Thursday, November 01, 2018

The World Outside

I watch the news with growing despair. Every day there’s a new heart-wrenching mass killing motivated by hatred, a never-ending stream of vitriol and excrement from the mouth of the president of the neighbouring country to the south, and in two successive days news that 60% of the world's population of vertebrates, from fish to birds to mammals, have been wiped out since 1970, says a new report from the World Wildlife Fund, and that in the past 25 years the Earth’s Oceans have warmed 60% more than previously thought.  

What the hell are we thinking? And what can we, as individuals, do about it?  Nothing slows hatred except complete rejection. People who spew hatred reveal more how about they feel about themselves than how that feel about others. Anaïs Nin said: “Unless you learn to face your own demons, you will continue to see them in others, because the world outside is only a reflection of the world of the world inside you”.   

The newest information about the havoc we have visited on the rest of the world’s inhabitants is nightmarish. Who gave us permission to destroy the very ecosystem we depend on for life? 

The trees in the Amazon Basin are called the lungs of the planet for good reason, and they are being razed to grow 10,000 acre fields of soybeans to feed pigs and beef, which will be exported to feed the insatiable demand for more and more meat. 

There is an appx 25 meter (about 80 ft) by 122 meter (400 ft) space between the fence that divides our parking lot and the busy four lane street. Three years ago the city said, “Here, you take care of this land.” So we have to mow, water, and otherwise care for it. There’s a bus shelter on the corner. 

I think it would be a great spot for an urban forest. You can get free compost from the city and I’ll bet we could bum a couple hundred trees of all kinds from the city too. The city has a huge nursery where they grow all kinds of natives trees. They are building out a new rapid transit line which will come almost to our door. So we’d have a nice carbon dioxide sink, which would produce clean air. 

But some other ideas you can use to help save the planet:

1. No one-time-use plastic

2. Turn out lights you’re not using. As my Dad used to say, “We don’t own the power company”!

3. Put the TV and other “instant on” appliance on a power bar which you can turn off at night or when you’re gone. That “ready” posse uses 40% of the power it uses when it’s turned on.

4. Drive less. Try to consolidate errands. My 2013 KIA Soul has 11,000 kms (6,835 miles) on it, and that’s including the two trips to Vancouver our son took in it. (750 kms/466 one way). 

5. Grow your own vegetables if you can

6. Buy locally if possible

7. Eat one vegan meal a day

8. Buy what foods you can at bulk stores using your own containers.

9. Instead of buying crap clothes made by slave labour in Asia, choose a classic pattern you like, buy high quality fabric, and hire a local seamstress to make wardrobe you can wear interchangeably for years. 

10. Shop at thrift stores for clothes. Billions of tons of clothing end up in the landfill every year, because of fads and cheap fabric and construction.

11. Buy the best quality tools you can afford. They will make you work easier, safer, and more quickly accomplished. 

Do you have ideas to add to this list? Please share. There is so much I’d like to do, but due to age and disability I can’t. But other readers might. So let us know. 

Thursday, July 05, 2018

A Meerkat on the Bathroom Floor

We live in a condo built in 2004, and though the original owner ripped up the standard builder’s beige carpet and replaced it with maple laminate, she left the original vinyl flooring in the hallway, bathroom and kitchen, and we’ve never mustered up the nerve to get a contractor in to replace it. The factory must have produced this stuff by the football field sized quantities hourly for years. In fact, I could probably drive to Home Depot and buy 500 sq feet of it tomorrow morning. 

The colour is what my mother would have called “muckeldy dun”. I haven’t figured out if the background is dirty tan with greenish-brown and grey splotches thrown across it, or if the background is greenish-brown and grey with dirty tan splotches on it. A tile pattern was pressed on it after the colours were thrown on it. No matter how long you scrub it still looks dirty. 

But it does have a remarkable quality. One admits that at one’s advanced age one spends a fair amount of time upon the throne of thought. And while I’m sure this was purely accidental on the part of the paint thrower at the “Ugly Sheet Vinyl by the Football Field Quantity Company”, the random spots, blobs, lines, light and dark patches thrown together are fodder for the human brain (well my human brain anyway) to see all kinds of creatures on my bathroom floor. 

The show is constantly changing. One time all I see are dogs, from dachshunds dogs to Great Danes, a terrier with a rat in its mouth, a poodle in show clip, a fat lab pup with its tongue hanging out. 

My next visit I see no dogs at all but horses run riot, jumping, a mare nuzzling a foal,  a couple grazing, one looking over a stall wall. I never know what to expect, it may be sheep, cattle, camels, parrots, monkeys, meerkats, children at play, cats, donkeys.

I don’t go in looking for any of these illusions, and if I look for, say a kitten that I saw previously, or a bird, I cannot see it, even though I know precisely where it was, and in fact, all of the pictures I see in my floor are there, it’s just a question my brain organizing the blobs and lines on the floor into recognizable patterns when I am not consciously looking for them.  

But isn’t this like us in the world? Even though the connections may not be obvious ALL of us are connected, all of us are part of the great pattern. Compassion is born when we are no longer deceived by appearances; the illusion that “I” exist separately from”you”. 

Friday, June 01, 2018

KIVA - Inching toward Our Hundreth Loan

Those who read my blog with any regularity know that we support a non-profit organization called KIVA which offers micro-credit to the poorest of the poor the world over. This is not charity, most loans are paid back, with a small interest, over time. But with the loans often come business training, schooling for the children, basic medical care and the support and help of the organization’s field workers.

As loans are paid back you can choose to take your money back, or you can recycle it into a new loan. As it stands, we have made 97 loans over a period of seven or eight years. We've put in only $476, $25 at a time, but because we have recycled it as it was repaid it is as if we had loaned $2,525.

We favour lending to women in difficult circumstances, but have lent to young men needing medical care, to fathers with a sick child needing medical care, or to men with a worthy community project, like the lab tech needing to purchase an x-ray machine as there was none within miles. KIVA bios are usually brief, but this one was much more detailed, and I wanted to share it, in hopes that it will make you think about becoming a KIVA lender.

A Syrian refugee and Lebanese local have created a thriving business.
Report written by KIVA’s Talea Miller
Photos by Brandon Smith

Samah and Ahlam are the kind of friends that scoop up each other’s children and sooth them without batting an eye, as if they are their own.

Samah and Ahlam are also successful business partners who have more than tripled their monthly income since starting a clothes resale venture together and taking out a Kiva loan to build their inventory.
Ahlam (left) and Samah (right) with their children.
What makes their partnership unique is that Samah is a Syrian refugee living in Lebanon and Ahlam is a Lebanese citizen. Ahlam asked Samah to be her partner at a time when many Lebanese were cutting refugees off from job opportunities, preferring to only work with other Lebanese.

These tensions have grown as more than 1 million refugees fleeing the violence of the Syrian war have flooded over the border in the last 7 years. Lebanon now hosts the largest number of refugees per capita of any country.
The influx has strained Lebanon’s resources, creating competition for jobs and housing. Signs of this stress are all around: Syrian and Lebanese children attend school at different times of day, curfews have been put in place in some Syrian refugee communities and Lebanese openly complain about the spike in cost of living since the war began.

“It’s difficult to have communication between these groups of Syrian refugees and Lebanese because Lebanese people don’t like Syrians. They say the economy is bad because of them,” said Samah.

Despite these conditions, Samah has always felt comfortable with Ahlam and her mother-in-law Eftika. They opened their arms to her, even though she was a stranger when she arrived in 2013 after her family home in Syria was bombed.

The 3 of them took out a group loan together that was funded on Kiva, and Ahlam proposed Samah work with her in clothes resale, solidifying their commitment to each other and intertwining their success.

Ahlam and Eftikar are not concerned about what other Lebanese people might think about the business, or their loan with Samah.

“Samah is a good person and she has a white heart, so I like working with her,” said Ahlam.

Ahlam crosses into Syria to purchase clothes at cheaper prices, then she and Samah divide the clothing and sell to different communities. The loan gave them the capital they needed to purchase additional stock.
Samah would not be able to cross back and forth across the border freely since she is Syrian.

The business has grown from just a few clients and their income has increased. When they started 3 years ago, they were each making $200-$300 a month, now Samah makes close to $1,000 each month, Ahlam makes even more.

Samah recently gave birth to a son, her first child born in Lebanon. Her family’s biggest challenge now is the cost of living in Lebanon, as rent and food prices are high and continue to get higher with the country’s additional population.

She has lost relatives to the war in Syria, but she is still hopeful she will see her remaining family back home someday.
“I miss my house and my family. I hope the war ends and I can go back to Syria,” Samah says.

Until then, she is grateful for her Lebanese friends, and they are grateful she and her family are safe in their shared community.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Did You Gorilla Tape That?

Every Spring the “Powers That Be”, aka the condo board, has the building power washed. This means we have to haul everything on the balcony inside. Facing the prospect of clearing the balcony, I took a hard look at all my gardening tools, pots, fertilizer and other odds and sods and decided with a sigh that, until (unless) I can get waist-high raised beds my gardening days are over. But the gardening paraphernalia is all in usable condition, so Gail put it in my wagon and took it out to the building’s community garden. 

This left only two things on the balcony; the cat’s little carpet-covered house, which Smokey sits on, and Hobbes sleeps in, and Hobbes’ “hamster” wheel, a metre (48”) wide circle which he runs on like a treadmill. He usually chooses to run about 3:00-4:00 am, and he yodels while he runs. I’m sure the neighbours enjoy this about as much as I do, but thankfully he usually gets going so fast he flies off the wheel, which scares him a bit, and brings the session to an end.

When we bought the wheel we had to assemble it (18 sections) and apply the running surface which was a plastic material which felt a bit like velour. It had a sticky backing. We were hoping fat old Smokey would take to it and run some pounds off but he was terrified by the thing. However Hobbes took an immediate shine to the running surface. The movement of the wheel sent him scurrying under the bed, but the running surface drew him like a bug to a street light. Soon he was busy tearing chunks of the plastic off the wheel, where it stuck like dried paint to the floor! 

When we redecorated in June we moved the wheel to the balcony, which made Hobbes very angry. He carried big slabs of the running surface into the house and dropped them on the floor of the living room. He didn’t get on the wheel and run for a couple of months!  

So fast forward to today. We had to move this enormous wheel inside temporarily. It’s been outside almost a year. There are a few shards of running surface hanging from it. We tore them off before we brought the wheel inside, stuffed them in a small garbage sack and threw them away. 

Now there’s a problem. One the thing is very dusty from sitting outside for a year, and two, he’s liable to tear a claw out running on the wheel, as there’s a join between every section large enough for his claws to fit into as he runs. So we thought we’d put it in the bathtub and scrub it down. It wouldn’t fit. I went through the rolodex in my head. What do we have that’s big enough just to sit this thing in, get enough water to cover the track (4”) and we could just roll it and wash it? A-HA! Underbed box that we store guest linens in. Perfect.

Forty-five minutes later, it was scrubbed, the kitchen was nearly ankle deep in water and Hobbes was on the kitchen counter, leaning over us with an extremely anxious expression on his face. “Meow?” he said, “Meeee-ooow”?  

We dried it as best we could, mopped up the kitchen floor with half a dozen cat-tas-troh-fee towels, and rolled the wheel into the guest room. Now came the “fun” part. We had to “Gorilla” tape over every one of those 18 joins. Gorilla Tape is *sticky*, and it is not programmed to do anything but to stick to whatever surface it comes in contact with. 

We were using our ancient metal tape measure and it didn’t help that the tape measure was too close for me to read without my glasses, and the joins were too far away to see without my glasses. Hobbes kindly volunteered to hold my glasses, and even cleaned them by licking the lenses. 

I determined that each piece of tape needed to be cut 20.95 cm (8.25”) long. Tony held the end of the tape and I pulled. He has a tremor, and I am not very strong, so the Marx Brothers’ movies come to mind. 

I measured up our 1st try. We were 5 cm (2”) short. We pulled some more. He held the measuring tape next to the Gorilla tape. The measuring tape slid over the the top of the Gorilla Tape and they stuck together. 

I saw where the 20.95 cm mark was and made a cut on the opposite side. The Gorilla Tape stuck to the scissors, and when I tried to pull them free the Gorilla Tape stuck to me. When Tony tried to help pull the scissors free, the Gorilla Tape stuck to itself.

 “Oh good,” he says with a thin smile, holding up a folded  length of tape stuck to his thumb, with the scissors dangling from it, “Only 17 to go.”  We did (eventually) get them all done, but we may never be the same.

And how are your projects coming along? 


Sunday, May 27, 2018

Not “Confinement” but Liberation

When someone is diagnosed with a neuromuscular disease one of their first questions is, “Will I end up in a wheelchair?” 

I’ve even heard people say, “I’d rather be dead than be "confined" to a wheelchair!” 

My doctor has argued with me for the last two years, saying it was not yet time for me to begin using a wheelchair. He’s referred me to physiotherapy, to acupuncture, to a rehab specialist, all of whom said they could do nothing but temporarily ease the pain brought on by walking with needles and drugs, but could do nothing about the exhaustion and damage walking is doing to the few viable muscles left in my legs. 

The week-long paralytic episode I had earlier this month, provoked by taking a slow stroll with Ian, was enough to make me come to my senses. My doctor does not live my life, walk in my shoes, nor has he ever really understood the physical challenges I face on a daily basis. So once I was capable of walking again I began shopping for a wheelchair; and today I bought one. 

I knew what I wanted, a chair that fit me like a glove, that feels like an extension of me, that is light and easy to transport. I want my feet tucked back under me, not stuck out like a cow catcher. I’ve been pushed around in a hospital-style-chair in big crowds often enough to know that the person pushing you doesn’t always know how far ahead of you your feet are, and you plow into people about six inches above their ankles - and then they sit in your lap. This is not too bad when it’s a six year old, but when it’s a 136 kg (300 lb) guy with dreadlocks who has about seven beers and a few lines of crack in him, the result can be unpleasant enough to require the RCMP’s intervention. 

So here is my little beauty. It weighs 6.57 kg (14.5 lbs) with the wheels off, 8.2 kg (18 lbs) with them on. The footrest folds up, then the chair folds up to about a foot thick, more or less. I really wanted canary yellow, but dark green was what they had, so following the old adage, "If you can't get what you want, like what you can get." I picked dark green. If I can find a body shop that is able to strip it down and paint it yellow I may get that done. I feel visibility is important in a chair. 

But back to the “better dead than in a chair” business. Over the last five years my leg muscles, and to a great extent the muscles in my hands, arms and shoulders have slowly and steadily disappeared. As a result I am mostly confined to the house. I've had to give up driving because I can't grip the steering wheel tightly enough, or turn to shoulder check traffic. My wonderful sons have hired a driver for me, but what's the point of going somewhere if you can’t walk once you get there? 

This wheelchair is not “confinement” to me, it’s liberation! I can actually go to the mall, to the library, go clothes shopping, go for walks, do things I have steadily lost the ability to do over the last 15 years! I can’t tell you how many friends I’ve lost because they wanted to meet, walk the length of the mall and have lunch. It’s almost impossible for people to understand that while I can walk inside the house, I actually can’t walk any distance. 

Believe me, by the time you need a chair to get out of the house you’ll see it as liberating. It’s like a big part of my life has been put on hold, and now I’m finally going to be able to move forward again. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

A Long-Awaited Reunion

Over the years we had 35 foster children, all boys except for one girl, and she was the last. Let’s call her Jane. When we met - and my memory is a little hazy because this was over 40 years ago - she was about to turn 11 and I was 29.  She lived with the family next door and I saw her come and go every day to school and back. 

One afternoon I was sitting on our porch, watching the boys play with our dogs when she approached shyly and asked if she could sit down. I said sure and scooted over. We talked a couple of minutes. She told me she was in grade six. She had flawless brown skin and long straight black hair of the area’s Indigenous children. She was a beautiful child, but she was dressed in shabby, outgrown, threadbare clothing, and there were holes in her cloth shoes. I knew the children of the family next door were well-dressed in the latest fashions, and felt anger rise in me. They were paid to take care of this child, not to take advantage of her. 

“What grade are you in?” she asked, “I’ve seen your brother (referring to Ian, who was nine at the time) but I haven’t seen you at school.”  

I could hardly keep from laughing. “I don’t go to school. Ian - there - and the little one - Zak - are my sons. I’m little, but I’m a grownup.” 

“No WAY!” she said. “I thought you were just a kid!” And we both started laughing. After that we talked almost every day, and I’d help her with her homework, because she was far behind her classmates. 

A few weeks later I was having a cuppa with her foster mother when she remarked she was tired of fostering and was sending Jane back. I asked who the agency was and got the number and worker’s name. The woman discouraged me. “You don’t want her,” she said. “These Native kids are nothing but trouble.” 

I went home and called the agency. It took about 48 hours for our application to be approved, and Jane made the short journey to our home. She brought her clothes in a brown grocery bag. Every garment she owned was too small, she was tying her panties on by poking holes along the top and threading string through the holes. Her socks were too small and full of holes. I was furious that no one from the agency had been paying enough attention to see that she was being neglected. 

I called the agency and told them I was taking her clothes shopping and I would send them the bill. And then we went shopping. For the 1st time since she’d been in care she got an entirely new wardrobe, from underwear to school and play clothes and several pretty dresses to wear to church, and shoes for each occasion. We had a ball. 

As Christmas approached we learned that the families that she’d been with had never included her in the celebrations. She never had a Christmas gift, or a birthday gift. Tony’s Mom and brother came for Christmas loaded with gifts for all three kids, and we made sure she got as many gifts as our boys did. She was *ours* and we loved her, and treated her as we loved and treated them. 

The years passed, we moved 1,200 miles from where she was born. She grew into a lovely young girl on the edge of womanhood, and in the US my mother became terminally ill. We wanted to go spend her last months with her, because she’d spent practically no time at all with our children. 

We arranged to formally adopt Jane, who was now 16, but the Province had never secured formal guardianship of her, and her biological mother refused to allow the adoption. What’s more she demanded Jane be taken from our home and placed in a culturally appropriate home. It was a blow to our hearts. Zak was only two when she came to us. He didn’t remember a time when she wasn’t part of our family, nor did her understand that she was not his biological sister. Her departure was like a death to him. 

We kept in touch for a couple of years but one day a letter came back, “Moved, No forwarding address”. We tried everything. We wrote everyone who knew her, the agency, went to the tribal office, all to no avail. Once we got the Internet I started looking, still no luck. 

Then, I thought, the last letter we had from her she’s given birth to a baby boy. I started looking for him, and I found him. He told me where to find her. The result was, after a year of correspondence, a very sweet reunion and many happy tears. She, her daughter, and her little grandson came to see us over the weekend and I’m so proud of her. She's gone to college, she has her own business, she’s a strong independent woman in a long-term stable relationship, and I feel so blessed to have been part of her life. I love her so much.  

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Security Geese and the Line in the Water

Winter flipped the coin into “Sprunger” last week, that is to say our daytime temperatures went from 5-7 degrees C (41-45 F) to 25-28 C (77-82 F), the barren and dead-looking trees in the courtyard burst into clouds of pink and white blossoms and the flower beds thrust bright spikes of narcissus, daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips from the brown earth into the sunshine. Hostas unrolled their leaves and fanned them out like green umbrellas. 

Calgary doesn’t have “Spring”. We go from Winter to Summer in a single bound, then, like those times you leave home with the nagging feeling that you’ve forgotten something, and it turns out to be the baby, dressed in his snowsuit, and cinched in his carseat, Calgary goes back and gives us three days of 5 degrees C (41 F), and a cold drizzle, or it snows 53 cm (21 inches) on the 21st of May. Just because we didn’t get a “proper” Spring, or because the weather gods here are sadistic. I’ve lived here 45 years. Nothing surprises me any more. But back to the lovely weather last week.  

While all this magic was happening in the garden, we were doing our own thing. After a week-long paralytic episode, during which I should have gone to the ER, and didn’t, I developed phlebitis in my left leg. This was a sharp and painful lesson that despite my aversion to Emergency Rooms, I do still need to go and suffer the never-ending questions, the blood-gas draws (which are very painful), the potassium IVs, the beeping monitors and being treated as if I was intellectually challenged and know absolutely nothing about my own disease while some Intern, who has never heard of it, goes to look up a single article, probably one riddled with errors, and comes back “knowing everything”.  

But having put all that behind me, on Mother’s Day Ian and I went out for lunch and then, with me in Tony’s wheelchair, we went to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. I got to see far more than I’ve seen in ages because I’ve not been able to walk farther than the 1st bench for a long time. We went down river and watched the Canada geese squabble over “their” staked-out stretches of the river. These territorial boundaries, though invisible to us, are obviously very clear to them. 

One pair was grazing on the bank of the river above us. Down in the river another pair was leisurely paddling around, apparently minding their own business. Suddenly the female of the grazing pair stood up, gave an eardrum-rending screech and assuming a threatening posture, began running down the bank towards the water, presumably squawking, “Your goose is cooked!”. The male reluctantly followed. The two of them chased down, beat and pecked the “intruders” until they had retreated well upriver, and across the invisible border.   

We moved upriver to another bench, where we sat and enjoyed the sun and watched the merganser ducks, chickadees and other birds who were coming and going. At one point I looked up and about 30 meters (100 ft) away a couple of very plump coyotes in beautiful condition were trotting past. They were in such good condition they looked as if they’d just come from the dog groomers. But then Calgary is overrun by rabbits. A woman farther down the path, much closer to them, simply stopped and waited for them to pass. As she walked by she said, “I thought they were dogs at first, they were in such good condition!” 

As we turned to go a garter snake, about .76 meter (30 inches) long slid from the grass onto the path in front of us. It was in fine condition, plumb and sleek. It crossed the path at a leisurely pace to begin with, but when Ian started getting close to try and get a photo it put on some speed. In contrast to the garter snakes in the den on our property in BC this one was not dark green and yellow but two tones of brown. It was a lovely snake and seeing it capped off a beautiful walk on a lovely afternoon.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Goodbye Dr. Frank

Last week I lost a dearly loved friend and mentor, Dr. Professor Frank Lehmann-Horn of Ulm University, Ulm Germany. Frank was that rare species of physician, for whom every patient became a friend, but as head of the non-profit organization Periodic Paralysis International I worked with him more closely than most patients, including collaborating on a paper published in a neurological journal, a 10 month-long process start-to-finish. 

Frank was everything most neurologists aren’t, kind, gentle, a patient teacher and listener, and for that Linda Feld and Misty Smith of the Periodic Paralysis Association, and I nominated him for “The Art of Listening Award” from the Genetic Alliance. He flew from Germany to Washington, DC to accept it and said of all the awards he won, and there were many, it was the one he treasured most, because it was from the patients he loved. You can see him accepting the award here. 

His research, both in the complex structure of the muscle and in the genetics of neuromuscular disease were seminal. He offered genetic testing for patients, identifying the genetic mutation in many families. He was the author or co-author of 73 papers in neurology journals, developed new techniques for MRI testing and introduced the use of new treatments for periodic paralysis. 

There is really no way to describe how much he will be missed by each of us who has some form of periodic paralysis.

May his family be comforted by the knowledge of how deeply Dr. Frank Lehmann-Horn is loved and appreciated by all whose lives were touched by his.

To his wife, children and grandchildren we extend our deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences. I hope knowing how many patients truly loved Frank is of some comfort. His memory will outlive us, as generations not yet born are told how their family’s mutation was identified, and by whom. 

And to that I add this lovely poem by Mary Oliver, because Frank didn’t just “visit” this world. He made an impact on thousands of lives.  

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Friday, May 11, 2018

What Now?

One of the reasons I haven’t posted much recently is that I’ve had little to post about. I can go on about my cats for just so long before everyone begins to brush cat hair off their monitors and yells, “Enough already with the cats!” My “outings” are more likely to be doctor’s appointments than anything else, and do not make riveting reading. 

But I’ve collected quote for years, and I wonder what my two or three readers would make of them.  So I’m going to begin posting some of my favourites
and hopefully others will comment, and we can discuss them, politely of course, because some of them are “challenging” - which is why I saved them when I ran across them. (grin)

Today's quote, from Jean Vanier, who will doubtless be nominated for sainthood when he leaves this earth, is not challenging, but keeping it in mind at all times, and with all people, certainly can be.

What do you think? When someone pushes your buttons are you likely to remember the principle embodied by this quote? I'm not, though I really try - when I remember. 

“We human beings are all fundamentally the same. We all belong to a common broken humanity. We all have human wounded, broken hearts. Each one of us needs to feel appreciated and understood. We all need help.” ~ Jean Vanier

Sunday, March 18, 2018

I TOLD You He Was Chill!

Seeing as how I promised to write about Smokey’s experience at the vet’s “tomorrow” on the 1st of March, and it is now the 18th, perhaps I will live up to my promise. 

As all who know the-cat-who-would-be-king are aware, he has a very long dense coat. His guard hairs are very coarse and he has such a thick undercoat that it’s difficult to get a comb through it. I groom him from 45 minutes to an hour a day, which he loves, but he is hot, winter and summer, and he loves to go out on the balcony and lie in the snow. So he sheds, and sheds and sheds and sheds. I get a compacted fist-sized ball of hair off of him every day. 

And, sorry if this is TMI, but he has always had a bit of a delicate digestive system. Feed him two different flavours of food on the same day and he gets the runs. Accidentally leave Hobbes’ dry food so Smokey can steal a few bites and I’m cleaning cat poo off of everything in the house, including him. He’s very intolerant of having any poo at all on himself, so he will stand at the bathroom door and yell until I let him in the bathroom, where he jumps on the bath bench and gets a wash, and a dry, though a certain amount of snarling goes along with the drying. Clean we like, yes, but he sees no point in the towelling when the sofa would soak up the water just fine.  

After the fourth time in a single day I’ve had to clean him, and the floors, doors, walls, bath bench, and anything else he swiped his poopy tail on because some people (mostly Papa but sometimes me!) have walked off and left Baby Cat’s bowl unattended a little irritated Mama gets yes, she does. 

So, when we got to the vets I asked her if they would please shave Mr. Smokey from his neck to his tail. Leave the head and legs hairy, shave the rest, especially around his rear end. She said they certainly would do a “hygiene clip”, but do not normally shave cats because they freak out and require sedation, and they don’t do that. 

I tossed what little self esteem I possess to the winds, threw myself on her mercy and begged until she said she’d ask the girls to “try”, but if they could do it usually takes about 20 minutes and costs $120. However, if he was uncooperative they’d stop at the hygiene clip. I said, "He's a pretty chill cat, please, just give it a try." 

She took him to the back and when she returned we extricated Hobbes from the crate he couldn’t stand half an hour earlier and she began his exam. 

Five minutes into Hobbes’ exam she leaned in the direction of the door to the back room and said, “The clippers are still going.” On with Hobbes’ exam. Another couple of minutes, “The clippers are still going.” Another couple of minutes, “The clippers are still going - and they are laughing. I’ve got to see what’s going on.” And she went out the back door of the room. 

When she came back a couple of minutes later she was roaring with laughter. “They started with the hygiene clip,” she said, “Then one held him while the other came up front and started to shave his chest. As soon as he realized what they were doing he shook off the gal holding him and lifted his head up so they could shave his neck. Then they shaved his back. Now he’s rolled over, lying on his back, and they're shaving his belly, he’s even held out his front legs to be shaved. They’re not even having to hold him, he’s stayed absolutely still the entire time, and he's purring like mad. He’s loving it! He’s got to be the most laid back cat we’ve ever seen. They’ve never shaved a cat they didn’t have to hold down!” 

He was so chill it only took them 10 minutes to shave him, and cost $60. Well worth the money. Admittedly he looks like a bulldog, with a big head, blocky body with four square corners, a big broad chest and little short legs, but the haircut looks pretty good. I'm not complaining. 

My guess is he was kept shaved as a kitten, and remembered the routine. He’s much happier since he was shaved, no chasing Hobbes around and beating the living spit out of him. His hair is now about 1/2” long, and we’ve decided we’ll keep him shaved from now on. He’s much easier to keep clean. Both of us are happy about that. 

Thursday, March 01, 2018

He "sings" like a pig caught under the farm gate

Yesterday was “the day”, the one we mark on the calendar and look forward to with trepidation and fear. Yesterday was booster shot and annual exam day for 'the boys’. The moment the crates are brought down from their perches in the closets the boys’ devil-may-care attitudes vanish and they slither like two furred snakes under the beds.

I drop a big towel in each crate, along with a generous tablespoon of catnip. They may not do any good, from the cats’ point of view, but they make me feel better. Of course we can’t just open the crate doors and issue invitations. But fortunately our boys tend to panic and run from bed to bed, and thus can be scooped up during a transit.

In turn each one’s crate is stood on end. Hobbes has to be put in head first, Smokey back feet first. Doors secured, crates loaded on the cart, winter layers on, pocketbook in hand, trusty cane in hand and we are ready for our driver, Gail. While we wait for her to arrive, Hobbes begins to warm-up for the performance, because Hobbes is not *just* the quirky orange tabby who loves strawberry yogurt, steals plastic bags and destroys cardboard boxes, Hobbes is a Felis silvestris catus with ambitions. 

Hobbes resting after his performance 
Hobbes wants to go on the musical stage, and not just to sing in Jubilee Auditorium productions of “Cats” or “The Lion King”. Hobbes aspires to sing on the stages of the Great Opera Houses of the World; The Metropolitan, Vienna Staatsoper, La Scala Milan, The Liceu in Barcelona, Teatro di San Carlo, The Royal Opera House in London. I could go on, but you get the drift.

For this trip, as far as I could determine, he chose as his performance piece an intensely dramatic aria from Verdi’s 'Otello', loosely translated as “God, how could you?”. Verdi used Shakespeare's tale of Othello as his libretto, so of course you know the story; the insecure older man, an African general, marries the young and beautiful blonde Desdemona, who is devoted to him. But his wicked, jealous and bigoted second-in-command, Iago, manages to convince Otello that his wife is unfaithful. Otello, heartbroken and maddened by grief, kills her, and then himself. But just before he dies he realizes he has been tricked and kills Iago as well.

You may see Placido Domingo’s incredible performance of this piece, taken from the film produced and directed by Franco Zeffirelli, here, though the audio seems to have been tampered with and Domingo's magnificent tenor has been dropped into a decidedly baritone range. Still gorgeous.

Sadly Hobbes has yet to attain Domingo’s command of melody or tempo or… to have exhibited any musical talent whatsoever, and as a result his interpretation lost a good deal in execution. However, if enthusiasm counts he cannot be faulted. He went into full throttle when our front door opened and his performance continued unabated until his crate door was opened at the vet’s. How so many decibels can emerge from a 6.5 kilo (14 pound) cat is a mystery to everyone who hears him.

Once out of the crate and on the exam table he was the proverbial pussy cat, docile and friendly, never even flinched when he got his needle. And he was eager and delighted to get back in his crate for the ride home. He sang a less onerous aria on the way back, possibly something from Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘HMS Pinafore’.

Smokey is not a G&S fan and grumbled at him the entire way home. There were sharp words between them afterwards. But Smokey was fine with the ride. As long as Smokey can see I’m in the car he’s chill. Smokey’s outing was extraordinary for an entirely different reason. Tomorrow, I hope, I’ll have time to write about that.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Massager with Menaces

Happy Saturday the 17th of February, hackiedy, hack, hack, hack. No, not me. I quit hacking a week ago, but Himself, Lord and Master of the Household, is still barking like a doberman with a bone caught in his throat. Poor old dear. 

On the bright side - think of all the industries we’re supporting; the people who sell cough syrup, the makers of the nasty stuff, the ones who brewgrow, *grow*, the ingredients for it, and presumably say incantations over it. Then there have been the innumerable pills and hot toddies at all hours. 

One morning about 3:00 am in a fit of desperation I got out the teeth-rattling vibrator Ian bought me a couple of years back, hoping it might help my back. This thing has two golf-ball-sized heads which heat up and then proceed to “vibrate” with all the finesse of a jack hammer. The “golf balls” are set in a head which lies at a 90 degree angle to a 14” long handle so, (supposedly) the sufferer can run it up and down their back, with the relaxing effect of being knocked down and trampled by 10,000 Japanese businessmen disembarking from a crowded commuter train at 5:25 pm. 

At any rate, I climbed on our step-stool, pulled the “massager with menaces” down from a high shelf where it lives in a bucket, plugged it in and proceeded to give my DH the pummelling of his 77 years. After a few minutes he assured me that he felt entirely, or nearly so, cured. Or at least I think that’s what he said. He gasped, “Enough! No more!” and fell over on the bed coughing.  

I’m not sure how much good it did. I’ve offered to do it again, but he’s always been busy tidying his toenails or just about to take a nap whenever I’ve asked. 

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Awaken! Take heed. Do not...

Let me respectfully remind you,
Life and death are of supreme importance.
Time swiftly passes by
and opportunity is lost.
Each of us should strive to awaken. 
Awaken! Take heed. 
Do not squander your life.
~ Evening Gatha ~ 

January 3rd has slipped away to be replaced by the 4th. What a month the days between the early hours of December 3rd 2017 to January 3rd 2018 turned out to be for us. A far cry from any Christmas season we’ve ever experienced before, frightening, dangerous, painful and exhausting but in the end also filled with the blessings of family and love. 

As described in my last post on the 10th of December, Tony had surgery on the 4th. He recovered quite slowly to begin with and wasn’t able to come home until the 22nd. He now has a walking frame and some other medical equipment and is progressing well, though he’s still in quite a bit of pain. 

I spent at least a couple of hours with him most days, often going by taxi, because the driving quickly got to be too much for me. Ian was my hero during this time. Though it meant he had to work 14 hours a day, he made time to drive 45 minutes across the city, pick me up and drive me 20-25 minutes to the hospital, then sit and work in the hospital cafeteria while I visited with his dad, then drive home again and work until the wee hours. 

We’d barely gotten Tony settled when our younger son Zak and his wife Nicole arrived from Switzerland. We were *so* delighted to see them. We hadn’t seen Zak since the summer of 2014 and though we talk every week via FaceTime, we’d never met Nicole face-to-face before. We certainly weren’t disappointed. She is as beautiful inside as she is outside and we love her even more for having met her in person. Smokey the cat went particularly ga-ga over her. You’d think he *never* got any petting in this household, and the wretch let her comb out matts he wouldn’t let me touch, *and* he let her trim his nails. If it hadn’t been such a triumph I’d be jealous. HA! 

There had been no time for decorating the tree, buying presents other than some I’d bought during the summer - pickings were thin. Thankfully I had at least one small gift for everyone, and we’d gone grocery shopping so there was enough food to keep an elephant happy. 

It was all good, we talked and laughed and enjoyed each others’ company, despite the -35 temperature outside. 

Zak got busy and did a dozen or so small repairs to the place, fixed a leaky faucet, replaced a doorknob, fixed a closet door handle, installed a shelf to keep Hobbes from jumping behind the washing machine, painted the dresser in our bedroom, cutting an access hole in the back of the new sideboard so I can plug in the LED light strips, etc etc etc. So many excellent improvements! 

And Nicole, bless her heart. The Swiss are OCD about clean-clean-overdrive. Though my house was cleaned the day before by our housekeeper, Nicole tut-tutted over the amount of great-unwashed left behind, and dove in. When I expressed concern she grinned and said, “I *love* cleaning, I find it so relaxing!” Yeah, I sit zazen for that. Maybe I should try scrubbing baseboards. 

We had other guests as well, of a more temporary nature, people we love and don’t see enough. Then on Saturday evening, after a week, our little birds flew the nest. We FaceTimed today and they are slowly returning to a Swiss schedule. 

January 3rd marked my 72nd birthday. Ian did some grocery shopping for me and brought dinner. We had a lovely visit afterwards. I’m so proud of my sons and their integrity and their compassion for others. 

Last night was interesting. I often have complex dreams, always in colour, but my dreams rarely include people I know. But last night I dreamed of all three of my siblings, all of whom have passed away. My brother Harrel was the 1st we lost, 20 years ago. My sister Ruby passed away in 2005 and my brother Hall in 2010. Last night all three came to me, at different times. I do hope it was just to say hello and not to tell me my time is up. My bottom didn’t hit the chair long enough to sort out and take my meds until 3:30 in the afternoon today. If I head off to parts unknown any time soon you’re going to have to find someone else to go without sleep, empty Tony’s commode, fix his favourite oatmeal in the morning, make his pills, yada yada. 

And try the Zen. It’ll help you cope. Just look for the books that are dog-eared or with pages falling out.  Awaken! Take heed. Do not squander your life.