November 28, 2017: Our rambunctious little kitties, Phoenix and Phyre, are growing up in a hurry. It is hard to believe that they have lived with us for nearly seven months already, and still harder to believe that there is any of the house left for them to destroy. We love them and their endless antics, but there are days when they are tearing through rooms and literally bouncing off the walls that we feel the need for an intervention. Someone call in the Cat Whisperer, it's time for the tale of the taming of two tails.
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It was a moment of extreme weakness that caused us to take these two home as a bonded pair on April 30. Maybe the more accurate choice of words would be that it was a moment of forgetful insanity. We'd already done the two-for-one thing with Katy and Rio in 2010, but even their kittenish zaniness couldn't have prepared us for the destructive power of these two young brothers. All you remember is how cute they were together and how fun it would be to do that again. Yeah, cute like little terrorists on paws.
After a couple of nights in which we foolishly allowed them to roam free in the living room, it was decided they needed a secure area to sleep after the rest of the house went to bed. So we built them a small cage with the idea it would be temporary until they matured enough to settle down at bedtime and not go romping across shelves and climbing drapes. When that time would arrive, we had no idea. Roni hoped to keep them in their nighttime cage until the end of December, just to give our Christmas decorations a fighting chance. But as Phe and Phy have taken on more catlike qualities, including stronger wills to match their stronger muscles, it has become clear that we are rapidly approaching the day of the breakdown in containment.
Phe from day one has lived up to his reputation as the explorer. Like the crew of the Starship Enterprise, he believes in boldly going where no one has gone before. That includes climbing up screen doors and poking his body through them in an attempt to get outside. He has become quite inventive with his techniques, so much so that we had to buy a security chain to place on the back screen so that he couldn't just push it open. Even so, he figured out how to bend the vinyl screen door and still managed to get outside. We gave up and now just keep the door closed. Phy is the follower as well as instigator. He encourages Phe's naughty behavior, then joins in the party once his older brother finds new trouble to get into.
We've mostly learned to put up with their quirks, including when they get up on the kitchen sink to allegedly watch sparrows in the mock orange tree outside the window. But when the sink counter suddenly became a launching pad to reach the top of the refrigerator, which in turn was a springboard to the dividing wall between the kitchen and the living room, we knew we had to find a deterrent.
It's not that there is inherently anything wrong with the kittens wanting to be above it all; cats climb trees, it's in their nature. But so is gravity. It is deeply disturbing when you are in the bedroom and have to race into the kitchen to investigate what that big crash was a moment ago. Broken bottle? Okay, at least it wasn't broken bones. But where the kittens are concerned, just give them time. We tried several ideas to keep Phe from jumping up to the partition wall, going so far as to line the edge of the kitchen counter with cardboard boxes and food packages to block his way to the refrigerator. He just jumped over them. Then we placed items on top of the fridge, hoping to build a Trump-like wall to prevent illegal access to the partition. No go; Phe just gave us a juvenile delinquent's challenging stare and proceeded to launch himself higher than the wall.
The real problem wasn't with the cats getting up there — which they did all too well — but rather how they chose to come down. Phe discovered through trial and error that he could slide feet first from the refrigerator top down the handle of the freezer compartment and onto the linoleum floor. But he seemed eager to find a "better" way. He hasn't gotten quite bold enough yet to launch himself off the partition right to the living room carpet, but he might if he could find some object to serve as a convenient waypoint. Our 70-inch wall-mounted TV is perilously convenient, and the thought of cats clawing their way down its delicate screen made us decide we needed a solution pronto.
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E SOON FOUND ourselves touring the Aisle of Cat Trees, a not-so-exotic destination inside the Pet Food Express store in Antioch, which coincidentally was where we first met Phoenix and Phyre. Roni did not find the humor in Glenn's suggestion that we could bring the kittens back for nostalgia sake. The more practical solution to our climbing kitties dilemma was to find a structure that might take the place of the kitchen partition wall. We figured it would need to be a pretty tall piece of furniture to do the job.
We were lucky in that the store was having a huge sale on cat trees, with most of them marked down 20 percent. So the one we wound up buying that normally retails for $180 came instead to just $144 before tax. That's about $144 more than we wanted to spend right now, but we considered it cheap insurance if it saved our pricier television screen. And despite Glenn's assurances that "I could build this cheaper from scratch," it was clear to us both that it might be next spring before any homespun alternative came to light.
For the money we spent, this "cat condo" turned out to be a pretty decent investment. It came packaged in a large, heavy box with all the hardware included. Every piece was clearly labeled and documented for easy assembly. It probably took about 45 minutes to put together, and that was only because the kittens "helped" by testing out the carpeted sections as they were being screwed together; a skilled cat tree assemblyman could have done it in about 20 minutes. The completed structure is about five and a half feet tall, with three platforms the cats can sit upon and a couple of enclosed boxes inside which they can hide. There is a ramp made out of a scratching pad and spots to hang dangly feather toys.
The cats took to it instantly. They went wild like a couple of children opening gifts on Christmas morning, chasing each other up and down the structure and checking out all of its nooks and crannies. Katy, our 7-year-old, meanwhile kept her distance and watched them, probably thinking she was too dignified for such frivolity. While we hoped the tree would distract the cats from going above the kitchen, we knew that was unlikely. Failing that, we thought the tall seats might give them a more convenient way to come down from above.
It was only a matter of minutes before our theory was put to the test. Phe, ever the brave explorer, was the first to use the tree as a launch pad to the partition. In the past we would have scolded him, but that only served to dare him to tempt fate again and again, so this time we just let him do his thing and watched out of the corners of our eyes. Phyre soon followed him. As we hoped, they both eventually found their way down by jumping to the cat tree platforms. Success! Or maybe.
Phe, emboldened by his ability to come and go up top as he desired, suddenly decided to become territorial. So one time when Phy bounded up top on his own, Phe quickly followed and applied some brotherly intimidation tactics. The result was a swashbuckling cat fight high above the living room, the two combatants leaping the gaps in the wall near the dining room, rolling and tumbling perilously close to the ledge. In the end Phy backed down, which is funny considering he never backs down when it comes to eating handouts at the dinner table. He is now more content to sit on the top seat of the cat tree, or occupy the kitchen window.
It has been a couple of weeks since the cat tree entered our home, and although we give it a thumbs-up for its construction stability and popularity (the cats seem to love it, paws down), it has done little to prevent their excursions above the kitchen. If anything, it has made it more convenient for them to get up top and race around. So on Sunday, Nov. 19, Roni decided to move the structure from its original home in the entryway to a new spot near the dining room door, where there are fewer things to climb on. Will this be the ultimate solution? Probably not, but until something better comes along, this will have to do.
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E SPENT SO much time last month sharing tales from our Mexico cruise that we didn't talk about anything else. Rest assured, a lot has been happening in and around our home since September. Perhaps the most newsworthy of those things was the more-or-less official end to our front yard makeover that we wrapped up in early October. It only took about 16 months, and in truth it will likely never be totally finished, but for now it is about 95 percent landscaped so we'll consider it a victory. Roni put the finishing touches on the island around the plum tree where the dry creek runs, adding plants, bark and rocks along its banks.
We thought that was going to be the end of the work for a while, but the recent overhaul on the two-story house next door left us with a new problem we needed to solve quickly. The property flippers who bought the place decided to put in a sod lawn, much like the one we put in our own yard. But unlike us, they set up automatic sprinklers and much of the water from those sprayed onto the bare sand lining the parking strip we had made for Glenn's car. Water and bare sand equals mega weeds. We were already starting to see patches of green we didn't want or need, so we ran out to the home improvement stores and picked up several bags of mulch. We rolled out some plastic sheeting, threw down the bark, and covered over as much of the remaining bare sand as we could. We also repurposed some of our old pavers to hide the spots near the side of the house where we keep our garbage and recycling cans. We haven't hit the rainy season much yet, but so far our solution seems to be doing the job. If nothing else, we should have fewer weeds to deal with come spring.
Because one project always leads to another, no sooner did we finish off the landscaping than Roni found a cool idea for a bench we could add to our front porch. The funny thing is that we've never been ones to spend time in the front yard, but all the work we've done out there has made it a more enjoyable environment to just sit on the porch on a warm summer evening and talk. The bench just seemed like a natural, so Glenn agreed to build it and we ran out the week before our cruise to buy the materials we needed.
We modified the design we found online, mainly so we could fit the end of the bench around our porch post. Cutting the boards took an afternoon. Priming and painting them took another day. Assembling the pieces was a bit trickier, because Glenn discovered things weren't exactly square and the surface he was building on wasn't perfectly level. But with some adjustments we got it more or less to where it needed to be. For the seats we used a dark walnut stain and sealed them with two coats of polyurethane. That really gave it a finished look, and will hopefully protect the wood through the wet winter months.
The bench was finished just in time for Halloween, which was our original goal. It gave us a convenient place to display carved pumpkins and spooky spiderwebs — so much better than having to haul out a bunch of folding tables from the garage. Our decorations were a bit less elaborate than some previous years, in large part because we still lack outdoor power; all the cords we run have to be brought from indoor outlets, which is very inconvenient. We managed to put out a few battery-powered tea lights along with our projector that casts an image of ghosts moving around in the porch. The 50 or so trick-or-treaters we got seemed to like the display just fine, and there was enough candy so we're all happy.
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UR QUEST TO find some fall color on Nov. 5 took us east toward the Sierra, where we stopped in Folsom for what turned out to be lunch at Mexquite Mexican Restaurant. We were aided by a Google map via which users reported the best spots to find trees aflame with reds, oranges and yellows. One of those sites was allegedly near Folsom Lake, although we never did find it. In fact, most of the trees we saw in the area were still in their evergreen phase, or had turned brown. Yawn.
We decided to continue up Highway 50 past Placerville and eventually wound up at High Hill Ranch in Apple Hill, which gave us a great excuse to pick up doughnuts and a caramel apple pie to take home. That makes the second time in two months we've been to Apple Hill, and we have to laugh because we had never been there before September. We might have to make it a regular fall destination if we find ourselves up that way. The place was considerably busier than our first visit the weekend after Labor Day. Despite its location in the middle of the Sierra foothills, Apple Hill offered us little in the way of the fall foliage we were seeking. We might have to get an earlier start next fall.
On Oct. 21 we took part in the fourth annual John Marsh Heritage Day event at Marsh's famous stone house in Brentwood. One of our good friends, Rick Lemyre, is now the executive director of the John Marsh Historic Trust, which has been working for years to preserve Dr. Marsh's pioneer homestead. Roni offered to volunteer during the event, and Glenn went along as the unofficial official photographer. At least we both got free tee shirts out of it. It was the first time we had ever seen the Marsh House in person, despite hearing and reading about it for as long as we have lived in the area.
Time and the elements had been taking their toll on the house, which was close to falling over before more earnest preservation measures were put in place. The house is now under the auspices of the California State Parks, and it is hoped that eventually the property will be open to the public along with a new interpretive center that is currently under construction. The Heritage Day event was well attended, the weather was pleasant if not bordering on hot, and we had a good time talking with other history lovers and supporting the cause.
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EN CONTINUES TO improve his driving skills as he works toward attaining his driver's license. He and Glenn have been taking opportunities to go out during the week for an hour here or there to work on turning, stopping and lane position. Ben has been showing great progress and increasing confidence, so much so that he didn't mind attempting the freeway for the first time when they were out on a Tuesday afternoon around the start of rush hour. It was a short stretch of Highway 4 from Hillcrest Avenue in Antioch to the Main Street exit in Oakley, but he handled it well enough that he should soon be ready for a longer drive.
The challenge now is for us to get him a car he can call his own once the driving tests are complete. Roni's old 1998 Toyota Corolla is still parked in our driveway awaiting new tires, an oil change, and a smog check. We gave it a new battery, but we haven't done much with it since moving it to make way for the pavers we placed on the parking strip. We hope it will eventually be able to pass the smog check; it would most likely fail today. Ben is eager to try to get his license by the end of December. We don't think that will happen, but it is good that he is eager and optimistic. Maybe by spring.
Dad has had lots of time to help Ben along on his driving quest because Glenn remains without a (paid) full-time job. This continues to be by choice, and will likely continue through at least the end of this year. In the meantime, he has been concentrating on his writing and investigating scenarios that might allow him to work from home. He knows only that he does not want to return to journalism. When he hasn't been writing, Glenn has been engaged in his other favorite pastimes: computer games, listening to music, and watching pro football — although the latter of those activities has brought him little to cheer about with his picks faring so poorly.
With the onset of fall and the cold and flu season, we all headed over to the Kaiser clinic to partake of their free flu shots. That is, Roni decided to go and Glenn decided he might as well since he was there anyway. Ben opted out, giving in to his distaste for needles. We haven't been much into the flu vaccines in recent years, but our multiple bouts with colds and other illnesses this past winter convinced us that it might be a good idea to guard against a repeat performance in 2018. Failing that, we hope to at least have a decent medical plan for next year. This being open enrollment period, we are applying with Covered California in hopes of finding something more affordable than the $1,150 a month we will face if we remain on COBRA. We weren't eligible for the federal subsidy this year because we made too much, but with Glenn out of work that shouldn't be a problem next year.
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E HAVE BEEN getting to see a lot of Glenn's family this year, between our vacation at Sea Ranch in July; Grandmother's birthday in April, followed by her hospital stay in June and her memorial service in September; and on Oct. 26, a visit to our house by Glenn's mom and dad. It was the first time they had seen our place since we finished landscaping the front yard, so we were happy to give them the grand tour. That visit also included lunch at the Antioch Buffet, followed by a walk at Big Break Regional Shoreline.
On Thanksgiving, we packed ourselves into the car and drove out to their house in Hayward for dinner with most of the family, including Glenn's brother Sean, sister Jennifer, and our niece and nephew, Shannon and Allen. Ben had the day off from work, so we got to take advantage of that rare occasion for a visit. Our brother-in-law Tom joined the festivities a bit later, after finishing his paramedic shift — a day he said was the worst he could remember in 21 years in the business.
The house next door continues to sit vacant as we await the inevitable day when we will receive new neighbors. It looks like things are finally happening there, however, as just before Thanksgiving a property inspection company showed up and spent a long time going through the place, usually a precursor to a purchase. As of this writing there is a pending offer on the property, so probably before Christmas. The former rental property adjacent to it also recently sold, and that family moved in just before Halloween. We liked the peace and quiet that having two vacant houses on our side of the street created, but it will feel more like a real neighborhood again once they're all occupied.
That's it for this month. Time to make our Christmas lists, hit the malls, and protect our decorations from the curious and destructive paws of three cats.