My favorite cat

I haven’t posted anything but ginger beer updates and memories of cats that have passed away for a long time. Maybe one day I’ll think of something else worthwhile to say and have the time to take to say it. And I have missed an entire life, our tiny little black and white kitten, Poppy, who appeared from nowhere and who ballooned into a sixteen-plus pound long-haired wonderfully friendly monster before leaving us after only four years. I will write about her one day.

For now, though, there’s Parsley.

Parsley has been a family member since 2009, after we lost Basil to my carelessness. He’s the first cat who’s ever been mine, rather than a family pet (at least, the first other than Basil) and he’s always been very special to me.

When he was young, he would regularly leap up onto my shoulder, or my wife’s, even after he’d gained a few pounds. Vicki would be working in the kitchen, lean down to pick something up, and suddenly there was a cat on her shoulder or on her back, appearing from nowhere.

He was 9 in this picture, but he still liked to be a shouldercat when it wasn’t inconvenient for him.

He topped out at around 15-16 pounds. His most common nickname around here is lump.

Lump – for obvious reasons

He’s never been a particularly well cat. He’s always had crossed eyes, and he has a little lion face. If we didn’t usually give our cats the names of herbs or spices, and if he wasn’t a replacement for Basil, I might have thought about naming him Clarence. But he became Parsley, partly due to Parsley, the Friendly Lion. He has often had mild congestion or coughing, probably mostly because he was allergic to his own fleas, which is a nasty problem for a cat, especially when you live in a big old house. Seresto collars have been a huge boost to his quality of life.

He likes cat traps

and sharpening his claws on the banister.

But mostly, he likes comfort.

And warmth.

He loves to be outside. We live on a main road, and many strays have met their ends to traffic, so these days our cats are one hundred percent indoor. But a couple of months ago, Parsley started waiting at the back door to dash through it. He doesn’t go far, but I’m nervous about leaving him even in the back yard, so I got him a harness and leash. I usually let him wander, just keeping my eye on where the leash points to to know where he is.

While I’ve been working from home, I can often sit outside to work. So I attach his leash and let him wander. He usually finds the same pile of wood with an overturned drawer at the base to work as his tent, a home-outside-of-home where he can stretch out and be safe from the elements while being surrounded by fresh air.

This morning he came up to me and pawed at my leg, meaning that he wanted up. So I picked him up and he nestled in my arms, purring constantly, while I cried my eyes out.

A few months ago he started vomiting several times a day. When I took him to the vet he was already down to about eleven pounds. I don’t think the vet quite believed me when I said he was over fourteen not long ago. But he responded well to treatment, and stopped throwing up.

He didn’t stop losing weight, and when I got him back to the vet he was only nine pounds. After some poking and an X-ray it seems he has lymphoma. There’s a small chance it isn’t, but it makes no difference. Even if the tumor is benign, it’s trapped an artery and isn’t operable. So he’s home, and losing more weight. The vet said, wait until he stops eating, and if his quality of life is still good, let him enjoy it.

That’s happened, now. For about a week, he developed a huge appetite. If we hadn’t known about the tumor, we’d have thought he was recovering. But it was temporary, and about a week ago he wouldn’t eat anything solid, and would only take a little bit of tuna juice, though I think that might have been for thirst, not hunger. He plays whack-a-mole with our koi to drink from the pond.

He’s still happy. He really loves being outside, and while the weather is good, I want for him to be here.

Many, many years ago, when the Internet was barely coming together – in the days of Trumpet Winsock, if I recall correctly – and when searches (on AltaVista?) still returned meaningful results, I search for “poetry” one time. And wished I hadn’t. Because a poem caught my eye that made me cry, and that now I can’t stop thinking about. It was “A 14 year old convalescent cat in the winter” by Gavin Ewart.

I want him to have another living summer,
to lie in the sun and enjoy the douceur de vivre
because the sun, like golden rum in a rummer,
is what makes an idle cat un tout petit peu ivre

I want him to lie stretched out, contented,
revelling in the heat, his fur all dry and warm,
an Old Age Pensioner, retired, resented
by no one, and happinesses in a beelike swarm

to settle on him – postponed for another season
that last fated hateful journey to the vet
from which there is no return (and age the reason),
which must come soon – as I cannot forget

He’s out in the sun now. Summer is over, but the weather will be warm and dry through this week. And age isn’t the reason, since the poor kid is only eleven, but that hateful journey has to come this week. I’m planning to do it on Friday, and I know that I will be a basket case. With Covid, I can’t even take my wife and family for support. Only one person can be in the vet’s office with an animal, and it has to be me. I love this cat and I don’t want to let him go, but I need to be with him at the end.

As much as I hate knowing what’s going to happen and feeling the way I do, in a way, I’m glad it’s this way. Before now, every cat we’ve lost has been to sudden decline, with regrets about how we had so few memories from its later life. I have had the chance to spend time with Parsley, knowing that there won’t be much more, but able to give him what he needs – companionship, the outdoors air, cooked chicken (while he still ate). Peace and quiet. I am glad I have the chance to do that.

Two things on the Internet are guaranteed to reduce me to tears. One is the poem. The other deals with the same topic. This comic. It does help put the loss of a pet in perspective. Having them put to sleep when they’re in pain isn’t a betrayal. That would be letting them continue in pain. But hell, it feels like one, and the comic has never eased my sadness, even though I appreciate it.

In a few days I’ll take my lovely, trusting cat to the vet, and will be bringing back a memory to bury, and it’s tearing me up.

Ginger Beer – continued

Updating my Ginger Beer experiments:

The first batch was less gingery than I like. I’ve doubled the amount of ginger I add per day to two teaspoons. I tried doubling it again to four, but the drink was more gingery but somehow less interesting, more like fizzy ginger than nice, tart ginger beer.

So every day add two teaspoons of ginger and two teaspoons of sugar.

I’ve also tried using fresh ginger, now. It helps the process somewhat, but it doesn’t change the flavor very much. There are different ways of using fresh ginger, but this is what I’m doing right now:

I take 20 oz of ginger root – which is a lot, but it’s $2/lb around here – and cut it into smallish pieces. Then I drop it into boiling water for two minutes to scald it, to kill any surface bacteria. After that I blend it with a couple of cups of water until the ginger is blended very fine.

I strain the mush through muslin, squeezing to get as much juice out of the ginger as I can. Then I put that into the fermentation jar and add the Ginger Beer Plant and filtered water to a total of around six cups. (The ginger will add a couple of cups of juice.)

Add four teaspoons of sugar on that first day, and then two teaspoons of sugar (no ginger) each day for the rest of the week.

Since there’s no powdered ginger, the Ginger Beer Plant filters out much more cleanly at the end of the week, ready for splitting for the next batch.

I have also cut the sugar I add down to 2 1/4 cups. I tried it at 2 cups, but that ginger beer batch tasted very good but a little dry. 2 1/4 seems just sweet enough, to me.

As I mentioned, I’m using about six cups of water or water + ginger juice in the fermentation jar, so I’ve cut the 18 cups of cold water to 16 in the bottling mix.

I just bottled batch seven, and with the exception of the batch that I tried four teaspoons of ginger per day, they’ve all been excellent, and that one, while disappointing, was still quite good.

Ginger Beer – first batch

First bottle

Just Bottled

My mother used to make ginger beer. She got the recipe over fifty years ago, from – she believes – family friends the Goodsons, when we lived in Totton (near Southampton). I’ve tried many commercial ginger beers in England, none as good as what she made. Over here in the states, ginger beer is almost impossible to come by. American ginger ale is not the same thing at all.

Last summer in England we discovered Fentiman’s ginger beer, which is Good Stuff. When we returned to Texas we found that World Market carries Fentiman’s, and we’re happy. But I still have a desire to make ginger beer like my mother used to.

So I did some googling and learned that there’s a good-sized community of people who make ginger beer. The biggest roadblock to getting started is that traditional ginger beer isn’t brewed from yeast. Ginger Beer Plant is a mix of a specific yeast and lactobacillus. The yeast produces alcohol; the bacteria turns some of the alcohol into lactic acid. People do brew ginger beer with brewing yeast, or by leaving ginger and sugar open to the air and picking up opportunistic yeasts, but traditional ginger beer requires obtaining Ginger Beer Plant from another ginger beer brewer. The plant has been around in its current form since at least the mid-19th century. My mother got hers from Mrs. Goodson way back when.

Fortunately there ways to contact other brewers. I had no luck with commercial Ginger Beer Plant vendors; brewing has become more popular and it’s hard to keep stocks, apparently. There’s also a risk that the vendor will sell brewers’ yeast as Ginger Beer Plant. But there’s a Yahoo group dedicated to Ginger Beer Plant, with contacts and recipes. I contacted someone in England with starter plant, and received it just over a week ago.

The recipes that I’ve found on the net don’t look much like my mother’s, so I called her. She still has the recipe, now with fifty years of crumples and tea stains, so it took a while to figure it out. I used it exactly as written, but I will probably tweak it some for the next time.

Most of the recipes I’ve seen start with fresh ginger, sugar, plant and water, left for a few days and then bottled. My mother’s uses dried ginger fed to the plant over the course of a week. Fresh ginger might make for better ginger beer, and I’ll certainly try it, but my suspicion is that over the last hundred and fifty years ginger has been mostly available in its dried form anyway, and traditional ginger beer likely hasn’t used fresh ginger. (I could well be wrong.)

Here’s what we put together.

First batch only:

Starter plant

Just starting, no fermentation yet.

First time only: take your newly acquired Ginger Beer Plant, mix with four cups of water in a clean jar, cover with clean cloth. (I used a 1/2 gallon fermentation bottle with fermentation lock.)


Every batch:

Bubbling plant

Fermentation progressing well after a couple of days.

Every day for a week: feed the plant one level teaspoon dried ginger and two level teaspoons sugar.



At the end of the week, swirl the jar to mix well, then strain through muslin, reserving both the strained liquid and the sediment in the muslin.

In a 2+ gallon container, mix the liquid with 18 cups of water and the juice of three lemons (strained).

Dissolve three cups of sugar in four cups of hot water. Stir the sugar solution into the ginger liquid. (Don’t put the hot water in before the cold, or you’ll kill the dissolved plant.)

Mix well and bottle. (About 14 pints.)

The recipe doesn’t say how long to leave it in bottles, but you have to open all bottles daily to release pressure. When there’s plenty of pressure it’s drinkable. If you refrigerate it it should stop fermenting, but if the bottle explodes in your fridge it ain’t my fault 🙂

Starting the next batch:

Once you’ve finished bottling, put the muslin with the sediment in eight cups of water and swish all of the sediment into the water. Remove the muslin, swirl to mix, and divide the cloudy mix into two equal parts. Use one part as your plant for the next batch, throw the other half away or give it to a friend to make ginger beer.

My notes and changes:

I only had twelve pint bottles. I pressed a SodaStream plastic bottle into service, and still had a large glass left over. I’m not sure how big the SodaStream bottle is, but I must have had about two pints left over. Using 26 cups of water should be 13 pints; I can’t imagine the lemon juice or dissolved sugar change the volume that much. Probably I didn’t fill the bottles full enough, and I’ll fill them to 1/2″ of the cap next time.

Anyway, I drank some of the leftover liquid to see how it tasted. It reminds me a lot of the ginger beer my mother made, fragrant and delicate. But now that I’m hooked on Fentiman’s, I think I’d like my ginger beer to be stronger, so next time I’m going to double the amount of ginger I feed the plant every day – two level teaspoons each of ginger and sugar.

Also I’ll cut the added water to 16 cups (plus 4 cups hot) instead of 18.

I don’t trust Texas tap water, especially after reading about Naegleria occasionally being found in the water supply (apparently it doesn’t cause a problem if consumed, but can using a neti pot, where it can infect via the nose). I have no idea whether an amoeba would thrive in a fermenting liquid, but since it’s designed to keep a yeast and bacterium alive I don’t want to take the chance of brewing a colony of brain-eating amoebae. So I’ve used 100% filtered tap water.

Closer to summer, of course, our water’s pretty undrinkable anyway, and using unfiltered tap water would taste terrible, so during summer I would definitely want to use filtered or bottled water, whether or not the local water supply can be trusted.

Ginger Beer Plant is apparently quite robust, and is not likely to admit any other fermentation source, so it isn’t really necessary to brew ginger beer with a fermentation lock. A clean cloth cover is fine. Since my plant would be weakened by shipping, I decided to treat it as I would have treated a more sensitive yeast; I carefully sanitized everything I used and grew the plant in a fermentation jar with lock. Now that the plant is doing well I will probably not bother with sanitizer, I’ll just keep all of the bottles and bottling equipment clean.

Update: I’ve found it as easy to continue with sanitizer as to clean the bottles, and it’s good to have some ready when I need to use an extra bowl or spoon that I hadn’t thought I’d need, so I’ll stick with it. I sanitize the bottles and all the equipment in the mixing bucket, then pour some of the sanitizer into a large pan when I’m done. I need some for the fermentation jar after it’s cleaned out, and the pan is big enough to soak anything else I need.

I am very much looking forward to trying this batch.

If you’re looking for a Ginger Beer Plant to start brewing, leave a comment. I’m keeping the extra GBP from the split after bottling and will be happy to share.

Snowflake – In Memory

Snowflake sneaking a drink, 1997

Snowflake the Old Lady, 2008

It has to be at least a year since Snowflake (Woidat) took up residence in the dining room. In fact I think it’s over two, since I’m pretty sure she hasn’t been part of the feline family for as long as Parsley has been around. Until Saturday, when something strange happened.

We’d already committed to taking her to the vet. She was suffering, and wasn’t eating. On Thursday night I had managed to get her to eat a little Fancy Feast tuna – which probably wasn’t good for her, given the likely state of her kidneys, but it had to be better than not eating at all.

Perhaps because of a little new-found energy, perhaps with the extra attention, or perhaps just wanting to let us know how ill she was feeling, on Saturday she crawled out of the dining room into the hallway. I was on the phone to my mother at the time, and I’d already had a hard time telling her what was going on. When I saw that Woidat had come out to see us for the first time in years, I just lost it.

Whatever the reason for her coming out of her shell for the final day, we were pleased to be able to spend a little time with her. She curled up to sleep on a towel in the bathroom, and seemed reasonably content. Elliot came by and spent some time with her on Saturday – of course she’s been part of the family since he was eight. I only felt her shiver, Vicki says she purred for her.

The trip to the vet on Sunday was as painful as we expected. It’s hard to say that you don’t want them to run tests and maybe see if she can be treated, but all that would have bought would be some small relief for us. For the cat it would be more indignities and at the best, longer to suffer. So yesterday afternoon I laid her to rest in the yard, beside Pepper and Boober, her sometime nemeses.

I still find myself surprised that a cat who has always somewhat set herself apart, especially recently, has affected us all so deeply in her passing. But we were happy to give her a home for the last seventeen years, and I will never regret taking her in.


It’s that time again. We’re about to lose another cat, and as always it’s heartbreaking.

Snowflake in happier times

Snowflake and Boober, 2002

Snowflake (aka “Woidat”) was a stray on the campus at Kodak in Richardson where Vicki was working. She was in pretty bad condition, and terrified of people.

Vicki told me that she was going to try to catch the stray. I was annoyed. It wasn’t up to us to rescue every stray animal in the city. But she caught her and brought her home, intending to clean her up and give her away, but when I saw her I couldn’t let her go. She was bedraggled and scared, but she was such a pretty cat and so clearly gentle that we decided she had to stay.

That was 1994, and even then she wasn’t a kitten. She was probably somewhere between two and four. So she has to be at least nineteen now.

She must have been abused before we got her, and over a period of time. For years she’s snap if you tried to touch her belly. You could pick her up, but only if you were very careful. Her gentle nature didn’t extend to threats. She’d bite and scratch viciously if you tried to stroke her stomach, or if she felt cornered by the vet. She’d yowl loudly in warning first, and she’d yowl if she was nervous, even if she was purring and enjoying the attention otherwise.

Back then we still had Mokey, Boober’s mother, and Mokey and Pepper, our first cat, had a constant turf war going on. Snowflake put a stop to that, and ruled the roost for a while.

When we moved to McKinney, in 1995, she went crazy in the empty rooms and long hallway with hardwood floors. For days she’d run around the house, building up speed and sliding to a stop.

She and Pepper always made a show of hating each other, but Snowflake withdrew slightly after Pepper died. She and Boober got along reasonably well, and she tolerated Elliot’s cat Smokey most of the time. But Boober has gone, and Smokey is with Elliot, and she’s too old to manage change. She hated Lavender and Parsley from their arrival as kittens – with good reason, because they each terrorized her. For the last couple of years she hasn’t moved from the dining room, and we keep the other two cats out of there.

I’ve known since she claimed the dining room that she wouldn’t be with us much longer. When Boober grew old, I always knew that I’d be miserable when he died. With Snowflake I didn’t think it would be so bad, for two reasons. Partly that she has pretty much cut herself off from us for the last couple of years, so we haven’t been close to her, and partly that I’ve always felt that however long she was with us, it was so much better than what she had been through that I could only be happy for her.

But I guess that was pretty stupid thinking. When a cat has been with you seventeen years, even if she has become an irascible old cow, she’s still part of the family. When we returned from England three weeks ago, I was worried about what Lavender and Parsley would have gotten up to, but it was Woidat’s condition that upset me. Over the three weeks she’d aged, and her eyes had become sunken.

A few weeks before we left, Vicki had Snowflake’s fur shaved, because she hadn’t been able to look after herself and it had become very matted. When we returned, it felt clammy, and she was quiet, for the first time in seventeen years.

She did improve a little, she yowled occasionally if there was someone around, but today Simon told me that she seemed to have stopped eating. I know what that means, having been through it a few times now. We could maybe find something to get her appetite back temporarily, but it would only buy a few days. Her kidneys are probably not functioning, and the best thing we can do for her is to take her to the vet one final time.

I don’t know if I can.

Many years ago, when the web was in its infancy – I think this was in the days of Windows 3.1 and Trumpet Winsock – I stumbled upon a poem by Gavin Ewart. It upset me so much that I printed it out, because I knew I’d want to read it again, but didn’t want to bookmark it. It wasn’t something I wanted to encounter by accident.

Back then Pepper would have been middle-aged. Even though I knew she had a few years left the poem reminded me that I’d be devastated when we did lose her. Now that time has come around again, and it’s time to acknowledge that our Woidat has seen her share of living summers, and far more than anyone would have forseen for the bedraggled, abused young cat Vicki brought home seventeen years ago.

Gavin Ewart

I want him to have another living summer,
to lie in the sun and enjoy the douceur de vivre –
because the sun, like golden rum in a rummer,
is what makes an idle cat un tout petit peu ivre –

I want him to lie stretched out, contented,
revelling in the heat, his fur all dry and warm,
an Old Age Pensioner, retired, resented
by no one, and happinesses in a beelike swarm

to settle on him – postponed for another season
that last fated hateful journey to the vet
from which there is no return (and age the reason),
which must soon come – as I cannot forget.

Who the hell is Russell Brown?

A few years ago I noticed I’d gotten email for Russell Brown at my email address. I figured it was just regular junk; I get more than enough misaddressed spam.

But mail for Russell Brown (always addressed to RUSSELL BROWN in block caps) kept arriving, and I realized that it was all from travel companies. Again, if you’ve gotten added to a particular spam list you’ll soon be added to related ones.

But these were from reputable companies. Holiday Inns. Princess Cruises. La Quinta. Not generally spammers. It seemed that Russell Brown (uh, I mean RUSSELL BROWN) was using my email address to subscribe to newsletters and such. Which I didn’t understand. There’s a Brown in my name, but there’s no Brown in my email address, so it’s hard to see how he could claim to have accidentally used Iain Brown’s email.

More recently I’ve started receiving booking confirmations. RUSSELL BROWN is still using my email address for travel, but it isn’t just subscribing to websites now, it’s making reservations. And the way he consistently uses my email address convinces me that it’s deliberate.

It’s not generally easy to register at a website with someone else’s email address. Unless you can log in to the mail account you can’t get confirmation numbers. Either none of these sites required confirmation, or he created the account using one address and then logged in and switched it later. Or maybe he’s selecting hotel companies based on whether he needs to provide a working email address.

Maybe he doesn’t have an address. He can figure out how to create an account and make an online reservation, but he doesn’t understand Yahoo, Hotmail or Google. That might account for the all-caps name.

Or else he doesn’t want his travel details known. Maybe Mrs. RUSSELL BROWN isn’t supposed to know about these overnighters at La Quinta.

Paypal are idiots

I just got email from PayPal about their privacy practices.

The email rings all alarm bells for being a phishing attempt. If I didn’t have relatively safe command-line tools to evaluate it, I wouldn’t have touched it.

In an era where all personal data is on the line, when anti-fraud companies are warning everyone to be very careful about trusting email, and especially to avoid clicking links, it’s stupid for a major company to encourage you to take risks.

If I knew who to report this to, I would. But it isn’t phishing, it only masquerades as being phishing.

The email is in html. One of the certain signs of spam is if you mouse over a link in email, and the mouseover text is different from the link. This one is.

So if you click on the link, you don’t go to where the text says. Instead, it takes you to a redirector at Had the redirector been anywhere else, I’d have known beyond any reasonable doubt that the mail was phishing. But for it to be within the domain, a phisher would have had to take control of a paypal server, or find a vulnerability in one. Neither of which is out of the question, and it could be done to make the mail look more legitimate, but another option is that the sender is an idiot, so I decided to keep looking.

The redirector at redirects to somewhere else, outside of the domain. So now it looks like a spammer did take control of a paypal server to make the redirection look more legitimate.

The site that it redirects to is If is a legitimate business, it keeps a very low profile. There’s nothing at the root of the website. There’s nothing useful in its whois entry. But googling comes up with several other businesses that seem to be sending email traffic through Maybe it’s a high-volume web/email service, like But if it is, why doesn’t it at least publicize that fact, so that it doesn’t scare customers away? (One forum entry I found was a post by someone who refused to respond to email from without knowing what it was.)

But then, following the redirection chain further did bring me back to PayPal; to the same place as the text version of the links.

Also: the mail was sent to my primary PayPal email address. That’s one I don’t use anywhere. I don’t get spam on it. I’ve never seen spam there, while I get lots of PayPal phishing mail at my other addresses.

So, either:

– This is an incredibly sophisticated phishing email that involves a compromised server at and a redirector at (what appears to be) a large business site that sends you back to PayPal rather than to the phisher’s site for some unknown purpose, since it didn’t get to steal passwords and account info on the way, or

– This is a legitimate mail that looks exactly like phishing email from a company that’s a prime target of phishing, which redirects through a shrouded external business for no apparent reason.

I guess there could be a third option. Maybe this is PayPal sending out apparent phishing email to collect statistics on who is gullible enough to click through links they should clearly avoid. Looked at that way, maybe it isn’t so stupid after all. Something tells me this isn’t the right answer, though.

Basil, 4/2009-6/2009

I’m not sure if I’m ready to write this, but I want to try before I forget too much.

I delayed my birthday this year to Saturday June 6th because my wife was out of town until then. When my fake birthday arrived, she presented me with a gift that was completely unexpected – a kitten. A beautiful little lynx-point Siamese.

Hiding beind my notebook

Hiding beind my notebook

There were reasons beyond just the fact that I like cats and still miss our old storm cat that I’ll mention, but I had no idea she was going to do this.

I almost spoiled the surprise, in fact. When Vicki and the kids go to the pet store for any reason they always spend a few minutes looking at the cats and kittens up for adoption. And we were out of cat litter, so I called her to ask her to pick some up, but what I said was “you need to make an urgent stop to look at kitties.” Meaning to go to the pet store, but she thought I was referring to the kitten she already with her in the car, and I heard stunned silence for a moment. Fortunately I explained myself before she asked how I knew what she was doing.

So she and the kids brought in birthday cards and a cardboard Exquisicat box with holes in it. Which looked like a box for a kitten, but Exquisicat was the brand of catbox liners we use, which I’d asked her to get, so I figured she’d got the box with the liners and had some elaborate joke in mind. (There’s another story to that, too, but it doesn’t belong here.) So I grinned and opened the box and said “Oh, my god, it really is a kitten.”

Simon has a female Siamese, and Vicki has always intended to breed her once; this is the additional motive for getting a male Siamese, and I recognized that, but it doesn’t detract from having my own kitten. She even promised not to steal him – she has a way with cats, and they all gravitate to her, but with the kitten (as with Simon’s Lavender) she promised to try not to take over.

He was a skinny little thing. From a breeder, which isn’t how we’d usually acquire a cat, but pure Siamese don’t turn up in the rescued cages. He had piercing grey eyes and a gentle purr, and he took to me immediately. He would sit on my chest, sphinx-like rather than curled up, with all of his claws sinking into me. (Siamese claws aren’t fully retractable.) Occasionally he’d climb so high I couldn’t lower my head because he’d be wedged under my chin.

I worried about him not eating or drinking. He seemed to be doing, because he’d use his litter tray (usually), but I rarely saw him eat, and when he went to the water bowl he’d splash his face a couple of times but not start lapping.

I also worried about him interacting with Lavender. She hissed and spat at him for about two days, but then she started playing with him, and even mothered him, cleaning him up. He started following her around the house, and if I ever couldn’t find him, I’d just look for Lavender, because he would be close by. When I came home from work, Lavender would run to the door making her Siamese yowls, while the kitten would trail behind with high-pitched meeps.

I had no name for him. I didn’t want to name him until I’d found one that I really liked, so he remained “the kitten.”

Basil and Lavender

Basil and Lavender

I still have text messages from that week in my phone where I was letting Vicki know how well he was doing. On Thursday morning I texted her that he had woken me up at 5:30, climbing up me (claws digging in securely) to perch on my arm. Later that day I texted her again that I’d seen him drinking from his water bowl.

Elliot suggested the name Basil, and I thought about it for a while.

Friday I had to stay home until a tech arrived for our air conditioner service. I ran a bath, but then the tech called and I didn’t have time to take it. Vicki got back into town, and I took the opportunity to get to work. During the day I decided that Elliot was right. The kitten’s name was Basil. Not Bay-zil, the English pronunciation, Bazzil, like Basil Fawlty or Basil the Rat (both from Fawlty Towers). As small as he was he was like a little rat, and Basil the Cat seemed perfect.

She had to go into the office too, so we met quite late for dinner, and then I headed home while she and Simon stopped by the drug store.

When I arrived home, it was quiet. After being greeted by both cats for several days in a row, that felt wrong. I called out, and Lavender answered from the bedroom, but there was no echoing meep. The bathroom door was open, and I knew what I was going to find before I went in.

Basil – poor, tiny little Basil – was floating on the top of the water in the bath that I’d forgotten to empty. He was cold and already stiffening. When I picked him up and held him close the last breath from his tiny lungs made him meow.

I had to call Vicki. I couldn’t stand the thought of what I’d done to that lovely little kitten. She and Simon were heartbroken, too. They hurried home, and when they saw his little bedraggled body they wailed as much as I was doing.

I buried the kitten in our yard, alongside our old Pepper cat (the first cat we ever owned) and Boober. I spent a week bonding with that precious little kitten, and he died to my stupidity. I didn’t even get to use his name while he was alive, only saying goodbye to little Basil as I laid him to rest.

The breeder was sympathetic enough to let us have Basil’s brother, although she was also upset by his loss. I wasn’t very fun company that weekend.

Parsley, the new kitten, is much like Basil – which I’d hoped would be true. Getting to know him has helped dull the heartache. Sometimes a whole ten minutes passes now without me remembering the little limp body in the bathtub. He’ll be everything that Basil could have been. He’s maybe a little more adventurous, and a little more interested in people than in following Lavender around everywhere – but I don’t like to compare them. I feel that if I do I’ll be finding fault with Basil in some way. So while I’m glad to have the new kitten, Basil’s memory is compartmented, and I think I’ll always miss him.

A taste of England – for a time.

When I first came to the US, I didn’t consider that it would eventually become my home. After I took up residence here, I don’t think I ever quite believed it would be permanent. Even after I married, I think I assumed that sooner or later we’d move back to the UK. The more I realize that in reality I’m now here permanently, the more I miss the rest of my family, and understand that I’ve never come to terms with being 5,000 miles from them.

That’s not what this entry is about, though. Apart from family and intangibles, like the Yorkshire countryside, or the sea being within driving distance, there isn’t much that I regret not having.

What I do miss are some specific food items. Real bacon, not the thin, streaky, fatty stuff I can get in the grocery store, good as some of it is. Chocolate. Fish and chips. And most of all, milk.

I’m from Hull, former fishing port, and still home to the largest concentration of fish and chip shops (with generally good fish). I think it’s probably harder for a Hull native to be deprived of fish and chips than most other Brits. But I’ve found that when I travel to England I can eat fish and chips a few times to satisfy the craving, and then ignore it for the rest of the vacation.

I don’t know why American chocolate is so bitter and stale-tasting compared to British chocolate, but it is. It’s the added paraffin wax or lack of cocoa butter or something. Even the same candy here is formulated differently, and it’s such a disappointment that I find it easy to avoid. A regular bar of Cadbury’s beats even chocolates from expensive shops here, and Galaxy is completely out of the league of US chocolate – with the one exception I’ve found of the Newman’s Own brand, which is quite delicious and not bitter, dark or milk. The late Paul Newman makes good chocolate…

Anyway, Kroger has started carrying Galaxy. Only small bars and Minstrels (chocolate-candy covered chocolates, like oversized M&Ms with the bitterness removed), but a few small bars is still cheaper than the postage for my mother to send me a large bar. So I no longer need to gripe about chocolates.

Milk, though. That has been a problem since I first came here, 29 years ago. Some milk is better than others, but the best I can find tastes bland compared to regular cheap grocery milk on the other side of the pond. And that isn’t something my mother can send.

And then a few months back, I was visiting Whole Foods in Plano, and I found milk from “Remember When Dairy.” I bought it by accident, in fact. Organic milk was very expensive, and the price of this milk was about half (but it turned out I was looking at the wrong price; it’s about the same as certified organic). Then, when I got it home I noticed it said “shake well,” and realized it was non-homogenized milk. I’ve always prefered non-homogenized; even when you shake it up, it’s creamier. Unfortunately, even in the UK it’s hard to find now.

So I poured a glass and tried it – and it was every bit as good as the milk I grew up with. Better, even – the milk is from a Jersey herd. It’s organic, though not yet certified, so it can’t have the label, but it is. And much better than Whole Foods’s other organic products. The 2% milk is richer than any whole milk I’ve tried elsewhere.

As expensive as it was, and as awkward as it was to get to the Plano store, I made the trip several times. Life was good.

And then, a month or so after I discovered the milk, it started to vanish. I could get a couple of half-gallons occasionally, and then nothing at all.

I’ve tried to find out what has happened, and where I can still get the milk. The Lakewood Whole Foods is supposed to carry it, but when I tried to get some there was one half-gallon of 2%. A recent Morning News said that Central Market carried it, but I’ve never seen any, and the CM manager told me they’ve been trying to carry it, but their sales volume would be too low.

Now I have email from the Whole Foods store that may have more of the story. Apparently the dairy is currently out of business while they move from Texas to New Mexico, and they expect to resume shipments in 45 days. How believable that is, I don’t know. This was probably a very bad time to start a dairy, but if they’re really relocating rather than failing, and if they really plan to distribute the same products back to the DFW area, it doesn’t bother me whether or not they’re in Texas.

I’m hopeful. I’ll know in a couple of months whether to cry over spilt milk.

Now, if I could just find real bacon…

Edit: I forgot the main requirement of a Brit living in the US – a supply of decent tea. Fortunately that has never been very hard. I used to have to go to the Indian grocery for Typhoo or PG Tips. More recently, Central Market started carrying Yorkshire Tea (which is the best of all) and Kroger has PG Tips tea bags.

Central Market consolidated their tea section and eliminated Yorkshire Tea, and I was disappointed – until I discovered that carries it in both loose leaf and tea bag form. (Even Yorkshire Gold and Yorkshire Gold tea bags, though I don’t personally like that as much as plain old Yorkshire Tea.)

An honest politician

… is one who promises to pay for a senate seat, but then welshes on the agreement. Apparently.