute’s stuff I might have. The layoff itself did not come as a surprise to me, but the way it was done was galling. A particularly nice sendoff after 25 years of employment . . .

Today, a new twist on this form of email termination was born. I wrote an email to my boss requesting that the university course I have been teaching be cancelled. In other words, I basically fired myself. This was not the easiest thing to do because I always loved teaching this particular course. Unfortunately the whole program is winding down and the number of students has been dwindling for years. Last year I had to go and proactively look for students – corral a few warm bodies into my classroom to teach. This year I didn’t want to do that anymore.

So I am down to one job now. I would be feeling sorry for myself if not for three of our chickens who have had an even harder day. Remember those four chicks we got for the purpose of keeping our one incubator chick company? Well, all four of them turned out to be roosters. Three of them had to go and today was the day.

We grabbed them, stuffed them in a box, and my husband drove them to the local . . . Chicken Ender. A half hour later, he was back home with a bulging plastic bag.

Tomorrow one of the roosters is going into the oven and then comes the moment of truth. I am not convinced that I will really be able to eat him. My husband is determined to cultivate a realistic attitude about it all. He says if he can’t handle the fact that animals – even those he knew when alive – are killed and eaten, then he should become a vegetarian.

I, on the other hand, am considering turning the meal into a little ceremony. I will take a moment to remember and honor this rooster for his many contributions to our family enterprise. I will thank him for his good work and give him the thoughtful sendoff he so richly deserved.

I’ll try hard not to gag.