Thursday, March 5, 2015


So, this past Saturday  Janice and I took the light rail (Orca/Link) downtown to the Moore Theatre, where we saw the excellent Beatles Tribute show RAIN last year.

This time we were going for something completely different: a dramatization of C. S. Lewis's least-known novel, THE GREAT DIVORCE (written after his space trilogy and before his Mary-Renault-esque TILL WE HAVE FACES).

As Janice said afterwards, it's not fair to critique the play on the basis of its theological content -- that wd involve reviewing both play and original book together. So let's just note that the play accurately presents Lewis's ideas and arguments as they appear in the original book, often in the same words. To that extent, it's an extremely faithful adaptation.

Just as this same group's* adaptation of THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS, which we saw the year before last, was presented as a series of monologues (a good choice), their THE GREAT DIVORCE resolved itself into a sequence of vignettes (again, a good choice on their part). This enabled them to get by with a minimum of cast: it was a three-person show. All three played Lewis himself in the (newly added) opening to the frame-story, wherein he falls asleep in his library, and in the conclusion (as per the book, when he awakens and, here, begins to set down the story at once), and at various points throughout the story for emphasis, sometimes with all three speaking in chorus and sometimes in rapid back-and-forth succession. The rest of the time they usually divided up between one actor playing Lewis (and it kept changing which this was), one playing one of the visiting ghosts, and one playing the heavenly spirit come to offer guidance to that ghost. The ghosts all wore everyday dress (I suppose to help make the connection that they were just like us), the Lewises a suit (far neater than what Lewis himself wd probably have worn) and a dressing gown, and the Spirits a costume that made them look a lot like Liberace (for those whose memories stretch back so far).

The set was minimal, and mainly seemed to serve to emphasis the ghosts' tender feet on the unyielding grass.  Overall the production perhaps emphasized the ingenuity of the three-person cast filling all those roles, switching back and forth as needed so dexterously, over the content of the play itself. It's not their fault that I thought the Spirits came across as remarkably poor presenters of Xian doctrine. Nor could their adaptation overcome my two great objections to the original work: CSL's shabby treatment of George MacDonald by having MacDonald posthumously renounce the cornerstones of his teachings** and CSL's basing his own work on a reaction against a work he confesses to not having been able to understand: Wm Blake's brilliant THE MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN AND HELL.

The Short Version: if you like THE GREAT DIVORCE, odds are you'll enjoy this adaptation, which is reasonably faithful, within the constraints of the three-person cast. If you generally enjoy C. S. Lewis's apologetics and haven't read this particular work, I'd recommend it. If you're of two minds about Lewis I'd recommend giving it a try.  If on the other hand his apologetics give you the fan-tods you might as well give this a pass.

--John R.

current task: sorting out mystery novels to go on the out-the-door pile
current reading: an interesting forthcoming book (more about this one later)

*"The Fellowship for Performing Arts"

**shades of Conan Doyle's medium-delivered posthumous conversions of skeptical friends to Spiritualism!

THE WIFE SAYS: Sure, everyone else who gets the fan-tods gets a free pass!

The Cat Report (W. 3/4-15)

Little Sofia having come and gone since last week, there were still two new cats this week, for a total of seven: LEO BRYANT (a great big smooth black cat, very like Salem in appearance) and PRINCESS MERITA (our little lion-colored cat, ten years old and with her fur newly shaved). Both were very shy, which means that along with shy Seville and shyer-than-shy Dougal that just left us with three out-and-about cats: Salem (who kept mostly to herself), Mimi (who explored as usual), and Emma Jemima (who was hostile to both Salem and Seville at different points). 

Of all the cats I think Mimi, Leo, and Salem had the best day, followed perhaps by The Princess. Emma, Seville, and Dougal didn't enjoy themselves much, for one reason or another.

Started out the morning by greeting the newcomers. PRINCESS MERITA is very gentle, very loving. She sat in my lap and purred, doing her paws all the while. I assume her fur must have been all in a tangle to have been shaved off; it's now growing back, so she's covered all over with soft soft buff-colored fuzz. Her coloring and the fact that her head, legs, and tail hadn't been shaved made her look like a tiny delicate lion. After our initial get-to-know-each-other session she went into the basket on the bench and peacefully slept the morning away.

The other new cat, LEO, looks like a great big black tomcat but is actually shy and worried about what the other cats might do to him. We had a great breakthrough when I got out the fresh catnip. He thought catnip, in a box, was the best thing ever. Even though the box was a little too small for him, he stayed in it all the rest of the morning, and was particularly pleased when I put it and him atop the cages. He also loves a leather-string toy that'd been fixed up to dangle in front of his cage.

By mid-morning the cats were distributed thusly around the room: Emma around the cat-stand near the door (sometimes atop it, sometimes down around below). The Princess was in the basket on the bench. Salem, Leo, and Mima were all up high, Salem to the left (over near the door), Leo in his box in the middle, and little Mima over near the cabinet; they seemed content to share, each with his or her own spot. Dougal was in his double-wide, hidden under the blankets, and Seville was in there as well, not knowing she was sharing her refuge with another cat a few inches away.  

MIMA remains a delightful little cat. She explores, she plays, she comes up for attention and welcomes being petted, she goes off and finds comfy spots she likes and settles herself down in them. A perfectly normal little cat in a room full of Cats with Issues.

SALEM was on the quiet side, as usual. She got swatted at by Emma at one point when Emma was atop the cat-stand and Salem on the middle level, but simply flattened herself so Emma couldn't reach her. She seemed much happier once I moved her to the cage-tops, where she could see all without being disturbed by hisses. 
DOUGAL doesn't seem to have made much progress since last week: he's still scared of coming out. At least he wasn't hiding when I arrived, and later he did let me lift him out to clean his cage (turns out he's willing to accept the top shelf in the cabinet as a reasonable substitute, so long as you close at least one of the doors to give him a little privacy). He took it well when Emma poked her head in his cage, and simply hid when Seville moved in (see below). So I don't think he's scared of the other cats so much as the new strange place he finds himself in. 

SEVILLE had a rough morning. She was hidden behind and beneath her blankets when I arrived, as usual. Each time she came out something seemed to go wrong for her and she went tearing back into her refuge. Her worst mishap was being atop the cat-tree by the cabinet and deciding to jump atop the cabinet. She didn't make it, but she did manage to pull all those cans up there down on herself as she plunged to the floor. The door to Dougal-and-Mimi's cage being open she dashed inside and burrowed down one of the little stands. I don't think she knew that Dougal was in the other right next to her, laying low -- at least if she did, she showed no sign of it. Took a good bit of doing to cox her out at noon and back into her own cage next door. 
   That makes three times over two Wednesday's I've seen Seville attempt a jump and fail to arrive where she wanted to get; I can only conclude she used to be able to jump pretty well, can no longer do so, and hasn't realized the fact. Poor Seville! She likes being petted one-on-one but hasn't found any place in the room outside her cube where she feels comfortable or can relax. I'd like to take her out on a walk but haven't tried it yet.

And then there's EMMA, who's having a really rough time of it. She's desperate for attention but so jealous of the other cats that she stalked off if she saw me petting one of the others. She picked on Seville a little, and swatted at Salem a little; the other cats avoided her end of the room. Took her out for two short walks, and both times she really enjoyed being out and about. She displayed a great interest in doors: goes up and scratches on them if they're closed and wants to go through them if there's open. She was particularly interested in the office and the kitchen, especially after she got a glimpse into the kitchen (think she must remember kitchens from her past life). She didn't mind going back into the room after a while, but I felt bad when she had to go back in her cage: she struggled and mewed desperately, and continued to cry for several minutes after I'd closed the door.
   I think it all comes down to territory. She's okay so long as she has about half the room and the cat-stand near the door all to herself, but this forces the other cats into too small an area. Is there any way we can get her to share, or stake out less territory for herself? She's a smart cat, and she loves people, and loves attention. There must be some way to show off her lovable side to visitors and potential adopters, rather than the hissy side. 

Several visitors, but none that seemed likely adopters anytime soon. Katrina dropped by, and the cats loved the extra attention.

--John R.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

He Lived Long, and Prospered

So, sad to hear the news about Leonard Nimoy, who will always be remembered as 'Mr. Spock'.  I remember seeing the first few episodes of STAR TREK when they were first being broadcast, about the time I started first grade, and finding them terrifying -- in particular people being disintegrated in the teleporter room (at least that's what it looked like to me) gave me nightmares.  I didn't really become a fan until second grade, when I remember us playing Star Trek during recess and everybody wanting to be Mr. Spock --except me, who preferred Scotty or, better yet, Dr. McCoy. But there was no doubt Spock was the breakout character, the Fonzie or Vinnie Barbarino of his day. Spock was the one who taught us all that it was okay and more than okay to be different. And while the original series of Star Trek is now looked on more or less as a campy joke, that's not how we thought of it at the time: we took it seriously. Though Nimoy had a credible career afterwards, he's a good example of someone who got typecast early on, rebelled against it, and eventually came to terms with the career-defining role that made him rich, famous, and the object of much affection.

But just to show that his talents were best spent as Mr. Spock rather than, say, a singer -- and because this being me, there has to be a Tolkien connection somewhere, here he is performing "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" in what is, I suppose, the first Tolkien music video. There doesn't seem to be an official version up, but here's one of many found scattered across the net: Enjoy!

And, just for fun, here's an extra: cast members from the Peter Jackson HOBBIT doing a read-aloud of the lyrics of the 'Ballad'

So, goodbye Mr. Nimoy, and goodbye Mr. Spock, and thanks.

--John R.
current (re)reading: THE DARKEST ROAD by G. G. Kay

THE WIFE SAYS: Your examples of breakout characters is dated!
--Fair enough.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Remembering Rigby

A year ago today since we lost Rigby, mighty leaper and determined pursuer of warm comfy places, who went from being a mostly silent cat to quite a talker in her later years. We got to enjoy the pleasure of her company for fifteen years+ but, as Janice pointed out, it wasn't long enough. Here's the last picture we took of her, just before the end.

She was a Good Cat.

Wednesday Morning Cats (The Cat Report 2/18 & 2/25-15)

Wow, what a month. I can't remember one where we've adopted so many cats in such a short time: LITTLES & BIGGSGUNNAR the brown-black furry fellow & GYPSY of the glowing eyes, LEELA one-eye, little HANNAHSUNDAE (whom I never even met), my pal ANUBUS AUGUSTUS and the ever-patient Mr. TIZZY, little SEA GAL (whom somebody pointed out spent less than twenty-four hours in the cat-room before being adopted), and CARMEL The Cat From Oman. We all knew Carmel the celebrity cat wdn't be with us long, so I'm happy I swung by and got to meet him. 

But it really feels good to see Anubus Augustus and Mr. Tizzy finally have their day, both having waited since November -- in fact, both arrived about the time Buxter and Maebe finally found homes. And it'd been heart-breaking to hear of someone's coming in to adopt Tizzy, only to have Tizzy be in a standoffish mood while Gunnar was at his most charming, so that the person deciding on Gunnar (& Gypsy) instead (good news for the bonded pair, bad news for our old jailbird*). Or to have the same thing happen a few days later with Anubus (Gus), with Gus-and-Sundae turning into Hannah-and-Sundae instead. Good news for Gunnar & Gypsy, Hannah and Sundae, but sad news for our bachelor gentlemen. So while I'll miss them (esp. Gus), I'm so glad to see them go.

As for last week (W.2/18th), there's little to report. Last week I had to leave early to make it to a retirement lunch my wife's colleagues were holding for her at her office, but still all four cats (SALEMTIZZYANUBUS AUGUSTUS, and EMMA The Terror) had walks. Salem has learned to stand her ground against Emma, who now just hisses and turns away rather than her previous menacing advance. Tizzy went high on the cat-stand near the cabinet, Anubus went into his favorite place among the blankets on the top shelf in the cabinet, as usual,while Salem and Tizzy were among the cat-stands by the door. So the room was divided between the boy-cats in the back half and the girl-cats in the front, though I doubt they planned it that way. 

The feathers-on-a-string game was popular, with Anubus joining in from inside the cabinet and playing with Tizzy atop the cabinet and Salem down below. Emma doesn't much like the feather duster, but Anubus does. Wish I'd thought to leave it for Carmel, who wd probably have loved it, but I'm sure he'll find plenty to play with in his new home. Salems was really playful for once; she especially loves the string game (but as previously noted you have to make sure she doesn't eat the string). Amused to see Anubus come out of his safe place whenever anyone came into the room, to get some attention before moving back into his special place again.

Janice and I swung by the PetsMart on Sunday and so got to meet little Carmel, who it was pretty clear wdn't be there long, what with all the attention he was getting and all the queries that were coming in from people who'd heard about him online. A delightful little cat -- the only Oriental Shorthair I've ever seen, with beautiful markings; that and his energy levels reminded me of a friend's Bengal.

This week (2/25), we now have just five cats again: SALEMEMMASEVILLE, and bonded pair DOUGAL NATHAN & MIMI NADINE. Salem and Emma both had walks, but I didn't feel like I knew the new cats well enough to take them out of the cat-room. Salem surprised me -- no matter where I carried her in the store, she knew exactly where the cat-room was and the most direct route back to it -- even if that wasn't the way we'd come. She's smarter than she lets on.  Emma made a dash and got out at one point, but luckily I saw her crouch down and prepare to dash, so while I didn't nip it in the bud I still got her before she'd gone more than a few feet. In fact she stopped once she got outside; I think she may have expected the wire-walls to be up and was nonplused to find them gone. Once back inside Salem settled herself down on top of the basket nr the bench, which seems to be becoming a favorite spot of hers. She welcomed attention in the form of the string game and having her back stroked; I brought in a leather shoelace so she'd have something chewable but not anything she'd be likely to swallow. Seems to have worked pretty well. Emma hissed at her once or twice, and even took a swipe at her (luckily she was too far away to connect), but Salem refused to be budged. Good for her!

Speaking of Emma, she was less restless today. She stayed near the door, shifting from atop the tallest cat-stand to down below it. She was very happy to get attention but jealous of all the other cats' getting any. I did manage to get her to sit in my lap for a while and gotten some good purring out of her, but she wouldn't stay long. I think the more we manage to walk her, the more folks might have the chance to meet her and get to know her purry side, rather than the hissing-at-other-cats side she displays too often in the cat-room.

Of the new cats, all three are hiders, though in v. different ways.
SAVILLE, the beautiful yellow striped cat, likes to hide beneath her blankets, just as Mr. Anubus did early on. I made her a nice overhang when I cleaned up her cube, but she was right back under the blanket itself by the end of the morning. However, she was happy to get attention inside her cage. I left the door ajar, and after stayed inside her cage for about an hour she came out on her own accord and explored. After a while I put her up high, and she seemed to enjoy the cagetops. She turns out to love, love, love catnip and settled herself down right on top of the little bagful I'd brought. Not long before noon, as I was jotting down the input/output records, she surprised me by jumping up on the bench and walking over to sit on my lap, purring. V. nice! Think she'll be out and about a lot more as she gets used to the cat-room.

The bonded pair, DOUGAL and MIMI, are about as bonded as you can get. He'd pushed the little stands towards the front of the cage so he could hide behind them; she was cuddled up against him in the blankets. Both are black, but Dougal's fur is fairly sleek while Mimi's is fluffy. He's much bigger than his sister, and she's somewhat roly-poly to boot. He turns out to be painfully shy, not willing to come out all morning and going stiff when I touched him. She on the other hand was shy at first but eventually decided to come out and explore, working her way back behind the laundry bin. Later she came out from there and let me put her on Anubus's shelf, which she quite liked. She's also fond of laps and being petted in laps, or being petted elsewhere. Next time I'll have to try to see how she likes games.

Their double-wide was a mess, from their having tipped over their litter box, which had spilled into one of the water dishes and the nearby food dish as well. Lucky that we put two of each in a shared cage, and in different locations; the other food and water dish were fine. After cleaning up the mess I rotated the litter box into what I hope will be a more stable position; we'll see if I succeeded. Dougal was so afraid that it seemed cruel to haul him out, so I got the cardboard box down from on high and put it in his cage. When he crawled into it, I scooted it over to the cleaned half of their cage, where the spilled litter had been. Then I cleaned up the other end and re-arranged all the blankets. When I started to move the box again, he dashed back to the safety of those blanket-covered little stands. Hope he feels less anxious once he's been with us a few days.  

And that's pretty much it. Had a few visitors; didn't seem to be any serious adopters among them so far as I could tell, but still was glad to help spread the word. Don't think it's jotted down anywhere, but Seville is frightened of small children. 

--John R.

P.S.: Just as a side note, I saw a mention of one of our cats, adopted quite a while ago, in the current Purrfect Pals newsletter, THE PURR (WInter 2015, page 11). The 'Purrfect Endings' section, which gives follow-ups to successful adoptions, includes this piece about one of our Tukwila cat-room cats, OLIVER BOB: 

"My baby GusGus, formerly known as Oliver Bob, has come a long way from the timid and shy cat he used to be. He now talks up a storm and he just ate treats from my hand. He is my cuddle bug -- all 16 lbs of him." 

I remember Oliver Bob well, as a shy, quiet Manx who bit me badly enough that I had to go to the Immediate Care clinic (I'd picked him up, not knowing he'd been injured the day before when a cage door came loose and fell on him; the pain made him suddenly bite me, hard, with one fang punching right through my thumbnail). Glad to know things worked out well for him; sounds like he's found the perfect home.

*Tizzy was found sitting by a highway watching the cars; after his rescue he was fostered in a prison cat fostering program.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


So, following my recent visit to the Root Beer Store, I did a little research during which the two most interesting things I found were (1) its creator back in 1876 first called it Root Tea, which I (being a teetotaler) like much better and think I'll adopt, and (2) I've probably never had any real root beer.

Turns out that back in 1960, the government banned the use of sassafras roots, the main ingredient, after some testing suggested it might be a carcinogenic. The general consensus now, looking back, seems to be that this was overreacting* (a person would have to imbibe massive doses daily over a long period to suffer any harmful effects),** but on the better-safe-than-sorry basis the FDA ban is still in place. Which means that all root beer is brewed with substitutes, either artificial sassafras flavor or similar roots that take their place.

Given that I was only a little over a year old at the time, it seems likely that all the root beer I drank growing up falls on the artificial-sassafras side of this great divide. And checking the labels of all the ones we'd picked up in Puyallup (eleven different varieties from ten different brewers) it seems that they all use the substitutes as well.

This makes sense of something else that's puzzled me ever since I moved up to these parts. I used to love sassafras tea when I was in scouts, digging up my own and brewing it when on camp-outs and sometimes at home as well. When I moved out here and discovered tea shops -- whole shops devoted entirely to selling different varieties of tea, esp. The Tea Cup on Queen Anne Hill (gone but not forgotten) -- one of the first things I did was try to buy sassafras tea, with no success. I could sometimes find sassafras tea bags, but they brewed up a very weak and unsatisfactory tea. Eventually I was able to find some places that sold sassafras directly, not in tea-bags (e.g., down in Pike Place Market), but every time it turned out to be chopped up bark, not roots (the roots being where all the flavor is, and the bark having an unpleasant aftertaste) -- which is kind of like eating corn silks rather than corn.

Now I finally understand why I haven't been able to find good, tea-worthy sassafras, and why the chopped bark substitute is so ubiquitous.

But then I thought: there's this thing called the internet. Maybe there are folks out there who live down south and sell the real thing, sassafras root?

And the answer turns out to be: why yes, there are.

So I've now ordered a small batch of sassafras roots. If they're the real thing I'll know it by the sight (and smell) of them.

When they arrive there will be much tea-making, and either joy, great joy or lamentations bitter and heartfelt. We'll see.

--John R.

tonight's cup: organic Yunnan Black from The Silk Road tea company (all organic, all artisan teas)
tonight's music: The Art of McCartney (on vinyl). tonight's song: Eleanor Rigby, by Alice Cooper.

*see, for example, this little bit on the subject by Dr. Weil, who believes it harmless in moderation:

**one online source estimated you'd have to drink twenty-four gallons of root beer a day to match the dosage that produced ill effects in lab rats in the 1960 test.  Needless to say, that ain't happening.

Monday, February 16, 2015

President's (Presidents') Day

So, one of the holidays that was tepidly celebrated when I was growing up was Washington's Birthday, which was often paired with Lincoln's Birthday; the only sign of either being the occasional store that wd offer a 'Lincoln's Birthday/ Washington's Birthday' sale. Like Arbor Day and Flag Day, it was the kind of holiday that was easy to ignore, stirring up none of the excitement of St. Patrick's Day,* or Easter, or even Groundhog's Day or April Fool's Day. Then they created the Monday Holidays (modeled, I assume, on England's 'Bank Holiday'), combining Washington's Birthday with Lincoln's Birthday, renaming it 'Presidents' Day', and moving it to a Monday that fell between the two.

Or so I thought. But this year I got to wondering: is it President's Day or Presidents' Day?  Does the name of the holiday actually commemorate all presidents rather than just the two most popular ones? Even the really terrible ones, like Harding and Hoover and Nixon (none of whom is ever likely to get a holiday honoring him any other way)?

The answer to that turns out to be complex, but seems to come down to Congress's intent having been to combine the two traditional days honoring Washington and Lincoln into one and to rename them, but the actual bill they passed having in effect moved only Washington's day and failed to officially rename it. In the overall scheme of things it doesn't matter much, since lots of state governments added Lincoln's Birthday as a state holiday that falls on the same day as the national holiday of Washington's Birthday ("President's Day").  Some state have other combinations, the most unusual of which is my home state of Arkansas, where it turns out the holiday honors Washington and also Daisy Gatson Bates -- a name I'm sorry to say I didn't recognize, though once I looked her up I knew immediately why she's so honored: she was the one who organized the integration efforts at Little Rock High against Faubus's obstructionism.**

Personally, I've decided to indulge my inner historian and use the day to commemorate some of our more neglected presidents. Like John Tyler (the one responsible for establishing the precedent that upon the president's death the vice president becomes president, not just 'acting president'), Chester A. Arthur (who was significantly less corrupt that expected), Wm H. Taft (who actually got passed much of the progressive reform legislature Teddy Roosevelt usually gets the credit for), and Calvin Coolidge (who deserves the faint praise of having been better in the office than either the president who proceeded him and the president who followed him, which not every president can say).

So, celebrate the president(s)-of-your-choice day.

--John R.

*When, after all, you'd get hit or pinched if you forgot to wear green. Or sometimes even if you did.

**in my defense, all this took place the year before I was born. Also, no one talked about this when I was growing up. The first I heard about the events in Little Rock in 1957ff was in the mid-eighties when I was already in graduate school up at Marquette. And, I'm sorry to say, despite the valiant integration efforts of Bates and the Little Rock Nine et al, none of the schools I went to in Magnolia, Little Rock, Fordyce, Jonesburo, or Magnolia (again) were integrated until the year I was in sixth grade, 1970-71.