Relearning to cook

I used to be a solid cook. I could make decent, if not fancy, meals easily and for large quantities of people. I liked cooking.

Then I started having food allergies and food intolerances. Things I used to be able to eat and now can not: red meat, dairy (which includes CHEESE, the utter horror!), coconut, onions, anything cured or fermented… The list goes depressingly on and on. Losing red meat is sad, but cheese is devastating. I am the child who would not eat school lunches until the incredibly kind school cook just started making me a grilled cheese every single day. Then I would eat. I love cheese like crazy. Grilled cheese, mac and cheese, cheesy toast, cheese sticks, cheese and crackers, bagels and cream cheese…. Mmm an everything bagel, toasted just so, with a quick slather of tangy cream cheese….

A cheese board was my annual indulgence at thanksgiving: sure, you all go ahead and have turkey and dressing and sweet potatoes–I made a cheese board and I’m gonna eat it all up. Purple Haze goat cheese? Don’t mind if I do. (Seriously, this cheese is the best! I miss it, go eat some for me.)

What I’m saying is that cheese was my go-to meal starter, my default food.

So for the last couple of years, it’s been resentful cooking of bland chicken and random vegetables at best or meals that I knew would make me sick at worst. (I miss ice cream and why did Haagen Dazs discontinue their lemon sorbet!)

I have not tested the cheese alternatives; they’re a little too pricey to want to experiment with. If you have recommendations, I will gladly take them. (Oat milk chocolate is an abomination, just FYI. Texture is right; taste is … oatmeal.)

Recently, I’ve just accepted that I have to start over with my cooking. It has always been heavily slanted toward tex-mex and americana; now I need to branch out.

So far, it’s been Asian inspired foods. I am lucky enough to have a tasty poke restaurant in town, which has given me new ideas about how to make food appealing. Hard to feel deprived when you’re eating poke. I’m deliberately stepping away from the types of foods that might have dairy in them. I don’t want to play with substitutions which make me aware of what I’m missing. I want to be excited about ingredients. Things I love immoderately now: thai basil, sweet chili sauces, surimi (the texture!), and oh so many types of rice.

The other day I sat down and planned rice bowls. Sounds dumb, but it felt exciting–the same basic sort of foods, in so many interesting combinations! No dairy? Who cares? (I miss cheese, dammit.) But I miss it a lot less when I’m having poached salmon over a rice blend with gingered sweet potatoes or green beans on the side.

Trying to choose new foods as basic meals reminds me of being a teenager and being given free rein in the kitchen. It also reminds me how time-consuming preparing meals really can be when you have to learn new techniques and new recipes.

I’ll figure it out. In the meantime, wish patience for my poor roommate and friends who keep being handed small plates of random foods and told “Try this, any good? Should I keep this recipe or ditch it?

So far, what I have learned is that my small dog Ursula will commit any act of athleticism to get to a bowl of freshly made fried rice.

Thinking Things

Pretty much what it says on the tin: things that I have been thinking about this week. All shallow things. Politics is not really “thinkable”; right now it’s mostly choppy angry emotions and distress.

But! It has been SOOOO LONG since I hit the blog that hey, it’s rolled out entirely new ways to make entries. I can’t remember when my last post was–I could look back and find out, but I don’t see the point. It was early pandemic or pre-pandemic or before I lost all sense of time and place because all I have done for the past couple of years is slowly reach burnout.

Spiders: I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about spiders, because I have a resident jumping spider. Harmless, kind of cute, remarkably social and fearless for a creature the size of my pinky nail. It’s taken up residence in my upstairs bathroom, which, yeah, not ideal, but again…. harmless. It’s fascinating though to really contemplate because that spider tends to perambulate the entirety of the top floor daily. For me, it’s about fifteen steps (I have a small house), but for a spider? The damn thing is doing a marathon every single day and at speeds that would make humans weep if we calculated relative speed. Plus, I have to wonder, what does it think about us, the humans? We’re mountains that move. The size differential is so enormous I can’t even contemplate it. I’m like…200% bigger than it. Yet it comes out to greet me and wave its forelegs. The other day, I was walking past the bathroom, and it hitched a lift on my foot as I walked. Then happily hopped off once I reached the study. We’re… what? Moving mountains, weirdo giant transports? So very strange. Animals are weird enough all on their own and then you start thinking about them in interaction with other creatures and it’s a whole new ballgame of weird and wonderful.

Talking buttons for pets. Wow, I have been obsessing about these things. Do they work, do the dogs actually use them to communicate their basic thoughts or is it just a series of learned behaviors…. And while I’m contemplating that, my brain runs into the nightmare scenario of well, what if they do use them to communicate? What if we get sick of the “chatter” and just take the buttons away? I can’t…. that seems like a bad thing to do. Here you go, dog, learn to communicate in this way, but hey, the batteries are dead, or you’re talking too much, or I keep tripping over these buttons–let me just get rid of them? Maybe it’s because of politics, maybe it’s because of the book I am STILL revising, but taking away someone’s or something’s voice just strikes me as a moral atrocity. So… I’m not getting those buttons? But is that really any better? Or is it just dodging the issue?

Once I wrote an sf story about a woman whose brain was implanted into a dog (because of reasons) while she and her team members were exploring an alien planet. By the time she figured out how to process her new senses, and recognize a danger to them all (DOGI smells water!), they had gotten out of the habit of listening to her–primarily because her only method of communication was pretty much talking buttons. Nightmares.

World-building. I am at the danger point in the new book (not the book under revision) where the world-building starts to have contradictions. I kind of love this stage because to me, trying to figure out ways that these contradictory things can all be true makes the world feel more real to me, rather than a cut-out template where all magic is XYZ. I like a little mess in my magic, even if it slows the writing down.

Burnout! I ran away from my day jobs. I have given myself a carefully budgeted sabbatical. Naturally, the big cat promptly developed diabetes. Of course he did. But he’s doing better, and I’m doing better even if my sabbatical is not going to be the full three months I had originally intended. I wish that UBI was an actual thing in this country.

Saw a super sad bumper sticker the other day. Red truck with a tiny printed sticker that said, simply, I miss my dog. Nearly sent me into tears. Because yes, their lives are short and even though mine are healthy, I, too, at some point in the not-so-far future will miss my dog. There are dogs I still miss. And the damn pandemic has pretty much trained me to look forward and only see loss. I am working on that. Generally, the pandemic has made me goosey about making plans (why bother, they’re only going to get disrupted!) and about being hopeful (I’ll only be disappointed. Seriously, every single time I managed to be genuinely happy in the past two years, something rose up and smacked me down HARD.) or optimistic.

But in the meantime, there are good books to read. Good books to write! And adorable pets. Who are not dead yet.

The Tenth Girl – Not so slow read wrap up.

So The Tenth Girl.

The slow read part collapsed due to a combination of two factors: the book has to go back to the library and the middle just… dragged for me, which made it too easy to put down, but not so easy to pick up. I decided to blitz through the rest.

Some highlights of my reading experience from chapters 19 on…

What do you mean Sara left Mavi a note written in Old English?  I’m reasonably certain she did not!  Though if any language had the ability to write “you are all fucked” concisely, Old English (the language of Beowulf) would probably be it. But maybe gothic style lettering? It’s a head-scratcher. Oh wait, Faring says “old english lettering” so my bad. It’s calligraphy not language.

Yesi and Mavi realize that the Others are possessing the nice lamb-like teacher and using him to assault the girls while they sleep. Yesi wants to report him to Carmela, but Mavi doesn’t, because she recognizes possession when she sees it now.

Angel is driving Dom to contemplate suicide by leaping off his balcony. Dom is wasting away, drained by Angel’s possessions. Angel feels guilty but is absolved by realizing that oh wait, it’s another Other inside of Dom making him want to jump. And that this is probably what happened to the missing girl Luciana. Possessed and jumped.

Basically, at this point, anyone can be possessed and piloted by any Other and the building is falling apart around them. “Dom” confesses to Mavi and she decides after some guilty deliberation that she doesn’t care. She likes Angel.

Mavi attempts to leave but the storm drives her back to the dubious shelter of Vaccaro house. No one is leaving.

This whole segment starts to sluggishly degenerate along with the house. The building molds; the food rots; the walls seep; the girls sleep and get sicker.

It’s weird the thing that hooked me back into interest. I realized around chapter 24 or so that I’ve been anglo-centered this whole time. I assumed Angel was a girl’s nickname! Ha, dumbass me. It’s not like there are hundreds of cultures where Angel is a boy’s name. So yeah, Angel is a boy. And weirdly that caught my attention, because if I misread that, what else might I have missed?

So the building starts to not only degenerate but to rearrange itself. Things get worse.

And then we get all the revelations all at once. Some good, some bad, some pointless.

I didn’t like Carmela’s info-dump of her personal history, lined out and spat across the page. I really didn’t like it when that was followed by a two page wall o’ text about Morency’s life and history. These were really aggravating and that was BEFORE the big reveal.

Before Angel confesses to Mavi that this whole school, the whole world, all of the students and their lives and so forth is just… a video game.

Okay, so this is not my favorite reveal ever for a couple of reasons. 1) it makes all their lives seem valueless. 2) it makes the infodumps of Morency and Carmela’s history that much less interesting because none of it matters. They’re written the way they are; it doesn’t matter why. And a bonus 3) it’s kind of a familiar trope.

On the other hand, some things improve on learning that this is all a game: the Zapuche stereotype somehow seems more forgivable as a bad premise for a horror video game. It’s about the setting, not about reality.

Mavi’s earlier heel-turn on “Dom is Horrible!/I must follow him around like a dog” makes much more sense if her attraction to him is part of the program.

And most importantly, Faring does things with this reveal. It’s not just oh no, we’re all programs. She decides that if they’re learning AI personalities then maybe just maybe they can swap places with the Others and get out into the real world.

It’s not like the Others are a loss to humanity, she suggests, deliberately playing a game known for indulging sadism and pedophilia. Torturing people over and over again is still evil even if it’s digital.*

So I’m interested in the Great Escape.

Other reveals go better: I thought the revelation of Charon being Sharon, a sort of family “friend” worked. Not only was there the gender bias upset (again! I need to pay more attention): that this foul-mouthed gluttonous troll was a female programmer with painted toenails. But that Charon was in fact the Tenth Girl, the little ghost girl being her avatar in the game.

After Mavi goes through the somewhat standard “hey, let me self-mutilate to prove we’re not real and can’t die”, it was engaging to watch her and Yesi rally the troupe, in an attempt to save each other from this nasty little fate that they never quite remembered, but had to suffer through over and over.

I liked the “game reveals”: Yesi’s novel turning out to be a listing of player scores. And hey! That’s what Angel’s chapter numbers are about. Experience points! You can tell I’m not a gamer of any sort.

I liked that the number obsessed math teacher was mumbling digital passcodes for the players.

As expected, Angel’s Painful Past was disappointing. And kind of swept under the rug very quickly. Oh, Angel accidentally killed his beloved baby brother in a tragic event. Oh, his sister hates him for it, except a few heart-felt words and suddenly she’s on his side? What about the borderline abusive husband? It doesn’t seem to matter: everything is looking up for Angel.

*When it turns out that Angel’s mother and her business partner Sharon built this game… I have to wonder if she was as compassionate as Angel remembers her being. I know that the art is not the artist, especially in a collaborative work, but still. I side-eye Angel’s dead mother. Her building the game makes sense in that it’s a good reason for Angel to decide to play it—a last attempt at getting closer to her. But personality-wise, it felt off. I would have liked more here and less about Angel’s loop of grief/guilt. I think there’s enough cues to suggest that Angel’s mother came up with the game, showcasing pieces of her own Argentinian past, and had her ideas twisted by Sharon in the name of money. Since Angel’s mother was beset by medical bills that she would leave her kids… Sure, I’ll go with that.

I had some plausibility issues with the Code escaping the Game to possess the players, but it felt like satisfying turnabout in concept, so I ran with it. Though then I’m stuck wondering—how do all these teen girls feel now that they’ve been shoe-horned into the bodies of old, white pervert men? (Not Mavi though; she ended up in Sharon of the painted toe-nails.)

Anyway, in the end, I’m glad I pushed through. There was a lot of writing that I really loved in the book, and some fun, chewy concepts. I enjoyed Dollhouse (though I know many people did not for valid reasons), and some of this reminded me of that concept: the “toys” developing their own personalities even after being erased. The concept that experience goes to the core of someone, even if that someone, in this case, is bodiless.

I still miss the haunted house story I thought I was getting though.  Sigh.

Slow and Steady: Reading The Tenth Girl

One of the downsides of being an aggressively voracious reader is that you tend to read quickly. Words tend to flow in a certain way, after all, and so it’s too easy for me to grab the important bits of a sentence and move on. It’s not quite skimming, but it’s a lot like gulping a meal: you can lose the taste even if you still get the nutrition.

So I am going to experiment with deliberately slowing down. I have The Tenth Girl by Sara Faring in my hands. (thank you public library!) For whatever reason, I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while. But I am not going to read it in one sitting or even one day. I am going to read it a few chapters at a time–for one thing, the writing deserves it. For another, this book is going to be a different read than I expected. The blurb made it seem like a fairly straight-forward haunted house saga. It’s not.

To keep myself honest about not rushing through, I’m going to blog the chapters piecemeal.

There’s a prologue. I have mixed feelings about prologues. Sometimes they just feel like the equivalent of cold opens on formulaic tv shows. This is especially true of the serial killer thriller genre. I always skip those prologues. I also skip a lot of the YE OLDE EPIC FANTASY prologues where the events take place thousands of years before and involve a prophecy. I’m certain I’ll hear about them again.

But the prologue to The Tenth Girl is an elegant, enjoyable little snippet. Is it necessary? Not strictly so, I don’t think. It mostly just tells us that there’s a school that was shuttered and is now opening again. But it’s got lovely original feeling details – the giant-handed matriarch who eats a dozen raw eggs every morning, the school on a shelf of rock where ice fields meet salt mountains – it’s all evocative. And it’s short! I liked it, and it made me relax into the book. The author, it seems to say, knows what she’s doing with her words.

Chapter one introduces us to Mavi, the main character (according to the blurb) and her dire straits. And they are dire! Her mother one of los desparecidos, a citizen abducted and murdered by her own government. Mavi is being sought. She’s 18 and effectively friendless, so she lies and takes a job as the 20-something English teacher at the reopening Vaccaro school. Here, again, Faring show us the tone of the book. Matters, she shows us, are going to be endlessly difficult. Mavi is dropped off at the wrong dock, climbing the wrong steps, arriving unnoticed, and unwelcomed. Trapped outside the school. We haven’t even gotten to the haunting and here are three separate horror stories: the government turning on its own, turning citizen against citizen; the horror of unexpected loss, her mother vanished with no hope remaining; and the weird nightmarish sensation of being locked out and alone.

Even when she gets inside, she faces the lesser conflict of an unsympathetic administrator, and is sent to bed hungry–a childish punishment for an adult. Her introduction to the school is nightmarish even before the atmosphere of the house kicks in. I love it! The writing is lovely. So many little perfect details, and Mavi’s personality shining through.

“…The door is an iron wall as impenetrable as a bank vault, and the door knocker is shaped like an unsmiling woman’s head–she’s understandably upset, I suppose, that visitors will slam her head for all eternity. I paste a jagged, fake smile on my face and knock with her. Then knock again. Politely.

… I chuck pebbles at the carious windows as the gargoyles chuckle at me; they know I’m a runner with nowhere to run to, pitiful prey.

It’s the truth: …my safe havens only exist in memory, and my memory’s poor, a winding montage of half-repressed sights and smells, pulled from a life I feel no ownership of. But I better kill that thought. If I think about my past too long, my mind unravels.”

The Tenth Girl, p 8-9

Then comes chapter two, and suddenly this is a very different book than I thought it was. We jump from Mavi in 1978 to Angel in 2020-0, though she’s more spirit than flesh and she’s a witness to Mavi’s arrival in 1978. We’re getting topsy-turvy with time. Angel is old and the United States is a wreck and global warming has wiped away the Patagonian ice sheets (and presumably the school perched before them.) Angel says she’s old but she sounds like a younger woman, which kind of bugs me, but I’ll see how it plays out. Angel is very full of pop culture references – whitewalkers, RPGs, He-who-must-not-be-named.

She flits through the past like a mostly-benign ghost, but is conscious of Others lingering malignantly in the shadows. Another young teacher at the school senses her, and she flees–afraid that Yesi won’t be rightfully afraid of the Others if she interacts with Angel.

Angel is a conundrum. While Mavi seems to have trauma making her mental state somewhat chaotic, Angel seems to be more unreliable. Even her name is fractured. She’s Angel, calls herself El, remembers her mother speaking to her as “Maria Eugenia”. Those could all be her names, but as a reader, I’m always on the lookout for a character with multiple names. They’re usually complex.

So, yeah, ghost novel, with time-traveling spirits guided by Charon to poke around in an old school that has, actually, been cursed. That’s new!

I allowed myself one more chapter after the surprise of chapter two. I wanted to see if I was going to get another POV or what. But we’re back to Mavi and her troubles. More of her traumatic past is revealed–and an ideological rift between her and her mother who was using her position as a professor to draft students to her guerilla cause. Even if the cause is just, there’s something Mavi finds unethical about adding to their ranks from the young students.

Mavi meets Yesi who shows her where the snack foods are and gives her the low down on the scene. Prosaic information but delivered in an appropriately atmospheric way. Anyway, I can set the book down for the night, because yay, Mavi made a friend.

Book Sale!

Malsmall

So this happened, which is wonderful.  Maledicte, my first novel, is on sale today in ebook form!  If you like murderous, genderfluid anti-heroes, dark gods, betrayal, and courtly politics, come take a look!

And hey, Maledicte even has its own TV Tropes page!  (Which cracks me up, seeing all the tropes laid out like that.)

The cover art still blows me away with how gorgeous it is.  David Stevenson hit it out of the park with this one.  It’s lush.

 

A Fantasy Rant

One of the things I’m attempting to do with my current fantasy novel is to stuff it full of animal life–not only because Rhi and Ferrus are naturalists, hunters, and proto-zoo keepers.  But it’s always been a pet peeve (no pun intended) that the fauna is very often lacking in fantasy worlds.

I think it’s a failure of understanding on our parts as writers.  We live in a person-oriented time; we live and write in cities; we live in climate controlled boxes, and wildlife really isn’t much of a daily consideration.  We vastly outnumber animal–or perceive that we do.  And if we’re not looking for them, it’s easy to overlook how many we pass by even in a city: sparrows and pigeons, rats and squirrels, cats and dogs, bats and the insects we never see unless they impinge in our personal space.  But there are so many animals moving around us, living their lives.

And in a fantasy world–which is so often under-populated, agrarian, and rustic (no climate control for these folks!)–the characters would be constantly exposed to or dealing with wildlife.  As small as the weevils infesting the flour and as large as oh, say a stampede of bison.  Mostly what I see in fantasy is the domesticated animal–the horse, the cat, the hound, the message pigeon or the magical versions of those.  I see the dangerous animals–the dragons, the wolves, the serpents.  I see the food animals–chickens and rabbits and fish.  I see human-adjacent animals, basically.  The ones that have uses to humans or the ones who threaten humans.  I don’t see the rest.  The vast array of the rest.

I want to see them.

I crave them.

The lizard skittering across the leaves.  The butterflies that migrate through the hero’s path.  The freaking dung beetles.  The scavengers.  The song birds.  The harmless pests.  The spiders that aren’t poisonous.  The garter snakes.  The alligator sunning on the bank with the anhinga clicking and croaking away.  I want the fantasy world full of animal sounds.  I want cicadas droning away.  I want my characters to be sleeping outside by their firepit and be woken by possums poking around or to have an annoying owl hooting all night over head.

So my challenge to all of us is to just look for the animals in our world then apply that number to our fantasy worlds.  I get up.  I see my pets.  I go outside.  I startle robins on my lawn.  I drive to work.  I see red-tailed hawks on the wires.  I park in the parking garage.  I see sparrows and pigeons.  At night, in warmer weather, there are bats darting around the tall streetlights.  I dig in the garden and turn up worms and cicada grubs–white and unfinished and ghostly–and spiders skitter away from my hands.  A trip to Home Depot brings me more sparrows in the rafters, their wing beats audible even when they’re not.  A flash of movement.  I can smell skunk on the road from a conflict I never saw.  Coyotes run the park and I hear them yipping.  An owl cries “who cooks for you”. Pillbugs wander through my garage.  And my cats kill stinkbugs and wrinkle their noses at the acrid smell.  In the spring, an orb weaver covers my door every night and has to have its web wiped away with my leaving.  My life is FULL of animals.  And I live a sedate life in the city.

So my question is why should our fantasy characters lead a less full life than we do?

If you’re a writer and you’re writing fantasy (or even science fiction–don’t get me started how somehow all the animals have vanished in SF), do that for me.  Look for the “unimportant” animals in your life.  Count them up.  And then, apply that to your characters.

Also, if you know of any good writers who do include the “irrelevant” animals, sing out and let me know!

 

 

 

 

 

A miscellany post

AKA things that I have been up to.

Preparing for the holiday cookie siege.  I made chocolate chips, and gingersnaps, and following Sally’s Baking Addiction recommendation, froze most of them in little raw balls of dough ready to be baked.  I always forget how much I love doing that.  You can freeze cookies for later (as long as the fat content is high and you wrap them well), but nothing really beats yanking out a half dozen cookies and having them bake up fresh whenever you want a treat.  I really always mean to do this year ’round and forget.

Someday I will treat puff pastry with the respect it deserves.  But this was not that week.  My roommate cooked up a bunch of local apples with cinnamon and butter and cloves and I bunged a bunch of them into the world’s most haphazard puff pastry wrapping.  They kind of looked like softballs caught mid-explosion, but tasted delicious.  And while I was at it, I used up the nutella to make puff pastry pockets.  I would have used lemon curd, but tragically, it had gone bad.

And reading.  I read a lot but every so often I lose it and go on reading binges.  Usually when I find a new-to-me author who has not only an enjoyable book, but an entire backlisk.  So Clara Coulson.  Yeah.  Her books are urban fantasy fun, and I devoured pretty much all of them between the 9th and the 15th.

CoulsonFatePortendsThat’s three of the Frost Arcana, five of the City of Crows, and one stand-alone Lark Nation novel.  Just a heck of a lot of fun, though I’d say the Frost Arcana are probably the best entry points.  Cal Kinsey in the City of Crows takes a little getting used to.  If he were a heroine, they’d be lining up to call him a Mary Sue.  Mostly Clara Coulson scratches the same itch that Mercedes Lackey used to.  I can’t wait for more of her books!  If you like adventure based urban fantasy with a surprising amount of super-violent action and great fantasy elements, this series might be for you!  Seriously.  After a celtic fantasy binge that lasted through most of high school, I was kind of burned out on the seelie/unseelie/sidhe/tuatha de danaan mythos.  These books make it all feel fresh again.

Things that I have not been up to:

Writing.  Ffs.  I’m about six thousand words into Book 2 of the fantasy series and sort of stopped working on it.  There are reasons (decent ones), but primarily it comes down to lack of organization.  Life gets busier and busier in the fall and I need to take steps to make it easy to sneak a few hundred words here and there.  It’s easy to get hooked into the crutch of the perfectly set up desk with all your note files and scrivener and the white boards full of maps and the walls full of setting pictures and character images, but when you do, you find yourself thinking oh, wish I could work, but so-sad, I’m out of the office, and not near my desk.  So, I’m trying something sensible and slightly new.  Setting up the next scene and tossing those few paragraphs into google docs so I can access it while at the day job, or out and about.  I can read the plan on the phone and write on paper, or I can read it on a desktop and write directly into g docs.  Failing everything else, at least I can keep thinking about where I want to go in the scene!

And a snippet of what I was last working on.

Genee’s feet turned her toward the side stairs and the guest quarters, not to seek her own rest, no. She might not know where Cavenner and her boys had bedded down, or even where Calyx Favager had slunk off to. But the girl…
Genee had made sure she knew exactly where to find her.
Sianan Maccuin jerked to attention when Genee melted out of the stairwell’s shadows and Genee made another mental note: More light. GreenStone Hall was as dark as a tomb.
“Commander,” she said, but quietly. “Do you need…?”
“She hasn’t come out?”
“Been quiet as a mouse,” Sianan said, “Did she really….?”
Genee waited. Sianan had a sneaky habit of talking in questions, letting people fill in the gaps. She learned more than she should that way. But she wasn’t supposed to apply that to her commander.
Sianan shrugged, “Sorry, Commander. Just… it’s such big magic, and it shook all the walls…. Hard to believe such a small girl could do so much damage.”
“She’s a Favager,” Genee said. “They’re nothing but damage waiting to be unleashed”

 

Learning in the Animal World

I am not the most… disciplinary of pet people.  I blame it on my scientist background.  When it comes down to a disciplinary moment, at least fifty percent of the time, I just sit back and watch things play out instead of leaping in with a stern “NO!” and redirection.  I like to see animals problem solve, even if that problem is: the new bag of dog cookies is up higher than I can reach by stretching, how can I get to that delicious bag, maybe if I stand on this chair here, and LEAP….  Or maybe I can scare a cat into running across the bookshelf and knocking it down….

I like to see things learn, is what it comes down to.  And pets do learn!  They learn from each other, they learn from other species, and they learn from watching us.

IMG_2217I have a kitten (though he turned two earlier this month) who I adopted from my vet clinic.  Remy.  He’s a little psycho, and was obviously feral before he was captured and cleaned up.  As my friend Leigh says, “He didn’t know how to cat.”  One of the little hiccups in this behavior earned him the nickname “Stinkpot” from the vet clinic, because he’d hit the litter box and then zip out, without covering his waste.  This behavior continued when I brought him home.  It continued until the day my older, bigger cat Dean followed him into the litterbox, and bitching the entire time, covered up the waste.

Now Remy covers up.  He covers up OBSESSIVELY but cats can never do things the easy way.  But hey, he learned his lesson.  And often he runs over to Dean to whisker talk right after. I have to assume it’s the equivalent of a toddler reporting in to their parents that they went potty!

Ursula curious 2I have Ursula, the young dog (she is just shy of two years and she is a veritable sponge of learning.)

Sometimes she learns things I would prefer her not to learn, but that’s the way it goes.

My roommate found a muppet running loose on the street and brought it home for its own safety (a golden doodle pup about Ursula’s age, twice her size).  Ursula was ENCHANTED, right up to the moment where the muppet leaped up on her hind legs, and smacked Ursula flat to  the floor with both front legs.  SMACK!  FLAT DOG!

Ursula was stunned.  What was that?  She didn’t know dogs could do that???  They went on to play until the muppet’s owner was located.

Then, two days later, Ursula rose onto her hind legs and brought both forepaws down at once and SMACKED Dean into the floor.  Ursula was thrilled!  She did it right!  Sadly, she’s been doing it ever since.  SMACK goes the kitten.  SMACK goes the other dog.  SMACK goes Dean–though, showing his own learning, he’s learned to get out of the way.  I do intervene when she attempts to smack down the elderly cat who is pretty much all bones and attitude.

And she learns from me. Not just the useful things like “sit”, “no teeth”, “drop the ball”, and “for god’s sake don’t eat that, drop it drop it now!” But things I never ever had any intention or concept that I could teach her.

As an example, I make my bed every morning (ADULTING!) and every morning I have to kick the dogs off so that I can get it tidy.  This involves a lot of complaining and saying “Scoot!” and flipping the covers around.  This is particularly complicated by the fact that I have a top layer that gets changed daily so the dog fur and dog detritus does not get into the actual bedding.

Lately, Ursula has been performing a strange behavior.  One where she races into the bedroom, starts yanking on all the blankets, and making her strange little talky noises.  She only does this when I’m there to watch her, and she always stops and grins at me after she’s gone mangling the top of my bed.  It has finally dawned on me: the damn dog is mocking me.  She’s doing the equivalent of saying “Haha, this is you!  Look at me, I’m being the silly person! Wah wah wah toss the sheets around. Wah wah wah.”

It makes me wonder what else they learn from us that we don’t recognize right away.