Asking Amy Issue #7: Un-enchanted April, Feline Messengers, Tonal, and the Tiniest Torch

What crosses your path might just save you

April IS the cruelest month. Sure -- Spring seems on the verge of bursting through the door, but this year, Spring is wearing clodhoppers. It is sunny and fine one day, and gray and snowing the next. 

April, yes – stomps through, painting the hills emerald green -- and then sweeps the landscape behind with her snowy cloak. April is the meanest girl in the cafeteria – all budding and beautiful, but always showing you who’s boss. 

The weather, as usual, takes me along for a ride – as I carom between feeling genuine pleasure and the grim need to merely endure. I spend a lot of time outdoors and – frankly – I just like it better when its nice out. Why is that? Because I have a brain in my head, and nerve endings near my skin, enabling me to feel sensations. (Cold, for instance, and wet.)

Several times this week, I became aware of those times when an animal appeared out of nowhere, as if to send me a message. 

I have a dog – a whirling, twirling, licky little circus dog named Molly. I can always count on Molly to run toward me, and she so closely resembles “Sultan,” the minor-character animated ottoman from Beauty and The Beast, that – no matter what – I always feel reanimated when she greets me.

But Molly isn’t the only animal who has delivered a message to me this week. The bluebirds are back and nesting in their boxes. At night, I hear the coyote cubs’ cries competing with the new lambs’ bleating in the sheep barn across from our front porch. 

My most urgent messengers, however, are feline.

And this week … cats seemed to cross my path right when I needed them.

I grew up with cats — and dogs — but mainly cats. By that, I mean that I grew up in a cuckoo-crazy-for-cats household. We had house cats and barn cats and .. well, we had a lot of cats. Not too many cats, mind you — but always — just the right number, and in the right combinations.

My very first cat — the one I claimed as my own — was named Taffy. Taffy was part of a locally legendary cat family, all of whose members had extremely long lives. Taffy and his sister Micky outlived their original owners — my grandparents — which is how they came to live with us. Taffy was a giant ginger tabby cat. He was huge. He was great. He was with us during the majority of my childhood and — well, Taffy imprinted upon me a “type,” in the way that your first great love marks you forever.

(Me, age around 10, with a rando barn cat, who obviously had other ideas)

In adulthood, I acquired Pumpkin — another giant orange tabby — who loped through our lives in Washington and Chicago — and summered with us on Main Street in Freeville. (I devoted an entire chapter of my first book, The Mighty Queens of Freeville, to Pumpkin — who quite honestly deserved a book of his own.)

(Pumpkin was an expert breakfast-stealer)

After Pumpkin died, I took a bunch of kids with me to the shelter to pick out a new cat, because kids are excellent cat-choosers. At our local SPCA, they will let all the cats out into a large play area, so you can observe them. It was pretty cool to be among several dozen cats, all doing their cat-thing (which is — whatever they damn well please). And that’s when I met Chester — full name: Chester-of-My-Heart.

Chester passed the play test, the purr test, and the “likes-being-cradled-like-a-baby” test. He had lived at the shelter for over a year. He was big and orange, and he trotted up to me and sat in my lap, as if to say “I’m yours.”

(My cat and I liked to put our heads together)

Except for vomiting and foaming at the mouth during our long car trips from Chicago to Freeville, Chester was perfectly mine. Chester witnessed so much of my most important recent history — the moves, my re-marriage, my many subsequent losses. He was extremely fond of me and I loved him more purely than any other pet I’ve ever had.

(Chester also excelled at being a good family member)

Chester lived to be around 20. His body and Pumpkin’s ashes are buried in this spot in back of my mother’s old house, which is also the graveyard for my mother’s many beloved cats. When I dug burial holes for my two cats, I uncovered little toys and treats my mother had (presumably) buried along with her own cats.

After Chester’s death, another giant ginger cat started hanging around the house. Every day like clockwork at 4pm, this dude would walk through the yard, inspect my garden and poke his big head into the barn. Eventually, I learned that his name was Thomas, and that he belonged to my neighbor. I loved seeing Thomas come through on his daily rounds. I came to think of his perambulations as “Teatime with Thomas.”

I stopped seeing Thomas at some point this year, but I didn’t think much of it.

Then — during this particularly gloomy week — Mr. Handsome Man reappeared, hanging around the barn.

“Ah — Thomas has returned,” I thought. “Thomas Promises that all will be well.”

I saw my neighbor out in the yard, surveying winter’s garden damage (just as I was doing), and I said to her, “Oh — it’s so nice to see Thomas back.”

“Thomas died last winter,” she told me. “We have Bernice, now.”

I looked into her garden space and saw Bernice. Bernice is a big black and white mouser. She was stalking something. Her tuxedo markings made Bernice look both formal and fierce.

“Then who is that big orange tabby I’m seeing?” I wondered aloud. My neighbor said, “He just showed up, and I think he has a home, but he seems to like hanging out in your barn.”

Ah, yes. I’m calling him Frederick.

Message received, Frederick. Like every cat who has ever sauntered through my life, this one is reminding me that ultimately …

We are all just passing through.

This week I was listening to 3-year old episodes of one of my favorite podcasts: “This is Love.”

Again, cats wandered in! Here, the podcast host, Phoebe Judge, who describes herself as “hating cats,” explored the strange and wonderful world of the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary, in Rome — a place where cats roam free, living among the monuments of Ancient Rome. During the episode, I learned that “dictators hate cats.”

The cats at the Roman sanctuary are cared for by an elderly retired opera singer named Silvia.

Click here if you are interested in learning more about the sanctuary:

Gattideroma Cat Sanctuary

At the end of the (charming) podcast episode, cat-phobic host Phoebe Judge described it as “The worst hour of my life,” but — honestly — it was one of the best hours of mine.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN to the very cool story, on the This is Love podcast


“Junk Food” Correspondent Railey Jane Savage is taking this week off, but she sent this dispatch:

(Follow Railey on Instagram: @cartoonsandcats)

Targeted Upsell: (What the Internet wants me to buy)

From Consumer Correspondent Emily Mason:

Emily writes:

“What’s New?

Tonal, that’s who!

I have been absolutely bombarded with ads for a product called Tonal, a “smart” home gym that bills itself as “the future of fitness.”

Tonal is primarily a digital weight lifting tool. It learns and adapts to your strength levels, it coaches you to improve, and increases resistance automatically as you strength-train, so you get stronger without even realizing it! 

So cool! So helpful!



Every ad seems to treat Tonal as a convenience, and yet the ads show people doing elaborate home workouts with tons of room to move.

...Do Tonal’s creators know how human people live?

Why am I seeing this?

This one’s on me. I saw a commercial for this somewhere, and I Googled it. I remember thinking: “this might be the dumbest thing I have ever seen … I must know more!

Did they sell me?

Absolutely not. 

First, this thing is $3000, not including accessories or membership (those sound important). Installation isn’t included either. 

That’s right, someone needs to come into your home and screw this thing to your wall....Fun.

I can’t help but wonder if anyone’s run a cost-benefit analysis here. I mean, is Tonal really more convenient than just using regular weights? Dumbbells may not be digital, but at least you know they aren’t going to glitch after the latest install, or one day stop working entirely. 

(At least this won’t happen with Tonal…)

The biggest problem for me though, is that Tonal requires at least 7 feet of blank wall space, which I don’t have (or want; I’ve got some really awesome art).

And no one is immune to this requirement; I discovered THE Martha Stewart (yes…THAT ONE!) had to build a special wall in her farmhouse for Tonal, because her ceiling wasn’t quite high enough and the crown molding got in the way. 

 I live in a rental! I can’t go around letting strangers bolt stuff to the walls!

Hard pass, TONAL! I will have to survive in an A-tonal world.

Maybe I’ll just stare at my awesome wall art, while snacking. 

(Emily Mason lives in Chicago. You can find her on Twitter @themistakemaven)

Laura Likes: (Where my friend Laura recommends cool stuff)

Laura writes:

“I'm fan of gadgets, which I suppose is a thing I get from my father. I'm not sure if this is something he got from his father, or if it's something he developed after a lifetime of making the best of the  Father's Day, Christmas, and birthday gift situation from his daughters.

There's only so many options open when you know the answer to "what would you like for (insert holiday here)?" is always "I don't need anything."

So we, as a group, ended up getting him little trinkets and odd little gadgets we thought he might find useful at some point. 

So not long ago, I picked up a gadget that is a little flashlight made by a company called Nebo.

The Poplite comes with a small carabiner so you can hook it on your keychain* or inside a purse or on something in the car. It has a magnetic cap that sits in the top; you remove the cap and the light activates. You can pull on the end and it expands into a little lantern. It will sit pretty solidly on a flat surface, but...even better...the end is magnetic, so this means you can stick it to something metal and it will attach quite firmly, so you don't have to hold onto it. 

I love this thing. I know everyone has a flashlight in their phone, but if the power goes out or you are...I don't know, stuck out in the dark someplace, you need your phone to either call the electric company or a tow truck or your friend who can come help you.

It puts out a lot of light (20 lumens: in writing this, I ended up doing a bunch of research to give you some idea of how bright that is, and long story short, it's complicated and I now know way more than I thought was possible about the concept of candlepower and all I can really tell you is: it's, uh, really bright). 

Super-handy. I got one for my husband and he liked it so much he bought a bunch of them to stash around the store he owns, and in his car. He likes it for walking with the dog at night.

I have one in my tote bag, one in my purse, and one on my nightstand. Also, the magnetic cap thingy seats itself in the top with an exceptionally satisfying click. Highest recommendation. 

*The flashlight itself is practically indestructible, but if you toss your keys into your purse and jostle them around, the cap that attaches to the light that turns it off can unset itself, and several hours later you notice that your purse is glowing like the inside of the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. Oops. Just giving you fair warning on that. 

(Laura Lorson lives in Kansas. Follow her on Twitter @prairielaura)

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