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Archive for September, 2009

My Affair With Netflix

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One year ago I was introduced to the world of Netflix. I was skeptical at first, and out of curiosity one day got on the site just to see if they would have anything worthwhile. Within minutes I was signed up with my own account, already clicking “Add to Queue” repeatedly and anticipating my first arrivals. I was just too impatient to wait, and started devouring some films that were available for viewing online. Pure joy.

Since then Netflix has gotten $224.55 from me. And since then I have seen 114 films on my account. At less than $2 per movie, I’d say that, if nothing else, Netflix is a deal. But, for someone like me, who loves movies and film, it amounts to a great deal more. It’s instant access to some pretty darn obscure films. It’s exposure to actors and directors and genres that I never knew existed. It’s Christmas, several times a week, delivered right into your mailbox and waiting to be unwrapped when you get home from a long day. It is, in two words, Pure Awesomeness. And, to indulge myself in honor of my one-year anniversary with one of the latest loves of my life (that would be you, Netflix), I have compiled a list of short reviews of every Netflix movie I have seen on my OWN account since the day I handed over my debit card number. I don’t expect anyone to read through all of these, but hopefully I will be able to share some small part of the wonderful and frequent cinematic discoveries that I have made in these past twelve months. Enjoy, as I did!

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My Netflix Queue, in Roughly Chronological Order, Starting September of 2008.

Alice7.5 stars—It’s not for everyone, but I have a soft spot for creepy ass short-stop animation. This one certainly fits the bill, and almost a year later I can still recall some pretty vivid images from this film. I could see myself watching it again and bumping it up a star or two.

Confessions of a Superhero9 stars—This is a funny, sad, and intriguing documentary about people who dress up as superheroes and pose with tourists for money. Superman takes the cake in this one. It’s a hilarious film, but sobering in many aspects. It is unique and excellent as far as documentary is concerned.

Hell House6.5 stars—This documentary focuses on a “haunted house” that is orchestrated each year by a Christian church who acts out scenes of sins that are sure to send a person to hell. You can just imagine. It’s entertaining, and you will enjoy it more if you like to be disgusted by religious fundamentalists. However, there is something about the quality of the documentary that keeps me from giving it more stars…maybe it is the exploitative aspect of the film, or the simple fact that I can’t really remember whether I liked it that well or not.

Dan In Real Life1 star—I hated this movie so much that I became violent. If you don’t believe me ask my ex. J Maybe I’m too much of a prude to appreciate it, but it wasn’t funny, it was just creepy and pathetic. And no verisimilitude whatsoever.

I’m Not There9.5 stars—I knew virtually nothing about Dylan before I saw this movie. Maybe that’s why I loved it so much. This movie won’t give you much in the way of bibliographical facts, but it will give you a fantastic insight into the many aspects of this man’s personality.

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill9 stars—Clearly my taste in films is biased…anything having to do with animals will inevitably gain more stars. This one is a bit slow, but it’s cute and quaint, and was delightful and entertaining to watch (for me anyway). There are some parts of it that are not quite fully fleshed out, though I don’t mind being allowed to formulate my own opinion about a couple of the people in this doc. Also, anthropomorphism always irritates me, but here it’s just so dang cute that it can’t be avoided.

King of Kong9 stars—I’ve seen this a few times, and it’s a win every time! You will definitely get sucked into the story of the protagonist, whether you are aware of the gaming world or not. It’s funny, it’s real (oh so real), and the villain is just too good. If you want a thoroughly entertaining documentary to waste two hours of your time, this is it.

Stone Reader9 stars—It seems that I am biased toward documentaries as well. But this one is about BOOKS. Not only that, it’s about literature. It’s about people who love literature and words and language. It’s discussions of a literary nature, with a background story of investigation and finding a skilled author who seems to have fallen off the face of the earth. And it has lots of books in it.

(more…)

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Art in the Age of Study

smoothiedoodleI’d just like to point out that I made the time yesterday to do THIS, and it felt great. Today I feel like more of an artist, and less of a pre-vet undergrad schmuck. Do what you love, and everything else will follow.

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Transient Intuitions

“About dreams. It is usually taken for granted that you dream of something that has made a particularly strong impression on you during the day, but it seems to me it’s just the contrary. Often it’s something you paid no attention to at the time–a vague thought that you didn’t bother to think out to the end, words spoken without feeling and which passed unnoticed–these are the things that return at night, clothed in flesh and blood, and they become the subject of dreams, as if to make up for having been ignored during the waking hours.”  ~Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago


Dreams are almost the only time I have of late to exercise my creative senses.

It would seem that I have been neglecting my blog, but I assure you that is not the case. School and work have so overwhelmed my time that I don’t often get the chance to sit and arrange my thoughts into coherent sentences. Throughout a day at work the ideas pour through my mind in a constant stream, faster than I could even think to write them down if I had the chance. My brain is buzzing with the chance to flesh out some of these things that are floating about in my mind, but for now I will have to be content with the thought that I am not the only one who creates and forgets a multitude of good and bad ideas throughout the course of a workday…

“So many new thoughts come into your head when your hands are busy with hard physical work, when your mind has set you a task that can be achieved by physical effort and that brings its reward in joy and success, when for six hours on end you dig or hammer, scorched by the life-giving breath of the sky. And it isn’t a loss but a gain that these transient thoughts, intuitions, analogies are not put down on paper but forgotten. The town recluse whipping up his nerves and his imagination with strong black coffee and tobacco doesn’t know the strongest drug of all–good health and necessity.”  ~Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago.


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It has been four days since Smeagol died. Things are easier but I still can’t get through half a day without crying.

I became a bit obsessed over the weekend with writing my tribute blog to Smeagol. I stayed up well into the night each night, writing whatever memories of Smeagol came to mind. I dragged out boxes and rifled through my belongings in an effort to find every photo of Smeagol that I could find. I couldn’t concentrate on studying or much of anything for that matter until the blog was written, photos were scanned, and it was all put together and published. It was a rather cathartic process that leaves me feeling better.

The best thing about this weekend was the enormous amount of support and caring I received from family and friends across the board. A simple note from various sources meant the world to me. The sharing of grief helped me bear it more easily. It is soothing to know that others recognize my pain as real and valid, and that they understand it.

This is the first time in my life that I have lost someone close to me. The process of grieving has been and still is painful, but I feel well-equipped to look ahead and move on from this.

Thank you everyone.

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Nothing Else Matters

Young Smeagol

When I started this blog I swore to myself that I would not make it into a cat blog. An animal blog, maybe, but not a cat blog. However, there is someone who’s story I suddenly feel compelled to tell…

In the summer of 2004, when I was a mere 20 years old, my then-husband Jeff came walking through the door of our apartment cradling a tiny gray ball of fuzz in the palm of his hand. That tiny gray ball of fuzz was a present to me.

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I had been hinting that summer that I wanted a gray and white cat, but the thing he showed to me was not what I had in mind. She was all gray as far as I could see, no wait, there was a tiny patch of white just below her chin. Well, I thought, so technically this is a gray and white cat. And now, technically, this is MY gray and white cat.

My mild disappointment melted into a mild apprehension. Jeff already had two cats, so I had been initiated into that world almost two years prior…but a kitten? I had never seen such a small cat, and I certainly didn’t know what to do with it. I was a bit awed by this fuzzy warm creature with the buggy eyes and a round pink mouth. So in the beginning I would set her on the floor and watch her. She was certainly small (too small), and kind of bobbled around on the floor. She enthusiastically struggled to maneuver various small balls around the carpet. Her ears were huge. Her toes were extremely pink.

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We took a while to name her. I wanted to name her Athena because she had beautiful gray eyes, and I had once read a version of The Odyssey in which Athena is described as the Grey-eyed Goddess. My second name choice was Toiga (think “tiger”, but with an Austin Powers accent). At some point, one night one of us spontaneously blurted out, “Why don’t we call her Smeagol?” And the name just seemed to fit. Even so, Smeagol spent the next two years ofher life responding to the name Baby Kitty.

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Baby Kitty quickly realized that I was Mom. She took this so literally, in fact, that she could have spent hours trying to suckle on my earlobes. She had clearly been taken away from her biological mother before it was wise or necessary. At any rate, she decided that she must have sprang from my loins, and spent the majority of her life trying to convince me of this fact.

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The first night with my new pet, I didn’t know how to go about the sleeping situation. I pulled a chair next to the bed, fixed it up with a blanket, and set Smeagol down to sleep. For the first night she stayed on the chair, but after that she wouldn’t have it. It was on the bed with Mom and Dad, or it was nothing. Not only that, but she would spent countless hours trying to burrow under the covers so she could try to suckle on me. For many weeks I slept (or tried to sleep) with the covers pulled tightly over my head and tucked around me like a shroud.

There were some times in those early months that Smeagol even made me cry. This was my first kitten, and I had no idea how much trouble a kitten could be. She liked to play, she liked to bite, she would curl up in my lap, look up into my eyes, then swipe at my hair swift and strong with her needle-like claws. Occasionaly she’d get a nice swipe at my face or my eyes.

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I lost sleep. I lost some sanity (what little of it I had at the time). But I had gained in Smeagol what I later referred to as my familiar. If I ever existed as an animal, I would exist as Smeagol. She followed me from room to room, watching me as if trying to learn how to do everything that I was doing. As Smeagol matured it became apparent that our personalities were similar. She was a diminutive, quiet cat. She rarely imposed herself on anyone, and it wasn’t hard to forget about her presence in a room. She was manipulative. She could go from sweet to sneaky then back again whenever she pleased.

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Of course, Smeagol was more of a trouble-maker than I ever was in my youth. She would frequently tease the older cats, and her big bunny brother Boo Radley. One day I lost Smeagol in the house. I spend hours looking for her, frantically calling Jeff at work and wondering where I could have possibly misplaced a few pounds of kitten. I gave one last look under the couch and spotted a small bulge in the lining covering the bottom of the couch. I reached under, and sure enough that bulge was soft and warm to the touch and began to purr. I still don’t know how she got in there, but she was clearly comfortable and not intent on coming out anytime soon. In my new motherhood I was anxious to have her out where I could see her, so I carefully propped up the end of the couch and cut a slit in the lining in order to extract her. She just looked up at me and blinked, as if I had disturbed her sleep for nothing. After that I found her sleeping in the lining of the couch on occasion, but as long as I knew she could get in and out easily then I was content to let her rest there where it was dark and safe.

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Smeagol became a delight in my little domestic world. She was slim and delicate and could always make me laugh. She began to develop skin problems early on that perplexed us. The scented litter we used caused the pads of her feet to erupt in painful and odiferous sores. Her lips would become swollen and painful. The Lebanon vets were none too helpful, relying mostly on steroid shots and antibiotics to alleviate the symptoms. No one bothered to tell me that plastic food dishes and scented litters could cause allergic reactions in cats. No one even bothered to tell me that steroid shots can shorten the life span of an animal. So Smeagol continued to receive her steroid shots nearly monthly. It wasn’t until years later that I realized these things and was able to adjust our lifestyle to lessen the effects of Smeagol’s allergies. I was angry with the vet for using a method on my cat that could have caused her life to be shortened in the long run.

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Two years after Smeagol came into my life, it became apparent that we were sharing a feeling of discontent with our environment. By this time we had four cats and one rabbit in the household, and Smeagol was bottom of the totem pole. She was still spunky, but shy around the other cats, and often overpowered and pushed to the background. I had begun to feel pushed to the background as well. I realized that I played more the role of cat, rather than wife, in my own household. I made a nice addition to the apartment and helped make home cozy, but that seemed to be about all I was good for anymore in Jeff’s eyes. So in mid-September of 2006, I took a few clothes and I took Smeagol, and together we moved out. I remember the drive to our new home at my mom’s house. Smeagol meowed and looked at me from her carrier all the way in to Indianapolis. When we exited the highway I let her out, and she curled up in my lap for the rest of the drive. Neither of us knew what lay ahead of us, but really all that mattered was that I had her and she needed me.

I didn’t have a bedroom yet for the first few weeks at Mom’s house. I slept on the floor in the living room, and Smeagol slept on my head. When I stayed up late at night putting my bedroom together she would keep me company. As I slowly adjusted to my new life and surroundings, it became clear that Smeagol was not. Any time that I was home she was there next to me. She wanted to be in my lap, or by my feet, or sitting on a chair next to mine at the computer. She would look at me and yawn, making funny groaning noises. Then she’d yawn again and scratch at Mom’s furniture. She just couldn’t stop yawning, and that’s how I knew she was seriously stressed. I just wasn’t sure what to do about it.

One day in October, I went with my sister Theresa to check out a couple of cats she was interested at the Southside Animal Shelter. I hadn’t intended to get another cat, but I ran into a character that I just couldn’t refuse. Ollie’s story is a good one, but not the right one to tell here and now. In short, he came home with me, he won Smeagol’s heart and her tolerance, and they became (surprisingly) best pals. I was amazed that this cat, who had been cowed in the presence of her former siblings, was now blossoming with the friendship of this new kid who could have been her biological twin.

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Oliver and Smeagol became a happy pair. I stopped feeling guilty for leaving to go to school or work. They seemed content to spend the day together lying in the sun on the carpet, lounging on the back of the couch, or cuddling together in the papasan. Eventually, though, it became more and more difficult to keep them contained in the small house. Every chance they got they would dart for the door. We ended up keeping a water bottle by the door just to fend them off so we could come and go. They wanted to see just what was so great about this big outdoors that they watched from the windows.

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One night I got out of film history class late at night and listened to a voicemail that Mom had left me hours before. I had just finished seeing Eraserhead for the first time, and was in the slightly unsound state of mind that only a first viewing of Eraserhead can create. Mom had inadvertently let Smeagol out earlier in the day, and hadn’t realized she was gone until she got back that evening.

My stomach was like a rock. My baby girl was gone, she had never been out before and it was the middle of December and she could be gone forever. I struck out as soon as I got home to find her. I left my mom distraught at the house while I walked the neighborhood at 11pm. I was distraught myself, and livid. When I couldn’t find Smeagol, I stubbornly decided that I would camp out on the porch until she returned. There was no way I was going to let her stay out all night, even if I had to do so myself. I grabbed a sweater and a blanket, and took my stand.

It wasn’t long before I got cold and lonely. I texted my friend to tell him what had happened, and he took the opportunity to come sit with me and wait. I didn’t necessarily want to talk, but I also didn’t want to bury my head and cry in front of this person I had just begun hanging out with. So we began talking, and eventually our voices got louder, and I even laughed a few times, forgetting the situation that was happening. The sound of my laughter drifted to Smeagol’s ears, wherever she had been hiding, and the sound of her tiny, frightened mewing reached my ears from where she was in the neighbor’s yard, with no idea how to get over the fence and back home. I have never been so relieved as when I bundled her up in my arms that night. And I could tell by her ferocious purring that she had never been so relieved either. Everyone in the household was a thousandfold happier to see Smeagol that night—especially Mom. Peace had been restored.

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With the coming of the next spring, I gradually began letting Ollie and Smeagol venture outdoors. At first they were not allowed to leave the porch. Smeagol was very good about this and would stand on the steps looking about. If she stepped off the porch I would give her a warning word, and she would retreat just enough to pacify me. As Ollie boldly tested his boundaries, and finally broke them altogether, I began to be lenient with Smeagol as well. They simply adored lying on the warm concrete sidewalk, or hunkering down in the grass like pretend cheetahs on the prowl. I’ve never seen happier kitties in my life.

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That year, 2007, was a very rough one for me. Extremely rough, in many ways. Smeagol always seemed to know when I was upset. She would visit me on my bed, washing my face and making sure I had a warm body to hold. Wherever I went she would follow, smiling at me with her eyes and talking in her funny half-meow/squeak language. I can honestly say that there were several times that year when the thought of not wanting to leave my cats was the only thing that kept me wanting to be alive. I didn’t trust anyone else to know their quirks and be able to care for them like I could. If it hadn’t been for that, I really don’t know what would have gotten me through my darkest days. Like I said, it was a bad year.

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But in some ways it was a good year as well. Smeagol and Ollie loved their new freedom. We would frequently take walks together around the neighborhood, especially at night. There is a small field of grass behind Mom’s house, and I could watch from the kitchen window as Smeagol and Ollie frolicked in the field. Sometimes at dusk I would catch a glimpse of them hiding in the grass, watching eagerly as the wild rabbits emerged from their burrows. I think they desperately wanted to try to catch one, but were stunned by the size and boldness of the rabbits. At this time neither Smeagol nor Ollie was any bigger than a rabbit anyway.

The next year, 2008, slowly began to improve. I found a house and I fell in love. I fell in love with the house, that is. The house fit me in a way that most gloves don’t (I have short fingers). I knew that my kids would love it. It took three months of hard work and a hell of a lot of help to fix up that house, but it finally happened. I brought my kids to stay on August 1st of 2008, and they loved it as much as I imagined they would. They had a cat door (a luxurious new creation as far as they could tell), and they had a yard full of cicadas and squirrels and chipmunks and birds to watch and chase. Ollie was the hunter, but Smeagol loved to sit out in the middle of the yard, watching the wildlife around her, and occasionaly talking to it. Now if that is not clear evidence that she is my soul’s feline counterpart, then I don’t know what is.

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Early this year I became determined to solve the mystery of Smeagol’s lifelong skin problems. She was almost constantly scratching and licking, and couldn’t even concentrate on chasing a string without having to stop and address her irritations. I brought her to a dermatologist, she inderwent many troublesome tests, and finally ended up on a drug trial. Smeagol hated the drug trial. She learned that night-time meant medicine time, and she was very good at making herself scarce in order to avoid the dreaded liquid. I had a hell of a time tracking her down each night, as she would make it as difficult as possible by hiding in the most awkward places. She took to scolding me whenever I attempted to extract her, and she shunned me almost constantly throughout the rest of the day. The drug caused her to grow more fur than she had ever had in her lifetime, and she became bold and irritable. She began to chase raccoons away from the house at night. She wasn’t about to take any crap from anyone.

However, the drug was working, and Smeagol improved more than I could have hoped for. Thankfully the drug trial ended and I was able to decrease her dose and switch to a pill, which we both much preferred. It didn’t take long before the healthy Smeagol began to warm up to me again. Since I wasn’t dragging her out of dark corners every night to “torture” her with medicine, she began sleeping close to my bed at night. She renewed her practice of waiting for me every day outside the shower, calling to me every once in a while so that I would hurry up with getting clean and come out and pet her already. She loved to jump up on the sink when I got out, so she could be closer to my face and able to give me kisses. Kisses, for Smeagol, involved gazing at me and chirping until I would bring my face down close to hers so she could rub her gums along my nose. She would do this as many times in a row as I would let her, or until she got so excited that she would accidentally nip my nose, which happened once or twice.

I was certainly glad, these past few months, to have my boon companion back by my side.

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Since the beginning of my cats’ lives as Outdoor Cats, I have experienced a moderate anxiety concerning safety. Whenever arriving or leaving home I would subconsciously scan the street, dreading the site of a gray body lying in the road. At times, when I was particularly stressed out, this image would be foremost in my mind, and I would have trouble not allowing myself to dwell on the scenario and how it could play out.

Recently this anxiety had not been a problem for me. I would still give that automatic, subconscious glance upon pulling up in front of my house, or upon walking out to my car, but it rarely occurred to me what I was doing or that I had a real need to worry.

On Thursday morning, however, things were different.

It was shortly after 9am and Scott had walked out the door on his way to work just minutes before. I was scrambling to get ready for work, and headed out the door with my bag and my keys and my sunglasses and a bottle of tea tucked under my arm. I pulled the door closed, scanned, and stopped dead in my tracks. My brain fired a recognition signal. This is it, my brain said, it has finally happened, just as I imagined it to be. A small gray figure, lying in the road just to the south of my house.

My brain had to tell my arms to drop my things. I ran down the steps, and as I did so it registered that Scott had not left. He was sitting in his car and glanced up casually as I was running down the stairs. I gave him a look and a gesture that was supposed to say WHAT HAPPENED???? but he just looked back with confusion. When he saw where I was headed and why, he was right behind me.

The body lay on the far side of the street. As I rushed toward it I could only think “Please let it be Clarence.” I’m sorry to have thought that, but understand that Clarence is the name I have given to the neighborhood stray who happens to be gray with a white patch like my Smeagol and Ollie. I didn’t want it to be one of mine. I approached the body with such tunnel vision that I didn’t notice the broken pink collar lying just a few feet from it. The cat in the road was dead but still very warm. It had been struck in the head, which was not recognizable and which I didn’t want to look at anyway. The damage was not severe, but it was enough that one glance was more than enough. We knelt there over the body and all I could think or say was “Who is it? Who is it? Is it Ollie?” There was no collar. I thought that it couldn’t be one of mine. It must be a neighbor cat. But I thought it might be Ollie. I lifted a back leg, looking for Ollie’s characteristic broken leg from when he was a kitten. That’s when I saw the tiny sores running up the length of the cat’s hind legs. This was my baby girl.

The rest is a blur to me. I stood up upon the recognition, reeling in disbelief. I couldn’t believe that this had happened. I sat down in the road and cried. I remember thinking that she was so warm, her body was so warm that she couldn’t possibly be dead. I thought that there must be some way to bring her back while her body was still warm. She felt so alive. I just sat in the road and cried. No neighbors came out of their houses, and no cars passed on the street. I wouldn’t have noticed if they had.

I don’t remember what happened next. I think I asked Scott to get “a box or something” from the house. When he left I found the pink collar and stuffed it in my pocket. Then I picked up Smeagol who felt so heavy in my hands, and carried her up to the porch steps where I held her and sobbed. It seemed like a really long time before Scott came out with a box. I had very vague thoughts that he might be distraught, but my own overwhelming distress clouding everything else that I could think or feel.

Scott came out on the porch and set down a blue beer box that Smeagol had been fond of sleeping in for the past week. I snapped at him and told him I didn’t want that box, I wanted a different box. I’ve never questioned why that was so important to me, it just was. And somehow, Scott found a different box, a perfectly acceptable box that I could place Smeagol in without wanting to scream in anger.

I went inside and lay on the bed for what seemed like a long time. Scott was somewhere but I didn’t care where. I think he was crying in the other room. My phone rang. Several minutes later I texted Dad and told him what happened. That was all. When Scott came back in the room I said “I don’t know what to do with her.”

After a while we went out to the backyard to open the garage and get two shovels. The movement felt better, but I was still in a daze. We stood there by the garage door with our shovels, just kind of looking at the ground and not knowing where or how to start. Dad showed up and walked back to us. He gave me a very long hug, and helped us get the grave started. Dad and Scott dug a hole by the fence in the backyard. The ground was soft and almost sandy, and the shoveling was easy. I brought Smeagol’s box to the hole, lifted her out and placed her on the dirt. Her fur was already beginning to shed from her body as I petted her those last few times. I placed her in the hole, and gave her her favorite leather belt that Mom had given to her three years ago. It was her favorite string. It was something she would carry with her from room to room, to sleep with or to sit on expectantly, waiting for me to pick it up so she could chase it and jump for it. And lordy could she jump!

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It wasn’t difficult for her to get between four and five feet of air while trying to get at that silly leather braided belt. By now it is in tatters, well worn and played hard thoughout the years. I placed it between her feet and told her goodbye, and we covered up my precious baby girl.

The thought of it still seems unbelievable to me. This day I have had without her seems to be stretching on for eternity. It seems a year since 9am, and yet I don’t have the luxury of having had a year’s worth of healing. I still expect to see her every single time I pull up in front of the house. I still expect her to be rushing up to greet me even as I am stepping out of my car. I expect to hear her insistent squeak-meow, and see her prance just out of my reach when I try to pet her. I still check the faucet every time I pass the bathroom, just to make sure I didn’t leave it running, or that she isn’t sitting in the sink waiting to get a drink. I still look to see her meatloafing on the rug whenever I walk through the dining room. I still look in every box because I expect to see her sleeping there or simply sitting and looking around.

Someone asked me today if I was okay. I said that at this point I wasn’t really worried about being okay. I am not okay, but I am fine with not being okay. I am not letting myself push away or ignore any ounce of this pain. I don’t want to. I want to cry every single time I think of something that I loved about Smeagol that I will never get to see her do again. I want to miss her, and I want to keep missing her. There will never be another like her. No not ever.

RIP baby kitty. Mommy loves you.

Smeaghost

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