Why our new cat chose to stick around


Last Thursday morning, our 16-year-old son took one look out our front door and said, “Better get Mom.”wpid-wp-1413459917007.jpeg

He had the right idea.

Cute balls of fluff are her purview.

Stray animals glom onto her as if she were some sort of Pied Piper. In fact, if it was up to her our house would be so crowded with unwanted cats and dogs we’d be forced to use the garage as the master bedroom.

That’s why he just as well could have asked, “What did Mom bring home now?”

A half-an-hour earlier, my wife woke me concerned about what appeared to be a stray cat. It was preventing her from taking our dog Rodney for his morning swing around the neighborhood. The cat, no more than a kitten really, was tailing them, and my wife feared it might get hit by a car. She wanted me to somehow distract the cat long enough for her and Rodney to get on their way.

I rubbed my eyes and dutifully did what I always do in a crisis — I reached for a snack.

In this case, I settled for a small bowl filled with a handful of our cat Skitty’s food. I set it outside, figuring breakfast was what the kitten wanted and was, in fact, desperate for.

I sat on our front stoop as the sun came up that morning watching that cat gobble down Skitty’s food. It was a very young, little female Tuxedo, a cat whose coat is black on top, contrasted with a white belly, chest and feet. And it was incredibly friendly.

I figured I was looking at a new family member. Our daughter and I even started arguing about what to call her.

She wanted Artemis because she’s enthusiastic about the Greek gods thanks to the Percy Jackson series of books. She’s a fangirl.

But I’ve been a Star Trek fanboy longer than she’s been a fangirl of anything. I wanted to name her Spot because that’s what Data called his cat on ST: The Next Generation.

I’m going to pretend I won (I didn’t) and, for the sake of clarity, use Spot as the cat’s name.

Spot spent the day hanging out at our house, hoovering up food and drink as if he were a journalist. (As a general rule, journalists don’t turn down free food, perhaps because we’re often one step away from being strays ourselves.)

I kept Spot’s belly full that day. I even briefly reintroduced her to Rodney, who was predictably overenthusiastic. The two,however, seemed like they would eventually get along.

I wish I could say the same about our cat Skitty.

I had cautioned our daughter not to let Spot inside the house for fear of Skitty’s reaction. So of course, Spot somehow found a way in while I wasn’t looking. But at least our daughter had the presence of mind to quickly scoot Spot back outside before the cat fight escalated beyond Skitty’s maniacal hissing.

You’d think Skitty would feel some sympathy for a fellow feline down on its luck. After all, Skitty was looking at the vagabond life herself before being snatched by our daughter shortly after she was born beneath our neighbor’s ground-level deck.

She remained, however, steadfast in her meanness in the face of Spot’s amiable cuteness.

After his encounter with Skitty’s hostility and Rodney’s relentless inquisitiveness, I suspect Spot questioned the wisdom of sticking around our house. She disappeared that night and was gone for most of the next day.

My wife worried about that cat for a solid 24 hours, but she needn’t have. Spot was back in her arms Friday evening. And now she’s adopted our “Laundry Basket of Misfit Socks” as her refuge from Rodney and Skitty.wpid-wp-1413810642456.jpeg

I’m not sure because Spot’s not saying, but I think I know what brought her back. While she was gone, she must have stumbled upon an article The Journal newspaper published last week. It was about the stray cat problem in our region, the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. According to the article, feral cats are cramming into shelters around here at twice the rate of dogs.

Given the choice, Spot has apparently decided that putting up with us is a much better option.

I took some time to consider a “curious” question this week


Despite the dishes that needed to cleaned and put away, the kitchen floor that needed to be mopped, the laundry that needed to be dried and folded, the carpets that needed to be vacuumed and the bathrooms that needed to be made presentable in case the neighbors showed up, I actually took a few hours for myself this week.

In fact, I even put off a trip to the grocery store, opting instead to have a pizza delivered to satisfy our teenage son’s bottomless stomach just so l could be totally free to concentrate on the really big question of the day – is Curious George a monkey or an ape?

I hesitate to say which side of the debate I come down on. After all, I’m a journalist. We’re supposed to keep our opinions on issues of public importance to ourselves. It has to do with maintaining journalistic credibility, a cornerstone of the profession.

For example, if I were free to join a group dedicated to convincing others that George is an ape because he has no tail, would you trust me to fairly represent the arguments of those who accept him as a monkey because that’s how he’s referred to in the books?

Whether Curious George is an ape or a monkey is probably a question best left to primate experts, or better yet, “The Man in the Yellow Hat.” But that didn’t stop the debate from spilling over into my Facebook feed, giving me an excuse (not that I necessarily need one) to overlook household chores.

I welcomed the respite. That’s because my wife and I seem to have no down time. Take a typical week at our house. We not only toil at our jobs, but we also make sure the kids get to school on time, and that they go to marching band practice, theater and choir rehearsals, girl scouts, dance classes, piano lessons, orthodontist appointments and football games.

All four of us seem to go in all sorts of directions at once and I haven’t even mentioned our pets.

Our cat Skitty and dog Rodney had their annual veterinarian appointments this week. They each suffered various indignities, the major one involving Skitty and her Pet Taxi, the carrier we use to transport her.  I spent way too much time trying to trick her into getting into it. Eventually, I lost patience and had to risk her claws by simply stuffing her inside it. She meowed in protest the whole way to the vet’s office and back.

At least I didn’t have to cram Rodney into one of those things. Dogs are generally too big to carry around like a piece of luggage.

In my mind, those two trips to the vet plus all our other obligations equaled a break when I found myself alone this week.

The only thing is, I’m not sure what I’m going to tell my wife when she asks why I haven’t gotten the hammer and drill out to install the new shelves our daughter wants mounted on the wall above her dresser.

“Well, you see honey. There was this thing about Curious George on Facebook ….”

Even “The Man in the Yellow Hat” wouldn’t buy that.

Does the Ziploc bag filled with rice trick work on cars?


I should have known better than to publicly declare my car fixed without first driving it around for longer than a week or two following its last repair job.

But I did.

And it’s not.

I blame my premature optimism on the kind of wishful thinking that’s born out of a desperate need for a repair to go right. But the unfortunate fact is, my car is better at frustrating me than our dog Rodney is when he suddenly starts barking and twirling around in circles if my wife even glances at her walking shoes.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that after a lengthy repair process that included two new transmissions and an engine harness, a simple brake switch was all my car needed to fix a quirk I’ve been putting up with for more than a year.

It didn’t.

Fortunately, the more expensive repairs were done while my car was still under warranty. Otherwise, we’d be so broke I would probably be standing over Rodney’s food bowl right now seriously considering whether a little water would soften his kibbles enough to keep from shattering my teeth.

My car notwithstanding, at least the repair gods have not totally abandoned me. The new shower handle we’ve been test driving lately is showing no sign of the kind of quirk that afflicts my vehicle. By that I mean we’re able to turn the water off and on at will instead of watching it cascade unchecked as if it were Blackwater Falls. I had to install the new handle after the old one broke the day we left for a weekend getaway last month.

And just this week, I averted a cell phone disaster.

It happened when our daughter came home from school thirsty for the lemonade I like to keep in the refrigerator when it’s hot and humid outside. She somehow mistook her phone for the glass she had taken down from the cupboard and doused it.

The first sign that something had gone awry in our kitchen came when I heard her yelp for help. When I arrived she was standing in a pink puddle of lemonade, frantically drying her phone with a kitchen towel.

At first, I wasn’t focused on her troubles. I was more concerned about the floor. I had just mopped it an hour or so earlier and I was busy coming to terms with having to do it again.

A few minutes later, though, it finally dawned on me that our daughter’s phone may have been damaged. I figured that out when she complained that its speaker wasn’t working.

Her revelation alarmed me so much that my emergency cell phone saving skills kicked in. We dashed back into the kitchen and quickly threw the phone into a Ziploc bag filled with rice to draw the moisture from it.

But once we sealed the bag, we realized we had overlooked a key step. We forgot to turn off the phone. That’s sort of important if you want to avoid a short.

We had to unseal the bag, turn off the phone and then reseal it, again.

In the end, our efforts paid off. When our daughter got home from school the next day, we booted up her phone and it was like new.

In fact, the trick worked so well, I’m thinking of stuffing my car inside a Ziploc bag filled with rice.

Goodness knows I’ve tried everything else.

Pavlov’s response to home repair


If trying to get an appliance fixed these days is any guide, I’m lucky that something as simple as a broken shower handle didn’t lead to my entire house having to be re-plumbed. And when I say the entire house, I mean the whole shebang, from top to bottom, and stem to stern.

Every last pipe.

Every last valve.

Every last fitting.

It would have been a shockingly expensive circumstance to find myself in, but I’ve been conditioned to expect the worst. So much so that when something breaks around our house, I exhibit a similar Pavlovian response that our dog Rodney does when the treats come out. Only, instead of salivating in anticipation, I unconsciously reach for my wallet in resignation.

Take our clothes dryer, for instance. I called our repairman over to the house a couple of months ago because it was making a scraping noise. After he took it apart, he showed me a couple of pads that had worn down and needed to be replaced. He said he could fix it, but as it turned out he couldn’t.

While the manufacturer still makes the pads, it no longer provides a separate part the pads are supposed to fit into.

I ended up retiring our old dryer to the recycling center.

Our fix-it guy is an honest, knowledgeable sort of fellow. But when I call him these days, I sort of feel like I’m taking a shot in the dark, that I really ought to skip the expense of a house call, suck it up and head to the appliance store. After all, we’ve replaced just about every major appliance at least once since moving into our house about nine years ago.

It’s not just expensive appliances that can’t be fixed anymore that had me briefly worrying about a major plumbing upgrade.

For more than a year, my car had a weird quirk that left the fix-it guys at the dealership standing around scratching their heads.

At first, they went for a series of big, costly repair jobs. That wasn’t a surprise, but if you ask me, they were a little too enthusiastic about it.

They replaced the transmission. And, when that didn’t work, they replaced it, again. And, when that didn’t work, they replaced the engine harness.

If my car had not been under warranty, I would have been tempted to put a brick on the accelerator, slip it in drive and send it screaming off a cliff. But then I would not have eventually discovered that my car’s quirk was actually due to a faulty brake switch that cost all of 50 bucks.

My house may eventually need major plumbing work. But fears that my checking account would soon have to absorb the sort of unnecessary repairs that my car was subjected to were unfounded. After all, it was just a shower handle that decided give up.

The handle broke as I was cleaning up just before we left for a weekend getaway in Atlantic City, leaving me sopping wet with water pouring out of the shower head unchecked.

At first, I was true to my conditioning. I looked for my wallet. Then I did the sensible thing. I pried open the access panel and brought the flow to a stop through a vigorous twisting of the shut-off valves.

Our weekend away from home gave me plenty of time to further overcome my initial Pavlovian response. When we got back, I dashed over to the hardware store, picked up a new ten-dollar handle and fixed the problem lickety-split. In fact, it took me longer to find the misplaced screwdriver I needed than it did to figure out how to install the new handle.

If only everything were that simple.

Protip: When traveling with kids, don’t forget the charger


I’ve made a small investment in a simple piece of hardware that I hope will keep me from having to perform the classic “frustrated dad maneuver” this weekend – that is, threatening to pull the car over and making the kids walk.

It’s an inexpensive USB car charger.

For 14 bucks, I have a device in hand that will a) keep everyone’s electronics happily humming along and b) distract the kids from bickering for the duration of our quick trip to Atlantic City.

I ran across this potentially life-changing device in the electronics store.

I made our daughter accompany me there against her will this week. She turns 13 this month and is true to form. The last thing she wants is to be seen in public with me, but I thought ahead and offered a bribe.

After embarrassing her by just being present while she got her back-to-school haircut, I floated the promise of ice cream if she’d indulge me before returning home. She’ll do anything for ice cream, even temporarily forgetting that I should only exist when she needs money … for more ice cream.

When we got to the store, I quickly discovered the leap chargers have made since the last time I was in the market for one. Their potential to keep the peace didn’t escape me, either. I snapped up one with two USB ports.

I’m probably coming late to the whole USB car charger thing, but I have an excuse. It’s been several years since I’ve had to buy a charger. I haven’t had to think about one because my wheels are iPhone ready – meaning I can plug my phone into the car’s system and play it through the stereo while it charges.

But I don’t have an iPhone, anymore. I got a new Android this week, and it doesn’t play nice with my car. It’s rendered its iPhone capabilities almost useless.

However, my new charger fixes that. It taps into my car’s juice in the usual way, through the cigarette lighter. And while it works exactly like the chargers I’m used to, it effectively expands by threefold my vehicle’s ability to keep electronic devices ready-to-go. But the real pay-off is its potential to keep our kids from coming to blows over whose turn it is to replenish their batteries.

The kids each have their own port. My daughter can charge her phone and her Kindle on one while her older brother takes the other for not only his phone, but his video game systems. Since my wife still has an iPhone, she can use my car’s iPhone plug.

That just leaves me.

If you’re keeping score at home, it looks like I’m the odd man out.

Despite having the USB charger, I’m still one plug short. It gives me three, but four people are cramming into my car for the trip to Atlantic City.

I could make one of the kids share time with me, but that would just stir up the kind of trouble I’m trying to avoid.

The last thing I want is to be kicked out of my own car.