A note about The Cuddlywumps Chronicles

This blog is written and maintained by Miss Cuddlywumps, a fluffy-tailed calico cat who is both classically educated and familiar with mysteries. Comments or complaints should be addressed to Miss C rather than to author Roby Sweet. Ms. Sweet accepts no responsibility for Miss C's opinions.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Friendly Fill-Ins and Words with Webster

You are visiting our blog on a very exciting day, one on which we are starting two new things that we hope will be a lot of fun.

Friendly Fill-Ins

Friendly Fill-Ins ButtonFirst, we are excited to be joining Friendly Fill-Ins for the very first time. In case you’re not familiar with Friendly Fill-Ins, they are basically fill-in-the-blank questions posed by 15andmeowing and McGuffy’s Reader. They are a fun way to learn a little bit about the authors of the blogs you read.

This week, the first two fill-ins, answered by She of Little Talent, are from 15andmeowing, and the second two, answered by Real Cat Paisley, come from Annie of McGuffy’s Reader.

Old SoLT’s answers:

1. Adopt a senior cat! Or sponsor one. You could help a cat enjoy the best years of his or her life!

2. My favorite magazine is American Philatelist, the magazine about stamp collecting from the American Philatelic Society. Other people I know think this is weird, but I love all the stamp-nerd stuff!

Paisley’s answers:

3. Recently, I went all Halloween cat on the dog and scared her. It was hilarious!

4. Even though my family wishes I would get along with the dog, I, well, just NO.

Words with Webster

Cream and white tabby cat with a dictionary
Next, welcome to the first installment of our newest feature, Words with Webster. Let’s just jump in and go to Webster for the explanation. Webs?

Real Cat Webster: Hey, everybody! You know, most people don’t realize that I’m an armchair cat linguist. My hobby is learning new words about cats. Maybe you remember some of my earlier work, seen in the posts “Back to School Vocabulary Word: Pre-Furred” and “What Does Kitty-Corner Have to Do with Cats?” Well, right now I’m doing a project about finding different words for “cat,” and I’m kicking off Words with Webster with four historical cat words. I got them from the Oxford English Dictionary’s Historical Thesaurus. They’re in order from newest to oldest:
Pop Quiz! Would you call this cat
(a) Mog
(b) Pussums
(c) Moggie
(d) Tigerkin
(e) all of the above
(f) none of the above?
Mog: (1926.) A cat. The thesaurus did not say so, but I think this word is pretty obviously short for “moggie” (see below).
Pussums: (1912.) Term of endearment for a cat.
Moggie: (1911.) If you happen to be British or read a lot of British books, you’ll recognize this word for an ordinary domestic cat.
Tigerkin: (1849.) This word could mean a small tiger, tiger cub, or a cat.
I think “tigerkin” is an especially neat word. “Pussums” is fun too. Just for fun, try working them in to your everyday conversations!

Got an interesting cat word you think Webster should tackle? Let us know!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Did Vikings Have Cats? Of Course!

kitten wearing a toy viking helmet
If you follow cats on social media,
you probably saw lots of cats in
Viking helmets late last week. It's
all because of a new DNA study.
Stock image by Chris Brignell, via Adobe Stock.

In case you are not tuned in to the cat news of the week, I will begin this post by telling you about the recent kerfuffle (or should that be kerFLUFFle in this case?) in the ancient-cat world. If you are plugged in to social media and follow cats at all, recently you may have seen your feed flooded with pictures of cats in Viking helmets. That sudden influx of Viking kitties was due to a cat DNA study that got a lot of attention last week. This study, presented at a symposium on biomolecular archaeology, examined DNA from over 200 felines dating from the Mesolithic period (that’s the middle of the Stone Age, before agriculture) up to the 1700s AD. The researchers found that wild cats of a certain lineage were dispersed from the Middle East to early farming communities in the eastern Mediterranean and, much later, cats from Egypt moved into Eurasia and Africa with a lot of help from farmers and seafarers, including Vikings.

I’d like to tell you a lot more about this particular study, but so far I have not been able to lay my paws on anything more than a very brief Nature news bit describing it. We’ll keep you updated as we learn more.

Anyway, one fascinating item in the news bit is the mention of cat remains at a Viking site in northern Germany dated to between the 8th century and 11th century. One geneticist is quoted as saying, “I didn’t even know there were Viking cats.” Obviously this person is not an avid reader of The Cuddlywumps Cat Chronicles. Otherwise, he might recall that we have written about Viking cats before (see The Goddess Freya’s Cats).

Who were these Vikings, and why did they have cats?

The Vikings were Scandinavian raiders, colonists, and traders who had their heyday beginning in the 8th century and ending in the 11th century. According to The Viking Answer Lady, the Vikings had cats both to keep rodents in check and as pets. New brides might receive kittens as gifts. We think the kittens would have been both a practical gift to keep mice out of the house and a symbolic gift recalling Freya, the goddess of domesticity and female sexuality.

What kind of cats did the Vikings have?

Calico Norwegian Forest Cat on black background
This is a Skogkatt, or Norwegian Forest Cat. But was the
cat found at that Viking Age site a Skogkatt? Cuddlywumps Cat
Chronicles readers want to know!
Stock image by Summer, via Adobe Stock.
We’d like to just say, “Norwegian Forest Cats,” because that would be so easy, and it makes sense. Called Skogkatt in Norwegian, these are large, strong cats with well-insulated coats (for more, see What Kind of Cat Would Santa Claus Have?). But we don’t have any information that says that the cat whose remains were discovered at that Viking site in Germany was indeed a Skogkatt

Two questions we would love to know the answers to are

1. Was that cat a Skogkatt? and
2. When did cats first arrive in Scandinavia?

Once again, curiosity leaves us with more questions than answers!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Cats of the Week: Bonnie and Cordel

Well, it’s happened again. We went to pick out our Cat of the Week and couldn’t decide on just one, so this week we’re introducing you to two senior kitties who have both had some tough times in their past. Bonnie and Cordel are both currently at the Washington Humane Society’s Oglethorpe Street adoption center in Washington, DC. Let’s help them find loving homes where they can enjoy the best years of their lives!

Bonnie is an 8-year-old lady who is quite petite. It seems that she was someone’s pet in the past, but somehow she ended up on the streets, where she had a tough time. A nice lady fed her and some other cats for a while, but Bonnie just wasn’t happy outside. She really wants to be an indoor pet again. Bonnie would do best in a quiet home. After the tough time she’s had, we’re sure she would not mind a little spoiling from a loving human!

Learn more about Bonnie here.

Our second Cat of the Week is Cordel. He is also 8 years old, and like Bonnie, he has spent time living on his own on the streets. Cordel is a handsome, friendly guy who sports a long coat and a little black beard that we think makes him look very dignified.

Learn more about Cordel here.

Can’t adopt but still want to help? Look into sponsoring an animal in the shelter or in foster care. Other donations also make a big difference in the lives of shelter pets!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Book Review: Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d

On this Mysterious Monday, it brings us great pleasure to share with you Alan Bradley’s latest Flavia de Luce novel, Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d. The book is beautifully written, even in the creepy bits, and it has a cat.

Who is this Flavia de Luce?

If you’re not up on Flavia de Luce, don’t worry. We had never read any of her previous adventures, and we had no trouble at all finding our way through this book. Here’s the rundown on Flavia: She’s twelve, she’s into chemistry (I mean really into chemistry), and she’s rather good at solving murders. She is the sort of girl who names her bicycle Gladys. She is not the sort of girl to be upset by things that would almost certainly upset your average girl. Things like…oh, I don’t know, finding a dead man hanging upside down on a door.

But now I’m getting ahead of myself.

The story

It’s nearing Christmas, and Flavia has recently returned to England from Canada and Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy (which I’m sure was every bit as dreadful for her as it sounds). Her father is ill in the hospital with pneumonia—so ill, in fact, that she can’t go and visit him. Needing something to do to fill the time and escape her annoying sisters, she agrees to run a simple errand for the vicar’s wife and walks into the most wonderful thing imaginable: a rather puzzling murder scene. The victim, a wood carver named Mr. Sambridge, is (as I have already mentioned) hanging upside down from a contraption on a bedroom door. Instead of screaming and running away (which is what we imagine most twelve-year-old girls would do), Flavia spends time examining the scene for clues as to who would have installed the old man in this device of torture.

It’s at about that time that a tortoiseshell cat wanders onto the murder scene, apparently unconcerned with the man hanging dead on the door. This cat makes another appearance later in the book. The cat is important, but not a major character—we are telling you this so you won’t be disappointed if you pick this book up expecting there to be cats on every page.

The verdict

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d is beautifully and evocatively written, with sentences that grab hold of you and wrap themselves around you in the most pleasing way. The climactic scene is truly creepy, brought to bold life as it is by Bradley’s writing. When we imagine scenes from this story, we see everything tinged slightly gray, sometimes in a dreary way, sometimes in more of a silvery shimmer that says, “Here, look at this!” We feel as though we’ve found a new friend in Flavia de Luce, and we love seeing her mind at work, the way she connects and connects and connects…and is sometimes wrong. No, this is not the kind of cozy mystery we most often review here, but this is exactly the kind of book that makes us wish we could set aside everything else in life and read.

Very highly recommended!

A note on the "Paws Up" system: Miss C gives either one or two paws up. One paw is for a good read; two paws is for a great read. She never gives three or four paws because that would require her to lie on her back...and Miss C does not do that!

The link below is an Amazon Associates link. If you buy the book through this link, Miss C and old SoLT may get some change for their piggy bank.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Caturday Art: Webster Gets Framed

Welcome to our entry in Athena's Caturday Art blog hop. This week old SoLT chose a photo of Real Cat Webster resting among his toys (and by the way, resting among them is about all Mr. Lazy Bones ever does with toys). She went for a painting effect, which she achieved by applying an oil paint filter in Photoshop. She placed the result in a fancy frame from GraphicStock, and voila!

Here's the original:

Friday, September 23, 2016

Why the Cat Lived Inside and the Dog Lived Outside

A tale from Ireland, retold with some minor alterations by Miss Cuddlywumps

Stock photo of gray tabby cat lying near a fireplace
The cat had it made, spending her days
warming herself by the fire.
Stock image by wip-studio, via Adobe Stock.

Once there was a cat.  Once there was a dog. The cat lived in a man’s house, where she liked to warm herself by the fire and play with fun little toys the man brought for her. The dog lived outside the house, in all kinds of weather—though he could go huddle in the barn to stay dry, so the cat really didn’t see what the big deal was.

Anyway, the dog wanted to be inside where it was always warm and dry, and on one particularly wet and miserable day, he told the cat, “You think you’re so smart, being in there all the time, but I’m going to ask the man whether I can be inside instead. Then you’ll be out in the barn, and we’ll see who’s smart.”

Stock photo of a dog wearing a yellow rain coat in a muddy field
The dog, meanwhile, had to stay outside. We're
pretty sure he didn't actually have a rain coat,
but we thought this picture was kind of cute.
Stock image by Sabine Schönfeld, via Adobe Stock.
Now, the man overheard this conversation (this being back in the time when humans listened to their fellow earthlings—though why a man who could converse with a dog would then leave the poor dog outside in the cold and wet is beyond me). The man wanted to decide the question of which animal should have the privilege of lying in front of the fire, and he proposed a race: The next morning, the cat and dog would start out five miles from the house, and whichever of them made it home first would be allowed to live inside. (Why they couldn’t both live inside is, again, beyond me. Purrsonally, I’d rather live with a dog than with a man who leaves one of his pets out in all sorts of weather. But I digress.)

Morning came, and the cat and dog started out on their race. As they ran for home (the story is curiously silent on how, exactly, they got five miles from home so they could race back, but again I digress), the dog pulled ahead of the cat, owing to his longer legs. Then, the dog came upon a beggar who, seeing this great shaggy beast bearing down on him, thought he was being attacked. Quite smartly, the beggar raised his walking stick and gave the dog a good whack, whereupon the dog got totally distracted and started barking at the beggar and generally making a big fuss.

Meanwhile, the cat ran right past this rather disgraceful scene and reached home long before the dog. When the dog finally returned to the house, it was to find the cat installed in her usual comfortable place in front of the fire. “Now,” she said to the dog, “we see who is smart, and we see who will rest before the fire forever.”

And there the cat has been ever since.

The end

And in the end, the cat wound up right back in front of the fire.
Stock image by wip-studio, via Adobe Stock.

This story has been adapted from the story "The Cat and the Dog" as it appeared in Frank de Caro (ed.), The Folktale Cat (Little Rock: August House, 1992), 32-33.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Book Review: Angel Catbird

I come to you today with mixed feelings. First, I am excited to be reviewing a new cat-themed graphic novel called Angel Catbird, written by Margaret Atwood, illustrated by Johnnie Christmas, and with colors by Tamra Bonvillain. I can’t wait to tell you about the story and the art. But…

Well, let’s leave the “but” for the moment and get straight to the good stuff.

The story

Angel Catbird is the story of Strig Feleedus, who is just your ordinary genius until—through a combination of tragedy, spilled top-secret serum, and genetic weirdness that could only happen in the comics—he becomes part human, part cat, and part owl. Suddenly he realizes there is a whole secret world of “half-cats.”  Yes, the half-cats are a combination of human and cat; some of them can appear as full humans, and others as full cats. They hang out at a place called Catastrophe.

This would all be well and good, if not for the rats. They’re controlled—and I do mean “controlled”— by one Professor Muriod, who also happens to be Strig’s boss. Muroid has an evil plot to use his rat minions to take over the world. Part of this plan involves destroying all cats and half-cats. Unknown to Strig and his new friends, Muroid also plans to capture our hero’s love interest and torture her until Strig reveals the secret to the serum that will transform the world’s rats into half-rats (and you thought your boss was a rat!). Obviously he must be stopped, and this is what Strig and company resolve to do. In true comic fashion, the end of the book leaves us hanging, waiting for the next episode.

The good

Okay, if you’re not into comic books, Angel Catbird is probably not going to be your thing. But if you are into comics, if you love the combination of words and bold art to tell a story, then give this one a try. We found the story line and art compelling. We wish we could run out today and buy the next book, because we really can’t wait to find out what happens.

Perhaps you haven’t thought about this yet, but Strig’s new existence as part cat and part owl leaves him with a dilemma: Are birds friends or food? And this brings me to the “but.”

But…the dilemma

In the introduction to Angel Catbird, Margaret Atwood reveals that she has read comics avidly since her childhood, and she’s even drawn a few in the past. She’s been a cat person for most of her life, but she’s also involved in bird conservation. Angel Catbird was born out of the tension between the cat and bird worlds, and the book carries a strong conservation message. The gist of this message is that pet cats should not be free-roaming, for both their own safety and for the safety of any birds in the neighborhood.

We honestly cannot argue with that. In her life of having cats, old SoLT has had two indoor-outdoor cats killed by cars, and another returned home one day with a rear leg so badly mangled that it had to be amputated. Today her cats are indoor-only, and that’s the way it’s going to stay.

Old SoLT is also a bird watcher. She loves birds. But the cat lover / bird lover combination (which is more common than you might think) puts her in an uncomfortable position, sort of like Strig’s “Should I save this little bird, or should I eat it?” dilemma. And it makes parts of Angel Catbird…well, let’s say awkward.

See, there are some numbers out there, repeated in this book, that are said to be conservative estimates of how many birds are killed by cats each year. In the United States, the estimate is in the billions. We’re not here to argue about whether these numbers are accurate. We’re not here to argue over the recommendation to keep cats indoors or let them out only in controlled circumstances such as catios and leash walking. The thing that gets under our skin is the unfortunate fact that some people read those numbers as license to kill free-roaming cats as pests. Some want to round these cats up and euthanize them; some are perfectly happy to put arrows through the cats’ heads. Even cats in well-managed colonies that aren’t near any kind of sensitive bird habitat could be targets, and we have a problem with that.

The verdict

I want to be absolutely clear and say that Angel Catbird does not advocate harming cats in any way. The message Atwood gives is one of keeping pet cats indoors for their own health and safety. That’s a message we happen to agree with.

 We enjoyed Strig’s story so much, and we want to read more of it, but can we wholeheartedly recommend Angel Catbird to our cat-loving readership? This is where we get stuck, because there are aspects of this book that many cat people just won’t be comfortable with.

So, we recommend Angel Catbird for its story and its art. But if you are a cat person, and especially if you disagree with the indoor-cat philosophy, be prepared to be challenged.

A note on the "Paws Up" system: Miss C gives either one or two paws up. One paw is for a good read; two paws is for a great read. She never gives three or four paws because that would require her to lie on her back...and Miss C does not do that!