Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas and Happy Yule!

Our Christmas began on Christmas Eve day, when we went out to my parents and had Christmas dinner, which we cooked and took out to them, due to my dad recovering from a broken shoulder. Mom has mobility issues so its been a hard time for them. However, Dad has been given a good report and taken out of his sling, and begun physical therapy, so thats all good news! We had a wonderful day with them and then we left early enough to make it to the Midnight Christmas Service at our church - here are some of the pictures from the service....

The front of the church.

The Advent Wreath...

The Christmas Tree at the side window.

And I got to wear my kilt, which I adore!!! 

Then afterwards we went home and fell out, exhausted, of course. We woke up the next day with the most blessed beautiful day - we did not have to go anywhere or do anything and that was a blessed Christmas for us both, indeed, with our hectic schedules! We set up a little foot tall tree on our altar and decorated it - we can actually unplug it at night and put it away safe, so the cats can't have too much fun with it. So here is our Yule Altar, with the little Tree...

This is the Christmas/Yule present Dreamweaver got for's the Wildwood Tarot Deck and its wonderful;
the art is stunning! 

We wish everyone a blessed holiday season - may we keep it in our hearts all year round! 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Our Christmas for each other - Biltmore House Candle Light Tour...

Biltmore House on the night of December 17, taken with my camera phone. 

On December the 17, we went to the Biltmore House in N.C. for the Candle light tour. This is something we have done before many, many years ago, and have longed to return and experience again. This year, we finally decided that we were going, one way or another, even if going entailed eating more cheese sandwiches to afford doing so!

Christmas Tree outside of Cedric's at Biltmore Estates

So, in setting up our reservations, we discovered we could make reservations at several possible restaurants and thought, Cool - that will solve what and where to eat dinner before going on the tour. So the Saturday arrived, and as some of you may know we lost our cat WeeBit in the middle of the night, before our trip. So we set out on the road to Biltmore somewhat sad and tired, even though we were happy to be going on the trip. Then the fun started. Not realizing that the restaurant, Cedric's, was actually on Biltmore Estates, we attempted to find Cedric's via GPS. Then by phone. According to our GPS both Cedric's and Biltmore House are in the middle of downtown Asheville (Which they most certainly are NOT!) and according to 411, Cedric's did not exist. We finally got it straightened out and arrived very late to our dinner. 
Once we were there, it was lovely and we had a fabulous time - some of the best food we've ever eaten and excellent service by the staff! 

Walking up the approach to Biltmore House, after dinner.
From there we went on to the House. For anyone who has never been there, there are hardly words to describe it...Biltmore House is a Châteauesque-styled mansion near Asheville, North Carolina, built by George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889 and 1895. It is the largest privately-owned home in the United States, at 135,000 square feet and featuring 250 rooms. 101 rooms are bedrooms.On Christmas Eve 1895, Biltmore House opened its doors for its first family celebration. An art connoisseur and collector, George filled his mansion with Oriental carpets, tapestries, antiques, and artwork, including paintings by Renoir and Whistler, and a chess set that had belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte. After Vanderbilt died in 1914 his widow, Edith Stuyvesant Vanderbilt, completed the sale of 85,000 of the original 125,000 acres to the federal government, which carried out her husband's wish that the land remain unaltered, and that property became the nucleus of the Pisgah National Forest. 8000 acres remain to form Biltmore Estates as they are today, including a dairy, a winery, shops, and extensive glorious gardens. It is still owned today by the surviving descendants of George Vanderbilt, who, as one of the tours states, do not preserve the house to make a profit, but seek to make a profit to preserve the house and its incredible legacy. 

Main Entrance to Biltmore
The glorious part of the Candle Light Christmas Tour is that the house is decorated as it was on the night it was opened to the public in 1895, with Christmas trees in virtually ever room, antique toys, candle light and roaring fires in the fire places. 

Stone Lion at the entry
Not sure if he's happy about his decoration,
or not.....
However, there are no words to describe the experience of walking through the house, nor can pictures do it justice. Photography is forbidden inside the house, but there are rooms in it that are beyond belief - the Dining Hall is 72 feet long, 42 feet wide, and its walls stretch up 70 feet tall. Wall decorations in the Banquet Hall at Biltmore Mansion include priceless Flemish tapestries from the 16th century and medieval weaponry. The room also features a triple fireplace and an organ loft. The oak dining table can expand to accommodate 64 guests and the acoustics are perfect. The organ still plays. Over the doorway of the Hall are the words "Let there Be Peace, oh Lord, in My Time" in Latin.

And then there is the Library. There just are no words. Go look at the link to a picture of the Library here, right now. Go on, go look. There are 10,000 books in this room, and an estimated total of 22,000 total belonging to the estate...which they are STILL working on cataloging! The mural in the ceiling is The Chariots of Aurora by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini (1675-1741), which the Vanderbilts purchased secretly from a Venetian family who found themselves in financial straits; they sold it with the proviso that its provenance was not to be remarked upon and the price paid was not to be revealed. Today it is known to have come from the Palazzo Pisani on the Grand Canal in Venice. Now, they do not allow photography inside Biltmore on the tours....however, I was a little bit naughty. 

Detail of  the Library ceiling painting with my Cell phone....

I snuck a shot of the Library Ceiling with my cell phone. There was a tour guide next to us, so I couldn't really aim or focus - I just fired and hoped. All those cornices and stone work up there are a painted illusion.

This shot was taken from the third floor over looking the front entrance and grounds with the glorious decorated tree in the center. The rest of the house is just as glorious as the two rooms mentioned above with a huge ginger bread house in the kitchens in the basement, a swimming pool (!) and a bowling alley, as well as an exercise room.

Exterior shot of Biltmore - my cell phone did amazingly well
 - much better then our actual  camera did; evidently the technology has improved....

And this is the Christmas Tree on the from lawn,
reflected in the pond in front of it.

And in this shot of the tree,
you can see people standing silhouetted against the lights,
which gives you an idea of how big this tree really is!!!
We could not have a had a more wonderful, lovely romantic time, and as it was where we went the year we were dating, almost 8 years ago, it was a lovely thing to both remember, and to bring the reality into the present day and make new memories. We may not get to go every year...but it is a tradition we want to keep as often as we can pull it off - Christmas at Biltmore. Always! 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Winter Solstice!

Happy Winter Solstice everybody! 
In the darkest, longest night of the year, welcome Sun Return!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

WeeBit 1999 - 2011

WeeBit 1999 - 2011
We must now say fare well to yet another of our cats. This one hurt - not that they don't ALL hurt when you lose one, but every now and then, it somehow seems to hurt worse than usual. This one did.
12 years ago, I adopted a little kitten that I named WeeBit. She was a tiny bit of fluff, a black midnight calico or properly a Tortoiseshell , with a gorgeous white ruff and glorious orange accents all over her. She was a ball of lightening fast energy, with 2 speeds - full bore all out, and passed out sound asleep and God did not remotely install a reverse gear in this cat. She could literally jump from one side of a room to the other in one leap, no touch down (and did, constantly). I used to put a little kitten play toy ball in a card board box and toss her in to play, hoping she'd wear out before I had to go to bed, because EVERYONE must play when the WeeBit was awake. She was sweet and feisty in a rolling boil of a mix and she loved life. (Somewhere, I have pictures of her as a kitten, which I will post when I find them.)

WeeBit, with her fluffy tail, BeeWit.

She grew into a lovely small cat, with medium long fur, still a rambunctious bundle of energy. And she evolved the craziest relationship with her tail that I have ever seen in a cat. Basically, she didn't know WHAT that fluffy thing at the end of her butt was, and it was obviously out to get her. Her tail would twitch and flip randomly and WeeBit would jump, and stare at it and then do her very best to catch the obviously demon possessed thing following her around. I remember watching her chase her tail at high speed for hours up and around and through and over the back of a metal folding chair in a never ending circle, determined to GET that...that...thing. She never did figure out that it was HER tail, and an actual part of her...the last week of her life she was still trying to catch the darn tail. This resulted in the tail acquiring its own name...the BeeWit. If we posit that BeeWit really was a separate entity, I don't think it was any more resigned being attached to WeeBit as her tail than she was, and it appeared to torment her deliberately.

WeeBit mothered a number of kitten litters before we managed to get her spayed. Three of her offspring are worth mentioning here - one was a TINY kitten that got named Snuggles because that was all the kitten wanted to do - snuggle. Now...99.9 % of the time, calico's are female - the coloring is linked to sex. (Everyone once in a long while a male calico will be born, but is sterile, and then in an even smaller number than that, a fertile male calico will be born, which is like winning the sweepstakes at Vegas odds.)  Snuggles unfortunately, was not a very healthy kitten though extremely cute - he was the only calico kitten she birthed that had her tortoiseshell coloring. Snuggles had a recurring problem of his - yes, HIS -  front legs popping out of socket - you'd look up and there would be Snuggles, limping and staggering, and you'd have to pick the kitten up and gently pop them back in, which never seemed to upset Snuggles, however much it distressed us. So I had Snuggles in my hand one day, gently easing the front leg back into place and did a double take. Snuggles was a male calico! I couldn't believe it! Unfortunately he had other problems as well, one of which included a soft spot on his skull that instead of closing as he grew, spread wider and wider. And I think there were probably other internal problems as well. Sadly, he did not live much past 6-8 weeks. But we've never forgotten him either.

Lugh and Persephone - WeeBit's Kittens, now grown adult cats.
WeeBit's other memorable kitten litter is quite the story. I was cleaning house one day about 6 years ago, and moved a piece of furniture to mop under it. Um. There were two baby-just-born-kittens curled up there together. Insanely healthy, happy well fed chunky kittens. We didn't even know one of our cats was pregnant, let alone who! What the...! So I called Dreamweaver at work and I said "You're not going to believe this, but we have kittens."
Her response: "WHAT!?!?!? How? Who's the mother?"
"I have no idea!" All I could do was settle in and watch, to see who showed up to nurse them, as we had several unspayed lady cats at the time. Sure enough, WeeBit strolled over after getting some food and water and plopped down to nurse. Congratulations! Gave a whole new meaning to the term "stealth pregnancy" - heck, we never realized she'd gone into heat! One was a little all black female kitten, the other was a tabby and white male. We named the little girl Persephone and the little boy Lugh - and they are to this day two of our most amazing cats. Its like Weebit split her personality - Lugh has all her tender sweetness and Persephone has all the vinegar and feistiness. These two kittens incidently provoked the memorable phrase from a friend of mine - "Little wee WeeBit bits with with little wee BeeWits" - say that five times fast.

Lugh and Persephone were the last "wee WeeBits", as we managed to get WeeBit spayed after that. She grew older, over the next six years, as we all do, still able to leap high kitchen cabinets at single bound and sleeping on our bed with us...until about 2 months ago we noticed that she was showing distension in her abdomen. We took her to the vet and that was when we got the shattering diagnosis of Feline Infectious Peritonitis which is fatal. She had the  fast moving kind and the vet told us gently to take her home and make her as comfortable as possible - as long as she had good quality of life, we were good, but we would have to decide when she would have to be put down. Her prognosis was only a matter of weeks, though the vet said doubtfully that she might live a little longer. Heartbroken, we took our little WeeBit home and proceeded to set out to spoil her

A few weeks went by and aside from distinctly waddling a little from the distension in her belly, she was fine. She was happy...she ate and drank, and slept on the bed with us, demanded being petted and chased the BeeWit routinely. A month went by. She was still in her mind a quite going concern, and very pleased with her world. A few more weeks went by and we began to be in awe of her resiliency and tenaciousness! We would get up every morning and call "WeeBit!" And her head would pop up from where she would be curled up on the foot of the bed and she'd go "Yes? Whats up?", bright eyed and attentive. Two more good weeks passed, where we would check in with her every morning, and go, OK, she's good, we have another good day! Two months of this - both happy and sad and bittersweet.

WeeBit on a pillow in my lap. 
And then, this past Thursday, we could see the downshift. She grew quiet, and began to struggle to get from place to place in the house, and her breathing became labored off and on. She was still eating and drinking and affectionate, but the fun was going out of living, and that was our line in the sand with this - we would not let her suffer into a decline. We had researched vets and prices, so I placed the call and got an appointment on Saturday morning to have her euthanized. We spent Thursday evening and Friday redoubling the spoiling factor - that cat got steak and turkey! She remained affectionate and interested in food, but became increasingly distressed by her inability to make it to the litter pan. She insisted on being near us, preferably in our arms, and cried so piteously when I tried to set her up a nest box on the floor so she could make it to the litter pan, that I gave up and put her back on the bed with us with some towels down for her. Dreamweaver had taken her into the bed room, as I was finishing up on the computer for the evening, when I looked up and saw her - jauntily! - trotting back from the litter pans in the next room, going "Look! See! I can too still use the litter pan!" Sadly, about half way back to the bed room her steps slowed as she ran out of breath and she had to lie down. I picked Weebit up gently and took her to Dreamweaver, where she curled up in her arms.

Dreamweaver held WeeBit for the first part of the night Friday night, and then passed her to me to hold and  cradle. If we put her down for a second, to go to the bathroom or something, she would cry until we picked her back up. Around 2:30 AM, she suddenly mewed a little, and snuggled down closer in my arms....and then simply, quietly, quit breathing. She went in her own time and her own way, curled up with us, and we never had to take her to be put to sleep. We did decide to have her cremated, so I took her body on to the vet anyway to be dropped off for this service, and they were so kind to me there.


So we come to the end of our twelve years with WeeBit (and BeeWit!) - a long and happy life that we were blessed to have shared with this very special cat. There will never be another like her! Blessed be, WeeBit - see you in the summer lands!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Call Me Malcolm - a Transgender's story.

This is incredibly informative, amazing, hopeful and powerful - it addresses issues intrinsically through the narrative of Malcolm's journey in a way that is awesomely personal!