Tag Archives: Ella

Snacks for Snakey: Instinct or kitty kindness?

Our cat, Ella, has a ridiculous number of toys, but she has a soft spot for “Snakey.” Every morning, we emerge from the bedroom to find Snakey facedown in Ella’s food or water.

Lately, Snakey has been getting some company and enjoying a little more variety. Ella used to shove his torn little face into her bowl of kibble or dunk him in the water dish, but now she occasionally lets him play with her egg carton “enrichment toy,” a DIY food dispenser that is supposed to stimulate bored cats. She even drags her other toys to the party.

Perplexed over Ella’s weird behavior, I did a little research. Apparently, this is not uncommon. Here’s the scoop from Dr. Arnold Plotnick, a New York vet with an informative blog called Cat Man Do.

Transporting non-food items, such as toys, to the food or water bowl is a common behavior seen in indoor cats. The reason why they do this isn’t clear, although several explanations have been suggested. Cats often put their toys away in a “safe” place after playing with them, and cats look upon their food area as a secure part of their territory. This behavior is similar to cats in the wild who often take their prey back to their nest area to hide it from potential predators. Your cat simply might be storing his toy in a secure area to be played with later. (When my cat, Mittens, is finished playing with her fuzzy mice, she likes to store them behind a large flowerpot in the corner of my living room.)

He also speculates that it could be a nurturing behavior.

Another possible explanation is that this is a manifestation of gathering/collecting behavior. For example, cats will transport the toy to the water bowl in the same way that a queen will return wandering kittens back to the nest, or move kittens from one place to another by the nape of the neck.

That’s my favorite explanation. I love imagining Ella, gently holding Snakey’s google-eyed head in her mouth and thinking, “It’s OK baby. I’ll take you back to the nest and get you a little snack.”

Doesn’t this look like a cat with a deep sense of empathy? (Check out the Prisma app for your own photo fun.)

fruit salad for the soul

I wrote this on Sept. 6, but in my sleep-deprived haze, I obviously forgot to publish it. So here it is… update to follow soon.

After one month back in Delhi, Tony and I both feel wrecked.

Our two cats, Khushi and Ella have spent many holidays without us, lovingly accompanied by our housekeeper Raji. However, something went wrong over the summer. We may never know what it was, but we returned to find Khushi nearly emaciated, bristling with anxiety and incontinent.

Ella seemed unscathed, other than apparent confusion over her sister’s sudden personality change, and is still as playful and affectionate as ever.

Poor Raji swears nothing bad happened to Khushi. She says the cat just started crying a lot and peeing outside the litterbox shortly after we left for the States. In typical Indian fashion, she didn’t want to upset us by emailing the details. Instead, I got an automated email from the vet: “Dear Khushi, Thank you for your visit!” When I wrote to Raji back in July, she admitted taking Khushi to the vet but assured me all was well. It wasn’t.

In addition to the manic schedule as we geared up for the start of school (administering language assessments to applicants, helping new teachers learn the ropes, unpacking my stuff after moving classrooms, preparing for our EAL consultant’s visit, etc.), we took Khushi to the vet every evening for an antibiotic injection and a sedative. The drug wore off within a couple hours, so we took turns staying with her in the locked guest room all night, where she howled and prowled and otherwise didn’t sleep. The noise, the worry, the stress over where she would pee next kept us awake night after night.

We tried a different vet, who explained the possibility that a botched sterilization could lead to similar symptoms. If any bits of her reproductive system had been left inside when she was spayed, she could still be going into heat. We watched to see whether her behavior was cyclical. And we continued to spend our nights awake and stressed out.

For a few days, it seemed Khushi was getting better, and then she peed on Tony’s briefcase.

We called yet another vet. This one made house calls. He came over last Sunday night and gently examined Khushi. He suggested we try some anti-anxiety drugs. In the States, a month’s worth of Alprazolam costs about $100. In Delhi, we got 20 pills for 50 rupees, which is 83 cents. They only come in people form here, so I have to cut one pill into eighths, so that 83 cents bought us 160 days of treatment! On the other hand, I ordered Feliway (“a synthetic copy of the feline facial pheromone, used by cats to mark their territory as safe and secure – the secret to happy cats!”) from amazon, and my mom sent it by UPS at the cost of $145, so I guess it all balances out. At this point, we’ll pay anything for some sleep.

Khushi, waking up from a nap. Must be nice.

I’m on the brink of tears at any given moment, and Tony paces around the house, wide-eyed and snappy. That’s why, this morning, too exhausted to contemplate making breakfast, I almost crumpled to the floor with happiness to find this.

Raji had left a weekend’s worth of cut-up fruit: papaya, mango, apples, pears, pomegranate and oranges, plus a banana on the side. I hardly put forth any effort, short of opening the yogurt and brewing a pot of coffee. It was fruit salad for the soul.

Stay tuned. We hope to have news of a back-to-normal cat in the coming weeks.

Mundane but thought-provoking: A typical week in Delhi

Sometimes daily life seems so mundane. Then you drive past an elephant in your neighborhood, and it makes you think.
Sure, we go to work early and come home late. Sure, we play with our cats, watch TV and go to bed.
But we also drive past elephants.
Mundane? Maybe for India.
May I never pass an elephant without recognizing how truly weird and special that is.
(photo by Tony)

What else happened in my mundane week? Well, Nancy and I visited the Blind School Diwali Mela, where you can find everything gilded and sparkly one needs for a proper Diwali celebration while helping to support the local school. The bazaar is called the “Blind School Diwali Mela,” but I guess I never really processed the fact that it takes place on the campus of the BLIND SCHOOL. When Nancy and I sought a restroom, we wandered into part of the school where kids were hanging out in tiny austere classrooms.

While shopping, we paused for a coconut thirst quencher, a 15-minute massage (less than $1) and a tarot card reading.
Mundane? Maybe for India.
May I never tire of glimpses behind the scenes, exotic treats, cheap foot rubs and dabbling in the occult.



Some friends hosted a Halloween party Friday night. I dressed as the Air Quality Indicator, a timely costume as the air pollution skyrocketed off the chart that day. There were a few zombies, but India-centric costumes at the party also included a gone-native Delhi tourist, a backpacker on her way to a yoga course, a Diwali diya (oil lamp), an elephant, a covered-up tuk-tuk meter, a belly dancer and a worker at our campus coffee shop.
Mundane? Maybe for India.
May I always surround myself with friends who treasure the inside stories of our host country.
(Photo by Marina)

Fall Fiesta, our school’s Halloween-themed fund-raiser for high school activities, took place Saturday night. I volunteered selling wristbands for kids to play the homemade “arcade games,” which were split into Big Camp for youngsters over 7 and Small Camp for the little ones. Tony volunteered at the Small Camp tricycle races. I bought 48 raffle tickets and won an emerald bracelet, but my favorite part of the night was hearing, “Hi, Mrs. Dent!” from current and former students, including a French Canadian Dracula and his older sister zombie, a Japanese cat, a Kuwaiti princess, an Australian strawberry, an American bride, and a collection of monsters, skeletons and creepy characters from around the world.
Mundane? Maybe for India.
May I always value the global perspective of a diverse classroom.

Another typical event in our New Delhi lives: The cats discover endless ways to trash our home. Here, Ella’s face is a blur as she maniacally shreds a roll of toilet paper.
Mundane? Yes.
And there’s no lesson to be learned. It just makes me laugh.

Anyone know a good cat exorcist? Evil djinns possess newly spayed kittens

I took my kittens Ella and Khushi to get spayed Friday, but I’m pretty sure the vet misunderstood and instead performed a brain-switching operation with some local djinns. I learned about djinns on my recent walking tour of the Kotla Firoz Shah ruins, where people leave offerings and prayers for the resident djinns – spiritual creatures that can be benevolent or evil.

Clearly, the vet brain-switched some evil djinns with my cats.

Tony and I picked up the girls at the vet after school and were surprised to see their bellies mummy-wrapped. If we know anything about cats, it’s that they HATE that. We used to torture our old cat Ketta (may she rest in relative peace) by putting a loose hair scrunchie around her tummy and laughing hysterically as she wobbled around like a pissed-off drunk, taking a few steps and then tipping over. Clearly, the belly band messes with cats’ center of gravity.

Fortunately, Ella and Khushi were catatonic from the anesthesia, so when we got home, we left them in their roomy carrier while we popped some popcorn, poured a little wine and curled up on the bed to watch “Arrested Development” on Netflix. Around 8 p.m., Tony said, “Let’s open the cage door so they can come out when they’re ready.”

If only we’d known what hell we were unleashing.

I took the door off the cage, and Khushi’s limp head rolled out. I gently pulled her out of the cage and scratched behind her ears for a moment. Suddenly, the cage began crashing and jumping around the room. That is, Ella – either channeling Linda Blair in “The Exorcist” or suddenly overcome by her new evil djinn brain – began leaping and howling INSIDE the cage. Soon, she escaped and, with no control over the back half of her body, Cirque du Soleil’ed through the air, up on to the bed, and into the bookshelf, screaming like a ninja the entire time.

Meanwhile, Khushi had been resting peacefully outside the cage but was frightened out of her stupor and did a 3-foot vertical leap, landing on her newly stitched incision.

Tony tried to grab Ella, but her maniacal biting and scratching deterred him. I threw myself on top of the hysterical kitten and scooped her up. My gentle baby immediately sank her fangs into my arm and embedded her back claws in the soft pocket of skin between my thumb and finger. Somehow I held on long enough to toss her back in the carrier. I draped my bloody body over the crate and spoke soothingly to Ella until she relaxed and burrowed into the bunched-up towel inside.

When I phoned the vet to report this incident, she told me to bring Ella in right away. I did, and she gave Ella a sedative, saying it would last all night. (It did not last all night.)

We sequestered the cats in two separate bathrooms, equipped with litter, food, water and a comfy towel. Then we tried to lay down for a little sleep. Tony, already punch drunk and exhausted from a full day of parent-teacher conferences, was not coping well with this drama. He struggled with seeing the kittens in pain and hearing their cries. I’m trying to say this diplomatically, but the fact is: I was on my own.

Around 11 p.m., Ella began howling again. So much for the sedative.

I had been frantically texting my friend Nancy all evening. She went through this process with two cats here in Delhi. Finally, she texted back, “Are you OK?” No, I wasn’t OK! Nancy said her cat Annie (the mother of our kittens) also went berserk over the bandage. “She ripped it off before we got her home,” Nancy said, “but she never tried to pull out her stitches.”

With that in mind, I cut the bandage off Ella, second-guessing this decision the entire time. Ella calmed down right away, so I went to bed, certain that I would open the bathroom door in the morning to find her in a pool of blood.

Poor Khushi. I basically neglected her all night as I dealt with Ella’s djinn.

After dozing fitfully for a couple hours, I got up to treat my throbbing puncture wounds and check on the girls. Tony was already awake, trying to distract himself with YouTube videos on his iPad. I peeked in on Khushi, who was curled on a towel on the bathroom floor. She hadn’t touched her food, and she gave a sad little mew as I stroked her head. Ella, on the other hand, was rarin’ to go. She meowed happily, rubbed up against my legs and circled her empty bowl when I opened her bathroom door.

Although the monsoon season supposedly ended last week, heavy rain lashed our windows all day Saturday. We had to take the kittens for a follow-up vet visit, but we stalled, waiting for a break in the weather. It never happened. After borrowing a second carrier from Nancy in the late afternoon, we finally dashed through the downpour to put the cats in the car and drive the short distance to the clinic. Driving in Delhi is crazy under the best of circumstances, but driving in Delhi at dusk during monsoon rains is masochistic. Other drivers, attempting to avoid pooled water, swerved into my lane full-speed, with their brights on. Literally driving blind, I stayed in second gear for much of the trip, praying I wouldn’t hit a holy cow or stall out in the deep water. As if we needed more stress.

We begged the vet to remove Khushi’s bandage, hoping it would snap her out of her funk the way it did for Ella. He complied and gave both girls an antibiotic.

Back on the road, I was just starting to moan about the oncoming bright lights when Tony pointed out there were people in the road. An accident? No, it was a long procession, hundreds of ladies in colorful rain-soaked saris carrying jars of flowers on their heads. Why? Who knows? But it reminded us that we were in India, and for a moment, we felt grateful for that beautiful cultural distraction.

Tony took this shot out the car window.
photo (1)

I speculated that part of Khushi’s problem was missing her sister, so I had planned to reunite the girls when we got home. Ella totally supported that idea, seemingly free of her evil djinn. She approached Khushi, who surprisingly fluffed up and hissed. Seems her djinn needed a bit more recuperation time.

Another night of sequestration in their respective bathrooms. Fortunately, the humans got some sleep this time.

It’s now Sunday morning, and Khushi is still sulking. Well, I hope she’s just sulking and not suffering too much. I hope her djinn is wallowing in self-pity rather than pain.

Weirdly, Ella has been the stand-offish cat up to now. Always just out of reach when you want to pet her, watching us with disdain. Khushi always greets us at the door like a dog, eager for love, purring uncontrollably, begging for cuddles. Now, Ella follows me around the house with her purr machine on full blast. She can’t get enough petting. Khushi remains huddled on her towel, unfazed by my presence.

Maybe there were no djinns. Maybe the vet simply switched the cats’ brains. Regardless, I’ll be relieved when they both feel good enough to climb the curtains once again.

Would YOU kick out this poor post-op kitty from YOUR one-of-a-kind hand-made bowl that YOU bought directly from the artist in Jingdezhen, China?

Clearly, we are pussy-whipped (by the pussy CATS, geez). We let Ella sleep in the bowl even when she’s NOT fresh out of surgery.

Life with cats

Summer vacation is always wonderful, even when it’s full of stress, so it’s always tough to leave the States and head back to work. This year was a bit easier because we knew Ella and Khushi were waiting for us in India.

We acquired the kittens in May. They liked to sleep in a little rattan tray I bought in Thailand.

We left them in India for June and July (in the capable hands of our housekeeper, Raji, and her whole family). When we got back, we found they STILL like to sleep in the tray even though they spill out of it.

These cats are living seek-and-destroy missiles.

The other day, Ella climbed up her cat tower and leapt into a wall sconce. I heard the sound of scraping on glass and turned around to see her stuck inside the light fixture. If I hadn’t rescued her, she likely would have thrashed around until the whole thing broke loose from the wall and smashed to the ground.

Yesterday, I was working at the dining room table when I looked up to see Ella perched on a basket, stretched up to where my Chinese calligraphy brushes hang from a framed set of photos. She had the bristles of one brush in her mouth, and she was tugging on it so the whole display lurched off balance and threatened to fall. I jumped up to save it and then moved the basket, but they will inevitably find another way to stalk and kill those brushes.

One or both of them knocked down my world map, which is mounted on fun-to-chew foamboard. They routinely climb the drying rack to fling all the laundry on the floor.

They also share our enthusiasm for Turkish carpets, which they demonstrate by attacking the fringe and wrestling on the kilims until the rugs ball up into a pile. So much for home decorating…

I made the mistake of showing them a cat app on my iPad. A laser-like red dot zings around the screen, and pops with a “ding” when they tap it. Unfortunately, that means we now have to use our iPads covertly if we don’t want cat heads blocking the screen. Similarly, they sit mere centimeters from the iMac screen when we try to watch movies or TV shows on hulu, so we have to keep getting up to move them.
cat app

Last spring, I bought some dishes from a departing expat. I finally got around to unpacking them this weekend. I could have saved a lot of money at PetSmart this summer if I’d remembered how much cats enjoy playing with newspapers, cardboard boxes and dangling strips of packing tape.

Despite their destructive nature, Ella and Khushi are both loving and cuddly. They purr incessantly and beg to be petted. So far, they don’t bite or scratch or tear up the furniture. And they make us laugh every day.

So, who needs a stylish home when you have that?

Wrapping up year 2 in India

Our first year in India was hard, possibly the hardest first year we’ve had in our 12 years overseas. As Bob Hetzel, our outgoing school director, is fond of saying, “Whatever is true about India, the opposite is also true.” That makes it particularly difficult to learn the ropes and settle in to this city that defies all western logic. Add that to the heat, the pollution, the crowds, the chaos.

By the end of our first year, we were feeling marginally better about our decision to move here but still overwhelmingly frustrated. Then a departing teacher, who spent five years in New Delhi, shared this snippet of wisdom: “Your second year will be exponentially better. And your third year will be exponentially better than your second year. And so on. You won’t believe it!”

He was right. Year two really WAS exponentially better than year one. Not perfect, but much much better. I don’t really know WHY, but it was. As I gear up for a Michigan summer, I can honestly say I look forward to coming back to India in the fall.

New Delhi is finally starting to feel like home. We’ve even expanded our family after talking about it for years. We’re going to miss these girls over the summer, but I made a quick video to keep them with me as we travel.

5 weekends, 5 countries



In the last five weeks, I spent only one weekend in New Delhi. Finally, a few moments to process. So much has happened in such a short amount of time, personally and professionally. Here’s the scoop in chronological order:

Maldives – Nothing soothes my soul like a little time by the sea. Tony and I escaped for a week in Paradise for Spring Break. See my post about our relaxing vacation – Maldives Diary.

Thailand – As an EAL (English as an Additional Language) specialist, I co-teach in grade-level classrooms, usually during the literacy block. The workshop model at our school draws heavily on resources from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University. For years, I’ve heard teachers rave about the Teachers College summer institutes, but I’ve never had an opportunity to go. Unable to get to the mountain, I brought the mountain to me! Well, the Near East South Asia Council of Overseas Schools brought the “mountain” to its Spring Educators Conference, and I was lucky to land a coveted spot in The Writing Project’s Foundation Course. I can see the eyerolls and exaggerated snoring sounds, but seriously, I was like a kid in a candy store. Top-notch instruction with immediate take-aways. That’s the kind of stuff teachers drool over. Another perk was networking and sharing ideas with educators from other international schools.
After 12 years overseas, it would be impossible to attend an international teachers conference and not see friends from my past – thank goodness! This conference was no different; I ran into people from our days in Istanbul, Shanghai and Vientiane.

Oman – As arguably the least-sporty coach at our school, I gave a pathetically weepy speech at the Season 3 Awards Ceremony last week. For some reason, the Forensics Team (debate, public speaking and drama) gets recognized alongside softball, baseball, badminton and track-and-field athletes. Maybe the “real” coaches found me a bit overdramatic, but that’s what we forensics geeks love. As one of four coaches who traveled with the team to Muscat, Oman, in mid-April, I felt overwhelmed with pride for their accomplishments at the tournament. See details at O, Man! Forensics and Fun in Muscat.

Nepal – With the end of the school year in sight, I joined four other ladies for a weekend get-away to Kathmandu to recharge our batteries and enjoy some quality time with two friends moving back to the States. Check out that post at Kathmandu – Ladies Weekend.

India – This is such a busy and emotional time in the life of a teacher abroad. Report cards, placement decisions for next year, language testing, farewell parties for friends moving on, big changes.

Looking back to May 2012, I can say our first year in India was hard, possibly the hardest first year we’ve had anywhere. As Bob Hetzel, our departing school director, is fond of saying, “Whatever is true about India, the opposite is also true.” That makes it particularly difficult to learn the ropes and settle in to this city that defies all western logic. By the end of our first year, we were feeling marginally better about our decision to move here but still overwhelmingly frustrated. Then a departing teacher, who spent five years in New Delhi, shared this snippet of wisdom: “Your second year will be exponentially better. And your third year will be exponentially better than your second year. And so on. You won’t believe it!” He was right.

Year two really WAS exponentially better than year one. Not perfect, but much much better. Despite the daily head-slapping confusion of living in a developing country, we also experience daily revelations. I cautiously look forward to an exponentially better year three. As we add two new members to our household, New Delhi is finally starting to feel like home.
Introducing Ella and Khushi.