How Things Work Around Here

OK, listen up! To be clear, it’s not convoluted. It’s been known to Carreras cats and dogs back to prehistoric times. Santa Clause delivers toys to humans. His cat Santa Claws distributes to cats, and Santa Paws ( the dog elf), provides for the dogs. I understand that somewhere way back, an expedition to the North Pole was launched to confirm all this. Trust me; I’m a cat, and we know these things.

It’s different for cats and dogs. Cats are supposed to be bratty, indifferent to their humans, and disdainful of the stuff in their food bowls. People expect snotty behavior from us. Dad would take me to the darned vet if I were all sweetness and light. It would be like Santa’s reindeer not eating lichen and demanding celery. Yuck!

Dogs, on the other paw, are expected to obey. Cats are partners with humans. You guys drank the Cool Aid. You behave or get old dried reindeer poop in your stocking. 

In your defense, I know you’re still a pup. You have to learn now. I get first dibs on bows and wrapping paper under the Tree. 

Cats rule, and dogs drool!

Hold The Muzak

How can I say this…the long retail slog towards Christmas has started. Yesterday I visited my doctor for an immunization, and on the way home stopped at the big box bookstore for a treat. It was low but insidious. Christmas music, on the second of November. 

Oh, Lord! Do I have the stamina to withstand two months of Chestnuts Roasting in an Open fire, Here Comes Santa Clause, and Silent Night? Can I do this without becoming a grouch or, worse, a grinch?

I still have the build-up to our Thanksgiving ( here in the States), and I understand that between bird flu and supply chain issues, the rush to the freezers with the turkeys will make Black Friday a stroll in the park. It is almost enough to make a teetotaler like myself lust for a drink of the Golden Egg Nog they have already started pushing in the stores. Ick!

Don’t get me wrong, the holidays at this time of year are my absolute favorite. Nothing is mundane about lighting the first Christmas lights at sundown on Thanksgiving, preparing a holiday dinner, or listening to sappy songs. These things light off old memories like fireworks on the fourth of July.

So I guess I’ll put my earbuds firmly in place every time I go into a store for the next two months, play Tom Waits or ZZ Top, and buggy through the schlock. I love the holidays,

Early Bird

November is almost here!  

This time of year, I start perusing the catalogs and websites for small gifts for Christmas. I know what you are saying – “Lou, you are one of the people who complain about “Holiday Creep”…hypocrite.” But I’ve had reasonably concrete evidence that the good stuff goes first. So he who hesitates misses the good stuff. It’s no secret that outstanding small items are in limited supply. So the real aficionado needs good timing. I prefer PBS, Lee Valley, and museum shops. 

Pulling a successful small item hunt off is not an arbitrary plow through dozens of catalogs and websites. Instead, it’s an intricate dance because there are early offerings and later offerings at some. So first, you need to know your vendors.

My goal each year is to reach the finish line before our Thanksgiving here in the States. So no Black Friday rushes, no attempts to get those late shopping days deals.

I used to shop up till Christmas Eve. I think I spent more and enjoyed the holiday less. There will be enough craziness without shopping pressure. Making the rum-soaked fruitcakes and the Christmas Poppyseed Bread are my duties. My wife is a night shift nurse, so planning and preparing holiday meals are my jobs, as she’ll almost certainly be working. I can do without more craziness.

So, Happy shopping. And don’t blame me if those lovely little goodies you eyed for four weeks are gone by the time you order. The early shopper gets the goods.

Attack of the clone kittens

When he had time to sire this bunch I don’t know. But they seem to be identical to the “cute” Gray Menace, my cat from 1969 until he ascended to cat heaven in the mid ’80’s.

Shot in 1980 these adorable kittens haven’t come into the menace part of their inheritance, yet, just the cuteness stuff. But like their ancestor Clancy AKA the Gray Menace soon the desire for O negative blood will appear and mayhem ensue.

If I need a remembrance of what he looked like when young and still innocent I just have to watch this commercial

A Christmas Caper

The snowshoes are parked in front of the cabin for the photo. It’s a memento of a previous Christmas spent on the coast of Maine. Inside the house sat the perfect little Christmas tree the family had hunted throughout the woodlot for; hours spent tracking through the snow. The snowshoes were finally getting good use in the deep show of a cold Maine winter.

The family decorated the tree. Then, as each ornament emerged from the box, a story unfolded about a past Christmas. The bells bought at a church Christmas Fair, and the little Santa hanging from the lowest bough. The tree was decorated, at last, with gifts around the base. Finally, the family headed to bed.

It was quiet. No din of family chatter. Just the peace of an eve ending and a Christmas Morning preparing to dawn.

What was that rustling in the corner? a Christmas elf? Santa?
Why was it attired from tufted ear tip to tip of the beringed tail in gray? Wait, was it? Could it be? Heigh-ho hey, it was the gray marauder! Yes, it was the gray destroyer creeping up on the tree. His objective? The fat furry one swinging temptingly from the lowest bough and saucily daring the Grey Menace to carry him away in captivity to the dark recesses under his father’s bed. The slinking progress along the floor did not alert the fat one in red to his imminent danger. The hunt itself should be facile. It had to be achieved without disturbing those tattletale bells above.
A fast jump, a grab, a single abortive jingle, and Santa was his! Now away to the lair with his captive. Another Christmas Eve Caper pulled off with perfection!

“Georgia? didn’t you put Santa on the lowest bough last night?”, “Yes, Daddy, I did.”, “Are you sure? He’s not there now.” The Grey Menace watches the fun from under the couch as the grim search for Santa ensues. Then he notices his dad, the one these people call Wes, looking at him with suspicion. Was the jig up? The Gray Menace lashes his tail in frustration. No! dad pulls Santa from under the bed, walks into the living room, and secretly drops him into the empty box of ornaments.

“Hey, Georgia? Here he is! You must have just thought you put him up.” Georgia starts to protest but stops and places Santa back in his place. The Menace decides that the look of confusion that crossed her face was almost as good as an hour-long search for Santa.

Well, maybe better. The bows, ribbons, paper, and boxes of Christmas morning are a lot of fun. And it beats being put in the bedroom while the presents get unwrapped, like last year. Baby Jesus hadn’t minded getting stolen from the nativity scene.

Humans take this stuff way too seriously.



A bit of Churchillian wisdom was a famous quote used by my parents “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” If either parent quoted it, they looked to the other seeking corroboration. Most often, it got trotted out when they chose not to answer some question I had asked or didn’t want to admit directly to ignorance, and so wrapped it all nicely as a mystery.
As a child, it worked nicely. I had no idea what an enigma was, and with the solemnity with which it got used, I became certain that ignorance was blissful.
This time of year, with presents appearing under the tree, Churchill had to work overtime in our house. ” Daddy is Santa going to….”, “Louis, it’s a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” So I could shake, look and measure, but not poke. Besides, as I later realized, my parents only put the decoy presents under the tree before Christmas.

As a child, I did have an ally in snooping. Honey, our family dog, was a chronic poker, pryer, and digger out of closets. Additionally, there was also little that she would not do for treats. So there was a reciprocal arrangement she poked and pried, and I discovered. Our technique and the partnership worked best from Thanksgiving till just before Christmas, while presents were stored but not wrapped. Then, after wrapping, we could confirm size, shape, and weight – but not contents.
Of course, the contents were of interest to me, and Honey received no treats if the hunt was not on. We were both very frustrated until the cat entered the picture. Wrapping paper and boxes were what motivated Daisy. She was curious about contents too, but the wrapping paper and bows were her absolute pleasure.

We were back in business. No present was safe. Even my older sister, too mature to poke and pry, would inquire about what Daisy had torn open. But, of course, our success couldn’t continue. So my parents found more secure ways to store presents away from the three-year-old ( me), the dog, and the cat.

What came of all this was an enduring sense of partnership with my furred siblings. These days I am above shaking, poking, and prying. But if Xenia should tear, claw or chew something open, I am not above taking a quick peek. Xenia frequently strolls into the kitchen afterward for a treat. After all, one partner should help the other, right?

Holiday Spirit

I moved away as fast as possible. The couple in the parking lot were having a loud argument over Christmas presents. They disagreed over the fluff while ignoring the fundamentals.  

There seems to be a tendency for holidays to drift away from their anchorage. Memorial day is about hurrying to the beach, and Christmas is about consumption.

We seem to perpetuate hollow holidays – eventually stripping away the original meaning and adding in heaping doses of ordinary celebration. 

If you think about it, that’s why the Puritans in Massachusetts did not celebrate Christmas. The day had ceased to be an observance of Christ’s birthday and had become a good excuse for a long party. Not that I think there is anything wrong with a good party.

Admittedly, the extended nocturnal portion of our twenty-four hours in the day tends to get us down this time of year. The Romans knew this and partied heartily at Saturnalia. Imagine the conservative among them complaining that Saturnalia just wasn’t what it used to be when they were a child. Well, why not?

So here is a holiday assignment for all of you. Make a hollow holiday out of an as yet uncorrupted winter holiday. I recommend Festivus.

To remind you that Festivus was designed to be a non-commercial holiday – and should provide lots of opportunity for corruption. Remember you will be graded on the originality of the ideas you bring to the holiday, and how far from the original intent you can get it to drift. This will be an open book exam, so have fun. I will not be marking on a curve, and the final will count towards one third of your grade.

Some points about Festivus:

  •  there is a Festivus dinner, 
  • a plain aluminum Festivus pole
  • an Airing of Grievances
  •  Feats of Strength
  •  and the explaining of Festivus miracles

 Remember Festivus was to be a ” Festivus for the rest of us.”

Okay, Festivus is December 23rd. So get out there and start corrupting. The winner becomes a Youtube influencer and wins the most toys before I die competition.

The Christmas Tree & The Cat

Most cats I’ve known love Christmas. There are boxes, decorations to bat around, paper to roll in, gifts to chew open, and lots of holiday food. There is a strong synergy of things they love in one place at one time.
Playing catch with little balls hung on the tree, and of course, the tree itself helps make a drab house a cat wonderland. What mighty jungle cat doesn’t like dashing out and snagging a passing ankle? Such acts of daring prove that puissance is actually spelled “puss-ence.”

It’s the fumble-fingered humans that make life difficult. They detach claws from ball ornaments that you’ve been playing with. Then, when you bat an ornament out into the living room, they don’t understand that it’s not like playing catch with the dog; picking it up and placing it higher on the tree is not the game’s objective.

Still, they bring your tree in at Christmas, place the toys on it, and all the nice boxes and wrapping paper under it.

Sigh, humans. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them!


The Washington Post had a reader submission request out. What was the best last-minute Christmas gift you ever gave? But initially, I read it wrong and took it to mean presents I had received. OK, selfish me. But some impelling experiences came to me.

I was penniless and frequently on the road in the 1960s. There were times when getting enough to eat and a couch to surf upon were the overriding concerns on my mind. So I reflect on some of the things that meant so much at the time:

  • An animal hospital forgiving the cost of vet care on the Grey Menace one Christmas – needless to say, I’ve repaid that many times in annual gifts since, happily.
  • The gift of a set of guitar strings; the ones on my guitar were dying or dead, and I had a gig to perform.
  • A Christmas evening dinner when the Gray Menace and I were too poor to buy groceries that week;
  • My first real girlfriend gave me a set of earmuffs because I was on the road in lightweight clothing.

The best things do not have to be the most expensive, nor the ones you asked for. Instead, they are the ones you need and never thought to ask for.

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