Vagabond Jim and the Humble Heroine

Katy the wonder dog tolerates a fair amount of teasing about her wimpiness. Some of it she earns. She lets the cats have the first bite at the food bowl, and they regularly bully her out of her own bed. But as the beneficiary of her undying and unfounded loyalty over the last decade, I know that, even though it sometimes smells like chicken scraps, her heart is as big as a lion’s.  

Early this morning, Jim-Bob got to see Katy’s lion heart.

Yesterday morning Jim went out. He’s normally snuggled in my arms or stretched out on the bed most of the morning, so we all assumed he’d be back in five minutes (he and Princess Jane had been playing their favorite game of making us open the window every 8 minutes). 

Jane went out for her morning constitutional and returned to nap on the fuzzy blue chair. The snow stopped. Katy committed to a full day nap in my office. Jim was still out.

At five the family gathered for our daily walk, agreeing to dedicate part of it to calling for the orange man. 

We got nothing.

My gut started to churn. Jim is a committed homebody, I thought. Only a tangle with a fisher would keep him from responding to the sound of the food bucket opening (which he can hear through double-paned glass and 10-inch concrete walls). Even Princess Jane and Katy seemed to understand that this was not normal.

There was no sign of him after the second lap or even walking up the 900’ driveway. Katy stopped when we stopped and sniffed the forest as if she knew someone was missing. With no one to chase her, Jane stood on her hind legs to rub up against Katy’s neck.

The Big Guy and I went inside to watch TV and do some stress baking. The boys stayed out to play frisbee and call Jim. By the time I had dinner ready, we were taking turns going out to call for him. I was trying not to cry as I remembered the wolves that had visited our yard a few months ago, prompting a rigid routine of keeping the animals in at night. 

We went to bed by midnight, hoping we’d hear his paws on our bedroom slider soon. Katy wandered onto her pad in our room, and Princess Jane snuggled on Katy’s pad in the office.

Katy, at ten years old, has the leaky version of what Professor Farnsworth on Futurama called “wandering bladder syndrome” and rarely makes it through the night without a potty break. If she wakes me up at 2am, I take her out on the leash and stand on the deck shivering in my nighty so she can find a spot for a tinkle. If she wakes up at 4am, I’ll open the sliders, she’ll do her business, investigate the family of deer that takes its morning constitutional in the pasture beyond our woods and then come back for her morning nap.

Last night was a 4am morning with a twist. 

Katy has different barks. She has a happy bark when she’s trying to ‘play’ with the deer (I’ve watched her try to frolic with a young buck by the pear tree who, I swear, was raising an eyebrow as if to ask, “Are you serious right now?”). She has a sharp ‘I’m ready to come in and sleep by the wood stove bark’, and, once in a very great while – like last night – her growl-tinged bark warns, “I’m your worst nightmare!”

So I let her out, thinking there might be something worth scaring off, and, even if the something was just a funny shaped twig, the bark might be a beacon to bring our wayward tabby home. 

I listened as she moved around the yard and then close to the house, growling as she pursued some critter who had broken our quarantine. She raced into the forest again, and I heard a few growl barks. I could hear tromping on dead leaves near the woods. Suddenly there was a thunk, thunk on the window. 

I sat up in bed and shined my flashlight at the glass, hoping I saw a Jim-shaped shadow just outside. He saw my movement and putting both paws on the window, pantomimed a meow. 

I cracked the slider so Jane, now by my side watching the drama unfold, didn’t try to ‘help,’ and Jim scampered in, making a beeline for the food dish. 

I followed him to the kitchen, switching on the light to check for injuries. His tail, momentarily puffy and confirming that there had, indeed, been an unauthorized critter out there, relaxed as he emptied the food bowl. 

Katy appeared at the window ten minutes later. She settled on her pad in watch-dog position, occasionally growling to assure us she was still on duty.

Jim and Jane joined us, Jim on my legs and Jane on the dresser where there’s more stuff to knock off. Jim washed, seeming to have a little trouble settling down, but, like a teenager returning home after a bender, he soon passed out and did not move from the bed until I did hours later. 

I pulled on my sweatpants and t-shirt and subjected Jim to a little petting and head scratching. As I put on my ankle brace, he hopped down off the bed and padded over to Katy. 

Katy and Jane are BFFs, but Katy is suspicious of Jim whenever he approaches her bed. The first time they met, he swatted her on the nose. He goes out of his way to bully her out of food and sleeping spots. But this morning, still hung over from his wandering, he just sniffed. Then he butted the soft part of his head against her face and hopped back on the bed. 

He turned three times and curled up in a ball at the foot of the bed where he is still snoring. 

Jim is not known for learning lessons, so I expect that, by the time he wakes up this afternoon, he and Katy will be back to their established pecking order. But, for a few minutes last night, our humble little heroine reminded all who were awake never to confuse a gentle temper with a faint heart.

In Her Majesty’s Service

Her Royal highness, Princess of the house and yard and especially the fuzzy blue recliner, is not a lap cat. She wants to make that clear before I, her humble but disobedient servant start spreading rumors about her being fussy.

In all fairness, I did get to the fuzzy blue chair first today and, not being selfish, even spread out an Afghan so she wouldn’t have to sit on my actual lap. Princess Jane made it very clear that she would climb on the arm of and back the fuzzy blue chair and be petted, but, unlike her brother Jim-Bob, who knows no boundaries and has no self respect, she will not sit on my lap.

Instead, she climbed on every part of the chair and me, apparently trying to dislodge me, before retreating to the window to regroup and plan her revenge.

What Us Worry?

Most of our house is buried to save on energy bills. When the wind tears through in the spring and fall, however, I find myself wishing we’d buried the entire thing until I look at the sleeping Sisters from a Different Litter.  

The wind and rain have completely blurred the view from our cave at times this morning. It howls through the mountains, making 100 year old trees dance and sway like a bunch of twenty-somethings doing the Batusi — and it’s just as hypnotic (and occasionally horrifying) to watch. I play Monday morning sportscaster, wondering which tree will twist too hard and go down and which one will live to play another day. Anything that could fly into a window is secured against the house, but every once in a while a gust will come from the south, actually pushing on the glass. A gust will come through the forest at the north end of the house making us wonder if that massive pine tree is too close to the part of the house that isn’t buried. 

But then Monday morning sports turns from Tree Dancing to the Sleeping Sisters competition. Today’s event – who will move from their cushy spot last (with no cheating by the refs by opening the food bucket lid in the kitchen)? Popular wisdom has it that animals can sense when something is wrong, so when the gusts make the entire forest seem to bow to the ground, I always expect a response from at least one of the Sleeping Sisters.

The wind has made the windows heave at least three times, and, so far, the Sleeping Sisters are in a dead heat.  Literally.

So, for the moment, I’m listening to popular wisdom and putting my faith in their instincts over my over-active imagination. 

Sounds of Scribbling

When grading papers or doing homework, I always have music or reruns on in the background. I want white noise.

When I write early in the morning, the only soundtrack I need is the sound of scribbling which, surprisingly, sounds like two cats purring and a little dog happily groaning as light starts to fill my office and they realize that they are sleeping in the sun.

Portrait of an Old Dog and Her New Tricks

Secretly, she thinks, Katie-the-Wonder-dog has always wondered if it would not be better to have been born a cat. That curiosity is never more obvious than when she thinks she won’t get caught sleeping on the spot on the bed where Jim, our orange tabby, sleeps, on the couch which belongs to Princess Jane, or, as in this case, on the poof, dominion over which Jim and Jane have recently launched a cold war.

The cats are hunting outside, and, well they’re not exactly “away“, Katie seems to be channeling her inner mouse and taking advantage of thei absence to play. That seems more inline with her personality anyway.

Feline Friday and The daily Zero K

In an apparent attempt to prove that the world would be better off run by members the next generation, the boys have been dragooning me — for my own good — into a very short ZeroK walk around the house every day since I’ve been sick. Thing1’s rationale is that there is nothing that even the smallest bit of exercise can’t make better, and each day there’s more evidence to prove him right.

The first day, the boys and I spent most of the first 10th of a mile trek reveling in each discovery of emerging spring green. The cats and dog cavorted around us, darting in and out of the woods after each other. The boys played catch with an old hacky-sack as we walked, occasionally giving Jim-Bob a chance to inspect it after a fumble.

The second day, the Big Guy decided to join us on our Zero K walk. The dog quickly took her place a few feet ahead of me, and the cats began their outdoor dance, darting in and out of the woods, pretending to stalk and then rub against the legs of their human prey.

By day 3, the Zero K was a family routine. The cats cavorted slightly less, opting to take the lead on our lap on the running trail I had worn around the house back when I was training for 10k’s and 12k’s in solitude.

Like the rest of the world, we’re self-isolating from the rest of the world — we have two people in high-risk categories, and I’m sick with respiratory illness. It could be a time of fear. Our communal walks, our Zero K’s through our cloister of mountains and trees have turned the next weeks of cocooning into an unexpected gift.

Feline Friday

My classroom is just across the hall from the science teacher’s. We’ve become good friends because we have similar senses of humor, and I have found her to be a fountain of good ideas to make learning fun.

One of my and the kids’ favorites is Fun Fact Friday which is just what it sounds like. Of course, I can’t let those kids get all jazzed up with a bunch of new fun facts and then come to my class without something equally fun to do so I started First Chapter Friday.

Our kids don’t get to do many library visits because we’re a residential school so I’ve started hitting the local book warehouse and stocking up my classroom library with new used books each Friday. once they are all caught up with any outstanding work, we can dig through the shelves and check out the new books. If they like the first chapter, they have to write me a quick summary and then they can keep reading and take the book back to the dorm with them. If they don’t, they just keep digging and reading until the bell rings. Either way, they end up reading for most of the class, and we all win.

Right now I’m stuck at home waiting for the group to clear from my lungs, so there’s no Friday classroom routine. I can’t let a Friday go by without a good routine, however, so today officially became the first Feline Fun Friday on Picking My Battles (I swear, this is not becoming a crazy cat lady’s blog — even though i have the cats and the crazy part — no, no. Not a crazy cat lady blog. It just happens to have a lot of pictures of cats taken by a crazy lady on it).

Orange Tabby Therapy.

We got back from the hospital in the early afternoon. All three of my boys helped me into the house where a borrowed motorized scooter was waiting. I scootered straight to bed where valentines flowers and chocolate were waiting and, after a quick bite, passed out for the rest of the evening.

Jim-Bob, our orange tabby, was initially quite displeased by the new arrangement. He did not like presence of the wheelchair or the extra glasses and pill bottles on the bedside table where he likes to climb before he hops onto the bed and curls up in my arms. He woke me up a few times in the early evening with the sounds of a glass or a book being shoved unceremoniously off the table onto the floor. He still wouldn’t come onto the bed — my cast appear to spook him.

About midnight I woke up as the first round of painkillers wore off to note that he had overcome his dislike of the wheelchair where he was now sleeping and, apparently, watching over me. I moved him as gently as possible onto the bed so I could use said wheelchair to get to the bathroom and back. As soon as I was in bed again, he hopped back onto the wheelchair. This time, after an ibuprofen, I gently pulled him back onto the bed for a little snuggle that turned into an official Jim-Bob curl-up and sleep-over, and, as his purring reverberated into my arm, the pain seemed to disappear.

It could have been the miracle of modern medicine, but at least some of my money is on the pain killing effects of orange tabby therapy.

Gratuitous Artist Pics

 There are several things that are certain in life at our house.




And if I sit down at my desk and open a keyboard or a tin of watercolor paint (it has to be watercolor paint), Jim-Bob will crawl into my arms within five minutes to offer his assistance and advice. He is now demanding full credit on all paintings, arguing that he has become an indispensable part of the creative process.

Poem – Familiar

My familiar keeps

The world and work at bay.

Heavy as a blanket,

Draping his heat over my fear,

Hiding my anxiety under

Fat and fur and purring

Till we, happily entombed

Under imaginary desert sands,

Sense that day and lull

Are done.

That’s No Lady

We thought we were starting with Lady Jane Grey (yes I watch too many historical dramas) and Gentleman Jim.  Well, 5 minutes after we got home, we decided our swaggering orange tabby was more of a confirmed country boy and started calling him Jim-Bob.

We still thought Jane was very ladylike as she hung back under the coffee table and curled up in cardboard boxes in the sun.

That night one of the house mice made the mistake of venturing out from behind a cupboard to steal a piece of Katy’s kibble.

A ball of grey shot across the living room and kitchen, and the mouse scampered back to his hiding place.  Little Jane was on the hunt however, and she was ready to tear apart our kitchen to get to it.

She didn’t get it, but she was in the mood for a hunt.

Everything was fair game. Bits of string, hands under blankets, feathers.  Nothing was safe.

She spotted Katy-the-Wonder-Dog’s thumping tail and crouched for the attack, but then decided she didn’t really want to hunt anymore.

For now.

When the light is right or she just feels like it, however, Lady Jane becomes a fuzzy poltergeist.  A one-woman weapon of mass distractedness.  She’s a calamity.

Which is how I suggested a better name for her might be Calamity Jane.

I wish I could say it wouldn’t help her fit into her new life at Casa Chaos better.