Tag Archives: life at home


After a long, emotionally-draining day, I sat with my husband on the couch, glad for his company but too wrapped up in my own mind to notice what we were watching on TV.
“You know what, honey?” I asked him. I probably waited until a car commercial, because even when I’m distracted, I’m good like that.
“What?” He hit the mute button on the remote and turned to me.
I sat up a little straighter.
“I’m a tough goddamn cookie.”
He smiled at me. 
“Yes. Yes you are.”
“I’m… I’m one of those oatmeal cookies so hard you’ve gotta dip them in milk first so you don’t break a tooth. Tough.” I may or may not have flexed a bicep to demonstrate my toughitude.
He considered my statement for a moment.
“No, those are too brittle. You’d just fall to pieces. You’re a Chewy Chips Ahoy. You bend but you don’t break.”
He kissed me, and I cried just a little. Then I wondered if maybe I was awesome enough to be the kind with the rainbow chips.

This woman’s work is never done

My house is never really tidy.

I don’t have toddlers I can blame for it, either. Just a lot of house and yard, three cats, and two busy adults with full-time jobs.

I manage to keep us fed and dressed in clean clothes, which I hope are the most important measures of a good housekeeper. I sweep when I notice stuff sticking to my feet. I vacuum when it looks like I can collect the fluffballs into a fourth cat.

But the accumulation is overwhelming. We just have so much stuff. Surfaces in this house refuse to stay clear. Phone handsets leave their cradles and flock together on the coffee table, and coffee cups gather on my desk. The mail comes in and covers the counter. Dishes get stacked or soaked in the sink until I can get around to emptying the dishwasher. Folded laundry sits on the couch long enough for the cats to claim the piles as beds and cover them with so much fur that I need to re-wash them.

I think there’s less fur in the actual cat beds.

Note to self: consider shaving the cats. Might be more efficient.

For a while, I tried setting myself daily and weekly cleaning goals, like the maintenance schedules I’m used to in the lab. A little discipline! A list to check off! Kitchen counters on Tuesdays, bathroom sinks on Wednesdays. A system for reading and filing paperwork in a timely and organized way. Weekly meal plans to streamline shopping and dinner preparation. I bookmarked dozens of websites on organization and time management. I subscribed to daily emails from the FlyLady who promises you a clean house with just minutes of work a day. I made a nested list of daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly tasks and prepared to get serious about keeping my home in top shape while ticking off checkboxes.

You can probably guess how that worked out.

Maybe I’m only so disciplined about maintenance in the lab because I know auditors can pull the records and question any deviations. I don’t care whether the centrifuge tubing had bleach run through it this week, but if someone notices it’s not done, it will reflect badly on me and can put the whole lab’s accreditation at risk.

Obviously, I need the threat of auditors in my home to motivate me to do all the extra tidying that I should already be doing. So, I’m going to implement the perfect solution: inviting people over for dinner and games more often! If I know someone’s watching and judging me, and could revoke my friend certification if I don’t pass their quality assurance standards, I might try harder.

Unfortunately, I think that means there’s absolutely no hope for the paperwork.

Killer Kittens and Monster Squirrels

I read an article today about how cats in the United States kill billions of critters a year. Billions. Per year. In the US alone. For reference, this is a billion: 1000000000. Multiply that by 20ish, and you’re looking at how many mice, squirrels, birds, bats, and other small fluffy or feathery lives are extinguished per year, in America, in the jaws of vicious kitty cats.
Some thoughts:
1) Holy crap, we have a lot of critters out there if cats are murdering billions a year and the population of birds and squirrels still seems to be thriving (as far as I can tell, anyway).
2) I guess the loss of that many birds and small mammals is probably bad for the environmental balance, and the whole catch-neuter-release idea for stray cats isn’t necessarily the best plan, although the alternative breaks my heart.
3) I wonder how much higher that number would be if my Horton was an outside cat.
4) Maybe that explains the giant monster squirrels in Mom’s backyard. Evolutionary pressure.
No, really! Think about it! Obviously, the cats are preferentially picking off the smaller and weaker creatures, leaving the giant-critter-genes disproportionately represented in the population! This explains why the crows in my yard are getting so fat they waddle and the squirrels are big and strong enough to haul beefsteak tomatoes off my garden vine and eat them on the deck.
I’m in Montreal this week, and Mom likes to have her morning coffee and cigarette on the back porch even in the cold of a Canadian winter (our blood is thick up here, folks). On my second day here, I heard her yelp and race back in, slamming the door behind her. “He’s back, ‘stie! Jennifer! Come see this sucker!” She pointed out the window towards the biggest squirrel I had ever seen.

“He hates me,” Mom told me, still wrapped in her fur coat and wanting her smoke. “He’s an aggressive son of a bitch! He’s the one who ate through my garbage cans and dug up my flowerpots! I put mothballs like my friend told me, but he just dug them out and threw them on the neighbor’s balcony! When I’m inside at the table, he comes to the windowsill, looks me in the eye, and poops there on purpose right in front of me, the little shit!”

Good daughter that I am, I put on my purple down coat with the fluff-lined hood and stood on the balcony with my mother, brandishing a plastic shovel to defend her from giant attack squirrels. This guy came towards us once or twice, but the whoosh of the shovel scared him back to the neighbor’s hanging flowerpot. I got a picture of him:

And this was one of the smaller guys.

While I was out there, I had a good look around. We were surrounded. There were dozens of squirrels hanging out in the trees behind Mom’s place in Montreal, and every single one was bigger than the ones I usually deal with back in Maryland. The Canadian squirrels look exactly the same in terms of color and features, so I’m sure they’re the same species, but they must weigh at least 3 pounds each.

Weight-loss-inspiration photo these guys surely have
taped to the bathroom mirrors in their nests.

I’m not kidding. Thick branches dip dangerously under their weight. The downstairs neighbor is contributing to their weight problem by throwing crackers and stale bread out for them on a regular basis. If you’re quiet, you can hear them crunching from the balcony. It’s surreal, hearing dozens of crackers being crunched by hundreds of tiny teeth.  I tried hard to get a picture of the really fat one, but he stayed too far away. He doesn’t fit through the holes in the chain-link fence, poor little guy, so he had to climb the fence to get at his carbs.

A photo of Fatty from 2008. He’s still using it in his SquirrelMatch.com profile.

I’ll be back out there tomorrow for more balcony defense. Wish me luck. They may bring reinforcements. Does anyone have an outside cat I can borrow?


This is the 23rd of my “Advent Calendar” Christmas ornament posts. For some background information about this project and why I’m challenging myself to complete it, see here. Note: it’s entirely possible some of these memories are inexact, but I’m sticking with them anyway.



I was addressing Christmas cards last week and noticed how many addresses I’ve had to cross out as friends and family pack up and move to new places. For some who moved almost annually, I started writing in pencil, because I was running out of space on the page for new addresses. I’ve had eight addresses myself, but I hope that the current one is permanent enough to be safely written in ink.


The Little House

I grew up next door to my grandmother’s house, in a tiny red house with a wide porch and a huge yard. There was a birch tree that made me sneeze, and a tamarack tree so tall that I had to lie down on the ground to see the very top without hurting my neck. We played outside a lot. So many trees, and so many summer hours spent sending maple helicopters down the winding rivers we made with the hose in the driveway. There was a path through the cedar hedge to my grandmother’s house, and we could run over for a visit anytime. We could walk to the dépanneur next door and pick out white and purple Mr Freezies from the jumbled pile in the slide-top cooler, paying for them with pockets full of piggy bank change.


The Big House

We moved to a different city, twenty minutes away, when I left elementary school. It was a split-level style, with a garage, and a huge backyard for Dad to mow and Mom to plant gardens in. Each of the three kids got our own rooms – mine was gigantic – and there were two living rooms to watch TV in. So much space, in such a classy neighborhood. But it wasn’t a happy place. There was too much anger, contempt, and bitterness in that home. Parents on the brink of divorce, and teenage kids feeling the pressure and acting out in different ways. My parents eventually split up and we had to leave the big house behind. I don’t remember very much about the big house, now. The carpets were blue. Mom planted Wisteria by the fence. I cried in my closet a lot.


The Loud Apartment

Dad went to live with his mother for a while during and after the divorce. Mom held the rest of us together and found us an apartment that we could all squeeze into. My sister moved out, and then back in when things didn’t work with her roommates. It was a second-floor apartment on a busy street. The downstairs neighbors hated us; they screamed at us through the floor, banging brooms against the ceiling, threatening us with bodily harm. They said we were too loud, but I think they hated us because we spoke English. We kept the TV quiet, went barefoot, and it was never good enough. The apartment wasn’t really big enough for us all, and my sister was sleeping in the living room. I was going to college by then, and I decided it was my duty to give everyone more space by moving in with Dad for a while, until I could get my own place.


Dad’s Place

But Dad didn’t have a place. He was still in my grandmother’s basement while he looked for a condo. I was given one of the upstairs bedrooms and I stayed a few months, but everyone’s personalities clashed and I couldn’t stay. Dad let me get a cat, to cheer me up, but it didn’t help. I had to get out, and moms being moms, I found myself immediately welcomed back to the Loud Apartment. I slept in the living room. Mom let me bring my cat.


The Nice Apartment

Mom left the Loud Apartment as soon as she was able to. It wasn’t a healthy place to live. She found a wonderful third-floor walk-up on a quiet street, a block away from a bus stop and a grocery store. We had a parking space and a square of backyard big enough for a patio set and a garden. We had big windows with wide sills for the cat to sit on and pretty views of winter sunrises through the trees. The neighbors mostly minded their own business. My brother and I each had a room, and my sister had moved out again, so we had enough space to breathe. We were happier in that apartment. Mom redid the kitchen, put up flower boxes on the balconies. She’s still in that kitchen or on those balconies with her coffee every morning. This is the place that’s brightest in my memory.


My First Apartment

When I moved to Maryland, I didn’t do it the easy way by moving in with my boyfriend. I needed my own place, to prove that I could do it alone. I got an apartment near the hospital I’d be working at, and adopted a cat so I could blame the strange night noises on his prowling. I felt safe enough there, despite the loud foreign-language fights in the parking lot at night and the time a drunk guy banged on my door asking to be let into what he thought was his friend’s place. There was a solid deadbolt on the door, and I had a vicious attack kitten to protect me. I set up cable and internet. I paid bills. I did groceries and cooked for myself every night. I dragged laundry down three flights of stairs to the dingy laundry room and wrestled with the coin slots. I did very well there on my own, but I was lonely in between my boyfriend’s weekend visits.


The Townhouse

I moved in with Dave when my lease expired. A year on my own was long enough. I loved his townhouse. We were happy there together. Parking was a creative endeavour because of how few spots were available and how many were taken up by assholes who had driveways and garages they didn’t feel like using. We tripped over the three cats or sat trapped under them on the couch while watching TV. I tried to girl the place up by planting lavender outside, but it grew to monstrous proportions, crowding the walkway with purple stems that were so heavy with bees that we were nervous about walking past. I attempted to cut and dry some in the oven… lavender is thus now forbidden from all gardens, all soaps, all candles, and pretty much everything that comes into or near our home for the rest of eternity.


Our Home

We chose this house, together, for our forever home. It’s too big, and it’s too old, and it needs too much work, but we love it. I joke that it’s made of bathrooms and built-in bookshelves, with some bedrooms and a kitchen thrown in. We’ve been here almost three years now and we’ve made incredible progress turning it into the home we want it to be. The mint green and burgundy paint is gone. The jungle in the backyard is under control and the sick trees were cut down. The silver wallpaper is gone, and the stained blue carpet is now beautiful hardwood. It’s familiar now, and comfortable. It feels like us. It smells like us. It’s home.

Horton’s Room

Horton, my dearest Murder Kitten, is trying to kill me. At first it was obvious aggression, flinging himself at me with fangs bared in hopes of clamping down on my windpipe and taking me down like a gazelle. But he’s mellowed with age and he’s much more affectionate than ever, even cuddling in my lap to watch TV, so the attacks are much fewer, and mostly only when provoked with poking. His main tactic now is sleep deprivation.
He has been eating special food since his urinary blockage and urethrostomy surgery two years ago, and so far it has kept him from having a recurrence of urinary crystals. Unfortunately, he started throwing up several times a week, and the vet thinks it may be an allergy to the food. We tried two other “urinary health” formulas, neither of which Horton would eat, so we opted to feed him canned food. instead, because it has less grain fillers, and more water, both of which are good for cats with urinary issues. The problem with the canned food is that he only eats a little at a time without throwing up, so we can only feed him about a quarter of a can per feeding. This means he needs to eat several times a day, and his majesty has decided that one of his feedings needs to be at 4am, because he can’t get through the night without starving to death.

At first, I tried pulling the blankets over my head and ignoring his plaintive meows at the bedroom door, but he’s a clever cat and stuffs his paws under the door, rattling it, which is a much harder sound to sleep through. I used felt pads on the door frame and the handle like this to try and muffle the rattle:

But it doesn’t do enough – the sound still wakes me up and then keeps me awake. If I don’t respond, he’s happy to continue for half an hour or more, sometimes throwing himself at the door handle in an attempt to break in. We can never switch to the lever-style door handles – he would learn to open them within a week, despite the lack of opposable thumbs. If I cave and let him in, he stays for a while, then whines to get back out. If I go feed him, he’ll eat, then come back to the door to harass me again. After two full weeks of insufficient and interrupted sleep, I was a wreck.

So now I put him in his room at night.

We set up the mudroom with a pet bed and a food station, and when he wakes me up at night I bring him and his canned food in there, dump him unceremoniously onto the floor, and lock him in. He keeps meowing, but this way I can’t hear him from the bedroom. It breaks my heart because I love him and don’t want to keep him cooped up alone all night, but I was losing my ability to function. I should put him there when we go to bed, but I’m still too much of a softie to handle that. I let him sleep with me till he wants out, then we go to his room and I say goodnight and walk away. I still get woken up every night, but I can fall asleep again quickly.

He’s mad about the situation, though. And he’s taking it out on the carpet in a big way.

Sigh. We were going to rip up that carpet eventually anyway.