Maple, genius hunter

I’m not a big fan of zoos, but I respect the movement toward enrichment ideas to keep animals engaged in activities that challenge them–ones that they’d find in their natural environment. To that end, I try to keep my cat occupied while I’m at work. I use whatever’s handy–egg cartons, yogurt cups, cereal boxes–and hide treats that she has to find. It seems to work for a few minutes anyway. When I’m home I try out new items to make sure they’re safe, which is how Maple came to have a paper bag on her head.*


*No cat was harmed in this exercise. In fact, I think she’d endure this embarrassment daily if I kept the treats coming.

Then I found just the thing: this activity box you can stuff with mice, balls, and treats. Maple loves it, but if I had to fish out my treats from a box, I would not be pleased. Another reason it’s good I’m not a cat.

cat toy

Sleeping in a field of flowers

I bought this dog bed that we’re going to pretend is a cat bed at the yard sale of a pet store owner in Marblehead who used it in her shop as a bed for the store’s dog. You’d expect a used dog bed to be a lot furrier, but it turns out the shop’s dog was a giant stuffed animal. The pillow was much poufier, so I replaced it with a more cat-friendly pillow in hopes of keeping my couch fur-free.

I paid five bucks for the bed, originally $115 from bowhausnyc, so I figure I saved $110. But at what cost? I worry Maple may get a complex from sleeping on a dog bed, but then she does make occasional barking noises and fetch things.

Cat hammock

I’m not crafty, but the layer of cat hair on the couch has pushed me toward Martha Stewart tendencies.

I’ve made a cat hammock.

I used the bones of wooden magazine rack and a fabric cushion cover bought at a yard sale 10 years ago (seriously) that was just waiting for the right project. Let’s pretend this is the right project and that it’s sewn beautifully and not at all lopsided.

Maple likes it. Even if I had to toss her in there, forcing her to look relaxed.

Yard sale finds, kitchen edition

Maple and I are watching Brit Andy Murray try to win Wimbledon for his country. In other words, I’m spending 4+ hours on the couch.

Well, I’m fitting in a few domestic chores, like washing my yard sale finds: a blue and white striped rug ($3) and some kitchen scrub cloths ($2), which I hope eliminates the icky sponge routine. They’re a great match for some orange and white dish cloths I bought at Marshalls for actual retail prices. But at $3.99, the prices at Marshalls rival those at a yard sale. But first, Maple sniffs the curious new items, applying her scent to each by rolling about.

Satisfied, she then lords her body over them, possessing. I can only hope she’ll tackle the dishes in the sink with the same devotion.

In the Woods

Maple will stare at you until you read this book. Engaging writing, angsty detective partners with that Will They / Won’t They question (think Stabler and Benson), and a mystery for good measure. Initially, the premise (child murder) and the creepy tree roots on the cover freaked me out, but my friend recommended it and she knows a good partner love story when she sees one (Stabler, Benson) and also because she writes good partner love stories. You’re welcome.

Now go pick up a copy, read it at the beach and come back here so we can discuss it.

Odd lots remix

> Am I the only person who doesn’t get s’mores? The marshmallows take forever to melt, the graham crackers are dry, and the chocolate melts all over you (well, that part is OK). They never come together in the sandwich promised land and you end up with white marshmallow lips.

> I’m at the gym this week when the irresistible aroma of fresh-from-the-oven cookies wafts by. Let me repeat that: my gym smells like a bakery. Now, I’m not saying I’d prefer the alternative (sweaty man, dank towel, chlorine), but whose idea of a cruel joke is this? You spend an hour lifting stupid little weights and running on a conveyor belt only to have the image of a chocolate chip cookie assault you when you’re vulnerable. I caved, and I’d do it again.

> I’m cat sitting this week for a friend and I have a whole list of things to do with his Maine Coon, Seamus. Oh, the places we’ll go! First, I hear there’s a jacuzzi in my friend’s building; perfect: I can relax while Seamus treads water and sheds some pounds. We’re hanging out on the 4th of July, too, so maybe we can learn the words to Yankee Doodle Dandy (all the verses), while watching the fireworks and waving an American flag. I’ll have to get a basket for my bike for outings and a leash in case we want to walk along the beach. Oh, and we’ll get manicures (he’s a male, but easygoing) and eat pizza and watch movies and maybe even color our hair.

Yard sale haul

Maple sniffed today’s Crayola-colored finds like it was a pile of tuna fresh from the ocean. Oh, the scent of strangers! I had barely washed, dried, and folded the clothes before she was back in the laundry basket; secondhand smells and fabric softener all intriguing, apparently. Life is composed of small pleasures, so I let her do her thing but insisted she rate every outfit I tried on. Two paws up, though I could tell she was iffy on the green sweater.

Some neighbors around the corner were having a yard sale while also trying to move a couch out the door. I tried to help and explained that I was a neighbor, not a yard sale freak ready to sue them for a back injury. They didn’t need me, but I needed their black leather jacket that I bought for a cool 5 bucks, channeling Lisbeth Salander. I bought a studded belt too because she would have. Still working on the chest tattoo.

Today’s haul: two pairs of colored denim, two bright cardigans, a striped green sweater, one flouncy red dress, a leather jacket, studded belt, and a James Taylor CD, which I find it hard to believe I didn’t own before now, all for $20.

Angry birds

> A pyro set up shop in my bathroom this weekend after three mornings of me pretending the scrabbling noise wasn’t a bird nesting in a vent. Climbing onto the roof didn’t seem like an option. “Let’s smoke him out,” he said, lighting newspaper in my watering can and waving it like a madman at the vent. A controlled burn in a dry, dry season.

More scrabbling this morning and no sky-blue eggs as a gift.

> I’ve heard the phrase “in his wheelhouse” four times this week. Is that a thing?

> A man walked by me today whistling a catchy tune that got me humming the words–until I realized it was “O Christmas Tree,” or, for persnickety devotees of German Christmas carols, “O Tannenbaum.” Sing it in German though and you sound angry.

> Instead of a brush, it may be more efficient to use the lint roller directly on my cat.

> Apologies to men everywhere for Warner Bros’s advertising “The Lucky One” as “the perfect date movie.” And frankly, apologies to women too.

> My arms are scratched and pricked, bruised enough to cause suspicion. Gardening at night. A friend dropped off some plants from his garden that needed immediate planting and watering, so I found myself tucking in plants at nightfall and adapting REM’s “Nightswimming” to some ridiculous lyrics. Darkness makes potting plants tricky (lopsided shrubs), but it does help to cloak giant insects. And singing wards off the giant possum roaming the neighborhood.

Stomping on my vision

Every year my friends and I make a vision board. An excuse to flip through magazines while snacking and gabbing? A nostalgic nod to making collages for your dorm room door? Yes and yes. But the exercise is a good one to focus your thoughts for the year and to think about what you really want in your life. And then it will just happen! OK, not really. One year you might focus on career aspirations; another you might collect images of home. Sometimes you just browse the images and see what appeals to you (George Clooney). This year, I’m goal-less so I collected images that spoke to me. Turns out I’m interested in animals, books (and strangely books about animals) and two people jumping off a cliff, naked, with a caption that reads “Living fearlessly.”

Am I subconsciously mulling a career as an animal rights author? Do I want to live out a real-life We Bought a Zoo? Do I want to become a nudist?


But last night, I’m roused out of bed by a cat calamity. I trudge downstairs to see what Maple is plotting to discover that she has not only knocked my vision board off the bookshelf, but is now dragging it, face down, across the floor. She does like to bring me things, so maybe she is trying to remind me of my vision in a not-so-subtle way. Here, look at your dreams! she commands in her kitty voice. But then I wonder if she is instead dragging my vision board through the proverbial mud, stomping on it with her little paws in an act of sabotage.

That is one scary kangaroo on my board and its threatening stare might be too much for Maple. Or she worries I will leave her for a kangaroo. Or she doesn’t think anything at all, because she’s a cat, and I need to read more about animal behavior to get to the bottom of this. Lucky for me, that’s on my vision board.

Who wants to see cute pictures of my cat?

Most days when I come home, Maple is peering out the patio door either sensing my arrival or bird watching, jaw clicking. Or, I’ll spot her waiting on the stairs that provide a nice view out the front door. On rare occasions though, I’ll come home to silence. After hunting around, I can usually find her curled up in the linens or under the couch, a dusty hangout that she enjoys even when not hiding from guests. When it’s cold, she burrows under the sheets, the lump barely discernible. But when I ferreted her out recently, she was under the covers nestled on my pillow like a human, ensuring that it was sufficiently furry when I went to bed that night.

Scared of the sheep?

Other times she can’t resist a dresser drawer or the lure of an open suitcase. This is her helping me pick out what I’m going to wear in the morning and simultaneously ensuring that it will be too wrinkled to wear:

That’s all. Cute cat show over.

Hiding out

Whenever I leave the house, Maple is usually gazing out the patio door checking out the squirrel situation. It’s rare that she’s not at her post when I head out, so I have a habit of doing a quick check on her location to ensure she isn’t accidentally trapped in the closet as was the case once when she tiptoed in when I wasn’t looking.

So, the other day, after checking the closet and confirming that she wasn’t behind the couch (her go-to hiding spot), or behind the wardrobe or under the bed, I was worried that she had vaporized—until I saw the corner of the armoire curtain was amiss. A cursory looked turned up nothing, but a second look deep into the recesses of the assorted linens and pillows revealed a surprised Maple, nestled in mosquito netting.

Pepe, is that you?

It’s dusk and Maple is on the lookout for the funny-looking black and white cat that slinks under the gate and into the patio every night to nibble on pods that fall from the tree.

The treats are pink and bulbous and the squirrels go to town on them too, so they must be tasty. Animals coming from miles around for this delicacy, apparently.


Still, I don’t want my furball sprayed by Pepe, so I ease over to the door to scoop her up only to find a second skunk waddling by to check out the flower pots. An infestation.

At dinner, PBS is generous enough to air a show on the crafty world of skunks, illustrating close up how they secrete that spray. Not exactly dinner fare. And while the narrator insists that skunks retreat first and spray only when surprised or threatened, I can’t help but think a human and cat inches away through a screen door might signal danger and an upturned tail.

Night creatures

At night, I gaze out on the patio occasionally to enjoy the twinkly lights amid the darkness. Night Vision Maple, however, is on guard for the slightest movement that signals trouble, feigning attack mode. Before her, I had no idea this small city was crawling with night creatures that no doubt fortify their hunting with meals at my container garden. Invaders. Enemies. Nature.

Tonight Maple perks up and slinks over to the door, staying low to the ground, so I perk up too and we watch a possum wiggle under the gate. Another night I see a white stripe glide by and I try to distract Maple so that we do not get sprayed through the screen door and spend the night bathing in tomato juice.

Lately, a black and white cat with an alert face hangs around trying to court Maple or instigate a fur-flying cat fight. I hiss at her on behalf of Maple who just stares dumbly back.

Yard sale haul and a cat emergency

Despite a list of promising sales, I forgo yard sailing on Saturday to take Maple to the vet because she is—wait for it—drooling. What, me, overprotective? But listen, it’s like sleeping with a small, slobbering walrus. Not normal. A quick search of the web convinces me that the little fuzzball has something lodged in her throat. Unfortunately, Webvet is just as alarming as WebMD.

I wrangle Maple into the carrier (which she does not like) and the vet checks her heartbeat (which she likes even less) and pries open Maple’s mouth (which she despises), and declares that they should do an x-ray. Maple and I look at each other. “No, thank you,” I say.

The vet agrees that because she’s eating, it’s unlikely there’s a real problem. So, a hefty $150 later, we are on our way with some anti-hairball medicine (really?) that smells suspiciously like maple syrup and that Maple has no interest in trying, despite the name. A tip from my cat-owning friend has me smear her paws with the goop, which kinda works because she’s compelled to lick it off, but not before she tracks it through the house.

The patient, less drooly

All that is to say, I am only able to hit two yard sales on the much-less-popular Sunday, but for $10 I score this beautiful, petite painting of a bay by Karen Gausch. And that is enough because I could look at it its dreamy sky and marshy shore all day.

Maple moves in

Despite two nights of nightmares that I can only attribute to my fear about commitment to a creature for a lifetime, I call the animal shelter to let the foster coordinator know that I may not be returning Maple to the shelter at the appointed time. I may, in fact, be her forever home.

“You’re the second one this week to adopt her charge,” the woman tells me. “Another failed foster parent!”

I suspect they count on failed foster parents.

She’s a wee seven pounds, seven ounces, the size of a newborn, but much quieter. For four days, she doesn’t say a thing. Then, when it’s lights out and I put her in her room alone for the night as part of her recovery, she paws at the door and utters the meekest meow at the lowest possible decibel, a cute inquisitive squeak. I can’t bear it and let her into my room where she jumps on the bed and nestles by my head. And licks my face. And grooms my arms. And presses her tiny, wet nose  into mine.

At the slightest toss or turn, she’s alert and interactive, sure it’s time to get up. I hide under the blanket from the assault of affection and try to sleep in utter stillness.

Maple arrives

I picked up my first foster feline this week, and I fear she may be my last.

She’s so adorable I may have to adopt her.

I tried calling her by her name, Angel, but it made me gag, so I promptly started calling her Maple. That’s the benefit of fostering a cat over a child. Kids don’t like it when you change their name.

Maple is a petite and mellow two-year-old that feels like an Angora rabbit. Her classic green eyes glisten in the light and her big paws sprout little tufts of fur, repeatedly kneading the air in a comforting move. This move also makes it look like she’s flexing her kitty biceps.

I'm small but mighty.

Recovering from being spayed and adjusting to her new environment, she still prefers the corner to the couch and actually likes her pet taxi, but she falls over in excitement at the prospect of being pet.

Her tortie long-haired look is gorgeous (already a biased momma), but I can’t become that woman who breezes into work in a layer of hair, trailed by a longer layer of hair, so I hit the store for a good brush. Do you have any idea how many brush varieties are out there and how much they resemble dog brushes and how long it takes me to come to the conclusion that they’re the same brush with different packaging? Fortunately, Maple loves the pin brush.

I take care to pick out the perfect a fuzzy mouse (dangly arms, whiskers), but she looks at me as if to say, Did you think I’d fall for that? And when I show her the pool of sunlight by the patio doors, certain that she’ll want to curl up there forever, she wanders away to huddle by the speaker, back in the corner, like a willing dunce.

Mostly, she stays in one room to feel secure, but we did watch a documentary the other evening (Exit Through the Gift Shop), and while I was hoping she would dig indie films as much as I do, she fell asleep. Looks like it’s back to the shelter for you, Maple.

OK, not really. We’re watching House now, and while she’s fallen asleep again, it’s in that quintessential curled-up-cat-ball with her paw resting on my arm, purring like the motor in a fish tank. Oh, and she just took a deep kitty sigh. I’m a goner.

I could be very comfortable here.

Lost cat, mean thought

OK, I know my thoughts are evil, but I must express them. Every day I walk by this sign for a lost cat. It’s got a picture of let’s say, Patches. Patches has black and white splotches and is looking at the camera, all cute. You can bet Patches had no idea that one day that photo would adorn a Lost Cat poster. Anyway, it’s clear to me that Patches was snatched by a coyote off the wild streets of Cambridge and that he won’t be coming home. But I’m sure his owners are holding out hope even though their beloved pet has been missing for six months.

Question: Would it be wrong to post a picture of a coyote licking his chops? OK, OK. I know.