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Monday, February 17, 2014

Mo's 17th

Autism can make birthdays tricky. That house full of people, the excitement of the gifts, the cake with candles, ice cream, all that good stuff can seem overwhelming.

As a father and shutterbug, one of my favorite shots is to photograph my kid blowing out the candles on her birthday cake. A cake I've made from scratch, with custom-tinted frosting and child-like lettering on it (because when you only decorate two or three cakes a year, you don't develop Ace of Cakes type chops). I love taking this photo, and I'd even learned that a flaw in the past couple I'd had was caused by my UV filter and remembered to take it off, but when we lit the candles on the cake, Mo ran and hid under her covers.

My nephew and Em blew the candles out instead, and I guess that's okay.

I figured out a new trick on the birthday cake. It's still the Chocolate Mayonnaise recipe from Joy of Cooking, but while the cakes were fresh out of the oven, I put the bottom layer in with a layer of marshmallow and turned on the broiler for maybe five minutes, until the marshmallows got melty and started to brown. Then I put the other cake on top and left them to cool. The result looked like the world's biggest Oreo, though I guess in food type it more resembles a Hostess Suzy Q. With the marshmallows in between there wasn't a need for frosting in that area. So my usual recipe of 24 ounces of cream cheese, a half pound of butter, a cup of powdered sugar, and a tablespoon of vanilla yielded far more frosting that required.

I was really gunning for making the frosting yellow, bought a big bottle of yellow dye to get the color rich, but then Mo said she wanted a blue cake, and it is her birthday, not mine, so blue it was. Pale blue, I would have needed a big bottle like I'd bought of the yellow to get it to be a rich, royal blue.

I think a good time was had by all, except possibly for my oldest daughter, who complained that the cats were getting on her lap and that the allergic reactions a couple of my nephews were having to the cats were somehow my fault. Yes, I adopted the kitties, but it's actually not my fault that some people are allergic to cats. I am too when they're new to me, and this weekend my nose and eyes have been telling me about how there's a couple of new cats around. That gets better with time, in my case anyway, and if some people are allergic to cats, and the shelters are over-flowing with cats that need homes, then someone like me who is only slightly and temporarily allergic should probably adopt at least three cats to make up for the people who really can't.

Sunday, February 16, 2014


I love cats. I like dogs, too, but I love cats. That's why when I filled that gap in my life, I adopted a pair of them.

I'm not Crazy Cat Lady into cats, mind you. I have a friend from back in high school who commonly has over a dozen at a time, including rescuing and rehabbing feral kitties. I'm not judging her, I'm just not that, uh, advanced in my mania for felines.

Having had to put Jello down, I was down to one cat and really I think I was okay with that for the most part. Not entirely, but Zippy is a pretty awesome cat. He won't sleep on my chest when my CPAP is going, and he sometimes goes noodling for feet at the end of the bed when I'm trying to sleep, but generally he's nothing but a blessing.

Zippy wasn't that okay with being an only cat. He got a bit needier for human affection, but the kicker was Corinna kept catching him grooming her earflap hat, licking the rabbit fur flaps.

I thought about it a lot before going because I knew once I entered the cat room at the Human Society, there was likely no turning back. They have too many cats for me not to fall in love with one, and barring a repeat performance of the Jello Show, I'll have that cat until I'm around 60 years old. That's a commitment, baby.

I looked on the Humane Society website and had found a kitty I thought sounded about right. In foster care with other cats and a dog in a house with children, playful, good with the other animals, etc. The last thing I wanted was to bring home a cat who would set eyes on our dogs and hide under the bed for 14 years. Or a cat that runs for the hills when the mailman mounts the porch, let alone when we have company over. We like to entertain, and have an open door household where friends can and do drop in with no notice. I want my cats to be the kind that can handle that lifestyle.

Oh, and I want lap kitties, at least up to a point. Ideally, cats that would sleep on my chest or by my shoulder, but the CPAP seems to make too much racket for the cats I've had. They didn't have any deaf cats on hand, or I'd totally have gone that route.

So I went to see about Gus from the website, had called ahead during the week in fact so they could pull our file and streamline the process. But when I got there, I just went into a cat room and started interacting with cats. I figured the cat that wants to go home with me will start interacting with me. That's what happened last time, Jello was climbing my leg the minute I walked in the room and Zippy was pawing at me from a platform saying, 'Me too!' and climbing on Molly's lap.

I was really being charmed by a black kitten who tried to nurse other kittens even though he was male and juvenile, when another black kitty on top of the cage I was standing in started reaching down trying to get my attention. He wasn't scratching, he kept is claws in, very gently pawing at me. Eventually he climbed down and let me hold him, purring loudly. This turned out to be the cat I'd called about, the cat on the website who had sounded like such a good match.

We brought the dogs with us to be sure, and I'd asked if they could put us in a room with the cat so we could see how it went. Meanwhile, I ducked into their second room just to see if some other cat wanted me worse. There, I met Oscar, an enormous bully of a cat who had several deal-breaker personality traits including bullying other cats and not being tolerant with children. Almost 19 lbs, he was a big boy, but not in the running. However, the one cat who'd been able to stand up to him, Bulldog, was a charmer. And weird. A sloping forehead like he'd been hit with a shovel as a kitten, spots and stripes, on the big side. Super gentle. Gets along well with the other cats, likes strangers, a real lap-kitty. Next thing I know, he's in the interview room with our dogs.

And he's fine with them. So is Gus, who turned out to be Rocky (when they checked his chip, apparently Gus was at a foster house and Rocky was at the shelter, though the records had indicated it was the other way around—they're both black cats from the same litter so I guess a little confusion is par for the course). Gus/Rocky, though, was a clear winner, both in terms of friendly and dog tolerance. He actually rubbed himself on Foster's nose, didn't even seem to think a dog could be a menace.

Decisions, decisions. I really wanted to take both cats home, and after mulling it over a few minutes, that's what I decided to do. Normally, there'd be a waiting period while I was evaluated as a prospective adopter, and there was another gent at the pound that day who didn't understand this and would not stop trying to get them to let him just leave with a cat. I realized, I took Jello and Zippy home the same day, though I think I had to run to PetSmart for supplies and come back for them, there was some formality they had to clear up first.

They asked me if I wanted to take these cats home today, and I was like, "Yeah, if that's possible," thinking after what I'd overheard with that other guy that maybe it wasn't possible. Then I overheard a couple of the volunteers saying, 'The Danica people.' Danica was the name our dog Sheba had the year she was at the Human Society. She's a challenging dog, one with a lot of baggage, and not only did Corinna adopt her, but it was a smashing success of an adoption. We bring Sheba back from time to time (for instance to interview prospective new cats), but just to visit. Sheba has thrived in our home and Corinna has done a lot of good training with her. I don't know what all they normally do in terms of screening people, but apparently the 'Danica people' are A-list adopters, and I did indeed bring both Bulldog and Gonzo (what I decided to call Gus/Rocky) home. I could rename Bulldog, but he looks so much like one, I figured I'd just go with that. It feels good, knowing that we are on the A-list, but since two dogs and three cats are, as far as I can tell, our limit for four-legged pets (we haven't ruled out some laying hens and/or a backyard bee hive) I guess it's of limited value. Really, if Jello hadn't had such a tragically short life, I wouldn't be back there, in all likelihood, for at least a decade.

Zippy hasn't been 100% receptive to the new siblings, and Bulldog hid out in the basement for the first twelve hours or so (long enough for me to worry he'd snuck out and didn't know where home was). But Zippy is gradually getting less hostile, and even played some with Gonzo by evening. Then, the next day we had Molly's birthday party and I worried that the new cats would scatter when people showed up, but they hung out in the living room the hole time, loving on my nephews, getting on new laps, and generally being sociable. A dozen loud people show up, no cause for alarm, just more potential laps, more hands for petting.

I also picked up a kick-ass cat condo someone was giving away. Four stories with a pedestal for each of our three cats up top. Then sprinkled it liberally with catnip. I think getting them stoned together should help them bond.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Lorde and Ruler

I've had an earworm lately, this Lorde song, Royals. Maybe you've heard it, unless you're living in Ted Kaczynski's old digs. I don't really get the song. Does she mean we'll never play on a substandard Major League Baseball team? That we'll never be related to some obnoxious British twits born into wealth and celebrity? Are these things one would aspire to?

She's plenty cute of course, and I guess if you have looks and a good hook, there's not really a requirement that you make sense, you can be a pop star. I heard an interview with her on Q with Jian Ghomeshi, and she seemed quite charming and very mature for her age, so maybe there's an angle to that lyric that I'm just not hip to, maybe she's brilliant.

But while I don't know what she means, necessarily by 'royals,' and I guess I don't much care, I decided I know exactly what she means by 'let me be your ruler.' That, and making a ruler of her was easier, graphically speaking, than making her a queen bee.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


So Em's 18th Birthday didn't happen quite sequentially. I won't go into details, but there was drama involved, and at every juncture I might have asked for birthday gift ideas, it just wasn't the moment.

I'm sure, as father-child relationships go, it was less dramatic and traumatic than when I turned 18. I contributed to that problem prodigiously at the time, so I guess you can shrug almost anything off as karmic payback. Not to judge my own father, but I think in hindsight when it all blew up around the time I was in 8th Grade, and I did everything in my powers to drive Dad away, it worked a little too well and I was left feeling somewhat discarded. I wrote about that a bit here, a few years back, and it's a subject for another time and channel, I think.

So after her birthday party was over, there was finally a moment when I could ask Em what she wanted for her birthday and get an answer I could work with. I got her a couple of John Green novels, I think this makes a complete set for her (and I may benefit myself since she sometimes favors us by narrating them audio-book style in the car, and so far I've enjoyed all of his stuff), and a phone case.

Which she unwrapped while still in uniform from her new gig as a Perkins waitress. And lest you think it's always high noon around here, I even caught her making Sheba into the world's biggest lap dog over the weekend.

Monday, February 10, 2014


My good friend Jill put out a Facebook feeler that she had free tix to the Kansas City Symphony at the Kauffman Center Friday night. Short notice, she just got them herself around 2:00 p.m. and I was the first to throw my hand in the air and bark, 'Oh! Oh! Pick me!'

It was kind of close, timing-wise, I had to get to Gardner and get Mo and get home and back up to Jill's to go with her to the concert, but tight as that was it worked out.

It was so worth the effort. I can't believe I've let this place go unvisited by me for so long. I'm not a huge classical music fan, but I do enjoy it, and I'd been by the outside of it a few times, photographed it and whatnot. I should have put a bigger effort into getting inside the joint. I know people who can get things done sometimes, I have professional contacts that might have an angle on tickets to certain shows if I asked around. Hell, I could even have bought a ticket to something by now.

The program was Bernstein's On the Waterfront Suite, Ravel's Piano Concerto (Left Hand Alone), performed by Leon Fleisher, and Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. None of these pieces was super familiar to me, I'd heard the Rimsky-Korsakov a few times of the years but I don't own any recordings of it. It almost didn't matter what the orchestra was playing, the Helzberg Hall sounds so fantastic they could have been playing an arrangement of Copacabana followed by Fleisher playing Chopsticks and I would have stuck around. The acoustics are so fantastic, I literally have never heard a symphony orchestra sound so rich, clear and full. It's a true audiophile experience.

Oh, and Fleisher was brought out for an encore, and it was my favorite part of the concert: he played a gorgeous left-hand arrangement of All the Things You Are. I gathered from the program that is left-handed repertoire was developed when he lost the use of two fingers on his right hand. He could have hung it up, spent the rest of his days being that cranky piano teacher who can only use eight fingers, I suppose. He could have gone into graphic design, that's what I did when I was confronted with, actually, a considerably less formidable physical obstacle to a career in music.

Apparently a procedure eventually restored those two fingers, but I guess once you've carved out a niche... Hell, anyone can play piano with both hands. Leon Fleisher can do more damage with just his left than most musicians could do if they magically grew a third hand.

After the show, we went back to Jill's (where I'd left my car) and got out the guitar she'd recently purchased, a nice Taylor flat top. I'm more than a little rusty these days, and the setup was different from what I'm used to on 0 comments

Saturday, February 08, 2014


I saw this truck on my way out of the office the other evening, and was too slow to get my camera out. Only slightly faster this time, bot two quickie shots but he was gone.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Nterstate Savings

I've been waiting for this bank to fix their neon sign for over two years. It's such a great image at night, I keep thinking as soon as they fix the 'I' on 'Interstate' I'll set up my tripod and capture it in all its glory.

I pass this bank upwards of a dozen times a week, and I actually even have some business with them, so I suppose I could have gone in during banking hours and inquired about why they won't fix the freakin' 'I.' Could have sent an email. A letter.

Instead, I gave up and just shot it as is.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Not Critical, Not Massive

I rode out to do December's Critical Mass ride—I wasn't on time to make it to Sunfresh for the pre-ride boozathon, but I figured I could intercept the group if I could figure out where they were heading.

The thing about a ride like critical mass, it has no set route, only tendencies. So I commenced texting friends to ask where they were when I got to Westside. The Nelson? Discovery Center? Where did I need to head to rendezvous with the group?

The weather wasn't bad on December 27th, it was actually a pretty nice night for a ride if you dressed for it. The day had reached 52ºF for a high, and even at at 8:00 p.m., it was above 40ºF. No precipitation, not windy, just a nice, cool evening. But everyone has their threshold, the point at which it quits being fun to ride, and apparently these riding conditions crossed that line for a substantial set of Massholes because the answers I got back via text where divided into two groups. One group was at the Foundry in Westport, the other was at Buzzard Beach. Both of which are scarcely over a block from where the ride starts. I'm guessing they made a loop of the Plaza and just packed it in—maybe they thought it was too cold to stand around drinking beers outside, which is a lot of what Critical Mass is about.

I was a little disappointed at the news. I could have ridden my bike up to Westport myself, I suppose, and paid bar prices for drinks. The riding part I was up for, but the people I would have seen there, a lot of them drink at Buzzard Beach almost nightly judging from Facebook, so I could pay bar prices for drinks to hang out with them anytime. I really wanted to ride my bike, I hadn't been doing nearly enough of it the past few months what with the vasectomy and open heart surgery and all that. Plus, I was thinking, two different bars in the same block, more or less. It reminded me of the Libertarian Party when I ran for Jackson County legislator on their ticket, a party which essentially had a schism resulting in one tiny group that met in a place where smoking was allowed but sold no food, and another micro-junta met at a restaurant that didn't allow smoking.

I disproved the theory, at least to my satisfaction, that it was too cold to stand around and drink outside—on my way in to the River Market, I hit Grand Slam and got a little beer, then had fun playing with my Nikon on the tripod. It didn't really feel like the last Friday of the month, though.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Fatbikes

These are some friends of mine, I missed out on this particular adventure. I've ridden in this much snow before, it's a challenge just keeping the wheels under you. I saw a truly intrepid soul cycling down Wornall during the worst of it, road-condition-wise, with a steady stream of cars that could just barely maintain speed and direction themselves passing him with a mere foot or two of clearance. A stretch of Wornall, I might add, that I avoid riding on in nice weather—it's about an eleven on a bike-hostile scale of one to ten.

I opted out of riding it—in fact I pretty much opted out of driving it this time. Rather than spend four or five hours fighting to make it less than 13 miles home, I crashed at a friend's house less than a mile from work. It was still an adventure getting there, my Scion xB is the perfect car except when it snows, and we got almost ten inches yesterday. On top of that, Kansas City, Missouri's snow removal plan for side streets is generally a wait-for-the-thaw approach. In an extreme storm like this, they will eventually blade most of the side streets but only when they're damn good and ready. Which I think is outrageous: the city with the highest sales tax rate, plus an earnings tax (they take 1% of what I earn and I don't even live in the city), does the absolute worst job of any municipality in the metro area when it comes to snow removal.

Most of the side streets that get cleaned are done in the private sector, contractors hired by homeowners' associations—groups which should probably be raising hell at city hall about why the snow plows never seem to find their neighborhood, but instead hire it done out of their own pocket. It's probably easier, but it amounts to another layer of taxation.

Sorry, got to ranting a little bit there didn't I?

I had a nice visit with Dan. I originally packed my CPAP and some camping gear with the plan that if the forecast was accurate (never a sure thing around here), I'd sleep on the floor at work rather than fight the roads. I remembered Dan lived nearby and he was fine with me couch-surfing there, and then I realized the thing I should have brought with me was my guitar. Dan was the drummer in the basement cover band that was definitely not called Foolkiller that filled my Thursday evenings with joy and ringing ears a few years back.

Monday, February 03, 2014


Foster is easily my favorite dog these days. I loved Max, the old curmudgeon of a Dalmatian Corinna had when I met her. And Barley, the Dog Faced Boy, he was the best dog ever I think.

I have a harder time with Sheba. She has polydactyly, which should make her a slam dunk for me but between her simpering way and her habit of putting her disgusting dog nose on my hand by way of greeting, I just don't enjoy her that much. I felt bad when I thought I'd killed her with poison meant for mice, I enjoy seeing how my wife enjoys Sheba, but I really don't for the most part enjoy her. I'll plead guilty to not being a 'dog person' but I think it's her. I like seeing her run in an open field, she's quite beautiful when she does (she's part greyhound and unbelievably fast)

Foster, on the other hand, is delightful except for the obnoxious barking thing. She'll get to going in the back yard and there's no shutting her up short of bringing her in. She's that dog, the one that just decides to start hollering and it feels so good she can't stop. But she has none of the trauma baggage Sheba has, is generally good natured and Foster loves her some laser pointer.

Max used to chase the red dot a bit, before he got so old he couldn't see it. Foster and Zippy both love the laser now that I got fresh A23 batteries and they can really see the dot. They won't chase it together because Zippy wants to murder Foster for being a dog, but they'll chase it until they drop from exhaustion. The first time I played this game with Foster, she about had a heart attack from the excitement, it was pretty cute.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Kaw Point

I probably wouldn't have gone here today, but Corinna wanted to run the dogs and take her car to the shop so I ended up at Kaw Point.

Once there, I had my tripod out and the next thing you know I was the reason we were still there.

Foster found a discarded fish on the banks and paraded it around but I found myself shooting the skyline. The biggest problem was dogs and my wife running into the frame when I was set up for a long exposure.

Well, I mostly shot the skyline. That rule about how a photographer should always look behind—it's true, there's often an interesting shot to be had that way. The observation deck was quite beautiful shining through the trees. Actually, after I set this up and shot a couple of frames, I realized that an interesting shot could be made from back in the woods showing the trees against downtown—but I think to get the effect I'm looking for I'd need to bring some light along to shine on the trees, give them some dimension other than being a straight silhouette. That, or shoot it in twilight, which had already passed when I thought of it on this trip.