Nine Lessons from the Castle Garden Cats

While in Northern Ireland, I was able to see Belfast Castle and it’s lovely garden.  I also had the good fortune to have a chat with a lovely woman who worked at the castle.  She was very knowledgeable and told some delightful stories about the castle and the people who had lived in it.


One story that I found to be very delightful was about the tradition of the castle cat.  Apparently the Donegall family, who were the owners of the castle before its donation to the city of Belfast in 1934, always kept a white cat.  It was said that as long as a white cat remained on the premises good fortune would come to all who visit the castle.  When the city of Belfast took over the care and maintenance of the castle, they were not able to maintain the tradition of keeping a white cat at the castle.  To keep the spirit of the white cat alive and the good fortune going, nine cats in various incarnations (sculptures, quotes, mosaics, topiary, etc.) were incorporated into the garden.


It was fun to wander through the garden looking for the nine cats.  Nine cats are in reference to the myth that a cat has nine lives.  I found and took pictures of these nine castle garden cats.  I thought it would be fun to share them with you by pairing the photos with fun facts, quotes and lessons I have learned from or about cats.


Did you know that the average cat can jump eight feet in a single bound?  That is nearly six times its body length.  This fun fact holds a powerful lesson from our feline friends: one should not let things that appear challenging to hold one back from what one can accomplish.

My brother had a cat named Sanka.  She was a elegant, sleek, slender, highly intelligent, orange and white cat.  She seemed smaller than most cats I have known.  My brother is very tall, six foot four inches.  Sanka could jump from the floor to his shoulder in a single leap.  Everyone who witnessed Sanka’s leap from floor to shoulder were amazed.  To witness this little cat jump was to see elegance in motion.

Cats leap.  One could argue that this is instinct.  That it is in a cats behavior to know that it can leap and land on its feet.  How often have you thought about something and decided that it cannot be done?  For example.  I am to old to take piano lessons.  It would be unwise to switch careers after investing so much time.  It is dangerous to travel to foreign countries.  Instead of leaping, the person over-thought about this particular thing and it didn’t happen.

Making an excuse doesn’t change anything.  If you want to learn to play the piano, take lessons.  Start today.  Start tomorrow.  It doesn’t matter when you start.  You aren’t going to get any younger.  So do it.  If you are miserable in that job, make a plan and switch careers.  Yes you have invested time.  You can’t get it back.  But do you want to stay in a career you aren’t happy in?  Everything in life is dangerous.  Take that trip to Fiji, Mongolia, Sweden or where ever it is that you want to go.  Statistically you have a higher chance of being involved in a serious accident within one mile of your home than traveling abroad.  Leap.  Be like the cat.  Have faith in your ability to land.


A cat’s nose is as unique as a human fingerprint.  And speaking of fingers or should I say paws, cats are usually lefties.  Studies indicate that a cats left paw is typically dominate.

There have been too many studies to reference on why left-handed people tend to be more creative.  Let me share a couple of them with you.  One Study states that lefties have to find creative solutions to problems because they are living in a world where most things are set up for right-handed people.  Another study indicated that their creativity is based on the fact that they have to use both sides of their brain at the same time.  And yet another study suggested that they aren’t actually left-handed at all, but ambidextrous.  I don’t need a study to tell me that cats are very creative.  Maybe this is because they are left paw dominate or maybe it is because they are cats.

They are also incredibly smart.  My cat, Angus, will not play with a laser pointer.  When she was a kitten I got one and was moving the light around on the floor.  She played with it for awhile, but when she couldn’t catch it, she stopped.  She looked up to where I was sitting.  She looked at the red light on the floor.  Angus got up, came over to the couch, jumped up next to me, and swatted my hand that was holding the laser pointer.  She then turned away and jumped off of the couch and left the room.  From that moment on, she would not chase the red dot on the floor.  Angus had figured out that the object in my hand was making the little red light, she would never be able to catch it and therefore she could not be bothered to chase it.

The lesson learned here from cats?  Trust yourself and have the courage to let go of something and walk away.  When you figure out that something isn’t working for you, don’t continue to try to make it work.  Your actions are futile.  Let it go.  Instead do something where you can make a difference and see results.  (For a cat that may mean taking a nap in a sunbeam.)


In the previous photo there are two cat images together.  One is a picture of a cat and the other is a sculpture.  As the are hard to see, I have included the detail of the cats below.


In ancient times cats were worshiped as gods; they have not forgotten this.” -Terry Pratchett

Or stated another way.  Dogs have owners, cats have staff.

Speaking of the regal pasts of cats, I once read a great description about a cat that wrapped its tail about it like it was wearing the robes of state.  I think the above cat statue visually illustrates this concept.

In Ancient Egypt, when one’s house cat passed away, shaving off one’s eyebrows was done to show respect for the cat and grief at the loss.  Ancient Egyptians also mummified their feline friends to accompany them into the afterlife.


Cats seem to almost have supernatural powers.  A cats physique may have something to do with this.  Did you know that a cat has 3 eyelids which protect their eyes?  A cat has the ability to rotate their ears 180 -degrees with the help of 32 muscles that they use to control them.  All the better to hear you trying to sneak up on them.  The cats strongest sense is it’s sense of smell.  It is fourteen times better than that of a humans.  They rely on this sense to identify people and objects.  Cats also have the ability to twist their bodies when falling, enabling them to land on their feet.  This ability helps them reduce injury and maintain their balance.  These “supernatural” skills may have contributed to people’s fear of them in Europe during the Dark Ages.

The lesson here is to not make a judgment about someone or something until we have done the research.  Cats are not supernatural.  They are different.  And different is what makes living on this planet so much fun.  Learn about things, people and places that are different and celebrate how these differences enhance being alive.


The photo of the above mosaic shows that it has suffered some damage.  It was sad to see the damaged tiles; but it reminded me of another of cats unique abilities.  A cat has the power to sometimes heal itself by purring.  A domestic cat’s purr has a frequency between 25 and 105 Hertz, which happens to be the frequency at which muscles and bones best grow and repair themselves.

I have always thought that the cats ability to purr is magical.  And to find out that it has the ability to have healing qualities makes it even cooler.

I also believe that our feline companions know when we are hurting.  After my divorce, I was feeling as if my whole world was shattered.  Every night before bed my cat, Angus, cuddled up next to me and would purr.  She followed me around at home keeping an eye on me.  It was as if Angus knew that I needed her and her healing purr to get through that time.  I believe that she did help my heart heal faster.


The smallest feline is a masterpiece.”  -Leonardo da Vinci


Cats have it all: admiration, an endless sleep and company only when they want it.”  –Rod McKuen

Have you ever noticed that when a cat is ready to nap they decide where it is that they are going to sleep, they do their rituals for getting comfortable and instantly fall asleep?  I am very jealous of the cat’s ability to literally sleep anywhere.

Another ability of cats, that I have noticed over the years, is their ability to set boundaries.  When they want to be alone, you will not find them.  When they want attention, be prepared to pet them.  If they want your company they will follow you around the house.  It would be foolhardy to follow a cat around when they did not want your company.  Some may consider them to be aloof, but I think that cats are very discerning about who they will allow to pet them and for how long.


“Cats choose us, we don’t own them.” –Kristen Cast

If you ever go to Belfast, Northern Ireland, be sure to see Belfast Castle and take time to visit the nine Castle Garden Cats.  You may just learn something new and interesting.  And possibly create a tale of your own.

Permanent Record

There are moments in ones life that cause an individual to change.  Some of those moments have a catalyst in the way of an experience, event, etc.  It’s kinda like when someone asks you where were you when you heard about the twin towers in New York City?  Really big events not only change one person but have the power to change everything.  There was before September 11 and there is after September 11.  This particular event also affected Edward Snowden the author of Permanent Record,

I remember when I watched the documentary “Citizenfour,” directed by Laura Poitras, having a serious shock and awe moment when I realized how much, how serious and how scary the amount of surveillance that my government was perpetrating on its own citizens, as well as every human being on this planet.  This isn’t a clever science fiction plot.  It is real life and it is terrifying.

documentary Citizenfour


So of course, when I heard that Edward Snowden had written a book, I had to read it.  I was not disappointed.  The following is the description from the jacket cover:

As I proceeded down the Tunnel, it struck me: this, in front of me, was my future.  I’m not saying that I made any decisions at that instant.  The most important decisions in life are never made that way.  They’re made subconsciously and only express themselves once fully formed – once you’re finally strong enough to admit to yourself that this is the course your beliefs have decreed.  That was my twenty-ninth birthday present to myself: the awareness that I had entered a tunnel that would narrow my life down toward a single, still indistinct act.”  – (Page 214) from Permanent Record

“In 2013, twenty-nine-year-old Edward Snowden shocked the world when he broke with the American Intelligence establishment and revealed that the United States government was secretly pursuing the means to collect every single phone call, text message and email.  The result would be an unprecedented system of mass surveillance with the ability to pry into the private lives of every person on earth.  Six years later, Snowden reveals for the first time how he helped to build this system and why he was moved to expose it.

Spanning the bucolic Beltway suburbs of his childhood and the clandestine CIA and NSA postings of his adulthood, Permanent Record is the extraordinary account of a bright young man who grew up online – a man who became a spy, a whistle blower, and in exile, the Internet’s conscience.  Written with wit, grace, passion, and unflinching candor, Permanet Record is a crucial memoir of our digital age and destined to be a classic.”  – Book cover of Permanent Record by Edward Snowden

Written in a way that even the less than technical savoy can understand, I felt that I was given a view into the government’s development of its spying programs.  I also felt like Edward shared his struggle and motivation.  The words flow logically and Edward leads you through the story.  I appreciated his candor, humility and humor.

At one point in the chapter on encryption Edward makes the following comment.

“Breaking a 128-bit key would take 2 [to the 64th] times longer than a day, or fifty million billion years.  By that time, I might even be pardoned.”  – page 217 Permanent Record

I my humble opinion, Edward Snowden should be pardoned.  He is a hero.  He pointed out something that should be a concern to every human being on this planet.

I highly recommend the book Permanent Record.  It puts the record straight.  If you have read it, please post a comment.  Or if you would like to discuss the book with me, please contact me through my contact page.


Recently, I had the great good fortune to pick up a book at a thrift store in Whitefish, Montana for a dollar.  A hardcover science fiction book by an author that I had not heard of before in mint condition, Polaris written by Jack McDevitt.  I was intrigued by the cover art.  (I know that you are not supposed to judge a book by the cover, see previous blog post on that subject here: Judging a Book by it’s Cover)  Once I read the description, I was hooked.

The description of the book from the inside of the jacket cover is as follows:

“The luxury space yacht Polaris carried an elite group of the wealthy and curious thousands of light-years from Earth to witness a spectacular stellar phenomenon.  It never returned.  The search party sent to investigate found the Polaris empty and adrift in space, the fate of its pilot and passengers a mystery.

Sixty years later, the question of what happened aboard the Polaris continues to capture the popular imagination, especially as the anniversary of the event approaches.  A major new book is planned, as is an auction of the things found on the ship – including personal effects of the missing.

Prominent antiquities dealer Alex Benedict manages to secure some of the artifacts before the auction.  But then an explosion destroys most of the collection, and an attempt is made on his life.  Convinced that someone is taking drastic measures to hide the truth about the Polaris, Alex is determined to uncover the truth – no matter how far he must travel across the stars, no matter the risk….”  – Polaris book cover

Jack McDevitt wields an interesting tale.  In this future time of space exploration and colonization, why does the captain and crew come up missing from the space ship Polaris?  This tale could have been told a variety of ways.  McDevitt’s writing is clever in balancing clues to they mystery, building relate-able characters, describing fictional places and keeping the reader intrigued.

All of the characters are interesting.  To me, the ship itself feels like a character as much as the passengers who disappeared.  And in the end part of the ship provides a very important clue that helps solve the case.  There is the story of Alex Benedict who secures and sells artifacts along with Chase Kolpath, Benedict’s employee, pilot and I would also say friend.  Chase’s voice narrates the story and I think that it is a creative choice that makes sense.  It becomes very important in sequences involving flight and space travel.  Because Chase is a pilot, she can describe the events in a way that is plausible and believable.

McDevitt has a talent for weaving humor into his descriptions of fictional creatures.  The following is a description of an evening on a planet that Alex and Chase were visiting and their experience with a yoho.

“It became an interesting evening.  The snowstorm renewed itself and turned into a howling blizzard, there was an earthquake warning at about the time we were going to bed, and a few hours later they evacuated the hotel because a yoho got into the building.

The yohos, it turned out, were arthropodic creatures with a taste for people.  Fortunately, they only showed up five days out of the year, which coincided with there breeding season, and on those occasions they rarely left the beach.  After an hour of standing in the snow, we were informed by management that the yoho had gone, everything was okay, and we could go back in.  When we got to our suite, we inspected it carefully and locked the doors.”  –Polaris, page 265.

The following is the description of a planet that Chase and Alex fly by during their investigation of the disappearances of the captain and crew of the Polaris.

“Markop III was hardly worth a visit.  But we went anyhow, because Alex insisted on being thorough.

It was an attractive world, lots of blue water, fleecy white clouds, herds of big shaggy creatures that made great targets if you were into hunting.  The weather through the temperate zones was almost balmy.

If it was inviting, however, it was also potentially lethal.  Unlike the vast majority of living worlds, its viruses and disease germs loved homo sapiens.” –Polaris, page 317.

My overall take on the book is that it is an interesting story that has a satisfying ending.  It was fun to read from beginning to end, with the mystery keeping me guessing throughout the novel.  If you enjoy a good mystery with your science fiction, I would highly recommend this novel.  If you have read the novel and would like to talk about it, please leave a comment or write to me through my contact me page.