Monthly Archives: November 2013

On Making Pies and Doing Math in My Head

Dave and I were grocery shopping for Thanksgiving yesterday, and I needed heavy cream.  It’s not something I usually buy but I don’t count calories on Thanksgiving, so there I was, peering at the carton of whipping cream and trying to do math in my head.  “Hey hon, how much is a half pint?”

Dave looked up from the dairy case, thought for a moment, and then walked over.  Taking the little carton from my hand, he said, “Oh, there — it’s 236 milliliters.”

I tilted my head and gave him my best, “What you talkin’ about, Willis?” look.  “HONEY.  If I knew how much 236 milliliters was, would I be asking you this question?!  How many cups are in a half pint?”

Dave laughed.  “Well, it’s one cup, see?”  He turned the carton over and over, then said, “Well, huh, I guess it doesn’t say.  But it’s one cup.”

“Why don’t they just put ONE CUP on here instead of a half pint?!”  I shook my head in wonderment and placed the carton in the shopping cart.  One of these days I’m going to associate ‘half pint’ with one cup instead of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Things are gearing up to be busy here, and as I made my pie crusts yesterday I started thinking about this entry from almost a year ago.  I’m going to repost it here today; I think it’s a good time of the year for it.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

* * * *

Either last year or the year before, I can’t remember, I set a goal to learn how to make pie crust.  I knew it was simple ingredient-wise, but something in the actual technique just eluded me.

Every now and then I’d make my own crust, and it was okay…nothing to write home about.  I’d flop it into my dish and smash in all the pieces that broke off so that they actually covered the surface of the dish.  It made a huge mess and was basically a pain in the ass and, to me, it didn’t taste any better than a store-bought pie crust.  Why go to all the bother?

I make a couple of savory dishes that use pie crust (chicken pot pie, sombrero pie) and we like fruit pies as well, so I make pie crust often enough that it started to bother me that I couldn’t conquer this simple recipe.  I mean … flour, water, a fat of some kind, and salt (sometimes sugar).  Why is it so hard?

So anyway, I set this goal:  I was not going to be afraid of pie crust anymore.  Every time I read about people succeeding in their pie crust endeavors, they would say you need to practice.  After a while you get the feel of it.  That makes sense, so I decided I would not buy any more pie crust.  I would make all of them, and I would learn from my mistakes, and I would not give up.

And so it goes.  I did some reading to figure out what recipe might become my go-to recipe.  What fats are better:  all butter, all shortening, all lard, or a mix?  I tried them all to see what tasted better.  As I did this, I worked on my technique.  Did I find it easier to mix everything by hand, or did I prefer doing it in the food processor?

It was slow going, folks.  I made a lot of pie crusts that were, um, interesting.  I learned that I need some shorter countertops in our next house because, at barely 5’1”, I can’t get the leverage I need to work the fats into the flour by hand.  (I would often take the bowl and pastry cutter over to the kitchen table, which is 6-8” shorter than the countertops.)  That’s why I avoid anything that involves kneading or rolling things out – Dave makes all the bread, and sometimes I need to get a step stool out when I roll out the pie crust.  Frustrating!

But I didn’t give up.  I chose my food processor as my preferred mixing method.  The pie crusts slowly got better, and I narrowed my recipes down to two and then one, which was simple and quick.  I fairly quickly eschewed shortening in favor of butter and leaf lard.  I did a lot of reading on lard, an ingredient that used to make me gag when I thought of it.  I found out the grocery store lard is very different (and very bad for you!) compared to lard that you render yourself (or buy from someone who renders it).  We tried rendering lard from regular pork fat, which wasn’t bad, and then we happened to find a local meat packing place that had ever-elusive leaf lard for a really good price.  Dave and I were shocked to find out how easy it was (and inexpensive!) to render our own leaf lard, especially after we researched prices and locations to buy it already-rendered.

In November, I was getting ready to make an impromptu apple pie and a King Arthur Flour catalog happened to be lying on the counter.  There was a recipe for pie crust inside and I figured, what the heck … I’ll give this a try since it’s right here.  I’d had months and months of pie crust success, and it was going to my head a bit.  I got started and right off I noticed that their recipe used less fat in relation to flour than my usual recipe.  It didn’t stop me though; after all, King Arthur Flour had to have a good pie crust recipe, right?!  So I went along, and as I worked the fat into the flour I could tell something was wrong.  I should have just added more butter and lard but nah, I stubbornly pressed on.  I added the amount of ice water the recipe called for and still just had a big floury mound.  I finally added about four times the water in the recipe before I could get it to hold together.  The kitchen was a mess from all the fussing I was doing with this dough, I was frustrated and pissed off, and I had a bad feeling as I slung the round Saran-wrap covered disks into the fridge to chill.

When it came time to roll out the crust, I really knew something was off.  All that practice was paying off, to the point where I could just feel the way the dough should be as I rolled it out.  The texture was wrong, it was too stiff … hoo boy.  I still made the pie, but I warned Dave that we might be picking out the filling and tossing the crust in the garbage when we ate it.

My friends, it was the worst pie crust I’ve ever made in my life.  It was a shining example of how truly bad a pie crust could be.  We could barely cut through it with a knife, much less a fork.  You had to vigorously chomp down and tear the crust like a wild animal just to get a bite.  It was bad.

I really needed that, you know?  I needed to see how much I’d learned in my pie crust education, and I needed to realize it was better to trust my instincts than to just blindly accept what I knew was probably not right.  I knew that I’d finally reached that point where I could tell how a pie crust dough should look and behave.  I went back to my tried and true recipe.

So last night, New Years Eve 2012, I made an apple pie.  I had another new recipe, one that came at the end of a very informative article on why pie crust behaves the way it does, how to achieve the flakiness, how and why you want the fat incorporated into the flour.  I liked the article – it made sense – and the recipe appealed to me because it gave the flour quantity by weight rather than cups, which I think is more accurate.  It was just a touch fussier than my go-to recipe but not enough to put me off.  I was wary as I went along, knowing what happened the last time I tried a new pie crust recipe, but as I shaped the two balls into discs to be refrigerated, I knew it would be okay.

That was my best-ever pie crust.  It was what I’ve been working toward all this time – flaky and tender and delicious.  It confirms that I will never again say that store-bought pie crust is just as good as homemade.  Practice makes perfect.  (Or pretty darn good, anyway.)

Here’s to 2013 and more perseverance, more knowledge, and reaping the good rewards they bring.

We call this one 'Angry Pie'

We call this one ‘Angry Pie’

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How to Pet a Cat

You know how they say that no two snowflakes are alike?  The same goes for cats.  We have four, and woe unto you if you try to approach and, consequently, pet them incorrectly.

Maxie is about nine years old, we figure.  She was as wild and feral as they come when we trapped her in the spring of 2006, nursing her two kittens who, we found out later, weighed just a pound or two less than her.   All these years later, she’s mellowed out and is the most approachable of the three.

MaxieCat - How can you resist that face?

MaxieCat – How can you resist that face?

To pet Maxie, just hold your hand out to her.  Let her approach you, sniff your hand.  I keep my fingers curled in toward my palm; it seems to be less aggressive.  Maxie will take the reins; she likes to decide where she wants to be petted.  If you move your hand toward her, she’ll get a little nervous.  If you take it a step further and start petting her any which way you wish, she’ll duck her head out from under your hand with a little look of annoyance.  Hold your hand still.  Let her come to you.  First she’ll rub her cheeks along your knuckles; every now and then you’ll feel her teeth scraping too but don’t worry, she won’t bite you.  Then she’ll duck her head down and push it against your hand; at this point it’s permissible to run your knuckles from her nose up between her ears.  Bring your hand back and hold it still.  Always remember, Maxie likes to be in control.

Maxie has two daughters and they both live with us.  We originally thought Alice was the runt; she was so tiny, much smaller than Grace, and seemed to constantly be the last to eat.  She was the most shy of the three, running from the room every time we entered.  Even once the other two girls were comfortable upstairs, where we spend all our time, Alice would lie flat on the top step, peeking over the edge.  She’d observe but never participate.

Ally-Kat, and part of her long, long tail

Ally-Kat, and part of her long, long tail

Then Alice found her voice.  She grew.  And grew.  She outgrew her sister, then her mother.  Now, at seven years old, she’s muscular, sleek and beautiful, a true tuxedo cat with the longest tail we’ve ever seen.  And that voice!  After we heard her meow, we wondered if her dad was Siamese.  Her meow is loud and piercing, and she’s persistent.

Alice, or Ally-Kat, is always just out of reach.  She’ll come up to you, meow loudly, wind in and out of your chair leg as you sit at the computer.  When you reach down to pet her, she’ll step just far enough away that your fingertips can’t touch her.  If you stretch your fingers, she’ll sidle further off.  To pet Alice, you have to move.  You’ll end up crouching over, following this cat as she constantly steps just ahead of you but meows as if to say, “Why aren’t you petting me?”  Petting Ally-Kat involves a workout.

Her sister, Grace, was a spitfire as a kitten.  And I mean that fairly literally; at one point I was just sure we could tame these wild little balls of fur, and I sat in an enclosure with her.  I crooned and beckoned, trying to get Gracie to sit with me.  Instead, she backed into a corner, back arched, fur at attention as if she’d been shocked.  She hissed and then she spit at me.  I’d heard the term ‘hissing and spitting’ before but never, EVER have I had a cat actually spit at me.  I was so scared of this little kitten that I had tears in my eyes; I couldn’t get out of that enclosure fast enough.  I was sure she’d claw my eyes out.

When we took her to the vet just a week later, the vet tech swooped her up and pressed Gracie to her chest.  “Oh, but you have to cuddle them!” she crooned, as Gracie froze in her hands.  I had to turn away; I couldn’t watch this poor girl get ripped to shreds.  Luckily, the unsuspecting young lady set Gracie down before she got her wits about her; she’d been so stunned by being picked up that she was temporarily immobile (and docile).

Gracie, or Baby Grace, was such a ball of fur that she looked much bigger than her sister as a kitten.  Over the years, she’s stayed small and petite; she still looks like a kitten, really.  We took to calling her Baby Grace because of her size, and it stuck.  She’s been the most suspicious of the three, the longest to hold a grudge.  If you reached your hand out to her, she’d bat at you (and sometimes connect … those claws are sharp).  For the longest time, the easiest way to pet her was to approach her when she was on top of our armoire.  It’s in front of the window in our bedroom, so she’d shrink against the window as she got petted.  She wouldn’t run away, and sometimes she’d start purring, but she always seemed nervous.

Baby Grace in one of her favorite places, the downstairs window

Baby Grace in one of her favorite places, the downstairs window

Baby Grace is the only one that still runs away when we come into a room (although if she’s sleeping on our bed, she’ll usually stay there).  If she’s at the patio door watching birds or squirrels, and you come into the kitchen, she’ll run off with her tail held high.  She’s getting better, though.  Sometimes I can crouch down and call to her, and she’ll stop in mid-run.  She’ll turn and look at me, think about it for a minute, then saunter back toward me.  She’ll rub her side along my leg, sometimes let me pet her.  Then she’ll head off again, at a slower pace.

There are two times of the day I can pet Gracie:  first thing in the morning, and at bedtime.  It’s a little ritual now; when she sees me get into bed and grab my Nook tablet, she joins me.  She cautiously walks up toward my face, then rubs her head against the tablet.  Then she goes a little crazy, head-butting my hand, purring; I can pet her with abandon.  She ducks her head down, as if she’s going to do a somersault; sometimes she stretches out along my leg, and I periodically reach down to scritch her under her chin (her favorite).  Baby Grace is a love bug during those two times of the day, and I’m waiting hopefully for her to realize she can get petted like this all day long if she wishes.

Our oldest cat, Sabrina (Beanie, aka Beanie Baby) was in residence for about ten months before the girls joined the household and rocked her world.  Beanie is the sweetest, friendliest cat you could ever hope to meet.  If you come to our house, you’ll meet Beanie.  She’ll stomp toward you on her squat little legs, look you right in the eye and meow softly.  She’ll stare at you, wearing you down, until finally you give in and pet her on the head.  Beanie loves being petted, even on her stomach.  She’s so docile and loving; sometimes she purrs so loudly that we have to turn up the volume on the TV.  (If we’re watching TV, she’s almost always sitting with or on one of us.)

Beanie’s a little weird about sniffing your hand, though.  She seems to have a sensitive sniffer, and often seems offended by smells; she’ll recoil at an extended hand.  This is a common thing to do, offer your hand to an animal so they can sniff it first, and it might look like Beanie is slightly repulsed by your presence.  Don’t be fooled, though; she loves everybody.  She just doesn’t necessarily like the way they smell.

Beanie often seems put out by the fact that she’s so far below us, walking on the floor when we’re apparently up in the heavens.  She’ll follow us around and meow pitifully, or sit on the floor in the bathroom while I do my makeup or brush my teeth, staring at me sadly.  Finally, I give in and pick her up; I carry her around the house with me, or I put her on the counter so she can watch me.  She settles in happily and starts purring; no more meows, no more sad looks.  Beanie really needs to just be carried around the house in a sling, the way I used to carry the kids when they were babies.  To make Beanie happy, all you have to do is pay attention to her.

Beanie wants to know why she's on the floor like a CAT, geez.

Beanie wants to know why she’s on the floor like a CAT, geez.

And don’t make her sniff your hand.

Snippets from a Sunday in November

I’m planning our Thanksgiving menu, which currently consists of ridiculous amounts of food for the four of us.  I don’t care; leftovers are one of the best parts of Thanksgiving.  I calculated how many pie crusts I need and how much butter; I nailed down an appetizer.  After all that planning, I was horrified to realize I forgot to write stuffing on the list.  Stuffing, one of my favorite components of the meal!  (Shakes head, wonders about self.)

***

I’m still counting calories over here, a month and a half later.  I’m happy to report that I am WAY less bitchy and obsessive than I was when I did Weight Watchers; I’m also losing weight more consistently (slowly but consistently) and not doing the thing where I feel like I’ve starved myself all week and then gained two pounds, you know?  That was always discouraging.  I’m giving Livestrong.com a big thumbs up for ease of use.  Just be careful how you set it up, if you do use it.  I did the thing where I put in my current weight and then how much weight I wanted to lose per week, and let it calculate my calories for me.  (As a side note, it yelled at me when I said I wanted to lose two pounds a week.  “THAT’S NOT ENOUGH CALORIES PER DAY, CRAZY WOMAN!”  Being short sucks sometimes.)

What happened, though, was every time I updated to a new, lower weight, it would also lower my allotted number of calories per day.  Since I’m super-short (barely 5 feet 1 inch), my calorie count was inching down to just over 1,000 calories per day.  I was starting to get lightheaded at points, so I did some reading and apparently a woman of my age and size needs 1200 calories just to keep the ole body functioning.  Anything less and my body thinks it’s starving, which defeats the purpose.

So I switched things around and set my daily calories at a fixed 1200 per day.  That seems to work for me; combined with exercise, I’m losing about a pound a week with no hunger or lightheadedness.

On a related note, one of the things I love about the site is that you can enter your own recipes in and use those calorie counts.  I was being lazy and using someone else’s calorie count for homemade honey wheat bread, which was something like 125 calories per slice.  (Homemade bread has more calories than store-bought, but the better taste is worth it IMHO.)  I finally got off my butt and entered Dave’s bread recipe in and was ecstatic to see that it’s only 80 calories per slice.  And that’s with a slice even bigger than the ones I was giving myself before.  So yay, homemade bread.

Still no idea if it’s helped my cholesterol levels (they screwed up my blood test on Friday and I have to go back tomorrow to have it re-done) but there’s been a positive effect on my high blood pressure.  I’m not sure if it’s the exercise (probably is), but it was 110/60 at my doctor’s appointment on Friday, and I was a nervous wreck.  I get nervous just looking at the building my doctor works out of; once I set foot inside my heart just starts pounding.  Usually my BP is about 135/90 or a little higher, so when I told Dave what it was on Friday he was ready to check me into the hospital.  If it stays low, maybe I can even go off medication.

***

If you’re looking for a stocking stuffer for someone who cooks, I highly HIGHLY recommend a Recipe Rock.  I’m not linking to one because I’m not trying to make any money off referrals or anything, but if you do a search it’ll come right up.  Seriously, I use mine every day.  Just don’t lose the little magnet ball ‘cause, you know, you need that to make it work.

This is the Recipe Rock I have ... love the red color!

This is the Recipe Rock I have … love the red color!

***

We’re having a weird November day here – we woke up to temperatures in the 60s and lots of wind, and then some big storms moved into the area.  Of course, I’m missing all of it – it seems like nearly every time a big storm comes through I’m au natural (aka deaf), either because it’s nighttime and I’m in bed, or because I’ve taken a shower and I’m waiting for my hair to air-dry (usually one or two hours).

I got out of the shower and Dave excitedly told me about everything I missed (our bathroom has no window so between being deaf and not being able to see outside, I was clueless).  He described how the wind was so loud it sounded like a train, and showed me our neighbor’s back yard, which is festooned with pieces of siding that flew off the house next door.

A little while later, while it was still raining and windy but not tornado-like, he grabbed my arm and pulled me toward the patio door.  There was nothing there except a leaf plastered to the glass outside.  “Aw,” he said.  “Goldie was here just a second ago!”  (If you remember, Goldie is the outside/feral cat who lives under our deck and rebuffs our advances.)  Dave went back to the living room to finish watching his football game.

I dug around and found a cat carrier; during a break in the game, I showed it to Dave.  “What’s that for?” he wondered.

“Well, in case Goldie comes back and it gets really nasty, she can walk into the carrier from outside and at least be safe from the weather.”  I knew how ridiculous it sounded even as I said the words, but I gave him a hopeful smile.

I may not have been able to hear it, but I do believe that man laughed uproariously.

Fourteen Things You May Not Know About Me (Extended Version)

There’s a thing going around on Facebook where you list on your status a certain number of facts that people don’t know about you.  Those who like or comment on your status receive a number for themselves, so they can share their own unknown facts.  My niece, Tia, posted her own facts, I liked her status (not realizing I was participating) and got my assigned number of 14.  Fourteen facts!  Those who know me know that I cannot possibly divulge 14 previously-unknown facts about myself in a Facebook status.  Facebook would blow up from my word count alone.  Then I realized it’s kind of a perfect blog entry — right?  So here I am, along with 14 facts you may or may not already know about me:

  1. I’ve never gone into a bar alone and ordered a drink; partly because I’m not much of an alcohol or bar person, but also because there are too many unknown variables.  How much are the drinks?  How much do I tip?  When do I pay?  And how do people learn this stuff anyway – do they watch a friend when they do it, or is it some kind of lesson I somehow missed?  Probably they just ask and go from there, like a normal grownup (unlike me).
  2. When I was in elementary school, I played the violin.  This was VERY exciting for me, and I loved my violin, the case, the bow, the rosin.  I never really did learn how to play the violin, unfortunately.  I still have flashbacks to the one concert I participated in, trying to fake my way through Pop Goes the Weasel.  (I did the POP part, popping one of the strings, really well though.)  I vaguely remember being told to practice, and I think we must have brought our instruments to music class, but so many other kids were miles beyond me, talent-wise.  How the heck did they get so good?  It certainly wasn’t from what we learned in class, which wasn’t much.  One girl in particular, Noreen, was always asked to play for the class and she was amazing.  She was also the one chosen to sing most often.  (She was pretty, smart, nice, and talented in every area it seemed … I was in awe of her.)  Now that I’m a parent and Paige went through her own experience with flute and band, I realize these other kids must have had tutors.
  3. Thanks to my mom, I had pretty fast labors (not as fast as hers, though).  Eric was induced; I probably went to the hospital too soon, since he was my first, and I had strong Braxton-Hicks contractions.  My blood pressure was high so they kept me and induced me and he was born the next morning, after about five hours of labor.  Four years later, I delivered Paige in the hospital with a midwife instead of an OB/GYN.  This was the early 90s and when people found out I was using a midwife, there was much wringing of hands; they all seemed to assume we were going to wander off into the woods where I would eventually give birth.  Instead, she was born after about 2-1/2 or 3 hours of labor.  NO PAIN MEDICINE.  I am still proud of that, as silly as it is.
  4. In high school, most of my lunches (eaten at home – I lived close enough to walk home and back, and we had an open campus back in the late 70s) consisted of a can of Chef Boyardee Beef Ravioli and a Hostess chocolate cupcake.  (As a side note, that’s the only time I would ever eat beef ravioli … otherwise it was cheese ravioli, hands down.)  Even with my appalling diet, I barely weighed 100 pounds.  (NOT FAIR, my old slow-metabolism self says to my clueless young self.)
    My lunch date of choice in high school.  YUM.
    My lunch date of choice in high school. YUM.
  5. I cut my left thumb when I was young, and after it healed it would no longer bend.  I still have moments when I can’t remember left from right; I surreptitiously try to bend my left thumb just to confirm that yes, that’s my left.
  6. I used to have chameleons as pets when I was a kid.  One of them, Spencer, got lost when I let him out of his cage to wander around my bed and consequently forgot about him.  (I still harbor a lot of guilt over that.  I’m sorry, Spencer!!)  I ended up finding him (alive) about a year later, on the lime green wooden shutters that adorned my bedroom windows.  He had blended in perfectly; who knows how many times I’d looked right at him without noticing?
  7. I had a Barbie case that was given to me by one of my babysitters; she had obviously outgrown it.  She’d written ‘Light My Fire’ on the lid, and it completely baffled and slightly alarmed me.  I was always a little freaked out by fire, taking Fire Prevention Week very seriously (“Come on guys, we have to practice our escape plan!”); when an old house/barn across and down the street from us caught on fire, I was terrified the fire would somehow travel and burn our house down.  It wasn’t until many years later that I realized Light My Fire was a Doors song.  Duh.
  8. I’m completely freaked out by anything to do with eyes being injured, graphic descriptions of someone’s Lasik surgery, etc.  The elementary school boys used to turn their eyelids inside out and I would have to turn away and do deep breathing to keep from passing out.  If we’re watching a medical show and it has anything to do with eyes, I can’t watch.  I can’t even fathom the possibility of having eye surgery and having to BE AWAKE FOR IT (pardon me while I pant and put my head between my legs).
  9. I get nervous if I have to pull up to a drive-up window or close to a building of any kind.  When I was first driving, I pulled my Olds Cutlass Supreme (I think it was a ’76, I can’t remember) up to the bank drive-through.  I got too close to the building, scraping my car along the brick.  I was mortified but tried to play it off like it was no big deal, I planned to do it.  The teller, a young guy, was laughing his ass off.  Finally he clicked his microphone on and said, “Uh, I think you’re missing something there.”  The trim on the side of my car had come off and was hanging there, waving in the breeze.  I coolly thanked him, finished my transaction and drove off with my dangling trim, cheeks burning red with embarrassment.
  10. I love documentaries.  I know most people think they’re boring or stuffy, but I find it endlessly fascinating to learn about a person or event or talent in great detail.  I mean, how could you not find ‘Spellbound’ fascinating?!  I’m the same way with reading – I read more nonfiction than fiction.
  11. I can’t do that thing where you put your fingers in your mouth and whistle through them (or around them?) – I’ve tried and I just don’t get it.  Nothing happens.  I think it’s really cool though, and a great way to get someone’s attention … what an awesome thing to be able to do!
  12. I’ve never broken a bone.  I don’t know if this is because I’ve just been lucky or because I’m not adventurous enough, but I’m not complaining.
  13. I’ve never had a tooth pulled.  I did have all my wisdom teeth removed, but they were impacted (may I just say … OW) and they were removed via oral surgery (the first surgery I ever had).  I’ve had fillings done, but never anything else … no root canals, crowns, basic extractions.  Never had braces.  And, I’m ashamed to admit, I’m VERY overdue for a cleaning.  Partly because we have no dental insurance and I know it will be expensive since I’m due for X-rays, and partly because sometimes it HURTS.  They hit these sensitive areas and scrape away and I’m clawing the chair and thinking, ‘I’m literally in hell, this is awful.’  So I keep putting it off.  I’ll probably go in January though.  Maybe.
  14. I kept my very first speeding ticket.  (Not that I got that many of them, but this was the first.)  It’s in there with the rest of my junior year report cards and memorabilia from 1981, so faded that most of the writing is illegible.  I still remember how it happened:  I was driving on Lake Street with friends, and a Pat Benatar song came on the radio.  I accelerated once, to match the beat of the song, and I got pulled over for doing 45 in a 35 MPH zone.  It cost me a mere $35; I was too scared to go to court and try to fight it.  Instead I had to endure the embarrassment of having staple holes on my driver’s license until it was time to get a new license; that was what they did back then when you got a ticket.  I never accelerated to the beat of a song after that.

The Tease

We’d just finished watching TV; I was in the kitchen, putting away the now-dry pots and pans from dinner.  Then I heard Dave scream.

It wasn’t a high-pitched girly scream, or an I’m-in-pain scream; it was more of a ‘holy crap what was THAT?’ scream.  I cocked my head, trying to figure out where he was in the house.  I couldn’t be sure, but it sounded like he was downstairs so I headed that way.

As I headed down from the landing, he was on his way up.  “Come here!” he said, grabbing my hand.  “Look at what I saw when I came down here to feed the girls.  Scared the crap out of me!”  I peeked my head around the doorway and saw a furry face staring in the window.  Our lower level isn’t really a basement – the windows are at ground level – so any animal can wander by and look right in.

“The last thing I expected was to see a face in the window!” Dave continued.  “I swear, I think she’s trying to find her way into the house.”

The face belonged to a feral cat we’ve named, in an original streak of genius, Goldie.  She seems to be from an extended family of cats in our neighborhood that all have the same type of coloring – black, white, gold – and two of those cats were original visitors to the bowl of cat food we keep on the deck.  One of them, with more white fur than the others, was originally a very frequent visitor.  An obvious relation of his (sibling?  cousin?) would visit very infrequently; his fur is all splashes of black and gold, no other color.  Goldie showed up quite a while later, and she got her name because she has the most gold fur of the three.  She took no time running the other cats off, even though we’re pretty sure they’re related somehow.  (Couldn’t she be nicer to family?!  Geez.)

Pretty Goldie, the mooch

Pretty Goldie, the mooch

Goldie showed up last fall and quickly set up residence under our smaller deck, which is enclosed.  It took us a while to realize she was hanging around as much as she was; we have a high volume of wildlife that visits in the evening to eat and drink on the larger, upper deck and we just assumed that, like them, she was coming around for a snack and then leaving.  It wasn’t until winter arrived and we happened to see her jumping up and into the lower deck that we realized she was sleeping there.

We’d still have periods where we wouldn’t see her for a few days, but over the past few months she’s been a regular visitor.  When our cats wake Dave up at 5:30 am for breakfast, Goldie is waiting outside the patio door, pacing back and forth.  When he feeds our cats again later in the evening, she’s there.  She usually comes up in the afternoon as well; once or twice I’ve found her pacing by the door right before I head to bed.  Any time the dish (her dish, in her opinion) is empty, she lets us know.  In fact, last night we heard a loud banging sound while we were watching The Voice.  We paused the show, looked at each other and then got up and went to the kitchen.  There was Goldie, food bowl empty thanks to a possum, staring indignantly through the glass.  (We still don’t know what she did to make such a loud noise – throw her body at the door?!)

Having had experience with truly feral cats in the past, we have no doubt that Goldie is feral and not simply somebody’s cat who’s allowed to be outdoors, or a previous pet that’s now a stray.  She behaves the same way Maxie did before we trapped her; even though she knows we’re the ones that feed her, she won’t come anywhere near us.

Oh, but she’s a tease!  Especially in the morning, when she’s hungry.  She’ll rub along the door frame and look at us lovingly.  Each time, we get suckered into thinking that this will be the time she lets us pet her.  We’ll open the door a crack and she’ll run back to the end of the deck.  We talk to her, shake the can of food … anything to get her to come closer.  No dice – the cat acts like we have the plague.  So we shut the door and she runs back, doing her arched-back little dance of love until we open the door again, like fools.

About a month ago, Dave managed to touch the top of her head while she was eating.  He can do that now, but only in the morning when she first gets her food.  When I try this, she comes up, sniffs my finger and runs away; she knows I’m not the One Who Feeds Her.  If Dave goes out on the deck to fill the food bowl, she’ll run to the stairs and wait there while he finishes.

A couple of months ago, Dave opened the door a crack and she walked up to it.  He breathlessly told me, “I think I could get her in the house!”  I looked at him for a second and said, “And then what?”  He deflated a bit and admitted that he hadn’t thought that far.  So we talked about it, quite a bit.  We realized that while we could probably lure her into the house by leaving food just inside the door, we would then have a wild, feral cat running around the house.  Our current four cats, three of which are mostly-but-not-completely-tamed ferals, would definitely freak out.  We don’t know if she has diseases, fleas or worms.  We couldn’t pick her up to get her into a carrier and take her to the vet.  (Heck, we can’t pick up our own three former-ferals … that’s the one thing they refuse to let us do, besides trim their nails.)

When we trapped Maxie and her kittens, we already had two very docile cats and one mellow dog who didn’t have a problem with the additions to the household.  They also took very, very long – over a year – to make their way from living down in the lower level (which was our candle workshop at the time) to coming up into our main living area.  By then everyone was used to one another and there were never any fights, just some hissing every now and then.  But Maxie, Gracie and Ally-Kat are nothing like Sabrina, and they’ve already expressed their displeasure with Goldie by hissing and swatting at her through the screen.  All I need is cat fights and pissed off felines spraying and marking their territory (I’m not sure they would, but I really don’t want to find out).

So we shelved the Ermagerd Let’s Bring Her in the House!!1!! plan, and went back to making sure she has food and water and a warm place to sleep outside (Dave built her an insulated house and put it under the small deck, so she has double protection).  But we still get starry-eyed every now and then, especially when she acts so loving from behind the glass … surely we can figure it out and bring her in and tame her, right?!

Then she runs away from us again, tail held high in disdain.

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