Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The cost of a holiday


Sure, we had fun on our recent trip to New Orleans, but Frankie and Petunia didn't enjoy the experience too much.

Petunia, for whom the phrase scaredy-cat was invented, spent the entire week hiding in the house. Both neighbourhood families who came in to check on things spent a lot of time scouring the house for her, but no way was she coming out. It's a good thing food was disappearing from her bowl with extreme regularity (there's nothing wrong with Petunia in the appetite department) or our good neighbours might have thought Petunia was a figment of our imagination.

Don't feel too bad for her, though. She got her own when we came back. I think we opened the door for her "let-me-in, no, let-me-out" dance about 57 times within our first hour home.

And Frankie. Poor Frankie. Poor sensitive, dear, sweet Frankie. You can feel sorry for him. We knew our going away was going to be rough on him, so we did our very best to find a good place for him to be. Friends are pretty much out of the question, since Frankie can't be left at home alone. We have good friends, but that's a lot to ask. And we didn't want to leave him in a cage in a kennel on a cold cement floor.

So we called around, and talked to a lot of people, and finally decided on a local kennel run by a couple who were willing to bring him into their home with a few other senior and special needs dogs, rather than have him with the general doggy population. We brought Frankie for a visit, checked them out, and decided it was the best of our choices.


He was safe, and well cared for, but really stressed. How do we know? When we picked him up he had his stressed out Cujo buggy dog eyes, and had licked one of his front paws raw. We know those symptoms well, from the days when we were first confronted with his separation anxiety.

It breaks our hearts. If only there was some way to be sure our pets know we will be coming home.

Now, after a few days of his regular routine, Frankie's eyes are his own again, and we have our sweet boy back. But his healing paw is driving him nuts, and he won't leave it alone. We tried a sock, we tried a velcro-fastened bootie. But Frankie is a dog who made a hobby of escaping from crates and closed rooms. Do you think a bootie would stand in his way?

So today we resorted to The Cone. Frankie is being a good sport about it, but he's having a hard time adjusting to his changed dimensions. Kim had to carry him up the stairs because when he looked down as he tried to climb up the cone would catch on the edge of the treads. Our champion athlete who could catch any ball thrown keeps bumping into walls and cupboards. And he keeps looking at us with those beautiful sweet eyes, and we know he's thinking "It's bad enough you left me, now you have to subject me to this indignity?"

That's the cost of our holiday: psychological trauma inflicted on our beloved pets.

It's making us think twice - no, forty-seven times - about our next holiday.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Nawlins, y'all

The Pontalba Building at the edge of Jackson Square

Did you miss me? Last week Kim and I took a trip to seek out a little sunshine, some history, and lots of good music. Where did we go? New Orleans, of course, and we had a really, really good time. 

The band Yes Ma'am on Royal Street

There was music everywhere. Royal Street, behind our hotel, was closed off to cars during the day and became a pedestrian mall with a different band busking on every corner. We heard all kinds of music, from rock 'n roll to classical violin, but mostly there were bands with a 1920s-and-30s swing-vagabond-gypsy flair, with washboards and string basses and banjos, all of which suited us just fine. Fabulous musicians, all performing for tips and CD sales. Speaking of CDs, we came home with ten...

The Froggies on Frenchman Street

The Smoking Time Jazz Club on Royal Street

We could have done nothing but wander the streets listening to the buskers and come home feeling like we'd had a real musical treat. But we also went to a number of clubs, including historic Preservation Hall...


...the Spotted Cat...

Showarama Hot Trio

... and the club called dba, where there seems to be a swing dance party in permanent session. I got swept into the dancing by a very nice young fellow who just couldn't sit still and needed a partner. Kim found this funny. I found it horrifying, but once I relaxed I actually had fun. The club was dark and it was impossible to take photos, but I think this one captures a bit of the feeling of being surrounded by a packed room full of people of all ages and sizes, furiously swing dancing and lindy-hopping.


It was a lot of fun to watch, and I am just grateful (given I was sitting six inches from the dance floor) to have escaped with all my teeth and no broken nose.

One of the things we learned about New Orleans is that nobody seems to know what gluten-free means. The world will really be a different place when the Cafe du Monde serves gluten-free beignets. They don't, currently, but I didn't let that stop me. I didn't let the prospect of a sugar-induced diabetic coma stop me, either.


Yes, I ate them, and yes, I lived to tell the tale.


Another thing we learned about New Orleans is that the people are genuinely, unbelievably friendly. Not fake humour-the-tourists friendly, but real make-eye-contact-and-smile-and-"How y'all doin' ladies?" friendly. Not just hotel employees, but regular people on the street, too. We thought Canadians were friendly, but we've got nothing on the people of New Orleans.







We chose New Orleans for our holiday as much for the history and architecture as for the music. The French Quarter reminds me of a sort of Caribbean version of Paris, which I guess it is. Maybe it's because both sets of my grandparents lived in pink houses, but I have a soft spot in my heart for the colourful Creole architecture.





Some buildings, like the Napoleon House across the street from our hotel, date to the late 18th century.


It's now a bar and restaurant, with a lovely courtyard. We ended up there for an emergency cappuccino one afternoon near the end of our trip. It's called the Napoleon House because there was a plot to spring Napoleon from his prison on St. Helena and bring him to New Orleans, where he would be installed as an honoured guest in this house. That never happened, of course, but there's more than enough atmosphere in the place to make you think it did.


We spent a couple of afternoons in cemeteries: St. Louis #1 in the Treme neighbourhood, and the Lafayette Cemetery in the Garden District, and thanks to a helpful tour guide we learned a lot about how to deal with a dead body in a location where the water table is just a few feet below ground, that ground being more of a soil sponge than actual terra firma. Above ground tombs are the answer, and the construction of them (brick covered with plaster) reminded me a lot of how an outdoor oven is built. It turns out the similarity is not accidental: with internal temperatures reaching 350 degrees during the summer months, human remains and wooden coffins deteriorate in short order. Which is a good thing, since it probably won't be too long before another body needs interring in the family crypt. When that happens the door is opened, the small pile of remaining remains is gathered up and put in the "basement" of the tomb, and the new body and coffin slid in. I don't at all mean this in a disrespectful way, but it made me think of hot composting. What an efficient and practical way of dealing with what is left of us when we die.

(And speaking of Treme, we are real fans of the HBO series, and how thrilled were we, in the Cafe Rose Nicaud on Frenchman Street, to discover that we were having breakfast right next to one of its stars? Woo hoo!)


Many tombs themselves are returning to the earth, as the families that owned and cared for them die out or scatter. The tour we joined was led by a volunteer from Save Our Cemeteries, a local group working to restore and preserve the tombs in the city's historic cemeteries. It may not have been as colourful as the vampire and voodoo tours we passed, but we felt good knowing the money we had paid for tickets would be going to a good cause.



A funeral took place the afternoon we spent in the Lafayette Cemetery in the Garden District. It was a good reminder for us that many of the tombs are still in use by local families. These fellows were waiting a little ways away waiting for the service to end and the family to leave, so they could reseal the door of the tomb.


While we were in the Garden District we wandered the streets looking at beautiful houses...


...ancient live oak trees with gravity-defying canopies...


...and the local animal population.



It doesn't seem right to write about a visit to New Orleans and not talk about Katrina. There is an exhibit at the Presbytere on Jackson Square focusing on how Louisiana has dealt with hurricanes, that taught us a little bit. Mostly what it taught me was how little I know, and how much I want to know more. There was no way I was going to be a disaster tourist and get on a bus to tour the hardest hit areas of the city, but I really wanted to learn more about how a community of people can surmount catastrophe and betrayal and abandonment in order to rebuild a unique and special culture. Just before we left I found the book 1 Dead in Attic by Chris Rose, who was a Pulitzer prize finalist for his post-Katrina columns in the Times-Picayune  - the writings that have been gathered together in this book. The short essays are full of humour and despair and stories of real people; frustration and hope and anger and irony and celebration. It has been a long time since a book has affected me this much, and I really recommend it.

And now it's lovely to be home, where the snowdrops have hit their maturity, and where the first crocuses are starting to bloom. I'm a home-body: it's wonderful to have an occasional adventure, but it's even nicer to come home.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Fresh air, a visit from a mink, and getting stuck in the coop


One day a few weeks ago Kim heard a kerfluffle in Coop #1 and popped her head in to see what was going on, only to have a rat run right over her foot as it escaped out the door.

Ick.

It wasn't until later that evening, after a few hours of researching and planning how to rid the coop of its resident rat that Kim mentioned it was a strange looking rat, a rat with a furry tail.

"You mean a squirrel?" I asked.

"No, not a squirrel," said Kim indignantly. After all, we are ex-Torontonians, and should know a squirrel when we see one. A few minutes of Google image searching later and Kim had it. It was a mink.

Mink are bad news. One mink in a closed coop can kill an entire flock in one night. We tried explaining that to our city friends, but they just wanted to know how many mink we would need to make a mink coat. Or at least a stole. We didn't find that very funny...

The good news is that mink are very territorial, and their territory is quite large. So we probably just have a mink, rather than a whole population of them. The bad news is that mink are really difficult to trap. Kim set our live trap anyway, after watching some videos on youtube about proper trap placement for catching mink (which has further convinced me that you can learn anything on youtube). She even baited it with some nice smelly salmon. Something enjoyed the salmon (on three separate occasions, no less) but it managed to do so without triggering the trap. Stupid trap.

Given all this, Kim was concerned about coop security, especially at night. During the day the chickens have a chance of running away from a predator because they're free ranging, but during the night, if a mink got into the coop, they're sitting ducks. Er, chickens. Coop #1 has a sturdy wooden door, but Kim had been leaving the door of Coop #2 open at night for ventilation, using only a screen door to keep the chickens in and other critters out. So she modified the screen door with a wooden panel at the bottom and an extra layer of hardware cloth. 

But that reduced the amount of ventilation Coop #2 was getting, and too little ventilation is really bad for chickens. They need lots of fresh air to stay healthy. So Kim installed two new gable vents in Coop #2, and while she was at it, a whole row of under-the-eaves ventilation holes along the front and back of Coop #1.



That takes care of fresh air and a visit from a mink. You're just waiting to hear about someone getting stuck in the coop, aren't you? That would be Kim. While I was out of town, no less. The first I heard about it was that evening when I called home to check in and Kim told me the door to Coop #2 had been blown shut behind her when she was checking for eggs. I can only imagine the thoughts racing through her mind as she heard the door thunk shut. (And the words on her lips, but this is a PG blog so we won't go there.) Apparently she thought for a minute of two about kicking the door open like they do on TV, or shouting and shouting until someone heard her. But in the end she just set aside her dignity and crawled on her hands and knees out the chicken door.

That would be this door.


All of which lead to the last improvement to the coops: a string threaded from the latch to the inside of the coop, so nobody ever has to crawl through the chicken door again.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Snowdrop statistics


The sun came out briefly the other day and I suddenly realized the perennial beds are full of blooming snowdrops. I'm always surprised by this: I notice the first green shoots and then all of a sudden there are white nodding flowers everywhere.

I got curious about the date - after all, it seems so darn early. What sane plant would be even poking its head above ground right now, never mind blooming? So I went back into the Mucky Boots archives and found each year's first post about snowdrops, and it turns out we're bang on schedule:

2012: February 13
2011: February 6
2010: January 19

On schedule except for 2010, that is. That year they were making up for their very late appearance (because of the horrible winter) the year before.



They are such a happy sight. Reassurance and anticipation all in one little white and green bundle.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

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