I awoke to a glorious Easter Sunday in Boise! Always a blessing to get up and greet the sun. We’ve had a winter that didn’t seem to want to end. There was snow just last Thursday.
Our minister told a packed house; “Anyone who likes to garden has faith. It is an act of faith to put a seed in the ground and look forward to it springing forth with new life.” Let’s get out there planting little sprouts to bring hope to ourselves and others.
Five years ago I would never expected to see police in uniform on duty with a bomb sniffing dog at church. Now we are getting to use to it. We had one at the Cathedral of the Rockies at Christmas too. This time the policeman was extremely kind to everyone and the gorgeous German Shepard was very photogenic. Fortunately, their presence was not needed.
We always buy flowers at Easter from the church youth group to help support youth mission trips in the summer. The pink and blue hydrangeas have thrived in my back yard. The one we go this year practically shouts, “Look at me!”
I buy the Calla Lilies in honor of my daughter Kayla, both the lily and Kayla have roots to China but grow well in Idaho. This year I am blessed to have both flowers and daughter grace my house with beauty.
This is the twenty-second year I have hidden Easter baskets, a family tradition. I will miss it when Kayla goes away to college, one more year of baskets. We learned this year with Scott home for a while that you are never too old to bite off the ears of a chocolate bunny.
My son is off to Seattle May first to expand his world and hopefully hunt down a good first job. We are all very excited for him. The purpose of parenthood is to raise children who can float by themselves. I will miss his good humor, beautiful photographs and noise around the house.
Our male tom cat, Satch, had a good Easter. He discovered a box in the house just his size, always a delight. The weather was perfect for cats to lay outside and soak up sun.
Easter is a time of new beginnings. May this year bring out the very best in you and your family. Thanks for reading.
I have been taking a memoir class that focuses on writing short bursts of memory about your life. This week’s assignment was: Develop a list of things that seem trivial or small but upon reflection are vital. Since it is Thanksgiving week, my list is about my home and family.
Around 6 a.m. each morning my husband noisily scuttles around the end of the bed and kisses me briefly on the mouth, occasionally missing and hitting my cheek in the dark. He rotely says, “Have a nice day!” I’m still dozing, catching the last misty grays of dreams, gauzy thoughts I can’t return to. Sometimes he forgets the first time out the door; then he comes back.
White cat, called Angel but a stinker in a slinky fur coat is carefully washing Satchel, the grey Tom cat’s face. He is preening on her behalf, neck extended, eyes closed in ecstasy, macho man for sure. Angel lunges. Satch takes a surprise bite to the neck. They simultaneously link legs, lego-like, replicating a gyrating hair pillow of intertwined grey and white, rolling off the bed and chasing each other into the floor length curtains, fluttering now like animated ghosts in a fun house. All goes still. Each cat marches out a different side, tails twitching, parallel metronomes, heads held high—a draw.
The rat terrier, bolts through my legs out the front door, across the street, over the berm, hair on her neck raised, resembling an enraged porcupine’s quills, tail pointed rigidly out, barking in a loud, sharp, rat-a-tat-tat, a sergeant leading a non-extent platoon into battle. I am the bugler shouting repeatedly, “Violet Come!” Out of sight, the barking is interrupted by a guttural, primeval, wolverine growl. High pitched screaming and screeching echoes over the hill in response to my call. Head down, whimpering, tail between her legs, all body parts intact; Violet limps home, a vanquished warrior.
Shani,is my giant miniature collie, a mini-me lassie look a-alike with an absurdly fluffy coat resembling caramel-colored pom-poms. Today, she, keeps gently nudging my hand with her long pointed nose, her head is all olfactory lobe. I finally realize I have put her food where Violet’s bowl goes. Shani is either too polite or timid to touch it. I move Shani’s bowl to its proper place and she chows down.
My 17 year-old daughter texts from school:
Can I go to a concert? My homework is done, I have my own money, I’m taking my car.
At the concert she texts:
Can I stay until 10:30?
Leaving now. Taking Emma home.
10:50 p.m. I hear the garage door open.
When we moved into our home 11 years ago, Scott controlled a third of the upstairs; his bedroom, attached bath, a playroom usually filled with teenaged boys playing video games and the best view in the house off his balcony. The balcony has been used for tossing a five foot stuffed Mr. Simpson off regularly, testing rope ladders, a cat escape hatch to the roof and a feline wrangling corral for said cats, but hardly ever for contemplation and viewing. Since Scott has been largely absent for the last four and half years, his sister has stealthy slunk in and helped herself to his sweaters and shirts much to his chagrin. Now, I pass a closed door with a plastic sign reading, Scott Kozisek, Keep Closed.
The night owl. I crate the dogs, walk through the house, turn off the lights, check the dishwasher is set to wash, flip the gas logs off leaving only the blue glow of the pilot light where a warming flame just resided, test the locks on the outside doors. I snuggle under the heated blanked wrapping myself around my husband like a clam shell protecting a pearl. The pesky cats are nesting on my side of the bed, entangling my feet.
I hope each of you has a wonderful Thanksgiving! My family has much to be thankful for.
“There are two means of refuge from the misery of life — music and cats.”
― Albert Schweitzer
Albert Schweitzer and I have one thing in common, we like cats. When I am feeling down, I like to lay on my bed with Angel and listen to her purr.
It is not surprising that when I took up paper mache, cats are the first series I worked on. The cats I have created from various materials have some connections to my past. For example, the featured orange cat reminds me of my first cat, Puddy Cat, who we got when I was in first grade. Puddy Cat lived at our family home for 21 years (far longer than I did). Paper mache, Puddy, has a body entirely of newspaper to provide structure.
I wadded up paper into balls in the shape of a cat and then taped the paper in a few places to hold it together.
After I completed, Puddy Cat, I worked on a replica of the Satchel, the lord of the Ashtree Manor. My first effort at Satch was constructed of a toilet paper roll and Styrofoam ball for the head. There was no effort to capture the shape of a cat but rather to express the sleek, stylish nature of a cat through paper. I was pleased with the actual shape which I may try again. But the color was all wrong. I started with a black base coat and instead of creating a grey tiger stripe, I ended up with a brindle cat. I call this cat, “Cat with Coat of Many Colors”. My son told me that you always have to begin with base coat being light and then add on the darker colors later.
My next effort at Satch was a combination of experimenting with glue-based paste which creates a white clay and two toilet paper rolls. The cat structure that evolved from this effort was quite elaborate. I painted the cat all white and then layered on the various tones of gray. I am pleased with the coloring but probably won’t do such an elaborate cat structure in the future. To accurately capture Satch’s beautiful coat, I need to start with a gray base and then layer on.
I am working on paper mache prototypes because I need to have 10 items for a Christmas bazaar, a fundraiser for women’s scholarships. When I took in the cats to the planning committee, they didn’t think that cats would sell well at Christmas. I am now moving on to Christmas angels. I will blog about my angels, wood nymphs, and sprites soon.
I learned when I was visiting one of my good friends in Wyoming that she spends many hours joyfully engaged in adult coloring. She has many beautiful, brightly huged pictures she has produced. Coloring for her provides a grounding effect. Adult coloring has become very popular by providing stress relief and improved fine motor skills.
I told her I got similar joy from working on paper mache. The big different is the coloring books are easy to carry and the pens can be packed in a box. I have paper, paint, and glue strewn all over our upstairs playroom. Fortunately, the kids have outgrown the room so I can leave my objects out to dry and paint for long periods of time.
The distinction between art and craft is that art is a creation from an emotional response that cannot be replicated. Craft usually has a structure and can be replicated by others. Most of the time, I would define paper mache as a craft with structure and the ability for others to copy. However, I think in the case of my crafty kitties they are more art than craft. I will probably not make more cats but the ones I have made have reminded me of my furry feline friends.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you happen to stop by Talkeetna to meet Mayor Stubbs, take the time visit Talkeetna Spinanch Bread, an airstream trailer serving great grub. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This fight just got more interesting
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.
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.
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.
Hours of unstructured time can be spent curled in two furry balls without any movement.
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 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.
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).
His Highness Satch and willing vassal, Angel had a busy night. The origami skull described in the last post was found destroyed this morning. The other pieces of origami scattered about the house had been shredded. Obviously, a night raid had been successfully planned and executed. All Halloween origami is now gone from 775 N. Ashtree Way.
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.
All furniture has been moved from the great room to make room for hard wood.
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.
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.
Occasionally, Little Kitty is responsible for holding potential poachers at bay when His Highness is absent from court.
In return for such service, King Satch will allow his vassal to pay him homage.
Adjectives describing His Highness: Independent, unpredictable, clever, resourceful, stealthy, graceful, adventurous, bad tempered. Can you think of more?