Tag Archives: fights

Holiday Memories: The Good Ones

I grew up in a fairly dysfunctional family. Every Christmas usually involved one huge fight between my mother and father and my mother carting us off to a movie or for Chinese food or to a friend’s. When my father was gone, the fights still continued but they were transferred to us. My mother usually threatened to not get a Christmas tree or something else.

Every year my mother put us to polishing the silver and brass, stripping the linoleum floors (all of them) with ammonia and wax and polishing them. The floor waxing was a little draconian but I didn’t mind the polishing of rows on rows of collector spoons, the silver dinnerware only used at Christmas, New Years and Thanksgiving, and the myriad other metal items. My younger brother devised a form of electrolysis to dip the things in and clean them; any thing to get out of the work.

But those are not the good memories. We always baked: sugar cookies, shortbread cookies, butter tarts, fruitcake and sundry other types. My mother had this giant ceramic crock, about 18 inches high in which she would pour the molasses, sugar, dried chopped fruit and cherries in dayglow, not made by nature, colors, the currents and almonds and whatever else goes into the fruitcake. We would stir with long wooden spoons as this was far too much for any set of beaters.

There were three graduated square pans and three round with the punch-out bottoms. In would go the brown and sweet batter (yummier that way than cooked). Once they were baked my mother would wrap them in cotton tea towels soaked in brandy, then she’d sprinkle them with more brandy, put in a slice of apple, wrap them in wax paper and store them in the crock. There was enough for a year or more. I never cared for fruit cake because I don’t like dessicated fruit.

The best part was the tree. It was usually 10-12 feet tall and went right to the roof. We had a little plastic angel (about 8″) with a light inside of her. Her best pale feature was the silken white angel hair, probably made from fiberglass for all I know but it was real. On would go the angel and the lights first, carefully strung by my older brother (or father at one point) with the bubble light set in the right spots after, and the weird little round snowball lights.

Then would come the placing of the balls, the many balls and ornaments–two large boxes about three feet high and 18 square inches wide, stacked to the top with balls. Even as a child some of those ornaments were venerable and I wasn’t allowed to place them until I grew a bit older. There was the silver smoking pipe and the violin, the trumpets and other horns that you could blow into and they’d honk…for the first while anyways, until the cheap noisemaker bust.

There were the glass birds, peacocks and swans and others with long fake, stiff fiberglass tails, which clipped on the branches. There were the balls with their indented crinkled interiors that gathered light and threw it back throughout the tree. These were often round or stretched like double-ended teardrops. There were a few hand painted balls. There were the teakettles and coffee pots, the old style hurricane lamps that always had a place nearer the top of the tree because of their delicate and venerated stature.

Then there was my ball. As long as I remembered it, it already had a hole in it, in one of those indentations. Some times my siblings would tease me that it had broken because I insisted on putting it in its special place every year. It was unique in shape and color. The top was like a ball with two (maybe three) indentations. It may have had a slim stemlike neck that was very short and then a slight dome that slid into a slow growing bell shape. The bottom gently curved the other way (convex) and joined up with a little nub hanging down. I believe the bottom was  silvery pink matching the painted flower on the side. The rest was a deep teal (I loved turquoise even then). In retrospect it resembled a glass bell about six inches long.

I loved that ball. It summed up in ways I can’t really describe, all the good things of Christmas; my family being together and happy (when they weren’t squabbling), gift giving, cooking and decorating the tree, and possibly having a few people over. The last parts to trimming that tree were adding the glass garlands; balls and bells, and the tinsel. We draped tinsel carefully over every single branch so that it shimmered and danced. We stopped putting it on the bottom branches because the cats kept eating it and it wasn’t a pretty sight at the other end. The lights bubbled, a few blinked but most shone a steady blue, red, yellow and green, carefully arranged so that the colors didn’t clump.

My mother pretty much stopped with a tree as the family went its own way, not always amiably, and she gave me many of the ornaments that she still had. One year, when I was out visiting I asked her, “Hey, where’s my ball?” I hadn’t asked in years or seen it but she knew exactly which one it was. She said, “Oh, it broke years ago.”

I was devastated. It was like that fragile glass had held all the good aspects of love, and Christmas and generosity. Like those emotions, like our relationships, it was something to be cherished, to handle gently, to respect. It was delicate and beautiful. I felt such a hollow and sorrow within me that I hadn’t even realized what it had meant to me.

This year I didn’t put up a tree, but I have several special ornaments and I recently found a ball with as unique a shape, very individual. Perhaps I didn’t do the tree this year because it’s been a tough year and I want the memories going into those ornaments to be good ones. Perhaps it’s a breather and remembering my friend Bear who died last year on Dec. 18th. I’ll have memories of all these things to hold close.

May your Christmas, or Hannukah, or Solstice or Kwanzaa, when they fall, bring you joy, warmth, friendship, love and family. And most of all may they give you good memories to hold close and cherish.

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The Ins and Outs of Cat Doors

I first wrote this forTechnocopia.com back in 1999.

If you’re in a flap about how your cat makes its entrance, here’s a few ideas.

My neighborhood is typical of combined renters and owners. We’re a cat neighborhood, with a few dogs. My neighbors to the left have one cat, to the right have two cats, above me have four, and I have one. As people move in and out of the rental places and the co-op housing there’s always a new cat or two plus the regulars on the block.

There are tabbies and black cats, tiger-stripped gingers and grays. There’s old cats, spry young ones, cats that are fixed and those that are toms. In the cat realm there are cat politics, alliances and wars. Figment, my outdoorsy cat, has some friends and a few territory scuffles.

He used to drive me crazy, squeaking dirty, wet paws across my bedroom window, late at night, before I had an acrylic door put into my house door for him. It’s a bit of a trick at first getting a cat to go through something so strange. It leaves them in a vulnerable position, half outside, half inside and anything could attack right then. I started by taping the see-through flap open to get him used to moving through the hole this creates. Cats tend to like this right away because there’s no waiting for that lazy human to come and open the door at her whim.

The next steps progress at what you think your cat can handle, and work best if you have juicy tidbits to entice him through the opening. You begin by taping the door open but with less and less open space. The cat may shy from this at first. Figment did, but you stand on one side saying encouraging things and hold up a delectable little snack. For Figment it was smoked salmon (a true yuppie cat). He’d hesitantly put a paw up to the door then push through with his head.

Continue lowering the flap more and more until it is completely closed. Then you still have to stand on one side and waft appealing aromas through the flap and tell your cat to come on in. You may have to encourage him the first few times. This process takes from one to two weeks. The flaps close as the cat exits or enters without slamming on their tails. One tail slam and the cats would abandon the entrance and the manufacturers would be out of business. And because there are no big motors, the noise doesn’t upset the sensitivity that cats show around vacuum cleaners and other motorized monsters. Once the cat is used to the door, he’ll come and go at will. No more noisy 3 a.m. yowls at the door or window.

Figment liked to lay on the carpet and watch the world go by his cat door. When an enemy walked by he’d barrel through to make his stance. Which comes to one of the weak spots in cat doors. The simple plastic hinges can break if hit hard enough. But Figment was fifteen pounds of pure cat muscle. They stand up to normal usage just fine and have an insulating nylon pile to help seal out drafts when the door is closed. Most doors can be left unlocked for in and out access, as well as locked in one direction or the other, and can be locked completely for times when the cat needs to stay home.

The one real problem with a cat door is the free access. Most cats won’t know how to use them. One of our neighborhood toms did. Fortunately Figment liked him but I still had a moocher and once in a while, that unpleasant smell of unneutered cat urine. I didn’t want to lock the cat door and keep Figment out so I looked into an electromagnetic cat door. The only difference between a manual cat door and the electromagnetic door is the magnet key that is hung from the cat’s collar.

The door has the electromagnetic switch, which is run by batteries, or as Mark at Mark’s Pet Stop told me, with an electrical cord (about $30 higher in cost). All the doors have locking switches. Mark told me people generally find they work well and have no problems except for one woman who wanted to keep her neighbor’s cat out of her house. She purchased the electromagnetic door and loved it so much she told her neighbor, who decided to get one for his cat. Same brand, same magnets, same switches. The neighbor’s cat had free reign of two houses once again.

The tom moved on and I never bought the door. I had reservations too because I’ve never managed to keep a collar on Figment for long, due to his territorial wrestling. All I’d need is an $80 door that my cat couldn’t get into because he lost his collar.

The only problem I had was that one of Figment’s little friends would come sit at the door. She didn’t know how to go through it but she would sit outside and bat the door so it swung back and forth.

The regular, manual cat door runs about $20-$30, with the electromagnetic ones starting at $80-$90. The English Pet Mate (Cat Mate in Canada) runs on the magnet key for the collar. The Staywell has a nonmagnetic collar key. The super deluxe Solo Motorized Door works by sensor on the collar and the door moves out of the way by the time your pet reaches it. It closes by gravity. These ritzy models begin at $360 and go up to the dog-sized door price of $800. Spare keys can be bought for all the electronic/electromagnetic door which do lock once the pet is through them.

Installation does involve having to cut a hole in your door (or in some cases, your wall), but a template of the correct size is supplied with Pet Mate. The frame is easily mounted with a screwdriver. Some of the electronic doors can be wired into the walls. All come with a warranty.

Addendum: Eventually I had problems with raccoons coming into the house, through the cat door. I did buy the electromagnetic door. I had to lock it to keep Figment in for a vet’s appointment. But Figment, always desperate to be outside, clawed at the door until he knocked the plate off where the wiring was. He shredded the copper wiring and lost the spring that actually opened and closed the door. And true to form, he lost his collar in a fight.

I wrote the company with my sad tale and it gave them a laugh. They sent the new piece but I never installed it. Figment just wasn’t good with collars. I locked the door so that nothing could come in but Figment could go out. This worked out well enough though I still had to let him in at nights.

Then Venus came along. I purposefully didn’t teach her how to use the door because she was very mean to Figment and at least he got the range of the outdoors without her bugging him. Figment passed on from cancer a year and a half ago. Venus has full range and although I never taught her how to use the door, she figured it out. This doesn’t stop her from meowing for me to go and open the door for her.

And Jasper, the big fluffy gray cat that used to be Figment’s buddy, waits outside the cat door peering in. It used to drive Figgy crazy because he wouldn’t go out with Jasper standing there. Venus just hisses.

PET DOORS

http://www.petdoor.com/elecdoor.html

http://www.petmate.com/

http://www.petdoors.com/just_cat_doors.htm

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