Allison's Book Bag

Once upon a time there was an animal lover who opened her home up to cats. For anyone who reads pet books, there’s nothing new about that plot. So why should you check out the two offerings by Deb Barnes? From the gorgeous and charming artwork to the funny and conversational style, The Chronicles of Zee and Zoey and Purr Prints of the Hearts will certainly warm your heart. If pretty looks and engaging words aren’t enough to woo you, there’s also the fact that Barnes is an excellent storyteller. She deftly draws you into her world and makes you intensely care about what happens next to her cat clan.

In the prologue, Barnes explains the subtitle of A Journey Into the Extraordinarily Ordinary. Most of us like to imagine our lives better than they are. For one lovable male Maine Coon cat named Zee and one wild female leopard inspired Bengal named Zoey, however, Barnes believes that the ordinary is itself a gateway to unlimited adventure. This is true partly because of how cats are, but also because of the way Barnes choose to view her life with them. “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And then Zee….” quips Barnes before proceeding to dedicate a chapter to her search for the perfect Maine Coon, a cat intended as a surprise for her sweetheart. She shares of how her criteria changed due to how few Maine Coons were available within driving distance and then how the deadline got altered thanks to an impending hurricane and finally about the arrival of “the chosen Almighty One”. The tale of Zoey’s arrival contains a similar tonal mix of amused and dramatic. “The possibility of getting a Bengal had already been in the back of my mind for quite some time, what with my ever-present obsession and love affair with anything leopard related,” note Barnes, before proceeding to describe Bengals and how the stunning Zoey was a creature to be reckoned with.

But The Chronicles of Zee and Zoey isn’t simply a story of how boxes can become forts and gardens can become jungles for two cats in love. It’s also about the consequences of felines blossoming into adulthood before being spayed/neutered. As is her personality, Barnes embraced the responsibility of being a cat parent while also finding magic in a home overrun by a litter of kittens. Even when the reality settled in of only one adoptive home being found, she issued this declaration: “We brought these cats into our home, so as such we have decided that the love and companionship they bring us far outweigh the scratches and damages incurred in our home.” At times, Barnes has extended apologies for the fact she realized too late how quickly cats can have kittens, but I admire how she allowed her life to be positively changed by that one misjudgment. Not only has she weaved a fabulous adventure about Zee and Zoey, but she’s also become an avid cat advocate.

One of the biggest challenges in reviewing a book is encapsulating the essence of a book into a couple of paragraphs. For example, in the prologue, Barnes writes that The Chronicles of Zee and Zoey wouldn’t actually exist if not for a beloved cat named Kit. Yet up to this point I hadn’t referred to Kit. For that matter, I also neglected to mention the numerous other strays including dogs that found their home with Barnes. The anecdotes that Barnes shares of them are just as engaging as those of her lovebirds, but obviously there’s only so many highlights I can feature. You’ll have to discover who all of the rest of Barnes’ family are by reading The Chronicles of Zee and Zoey.

But I do need to introduce you to Jazz, as he’s the star of Purr Prints of the Heart. Before Zee became the patriarch of the family, Jazz had been the residing male. Barnes had been watching a pet show and fell in love with the “Ragdoll” breed. She immediately began to do research and found Jazz through the classifieds. Discovering that Jazz came from a hoarding situation, Barnes immediately decided to adopt him. As Jazz progressed from being a kitten to an adult, he developed the quirky habit of playing fetch with wads of paper rolled up into a ball. He also liked tennis and lizards. As Jazz matured, he grew to earn the title: “Mr. Jazzy Grumpy Old Man Leave Me Alone I Don’t Want to Be Bothered.” These details and a few others are all ones that Barnes provides in The Chronicles of Zee and Zoey.

Jazz, Photo from Purr Prints of the Heart Facebook Page

Jazz, Photo from Purr Prints of the Heart Facebook

In Purr Prints of the Heart, Jazz takes center stage as the narrator of his own tale from start to finish. Jazz shares his dismay of being labeled sick by his original owner. After all, his mom had raised him to believe that he was the most handsome kitten alive and somebody would want him one day because he was special. And when Deb Barnes walked into Jazz’s life, this turned out to be true. Yet at first Jazz wasn’t so sure. Crates, car rides, and quarantines all made him question if his new circumstances were better ones. But then he met Kit, who helped him acclimate. Just as Jazz falls in love with his new home, so I fell in love with Jazz who shared adventures of hurricanes, house renovations, new cat arrivals, change of jobs by the owners, and even saying goodbye to friends. By now, Jazz has begun to understand what Rainbow Bridge means, and to realize that this will soon be his future too. Although I like to avoid those stories which end with the inevitable death of a pet, Purr Prints of the Heart is unique in its approach. By having Jazz narrate his view of sickness and dying, Barnes avoids being sentimental and instead helps all of us owners see how growing old might feel to our beloved pets.

Deb Barnes and I connected about a year ago when I put out a call for articles about pet overpopulation. Since then, we’ve stayed in touch occasionally through email. As someone whose life’s also been forever changed by feline companions, I relate to many of the cat escapades that she shares in her books and on her blog. I also appreciate her dedication to making a difference in the lives of cats. She’s an inspiration to me and I feel honored to have signed copies of her books.

AwwwMondays-Puppy-AvatarWith our household of critters having expanded to include three cats and a dog, I thought it fitting to join a meme related to pets. After searching around, I came across Awww….. Mondays. The one rule is: “Post a picture that makes you say Awww…. and that’s it.” Every photo seemed to feature a pet and so the meme is a perfect.

What’s the most amazing thing your pet has ever done? All of our current pets except Bootsie are pretty athletic. Some of their exploits we have proof of, while the others you’re just going to have to take my word for.

Barnaby at the 2011 TDAA Petit Prix

Barnaby at the 2011 TDAA Petit Prix

“He’s like a goat.” That’s how my husband described Barnaby from his youngest days. Because of how Barnaby loved to climb, my husband decided to try him out at age four with agility. The two took classes where Barnaby learned to jump, tunnel, weave, and more. “There’s no way we’ll compete.” One title and dozens of ribbons later, the two have become pretty comfortable at going to shows. At age twelve, Barnaby has stopped being one of the fastest dogs on the field. But that hasn’t stopped him from enjoying the sport. In fact, he’s just two qualifications away from a second title.

cinderjump“Let’s train them and show them off.” That’s what a friend of mine said this past year about Cinder and Rainy. Thanks to seeing Andy and Barnaby train for agility, I started practicing doing tricks with Cinder and later Rainy shortly after they came into our lives. The two can sit, jump, come, stay, twirl, and tunnel. We’ve working on weave. Initially, I just had them do each activity separately, but of late I’ve been teaching them to do an entire course. The two love the attention, and let’s be honest, the food.

“How did she get up there?” It’s no secret cats can jump and ours are no exception. There’s not a table or counter or shelf our cats haven’t jumped onto, but four feet still strikes me as pretty high. At least, I’m assuming the cats jump from the table onto the cabinet. (If they’re jumping straight from the floor that would actually be six feet!) At any rate, none of cats except Rainy as ever repeated the feat, and so that says something about their perspective on the matter. As for Rainy, she seems to have made it her mission in life to jump to the top of our cabinets and knock off my plush toys on a daily basis. She’s so stealthy about it, the only photo I have yet is of Cinder.

What I find just as amazing is how Cinder and Rainy will jump to play. At the most energetic moments, the two will spring about four feet straight up into the air. Almost as incredible is how the two will jump for food. As soon I head to their feeding area with a dish, the two will take off. If a dog or another cat is in the way, they simply fly over that hurdle like a horse on an obstacle course. Sadly, I lack any proof.

If you’ve never stopped to watch your pets in action, I encourage you to take that time. They can be a lot of fun to observe!

Want to start your week off with a smile? Visit Comedy Plus or Burnt Food Dude and see what others are sharing today.

Among my circle of pet-loving friends, The Cat Club books by Esther Averill have become popular. We’re unable to resist these adorable tales of a cute black kitty named Jenny and her feline companions. One of my friends even bought a few of the books for her daughters. After which, she lent two of them to me that I had yet to read. Now I’m bringing them to your attention.

Jenny Goes to Sea is about the adventures of four cats at sea. Soon after Jenny and two brothers board The Sea Queen, they meet the ship captain’s cat. Jack Tar tells Jenny and Edward that the two have come from a long line of the noble cats of Egypt and then gives their other sibling the mysterious news that some of his relations may have come from Siam. For several weeks, the cats amuse themselves by strolling decks, climbing ropes, counting whitecaps, and walking the gangplank. Just as they start to get bored, they see land ahead and decide to go ashore. This is when this sleepy adventure story starts to pick up pace. Sometime after getting his fortune told, Checkers goes off in search of a palace in Siam. This act results in Jenny disobeying her master and Jack Tar almost losing his job as the ship captain’s cat. At times the story felt almost too light-hearted and fanciful, but nonetheless this tale from 1957 contains an enduring innocence and charm.

Captains of the Streets is about how three rough-and-tumble street cats became part of The Cat Club. Born and raised in New York, Sinbad and The Duke took off for the south side of then city but soon found themselves hungry and desperate. They sought out Tramps Last Stop, a place known for providing cats with handouts. Here, they meet up with Patchy Pete who tried to steer them towards the east side. But nothing can deter the two brothers from searching for a place of their own. Patchy Pete accused them of being soft. They proved him wrong with their boxing abilities and with their cunning in finding food. Then through finding compassionate folks and intelligent feline companions, they also showed Patchy Pete why having a place of one’s own just might be a good idea. This tale from 1972 feels real to how street cats might live, while also providing readers with the satisfaction of a happy end. The story has a lot of heart and is one of my favorite Cat Club books.

Fans of the Cat Club books will be happy to know that many of their favorite characters make an appearance in one of both books. Besides Jenny and her brothers, Pickles the fire cat appears in two chapters of Jenny Goes to Sea. The President and other Cat Club members are featured in more than one chapter of Captains of the Streets. These two titles should take a cherished place on your shelves, along with Jenny and the Cat Club.

AwwwMondays-Puppy-AvatarWith our household of critters having expanded to include three cats and a dog, I thought it fitting to join a meme related to pets. After searching around, I came across Awww….. Mondays. The one rule is: “Post a picture that makes you say Awww…. and that’s it.” Every photo seemed to feature a pet and so the meme is a perfect.”

“Sadly, there are also some concerns ahead.” So I reported about Barnaby in August. After trying various medications, nothing cleared the sludge from his gall bladder. If anything, the sludge had gotten worse.

Next step? The vet ran annual blood work. All values came back normal except one for his liver. Our vet thought the elevation could be due to the sludge. The time for exploring options was over. She referred us to a specialist.

Last Thursday, my husband and I drove to Kansas with Barnaby. When we checked in at the vet hospital, we were asked lots of questions about his symptoms. The main ones are lack of energy and limited interest in food. A vet tech took Barnaby back to specialist, who would use more elaborate equipment to assess his gall bladder. Andy and I drove to a nearby restaurant for lunch and tried not to worry as waited for the vet’s call.

An hour later, we were back at the vet hospital. The specialist told us that the amount of sludge in Barnaby’s gall bladder was not atypical for a dog his age. We should continue to monitor and to treat, but there was no need yet for surgery. There probably wouldn’t be anytime soon.

After celebrating this news, we asked about his finicky appetite. The specialist suggested we talk with our local vet about food allergies. If this turns out not to be an issue, then age is probably the culprit. At twelve years, he simply may prefer to get spoiled.

Next week, I’ll return to stories about how The Cat Trio adjusted to one another. In the meantime, want to add a smile to your week? Visit Comedy Plus or Burnt Food Dude and see what others are sharing about pets.

Saturday Snapshot invites bloggers to share photos. Andy and I spent the month of July in Newfoundland with my family. This week, I’m posting the last of my photos dedicated to that trip. They are of the smaller events.I

Andy and I started out visiting St. John’s, the most easterly city in North America. While there, Andy and I took time to explore its iconic side. The older side of St. Johns is known for its “colourful jellybean row houses wedged together in every space”. Although Andy and I were at times frustrated by trying to maneuver the city’s narrow and steep streets, which seem to randomly criss-cross one other, we were also delighted by the city’s distinct architecture.

After exploring the East Coast of Newfoundland, Andy and I headed inland to my family’s home. On the first weekend, all of us went out for a meal at The Mount Peyton Hotel. My new favorite traditional Newfoundland dishes are now toutons (shown in the first photo below) and bread pudding, replacing fish and chips.

For a week, Andy and I mostly allowed ourselves to be lazy. We read books, took naps, played games, and enjoyed my step-mom’s homecooked meals. Oh, and I wrote some articles about Newfoundland pet rescue groups.

After that, Andy and I got busy visiting folks. As always, Andy and I took time to eat at restaurants unique to the area. We ate a few times at Mary Brown’s. The very first Mary Brown’s opened in St. John’s in 1969, and now the chain has over 100 locations throughout Canada. We ate at A&W, where Robert has worked for the past year. Last, we checked out Papa’s Sweet Shop. It’s a family business which serves up ice-cream, hot dogs and nachos, and old-fashioned sweets.

In our final weekend, there was another highlight. Members of my home church, Windsor Pentecostal Tabernacle, were encouraged to attend a memorial at the cemetery. The event was an informal one, where people showed up at various times during a set time period. My dad and I bought a bouquet of roses to place at my mother’s grave.

All too soon, the end of July arrived and we faced saying goodbye to my family for another year. On our return trip, my supportive husband always comes up with a series of questions to help keep my mind off being homesick. We talked about what we’d miss about Newfoundland, what we were looking forward to in Nebraska, and plans for future visits. This year, we bought ourselves treats at Eddy’s Yogurt Factory in South Brook. We each selected a flavor of yogurt and then piled on the toppings. Our vacations are always full of big and small moments, just as life itself should be.


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This past spring, I announced that it was time to take a step back from this blog. At the same time, I promised that I’d pop back occasionally to participate in memes and to share some reading gems. Since the fall, I've mostly been reading animal books and so those are what I'll review for you. Stay tuned!



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