Barney the Beagle–Paper Mache Replica of My Childhood pet

Papier Mache: French for chewed paper

Recently, I joined a women’s organization that hosts an annual Christmas bazaar to raise funds for education.   We are all supposed to make something to sell. I was born with very few arts and craft genes.   Since the first recorded cave art is over 500,000 years old, some of our early ancestors definitely had these genes and passed them on to a few lucky souls.  You and I all know the person who shows up  and can fashion a felt hat from a knit sweater or a gorgeous quilt from a rag bag, or takes home the hodge podge of objects contributed by parents to the school auction and produces a world class auction basket.  I stand in awe of these people.  I am not one of these people.

My freshman year in college, I took up knitting. I made dozens of extremely-long, odd- shaped scarves using the basic knit one/pearl one stitches.  Everyone I knew ended up with one of these slinky reptilian beasts.  As a child, my mother did her best to endow me with some homemaking skills.  I was enrolled in 4-H for a few years. I turned out passable aprons and gathered skirts, resulting in blue, red and white ribbons at fair.  My muffins had tunnels, little holes made by too much air–no ribbon at the county fair.  I did win the purple ribbon and best in class, one year for my meal plan.  In retrospect, this award is extremely ironic because I don’t cook much at all.

While suffering angst over the bazaar challenge, my sister, Jane, reminded me that as a child, I was a whiz at paper mache. My skill wasn’t because I wanted to produce great art.  I was fascinated by puppetry.  I’d make a variety of puppet heads with died cotton ball hair and whip up their outfits on our sewing machine. Then I would write elaborate plays for my friends and I to produce.

My first thought was there wasn’t much interest in paper mache anymore. I couldn’t have been more mistaken. When I looked up a paper mache refresher course on YouTube (source of all things educational),one sweet-looking elderly lady, Joni Good at http://www.ultimatepapermache.com  has a blog, numerous books and dozens of YouTubes.  Her recipe for paste has over a quarter of a million views. A second teenage girl has over 200,000 views demonstrating Joni’s recipe.  One man has over two million views on how to make a piñata. An attractive lady making a paper mache bowl has over 1 million views.

Apparently, there are a lot folks out there making craft items out of paper and paste. My sixteen year old daughter, Kayla, says there are just lots of people who like to watch YouTube and aren’t making anything. Surely these high numbers of viewers reflect some papery product being produced somewhere and not just viral surfers and paper stalkers. Given this huge viewing volume, I thought why not give it a try again? After all in the scope of human affairs (homo sapiens as we know them have  been around for more than 200,000 years), 52 years of not touching anything related to paper mache isn’t that long a time.

Paper mache originated in China during the Han Dynasty (BC 202 to 220). The Chinese made paper mache helmets that they hardened with lacquer. From China, the craft spread to Japan and Persia.  Those elaborate oriental masks, you see when you travel  are  paper mache.  When the art of paper mache reached France, the French, always unique, decided to create their art by chewing up the scraps of paper. Chewing paper would, of course, give you small pieces of sticky, damp paper to work with but sounds disgusting to me.  When I began my paper mache project, I rejected the French approach and used the yellow pages approach, “let your fingers do the shredding”.

After reviewing some of the videos on new approaches to paste (joint compound, linseed oil, and Elmer’s glue), I elected to go traditional. My first project is made of paste from flour, salt and water (recipe below).  A an empty toilet paper roll  and Styrofoam round ball provided the infra structure. I used newspaper for the coating.  Using household products did result in the bumps in odd places that led Joni Good to make up a more elaborate paste recipe.  But I am still taken with the more modest approach to paper mache because as a child, I remember we could just go to the kitchen, whip up paste without the hassle of gathering together a lot special stuff and have our theater cast underway in no time.  I think there is something to be said about being able to create when the urge strikes you, especially when children are involved.  In addition, the flour and water is easy to clean up with soap and water, inexpensive and very forgiving when you make errors.  Finally, it is not fast drying—a plus for joint compound and glue but a negative if you want to rip off some error you have made.

I am also taking a pottery class. In pottery, our teacher is always telling us that the clay speaks to us.  I was originally going to make a reindeer (remember this project started for the Christmas bazaar in 9 months). When I got started on the reindeer, he morphed into a beagle.

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Barney, before he got a coat of varnish, eyes and collar

I am very familiar with beagles, we had one when I was child.  For those art critics out there, I know the snout on my paper beagle is too long and his feet too big (blame the reindeer).  My sister, Jane, and I called our beagle, Barney the Beagle with the goo-goo-googlie eyes.  The entire time I was crafting my paper dog, I was thinking about Barney.  As you can see, Barney the Beagle has goo-goo-googlie eyes.

 

Barney was finished off with acrylic paints, spray-on shiny varnish, and repurposed eyes, nose and tongue from the reindeer I was trying to clone.  I found an unused cat harness in my pet drawer.  Any of you, who have read my blogs on my pets know that Satchel, the big gray Tom Cat wouldn’t be caught dead in a whoosie harness (one has to question my sanity for buying it at some point in time).  I cut up the offending harness and made a realistic collar for Barney.  Satchel was pleased.

I am proud of Barney for a first effort.

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Barney, with the goo, goo, googlie eyes!

He obviously isn’t good enough to sell at a bazaar, too many nasty little dings and bumps.  But he is good enough to give to my husband, Pete, for Father’s Day.  Pete has an office full of items the kids and I have made and seems delighted with whatever we give him no matter how low quality.

 

I have roughed out an angel and cat to see if I can’t still produce something that someone might buy. I may try the joint compound bending to the will of the masses to have a saleable product. Also from my pottery instructor, art takes time and patience.  I have nine months but at my age I’m not sure I will every produce a financially viable product.  That’s the beauty of paper mache. There isn’t much of an investment if the outcome is poor and you can also toss it in the recycling bin.

Simple Paper Mache Paste Recipe

1 cup flour

1 cup water

3 teaspoons salt

Mix together and start gluing

Most important–Have Fun!

Tulip Mania

20160402_124542Spring is the season of tulips. Throughout history, the colorful tulip has been considered rare, partially because it has such a limited blooming season. Tulips burst forth in spring and each bloom lasts 1 to 3 weeks. The tulip season itself is limited to a couple of months. Even today tulip lovers have to be in the right location at the right time in order to view the vast fields of blooming tulips cultivated by tulip growers to sell their products. I have been fortunate enough to be in Amsterdam at the end of the tulip season two years ago and had the opportunity to view the world renowned Keukenof Gardens.  Just last week, I was in Skagit Valley, Washington for the first weekend of the Annual Tulip Festival, which runs April 1 to 30 this year.  If seeing grand displays of tulip fields are on your bucket list, you must be willing to flex your schedule since tulip bloom dates follow Mother Nature’s schedule not a tour guide book.

Tulips originated in Asia and Turkey over 1000 years ago. In Turkey, the flowers came to be called tulips because the flower looked like a turban. Tulip bulbs were transplanted to Holland in the 16th century. Because of their beauty and short bloom period, during the Golden Age, the Dutch engaged in financial speculation on tulip bulbs. Between 1636 and 1637, bulbs were so highly valued that prices rose daily reaching astronomical numbers. By the peak of tulipmania in February of 1637, a single tulip bulb was worth about ten times a craftsman’s annual income or more than a house at that time. Bulbs were sold by weight, usually while they were still in the ground. The crashing price of tulip bulbs in Holland caused by the default of a tulip merchant on a large contract is considered the first financial bubble. As prices dropped, leading to the ruin of many speculators the government tried to support bulb prices to no avail.  The brutal popping of the tulip bulb bubble ended the Dutch Golden Age and hurled the country into a mild economic depression that lasted for several years.  (This story of tulip speculation should sound familiar to anyone who has seen or read The Big Short about America’s housing market collapse in 2007-2008. Apparently, we have learned little about financial speculation over the past 300 years).

I have been blessed to see both the Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse, Netherlands (about an hour by bus from Amsterdam) and the Tulip Festival in Skagit (about an hour by car from Seattle).There are some major differences and similarities between the two.

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Keukenhof Gardens provide a tranquil, viewing space for large numbers of visitors

The Keukenhof Gardens, sometimes called the Garden of Europe, is considered one of the most beautiful spring gardens in the world. The gardens served as the 15th century hunting grounds for the Castle Keukenhof, which still resides on the site. The gardens were established as public benefit in 1949 to help showcase the Dutch flower industry. The Netherlands is the largest exporter of flowers in the world. Keukenhof is filled with more than seven million tulips displayed in organized formal gardens surrounded by grass and accented by running streams, lakes, fountains, and walking paths. The gardens cover an expanse of about 80 acres.  The layout of the gardens is that such that while hordes of tourists are at the entry way once inside there are vast areas where there is only you, flowers, and an occasional swan.  The garden begs you to come and stay a while. If you choose to go, I would recommend you go by bus from Amsterdam so you don’t have to hassle with a car. Once off the bus, you are to free to spend the day on your own.

 

The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, on the other hand, is a driving tour. Most people drive themselves.  There are signs everywhere marketing the tulip route, along with sheriff officers to help move the large numbers of cars along in an orderly fashion.  Skagit is a rural area in Washington. The roads are clearly not built for the traffic created by the festival. There are two display gardens, Tulip Town and RoozenGaarde.  We chose to visit Tulip Town because it was the easiest to reach by car. Parking was free but not easy to find. Fortunately for us, we were coming down from Canada on Saturday morning so access was fairly easy from the highway.  When we drove into Seattle on Saturday afternoon, we saw long lines of traffic exiting the highway at the tulip route.  I’m not sure how such volume could be handled in the parking areas we saw.  If you go, plan to go during the week if possible.  If not, go early in the morning on the weekends. The tulips in Skagit are displayed in vast rows of gorgeous colors surrounded by muddy walking paths.  There are tractor rides to take you around.  But I believe flowers are best admired on your own two feet.  While not at all formal or peaceful like Keukenhof, the rows and rows of various colors on a clear day are truly spectacular.  There were tons of children running everywhere, a clear sign that seeing tulips is a family outing.  Workers were vainly attempting to keep visitors out of the flowers.  But invariably you would look up and see people marching down the small muddy lanes between varieties, or groups of friends kneeling in the flowers with selfie sticks to get a picture of themselves surrounded by flowers.  Most amusing flower trespasser to me was a mom, who had popped her small baby girl, dressed in all pink into the pink tulips so only a little  smiling face was showing out.  Of particular interest to me was the diversity of the population viewing the Skagit flowers, many identifiable by their traditional clothing. I heard one of the paid “shoers” or tulip guards  say they had tried signs to keep people out of the flowers but so many languages were spoken at the festival they couldn’t put up enough signs. Apparently, flowers speak to all nationalities.

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Tulip Town, Skagit Washington showcases rows of tulips in wild abandon.

 

I have also learned that tulips speak in the animal world. When we first moved into our house in Boise, I had a beautiful professional garden put in with tulips, I had carefully selected by hand for colors and to provide a full season of blooming (2 months).  We had the garden put in the fall and moved into the house at Christmas.  The first spring, I heard a lot of noise on the front porch and I looked out our small side window to see a large eye staring backing in.  I was taken back for minute and then realized the eye belonged to a deer on our porch.  We have quite a few deer that run freely across the foothills where I live.  I came out the next morning to find that the deer had eaten every single tulip bloom and left the nasty daffodils behind.  I have since learned that deer consider tulips the bon bons of the flower world and are delighted to munch through your tulip garden when flowers are in full bloom.  This happened every year until the tulip bulbs gave out.  Bulbs only rebloom about three years and get weaker flowers each time.  Our yard is now full of daffodils, the national flower of Whales.  My family ancestry is Welsh so maybe there is some justice in our inability to support the Netherlands, though I still love tulips.

The beauty of tulips, their short blooming period, and bulb life remind me how transient all life is. In Ecclesiastes 3, it is written;

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…

For me, spring is tulip time.

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Talkeetna, Alaska has a Cat as Mayor

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June 2014, we took a 7 day road trip through Alaska.

We travelled to Alaska in June, 2014 on a family vacation. While many of our friends have seen Alaska on cruise ships, we chose to fly into Anchorage, rent a car and see the country side up close and personal. I had seen a driving trip outlined in Sunset Magazine that we used as our guide. The Sunset Magazine described a 10 day Grand Tour.  Since we only had 7 days, we opted for our own self-guided “Taste of Alaska” tour. I booked everything in advance. During the tourist season spontaneity in terms of lodging is not a good idea. We flew into and spent our first night in Anchorage.  You know you are in Alaska when there are signs on the walls going into the motel, “Watch out for Moose!”  This was at a Clarion Inn in the center of Anchorage.2014-06-06 08 30 00

 

Over our seven day adventure, we drove from Anchorage (one night ) to Denali (3 nights), Denali to  Talkeetna (1 night),  on to Seward (2 nights) and back to Anchorage (1 night ) out early the next morning on Alaskan Airlines.  We did not want to spend our entire trip in the car so we cut Fairbanks out of the itinerary.  Anchorage to Fairbanks is a full day’s drive as is Denali to Seward.  From Anchorage to Denali is a 5 hour trip.  Time estimates are based on regular driving.  Since we had gone to see Alaska, our travel times took much longer as we stopped regularly to take in majestic views, watch animals, or visit Alaskan communities.

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Alaska is visual delight!

 

We saw many gorgeous sites and dined on delicious food. After all, who couldn’t like fresh salmon every night unless you are a vegetarian? While I may choose to share with you other parts of our fabulous trip in future blogs, this blog is focused on the fickleness of the Alaskan electorate. It seemed appropriate given that the presidential primaries are in full swing.

While traveling Alaska, we learned why Sarah Palin was such a popular Governor of Alaska. One small community in Alaska has elected a cat their Mayor for the past 19 years running.  Given Alaskans elect house cats at the local level, not surprising they would elect a mountain lioness like Sarah-Governor.  Claiming to be able to  “See Russia from your porch” is formable campaign rhetoric, especially to a population that thrives in vast expanses of unfenced territory where there are more wild animals than people.

Talkeetna (population 876) is a historic village at the base of Mount McKinnely.  The community serves as  the take off point for climbers who plan to scale the mountain.

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Mount McKinnely in Denali National Park

The town is presided over by Mayor Stubbs, a cat.  Stubbs is 19 years old and has been honorary Mayor since he was kitten.  Town lore is that Stubbs was elected Mayor by write-in vote when the citizens of Talkeetna did not like the human candidates.  Those of us watching the Republican Presidential Primary season can certainly understand the populist rebellion against all the candidates. Stubbs long retention in office is  attributed to his appeal to tourists (30  to 40 people visit him every day).

When we went in Nagley’s General Store where Stubbs resides, we were told we could take pictures but couldn’t bother him because he gets tired of all the attention.  Stubbs has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Daily News, and CNN.  The media’s obsession with Stubbs, demonstrates  the media will do anything to generate political stories.

Stubs Mayor
Mayor Stubbs in his prime.

Stubbs got his name because he does not have a tail (though he certainly has many tales). Like many politicians, Stubbs has had his share of burdens from constituents.  He’s barely survived an attack by a canine, placing him in the animal hospital for 9 days and resulting in donations from all the world to pay for his care.  He has also been shot at by BB gun-wielding teenagers.  Taking the ole’ saying out of the pan into the fire literally, he has fallen in deep fryer (which thankfully was turned off at the time).

If you are experiencing political discontent over the current presidential primary cycle, think about writing in your favorite cat when you vote. After all, the domestic cat has shown throughout its long history that it is able to learn, problem solve, adapt to their environment, acquire new behaviors based on new situations and communicate effectively.  These characteristics sound like excellent skills for any politician.

Your other alternative is to act like a cat, ignore primary season and plan an early spring trip to Alaska. If you go, you will find yourself creating wonderful memories of glaciers, mountains, wildlife and unique Native cultures.

brown bear
We saw both brown bears and Grizzlies while in Alaska.

If you happen to stop by Talkeetna to meet Mayor Stubbs, take the time visit Talkeetna Spinanch Bread, an airstream trailer serving great grub. e932f5e2bf61e9854bea92862568f4cd Your stay wouldn’t be complete without breakfast at the Road House, known for it’s bigger than life pancakes for almost a 100 years.

food on the line
Breakfast plates stacking up at the Road House.

McCall Winter Carnival–Family fun in tons of snow!

Do you have a hard time finding activities that young children, teenagers, parents, and grandparents can all enjoy together?  Carnival Posterr McCall Winter Carnival is one of those rare events providing family fun for all age groups and the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors by escaping the constant demands of social media and screen time.  All of this and it’s free!

As I write, the 51st Winter Carnival is in full swing.  Kicking off Friday, January 29th with a children’s torch light parade and fireworks, the festival  runs through February 7th , 2016  with a variety of activities all week. This year’s theme is Beyond Tomorrow, boasting 40 futuristic snow sculptures scattered all over town.

snow outside kitchen window
Snow outside our kitchen window

The necessary ingredients for a great winter celebration are snow (lots of it) and cold weather. This year McCall has had plenty of both.  We own a place in McCall and we’ve had enough snow to knock down a tree in our front yard and require us to dig a path way for our dogs out to the backyard.  I like to think the path out back as our own little interactive snow tunnel for dogs.

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Snow outside our kitchen window

 

 

 

 

The kickoff event for the carnival is a children’s torch light parade to the shores of Payette Lake for a fireworks display.

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Glowing lights are signature feature of Torch Light Parade.

This year it was so icy everyone joined the torch light parade to walk in the streets and avoid the slick sidewalks.  There is an indescribable joy, marching in the crisp, cold dark with children waving light wands and parents wearing glowing multicolored necklaces on a cold night.  Since it gets dark early this time of year, fireworks start at 7, still early enough for young children. For those who like to party, the fireworks provide  fabulous festive start to a night on the town.

This year, the fireworks were shot from the shore of the lake. 20160129_194725The viewers lined up along the snow banks just above the launching point. The dazzling bursts of color  burst right over our heads.  Some explosions were so close, I felt like it could reach out and touch them. My feet reverberated on the ground when the big boomers went off, sprinkling a few harmless ashes among us. The area near the lake was covered with a light dusting of smoke,  like English fog.  As my 16 year old daughter said, “The smaller the burst, the larger the boom.”  Once the fireworks were over we headed home for board games around the table in front of a blazing wood stove.  We have internet but no regular TV in our cabin.  But since we tend to gather as a group, we have found cards  and games to be a good social activity at least one night of the weekend.

 

The next morning my crowd of teenagers were up early to catch the first chair up Brundage Mountain. The ski hill tends to be empty during Winter Carnival because of all the activities in town. The kids’ ski report that afternoon was the “hill was uncrowded” and there was lots of new snow.

Meanwhile back in town, the crowds were huge for the annual Mardi Gras Parade. Replicating New Orleans, McCall’s pageant  is  resplendent with purple, green and gold beads for partiers, lively music and an array of local floats.parade

Parade viewers are lined up  three or four deep in sloshing snow.  I heard one mom tell her toddler not to get wet. With all the snow and slush, this order was like trying to stop a locomotive when the brakes go out. He promptly jumped in a puddle splashing water half way up his legs and on everyone standing near him. This  total disobedience made me laugh out loud.

Snow and kids are a magical mixture, assuming the kids are dressed for the cold weather. In McCall this weekend, I saw kids of all sizes sliding down snow hills  on butts, sleds or whatever other device would move.  During Winter Carnival, McCall balloons from a sleepy mountain town of 3,000 to over 60,000 visitors so believe me there are lots of interesting people and activities all around you.  One man fighting his way through the slush on the way to the car was overheard describing the crowds on his phone with, “I’m in the guts of this thing right now!”  The downtown on the first Saturday of Winter Carnival is not for the faint heart.  The pulsating energy of so many people is also part of the appeal of the festival.

Other events throughout the week are pancake breakfasts, gourmet dinners, bike races (motorcycles), Nordic racing, snowmobile fun run, theater, and continuous live music on an outdoor stage, hockey games in the town’s fabulous indoor rink, ice shows, beer garden, and food trucks.

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Glowing lights are signature feature of Torch Light Parade.

There are also the McCall regular activities including skiing on a great hill, tubing at the Activity Barn, soaking at one of three hot springs, or just hanging out in front of a warm fire and watching it snow.

 

My favorite event because I’m an animal lover is the Monster Dog Pull. Sponsored by McPaws Animal Shelter, regular people showcase their every day dogs pulling appropriate weighted sleds on a short course.

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This lab shows that even an old dog can learn new tricks!

Competition and sled size is determined by the size of the dog.  While some dogs were born to run, others take the race as the opportunity to meet and greet all the by-standers along the way as if they were beauty queens in a parade, and other canines take on the role of victim and  just sit down refusing to transform  from pets to working dogs.  You can see by their expressions these dogs think their  owners  who are calling them loudly, waving treats, and otherwise making a fool of themselves are just plain nuts.  Maybe during Winter Carnival, similar to New Orleans, happiness and fun may make us all just a little nuts (in a good way).

Pull 1
This German Shepard was perplexed by his owner’s behavior–“You want me to do what?”

 

If you didn’t get to McCall this weekend, don’t despair. There is still time to spend a day in McCall and see the snow sculptures which this year should stay in pretty good shape throughout the week. In warm winters, the snow sculptures melt right before  viewers’ eyes.

If you are from out of state, consider putting the Carnival on your travel bucket list.  If you are a couple with money, try out the Hotel McCall which is right in the thick of the action so you won’t have to use your car.  The next closest  high end choice is the Shore Lodge, great for couples and families but further from the action.  The lodge does run regular shuttles throughout the event.  For families with fewer resources and a weekend to spare, America’s Best Value Inn, while a little run down, has reasonable rates, a swimming pool, and breakfast each morning.  The biggest draw is it’s within walking distance of everything.  McCall has some great new hotels including the Holiday Inn and Best Western but they are on the outskirts of town and require you either take the shuttle, walk longer distances or fight the traffic.  If you are coming to spend the week and get in some high quality skiing and relaxing, I would recommend you look into renting a cabin.  McCall has gorgeous rentals at reasonable prices.   Since McCall does sell out, don’t wait until the last minute to make your travel plans for next year.  Under any circumstances, I would plan my trip to take advantage of the community shuttles or to stay within walking distance events. Hassling with traffic jams and no parking in a small town really detracts from the overall joy and carnival spirit.

 

Two Dogs before Christmas!

Two days before Christmas, upstairs in the house

The teenager was sleeping just like a mouse.

At precisely 9 am, the mistress to exercise went

Leaving two dogs in the house to follow their scent.Two Shelties

 

Dash-away, dash-away, dash-away all

With the mistress gone, we’re hav’in a ball!

 

Left to their wandering noses, the dogs went wild,

Like leaving an unwatched 5 year old child!

They ran through the main floor without making a clatter,Teenage Girl sleeping

The teenager slept on not knowing anything was the matter.

 

Dash-away, dash-away, dash-away all

With the mistress gone, we’re hav’in a ball!

 

They nosed opened a vanity drawer, throwing tissue and plastic around,

Then into the master bath they went with a bound.

They yanked the toilet paper off of the spindle

They tossed the washrags on the floor in a bundle.

 

Dash-away, dash-away, dash-away all

With the mistress gone, we’re hav’in a ball!

 

Next to the master closet they did scout

The master’s dirty underwear they then routed out.

They tugged and pulled all manner of man clothes

Who knows what tantalizing smells came to their noses.

 

Dash-away, dash-away, dash-away all

With the mistress gone, we’re hav’in a ball!

 

An hour later the garage door arose,Christmas House

The mistress found the mischievous canines in calm repose,

And the teenager remained snuggled asleep in her bed,

As visions of sexy dudes danced in her head.

 

The mistress was heard to exclaim as she saw the dogs’ mess,

“Merry Christmas my scoundrels, with you two I am blessed!”

Christmas Tree

 

A Cat’s Christmas Tale

The Christmas season begins at 220 N Ashtree Way when the big, dusty plastic boxes are dragged inside from the garage by the MAN. I do not recognize his presence in the family. He has been known to chase Angel, the other cat and me with a shooing sound out of his closet.

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The author, Satchel and a Christmas Cat

This annoys me because I like to roll around on his big soft sweaters, leaving hair everywhere. He even squirts us with water when we jump on the kitchen counters. How’s a cat suppose to get a drop of fresh water if not from the sink?

 

All his heavy lifting is done after my mistress has cajoled him over dinner.  I flick my tail in anticipation. I love Christmas! The teenage human and her friend are in charge of tree decorating. This leads to many amusements for Angel, my subordinate and I.

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Finished tree

First, the tree with its bright green bristles has to be assembled. The portable boom box is turned up very loud, blasting out current hit music. The girls sing and dance while assembling the tree. Private Shani, the sheltie, runs in circles barking. Shani is a silly harmless creature whom I generally ignore. While the girls are gyrating, Angel, my assistant and I jump in and out of the tree box and then scamper over the tree skirt.  We jointly roll it in a ball.  The girls are incensed because they are holding the tree and have to put the tree down to straighten the skirt before putting on the lights. This leads to high pitched shrieking, “Get the cats out of here!”  I am so-o proud.  I stare at them dispassionately as if I don’t know the trouble I have caused.

 

After the lights, come the balls, this is my favorite part of tree decorating. The girls are told by the mistress to only put unbreakable balls near the bottom of the tree because of the CATS (That’s Angel and me).  We are capable of batting the ornaments off the lower limbs throughout the Christmas season. I take great pride in planning a stealthy attack on the tree most nights.  The most precious ornaments, the glass birds with feathers are at the top of the tree.

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Glorious glass birds-Oh for just one bite!

This causes me great angst.  I spend hours patiently waiting at the bottom of the tree for one of these beauties to miraculously fall into my mouth.  I did manage to break one of the six collectible eggs from Prague this year.  My pride overflows at this feat!  Like an Agatha Christie play, now there are only five.  I have nine lives so I’m sure to finish them off before I go to the great beyond.

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Hand painted egg from Prague. Poof-Gone!

 

We are ten days out from Christmas. Angel has taken to chewing on the poinsettia flowers, scattered around the house. This shows you her tiny brain, poinsettias are poisonous.  I, of course, am above nibbling on stupid plants. I have much bigger fish to fry. I have managed to knock the peasants littering my stairway perch down three times, a major accomplishment.  This act causes a lot of frenetic human activity as the silly stuffed toys are replaced. As if they were adding to my home—which any cat knows they are not.

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Angel eats these. Silly Cat!

 

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Useless peons on stairs. These things have got to go!

Yesterday, I discovered the hiding place for the catnip toys that go in my stocking. I knocked over the basket holding my gifts and tore off the tissue paper.   I had just about torn into my surprise when my mistress chased me out of the Christmas room. She almost slammed the door on my tail!

 

Today, my college boy emailed a cartoon of me to my mistress (see link below) I didn’t realize others found me as attractive as my family does.  My favorite ploy is to ask to go out and then sit at the open door staring at nothing.  The MAN has taken to counting to 3 and shutting the door.  The mistress pulls me out by my collar. The teenager ignores me the same way I ignore her.

http://www.businesscat.happyjar.com/comic/elevator/

I am having a very merry, naughty Christmas. I wish the same to all you cyber cats out there.

 

Neck Boxing the Washrag Brigade Response to Winter Boredom

Winter arrived at 775 N Ashtree Way with the first snowfall. Even on brisk days, His Highness Satch takes a daily stroll through his territories cloaked in a heavy fur coat and wearing an electric collar.

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His Highness Satch finds electric collar undignified

We live in fox and coyote country. One hiker found a fox den with 17 cat collars inside about two blocks from Ashtree Way. While Satch finds the electrical collar demeaning, the collar also represents freedom to be outside without becoming fox bait. The household compromise for traipsing in the backyard is His Highness’s acceptance of security measures. When Satch first got the collar, he ran at the electric fence like a bull until he hit the current. He suddenly pulled up on his haunches, started pawing the air and fell over backwards in the grass (very undignified for a king). A quick study, he now recognizes the controlled boundaries but always pushes the limits. One day when the battery went down, he was over the fence into the open fields behind Ashtree Way in a blink of an eye. Fortunately, his mistress watched this maneuver from the window and thwarted the planned escape by running in hot pursuit. Even though Satch spends hours contemplating freedom, the cold air means that he becomes more demanding and less tolerant, when said mistress doesn’t answer his yowls to come in promptly.

I called and you didn't come
His Highness yowling for entry

The entire Brigade adapts to the cold by spending more hours indoors, even Private Shani who has hair enough for the entire Brigade. The Brigade spends a lot of down time in sunny spots scattered throughout the house and basking by the fire. But the Brigade is an energetic group and too much down times leads to trouble. Several raids have occurred on unmanned trash baskets filled only with Kleenex—tearable, shredable, tasty what could be more inviting on a cold day.
The Brigade has begun engaging in more indoor horse (dog) play. Sergeant Violet, fighting as a lightweight, routinely bests Private Shani, the welterweight at their daily chase and neck biting battles.

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Capt. Violet takes on Shani

 

 

 

 

These contests begin in the kitchen, rapidly move through the great room, into the front hall and finish in the kitchen with a quick gulp from the water bowls. The cats watch these antics from afar.

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Angel watches dog fight from afar

 

 

 

Not to be bested, Sergeant Angel has been known to pounce on the unsuspecting Highness. This is always a mistake. His Highness swats and bats Angel’s meager efforts at supremacy back with a couple of quick moves. He finishes each skirmish with a growl and flicks his tail as he walks away to claim his throne.

Update on the Washrag Brigade

Professional Portrait of King Satch ruler of Ashtree Way
Professional Portrait of King Satch ruler of Ashtree Way

Prelude: You may remember that the last we saw Satchel; he had promoted himself from Colonel to his Highness by staking out the baby grand piano.

Deposed from the piano with the completion of the wood floors, Satchel is no longer a defrocked ruler. 775 N Ashtree Way has acquired a native Alaskan baby basket covered with ceremonial rabbit fur and Eagle wings. The basket is strategically placed by the gas fireplace.

His Highness surrounded by Eagle Feathers and rabbit skins, warmed by the fire
His Highness surrounded by Eagle Feathers and rabbit skins, warmed by the fire

With the advent of colder weather, the basket and warming fire provide a comfy hiding place for His Highness.  Unnoticed, unless he sticks his head up, Satchel continues to control his surroundings from his new weaved throne.

Meanwhile, Captain Violet and Sergeant Angel have defied the cooling weather by joining their sick mistress on  a heated blanket, serving as stomach warmers.

Captain Violet and Sergeant Angel on sick duty.
Captain Violet and Sergeant Angel on sick duty.

Hours of unstructured time can be spent curled in  two furry balls without any movement.

Porcelain cat on shelf
Porcelain cat on shelf

When not masquerading as a blanket, Sergeant Angel has established a perch over the mistress’s desk where she pretends to be a porcelain kitty.

Captain Violet, all bark and no bite.
Captain Violet, all bark and no bite.

Captain Violet remains in charge of the inside barking and whining at any perceived noise (real or imagined).

Not to be outdone, Private Shani has promoted herself to Corporal. Still assigned to outside duty because of her heavy coat, she has taken over the patio chairs.

Promoted to Corporal, Shani has taken over patio chairs for fall guard duty.
Promoted to Corporal, Shani has taken over patio chairs for fall guard duty.

She suns herself while watching for squirrels and horses to chase.

In the last few months, the Brigade has developed a new hobby, rug surfing. Satch runs at top speed towards the bathroom mats and when he hits them correctly, he rides the tile wave across the floor.  He has become so accomplished at this trick he can move the rugs all over the bathroom (see examples below).

Master bath after cleaning team leaves
Master bath after cleaning team leaves
Magical cat carpet ride
Magical cat carpet ride
Cat at full throttle rides rug across entire floor.
Cat at full throttle rides rug across entire floor.

They Shoot Wild Horses Don’t They?

Wild, wild horses we will ride them someday (Jagger/ Richards, 1970)

Captives from the wild Captives from the wild

When I was a little girl growing up in Wyoming, horseback riding was my passion– almost an obsession. We were town-people in ranch country making access to horses somewhat onerous. When I took lessons on my rented horse Suzie, I would come home with blood dripping down the inside of my knees, saddle sores from gripping the saddle so hard in my efforts to perfect sitting in the seat of a western saddle.  In 5th grade, I looked out the window of our home. Dad had pulled up front with a horse trailer and bay quarter horse.  My very own horse—Debbie! It was love at first sight. While nowadays my children play soccer, lacrosse, and volleyball on the weekend, when I was growing up I rode Debbie whenever I could beg someone to drive me to the pasture.  My parents sold Debbie when I was a freshman in college.  Debbie wasn’t getting any attention and the funds for boarding were needed to help pay for my schooling.

Budweiser Clydesdale on display--gentle giants Budweiser Clydesdale on display–gentle giants

I haven’t owned a horse since but I ride whenever I get a chance. I follow horses.  I have seen the magnificent draft horses at the Montana State Fair, the Clysdales when they were housed in Fort Collins.

I have attended an Arabian Horse Sale in Scottsdale, Arizona where several horses went for over a million dollars.

Arabian Horse Show for Millionaires Arabian Horse Show for Millionaires

I have also seen the Lipizzans perform in Vienna.

Lippizzan in Vienna Lippizzan in Vienna

No surprise that when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) advertises  Wild Horse Auctions in Boise, I drove out to see the captured herd, remnants of America’s great western plains legacy.

The first horses came to American in the 1500s with the Spanish Conquistadors. When the Spaniards left, they left behind what was to become the wild horse herds roaming the Great Plains.

The horse transformed Native American's culture. The horse transformed Native American’s culture.

These wild horses or mustangs transformed Native Americans from hunters and gatherers on foot into fierce warriors capable of traveling long distances, hunting Buffalo and bedeviling white settlers and the Army.

New technology and the establishment of Indian reservations made the horse obsolete as a work animal by the beginning of the 19th Century. Wild horses were routinely shot wherever they interfered with cattle ranching.  In 1938 after the great drought, Congress created the United States Grazing Service later to become the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). BLM was responsible for regulating 143 million acres (261 million today) of public lands primarily in 10 western states, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico,  Oregon, Utah, Wyoming and Nevada. Given the strong influence of ranchers on the BLM, the policy for wild horses remained to destroy them either through poisoning of water holes or paying bounty hunters to shoot the horses. The program was stunningly effective between 1946 and 1950, over 100,000 wild horses in Nevada were reduced to 4000 animals.  Because of public outcry over this needless slaughter Congress passed legislation in 1971 designed to manage and protect the remaining wild horses.

Horses up for adoption Horses up for adoption

The horses up for adoption in Boise are a direct outgrowth of the 1971 legislation. Today, over 30,000 wild horses roam free in the west. But another 50,000 are kept in holding pens by the BLM. The holding program costs $42 million of the BLM’s  $72 million allotment for the wild horse program. Whenever the number of free horses, exceeds the BLM targets, the wild horses are rounded up.  The goal is to reduce the herd to the BLM’s lowest target number. I visited with the BLM horse program manager in Boise and he said the targets are scientifically established based on the number of horses which can be sustained in a multi-use environment.  Once the horses are rounded up, the BLM hosts auctions to adopt the young horses.  At next week’s auction there will be 24 fillies and 17 geldings all under a year old.  Given the high cost of maintaining a horse in today’s world, it is not surprising that many horses are not adopted. These Boise horses were harvested from Black Mountain, Hardtrigger, and Sands Basin because of the recent fires in Idaho.  In addition to the 41 wild colts, there is one halter trained horse available from the BLM 4-H program and one horse returned because an individual adopted in excess of BLM policy.

4-H trained mustang colt 4-H trained mustang colt

The wild horse adoption program has come under severe criticism this month for allowing a single Colorado rancher to adopt 1800 horses. The Inspector General determined the rancher shipped the horses to Mexico for slaughter, successfully avoiding the laws against killing wild horses in the United States. Because of this expose, the number of horses any one owner can adopt is 4 horses in six months.

Returned Horse from buyer who took too many. Returned Horse from buyer who took too many.

The BLM program manager I talked to said he was very concerned with the long-term prospects for the wild horse program. Given a Congress intent on saving money and the costs of maintaining large numbers of penned up horses increasing,  the time seems ripe for new ideas on mustang management.  Recommendations from experts include better reproduction management, collaboration among all stakeholders to better protect the native eco-system, and placing the needs of the wild horses first rather than beginning with arbitrary range management statics.  I have no easy solution to advocate. After  spending a crisp fall afternoon watching once free horses nervously run in pens, I believe we need to find a way to sustain these gorgeous symbols of freedom and the old west in the wild.

Wild Horses and open range are our western legacy Wild Horses and open range are our western legacy

Feline Military Leader Seizes High Ground

Satchel, tomcat ruler of 775 N Ashtree Way, has shamelessly transitioned from Colonel of the Washrag Brigade to ‘His Highness’. Annexing the baby grand piano, previously out of bounds, he is impervious to the lowly home owner’s efforts to make him relinquish his stolen territory.

King Satchel, annexing piano
King Satchel, annexing piano

All furniture has been moved from the great room to make room for hard wood.

Cat reigns over barren kingdom
Cat reigns over barren kingdom

The installer mistakenly informed the homeowner that cats usually hide with the installation noise. King Satch has instead chosen to luxuriate on the piano, now repositioned in the kitchen, as the work continues.

King Satch relaxing on piano throne
King Satch relaxing on piano throne

He treats the stiff, ripped blue furniture cover as if were royal blue velvet lined with ermine. He stretches to his full 40 inches and luxuriates on the rough quilting. The canine members of his former Brigade are beneath his gaze, forgotten peons wishfully gazing up at his Highness from the floor. King Satch has demoted Little Kitty to a vassal, left to trespass on counters out of the King’s eye sight and still be in the presence of his greatness.

Vassal admiring His Highness
Vassal admiring His Highness

Occasionally, Little Kitty is responsible for holding potential poachers at bay when His Highness is absent from court.

Vassal guarding kingdom from serf
Vassal guarding kingdom from serf

In return for such service, King Satch will allow his vassal to pay him homage.

Vassal, Little Kitty, pays homage to King Satch
Vassal, Little Kitty, pays homage to King Satch

Adjectives describing His Highness: Independent, unpredictable, clever, resourceful, stealthy, graceful, adventurous, bad tempered.  Can you think of more?