The Love of a Good Cat

Raven, on his first night in a new place

As is very clear on this blog (and probably within about 15 minutes of meeting me…less, if Alvin has bid me farewell that morning by rubbing against my pant leg), I live with cats. Two of them.

I agree…Alvin is pretty darn cute.

Raven, thinking deep thoughts

Alvin is featured quite heavily here, and on Facebook, largely due to the fact that he does so many silly things that require taking a picture to laugh over later (I am creating an entire album of photos of Robert feeding him food), as well as the fact that he is just so photogenic. It’s really hard to take a bad picture of Alvin. His markings are striking, and his white fur glows when he sits in the sun, and his face is just. so. darn. CUTE!

By contrast, I have very few pictures of Raven. As a result, I am sure that someone, somewhere, is bound to assume I like him less than Alvin.

 

And nothing could be further from the truth.

Raven, in his favorite place on the couch…right next to me.

I love Alvin, I really do. He has sat with me when I was in great physical pain, patting my shoulder with his paw when I whimpered, as if to say “There, there.” And he constantly reminds me that it is far past my bedtime and, if I want to get any sleep that night, I had best stop working on my projects and go to bed.

Raven, on the other hand, couldn’t care less that I am still up at 3 in the morning, beyond passing excitement about early morning head scritches. He is picky about his treats, insistent on eating them out of a bowl. He doesn’t require the same kind of structure that Alvin seems to, reinforcing the notion that Alvin is a dog in a cat’s body and Raven is a cat. And he genuinely seems to hate having his picture taken (it doesn’t help that being a black cat makes him more difficult to photograph in the first place).

There is a truth that the pictures and stories won’t tell you, though.

I love Alvin, but Raven is my heart.

Raven loves to hide under the rug in the living room. Sometimes he is less successful than others.

A few months after we said goodbye to Onyx (who I will go on record now as The Best Cat EVER), I decided that the family needed another fuzzy friend running about the house. I knew I wanted another black cat. I stopped by the pet store on my way home one night, to take a peek at the cats they had up for adoption, and that’s when I spotted him. A little ball of worried fluff, curled up in the middle of his litter box, watching the world with wary eyes. I fell in love with him that very moment, and vowed I would be back that weekend, when the store had an adoption event, and he would be coming home with me very soon.

The very first picture we have of Raven, the day we signed the papers to adopt him and Alvin.

That Saturday, my family came to coo over cats and were greatly amused by an adorable-yet-vicious kitten. I, on the other hand, only had eyes for Raven. It took a little searching – they had moved him from his original spot to a cage on the floor, amongst five other black cats – but I found him and knew. Yep. This is the one.

I remember picking him from his cage, and carrying him to the back room, where my family was (which, in hindsight, was amazing, for reasons that will soon become apparent). I’d like to say Raven won them over right away, or maybe even that I put up a great argument about his merits, but it was much simpler than that. I just insisted that he was coming home, as though it was fact instead of desire. A quick search later, and we were introduced to Alvin (who did win everyone’s hearts the minute we met him), and I brought my boys home a few days later…

By the end of the first night, Raven had finally come upstairs.

…only to find that Raven was a LOT more skittish than he had appeared at the adoption event — to the point where you couldn’t even pick him up, never mind hold him, unless you wanted to lose – at best – an eye.

He spent a good portion of that first night downstairs, hiding under my bed (which continues to be his safe spot), finally graduating to sleeping on the bed with us all evening the second or third night they were home.

I worked with him every day, petting him on the cedar chest until he calmed, and then hugging him for a moment, without picking him up. At first, he would tense when I hugged him. I think he was worried he was about to hoisted in the air. But I kept him on the cedar chest.

Finally, the day came to move to the next step.

Raven has definite opinions about the omnipresence of wireless devices.

I would put my arms around him, one around his front, one curling around the back of his tail, with my hands supporting his tummy, and his feet hanging down, but not where they could scrabble and claw in terror. Then, lift and hold for two seconds for a week. Three seconds the next week. Then five. Then ten. Eventually, we got to a place where I didn’t even have to hold him like that. I could pick him up like a normal cat. Even Andrew can pick him up and hold him now.

I think the reason Raven doesn’t complain when we do this is he is secretly a dragon, reveling in his horde.

He went from being a skittish little shadow under the bed, to sitting on the floor as you place all of his toys and a couple of socks on him. He will never be as social as Alvin, but then…Alvin will never really be like Raven.

You see, Alvin is who you want when you want to laugh at silly antics, or need to be reminded about bedtime, or have a piece of toast that needs licking (Robert!).

Raven is who you want when you just need to be loved for who you are. The only judgement he has tends to be reserved for when you stop petting him, when you try to offer the spoon for the wet food to him, or when he jumps up on the bed, only to find Robert sitting in “his” place.

When I’ve been gone for a while, whether traveling for work or down in DC for a few days while I work a summit, both cats seem relieved to see me come in the door. But Raven is the one who sits by my side on a regular Tuesday, his paw touching me as if to reassure both of us. He likes to sit on the couch arm or the back couch cushion, right next to me. He’ll allow cuddles from just about everyone, as long as they understand that he is to be petted and adored and that they can never stop, but this shouldn’t fool you into thinking he doesn’t have favorites.

Raven is the one who finds me when I feel un-tethered and sits down to soothe me. He’ll dance back and forth, so I alternate between petting his head and his rump, until he finally settles down next to me. He did that last night. I’ve been feeling off for several days now, coming away from a negative encounter with heightened stress and a disturbing inability to fall asleep at night, despite how tired I’ve been. But last night, Raven followed me downstairs, jumped up on the bed and curled up beside me, grabbing my hand with his paws, his head propped on my arm. He twisted a little and shot me that look that seems to say “I have never been so happy as in this moment, and it’s because of you.”

I know I’m projecting, but tell me you wouldn’t think the same thing when you see this face looking up at you.

It’s always been clear that Raven has some anxiety, most likely related to when he was a stray. (He still freaks out when someone knocks on the front door, though I can’t figure out why) But it’s also clear that he has made great progress in overcoming it. He lets people pick him up and hold him. He even lets my youngest nephew pet him, occasionally. And he earned a bunch of hearts and stars on his chart at the vet the

other day, when he went for his dental cleaning. The dental tech couldn’t believe how sweet he was, even while she was scraping his teeth.

It gives me hope, because I remember where Raven was when we first brought him home, and it is miles away from where he is now. And if this ball of fluff could learn to love and trust, it gives me hope for the rest of my life.

As I started to drift off to sleep last night, Raven shifted around so that his tail fell across my face, patting my cheek as if to say “There, there.”

**Alvin and Raven both came to us from Fancy Cats Rescue Team. If you are looking for a feline friend, please remember: Adopt, don’t shop!

Getting an Early Start

I have begun working on gifts for Handmade Christmas 2017. This is undoubtedly the earliest I have ever started working on a Christmas present – even counting the quilt I made for Robert that took half a year. I always get so backed up with crafting projects in the weeks right before Christmas – which I’m sure is no surprise to fellow Christmas crafters – and the rush takes a lot of the fun out of making something handmade for someone. Not only do I usually have to contend with more mistakes, I don’t get to revel in the joy of watching something slowly take shape. Instead, it’s all hurry-hurry-hurry.

20170210_212645One of the added benefits of starting this early is…I have time to get extra yarn if I happen to run out partway through a project. I started knitting a simple cowl the other day. When I first cast on the stitches I thought “Hmm…that might be too many,” but I kept going. As I went forward, I fell more and more in love with the way the chainplied yarn created stripes of pink and purple, in the midst of the green (the colorway is “Irish Moss,” from Hobbledehoy Yarns). Unfortunately, I’m about 2 oz. short of the amount I need to finish the cowl at this width. I messaged Hobbledehoy on Facebook about seeing if she has more roving in that colorway, only to find that it had been a dye pot experiment. She said she could try to recreate it if I have pictures…which I have of the spun skein and the project in the works, but not of the unspun roving. [Note to self: remember to photograph the roving before spinning it up!] She’s scheduled to sell at the Fiber Farmers Market in Falls Church at the end of March, so here’s hoping the reconstruction of the dye pot works out, and I can finish the cowl as planned. If not, I have to frog the whole thing and start over.

Because no post is complete without a cat, here is Alvin, being uncouth while attacking a ruler on the bed.

Because no post is complete without a cat, here is Alvin, being uncouth while attacking a ruler on the bed.

Setting that project aside, I pulled out another couple of skeins from my handspun stash. A couple of months ago, I had purchased a 6oz braid from Fat Cat Knits in the colorway “Indian Corn.” I divided it up into three bits and did a traditional 3-ply, ending up with a worsted weight. It wasn’t the most even spin I have made, but I actually find it harder to spin for the thicker weights, so I’m okay with it not being as smooth, if I can at least manage a little heavier weight.

I came across the “Across the Heath” cowl pattern on Ravelry and just knew it was the 20170217_232237perfect pattern for some of my handspun – something simple enough to allow for both my beginner knitting skills as well as the color variations in the yarn.

The pattern worked up pretty quickly, and I liked the twisty look of it…but I think it would look even better with a variegated yarn where the color shifts are more muted. [Robert tried on the cowl later in the week and ended up wearing it for about three hours, so I guess it is comfy and cozy.]

20170222_083331I had a lot of yarn left, so I cast on a bunch of stitches and made up another simple cowl. I made it pretty big and still have a little bit of yarn left that I might try to make some mitts out of. Looks like 6oz. is the perfect amount for me to spin for a project.

I know exactly who two of these items are going to, come next December, and I have a possible match for the third one. But I’m not telling for now!20170222_083356

Alvin likes hiding in boxes

Alvin likes hiding in boxes

Quilt Cats

No, not cat quilts. Nor quilted cats.

Quilt cats.

That is clearly how Alvin and Raven see themselves. They LOVE quilts.

They love when I’m laying out the fabric to cut.img_20141020_181325_759

They love when I’m piecing them.

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You can’t see the pieces in this picture because Alvin is *SITTING ON THEM*

They love when I’m laying out blocks to see if the design will really work.IMG_20141103_215916_360

They particularly love when I’m hand quilting them (especially Alvin).

And they love to hang out on them after they’re finished.

[I know this appears that it’s mainly Alvin. It’s not. He just sits still long enough to let me get a picture, whereas Raven dashes off before there is photographic evidence.

I have to be very careful when I’m working on a quilt that is destined to go to someone else’s house, or the quilt will end up being 50% cat hair. I’m convinced, if I didn’t lock quilts away in a bin or put them on a high shelf, I’d come home to find the boys stuffing their loose fur into a quilt, like straw in a scarecrow.

This seems to be the current solution.20161229_223250

That quilt – which I often refer to as The Ugliest Quilt – has become the default cat perch in the basement. If Alvin disappears for any length of time (and isn’t in the kitchen, trying to lick bacon grease out of a pan or open the bread cabinet), he can generally be found here.

I’ll walk into my room in the evening, flipping on the light switch, and he will raise his head and blink at me, grumpy about being disturbed. Then he’ll get up and walk around the entire bed, following me as I go about pre-bed chores.

The little turd also likes to steal my socks.

The little turd also likes to steal my socks.

Raven hangs out here less, but I’ll occasionally catch him up on the bed, his rump tucked in under the blanket.20161231_125954

It’s clearly become a favorite place, as you can tell from the copious amounts of cat hair.

It does help to keep the hair on the rest of the bed to a minimum – except for Robert’s pillow, which Alvin likes to co-opt at bedtime, and the occasional comforter-burrowing escapade.img_20160816_233439_749

Of course, now we have to be extra careful not to put the clean clothes down on that end of the bed when its time to fold them.img_20160912_222828_664

If you ever get a quilt from me and wonder how it got cat hair inside it, this is why.

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What to do, what to do?

Obligatory adorable kitty picture - from a random day when Raven and Alvin were getting along

Obligatory adorable kitty picture – from a random day when Raven and Alvin were getting along

With the recent addition of my new (albeit fledgling) skills in knitting, I have encountered a problem. Well, to be fair, the problem was there before. Throwing knitting into the mix just exacerbated the problem.

What problem is that, you ask? Backlog.

WIP/UFO backlog, to be exact. (“Work in Progress” and “Unfinished Objects” for those of us joining without a background in these terms). Between knitting, crochet, spinning, and sewing (which can be broken down further into quilting, clothes, embroidery, and assorted crafts), plus the odd costume fabrication…I may have a bit of a problem. Add in, of course, a handful of around-the-house renovation/repair tasks and the soon-to-be-here springtime gardening, and my to-do list is looking a bit full.

I actually really like things to be fairly orderly (despite what my mother might think), so the state of my workspace and to-do list is making me anxious. To justify adding knitting to my list of skills, I needed to start whittling down my list of WIPs.

First up was a shirt that had been in my pile for much longer than it should have been. I had purchased a lovely light green chambray from Stitch last Fall, with the intention of making Robert another dress shirt. I’d had delightful luck with Vogue 8889 – so much that I traced out a copy of the shirt pattern in Robert’s sizing on parchment paper, so I don’t have to fiddle with the multi-size pieces. I decided, since it went together so well the first time, I would see if I could repeat my success. I cut everything out…and then the project stalled.

In all fairness to myself, I initially stopped working on it because I threw my back out pretty seriously (I think that bending over the table had actually contributed to the problem, but getting a new mattress and making more frequent visits to my chiropractor improved things). I’ve been feeling better for a bit now, but the pieces were still just hanging out in a corner of my shelving, taking up space. Until Sunday night, that is.

Sawtooth quilt that will, one day, be finished

Sawtooth quilt that will, one day, be finished

After a brief search through the pattern bins to find the instructions – I forgot I had put the envelope into the folder with Robert’s pattern pieces – I sat down and finished transferring the sewing marks onto the fabric in chalk. I searched through my assorted thread bins for the right kind of thread, finally opting for a cream thread for the seams and an olive-y green for the top stitching. Both of the spools came from the “donated to Meg” collection that I have inherited from the sewing rooms of friends’ family members.

Alvin's to-do list mostly includes staring at birds and begging for food, with the occasional item of mischief.

Alvin’s to-do list mostly includes staring at birds and begging for food, with the occasional item of mischief.

I feel like most of this project went together a lot faster than the original shirt – probably because I had already made one, and didn’t have to refer back to the written instructions as much…though I don’t know if the sleeve plackets will ever get easier. And don’t get me started on sewing a flat-felled seam in a narrow men’s sleeve. ::heavy sigh::

Soon, it will be time to sew on the buttons, and then I can move on to the next couple things on my to-do list:

  • Oakley slouch hat (crochet) in “Mermaid Musings” colorway, from A Treehugger’s Wife Yarn – halfway finished
  • Lizard shawl (crochet) – need about three more repeats and blocking
  • Caterpillar Mitts (knitting) – about 75% finished
  • Nessie (crochet) – this one is sad…it only needs the legs sewn on and it’s done!
  • Lost Souls shawl (crochet) – this would have been done long ago, but it is currently in a box in the storeroom, sitting under three other boxes
  • Multiplicity Buttoned scarf (crochet) – only needs blocking and the buttons, which I have pulled from stash, but I can’t find the daggone left-over yarn to sew them on!
  • pattern weights – I’ve got about twelve of them done, but I have at least fifteen more that need to be filled and sewn up
  • woodblock/Irish chain quilt
  • sawtooth quilt
  • super-secret-almost-finished restoration project
  • alpaca fleece – halfway finished with combing, have started spinning
  • Shetland ram lamb fleece – 1/8 finished with combing
  • Spinning: By the Sea colorway from Avalon Springs Farms
  • several items in the mending bin

I’m not allowed to start any new projects until I have worked on at least six of these, and finished two.

Update: Since first drafting this, I have, in fact, finished sewing the legs on Nessie.20170124_224948

Labor Day Weekend at Huntley Meadows

I was torn between wanting to get out of my house this weekend and finishing the last bit of work on my room, so we compromised and did a little of both. On Saturday, Robert and I headed out to Huntley Meadows Park for a little woodsy therapy. (The original choice was Mason Neck, but Huntley Meadows was closer)

I was surprised to learn that he had never been – perhaps because the boardwalk trails at Huntley Meadows were such a large and memorable part of my youth that I can’t imagine a Northern Virginia life without them. My father, having studied ornithology in school and then worked as a park ranger in Ohio (to say nothing of his general love of the “out-of-doors”) took every opportunity he got to take us to some park or other and spend hours looking at birds through his binoculars.

I didn’t bring a pair of binoculars this time, but Robert and I were armed with cameras.

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The weather this weekend was PERFECT! Warm without being uncomfortable and sticky, with a nice breeze every now and then. There were a number of people on the wood trail that led up to the boardwalk, though we saw fewer folks on the far side of the deer trail, as we started back towards the Visitor Center.

Google originally told us that the Visitor Center would be closed at 1pm, but we were pleased to find that it was still open until 4pm, for Labor Day weekend. It is a nice space with a little diorama of animals, birds and fish you might find on your walk (I remembered it from the visits I made as a kid) and a nice assortment of buttons to push that make things light up (don’t look at me like that…push buttons are fun!).

The gift shop also has a nice assortment of children’s books, stuffed animals and, more importantly, owl pellets for sale! I do love an owl pellet. So much so that I found a website where I can order them in bulk, as well as ordering specialized owl pellets that have been sorted by prey species.

Yes, I am weird. I make no apologies, because owl pellets are freakin’ cool and also we shouldn’t apologize for being the interesting people we are.

We drove past Historic Huntley Manor on our way to the park but didn’t get a chance to stop. The park is named for the manor, which once belonged to the grandson of George Mason (oft-forgotten Revolutionary-era statesman from Virginia). The Northern Virginia area is home to a great number of stately, old mansions that have belonged to famous families throughout the years, so it’s not really a surprise that we haven’t happened upon this one yet. Perhaps we’ll get a chance to check it out before the weather turns cold again.

For now, I’ll leave you with new pictures of the cats, lounging about the house and enjoying their Labor Day Weekend.

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In the Meantime

[whispers] Sooooooon…..

Soon, you will see the project that has taken up a fair bit of my spare time, here and there, over the course of a year and a half.

But not right now. For now, here’s something completely different to tide you over!

Part of my work space is filled with research materials and my sketches. What on earth could I be working on?IMG_20160121_211556_402

I’ve been doing some more spinning – this colorway is titled “Lionhearted One.”

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Robert saw this one and said “Ooo! It looks like the color of sea glass!” Which prompted a good laugh from me, as I revealed that the colorway is, indeed, called “Sea Glass.”

I really need to set up a better photo op section for the yarn.

I really need to set up a better photo op section for the yarn.

Robert and I took some time the other day to color. These come from a book Casey gave me for my birthday last year.

 

Robert colored his page with watercolors. They were so vibrant, it looked like he had used markers! He’s not finished with the whole thing, but thinks he might leave it as is, with only one section colored in, so things don’t clash.hula girl

We tried out a new restaurant in a nearby neighborhood the other day. It’s called Hula Girl. The restaurant has a pretty neat backstory on how it came to be in its current manifestation. (In fact, when I was handling a big event in the park here, I wanted to bring her food truck to the site, but it had just broken down). If you’re ever in the Shirlington area, outside of D.C., I recommend checking it out. Everything was absolutely delicious!

And now, the reason you haven’t been seeing pictures of Raven on here lately…the poor thing has been really itchy (and dander-y, and yes I know that’s not a real word) lately, and has overgroomed the fur on his tummy. This, unfortunately, means that his lovely white spot is not nearly as majestic as it once was. The doctor gave us a soft cone for him to wear – he’s figured out how to take it off several times, and really doesn’t like when we put it back on – and it’s helped a bit, but he’s still itchy. Worse, he’s found ways to groom himself, even with the cone on, so he’s still in danger of losing more fur. Raven doesn’t like having his picture taken most days anyway, and he’s really not fond of having it taken when he’s wearing his ridiculous cone. The kitties have an appointment tonight and I’m hoping the vet can do something else to help Raven and his itchiness.

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Cold Days

IMG_20150219_224314_637Like many places throughout the East Coast (and the mid-west, too), we’ve been hit with some pretty cold days this past week. It was 4 degrees this morning when I woke up, and that’s not factoring in windchill. Being from Ohio originally, winter weather doesn’t usually bother me. The days that people say are a bit chilly here tend to feel like a fall day in Ohio, most of the time. But I’ll admit that 4 degrees feels a little excessive on the cold end.

An unfortunate by-product of the cleaning we’ve been doing in the basement is the removal of all the old carpet,

This is the life!

This is the life!

which helped to insulate a very little bit, even as it made the place hell for anyone with allergies. In an attempt to make the place a tad bit warmer, I went ahead and put some plexiglass and blankets in front of the downstairs fireplace. Raven has been having fun exploring it, as you can see. By the way, you’re getting a tiny little sneak peek of the basement in this shot. Hopefully, I’ll have more pictures up soon.

Please excuse the blurry shot

Please excuse the blurry shot

While Raven’s usually plenty willing to cuddle up to me on the couch in the chilly basement, Alvin tends to prefer warmer spots in the house. He’s slept back on one of the beds the past couple nights, and a lot of time is spent snoozing while cuddled up on this pillow, on the back of the couch.

I find it a little irritating, but certainly true to the fickle nature of cats, that neither cat will even sit on the fuzzy cat beds I bought for them the day I brought them home, but Alvin has no problem taking over this pillow. That pillow, by the way, is my pillow. I bought it to use it as a camping pillow and the darn cat has taken it over. It’s covered in Alvin hair.

Usually, Alvin doesn’t like being covered up by things, but he didn’t protest when I put this on him last night. I guess that means that even he is bothered by the chilly temperatures. Either that, or he knows how adorable he looks when he’s snoozing on a pillow, under a cat-sized sheet.

I maintain that he always knows that he looks adorable. That’s how he gets away with as much as he does.

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