Our Zoo: The Animals of Rosings Park

For living just a few miles from the center of the city, we sure have a lot of animals around this place! In fact, tonight as I was putting together a video about our bunny, I realized I’ve made all sorts of short movies about the animals of Rosings Park. Let’s look at some of them, shall we? (And, at the end, you’ll get to see footage of Blackberry, which is what Kris has named the rabbit.)

Let’s start at the box factory, though. As you’ll recall, one day a feral chicken showed up in the yard. He lived with us for several months, coexisting alongside the shop cat, sharing its food. Here’s footage of my chicken.

Returning to Rosings Park, the first thing to document is the birds. Our yard is filled with birds, especially in the autumn and winter. Kris feeds them well, and they’re grateful for it. Sometimes there are too many birds. When that happens, there can only be one result: a peanut battle!

One summer, Kris decided to train the scrub jays that are so prevalent here. Using their favorite food — peanuts — she slowly conditioned them to come closer and closer to her. Eventually she could sit at the picnic table and feed them. The collective memory of the jays has no recollection of this now, which is too bad. Maybe we’ll start again from scratch sometime. Here’s a short video of me working to condition the friendly jays.

There are other, wilder animals that roam the neighborhood at times. For instance, there are often raccoons (or bands of them) that sweep the neighborhood, tearing up gardens and chowing down on other foodstuffs they can find. Last autumn, after we kicked Toto out of the house, they discovered her food dish and helped themselves. A younger Toto might have tried to fight them off; the old (and near death) Toto simply watched grouchily.

We have almost as many spiders around here as we do birds. Here are some baby spiders in February; by July, they were full-grown and all over the yard.

The most prominent animals in our lives are the cats, obviously. They run this place. We shouldn’t call it Rosings Park; we should call it the Whisker Den (or something less dorky but just as feline). Here’s a typical morning in which the cats are running the show. (For the record, this is my second-most watched video on YouTube.)

And that leads us to our latest addition: our volunteer rabbit. The bunny showed up last week. I love having it around. It’s hilarious. I like how it chases the cats, but not out of spite — out of playfulness. I came home yesterday to find it lolling in the road with Max. We’ve decided it can stick around, but it can’t come in the house, and we’re not going to actively foster it.

Here’s how cute the damn thing is:

Who knows what animal we’ll keep next? Ducks? A dog? Goats? A cow?

p.s. I forgot about the squirrels! I don’t actually have any good squirrel footage, but they’re a big part of our lives too. Sometimes they eat from Kris’ hand. They taunt the cats. They fight with the birds over food. Last week, we saw one industrious fellow trying to drag a whole corn cob up the walnut tree. I’ll make it a priority to get some squirrel video to add to my collection.

Our Bunny (or, An Unexpected Guest)

It looks as if — for now, anyway — we’re not just a five cat family; we’re also a one rabbit family.

On Tuesday, for no apparent reason whatsoever, a rabbit appeared in the yard. We were standing in the kitchen when Kris said, “Look. Meatball is chasing a rabbit.” Sure enough. The big dumb oaf was chasing a white and brown bunny across the grass and into the boxwood hedge.

We went outside and spent several minutes trying to catch the rabbit, but to no avail. It’s got some smooth moves.

Over the past few days, the cats have gone from the aggressors, however, to the pursued. The rabbit has warmed up to them — and to us. It won’t let us pet it, but it does like to hop close to us. And to the cats. In fact, when it sees a cat, it bounds after it, essentially chasing the poor feline. The cats don’t really care for this.

Well, except Silver, one of our new additions. Silver thinks the rabbit is kind of fun:

Silver and His Rabbit Friend

We’re not sure what to do with the rabbit. We’ve asked the neighbors, and nobody is missing a bunny. We asked on the neighborhood email list, and nobody knows anything about it. I guess our next step is to put up signs around our community.

I want to keep the rabbit of course (though outside — I don’t want an indoor rabbit). Kris, naturally, is opposed.

I think she’ll change her mind if we name it, but I’m at a loss as to what to call our little friend. Hazel? Bigwig? Briscoe? Conejo? Stew?

Five Cat Family

It cracks me up that I haven’t haven’t written much lately. As usual, that means there’s actually too much going on in my life, not too little.

For example: As many of you know, Mom is currently in the memory-care unit of an assisted living facility. I won’t go into details (yet), but she had another mental-illness crisis in June/July. The doctors ordered 24-hour supervision, and even if they hadn’t, we would have sought it.

What, then, to do with her two cats? There’s only one real answer: They’ve come to live with us.

Yes, that’s right. After the loss of Toto in February, we were down to three cats. Despite my insistent pleading, Kris refused to budge from that number. Now, however, we’re up to five cats. And man oh man, has that played havoc with the cat politics around this place.

To summarize, we have:

  • Simon, he of prize-winning photos. He loves to climb ladders and to sleep late.
  • Nemo, who is scared of everything except…
  • Max (or Meatball), who is a lovable lug (but frightened of Nemo).
  • Socks, who is a miniature version of Max. She is actually his blood sister.
  • Silver, who is Simon’s blood brother.

At first, I thought Silver was worthless. He hid under the bed. He hissed. He didn’t interact with anyone. Now, though, after two weeks at our house, he’s established himself as Boss. (In the world of Kris and J.D., “Boss” is bestowed to the top cat of a house or neighborhood. Simon used to be Boss of the house, though he quarreled with Oreo next door about Boss of the neighborhood.)

It’s been entertaining over the past week to watch as the cat politics are sorted out. Simon was pissed off about being dethroned as Boss, and he and Silver came to blows a couple of times. Now, though, he’s resigned to it. As long as Mom still scritches him.

Meanwhile, Nemo (who thought he was Boss) hasn’t come inside except briefly. He’s completely cowed by Silver. And Maxwell doesn’t know what to think.

The new cats are chowing through the cat food. Because they were 100% indoor cats, they haven’t learned to use the outdoors for bathroom duties. (Although Silver figured out how to do Outside in minutes. He loves it.) And now our house is even furrier than it was before. The stairs are covered with cat hair.

Five cats seems like a lot. Still, I’m hoping Kris will let me get a replacement for Toto.

Waiting for Spring

This has been a long, wet, cool spring. We’ve had a lot of wet, cool [name your season] in Oregon over the past few years, probably because of global climate change. Whatever the case, it’s really taken a toll on my psyche. I’m an Oregon native, and I love it here, but even I get fed up with this weather eventually.

Over the past week, things have begun to improve. We’ve had some sunny days. (Or days that were sunny for part of the time, anyhow.) It feels very much like it ought to — if this were the middle of February. Basically, it’s as if our weather cycle is two months behind.

I’m not the only one who’s complaining about the weather, of course. Everyone I talk to is unhappy that temperatures are running about five degrees (centigrade — nine degrees Fahrenheit) cooler than normal. Kris wants to be out in the yard, for instance. And so do the cats.

Max and Simon have been spending more time outside, but they’re not happy about it. They want the rain to stop. They want the air to warm. A lot of the time, they just do this:

Waiting for Spring
Max and Simon are unhappy with the weather.

Yesterday, the morning was gorgeous. I had some errands to do, but I planned to work in the yard during the afternoon. Hahaha! It turned cool and rainy, and I wasn’t going to work in that again. No thank you.

This morning, it’s gorgeous again. The sun is out. The sky is (mostly) clear. I’m not going to make the same mistake. I’m going to go pop some dandelions while the popping is good. And maybe I can convince some cats to help me.

The Pleasures of Self-Sufficiency: A Cat’s Perspective

If I’m going to resume writing here regularly, I’ll obviously be writing more and more about my cats. After all, they rule the house, right? Kris and I are merely here to serve them. Besides, they do plenty of silly things worthy of blog posts.

For example, all four cats — Toto, Simon, Nemo, and Max — are of the firm belief that while human-provided food is great, the best food is the food you provide yourself.

In some cases, this means food they’ve hunted. Simon, as long-time readers will recall, sometimes catches squirrels. (We just put a poor, dead, fat rodent in the trash last week — Kris found it in the rose garden.) Nemo is a fearsome bird hunter, and he especially likes catching baby birds. And Max? Well, Max is an expert and seeking out and destroying unopened bags of cat food.

Because Simon is on an expensive prescription diet for his urinary-tract infection, all of the cats are on the same diet. They all eat the same expensive food. I have to buy this expensive food at the vet, which never has it in stock — they have to special-order it for me. So, to save hassle, I order three bags at a time and then store them in the basement.

Max, the fearsome hunter, likes to venture into the basement whenever possible. His mission? To stalk the bags of unopened cat food, and to tear them apart. He enjoys the thrill of the hunt, and he especially enjoys the seemingly endless supply of food once he’s killed a bag. (Nemo enjoys this, too. In fact, he invented this game. Lately, though, he lets Max do the killing.)

We do our best to keep Max away from the expensive cat-food bags, but it’s not always possible. And sometimes, we just forget.

This morning, I woke early and came downstairs in the dark. I opened the door for the Cat Swap. The Cat Swap occurs when Toto comes in from her nightly exile (since she started peeing outside the litterbox, she’s banished to a heating pad on the porch every night), and one or more of her brothers bolts to the freedom of Outside.

After the Cat Swap, Toto usually begins crying for food. Her bowl under the kitchen table is empty because Max has eaten it all during the night. (Max has no off switch. He will eat and eat and eat until there’s no food left.) But this morning was strangely different.

While I spent a few minutes in the bathroom, Toto was silent. There was no yowling, no insistent begging. Instead, I could actually hear her crunching on food. “That’s strange,” I thought. “Why didn’t Max eat it all overnight?” When I came out into the kitchen, I saw.

Toto enjoys breakfast from the bag
Toto is perturbed at being disturbed from her breakfast buffet.

Max had indeed made his best effort to eat all of the food overnight. But it wasn’t the food in the bowl he’d been consuming. Instead, he’d torn open the cat-food bag I brought home yesterday (and foolishly left in the kitchen). All night long, he’d been feasting from the bag, enjoying the fruits of self-sufficiency. And now, Toto and Simon were contentedly following in his pawsteps: They were crunching away from the never-ending fount of food pouring from the bag.

“Dad,” they seemed to say. “This is a fantastic idea. Can this be a regular thing?” Nothing seems better to a cat than an entire bag of cat food, just sitting there, ready to be eaten.



The View of Her Tomatoes

Some of the biggest conflicts of our marriage come when Kris and I cannot agree on where to place things. We’ve had huge rows about seating arrangements for dinner parties, for example. And when we receive our furniture shipment later today, I’m sure there’ll be some tension as we try to find the ideal layout.

But for now, this moment, we’re fighting over blueberries.

Kris doesn’t really like blueberries. And because I don’t do as much as I should to help in the garden, she’s leaving the current blueberry project to me. I tore out three of our blueberries (the 25-year-old plants the neighbors gave us) as well as our two gooseberries. Yesterday we bought three new plants, and we have two more coming by mail. It’s up to me to decide where to plant them.

In theory, I’d simply plant them where the old plants were. But the old plants didn’t thrive. Part of this was because I didn’t water them enough, but there’s also the problem that they didn’t get enough sun, and that they were spaced too closely together.

I’d like to create a dedicated blueberry patch in our yard. This morning, I walked through the north side, looking for a place to put the plants. There really isn’t one. The north side gets full sun, but it’s packed with fruit trees. It’s our orchard. There’s really no place to put blueberries.

Fortunately, there are a couple of spaces on the south side of the house that might work. The best spot, in my opinion, is running east-to-west next to the vegetable garden. There’s plenty of space, it gets full sun, and I could alter the soil as needed.

Unfortunately, Kris hates this idea. For some reason, she refuses to let me put the blueberries there. We’ve been butting heads now for an hour.

It occurred to me that I didn’t know exactly why she didn’t want me to plant the blueberries between the house and the vegetable garden. So I asked her. And here was her reply: “They’ll block my view,” she said.

“View of what?” I asked.

“The view of my tomatoes,” she said. “I like to look out and admire them. I try to make the garden beautiful and pleasing to me. I put a lot of work into it. I want to be able to see it.”


Far be it from me to deprive Kris of a view of her tomatoes. She does a lot of work around here, and she deserves to be able to see the fruits of her labor. (Literally.) I’ll find someplace else to put the blueberries. (I’ll probably put them in the spots we had originally designated.)

But when the Man Room furniture comes in a couple of hours, I’m going to be assertive! Just once in our 20+ years together, I’d like to win one of these arguments about where to put things. Kris can’t always be right — can she?

Small Rodents in Paradise

Hey!” Kris whined when we returned from lunch this afternoon. We had just parked the Mini Cooper in the garage, and she’d stepped up to the potting shed to grab a bag of birdseed.

“What’s the matter?” I asked. I was trying to put away some of my camping supplies from last weekend’s hike to Opal Creek.

“Come look,” she said. She pointed to the ground.

On the floor of the potting shed was a bag of birdseed. I expected that. But on top of the birdseed was a bag of peanuts, a bag that had previously been stored on a nearby shelf. And the bag was no longer sealed. It had been torn open by tiny claws and teeth, and there was a sea of peanut shells scattered all around.

I laughed.

“It looks like some squirrel gave himself a belly ache,” I said.

“Yeah,” said Kris. “But look.” She pointed at several other objects on the ground. The squirrel (or squirrels) had managed to pull down all sorts of painting supplies from nearby shelves in an effort to get at the peanuts. They had also torn open a bag of rose fertilizer. (Did it smell like peanuts? Or maybe they were hoping to bury their peanuts there?)

As I left the garage to carry a bag of birdseed to the house, I was bombarded by acorns. One of our squirrels was above me in the oak, tossing nuts at me. (The squirrels do this all the time.) Was he protecting the bag of peanuts?

Kris and I always wonder why so many people view squirrels as pests. We think they’re cute little rodents. Just this morning I had commented on Walnut, up in his tree, chit-chit-chitting away while chomping on a walnut. But if they’re going to start doing commando raids on the food supply, we might have to re-think the “cute” label.

A Walkable Neighborhood

Dave and Karen are in the process of purchasing a new home in the Sellwood/Westmoreland neighborhood. (Where does Sellwood end, by the way, and Westmoreland begin? I get the divide between Westmoreland and Eastmoreland — it’d be hard not to — but I don’t now where to draw the line with Sellwood.) Part of the reason they chose this new house is that it’s in a “walkable neighborhood”.

I’ve given a lot of thought to what a walkable neighborhood is lately. I have some definite opinions on it.

Last fall, Andrew and I had a conversation about Dave and Karen’s househunting. He mentioned it would be nice if they moved in near him and Courtney. (Dave and Karen are godparents to Andrew and Courtney’s children.)

“Yeah,” I said. “But I think they’re looking for a walkable neighborhood.”

“This is a walkable neighborhood,” Andrew said. I can’t remember if I debated the point out loud, but I certainly did internally. Andrew and Courtney live in a nice place, but I consider it only borderline walkable. It’s just a little too far away from the community center. It’s three-quarters of a mile to the nearest grocery store, and it’s the same distance to the public library. (They do have a park very close at hand, though.)

I mentioned this story to Paul and Tiffany the other night. They were divided on the walkability of the Cronks’ neighborhood. (Tiffany voted “yes”; Paul voted “no”.)

But what is walkable?

The other night, I tried to use our own neighborhood as an example to Tiffany. I forgot to ask her if she ever walks to the grocery store (probably not often), but that would have been the best way to make my point.

Tiffany lives 1.2 miles away from Kris and me. It’s exactly a one-mile walk for her to get to Fred Meyer. (It’s a 0.9-mile walk for us here at Rosings Park.) That’s not much further than Andrew and Courtney have to walk to the grocery store. I don’t think Tiffany would argue that we live in a walkable neighborhood, yet it’s not far off from the one the Cronks live in.

Tangent: This is one reason I think it’s a shame that Oak Grove’s downtown area is dead. There are two bars and two minimarts and a variety of smallish shops. But most of the businesses that open here cannot stay in business. The community cannot or will not support them. People are so car-bound that they don’t bother to walk up the hill to shop for groceries. There used to be a grocery store on the corner of River and Oak Grove, but it died a year or two before we moved in to Rosings Park.

Again, what is walkable?

As I say, I’ve given this question a lot of thought. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been on a personal campaign to use my car less. I’ve been walking to all sorts of places I used to consider unwalkable. I walk the 2-1/2 miles to downtown Milwaukie to visit the comic book store and my favorite taco place. I walk two miles to the mower repair shop (and then push my mower two miles home). And today I walked 2-1/2 miles to the credit union in Gladstone; 2-1/2 miles up McLoughlin to get pizza, to go to Goodwill, to go to Fred Meyer, to stop at the liquor store, and to go to the bank; and then I walked a mile home.

You know what? It’s a hell of a lot of fun. Yes, my feet hurt. Yes, I’m tired. But it feels awesome to not be in the car. It feels fantastic to be listening to the birds and seeing people and actually noticing new roads and new businesses.

But I don’t think what I’m doing is normal. What I’m doing is unusual. Yes, technically it’s possible to walk my neighborhood, but it’s not something many people do. I wouldn’t call it walkable — not like the Hawthorne area or Northwest.

To me, a “walkable neighborhood” doesn’t mean a neighborhood where people could walk to-and-from stores; it means a neighborhood where people do walk to-and-from stores. That’s a subtle but important difference.

According to Walk Score:

  • Andrew and Courtney’s neighborhood is “somewhat walkable” (Walk Score of 68).
  • Kris and I also live in a “somewhat walkable” neighborhood (Walk Score of 65). Our house in Canby had a Walk Score of 83; it was “very walkable”.
  • Tiffany lives in a “somewhat walkable” neighborhood (Walk Score of 52).
  • Dave and Karen’s current house is a little more walkable than Tiffany’s (Walk Score of 54). Their new house will have a Walk Score of 85, which is “very walkable”.
  • Paul and Amy Jo are “car-dependant”. Their house has a Walk Score of 43 — and that’s with the map giving them credit for stuff in Lake Oswego! (The map is dumb and doesn’t account for the river that’s in the way. Or maybe it thinks they can take the railroad bridge.)
  • Chris and Jolie live in a “walker’s paradise” up on Hawthorne. Their apartment has a Walk Score of 97.

Dave and Karen want a neighborhood where people do walk to stores. And they’ve found one.

Painting the Porches

When we moved into Rosings Park, we knew we were in for more maintenance — we just didn’t realize how much. Our house in Canby wasn’t that big of a deal. It was a 1976 ranch-style home that had recently been updated. We didn’t need to do a lot of work on it.

Rosings, however, is over one hundred years old — and it shows it in lots of little ways.

One of those ways is the paint. Apparently it had been painted not long before we purchased it (three years before?), but that didn’t really matter. According to the painters we had bid our recent project, it hadn’t been properly painted in decades. (Maybe they say that to all prospective clients, though.) Layers of paint had been added one on top of the other. Nobody’d done a proper job of stripping things.

To make matters worse, when the roof was done before we moved in, somebody took a shortcut with the flashing. As a result, there were two spots on the corners where water had literally been seeping into the walls for the last five years. Not good. Aside from other potential damage, the moisture had caused the paint to peel:

Kris and I considered painting the house ourselves, but not seriously. Kris is busy, and so am I. Technically, I’m home all day, but in reality, I’m working. Plus, this sounded like a bitch of a job. Instead, we hired Leo and Mike to do the job for us. (We’d used them for another job earlier in the spring.)

It took them over a week, but when they’d finished, our house had been scraped and painted. It looks brand new!

When we hired them, we said that we would paint the porches. It took us a while to get around to it, but finally last weekend, Kris and I made the time.

The back porch (the “smoking porch”) was brown before. Now it’s a steely blue. The front porch, too, is a steely blue instead of its former grey.

“I think we’re almost done for the year,” Kris said when we’d finished painting.

“I hope so,” I said. “We’ve put a lot of time and money into the house so far. I’m ready to take a break.”

This is how I felt the year after we moved in, the year we had the bathroom remodeled. We spent so much time and money on it that I wanted to take the next year off from any projects. No projects in 2010! — that’s my motto.

But we’re not done with 2009 yet. We still have the “Man Room” to furnish. That won’t take much time, but it’s going to take some money…