Today’s blog-topic came up because I saw a query on an email list for tips on leash-training a cat. Our family has had many cats, but only some of them have been leash-trained.

The first cat we walked on a leash, Screech, seemed happy enough to do so because it got her out of the car during the rest stops we took while driving over Christmas vacation from the east coast to Missouri and back. My husband and I were young, and lucky, and didn’t realize that most cats would rather lie immobile, perhaps until forever, rather than walk while wearing a harness. Screech didn’t object either to the harness or to being walked while we stopped at a rest area along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Screech was a trooper.

My husband and Screech, taking in the Pennsylvania Turnpike in December.

My husband and Screech, taking in the Pennsylvania Turnpike in December.

The second cat we had that we leash-trained, Pippin, took to it as if he’d been born to walk on a leash. It helped that Pippin loved traveling in the car and he associated the leash with going on car rides. Again, we lucked out.

 

Me and Pippin near the border between West and East Germany.

Me and Pippin near the border between West and East Germany.

 

[The above photo will look odd to military personnel who were stationed in Germany before 1989.  Part of my husband’s job at the time, though, was to keep an eye on changes along the border while not looking like a soldier.  Odd, but that was the way it was. With Pippin, he definitely didn’t look like an American soldier.]

Pippin’s ‘sister,’ Merrie, apparently took her cue from her older ‘brother’ and tolerated the harness-and-leash setup. (yes, that’s a Lord of the Rings theme going on there with the cat names) The leash-training was probably easy because Merrie was a tiny kitten when she joined the household. Harness-wearing was something she grew up with.

Pippin meeting Merrie

Pippin meeting Merrie

After the death of Pippin (the old guy made it to 19) Dinah joined the household. Dinah was a stinker, an adorable stinker, but a stinker nonetheless. Like Merrie, Dinah was introduced to harness-wearing when she was a kitten. Both Merrie (18) and Dinah (just missed 20) have joined Pippin.

Our daughters at a motel in South Dakota.  Merrie is behaving herself, as she usually did, but Dinah is being a rascal and trying to get down.

Our daughters at a motel in South Dakota. Merrie is behaving herself, as she usually did, but Dinah is being a rascal and trying to get down.

Dinah, probably scheming.

Dinah, probably scheming.

Dinah’s ‘siblings,’ Foofie and Pudding, were adult strays when they came to us. They didn’t appreciate harnesses.

Foofy, our white cat, after rolling in the dirt. That's what outdoor cats do.

Foofy, our white cat, after rolling in the dirt. That’s what outdoor cats do.

 

Pudding, the junk yard thug.

Pudding, the junk yard thug.

The current crop of cat-friends–mama Minka with her youngsters Rusty, and Audrey–don’t wear leashes, probably because we aren’t traveling with them. Our previous cats all joined the family during my husband’s military career and traveled with us in the United States as well as in Europe. Now that we’re a retiree family, no one is going to show up at the house with cardboard boxes and pack away everything to take all of it somewhere else, so the cats have no need to travel. They occasionally mosey out into the back yard, but that’s about it for their vacationing. One of our daughters is a veterinarian so even their health care (so far) comes to them.

Minka

Minka

Rusty

Rusty

Audrey

Audrey

I wish I had some useful tips about leash-training cats rather than just pictures, but other than starting them off with the harness as kittens, I think a lot has to do with the cat’s temperament. That and luck. Lots and lots of luck.

Bye, Baby Bunting, daddy’s gone a hunting.
To get a little rabbit skin, to wrap his Baby Bunting in.

This lullaby, surprisingly, has many elements of a current nine-day-wonder, the controversy around the picture of little Landon Clevenger suspended in the flag of the United States by his sailor father. The lullaby has the baby, the daddy, daddy’s “hunting” (his military job), the container for the baby, and wrapping up the baby.

One not-so-obvious element, at least not to modern ears, is the bunting. In the lullaby, it is a wrap for a baby. In patriotic parlance, it is the red, white, and blue material used decoratively. The entire controversy could have been avoided had the baby been suspended in bunting.

But that didn’t happen.

What did happen was that, apparently, the person behind a now-removed Facebook page commented negatively on the photo and that drew in many defenders.

To sum up many of the complaints about the complaint:

Yes, a federal law governs the use of the flag. Chapter 1 of Title 4 of the United States Code.  The law is not merely guidelines.

Yes, there are many violations of that code, but, to quote Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes, “The law is on the books, but it would take all their resources to enforce it.”  This is why we’ve wound up with stars and stripes bikinis, flag napkins, flag clothing, and flag anything else. This particular law depends on a populace that respects this law enough not to violate it.

Yes, the sailor has rendered service to the country. Despite that, if I informed my Drill and Ceremonies instructor in Army Basic Training that I was able to use the flag of the United States for my own purposes because I’d enlisted — freedom of speech — I can just hear her asking me who I thought I was. Then I’d have been on my hands and knees for a day, scraping up floor wax with a razor blade (a more useful activity than pushups).  A Navy-version of flag etiquette is provided at Navy for Moms .com  Flag etiquette, sailors and women

Yes, the Supreme Court has ruled that disrespect of the flag of the United States is protected speech. But even that ruling was not unanimous.

Writing for the dissent, Justice Stevens argued that the flag’s unique status as a symbol of national unity outweighed ‘symbolic speech’ concerns, and thus, the government could lawfully prohibit flag burning.

Yes, the photograph contains much symbolism.

a. From birth Americans are wrapped in (whatever imagery you apply to the flag)
b. Fathers are strong protectors of babies.
c. Military men are hot dads (those strong protectors).
d. Family pride
e. That military service members are protecting the country for future generations.
f. Hope for future generations.
g. The child’s involuntary sacrifice of a parent being away from home.

The symbolism acknowledged, I read the dissent by Justice Stevens as meaning that the flag belongs to all of us, not to each of us. As people who respect the meaning of the flag, if we want to set a good example, following the law would be a good place to start.

Yes, protesters exercising their First Amendment rights have used the flag disrespectfully for their own purposes: To quote a commenter from somewhere on the Internet: “If we have the freedom to burn it, we have the freedom to wrap our babies in it.”  Is the worst example of free-speech usage of the flag — burning it in protest — the example we ought to use? Is this what we strive for?

A “troll” commenter made the example of the inappropriateness of the image: “It would look cuter with a cat.”

If substituting another object for the baby, would the image still be appropriate? This freedom-hating-Pharisee who is an Obama-loving keyboard-warrior (I think those were all the slurs I attracted elsewhere) doesn’t think so.

I don’t think the Old Guard would agree, either.

Coalport Countryware One set of my many teapots shown in an inventory photo taken before moving from Germany to Belgium. 1st generation digital photo

Coalport Countryware
One set of my many teapots shown in an inventory photo taken before moving from Germany to Belgium.
1st generation digital photo

The other day while I was catching up on email digests, a conversation on a writing list caught my eye. Someone asked about “tea” and I gave a quick response because I have a passing familiarity with it, although more as a drink than as a meal. My Air Force dad was assigned to a military unit in England when I was little and, while we lived there, the daughter of my mom’s cleaning lady was my babysitter. Occasionally I was sent over to their house and would play with my babysitter’s younger brothers. Despite this vague familiarity with English family life, and later exposure through all the English mystery novels I’ve read, my language training would prove to be inadequate.

1951  Mom pouring me milk while we're having our tea.

1951 Mom pouring me milk while we’re having our tea.

Fast-forward a long ways from my childhood but not quite up to the present.

Before my husband retired from federal service, we lived in Belgium where my husband worked closely with others assigned to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, NATO’s military headquarters, otherwise known as SHAPE. SHAPE, like NATO, is multi-national so the possibility of having friends who weren’t American was high. I expected communication difficulties with the non-English-speaking people — I certainly didn’t speak all the languages of NATO, and I didn’t think everyone else would speak English — but I didn’t expect any problems communicating with the British.

 

Our daughters, sitting on the haynets they'd stuffed, at the SHAPE riding club when it was at Bauffe, Belgium. 1st generation digital photo

Our daughters, sitting on the haynets they’d stuffed, at the SHAPE riding club when it was at Bauffe, Belgium.
1st generation digital photo

Our daughters were members of the SHAPE riding club, so I was out at the stables a lot. I helped out, too, doing little chores not requiring expert horsey-knowledge. I could fill hay nets, put saddles away, pick hooves if no one else were available, and even stay on top of a horse although I’m not an expert rider. One day, one of the English women asked if I would be around that afternoon. As I petted her black Labrador, I said I would be. She then asked me if I would give her mare, Anna, her tea.

I was perplexed. I knew that some of the horses had special feed, but I didn’t know that Anna also had a special drink. As far as I had seen, all the horses drank only water. I looked at the woman and said, fine, I could do that, but that I didn’t know where this tea was kept or how to make it. She looked at me as if I had suddenly gone simple. Maybe petting dogs was the limit of my talents?

“Her tea.” she said, emphasizing the word “tea.” “At about five o’clock?”

It took a minute, in which I’m sure I fell in her estimation of whether or not I ought to be let out on my own, but then, with her emphasis on five o’clock, roughly the time when the horses were given their evening meal, it clicked. The woman wanted me to give the mare her supper.

While we Americans think of “tea” (as a meal) as something frilly and fancy — such as, afternoon tea — apparently, in general usage in England, it is meant as “supper.” For horses, that would be a cup or so of oats and a nice net of hay, a task well within my capabilities.

I’m sure that once the linguistic light dawned on me, I stammered a bit, then said, great, I’d give Anna her “tea.” The woman gave me a look as if she were reconsidering, then turned, and calling her dog, went on her way.

In my life overseas, I had yet another language lesson, but, more importantly, Anna had her tea.

Me, in 1999, performing one of the riding stable tasks for which I am qualified -- poop scooping. 1st generation digital photo

Me, in 1999, performing one of the riding stable tasks for which I am qualified — poop scooping.
1st generation digital photo

By no means am I on the cutting edge of anything.  In my literary life, I still haven’t recovered from:

  • the loss of my local bookstore
  • the disappearance of B. Dalton & Walden Books
  • A Common Reader going down in flames
  • Borders falling off the map
  • Barnes & Noble changing from a discount catalog for remaindered books into the local bookstore

Now it looks as if a Chrome extension has Amazon in it’s sights.

Chrome Extension Turns Amazon into a Catalog for Oyster’s eBook Subscription Service, 1 Feb 2015, Ink, Bits & Pixels

And thanks to the plugins, readers have the opportunity to ask themselves if they really want to buy the book they’re looking at, rather than read it in Oyster’s apps for Android, iPad/iPhone, and their web browser.

I can’t keep up with it all — probably a result of being one of those people who thinks 1990 was ten years ago. To put an even more elderly gloss on my situation, I was fifteen when Alvin Toffler first published Future Shock.

Yeah, yeah, I know: “Alvin who?

Mr. Toffler enlightened a generation about the awareness of information overload, coupled with the stress and disorientation of continual frequent change.  In modern parlance, remember when there were no smart phones to perpetually upgrade?  About the only consistent feature of today’s consumer environment is that whatever you’re using is almost guaranteed to be archaic long before it wears out.

Not so long ago, using old stuff just showed you were unfashionable, out of date, unhip.  You couldn’t get out of the box, man, because you were the box. At worst, you were L7 (hold up your fingers so that you have your left thumb & index finger as an L and your right ones as a 7 — put them together): a square.

Today, using old stuff doesn’t make you just uncool, it can leave you stranded (hence, why poor people need cell phones). You’d be left out of most loops because not only is your gizmo old (at least by one year), but it can’t connect to anything.  Just try getting that information off those floppy disks in the bottom of that drawer, or watch a VHS tape. How much longer will anyone bother producing devices to play DVDs or CDs?

Given Amazon’s effect on businesses-you-can-actually-drive-to, I don’t know that I’ll mourn the company’s possible twilight (although I love being able to find esoteric items that businesses-I-could-drive-to never had). The effect of always expecting future shock, though, has me already wondering not only what’s going to replace Oyster, but who is going to make it worthwhile for authors to produce any new work.

So, what virus have you had?  You must have because everyone I’ve run into lately has a virus-story.  I swear it’s a biological smorgasbord out there.

I could understand catching more than one bug per season if I worked in a school, or if I regularly met the general public, but I don’t.  I sit in a room, typing, usually with the door shut to keep out the cats, well, one cat in particular.  He’s a jerk and so’s his sister.  Thank goodness she lives with her foster-mom. Two of them would be too trying.

But back to disease. I’m a virtual recluse, so how do the blasted germs get in?

Not only am I a recluse, but I have a thing about my hands (not OCD, but enough so that a son-in-law noticed).  Anything gets on the digits and they get a tubbing, then a massage with lotion or cream.  I’m not weird about it, or anything, just …, well, just reliable.  You can safely shake hands with me (and I won’t even immediately adjourn to a wash-basin.  I wait at least a couple of moments.)

I’m surprised that my hands don’t look like they belong to the Pillsbury Dough Boy because they’ve absorbed at least a metric ton of moisturizer.  I discovered Jergens hand lotion when I was 10 — I remember the event** — and I haven’t (voluntarily) been without hand cream since.

But back to disease.

I have a theory on how germs spread so easily — they’re like honey.  The moment you touch honey, even if it’s not obvious that your finger touched it, it’s all over the place.  On the handle of the knife.  Then on the handle of the fork. Then on your sleeve.  The stuff’s a mess.  (tasty, but a mess) Germs are like that — sticking onto everything.

But, how do they get into my sanctum sanctorum, the back room?  My daughter even noticed our special status because she came down with the most recent bug the very day before I did.  Given incubation periods, we had to be simultaneously exposed, but we don’t frequent the same places.  She goes out in the world, but she’s even more fussy about her hands, especially during germ-season, but she comes by it professionally: she’s a doctor, a veterinary surgeon. Scrubbing-up is second nature to her and she (and I) are not huggers or touchers. We stay here, you stay there, everyone’s happy (except her huggy sister & aunt/my huggy daughter & sister, but they’re used to us).

So the doctor and recluse both get the tummy-bug, and we’re damned irritated about it.  The only up-side I can see is that it gave me a subject for a blog post, but only after way-laying me so that I sat here for the entire month of January, often staring at the blog, but not wanting to type anything at all. So I got a blog post out of it.  Whoop.  Make that a Big Whoop.

I can’t wait for these blasted bugs to go away.

 

** Meeting Jergens Lotion: Ladies’ room of the Family Services office where my mother volunteered.  Pink walls and ceiling decorated with painted black poodles.  Very 1950s chic.  For me, the lotion was love at first sniff & touch.

During this holiday season, I’m missing the at-home sights and sounds of not only an American Christmas, but also those of my other-cultures, traditions given to me through my nomadic military travels (in countries with Christian traditions).

In watching my grandkids, I think it must be nice to be grounded in one’s life, to know who and what you are and not to miss parts of your own life with a sharper pang than that generated by ordinary nostalgia. I don’t know if a settled life is ‘better’ and a nomadic life ‘worse’ (or vice versa) but being from one place might have less existential angst.  Or maybe not.  Hard to tell from the vantage point of having had just the one childhood.

~~~~~~~~~~

I’m in luck concerning my first culture, English, the one I think of in my child’s mind as ‘the way it’s s’posed to be.’  At a young age, you don’t know you’re not living where you’re nationally-assigned to be living.  You also don’t know that what you’re experiencing as ‘normal’ is a mix of two cultures, that of your parents, and that of the country in which you live. All you know is that you’re home, and that’s that.

I’m lucky that crackers, as one element of my early Christmases in England, are now readily available.

 

23 christmas crackers

 ~~~~~~~~~~

Another part of my other-culture heritage is seeing the Gombey dancers from Bermuda.  When I was a kid, the dancers didn’t seem to be as well-organized or to have as good P.R., as they do today, but again, that observation may be a result of the childish attention span.  Still, they’re something I remember seeing on the island around Christmas.  I think we could do with some Gombey dancing around here.

23 Gombey men

 ~~~~~~~~~~

From the decades I spent with my husband in Europe comes the memory of Christmas markets.  Everywhere we went during December we found Christmas markets.  Some were big and some were small, but they all contributed to the seasonal spirit. One of the items commonly found at the markets are figurines for the household Nativity scenes.  The items are expensive and collections are often added to one piece at a time over the years.

A French-culture specialty are santons.  Where Americans limit their Nativity scenes to manger-scenes, the people of Provence have the tradition of making an entire village to host the Nativity.  One display we saw in the city hall of Strasbourg, France filled the entire lobby and the scene was a multi-room panorama as visitors moved through the ‘town.’  Butchers, bakers, candlestick-makers, old men playing boules (like bocce), mothers in houses bathing their infants, beasts and birds and houses and scenery.  C’est magnifique!

The last Christmas we spent in Europe, we visited the Marché de Noel in Mons, Belgium.  The marché (market) was small with little huts selling thick waffles, utterly scrumptious frites (fries should be called Belgian fries rather than French fries),  hot drinks, and little gifts. The main hut displayed a Nativity scene. In the Mons market, the chief attraction was an ice-skating rink.

If we made a video recording of our visit, I haven’t the slightest clue how to get it off our last-century video tape and make a computer file of it, but I’m in luck — other people have recorded their visits and uploaded them to YouTube.  This video ends with a left-handed caress for good luck of the little brass monkey outside the city hall of Mons.

 ~~~~~~~~~~

The biggest, and to me the best Christmas market is the Christkindelsmarkt in Nürnberg, Germany, a market that takes place under the gaze of the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), a city symbol memorialized in a clock that I sent to my parents from Germany, many years ago.  With coddling, our clock still ticks away and plays its tune.

 

12 23 01 Clock

In Nürnberg, the Christmas market spectacle is magnificent as the church rises above the ‘streets’ formed in the market square by row upon row of red and white striped tents. In the tents, innumerable glass ornaments on the counters and hanging from the ceilings in the tents sparkle under the spotlights.  The visual feast is accentuated by the aroma of the small bratwurst (never called “brats”) grilling in the open-air, little sausages that tease the nose and make the mouth water. Mingling with the smell of grilled wurst is the wafting scent of Glühwein (mulled wine) for the grownups and Kinderpunsch (mulled punch) for the kids.  The Christkindlesmarkt is a sensory delight.

 

With your feet frozen from hours of wandering on the cold cobblestones, it is an absolute treat to find a Konditorei (a German café specializing in coffee and cake) and sit at a linen-draped table sipping hot chocolate and nibbling a slice of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest cherry cake) with your boxed gingerbread house at your feet.  The event is a lasting memory.

 ~~~~~~~~~~

I suppose I wouldn’t be missing all the kinds of Christmases I’ve known if I were in a festively-decorated house, watching the twinkling of the lights on my Christmas tree.  But no, I have cats, specifically, two young cats whose mission is to investigate anything and everything in the house. I’m waiting for them to grow up some more before introducing them to a Christmas tree.  Until then, I have my memories and the entertainment of watching the cats chase through packing paper from catalog orders and jump in and out of empty shipping boxes.

01 Audrey after candycanes

Happy Holidays!

2014 11 Nov Family Veterans Day picture

A collage of photos of our family members who have served, from the Civil War to Desert Storm.

I can only mention the father and son who served in the  American Revolution.

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