Stream of consciousness

…when your doctor changes all your medications—blood pressure, allergy, and mood control—at the end of November, so that the first week of December you cannot assess which things are shaping your approach to life: the change in medication; dark, gloomy skies; later sunrises and earlier sunsets; an allergy to oak leaves and their dust; pressure of the holiday season; the latest senseless obsession; traffic and bad drivers; tedious tasks at work….

Listen: When I was a teen-aged boy, my mother would bring me to the county fairgrounds on the day when all the 4-H members in the county would bring in their projects to be judged and displayed. In the morning I would help check in the wood-working exhibits—woodworking! (And all these years later, I still can’t complete a decent woodworking project. It’s taken me all fall to finish the task of rebuilding a wooden rail around the front steps. A decent carpenter could do the work in half a day, but I’m doing the same steps three or four times to get it right, and often walking away for days in disgust before I can return to the task.) Anyhow, when all the projects were checked in, I would go over to the Home Economics building, with its 4-H exhibits of cooking, baking, canning, sewing, knitting, crocheting, macramé, ceramics, flower arranging, table setting, and the like. Each category was being measured by a different judge, who would award blue, red, or white ribbons and then select champion projects from the blue ribbon winners, while a person such as my mother would record the judge’s remarks on each exhibit. My job that afternoon was to gather all the sheets of paper containing judges’ remarks and arrange them alphabetically by exhibitor name. Each 4-H exhibitor could then come to the fair and pick up the judges’ remarks for all of his or her exhibits. Little did I know at the time that this annual task would prepare me more for my present career than all the classes I took in college and in graduate school.

For some years ago Mr. X and his secretary arranged all his incoming mail and copies of outgoing mail in folders by the month. Now these papers are being saved for researchers to study Mr. X and his boss. But no one is going to care what letters Mr. X received and sent in February 1985. No, they will want to know if Mr. Y sent a letter to Mr. X or his boss in 1985 or 1986. So I am taking boxes of folders, removing all the letters, and arranging them alphabetically by year, just like those 4-H forms from long ago. My task is not to read and interpret the letters. All I’m here to do is arrange the letters and describe the arrangement in a database so other people can come here and read and interpret them.

Meanwhile, we have a sick cat at home. About three weeks ago he suddenly lost his balance so badly that he could barely walk. We asked ourselves what could afflict a cat so suddenly: a stroke? MS? ALS? Guillen-Barre? The veterinarian suspected an inner ear infection and started the cat on steroids and antibiotics. He (the cat) has gotten better, but we cannot be sure how much is due to clearing the infection and how much is due to his ability to adjust to continuous vertigo and (perhaps) double vision. He can walk and even run a little, but his jumping is limited to beds and couches—this of a cat who regularly patrolled the top of six-foot-tall bookcases, not to mention the china cabinet and the grandfather clock. He seems content with his lot rather than unhappy. But, when walking or sitting, he tilts his head to one side as if that helps him see things better. It’s cute and endearing, but also heartbreaking because he never did that before.

And why do WordPress and Createspace both demand that I review my work one more time before I can publish it? I always write in Microsoft Word and read through the text several times to make corrections before I copy and paste it. Why do these companies assume that I’m handing in a rough draft that needs another look before it can be shared?

And we are gradually unpacking the Christmas decorations which were sent out for cleaning after our fire last May. They are all in good shape, except for an occasional stain here or there, nothing intolerable. But they were not packed by the cleaners in any sort of discernable pattern. So at present we have a manger scene with ceramic figures of Mary and Joseph, shepherds, wise men, camels, and angels—but no baby in a manger yet, and no sheep. And other random items are similarly appearing in the house as we unpack one box at a time. Still, life goes on, and it’s hard to know how to feel….

J.

 

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The living room

When I was about eighteen months old my parents bought wall-to-wall carpeting for their dining room, living room, and hallway. One of my earliest memories–probably the earliest–is of that day. I was still being set on a table in my bedroom to be dressed. Having the furniture out of place throughout the house left an impression on my young mind.

When one stepped through the front door of my childhood house, one was practically in the dining room and living room. The two rooms were separated by a couch and by a china cabinet; there were no walls between them. A planter, about four feet high, was between the front door and the dining room; behind the open door was a coat closet, and the living room was to the right. The hallway was beyond the living room; from the hallway one could enter one large bedroom to the right, or either of two smaller bedrooms to the left. A closet was between the bedrooms. The bathroom was at the end of the hallway. Behind the dining room (as seen from the front door) was the kitchen. Next to the kitchen was a room we called the back entry: it had a small storage closet, a door to the back yard, a door to the basement across from the back door, and a sliding door that led into the nearer bedroom. The door between the kitchen and dining room was also a sliding door.

All three bedrooms had wooden floors, but the original floor in the rest of the house was brown tile with streaks of white and black. It looked something like a bowl of vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup after someone had stirred the ice cream and syrup together with a spoon. The carpet that replaced the tile floor was dark blue. It consisted of loops of different sizes, creating a textured flooring that did not show footprints. I loved the fact that the carpet was blue. At times, it was the ocean, and two or three small throw rugs were islands on which my toys lived.

The living room had a large picture window which faced the front yard. Across the room from the window was a fireplace in which my family burned logs during the winter. Between the fireplace and the china cabinet was a bookshelf built into the wall. The books included two encyclopedia sets, a set of books from Time-Life about science, and assorted novels and works of nonfiction. The couch (which was mustard-yellow with flecks of brown) was in two sections. One was turned with its back to the dining room; the other had its back to the window. A pole lamp lit the room from the corner where the couch sections met. A television set on a metal stand was against the wall farthest from the front door, with easy chairs on either side of the TV. The living room had three wooden tables–a coffee table in front of the couch, an end table with a drawer next to the couch in front of the picture window, and a matching table next to the easy chair in the corner of the room.

When I was little, I was told that Santa Claus brought the Christmas tree, along with the stockings and other presents, after I went to bed on Christmas Eve. Those years we always had a real tree, and we always kept it up for the twelve days of Christmas, after which Santa came to take away the decorations until next year and to throw the tree outside. The tree was centered in the picture window; the couch was moved into a V shape with the angle pointing into the dining room. Stockings filled with gifts were left for each of us in front of the fireplace, and gifts were left under the tree. I remember the frustration of hearing my mother vacuuming the living room late in the night on Christmas Eve. I knew that she wanted the house nice for Santa, but I also knew he couldn’t arrive until she and my father had gone to bed. The first sight of the tree Christmas morning was always spectacular, as it towered high above my head all the way to the ceiling. Today’s Christmas trees seem much smaller in comparison.

When I was little, my family had a dog and a cat. The dog was mixed-breed, but largely beagle. She liked to sneak outside and run through the neighborhood for hours; she had no sense of property lines and was difficult to capture. The cat was allowed outside during the daytime but slept in the house at night. The dog liked to sleep behind the couch, under the picture window. The dog was not allowed into the bedrooms. The cat liked to entice the dog by running through the living room, encouraging the dog to chase her, and then ducking into a bedroom. The dog liked to chase a small ball across the living room and then return it so it could be thrown again.

Needless to say, the carpet and furniture were replaced a time or two over the years, and a color TV eventually replaced the black-and-white set of my childhood. These early memories of the house, though, are the ones likely to stay with me the longest. J.

The Versatile Blogger Award

Last month depressionistheenemy was very kind to nominate me for the Versatile Blogger award. I am grateful for this nomination, and I thank him for it. That is one of the four rules for accepting this blog, but my thanks are sincere. The other rules require that I share the award on my blog, share seven random facts about myself, and tag ten bloggers with fewer than 1000 followers and let them know they have been nominated.

Seven random facts about myself:

  1. I consider myself a “cat person” and share my house with pet cats. However, I also get along with most of the dogs I know. When I was growing up, my family always had one cat and one dog as pets.
  2. In my opinion, chocolate is an essential nutrient and should be consumed daily. After all, chocolate rests at the top of the food pyramid, and we always put the most important things on top, don’t we?
  3. I was recently interviewed as part of a project for National History Day. Two junior high students are learning about Saladin, and part of the History Day requirements is that they interview an expert about their topic. They chose me because one of them has an older sister who has taken history classes from me in college. It’s flattering to be considered an expert, and it’s great that I had a few days to read up on Saladin before the interview.
  4. I am right-handed, but I do certain tasks with my left hand, such as operate the mouse on my computer. I do this because of a pinched nerve on the right side of my neck that causes occasional pain along my right arm. I have had physical therapy for this condition, and still need to practice stretching exercises to reduce the pain (although some days I forget to stretch).
  5. I think of politics as a spectator sport, although three years ago I was considering a campaign for the United States House of Representatives. Among the politicians I have met and shared conversations are my current United States Senator, my former United States Senator while he was still in office, my current United States Representative, my former United States Representative while he was still in office, a former Governor of my state while he was still in office, my current state Senator, my current state Representative, and the mayor of the largest city in my state. I also have spoken with a former President of the United States (and there is a photograph of our conversation.)
  6. I have a strong behavioral addiction to Sudoku and play it online, sometimes several times in a day.
  7. As a child, I took piano lessons and can still play the piano. In junior high and high school I played trombone in the school band and orchestra. Also in high school, I taught myself to play the guitar—acoustic guitar, rhythm (strumming the chords). I have written a few songs over the years.

Ten blogs that I want to nominate for this award:

This was hard for me to decide, but I am leaving off those blogs whose authors do not accept such awards, such as Wally Fry, dawnlizjones, and insanitybytes.

With that in mind, I nominate:

  1. “What Katie did next” at https://katiereablog.wordpress.com/
  2. “Maria, a gentle Iconoclast” at https://pilgrimsprogressrevisted.wordpress.com/
  3. “Messages from the Mythical” at https://madelynlang469.com/
  4. “The Dictionary Dutch Girl” at https://dictionarydutch.wordpress.com/
  5. Elihu” at https://elihuscorner.com/
  6. “pearlgirl” at https://infjramblings.wordpress.com/
  7. “Ally” at https://mylittlepieceofquiet.wordpress.com/
  8. “Authentically Aurora” at https://authenticallyaurora.wordpress.com/
  9. “kaleidoscope49” at https://kaleidoscope49.wordpress.com/
  10. “Clara’s Coffee Break” at https://clarascoffeebreak.wordpress.com/

I admire all of you for your writing ability and for your perspectives on life. I wanted to say a few things about each of your blogs, but this post was getting too long already. J.

 

oct3

The image of God

What makes people different from animals? The first chapter of the Bible reports that the first man and the first woman were both created in the image and likeness of God. “Image” and “likeness” are synonyms in this verse–Biblical Hebrew frequently uses two words to convey the same idea. But what does it mean to be created in the image of God?

Some people believe that the image of God is an immortal soul. They go on to say that animals do not have an immortal soul, since they were not created in the image of God. However, the new creation is described as including animals, such as lions, wolves, lambs, and even snakes. If God can have these creatures in his new creation, surely he can also restore our favorite cats and dogs and horses. Whether or not he will do so remains to be seen, but there is a passing reference to the spirits of animals in the book of Ecclesiastes.

God’s attributes include omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience. In other words, there is nothing God cannot do, no place exists where he is not present, and there is nothing God does not know. Men and women do not have these qualities; there are limits to our power, we exist in only one location at a time, and we do not know everything. Like God, though, we have intelligence and wisdom that surpasses that of animals. Perhaps our thinking ability is part of the image of God that exists in us.

God created, and people create. Beings that create have a sense of beauty which is shown by their creations. Beings that create also express a sense of humor in their creations. Beings that create are able to use objects as tools to accomplish their goals. In all of these ways, men and women are more like God than like the animals made by God.

When God created, he spoke things into existence. He said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God works through words, and men and women also communicate with words. We do not have the power to cause things to happen merely by speaking, but words remain useful, even essential, to our existence.

God is holy, righteous, and just. Men and women also know the difference between right and wrong. We might not always do what is right, but generally we know what is right. Our moral sense may also be part of the image of God that exists in us.

God has power, but God is not power. God has knowledge, but God is not knowledge. God has righteousness, but God is not righteousness. Only one quality of God is described as God, and that quality is love. Twice the apostle John wrote, “God is love.” Love flows among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Even if God had created nothing, God would still be love because of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity.

To be created in the image and likeness of God, then, means to be created so we can love. We were created to love God whole-heartedly. We were created to love our neighbors as ourselves. All the rest of the commands of God tell us how to love, but the basic command to love teaches us our purpose. When we love, we are God-like. When we fail to love, we fall short of displaying God’s image. When we fail to love, we fall short of our Creator’s purpose for our existence.

The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is selfishness. The more we love ourselves, the less we can love God and our neighbors. True love is sacrificial love. It gives to others and does not demand repayment. True love allows others to be important rather than insisting upon being at the center of attention.

Animals have intelligence to varying degrees. They can solve problems, they can reason, and they can learn. Some animals are creative. Elephants doodle, birds sing, and some fish redesign their environments for purposes of beauty. Many animals create tools out of materials at hand. Animals use language and communicate. Chimpanzees have been taught sign language. Cats and dogs understand dozens of words that they hear men and women speak. Even some insects are capable of passing messages to one another.

Some animals even have a sense of right and wrong. Dogs know when they have done something their owners did not want them to do, and they can express guilt for their wrongdoing. Cats also know when they have broken the rules, although they do not express guilt as frequently as dogs do. Other animals can be trained to do various things, and they know when they have met expectations or failed to please their trainers.

I find it hard to believe that my cats don’t love me. Our relationship is defined by more than food and fresh water. My cats like their people. They like to hear the sound of our voices, even if we are talking to each other and not to them. They like to be pet and scratched, and they have their own gestures to show the love that they feel for their people. If I have been away all day or asleep all night, they greet me when they see me again. We have a genuine relationship based on love, even if I bear the image of God and they do not.

It seems that animals that spend time around people pick up some human characteristics. We teach them to have a moral sense because the distinction between right and wrong is important to us. We teach them to love because love is essential to what we are. When our ancestors were told to rule over the animals of God’s creation, God’s intention was that we be caretakers and not abusers. When we take good care of the creatures entrusted to us, they become a little more like us. That reflects the wisdom of the Creator who put us in charge of his world. J.

Strive to be…

I have seen a clever saying: “Strive to be the person your dog thinks you are.” While that would be good advice for many people, it doesn’t work for me. I don’t have a dog; I have two cats. I don’t know if I should strive to be the person they think I am. Sometimes they think I am a piece of furniture. Sometimes I distract them when they want to sleep, and sometimes I sleep when they want to be distracted. I provide them with food and water, and I clean their litter boxes. If it wasn’t for that, they might not notice my existence at all.

I do not need to strive to be the person they think I am. I already am that person. They see me as a bundle of contradictions. I leave the house for hours at a time, and always at the best times for getting a few naps. Then I sleep through the best times for exploring the house and having fun. I prepare food and eat food off of surfaces so disgustingly dirty that I won’t even allow my cats to walk across those surfaces. I spend long periods of time staring at objects in my hands instead of batting those objects across the room and then chasing after them. When they want to greet me in a natural way, I turn them around so their heads are facing me.

Maybe I should strive to be the person my cats want me to be. It would take effort, but I’m sure it could be done. I would have to develop ESP so I would know, without having to look, that their food dish was nearly empty, and I would rush to fill it again. (“Nearly empty,” by the way, is defined as, “the bottom of the bowl is visible in at least one place.”) I would walk around the house every hour flushing all the toilets so they had a ready source of fresh drinking water. I would open the windows every day. (The air is always fresh and near the ideal temperature every time I open the windows, so why don’t I do it more often?) I would let the songbirds into the house so the cats could play with them instead of just watching them through the screen. I would stay home every day, take frequent naps, and be ready to play at night. I would help them figure out how to catch that red dot of light that bounces around the walls and floor and never seems to stay captured, no matter how cleverly they trap it with their paws.

No, I will never become the person my cats want me to be. They will never understand that my hours away from the house somehow make it possible for me to put food in their bowl. They will never convince me that the best conversations are not conducted face to face. But we seem to have a working relationship, and that may be what matters the most. As in so much of life, vive la difference! J.

 

Saving Private Daylight

A few days ago I noticed Mrs. Dim at work in her garage. She was undertaking an odd carpentry project. She had ten six-foot 2×4 boards. One by one, she sawed six inches off the right end of each board as it lay on the sawhorses, and immediately she glued the six-inch piece of wood to the left end of the same board.

I usually don’t like to talk to Mrs. Dim while she is working on a project. In fact, I usually don’t like to talk to Mrs. Dim at all. Curiosity got the best of me, though, and I went out to ask her what she was doing. With a look on her face and a tone in her voice that communicated, “Isn’t it obvious?” she answered my question with these words, “I’m saving wood.”

I didn’t ask any more questions. I didn’t want to know any more answers. As Americans prepare to change their clocks again this weekend, observing a tradition we call “Daylight Saving Time,” I wonder how much daylight will be saved this year. I also wonder what other silly things Americans might to just because our government tells us we should do them.

The last few days the sun has already been in the sky when my alarm woke me. It was easier to get out of bed and start the day in daylight. Next week it will be dark when my alarm wakes me.

In some parts of the country the sun will not reach high noon until 1:30 in the afternoon.

The cats will not understand why the family bed times and meal times have suddenly changed. It will take them a week or two to adjust to the new schedule. In fact, it will take all of us a week or two to adjust to the new schedule. Then, in November, we can adjust our schedules again.

At least the government has put the change of clocks in the first half of March. When I was younger, we changed our clocks on the first weekend of April. Often that first day of Daylight Saving Time was Easter Sunday. Getting up early for the sunrise service was made even harder with one less hour to the night.

Daylight saving time was first instituted during the Great War, also known as World War I. This clearly shows the connection between the practice of Daylight Saving Time and governments generally doing foolish and harmful things. Congress ended Daylight Saving Time after the end of the war, only to have it reinstated during World War II. Again, the practice was suspended after the war, only to reappear once again in the 1960s, when Americans were doing a lot of other strange things. In the 1970s and 1980s Americans tried to save daylight all year long, but the country chose to waste daylight during the winter beginning in 1986, shortening the wasteful period by five weeks in 2007.

I do not feel as if I have been wasting daylight since last November. How changing my clock this weekend will save any daylight is beyond my comprehension. I will do it, of course, because my employers do it and my neighbors do it and the television stations do it. Even the church does it. A few people will forget, though, and will show up during the closing hymn. At least the service they miss won’t be the Easter service.

When, oh when, will madness end? J.

 

The Salvageable way to trim a Christmas tree


I was recently told that I am the only person who treats putting lights on a Christmas tree as an art form. I know that isn’t true: my father taught me his method for lighting a tree, and he is still alive and decorating Christmas trees. However, since I got to put lights on the family tree not once but twice this past weekend, it seems to be the right time to share the method I use to create a beautifully-lit tree.

My father taught me two rules. First, every bulb must be on a branch. There are to be no bulbs dangling in midair, and no strings merely lying along the surface of the tree. Second, some bulbs should be within the tree. They should not all be on the outward branches, creating a hollow cone of light, but they should help to reveal the inner depth of the tree.

Last Saturday I set up the family tree with lights and tinsel, but I decided to delay the ornaments until Sunday, when more members of the family would be available for decorating. It’s fortunate I made that decision, because by Sunday morning it was evident that the old light strings were overheating, shutting themselves off before starting a fire, but still unsafe. After church and lunch I ran out to the store and invested in modern LED lights for the tree. Then I stripped off the tinsel and the old lights and began to place the new lights on the tree.

Here is a step-by-step process of the Salvageable way to trim a tree. Once the tree is in place and stable, bring out the lights. If you are using lights bought in previous years, test the strings one by one, setting aside those that do not light at all. Disregard burnt-out bulbs; these can be replaced during a later step. Once all the strings have been tested and are working, assemble them in a single line and start putting them on the tree.

Most tree decorators start at the top of the tree and work toward the bottom, either clockwise or counterclockwise. With a long single string, that method is impractical. Therefore, I start at the top of the tree in the back and install one row clockwise and the next counterclockwise, reversing direction each time I reach the back of the tree. This allows me to have the entire row of strings together at once without having to go through the effort of circling round and round the tree, pulling the strings of bulbs behind me. Each bulb is carefully placed on its own branch. (This is the time to replace burnt-out bulbs.) Most of them are pushed several inches down the branch so there is room for ornaments. Especially with the middle and lower branches, I work along the branch toward the trunk of the tree and back out, not necessarily on every branch, but on enough branches to have lights scattered through the interior of the tree.

For the home tree, I prefer colored lights—red, yellow, green, and blue. A single-color tree may look better at church (white lights in particular) or other places, but I like the combination of colors at home. Tinsel is optional, and I prefer the strings of tinsel rather than single strands to be placed on the tree one by one. Silver is an ideal color for reflecting the lights of the tree. Unlike the lights, the tinsel can be laid on top of the branches, being careful to fill some of the holes left when lights were placed on the tree. Again, space must be left for ornaments.

The ornaments are to be scattered evenly around the surface of the tree, with heavier ornaments placed on branches within the tree, nearer the trunk. Once again, the goal is to show the richness of the tree rather than creating a hollow cone of decorations. Ornaments of sentimental value should be placed where they are easily seen; others can be used to fill in the back and the lower branches. When children are helping to decorate the tree, this is the time to share stories that the older ornaments bring to mind. It is important that fragile ornaments not touch each other, especially if the household includes cats that like to climb Christmas trees.

Our younger cat still likes to climb the Christmas tree. Between the lights and the tinsel Sunday afternoon she got into the tree and posed, lying along several of the branches about halfway up the tree. Since the decorating has been finished, she has gotten into the tree twice. It is startling to see the decorated tree sway and shake, but the tree itself is stable, and the ornaments so far have not fallen off the tree. Our older cat does not climb the tree; he is content to sleep underneath on the tree skirt, and he can be found there most of the day.

Taking a few steps to help the Christmas tree reach its potential in form and beauty is worth the effort. A tree should be decorated in a calm and relaxed way. The Christmas tree is supposed to be fun, not a source of stress. I recommend that the tree trimmer allow enough time to decorate without being rushed, remain hydrated, and be prepared to share anecdotes and memories while crafting the holiday decoration. J.

 

The sense of scents

Dogs and cats rely on the sense of smell far more than people do. In fact, people often overlook the importance of scents, because we pay far more attention to what we see and hear and touch. Being blind or deaf is a serious problem, but not being able to smell seems to make very little difference to a person.

Our awareness of scents is often more subliminal than direct. When I was in college, the psychology professor described how she had struggled with depression in her college days. While she was enduring several weeks of depression, she had classes in a building with fragrant flowers blooming outside. Even years later, she reported, smelling that kind of flower made her feel a twinge of depression due to the olfactory reminder of her college darkness.

On a recent Saturday a member of my family was preparing food right after breakfast to cook in a slow cooker, and my thoughts drifted to the Thanksgiving celebrations of my childhood. Soon I established the connection—my mother made a stuffing with onion and celery that she chopped on Thanksgiving morning, and I believe that was the only morning of the entire year that she chopped those vegetables. She often cooked with them, but usually she only chopped in the afternoon. Smelling chopped onions in the morning immediately evoked my memories of Thanksgiving mornings from years ago.

The mind can work the opposite direction as well. I was driving to work a couple of mornings ago, listening to the classical music station, and a piano piece started to play. Instantly I thought I smelled faintly the aftershave lotion that my uncle used to wear. My uncle taught me how to play the piano when I was a child. I had not remembered the scent of that aftershave lotion for years, but a piano piece on the radio brought it to mind.

Early this year, I took my family to one of those towns where people have restored the old buildings to make the town look like it was more than a hundred years ago. The restaurant where we ended up having lunch was in one of those restored buildings, and it had a wood-burning fireplace. The entire south end of the town was permeated with the odor of the burning logs. Days later, when I was looking at pictures of the same buildings, I smelled the wood smoke again, and that happened several times over the following days whenever I had reason to glance at those photographs.

I know that I am highly sensitive to scents as well as to sounds. I haven’t had trouble with migraine headaches lately, but when I did struggle with migraines, I usually knew one was coming because I became even more sensitive to odors. What a woman considers an appropriate amount of perfume can send me into a coughing fit that makes me have to leave the room. If one person has spent time with another person who smokes cigarettes, I can smell the smoke in that person’s clothing even if the other person didn’t smoke in the company of the first person. I am not fond of the odors of plastics and other chemicals—I’ve never understood the attraction for some people of a “new car smell.” I would far rather breathe the air of a farmyard or a zoo, odors that other people find offensive but I find mildly comforting.

The sense of smell is more a part of our lives than most people realize. Much of the taste of food and beverages comes from the odor, which is why food tastes different to a person whose nose is congested. Odors can be a warning of danger, such as smelling fire in a house or smelling gasoline in a car. Odors we do not consciously notice can still influence us, as is the case with pheromones, which can attract one person to another person although neither person knows why. When people shop for a house, they can be influenced positively or negatively by scents; some homeowners cook a batch of chocolate chip cookies when they know that a prospective buyer will be visiting.

Near where I work is a vegetarian restaurant. Some days when I walk by, they are cooking onions, caramelizing them for soups or sandwiches. I cannot smell onions being cooked in that way without thinking of pork chops the way my mother used to prepare them.

What scents carry the strongest memories in your life? J.

Out of the doghouse

I have been in the doghouse for a few days, ever since my older cat found out that I wrote a post about my younger cat. (Even now he is watching to make sure that I write “older cat” and not “other cat.”) He has been in the house much longer than she has, and he does not accept any explanation for the fact that she was introduced to the internet first.

He came from an animal shelter, but it was quickly obvious that he is a “people cat.” If people are in the house, he is determined to be with one or more of them—he is happiest when several people are in the same room. Sometimes he goes from person to person demanding attention; other times, he just sits or lies in the middle of the group and happily listens to the voices. At nighttime, he has the uncanny ability to cause every member of the household to believe that he spent the entire night sleeping in his or her bed.

He is very much an athlete. He likes to jump onto high pieces of furniture. When he is in the mood, he even sleeps atop the china cabinet. He likes to prowl along a row of bookcases from one end to the other. When he is in a wild mood, he likes to run full speed across the room, onto the bookcases, from one end to the other and back again, and then out of the room. When he is not so wild, he likes to balance himself on narrow surfaces—a handrail that is about two inches wide but curved, or the headboard of the bed, which is less than an inch wide—and walk from one end to the other and back again. One of his favorite tricks is to walk the length of the headboard, climb onto the round bedpost until all four feet are on that curved surface, and then jump from there onto the top of a six-foot-tall bookcase.

Only rarely is he a lap cat. He would rather lie or stand next to a person on a couch and be pet. Sometimes he will walk back and forth on and off the lap; he has also been known to perch on the arm of an occupied easy chair and demand attention.

He also likes to sit on a four-legged stool and supervise cooking in the kitchen. He watches the actions of the cook with interest, but his favorite human food is cooked chicken. His love for that smell makes him forgetful of the house rules, as he will climb off the stool onto the counter in search of the chicken. Like a two-year-old child, he has learned the meaning of the word “no,” and he responds with a similar sound when he is removed from a place where he does not belong. He often joins the family during meals, and if the smell is to his liking he will try to get from the floor to a lap or chair and from there to the table. Sometimes—as with the Thanksgiving turkey—he has to be closed in a bedroom for the duration of a meal so the rest of us can eat in peace.

Like my younger cat, he expects a great deal of attention and affection when everyone has been out of the house for a few hours or has been asleep for a few hours. He is very vocal about his needs and desires. When his food dish is empty, he runs back and forth between the nearest person and the dish with such anxiety that sometimes we tease him by saying, “What’s the matter? Has Timmy fallen into the well again?” He is never resentful of our teasing, although he does lay back his ears and object to the line, “I t’ought I taw a puddy-tat.”

Black cats are supposed to be bad luck, but he has brought the family nothing but good luck. He is a beautiful cat with short black fur and yellow eyes. He generally is a very forgiving cat, and now that I have written about him, I believe that I shall be allowed out of the doghouse. J.

Fan of a cat

Some people are cat people, and some people are dog people. A few like both, and a few like neither. My parents fit in the “both” category. When I was growing up, the family generally had one dog and one cat, and they played together nicely. For a few years we had two cats, but that was because a stray cat adopted us.

I like most dogs. As for me and my house, though, we serve the cats. They can be trusted alone in the house when we are gone all day—or even are on a several day trip. (Yes, we do have a sitter stop by once a day to give them food and water and to clean their litter box.) Cats are quieter than dogs, and they demand less attention. Yet it means something to win the approval of a cat. Dogs are pack animals; they will admire anyone who takes leadership in their lives, tells them what to do, and provides them with food and attention. Cats are more particular. They choose their friends by a process known only to other cats. Food and attention are not enough to make friends with a cat. When a cat approves of you, you know that you are a special person. Most cats like me.

A year ago my daughter came home from Walmart with a cat. She had not gone to the store to buy a cat, and in fact she did not buy this kitten. It came to her in the parking lot. I know this happens a lot; people leave unwanted kittens in the Walmart parking lot, expecting that they will find a new home. This kitten must have come from a fairly nice home. She is friendly, she likes children, and she clearly had received good care and enough food until she was left at Walmart. A year later, I still wonder if some boy or girl is wondering what happened to the special kitten they were raising that disappeared without explanation one day.

The kitten is now a cat. I’m usually the first person awake in the mornings, and when she hears that I am up, she comes looking for attention. She wants to be pet and rubbed and assured that I have not stopped loving her overnight. This lasts until I sit down for breakfast or until she hears that someone else is awake. When I come home from work, she wants more attention, because I’ve been gone all day. I might want to check matters on the computer, but she needs her time with me too.  In the evenings she enjoys being a lap cat. She sits on my lap and purrs; I scratch her behind her ears while reading a book.

Some days, especially Saturdays, I feel anxious for no reason. At times, this cat is my best medicine. Time spent with her is the best therapy I can find on a weekend. Even if I have to wake her up to get her attention, she is quickly forgiving, ready to show me that I still matter to her, and peaceful assurance that not everything is wrong in the world.

Cats are not for everyone. Some people have allergies, and some have phobias, and some just don’t like having animals around the house. Even the best-behaved cats will sometimes sharpen their claws on the sofa or weave around a person’s legs to trip that person in a dark hallway at nighttime. They do not understand the human habit of sleeping for several hours and then being awake for two or three times as many hours. My cat does not understand why I hold books and stare at them for long minutes of the day; it’s an odd habit she has come to accept. Family television time is another mystery to her, but she is happy to be with us when we are all staring at that noisy box with the moving pictures. She is generous but fair—if the show is long enough, she will have spent time on each lap in the room.

Of all the people in that Walmart parking lot last October, I am glad this cat found my daughter first. We have taken good care of her, and she is taking good care of all of us. I am delighted that she became part of my family. J.