musings from Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington ... home of The Write Spot

Thursday, January 25, 2007

kitten cousins...

Introducing: Hershey and Styx

These two handsome lads live with my niece and nephew. Er...what I mean is, these two handsome lads allow my niece and nephew to live with them and cater to their every whim. Yes, that's more like it.
Hershey and StyxStyx is the baby of the family and has thoroughly disrupted the (formerly) calm and quiet life of his elder sibling. But after a long day of chasing tails and pestering big bro, even a bouncy ginger kitten like Styx needs a bit of a nap...

Sleepy Styx

Samcat will be back next week. He's hiding from kitten cousins on the , at (hosted this Sunday by Mind of Mog), and under the table at Kate in the Kitchen for Weekend Catblogging #86.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

take a deep breath...and bake

To simply say the last couple of days at work have been busy would be a gross understatement. They've been the non-stop 'fun' that makes hours pass like minutes quitting time comes and you wonder where the day went blink and you'd miss it kinda days.

Don't get me wrong. I like being busy at work. (Sure beats the alternative.) But it doesn't make me an interesting blogger. Once I get home, I just want to turn the ol' brain off for a while, brew a good hot cuppa tea, coax the bird onto the shoulder, the cat onto the lap, and settle in for a quietly mindless evening of TV.

And then the munchies hit. One of my new years resolutions was a vow to not keep junk food and munchie-type things in the house. If I want something sweet or salty, I'm going to have to walk across the park to get it or make it myself ... a kind of work-off-the-calories-in-advance approach. It's been working pretty well, too. I'm indulging a lot less frequently. But when the gotta-have-its hit, this is a favourite quick and easy recipe of mine. The son, the cat, and the bird say they like it, too. Be warned: these butterscotch brownies are very sweet at first but mellow nicely for the second day. Can't report on day three...they never seem to last that long.

Mom's Butterscotch Brownies

butterscotch brownies1/4 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar (packed)
1 egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Melt butter, blend in sugar and let mixture cool. Stir in egg and vanilla.

Sift dry ingredients together and blend with sugar mixture. Result will be quite stiff.

Spread batter in well-oiled 8x8 pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Cut into squares while warm.

Friday, January 19, 2007

who's the boss?

Here at chez stillpoint, I'm pretty sure 'the boss' is not me. Case in point: Sam the Cat has decided to make my favourite easy chair 'his spot'. Perfectly understandable. After all, it is an extremely comfortable chair with a great view of the room, and it's upholstered in ever-so-soft burgundy red fabric. He looks good on that chair. (And he knows it!)

lookin' good
So, for the last couple of months, Sam has been spending a good part of every day curled up in cozy catly comfort on the big red chair, shedding his white cat hair by the bucketful to mark his spot. Okay, maybe 'bucketful' is a bit of an exaggeration, but since I'm now known around the building as "furry pants" I think it must be pretty close to accurate.

I tried recommending another chair — one with a seductively catnip-scented mat on it — but that was only good for a quick roll-about and then it was back to Big Red.

I tried covering Big Red with a sheet. Turns out Sam is a tunnelling cat, so sheet and chair got hairy.

Then I had a brilliant idea. A foolproof plan that would make Big Red even more cat-comfy and solve my furry pants problem at the same time. You see, Sam likes to cuddle up with stuffed animals, fuzzy blankets, my neighbour's hat (but that's another story) ... so a warm sheepskin throw, strategically placed on his snuggling spot, should have him purring with delight, right? White cat hair would be invisible on it and Big Red would stay hair free and tidy underneath. I'd just lift it off onto the floor when it was my turn to relax and put my feet up.

Um ... I said "foolproof", didn't I?



Upon his discovery of The Big Furry White Thing in his comfy spot, Sam decided to claim the higher ground.

Sam's the king of the castle.

Perhaps I should just give up and sit on the sofa.

Sam will be lounging around on the , at Sunday's (hosted this week by Enrevanche), and with the Weekend Catblogging crew at Cat Blogosphere.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


blue glass poison bottles
Have you ever wondered why people collect things? I know I sometimes wonder about my own collections, especially when I start to run out of places to put them and my small apartment begins to feel even smaller. Every once in a while I consider packing them all away. But that means taking a good hard look at them, touching them, holding them, and then I understand. Collections are more than just "things". They're memories.

I've been collecting blue glass poison bottles for nearly 30 years now. I still remember finding the first one, hidden in the ruins of an old log cabin near Kaladar. What kind of poison was it? Who tucked the little bottle up into the rafters so long ago...and why? I was hooked. Even though most of my later "finds" were at flea markets and antique shows, the mysteries of cobalt glass still intrigue me and there's no denying its beauty.

I've always enjoyed having a special mug for my tea and coffee. Once upon a time, my taste leaned more toward the unique, handmade kinds of pottery vessels found at artist studios and craft shows but my brother-in-law had a different idea of the perfect mug.

show mugsWayne was a talented performer who loved music in all its forms. One of his greatest joys was live theatre. If he wasn't on stage, he'd be in the audience and whenever he could find one, he'd buy a souvenir mug to remind him of the show.

Wayne was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1999 and for the next few months he battled with every ounce of his strength and incredible courage. His last performance was New Year's Eve 2000. It was a wonderful show. Two weeks later, Wayne passed away. His collection of mugs came to me. The memories they hold may be bittersweet but they are very, very special. And I think he'd be pleased to know I've been adding a couple of new show mugs to his collection every year since. "Here's to you, Wayne. Thanks for the music."

Monday, January 15, 2007

story sharing

In Toronto, the big story today is the weather. I woke at 6:30 to CBC Radio's litany of collisions and cancellations. Seemed like a good excuse to pull the blankets over my head and declare a personal ice and snow day.

As I lay abed, comfortably pondering the merits of napping vs. coffee, I found myself listening to an interview with Ontario's lieutenant-governor, James Bartleman who is again asking the public to donate books for schools and libraries in Canada's remote north. Over a million books were donated in the first year of the program but the need is still great. This year the campaign focuses on books for children and adolescents. "Without books," said Bartleman in an earlier CBC interview, "the children will never learn to read, will never develop the self-esteem that comes from obtaining an education, and will never escape the despair that fuels the suicide epidemic among children and youth that has been raging out of sight and out of mind in the north of our province." New or gently used books can be dropped off at any police station in Toronto or at OPP offices anywhere in Ontario. Deadline is January 31st.

Have you ever walked past an old building or driven down an interesting street in your city and wondered about the history of the place? [murmur] is a program in Toronto (also in Vancouver, Montreal, and San Jose) that lets you listen, by phone, to the stories and reminiscences of people who know. You can try it out online, too, by clicking a red dot on the map. What a great idea, and yet another incentive to get out there walking.

When it comes to sharing stories, Suzanne Beacher of, should win a prize. She's personally responsible for at least 50% of my own to-be-read pile, which is pretty much out of control. (I've even got paperbacks stashed in my son's sock drawer...and when you consider that his bedroom is so small it was once used as a closet, you get some idea of just how dire the situation is!) I try to abide by a one-in/one-out rule, passing on the books I've read to friends, family, and charities. But just when I think I've got a handle on things, Suzanne sends along another intriguing story or two, I forget my rule, and the pile(s) grow again. This week, she's tempting me with excerpts from:

THE BOOK OF NAMES by Jill Gregory & Karen Tintori - "A fast-paced historical thriller that explores Jewish mysticism, ancient history, and the Kabbalah." ('Read it First' email book club)

47 RULES OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE BANK ROBBERS by Troy Cook - "What if your father raised you to be a bank robber? Instead of Barbie & Ken, you played with Smith & Wesson? And now you're twenty-two and ready to flee the nest, but your homicidal pop won't let you go?" ('Mystery' email book club)

JOURNEY INTO THE HEART by David Monagan - "...compelling biography and a multifaceted tale of medical discovery and business intrigue. The twentieth-century journey to understand the human heart was an epic saga, on par with the race to the moon. This book tells the story as never before." ('Prepub' email book club)

Sadly, I won't be catching up on any reading this afternoon, though. Snow days just haven't been the same since the invention of telecommuting. Break's over. It's back to the ol' remote desktop for me.

Friday, January 12, 2007


Middle Son and his fiance, the lovely Miss T, have just returned from sunny Hawaii and they brought presents! For the humans, some fresh and juicy-ripe pineapples. Yum! And Sam got his very own Weasel Ball. What a thoughtful aunt and uncle.

What's this thing?

What the heck is this crazy thing?

Lip-lickin' good!

Yum! Now this is good!

Clearly, Sam was more impressed by the delicious pineapple than he was by the buzzing, squirming, dash-about weasel. But give him time. I predict many hours of stalking, attacking, and murderous plotting fun. Meanwhile, check the action on Sam's first videos: Mighty Hunter and Pineapple Cat.

Sam will be chasing the weasel aboard the , at Sunday's (hosted this week at Pet's Garden Blog), and with the Weekend Catblogging crew at What Did You Eat?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

the monkey didn't make it

Several years ago a good friend and I decided that instead of exchanging birthday and Christmas gifts (and never knowing what on earth to give each other) we'd invest in a theatre ticket subscription for two. It has definitely paid off.

We're nearing the end of our third season now and we've had early and excellent seats at big-ticket shows like Lord of the Rings and Les Miserables, as well as many excellent plays we might not otherwise have discovered (Da Kink in My Hair, The Last Empress, and Wicked to name just a few).

Even better, our investment guarantees we'll have a regular excuse to get together for a night on the town, a chance to catch up on what's been happening in our busy lives. We're both workaholics, so these regularly scheduled 'escapes' are a Very Good Thing.

Tuesday night was this month's escape night. We met uptown after work for a pleasant wander through Teatro Verde —one of my favourite wishful-shopping spots. Next, we eased into dinner at Arthur's* with a couple of sour apple martinis. Chef Michael (formerly of Canoe) served up food that was nothing short of sublime and anything but ordinary (our meals came with cassava croquettes instead of the more traditional potato dish). Yum!

After dinner it was off to the Royal Alex for Tennessee Williams' Orpheus Descending. I'm sitting here now, fingers poised above the keys, still uncertain of what I want to say about the play, even though I've been pondering it for much of the day. Hmmm...

In almost every book or play there's one scene or snippet of dialogue that seems to stick in my mind. Last night it was a reminiscence by Lady Torrance (played by Seana McKenna). "The show is over," she said. "The monkey is dead." The show wasn't over and the monkey was just a childhood memory but that statement set the tone of the play. The action takes place in a small town in the American south, circa 1940. It's about choices, morality (or lack of it), regrets, fears, hope, retribution and, of course, sex. The characters are angry, unhappy, sometimes downright crazy ... but the result is engaging in a you-know-they're-going-to-crash-but-you-just-can't-look-away kind of way.

In his program notes, director Miles Potter quotes David Mamet (who's paraphrasing Stanislavsky), "And there are plays...that are perhaps upsetting or intricate or unusual that leave you unsure, but which you think about perhaps the next day, and perhaps for a week, and perhaps for the rest of your life. Because they aren't clean, they aren't neat, but there's something in them that comes from the heart and, so, goes to the heart."

I guess that just about covers it.

* Arthur's is at 501 College Street in Toronto (416-413-9998)

Monday, January 08, 2007

speaking of long drops...

For the past few weeks, I've been avidly reading Pammie On The Go's account of her 2003 climb to the summit of Kilimanjaro. What an amazing adventure. For an armchair traveler like me, it was probably the closest I'll ever come to experiencing not only the sights and sounds but also the emotions, the physical and mental pain, and the ultimate joy of making such a challenging trip.

That said, one particular line from the saga stands out in my mind: "Terrible long drop toilets with many short drop accidents."

Believe me, I'd much rather have a line about the incredible journey or the awesome vistas or the even the altitude sickness stuck in my mind, but when I read those words in Episode 6, I flashed back to a long ago and mercifully forgotten (until now) moment. And then ... I blushed.

Let me explain...

A goodly number of years ago, back in the days when I still thought sleeping on the ground was fun, I embarked on a cross-country camping trip with my husband and our one-year-old son. We had a big old Chevy van that we'd outfitted with a homemade version of camper chic — flower-printed curtains, bench seats with built-in storage bins underneath, and a fold-out double bed for cozy nights in the wild. We had our trusty two-burner Coleman stove for cooking, a comfy travel cot for baby boy and, luxury of luxuries, a folding portable toilet. the time, hubby was working as a parks planner. Our first overnight stop was to be at one of the campgrounds he'd designed in northern Ontario. But before we reached the park, hubby decided it would be fun to stop in and say hello to his co-workers at the MNR district office. We parked in a shady spot in the lot behind the building, I pulled out my book and a bottle of juice and put my feet up to enjoy a little quiet time while hubby visited and baby boy slept in his cot.

Minutes ticked by. Make that an hour or more. Baby boy was still fast asleep, I'd finished my book, and I probably shouldn't have finished the juice because... well, let's just say nature was calling my name. I knew there'd be a nice, civilized washroom inside the building but I didn't want to wake baby and wouldn't leave him alone in the van. Still no sign of hubby and my situation was fast becoming critical. The solution was obvious.

the wretched toilet

Moments later, I had the little folding toilet all set up, complete with a blue plastic 'baggie' to catch the, er...payload. I pulled the van's sliding door closed for privacy, dropped my shorts and sat. About two seconds later I knew I was in trouble. The seat seemed to be listing sideways. I tried to adjust but felt the whole thing start to collapse. It was dumping me off toward the door. I jumped up. A five-foot-three woman should never jump up in the four-foot-three interior of a van. My head hit the roof. Hard. I flung out a hand to steady myself and managed to grab the door latch.

You know how sometimes when things are happening too fast you almost feel as if you're moving in slow motion?

The van door rolled slooowwly open. The wretched little toilet tipped and rolled, sailing in a gentle arc out onto the gravel parking lot. It skidded to a stop a few feet away. And I was right behind it. One sandal strap gave way and my bare foot shot out into thin air. My grasping fingers couldn't keep hold of the doorframe. The ground rose up to meet me.

Dust billowed. Gravel scraped my hands and knees but I felt no pain, focussed as I was on the building where hubby was still visiting. It had two rows of windows overlooking the parking area and, I imagined, dozens of workers behind those windows, enjoying the afternoon show. "Hey, get a load of the woman with her shorts around her ankles!"

That's when the slow motion shifted to fast-forward. Next thing I knew, I was back inside the van with the door shut, peering out through a crack in the curtains, searching for faces in the windows and desperately hoping I hadn't been seen. Too embarrassed to retrieve the toilet, I sat sniffling in the dark until hubby returned and drove me — quickly — to the closest campground washroom.

And that, Pammie, is my great adventure with a toilet and an accidental "long drop". Not quite Kilimanjaro but thanks for the memories!

Friday, January 05, 2007

what's in a name?

Before a Cat will condescend
To treat you as a trusted friend,
Some little token of esteem
Is needed, like a dish of cream;
And you might now and then supply
Some caviar, or Strassburg Pie,
Some potted grouse, or salmon paste —
He's sure to have his personal taste.

Sam sees a treat.
Sam wants a treat.

Sam gets his treat.

Sam enjoyed his treat.

(I know a Cat, who makes a habit
Of eating nothing else but rabbit,
And when he's finished, licks his paws
So's not to waste the onion sauce.)
A Cat's entitled to expect
These evidences of respect.
And so in time you reach your aim,
And finally call him by his NAME.

So this is this, and that is that:
And there's how you AD-DRESS A CAT.
excerpt from The Ad-dressing of Cats by T. S. Eliot

I'm often asked about Sam's name ... people seem to think it's a very plain name for such a character as he. But I tell them in all honesty: it's not my doing. This cat named himself.

It was a warm September afternoon back in 2002. I was on my way home from work and stopped at the local PETsMart to pick up a jar of Jazz-the-bird's favourite oats 'n groats birdseed. While I was there, I couldn't resist checking out the humane society adoption centre. I'd visited with J the previous weekend when the little room was full of adorable kittens but now all the cages stood empty. All but one, that is. Peering out at me was a big white cat with lopsided tabby patches on his face and a dark, striped tail that might have been borrowed from a raccoon. A chunk of his right ear was missing.

I looked at him. He looked at me. In the next instant, he hurled himself at the glass door, hitting it hard with his shoulder and yowling piteously. "Get me out of here!" he seemed to say.

What could I do? This was not the cuddly kitten J had wished for. This was a two-year-old brawler with a questionable past that included a failed adoption. But when the blue-smocked attendant opened the door and the big cat launched himself into my arms there was no turning back. An hour later I was loading the trunk with supplies: litter box and gravel, food, dishes, treats, toys, a fluffy bed, and a bright red collar*. I strapped the cat carrier into the front passenger seat, got behind the wheel and turned the key.

"We're going home," I said to the cat.

"Sam," said he.

And he kept right on saying "Sam" all the way home. A forty minute trip.

I figure he must have been trying to tell me his name because (a) when I said "Sam" back it seemed to calm him momentarily, and (b) he hasn't said it since.

As for T.S. Eliot's theory about cats needing three different names, well, I guess we've got the "sensible everyday name" covered. What could be more sensible than Sam? But we've been together over four years now and I'm a little worried that we still haven't discovered his second "particular" name:

But I tell you, a cat needs a name that's particular,
A name that's peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
excerpt from The Naming of Cats by T. S. Eliot

It's possible, I suppose, that Sam doesn't want or need a "particular" name. (I sometimes think he's quite happy just to be called, Sir.) But I can't help wondering if he feels a bit envious of those cats with luxurious, mouth-filling, roll-off-the-tongue names like Pangur Ban or Ozymandias.

And what about his third name? I wonder if maybe he slipped up on that sunny, September day in 2002. Did stress loosen his catty tongue? Maybe "Sam" is that mysterious third name. The "deep and inscrutable singular Name" ... the one we humans aren't supposed to know.


Sam will be name-dropping on the Friday Ark, at Sunday's Carnival of the Cats (hosted this week at Leslie's Omnibus), and at Weekend Catblogging.

* And birdseed. I didn't forget the birdseed!

Monday, January 01, 2007

the year in pixels

2006:the year in pixelsFor me, one of the best things about New Year's Day is taking some time to reflect on the past twelve months. We had a few interesting 'bumps' here at chez stillpoint in 2006 but all things considered it was a very good year. I was going to caption all the pictures but a jumble sounds like fun. You figure it out.

  1. the boss wore a kilt
  2. beach walks
  3. a caboose meant for sleeping
  4. tiny dancer in a pink princess gown
  5. Hobbits on stage
  6. it was all downhill...
  7. want to sign the cast?
  8. osprey
  9. it's a long, cold wait for the man in red
  10. Walt Whitman
  11. home on the range
  12. crushed by a bowling ball
  13. a little bird told me
  14. Shaw's festival

Happy New Year, everyone!