My Clever Cat Earns Her Keep

Merricat knows how to open cabinets.

She’s quite good at it. She paws at the bottom corner, careful not to scratch the finish (she’s very considerate that way). As soon as the door opens just a bit, she sticks her paw in and pulls.

It’s marvelous really, how clever she is.

But her real talent – the one I’ve yet to capture on video – is how she opens kitchen drawers.

Now I confess, for the first few weeks we lived in this house I had no idea it was the cat opening the drawers. I thought it was Husband, who for some reason – looking for a screwdriver in the utensil drawer, perhaps? – would open two or three drawers in his quest and then leave. Not closing said drawers. Every day, multiple times a day.

I meant to ask him why. “What are you looking for?” I’d say. “Shall I show you how they close?”

Then one day I walked into the room and saw Merricat in action, exonerating Husband.

You see, what she does is stand or, depending on the height, leap up and land her front paws on the upper part of the drawer. At the same time she pushes her back paws against the cabinet below, creating a momentum that – along with the smooth working mechanism of the hardware – slides the drawer open. With Merricat swinging along.

Merricat on drawer

I marvel at my cat’s ingenuity. Truly, she is a marvel.

She is also a superior bug and vermin hunter. So when she began showing an inordinate amount of interest in one particular drawer, when she continually crawled behind it and made rustling, scratching sounds, I confess, my courage failed me. While I was curious as to what was happening in the deepest bowels of my kitchen cabinets, I decided I wasn’t curious enough.

Then our belongings finally caught up with us. I was laying Contact paper on the shelves and drawers; Merricat came to help, as she so often does. When I pulled out that drawer, she leaped in, crawled behind it, and turned to me with her big green eyes.

As if to say, “Trust me. You’ll want to see this.”

Gathering up my strength – and finding my flashlight – I pulled the drawer all the way out and looked where Merricat was sitting. On top of a pile of papers.
Old newspaper clippings, note cards, appliance manuals, an opened economy sized pack of batteries, and a cassette tape of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s greatest hits.

Recipes in cabinet

The expiration date on the batteries was 2005. Most of the newspaper clippings were earlier than that.

The part that thrilled me most? All of the newspaper clippings and note cards were recipes.

The previous owner collected recipes!

We’ve learned a few things about the owner while living here. Her son told us she’d been widowed for over 40 years, raised her three children by herself, and in her last few years, in declining health, spent nearly every day in her sun room.

From the number of built-in bookshelves, we can assume she enjoyed reading. Safe to say she was a fan of show tunes, possibly theater in general. She was organized enough to keep appliance manuals, but wasn’t always able to find them.

She had a habit of losing batteries. (I can see her now: “I know I bought batteries — where on earth could they be?”)

Also, she was a school secretary. (Those of you who have been following along know that was my previous job.)

It’s kismet!

And if all that wasn’t enough, we now learn she collected recipes and put them in this drawer. The drawer Merricat found so interesting.

Thank you, Merricat. The pooping incident has been forgiven.

Merricat and Freckles

I’m sure you’re wondering what sort of recipes they are, right? After careful study and reflection, I would say they all lean heavily toward “what-should-I-bring-to-this-week’s-potluck” fare.

Which shouldn’t surprise any of us, right?

Oddly enough — or perhaps not, given your understanding of Minnesota culture — there’s a potluck at my church this Sunday.

what to bring… what to bring…

Say, how about you help me decide? There are two here that look promising.

Two recipes

One is a Canned Corn Casserole, which normally I wouldn’t find interesting but it has an option of using fresh corn instead of canned. I’m not sure if the local farmer’s market will have corn yet, but it’s possible.

The other possibility is Rocky Road Cake. To its credit, it’s a chocolate cake with marshmallows, nuts and chocolate fudge sauce. The downside is that it uses a cake mix and normally I never buy those because I’m a food snob. And yet! The recipe has this intriguing notion of using coffee rather than water when blending it. Doesn’t that sound fascinating?

(I need to get out more.)

In any case, we have these two contenders for my first Minnesota potluck. Shall I make a side dish or a dessert?

Choose your selection carefully. My future as a Minnesotan may depend upon it.

Okay, not really. But please help me out anyway. I’m terribly indecisive about these things, and for some reason Merricat is showing little interest in the whole affair.

Merricat drawer

On Moving, New Homes, and a Harrowing Incident Involving Cat Poop

We made it.

From our home of 17 years in Arizona to our new place in Minnesota, our move is complete.

Currently we’re residing in the house we’re in the process of buying. The owners agreed to let us rent until closing, keeping us from having to move a second time (my gratitude knows no bounds). And I’ve so much to tell you, I don’t know where to begin.

So to release my crowded thoughts and frozen fingers, I’ll start with the view from our sunroom, which we have designated my writing room…

Sunroom

I HAVE A WRITING ROOM!!!

A-hem

And now for a brief recap of our trip here. Picture us in a car with one 13-year old arthritic dog and one very anxious cat.

Shall we begin?

Last Day in Phoenix

The city decided to turn off our water a day early. We were nearly done loading the car, but I hadn’t cleaned the house yet. (Yes, I know I’m under no legal obligation to leave the house clean. Even so. I clean.)

Fortunately I had two packs of Scrubbing Bubbles Flushable Wipes. Which I couldn’t flush, but whatever. They got the job done.flushable wipes

You’ve not lived until you’ve mopped an entire kitchen floor with bathroom cleaning wipes.
Use this information carefully.

First Stop, Flagstaff

We purchase “calming treats” for Merricat and stopped in a park for me to take a call. After three treats (the last one I shoved down her throat), they took affect and Merricat became… well, not a happy traveler but a more compliant one.

Merricat drugged

Fast Forward to Nebraska

Now why would someone fast forward to Nebraska?

If you’ve ever traveled through Nebraska, you’ll know it’s flat and boring and nothing ever happens there. And that’s where you’re wrong.

The eastern portion of the state (perhaps others, I don’t know) is quite lovely. With rolling hills and charming farmhouses.

Nebraska hills

Not a place you expect a crisis to occur, but occur it did.

I’m telling you, until you’re trapped in a Toyota Corolla with a pet cat who just pooped, you don’t know the meaning of panic. Quick as a flash, Husband pulls over, doors are opened, fresh air sucked in… soiled pillow removed.

As an indication of our love for humanity and all creation, I want you to know we did not leave the soiled pillow by the side of the road.

Per Husband’s suggestion (he nixed my idea of burning it), we sealed it in a plastic bag and threw it in the first trash can we came across.

Back in car, Dog looking out window, Cat acting like nothing happened.

Merricat and Freckles

Stupid cat.

Minnesota at Last

The next day we arrive to our new home in Little Falls, Minnesota.

The listing agent for our house, Donny, is there to give us keys. He tells us about a band concert in the park that evening. They do it once a year; we happened to arrive on the right day.

The park is walking distance from our house (truthfully, most things are walking distance from our house) and the band, all local, was quite good. For some reason we expected something along the lines of an old-time Sousa band, instead we heard selections from Van Morrison, Chicago, and Steely Dan.

Rock the park

The park – Maple Island Park – is lovely. The Mississippi flows through it (the slogan for Little Falls is Where the Mississippi Pauses) and there are walkways and bike paths throughout.

By one of the bridges we came across a young girl trying her darnedest to catch a duckling.

“Last year my uncle caught me one,” she said.

I asked her if it was all grown up now.

“No. It died. That’s why I want another.”

Duck photo

Don’t worry, she didn’t catch one.

Days 1 Through 7

We beat our moving “pods” here. Meaning we’re without belongings, but worse yet, without internet. We buy an air mattress at Wal-Mart and a table and chairs at a thrift store. A neighbor (Jerry) offers his truck to haul the table. Another neighbor (Buddy) mows the lawn for us.

We get our internet fix at the library and coffee shops and occasionally by using our phones as hotspots. Husband orders cable & internet. Router and Modem are on their way.

Day 8

Two of our three pods arrive. Several church members come to help us unload.

Unpacking

Afterward we gather our chairs on the front lawn and have pizza.

We slept on a real bed for the first time it over a week. It was glorious. Still no internet. That bites.

Day 9

The third pod arrives. This one contains Husband’s motorcycle and both our bicycles, all in perfect condition.

Packing cube

Still no internet. I’m bereft.

Day 10, Arrival of Modem and Router

Remember the scene in the movie 2001, when the ape people stare at the monolith in awe and wonder?

2001

That should give you an idea of what Husband and I looked like when we saw the soft light emanating from the router.

Now, one would think that since I was without internet for a whopping 10 days, I should have accomplished a lot.

Like, maybe, I don’t know… unpack things?

Sadly, no. From the looks of this place, you’d think I sat around and stared into space the whole time.

Well, no. Not into space. Just my backyard.

Backyard

From my writing room.

I’VE GOT A WRITING ROOM!

A-hem.

PS: The call I took in Flagstaff was a job interview for a position at the hospital near our new home (you guessed it, within walking distance). I start on Monday.

Ratatouille in 5 Minutes, With Help From Trader Joe’s and No Help From My Cat

Plus, a brief history on the founding of Feeding on Folly…

Recently we dined at Macaroni Grill. I won’t say it’s my favorite Italian restaurant, but their complimentary herb bread is lovely and they know how to grill salmon right.

bread

However this time, not being in a salmon frame of mind, I ordered their Ratatouille instead. Have you tried it? They serve it over grilled polenta, which I find inspired. (I don’t get out much.)

Anyway, the other day at Trader Joe’s, I saw they have polenta and *angels singing* I was inspired! For less than $10, I had all the ingredients needed to make a copycat recipe of Macaroni Grill’s Ratatouille.

And given how I hadn’t shared a recipe with you all in… let’s see… going on a year now? Unsure. It’s been awhile, I know that.

Funny how it used to be such a regular feature of this here blog, and now it’s but a distant memory.

Anyway, I gathered together the ingredients and prepared for the picture. Merricat rushed over to help.

Merricat 1

I swear this cat knows when I’m holding a camera.

Merricat 2

So the main ingredient to look for, the one that makes this recipe so darn easy peasy, is in Trader Joe’s frozen food section. It’s called Misto Alla Griglia, and it contains grilled eggplant, zucchini, and red peppers.

Now of course you could buy fresh eggplant, zucchini and red peppers, or pick them from your garden should you be so lucky, but that would add on extra minutes and then this wouldn’t be 5-minute Ratatouille, would it?

Oh, Merricat walked behind the ingredients! Quick, take a picture!!!

Merricat 3

So now you see what the Misto Alla Griglia looks like. Also, you’ll need their polenta which you slice in thick rounds, and a can of their Organic Tomatoes “diced in tomato sauce”. I already had the fresh basil, onion, garlic, and jar of capers. (You can skip the capers if you don’t like them; I think they add a nice peppery taste.)

Back when I was regularly sharing recipes on this blog, I learned how to write some code so the recipe would appear in a nice little box with its own print button. But I don’t remember the code and I’m too lazy to look it up, so you’re out of luck. Sorry.

Here’s an interesting tidbit: the reason I added recipes when I first started blogging had nothing to do with the name “Feeding on Folly” and everything to do with my insecurities as a writer. I believed that if I didn’t offer something helpful – such as recipes – no one would stick around and read my little stories.

Okay, so you’ll want to let the Misto Alla Griglia thaw a little. The veggies are in large pieces, but they’re easy to chop once they’re partially thawed. While they thaw, chop half the onion and mince three to four garlic cloves. Saute in olive oil until softened.

Merricat monitored the thawing for me.

Merricat 4Once the onion and garlic are softened, add the can of tomatoes, the chopped Misto Alla Griglia, and two tablespoons capers. Add some Italian seasoning — maybe a couple teaspoons? — and salt to taste. Keep over medium heat until hot, a few minutes or so. As it cooks, fry or grill the slices of polenta.

I bet you’re wondering how I came up with Feeding on Folly for my blog name, am I right? Glad you asked.

About the time I was puzzling and puzzling until my puzzler was sore over what to name my blog, I was reading a collection of James Thurber’s essays called Lanterns & Lances. In the forward, he explained his main purpose in writing:

“Much of what follows, therefore, is my own attempt, in my own little corner of the struggle, to throw a few lantern beams here and there. But I also cast a few lances at the people and the ideas that have disturbed me, and I make no apologies for their seriousness.”

I rather liked that. You might say I was inspired. And I was particularly fond of the alliteration with Lanterns & Lances.

Alliteration is something that tantalizes my thoughts and sustains my soul.

I set out to find my own and spent an inordinate amount of time doing so. Eventually, in a moment of happy luck, I landed on Feeding on Folly. Nervously, I did a quick internet search to see if it was taken. It wasn’t, but I found this:

The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly. — Proverbs 15:14 NIV

So there you go. Bible approved.

Also, cat approved.

Merricat 6

To serve (the Ratatouille, not the cat), put two fried slices of polenta on a plate, spoon the ratatouille over them, top with fresh basil and shredded Parmesan if desired and serve with garlic toast.

Ratatouille

To recap, I may from time to time, as the mood strikes me, continue to share recipes with you. But as dropping their weekly inclusion hasn’t seemed to adversely affect my readership, and no angry mob has appeared at the Feeding on Folly doorstep, we’ll just let that ship sail.

As for dear Thurber, I don’t know how many lantern beams I’ve thrown and I’m terrible at casting lances, but the folly I’ve witnessed has fed this blog well. Thank you for the inspiration, good sir.

For the record, this Sunday — April 1st — marks my 3rd year blogging.
So there, person who told me I couldn’t do it!

Oh, wait… that was me. 😜

Thoughts on Beauty, Pigeons, and Persian Cats

I was thinking about Beauty the other daythat’s Beauty with a capital Bwhen that Byron piece popped into my head:

She walks in beauty, like the night
               Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
    And all that’s best of dark and bright
        Meet in her aspect and her eyes

Actually, those exact words didn’t pop into my head. It was more like,

She walks in beauty like the… um… night
   Something, something… yada, yada…
How’s that go again?

So I Googled it and got the exact wording (see above, top).

Word on the street is that Lord Byron penned these words after seeing his cousin in her mourning dress. Even if black was her color, we can assume the dress wasn’t the reason for his rapture. (Though with Byron, anything goes.)

Third stanza:

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow, 
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent, 
The smiles that win, the tints that glow, 
But tell of days in goodness spent, 
A mind at peace with all below, 
A heart whose love is innocent!

There was a woman I knew from my younger days, way back when, who I think illustrates Byron’s point to some extent. She went to our church.

Usually children never take much notice of older people unless they impact our lives in some way. Such as a neighbor lady who bakes cookies, or a friend’s mother who will back the cost of the ice cream man.

Children are selfish beasts that way.

Be that as it may, this particular woman I noticed. My mother was talking to her and as I stood to the side waiting — I never participated in any conversation willingly — I was struck by her brightly colored dress. Church ladies in those days typically chose subdued prints, such as a demure pastel floral. But this woman was wearing magenta.

Magenta!

Secondly, and more importantly, I noticed how happy the woman appeared. Most of the women of my acquaintance, the best you could hope for was that they were mildly pleasant. More often they were… shall we say, a little on edge. So much so that an empty juice glass set next to the sink, rather than in the sink, could send them off the deep end.

Yet this woman was smiling and cheerful and looked for all the world as though life was a wondrous thing to be savored and enjoyed. She was positively radiant.

Later I asked my mother who she was and was shocked to learn she had attended our church for several years. This was news to me. How was it I never noticed her before? Or her radiance?

“Oh, she didn’t use to be this way,” my mother replied.

I asked her what changed.

“Her husband died.”

And so you see? Lord Byron was right. Grief is a beautiful thing.

Continuing on our theme of Beauty, I met a pair of pigeons the other day.

They were enjoying a quiet respite in the grocery store parking lot, where someone had very thoughtfully dropped a milkshake and half-eaten container of french fries. The couple was partaking of the bounty.

As I passed, the male regarded me in that peculiar pigeon way they have, where they study your face very carefully and store the knowledge, as it may come in handy later.

He was a pretty boy and so I told him. I said, “Aren’t you a pretty boy.” Not as a question, you see, but as a declaration. For indeed, he was pretty. The top of his head was a shimmery purple and his breast had specks of green and black, with just a dash of gray. Truly, he was a pigeon among pigeons.

He showed no sign of false modesty after hearing my compliment. Birds never do. They don’t look down at their feathers as though to say, “Oh, these old things?” They simply accept your words as a matter of course.

Then I noticed his companion and frankly, I was shocked. With her scruffy grayish-brown feathers and dull aspect, she looked the bird equivalent of a woman in an oversized t-shirt and sweatpants.

And not a flattering oversized t-shirt and sweatpants, neither.

You would think that such a noble bird as he was, she would make more of an effort, wouldn’t you? But no, not her. She squatted in the midst of milkshake froth, a limp french fry dangling from her mouth.

Pigeon

Honestly. I was embarrassed for her.

And yet — and yet, people — it did nothing to diminish his admiration of her in any way. And that is the main thing.

For Love is a Beautiful thing. And blind. Terribly blind.

So if you’ve been paying attention, Beauty is both Sad and Lovely.

Yet there is another aspect to Beauty I think we must discuss, for it is something I learned from a Persian cat. And anything you learn from a Persian cat is something worth discussing.

Missy, for that was her name, the name of the Persian cat, was a gloriously beautiful, white cat.

All cats know they are beautiful, especially Persians. Even when they are not beautiful, cats know they are beautiful. This is a scientific fact.

Missy shared her home with a Cockapoo named Bubbles.

Yes, you read that right: Bubbles.

Bubbles was an embarrassment to the entire canine community. I knew it, Missy knew it, Bubbles knew it.

Bubbles was afraid of everything. The sound of the furnace kicking on sent her cowering to the corner. A sheet of paper flying off a table made her jump. The dog was a walking bundle of nerves.

So it probably didn’t help matters that Missy’s favorite form of entertainment was to sit on one side of a doorway and wait patiently, oh-so-patiently, until Bubbles entered the room. And then, floomph! Missy sprang out and Bubbles yelped, taking off in three different directions all at once, usually urinating in the process.

Meanwhile, Missy ambled away as though nothing happened, returning to her cushioned throne, where she would groom herself.

Persian cat

For Beauty is Cruel.

Beauty is Sad and Lovely and Cruel.

And thus ends my treatise on Beauty for today.

Life Tips by Merricat

Those of you who have been following this blog for more than two days no doubt realize that Feeding on Folly is an animal-friendly community. Pets have been mentioned. Namely, Dog and Cat.

Sadly, Cat departed to that great Kitty Condo in the Sky last February. Since then, our home has been meow-less.

Recently, as in one week ago, we were joined by a new companion. Friends, allow me to introduce to you:

Merricat

Merricat

After living with Merricat for a week, I can tell she is a wise and gentle soul. I believe there is much she can teach us, and with that in mind, I made notes of some of her more helpful lessons.

Let us learn from her wise counsel, shall we?

  1. When entering a new domain, explore every area thoroughly. Every nook and cranny. Especially the crannies. Nooks are good, but crannies are better. After you’ve explored it a good three or four times, check it again. It may have changed in the two minutes you were gone.
  2. Ferns make great sleeping companions. Perfect for an afternoon nap. Or a mid-morning nap. Or early evening.
    Avoid misting time.

    By fern 2

  3. Helping with laundry is not only polite, it can be fun. Especially when the Female Human makes funny noises and plays tug of war with you. Also, warm towels straight from the dryer? Mmm.
  4. Grooming is essential. Never neglect it. Twenty baths a days is not overdoing it. Consider twenty-two.

    Grooming

  5. Kitty Weed, aka, Catnip, is marvelous. Daily use recommended.
  6. When encountering a large canine creature, play it cool. They will not resist your charms for long.

    With Freckles 2

  7. Small rubber items are not to be trusted. Whether they are pads from electronic devices, ear plugs, or caps you found that no one in the family has any idea where they came from, be watchful! Pounce on them, bat them around, attack from behind! Be wary… they’re sneaky devils.
  8. Fill your life with music. During the day is great, but nighttime is good too. Like, at 2:00 a.m. That’s a great time.
    All the great cat concertos were composed at 2:00 a.m.

    On Piano

  9. Never eat the first thing you’re offered. Stand your ground and see what else on the table. Better yet, just jump on the table and take what you want.
  10. In every home, there is a magical door of wonders. When you hear it open, come running and dive in. Or slip in when no one is watching. You won’t regret it.

    In Pantry
    Unless no one saw you go in and they shut the door and now you’re stuck. That’s the time to sing the song of your people. Loudly.
    Honestly. Humans. Am I right?

Cleanliness is Next to Insanity. Also, a Review of Cat Litter.

This last week, I lost my sunglasses. To fully understand the tragedy of this event, you must know that this was my girlfavorite pair of sunglasses. They were stylish, lightweight, fit me perfectly, and were dark enough that if someone was talking to me, I could ignore them completely and they never knew. Oh, and they protected my eyes too.

Now they’re gone and I have to wear my back-up pair. Actually I have two back-up pairs. (I live in Phoenix, after all.) But neither pair is as nice as the pair I lost.

Well, maybe lost isn’t the correct word. I know exactly where they are.

They are wrapped in three plastic grocery bags, knotted twice, and sitting at the bottom of our garbage bin. Our outside garbage bin.

Here’s what happened …

Continue reading “Cleanliness is Next to Insanity. Also, a Review of Cat Litter.”