Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween!

No fur baby was harmed in the taking of this picture- rather he was just confused for the 30 seconds he had the costume on!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Hail, Caesar!

Today, I was looking at Caesar, my regal cat, as he prowled about the house, playing and romping with Pompey, and then elegantly flopping on the floor for attention, and I couldn't help but think back fondly to the time when he joined my little family.

At the time we adopted Caesar, Andrew and I really had no plans of getting another cat. Pompey had been with us for two years, and was a joy in every way. He was simply an affectionate cat, lavishing us with love each and every day, and friendly to all visitors in our home. We were a happy little family.

As a proud mother of an adorable fur baby, I often browsed pet stores for new toys, collars and gadgets to spoil Pompey with. One of my favorite stores, PetSmart, works with local animal shelters to adopt homeless animals, and whenever I went into the store to get something for Pompey, I would always take a peek at the cats available for adoption, sometimes stopping to pet and coo at particularly sweet looking cats.

It was on one such visit that a cat of distinguished bearing caught my eye. He was a tall, long, and lean cat, with a charming pink nose outlined in black, and a most rakishly nipped ear. He was approachable and friendly, running up to the front of his cage to greet visitors with a little head butt and a sweet "Meow."

I stopped for a moment to say hello, and gave him a few scratches on the head. The cat's outgoing nature reminded me of Pompey waiting at home, loving and playful, and I thought to myself, "Well, this charming fellow will surely find a home soon!" Giving him another quick pet, I left to continue my shopping and head home, happy having spent a few moments of kitty time with a sweet new cat.

It was some two weeks later that I found myself back at PetSmart, looking for some new kitty supplies. As always, I headed toward the adoption center, eager to see what new faces awaited me there. The adoption center always had a fast turn around, and each visit to the center was greeted with a whole new group of adorable, adoptable cats. When I arrived, sure enough, new cats were prancing about their cages, looking eager for a new home. Yet, something seemed a little amiss to me as I looked at all those cats, and suddenly, I saw why. The distinguished looking cat from my last visit was still there, waiting to be adopted.

Unlike last time, he was curled up towards the back of his cage, looking a little dejected. I felt sad for the cat because I remembered what an affectionate fellow he was on the last visit, so I went over to the cage to say hello again. When the cat saw me approach, he uncurled himself from his resting spot and trotted up to the front of the cage, giving a little head butt when he reached me. I spent several minutes giving him scratches and pets, talking to him in a friendly manner. As before, he soaked it all up, giving sweet little purrs and lots of affection back.

I wondered why such a sweet cat was still at the center. I looked at his information tag on the front of the cage for answers. The tag stated that he was a friendly, loving cat, who loved children and got along well with other animals. He had been surrendered by his family because of a move. Nothing seemed amiss; as a matter of fact, he seemed like the perfect adoptable cat. Why then was he still there?

As I pondered the situation, one little notation on his information tag caught my eye. It was a simple thing, really, but it was the most likely cause for his still being in a cage, unadopted. As a matter of fact, it was a reason many cats remained unadopted in shelters. There, written innocently on his tag, was his age. He was almost five years old, and for cats seeking to be adopted, the older you were, the worse your chances for being adopted were. The reasons for this are varied: most people are drawn to the fuzzy little kittens; others want younger cats less settled in their ways so they can adapt to their new families, and still others think that if an older cat is up for adoption then surely something must be wrong with it.

Yet this cat I was petting was fine- darling, in fact! He was a charmer- surely someone could see that! A cat as sweet as this one would be adopted soon, despite his age- it was just taking a little longer than usual. So I left the store feeling a little sad, but positive that some loving family would see the potential in that cat and take him into a loving home.

It was a while before I headed back to PetSmart again, almost three weeks after my second meeting with the distinguished cat. When I returned to the store, I once again made my way back to the adoption center, eager to see all the fresh new kitty faces. My eyes swept the rows of cages, seeing cats of all colors and sizes. There were so many new faces, filling all the cages, although one cage appeared empty.

I strolled down the row, peeking into cages, giving the occasionally pat on the head to a friendly face. As I passed by the sole empty cage, I happened to glance in, just looking in idle curiosity. What I saw wasn’t an empty cage at all, but one lone cat, curled way in the back corner, huddled into himself. The cat looked so forlorn, my heart ached for him. I stood by the cage and murmured to the cat, entreating him to come say hello. Slowly, the cat lifted his head and I saw with dismay that it was the distinguished looking cat from my previous visits. He was still there, despite all the time that had passed.

The cat looked at me solemnly for a few minutes. He seemed so dejected, as if he had given up hope of finding a new home. How many times had someone been to his cage door, calling entreaties, offering scratches, and then just walked away? I myself had done so twice. I felt horrible, and afraid, too. Sometimes, if a cat is in a cage too long, with too little interaction, a cat can change. The cat can become mean, lashing out at anybody who comes near them. Other cats become sick, the loneliness causing them to stop eating, until they simply waste away. What had become of this cat?

Yet, slowly, the distinguished cat began to unfurl himself from the back corner of the cage, and headed over to me. He approached the front of the cage, and delicately sniffed at my fingers, almost as if he believed I might snatch them away. When I didn’t move, he then rubbed his head into my hand, and a slow purr emerged. The sweet cat was still there, just a little more cautious and a lot more sad. I spent several minutes lavishing him with all the affection I could.

With reluctance, I eventually left the center to head back home. My heart was heavy with worry for the cat I had left behind. He was so sweet and gentle, and I remembered how the first time I met him he had reminded me of Pompey. I wasn’t sure what to do, but I knew I needed to do something.

At home, I told of my worry to Andrew. He remembered I had mention the cat on previous occasions, and when he found out that the cat was still there, waiting for a home, he felt as I did, that something should be done. So we looked at each other, thinking of the cat waiting in a cage, and Andrew was the first to speak: “We should adopt him.”

Although we hadn’t previously thought of getting another cat, the idea suddenly took hold with a surprising strength. We looked around our apartment and knew we had enough room for another cat. We looked at Pompey, our loving cat, and thought of how well he got along with others, and how, although he was happy whenever we were around, perhaps he was lonely while we were at work? We looked at each other and wondered if perhaps the cat was still at the center because he was waiting for us.

Within moments of the idea settling in, we were in our car heading to the PetSmart. Once there, we headed towards the adoption center and over to the distinguished cat. He was once again curled in the back corner of the cage, huddled into himself, but when he saw us approach, he immediately got up and headed over to greet us. Andrew held out his hand and the cat went right over to him and began to run his head back and forth over Andrew’s hand. Andrew grinned as the deep purr of the cat rose up around us. “There was no way that this cat will remain in a cage, ” Andrew said to me. “He’s ours.”

We quickly tracked down an adoption coordinator and began filling out the forms. The coordinator was so thrilled that we wanted the cat. She knew us from all our various visits to the center, and could tell we had a deep love for cats. This cat in particular was a favorite of hers, and she, too, had been heartbroken that he had stayed in a cage for so long. With a glad heart, she handed us our newest family member, a sweet, distinguished looking cat with a loving nature.

We took our new fur baby home with happy hearts. Although we had not intended on a second cat, we knew from our trusty reference manual Cats for Dummies how to integrate a new animal into a household. Once more, as we had done for Pompey, we had a safe room set up and into that room we took our new cat. He immediately took to exploring the place with an avid curiosity, stopping occasionally to look at us to determine if we were still truly there. He was particularly interested in the little cat paws that occasionally poked underneath the safe room door- Pompey was attempting to say hi. Andrew and I smiled at each other, knowing that we had made the right choice, that this cat was indeed ours.

And so it has proven true. Our new cat, soon named Caesar*, fit into our lives like he had always been there. He loved to sleep at the foot of our bed at night, and liked to flop in front of door when we came home from work for some cuddle time. Most of all, he loved Pompey. The two of them took to each other like bees to honey. There was never any tension in introducing the two. Within minutes of their meeting, they were grooming each other and playing. It was like they were long lost brothers, finally reunited.

Caesar has become our joy- a vibrant light in our lives. His nature is very kind and loving, yet also regal and protective. When we adopted Caesar, we were also inspired to do something for the other cats we couldn’t save. Our hearts had broken at the thought of poor Caesar wasting away in a cage, so we decided to help by becoming a foster family for animals. Foster families work with shelters in caring for cats like Caesar. We take in sick cats and nurse them back to health. We take in sad cats and lavish them with love and affection. We take in feral cats and tame them. Mostly, we give cats hope and love. So far, every foster cat we have taken into our home has found a new, loving home to call their own. It’s a small thing to do, but each time we do so, we like to think we’re giving one more distinguished cat a change at a happy life.

Thank you, Caesar.

*Names have been changed to protect the furry! :)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Lisey's Story by Stephen King

I have long been a fan of Stephen King. When I first started reading him way back in the seventh grade some countless years ago, I was looking for a type of terrifying read I couldn't find in any R.L.Stein book. King's books fairly shivered with fear. He captured horror on the page with the pen of a master, making ordinary things objects of sheer terror- cars, paintings, periods, and coke machines, just to name a few. I started with Carrie, and quickly followed with Salem's Lot, The Shining, Rose Madder, and The Stand, among others, in rapid succession.

What I didn't realize at first, and indeed, what is so often overlooked in King's writing is that which makes him a true master of his craft: it is not so much the horror of the situations he creates that terrify us, but rather it is the truth of his characters that carries the thrill. His characters seem so much like ourselves and our friends and our families that when they experience situations of sheer horror, we feel like we ourselves are suffering that very same terror.

Simply think about it: In all the great Stephen King novels, it is a character that pulls you in. Think of Carrie, the abused prom queen with terrifying powers. Think of Dolores Claiborne, that proud, strong, stubborn narrator of the book of the same name. What of poor, beleaguered and tortured writer Paul Sheldon, whose miserable experience we followed in Misery? Would any of these books be compelling if the characters were not people we could relate to?

Yet, for all that King’s past novels have carried this incredible power of character, it is in his latest novel that this talent truly shines. Lisey's Story is a poignant and powerful tale of love, carried on the shoulders of the memorable characters that live inside the novel.

The book opens with Lisey sorting through her husband Scott's belongings. Scott was a writer of world renown, and it is only two years after his death that Lisey has the heart to begin the arduous process of sorting through Scott's office, the one space that truly lives and breathes her husband's memory. As she browses through decades worth of magazines, journals and books that Scott contributed to, she is reminded of their past, of their life together. We, the reader, are treated to a journey of memories: harrowing, loving, and bittersweet memories, an accumulation of a lifetime spent together. We meander through first meetings, author tours, lover's talk, and even an attempted assassination.

Journeying with Lisey through her memories, an image of the love she and Scott shared is built. We see how a life is built together, each experience lending itself a new layer to a growing relationship. We learn of their secrets: lovers’ chats, secret words, painful moments, anger-filled fights. We even see how love endures, even after Scott’s death, with Lisey finding small, private jokes popping up in unexpected places in Scott’s office for Lisey to find.

And yet, as this is a book by the master of horror, there is an underlining to the story, a slow seeping otherness that shadows Scott and Lisey's life. It is Boo'ya Moon, a strange otherworldly place where Scott visits, seemingly for both escape and inspiration. It is a place of heart-wrenching beauty and unnamed horror waiting in the shadows. As much as Scott finds the wellspring of creativity in Boo'ya Moon, he finds an age-old demon that haunts him until his death. Lisey, both to bring closure to her life, and to reach out one more time to Scott's memory, travels to Boo'ya Moon, to conquer the demons, both real and imaginary, once and for all.

Between the exquisitely touching relationship of Scott and Lisey and the strangeness of Boo'ya Moon, this is a book to savor and enjoy. I found myself rereading passages, drinking in the words. Some pages thrilled me with scenes of slow drawn horror, others wooed me with sweet romance; my heart broke in some places, and my soul sobbed in others. When I turned the last page, it was with infinite sadness, for Lisey had become a dear friend, and I was distraught to let her go. It is a rare book indeed that can inspire such heights of emotion, and an even rarer author who can craft such a novel. It is with this book that Stephen King shows truly that horror is not the only thing he is a master of- he is a Master of Words, of Stories, of Characters, and Truth. I look forward to the next journey he takes me on.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Of Rome, Cats, and Silly Nicknames

I have long been fascinated by ancient history. I love to immerse myself in stories of Ancient Egypt and Rome. I’ve spent many a pleasant evening absorbed in fascinating stories that take place in these long ago time periods. Cleopatra by Margaret George swept me away with its lush language and engrossing historical detail about that beautiful and intelligent Egyptian Queen. Troy and Ithaka, both by Adele Geras, were written with a rare lyrical beauty, bringing new life to the story of the fall of Troy, with the many stories weaving together to form a beautiful tapestry of words.

My fascination with this ancient past runs so deep that I spent two years studying Latin, just so that one day I might walk among the ruins of Ancient Rome and speak a familiar language. With this deep rooted fascination, is it any wonder I was captivated and intrigued with the HBO miniseries Rome? I stumbled upon this series quite by accident, actually. Having no television, I am generally out of the loop with current shows. It was only by sheer luck that I ran across a review for the DVD box set of the first season of this epic miniseries, and curiosity demanded that I immediately check it out from my local library.

What followed was an amazing thirteen hours of intense drama, superb acting, superior plots, and the most luscious of historical details. Andrew and I both found ourselves drawn into the world of Rome, which chronicled the rise and fall of Julius Caesar, both from the point of view of well known historical figures and the common man of the streets. Although we well knew how the tale ended- Caesar dead on the Senate floor- the twists and turns that led to that fatal ending had us gripping our seats in intense anticipation and emotional turmoil.

One of the plot aspects that kept us thoroughly engaged was the interactions of sometimes friends and sometimes enemies, Caesar and Pompey. We were fascinated by the push and pull these two characters had on each other. Even as they drew apart to fight on opposite sides of a power struggle, there was still that lingering tensions of a not-forgotten friendship.They fought side by side together in many a battle and, yet, time and power drew them apart.

Now, it might be apparent that these two characters,Caesar and Pompey, left quite an impression on Andrew and I. After all, our two furry little children are indeed nicknamed Caesar and Pompey. I wish I could say that the noble struggle of those two fascinating historical figures inspired our furry little children's aliases but, alas, that is not the case. Oh no, rather it was a series of exceptionally well timed cat antics that inspired their names.

It just so happened that one night, as Andrew and I were watching the final two episodes of Rome, biting our nails in anxiety as the end was near- both for Caesar and the mini-series-that our two cats decided to get playful right in front of our television. This in and of itself was nothing new, they play-fight all the time, chasing each other all around our house. This time, however, there play-fighting was a well choreographed duel that precisely matched that of the onscreen duel between Caesar and Pompey.

On screen, Caesar, lean and lithe, gave a mighty slash with his sword. Our Caesar, lean and lithe, gave a mighty slash with his paw. On screen, Pompey, a little bit slow and pudgy from the good life, made a desperate counter slash with his sword. Our Pompey, a little bit slow and pudgy from the good life, made a desperate counter slash with his paw. Onscreen, Caesar attacked again with a graceful counter slash. Off screen, our Caesar attacked with a graceful counter slash. Onscreen, Pompey evaded with a several steps back and an ill swung swipe of his sword. Off screen, our Pompey evaded with a several steps back and an ill swung swipe of his paw.

For every blow that the onscreen Caesar gave, our Caesar followed. For every evasion the onscreen Pompey attempted, so, too, did our Pompey. When at last the battle ended, the onscreen Caesar was victorious but showed mercy to Pompey by letting him escape with his life. Our Caesar, no less generous, let our Pompey go with a sympathetic lick on the head.

It was that climatic battle that sealed our two furry children's fate. They had so accurately fought out the onscreen battle of Caesar and Pompey that they had become Caesar and Pompey. It only made sense that they should be named Caesar and Pompey in real life, if only as an occasional nickname for when they run rampant throughout the house.

And so it was, and so it is, that whenever the mood to chase each other wildly throughout the house arises in our cats, Andrew and I look at each and say, "The endless campaign of Caesar and Pompey begins anew." And the glory of Rome lives on.