Elegy to a furbag

She had perfect hair, and that’s saying something.  It was medium length, mostly medium brown, with highlights of grey-black and ginger and even some light…light that could have been blond or could have been white.  And, soft?  It had the most flawless texture—hard to imagine hair so soft.

Her eyes?  The most beautiful eyes, almond-shaped and a shade of green like the colour of emeralds that sparkled in the right light.  Her eyeliner, a think black rim around the top and the bottom, was perfection.

Her feet were tiny by anyone’s standards and her nails were most always clean, neat and dainty.

Until she dug them into your knee or the leather couch.

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Sammy @ 17

That was Sam, and she died last fall at nearly 18 years old.

Pretty good for a cat.

DSCN0303 (2)I’d only had her for four years, after her owners moved overseas and couldn’t keep her.  The idea of adopting a 13 year old cat was a little daunting (animal doctors and dollar signs danced in my head), but if we didn’t take her, who would? No one wants an older cat.

So we took her home and she was lovely.  Settled right in and joined the family. Loved a daily outing in the backyard and a morning snack of a few blades of grass, but was terrified of the magpies (there was clearly some sort of event, and Sammy must have come out on the losing endIMG-20140205-00059—you don’t want to screw with magpies).  Loved the fireplace and a lap whenever and wherever she could find one.

She was with me until October of last year…and got me through the rough spots—made me feel needed and loved.

Her end was sad but it was quick.  She woke up one morning and had a seizure.  This wasn’t the first time—she had had a few before.  How many I couldn’t say, but this one seemed worse as she was having trouble moving her hind legs.

I couldn’t stay home with her as I had my first interview for my new job that day, so I moved her stuff to the lower level of the condo so she had access to everything she’d need on one level.

By the time I got home she couldn’t move her back legs at all.  I picked her up and took her to the litter box and held her there while she peed; I spoon fed her her favourite food.  And I just held her.

By the middle of the night I knew this was different, and I think I knew what was coming.  I searched for overnight animal clinics, but the comments I saw about my options were so distressing that I waited until 7 am and called the vet clinic in the plaza next to my house.

I had heard great things about them, and every word was true.  They were compassionate and caring; they didn’t question my decision, and when I carried Sammy in, cradled in a blanket in a laundry basket, they let me sit with her for a while and they made her transition a quiet and peaceful one.

It was tough; I’ve had cats and dogs before and I’ve been with them all when it was time.  The first, a smart little Siamese named Curly, I couldn’t watch and instantly regretted not being there for her. And for the second, Satchie, I was out of town, and she died at home in someone else’s arms. I regretted that too–both that I wasn’t there and also that I waited too long.

Then there were our dogs and that was hard too. It’s difficult with all of them.

But Sammy: she was along for the ride all through my separation and divorce–the one constant, there in the morning and at the end of the day and was always happy to see me. She was funny and affectionate and I couldn’t bear the thought of ever replacing her.

So over the months, I’ve had a few visitors. Rent-a-cats, if you will.

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First there was Mitza, a tough little squirt from Brooklyn.  She’s been over to visit on and off;

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Then there was Cat (yes that’s her name).  She’s my son’s and he was away for a few months at the beginning of the year.  She isn’t as big as she looks; she’s just hairy.

And now, I would like you to meet:

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Ta da! Fin (left) and Alice(right) moved in about two weeks ago.  Sorry about the bad pix; they only come out for about half an hour each night, so I had to grab these shots while I could.  They live under the bed. I’m certain there will be many more, and better, photos of them as we go along.

Fin and Alice are my friend Liz’s cats; just like Sammy’s “parents”, she’s moving overseas and can’t take them.  At seven and nine years old, they might have gone a long while before finding a home. And again, I can’t imagine how they would have fared at a shelter.

Alice lived in my recliner for the first week (the one Cat is sitting on)–took a while to find her (Cat hid there too) but it turns out there’s a box at the bottom of the chair that is apparently a perfect fit for a cat–and Fin just stayed under the bed.  Now they both spend the better part of the day under the bed.

But they’re slowly working their way out. They come out when I’m at my computer (I just saw them both a few minutes ago) and they tear around a bit at night…they play a bit with the basket of toys I’ve gathered over the years, and they do love to be brushed.

So now the house and my heart are both full again.  Quiet so far, but full.

I see that many of my friends are going through the same thing–losing pets and gaining new ones–and I got to thinking that perhaps, for those of us with kids, it’s kind of cyclical.  It seems for some whose kids are younger, they’re just losing their first round of four legged friends; for people like me, it might be their second or third.

Whatever the case, I know it’s sad–heartbreaking, even– and the first reaction is to say you’ll never do it again. But I have to say I’ve never regretted investing the time, money, and heart into having another little buddy, or two, in the house.

Please go ahead and share your memories in the comments section!

Yoga in the barnyard…..or…you have goat to be kidding me.i

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(sorry, that was the best pun I could muster—it’s not as easy as you think)

It was late on a Sunday morning climbing towards noon as I drove up a rural highway I hadn’t traveled in years.  The sky was light blue and tinged with wisps of high white clouds, and the first hints of the forest fires on the other side of the Rockies obscured the mountain range and brought a haze to the fields surrounding the road as I headed north.

The fields themselves were mostly varying shades of green, alternating from bright to dark to something in the middle; scattered about was the occasional patch of dirt or an incredibly bright yellow triangle highlighting the canola flowers just beginning to bloom.

It was hot, and going to get hotter, but I shut off the AC, turned down the radio and opened the windows to take in the sounds and the smells of the countryside.

After a time, I turned off onto a small side road where the cars dropped away and the houses became fewer and the DSCN1045 (2)asphalt rose and fell quite a bit more than out on the highway. At one point, I stopped the car by pulling into one of those mud paths that lead into fields that seem to go on forever—I was early to my destination—and so I got out and looked around.  It really was quiet, save for the sound of the summer bugs jumping from one flower or plant to the next.

It was such a beautiful day, and it reminded me that, like most of us, I don’t make enoughgoat 2 (2) effort to get out of my own space and into someone else’s.

I was out on the middle of the country because my friend Candace was unable to attend a unique event, and so she asked if I would like to go in her place.

I didn’t hesitate, because if there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that you can talk yourself out of anything if you wait long enough.  Also that someone else will take advantage of the offer and you’ll lose your chance.

I came to a sign, hand painted in red on a slat of what looked like an old-fashioned black board–that slate grey slab that always had a sheen of white dust on it.

Farm Stand, it said.  And then, just below it, another sign, same size, same paint.

Goat Yoga.  With an arrow pointing up a driveway.

Yep.

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Heading into the woods

So there I was, heading up a long pathway into the woods, hoping no one would be coming the other way because there wasn’t enough room to turn around or even pull over.  Good thing everyone was headed in the same direction.

I pulled into a clearing and parked the car, where I was met by the nicest family you’d ever want to know—Dawn, Bruce and son Chris Kay and his wife Jessa all came out and introduced themselves and welcomed me to Early Dawn Farm.

I walked to the edge of pastureland and looking south and west I could see fields and hills and pines and the creek far down below, winding along the edge of their property.  It was incredibly beautiful.  There was a farmhouse, some pens, a barn and a building under construction too, which I would later find out is about to become a mecca for people who want to learn about the art of homesteading.

And the Kays should know.  Dawn and Bruce moved here more than three decades ago, with a little baby and another on the way. They fell in love with the land, bought it and set up a homestead; no running water or electricity for the first while—that takes guts!

It also goes back to what I said about getting out of your own space—but on a whole other level.

They got some animals and Dawn started making goat’s milk cheese, but then things, as they do, took a twist.  I’m going to let her tell you a bit of her story, and you can listen.

So, today on the farm, there are geese and chickens and sheep and goats. Lots of goats—mamas and babies and the boys in the back. And, as you heard if you listened to our chat, we were about to get into the pen with them.

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Dawn and her ladies

Here’s the thing.  I am not a fan of yoga.  I had to dig around for a pair of pants and a shirt I knew I’d be comfortable in (I changed three times), I wasn’t sure whether I still had a mat purchased several years ago in a feeble attempt to do something on a regular basis (if I do, I couldn’t find it, so I brought a towel and blanket as suggested), I made sure I had water.  I was game to give it all a try.

Ten of us lumbered into the pen where the moms

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The class begins

and tots were lounging.  We tucked our cameras and water away, spiked out shoes and boots on the fence posts to keep them out of goat’s reach, and settled in our places.

At first the goats were very excited to see us; they’re curious little guys, almost as friendly as dogs, with the craziest eyes I’ve ever seen—horizontal slits the size of the coin opening in a piggy bank. And I learned that if they rub your head with theirs, it’s their way of being friendly. I got lots of rubs.

We started and once they got used to us, and the breeze died down and the sun heated up, they looked for corners of shade to tuck into and sat back and watched (probably in mild amusement, I’m guessing) as the humans rolled around in their pen.

They did what goats will do and Dawn cleaned up after them, sweeping the pellets away and replacing damp—okay soaked—blankets with fresh ones.

It was really, really hot, so after a while, I just rolled over onto my belly and played with

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Annalise with a friend (I think this was Pearl–they all have names, of course)

the mama goat sitting in the shade at the head of my blanket. I’m sure Annalise, the yoga instructor, saw that I was goofing off, but this was truly a no pressure kind of thing. Much less judgement than in other yoga settings I’ve experienced.

And then it was over.  We all had lots of water and then stayed and chatted a while, and as I drove back through the birch trees to the roadway, I passed the new building where Dawn told me they’re going to be opening the new cheese making facility and teaching homesteading skills such as canning and preserving and carpentry.  Hmmm, I could go for a preserving class….

And as I hit the city limits, I thought about the day, and realized  that the best adventures often come to you when you leave your own comfort zone…when you take the time to learn something new, from someone new.

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Click here for Early Dawn on FB and here for Early Dawn on Instagram

He’s the Man: Watching Joe Jackson, again, for real….

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I can’t believe I’ve lived in Calgary for as long as I have and have never, ever been to the Folk Music Festival.  Not sure exactly why–time of year, crowds and the inherent hassle that comes with a big event (not that that’s stopped me before), a lineup that hasn’t stopped me in my tracks–you know–the kind of acts where you say–that’s nice, but is it worth the effort?

So this year, when the lineup was announced, I took a look, as I always do, and one of the headliners caught my eye.

Joe Jackson.  No, no relation to Michael, as I had to explain to my mother.  Joe Jackson, the British blues-jazz-new wave-all around talented musician.

It wouldn’t be first time I’d seen him…

(what follows is a modified version of a short piece I wrote about a year and a half ago; yes, I’m a little…..what word do I want…embarrassed, uncomfortable, self conscious? telling this story but, I think it’s a good one…and hell, I was in my 20’s and up for anything…and in fairness, the blinds were up.)

Flashback, 1980, ’81, ’82, ’83….. I was living on the east side of Manhattan, not really the Lower East Side, not really the East Village, not even Gramercy Park, or Stuyvesant Town or Peter Cooper Village, the complex of residential towers spanning from 14th to 23rd street and containing more than 11 thousand apartments–my street was sort of a no-man’s land between them all. 

I lived on a tree-lined block with mostly low rise apartment buildings–no more than seven or eight stories, most of them tenement buildings, as they are called; some are private houses (rumor had it that Stevie Wonder lived somewhere on the block), but most of us lived in walk ups with small living spaces, window air conditioners and fire east 18escapes front and back, a stoop where you caught up on the neighborhood gossip and comings-and-goings in the morning with a coffee or at night with a beer in a bag (back then you had to hide your alcohol in public–no idea what the rules are now), a “tar beach” on the roof and fire hydrants up the block that, when the temperatures spiked in the summer, were opened with regularity (if you’ve never run through a fire hydrant, you should try it sometime).

My place was at the back of my building on the second floor, a little two room railroad apt 2 (2)flat (one room after another): kitchen and living space in the front room, long hall with a bath and then a small bedroom with a loft bed and a burglar-bar covered window looking out onto the weedy backyard below. And it had cockroaches. Blech.

I worked just a few blocks away, in a neighborhood bar and restaurant, with the police precinct station house right around the corner and the police academy down the next block.

So there were cops, yes, but there were also a lot of neighborhood people, who represented a little bit of everything: actors and actresses, guys who worked for the papers, professional photographers, stock brokers, blue collar guys, transient construction teams, a bookie or two and other people up to things that weren’t exactly legal, well dressed men and women who came from their uptown and Wall Street jobs each day back to their home base for a beer or a glass of wine  and some friendly company. 

Many of us became family-away-from-family. We hung out together and we always had each other’s backs.   It was a good time in a good place.

The bar is gone–closed down less than a year after I left the city.  Makes me kinda sad–it’s like your parents moved as soon as you left the house, or they tore your high school down when you left for college…so I’ve always felt a little rudderless.

But when I go back, I do still stroll the neighborhood on occasion (notice this is all in American spelling today), and very early on Easter Sunday last year, when it was quiet and the sun was just beginning to spill over the rooftops of the Stuy Town buildings and onto the streets, I found myself wandering down Second Avenue.

My building’s still there, but it looks as though maybe someone has bought it and tried to clean it up a bit–most likely reflected in rents I can’t even fathom. Or maybe someone paid a million bucks for a couple of rooms, who knows?

That morning, I cut into a quiet cross street a little further down Second that felt familiar, and I remembered in a flash that I once knew people who lived on this particular block.    

My dear friends Paul (rest in peace) and Kenny lived in walk up apartment halfway down the street.  Roommates–I think they met in the bar–Paul was a graphic designer and Ken a freelance writer from Canada (yes, put two and two together–he is the one who talked me into moving to Canada). 

I’d only been there to hang out with them once as I can recall. Must have been 30, 35 years ago; the buildings at that end of the block are still there, which is a miracle in itself.

So back to the early 80’s we go: One night at the bar, the three of us were sitting around drinking and talking (I was a bartender for a few years).  It was a quiet night, probably a Monday as I would have been off; we may have been the only three people there.  Looking for some level of amusement we obviously weren’t finding at the bar, we got into a discussion about what else there was to do in the neighborhood, without much success.

You know, it was one of those frustrating “what do you want to do?”, “I dunno, whatever you want to do…” kind of conversations. And it went on for a while.

Until one of them, I can’t remember which one, said, “Well, you wanna go watch Joe Jackson?”

What?

Turned out these guys happened to look out their apartment windows one night and, directly across the street in the building across the way, lived Jackson.

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Joe Jackson’s building.

Well this sounded very intriguing, and it was certainly more interesting than what we were up to. So….we bought a six pack (and I dunno, maybe some other stuff too) and we climbed the stairs to their apartment, popped open our beers, and turned out the lights.

Sure enough, a short time later, there he was, walking into his place. Joe Jackson. Now, this was when he had just become famous, so this was pretty cool.

He was tall and thin, wearing jeans and a white t shirt with a black jacket on over top; his hair was short, and he smoked. A lot.  He was alone.

He just walked in, tossed his keys down, and moved back and forth, in and out of his rooms, doing normal things. 

We only watched him for a little while, probably because a) it was a little creepy and b) it was boring, because he was normal and c) we had most likely run out of beer.

I mentioned this to Kenny just a couple of years ago; while what I remembered was watching Joe Jackson by himself, all he could remember was the stunning, long legged models who were often entertained by Jackson….’course he lived there, so I’m sure he saw more than we did that night.

That’s it. That’s the story, as I remember it. And it all came back to me that Easter Sunday morning on the Lower East Side. 

OK, so back to 2018. My chance to actually see Joe Jackson perform, and he was wonderful.  Played for more than an hour and a half, voice as strong as ever–some songs I knew and some I didn’t, really great vibe from the crowd…makes me wonder why I’ve waited so long to see the FolkFest.

And Joe Jackson.

(sorry, I was leaning on the fence and people were dancing all around, hence the shakiness–yeah, that’s what it was….also be patient–may take a while to buffer)  The lyrics on Is She Really Going Out With Him are  particularly pertinent to this post.

 

You meet the nicest people….

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This…plus a credit card, a little cash and a couple pairs of underwear…and you’re good to go.

I went on my first solo trip in a very, very long time last month.

I didn’t realize it at first, because I’ve travelled a lot of places by myself. I fly to New York to visit family and friends all the time and no one goes with me; I’ve been to Europe and all over Canada on business; I’ve gone many places, an adult alone, with a child in tow.

But as a friend explained to me today, this is the first time in a long time I’ve gone on vacation alone.

Continue reading “You meet the nicest people….”

Going Back….

 

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Plus ça change, plus ça même chose….

K, so it’s the first weekend of Stampede and I can see the fireworks waay off in the distance as they explode over Stampede Park.  They’re pretty far away—I can’t hear them—but the view from my apartment is pretty cool.

It’s super hot during the day—the kind of heat that causes the clouds to bubble up at the end of the day, and threaten to drop a pound or two of hail onto your garden, or worse, the hood of your car.

It’s that heat that’s just unbearable—the kind that drags you down and makes you grateful for a respite in an air-conditioned restaurant or pub or club.

It was just like this a year ago, when I was in the middle of a life transition.

Continue reading “Going Back….”

In My Father’s Footsteps

IMG_7695It’s Father’s Day.  In case you didn’t know.

My father’s been dead for more than 50 years; he passed away when I was seven.

I can’t pretend to have fond memories of him, or any memories at all for that matter. Actually, that’s not true; I have some very vague recollections of a handful of specific events—some good, some not so good–but that’s about it.

Continue reading “In My Father’s Footsteps”

Looking for a few good…books….

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These were my dad’s…I don’t know that I’ve ever read one from cover to cover

I spend too much time my electronic devices.

My phone is usually the first thing I pick up in the morning and the last thing I plug in at night. Yes, I still have an alarm clock; I was just thinking about this the other day–I will most likely keep using it until it dies and then probably not replace it, because why?

Then I go for the iPad.  I have two; one is ancient but still works, and the other is a newer version, complete with key pad and lovely all-in-one carrying case (ok, it’s not lovely, but it works).

Continue reading “Looking for a few good…books….”