Fuzz therapy

This isn’t just one of my favourite comic strips, it’s a way of life.

I’ve almost always had cats, and currently have two old-to-ancient ones in my home now. They are sweet, and soft, and love me unconditionally (but more so when I’m feeding or petting them). They greet me at the door when I come home, and curl up with me when I’m cozy and when I’m sad (well, more like when I stop moving).

But kittens, they are not. Their version of playing is to rub their heads blissfully against their catnip toys and to curl up on my chest in the middle of the night so I dream of suffocation. I’m not even tempted to adopt kittens, opting for older, more sedate cats, and yet the power of cute is undeniable.

But did you know there are a lot of kitten pictures and videos on the internet? I KNOW, RIGHT?! Even better, a subset of the catosphere involves people who open their hearts and Instagram accounts to rescue cats needing temporary homes because shelters are full, or not equipped to deal with the very young or ill.

At some point pre-election, when the news led to anxiety and insomnia, following accounts that document the lives of foster cats and kittens became my way to self-soothe. Some accounts I later unfollowed, but the ones that stuck were the ones that told a story – or more accurately, many little furry stories, one adorable picture and caption at a time. They remain a comfort when I want an escape from the news of the day or the sadness of losing someone I loved, so I’ve come to embrace my crazy catladyhood.

One of the first stories I encountered was little Ollie, an impossibly tiny orange kitten found in a window well with badly infected eyes. The pictures were initially difficult to look at, but he got medical care and a foster home through New York’s Beth Stern (Howard’s wife) and he’s now a beautiful ginger living a pampered life with fellow blind former foster cat Wonder.

try not to die from cuteness overload

A post shared by Ollie And Wonder (@ollieandwonder) on

There was the time Nikki from Las Vegas was on a TNR job – that’s trap neuter release, a way of managing feral cat populations – and caught three blind kittens in her traps. The frightened feral siblings were just young enough that she thought she had a chance of socializing them and making them adoptable. As the weeks went on we witnessed the setbacks and successes, and watched as she sent Sunny and Russ off to their loving forever homes.

And we cheered when Nikki, who has fostered hundreds of cats and whose frequent refrain to commenters is “NO I’m not keeping him/her”, adopted Stella herself, unable to break the bond they’d developed.

What did the toilet paper ever do to you? #blindcat

A post shared by Stella (@can_do_stella) on

Nikki also shared the journey of Bunny, who was rescued from difficult circumstances and nursed back to health. There was a period where it looked like the half-bald, underweight kitten wasn’t going to make it, but she now lives fluffily and healthily in a cat version of Disneyland with her forever family, who have built cat climbing walls in their loft apartment.

Carrying 3 plates of food and a glass of goat milk in that belly (notice that her head hasn't grown at all since she moved to LA )

A post shared by Mamacita, Bonita & Bunny Inc. (@cats.without.jobs) on

Cindy from Seattle shared with us little Lucy, wobbily navigating the big world with a mysterious neurological issue, and broke our hearts with the news that she had succumbed to a seizure. The animal rescue world has many heartbreaking stories, and while the accounts I follow focus on the happy journey from vulnerable rescue to adoptable kitten, the endings aren’t always happy. But we’ll always have Cindy’s pep talk to Lucy keep us going:

We all needed a pep talk today.

A post shared by Kitten foster home Seattle, WA (@foster_kittens) on

My current love is Ducky (aka Dove), one of seven #theWhitekittens fostered by Vancouver Islander Kristi — who is as kind and welcoming to her followers as she is to her cats. Her latest batch of mostly white babies were surrendered by the woman who had rescued the mama cat, after mama lost interest in feeding them. Ducky in particular was dangerously underweight so Kristi supplemented her kitten food with bottle feedings. Now the tiny fuzzball with permanent bedhead outweighs at least one of her sisters and is heading out for adoption this weekend, along with the rest of the adorable pack who sleep together, beg for food together, and do yoga together. Kristi’s word for what I’m feeling is shappy — sad to lose the virtual connection to these lovely creatures, happy that they will get permanent families of their own.

Shappy is what I feel about the animal rescue world, too. There are far too many adoptable animals everywhere, and too many heartbreaking stories, and too many awful people. But the foster parents of Instagram are all heart, and the kittens of Instagram make even the darkest days feel a little better, one purr at at time.

If you've ever wondered what yoga with seven kittens looks like…I give you Exhibit A 🐱🕉 #yogakitten . background music:Snatam Kaur

A post shared by Kitten Foster Home 🐱 (@whiskersnpurrs) on

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The legacy of Denis McGrath


Reposted from TV, eh?:

So much has and will be posted about the Denis McGrath-sized hole left in the world after his death last night. A small part of his legacy is that without him TV, eh? would likely not exist. In an alternate, Denis-less universe, one we’re struggling to imagine now, I most likely would never have thought about the issues that led me to create it, and even if I had, it would have ended with a whimper not long after its experimental launch.

The origin story of the website is that while covering television and movies online I became fascinated with the way TV is made, with so much control in the hands of the writer rather than the director. I started following TV writer blogs, including Denis’s influential Dead Things on Sticks, to learn more about the process. That lively comments section is where I met the online Canadian TV community and began to realize … there’s an online Canadian TV community?

Obviously I knew Canadian shows existed but from Denis’s posts I realized there were a whole lot I’d never heard of, despite writing about TV. I wrote an article lamenting that fact, wishing for an online resource like a TVTattle or Futon Critic, and an anonymous commenter asked me why I didn’t start such a site myself — a question I immediately dismissed. I had no skin in this game. Just Denis’s voice in my head about the struggles of the Canadian TV industry.

I went to the Banff TV Festival to cover a David Shore (House) master class, among others, and while there I sat in a town hall discussion about how Canadian TV should appeal more to international audiences. I wondered why networks weren’t more concerned with letting me know about these shows first. Through it all Denis was a sounding board and a huge influence in my understanding of the issues at play, and he encouraged my attempts to write about them from the audience perspective.

That was when I quietly put up a bare-bones site and started posting stories and media releases about Canadian shows. I let a few people know, including Denis. I’m grateful to many but his support meant everything. He championed the idea from the first, and through his influence helped make it and me feel part of that Canadian TV online community almost immediately. What started as a whim suddenly felt valuable, because he saw value in it.

Through the years the TV, eh? charity auctions benefited enormously from his contributions, his bids, and his promotion. He harassed industry folks to donate and his followers to bid, helping raise thousands of dollars for Kids Help Phone. He was a tireless promoter of the fundraising campaign that helped relaunch the site after I’d closed it down a couple years ago. I don’t think anyone escaped his haranguing to contribute what they could.

We ranted at the crazy industry together and drove each other crazy at times. But he was always supportive and generous with the site and with me. We dated for a time, years ago, but long after that he continued to offer support and advice. Some of the nicest things anyone has ever said about me came from him. He valued some core things about me that others have occasionally tried to make me feel badly about, and I keep his voice in my head at those times. He had a big voice and a bigger heart, and he leaves an enormous legacy.

I wish everyone and every cause could have a champion like Denis McGrath. I wish for his wife, family, friends and colleagues some comfort that a Canadian TV community he helped create is grieving with them.

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Swimming with sharks in the Galapagos

 

There came a point in the trip where I questioned the wisdom of swimming toward the man yelling “shark!” That point came later than you might expect.

I’d only been snorkeling once before, years before, from the beach in Cozumel. I mostly remembered feeling claustrophobic and sunburned, plus marveling at the colourful fish.

In the Galapagos, our group was swimming with the sharks. And the turtles, jellyfish, sea lions, an octopus, a penguin or two, and even more colourful fish. When one of us would see something exciting we’d yell for the group to come see, but usually it was our guide who spotted them first. Including a lot of sharks. And once, toward the end of that outing, the logical part of my brain started overruling the awe-struck part of my brain and I started to hyperventilate, logically.

That’s when I fell in love with snorkeling. I realized the claustrophobia, the struggle to calm my breath, the healthy fear of sharks, had all disappeared until I felt like a privileged guest in this underwater world.

The Galapagos Islands had been near the top of my travel wish-list forever. I knew of Darwin’s evolution epiphanies, the diversity of animals unique to the volcanic islands – blue footed boobies! giant tortoises! marine iguanas! sea lions as far as the eye can see! – and the remoteness which makes traveling there more difficult (and expensive).

I didn’t realize how many people live in the collection of islands, but meeting locals helped me feel like a privileged guest in their world as well. Except in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz, whose town centre felt like every port of call, tacky tourist shops and all.

I have an aversion to cruises so when the opportunity came up to finally go to the Galapagos, I landed on the Galapagos Unbound trip from ROW Adventures. For a couple of nights we slept in tents on an isolated beach close to sea lions and hermit crab tracks, and the rest of the time in charming hotels (and charming is not code for dilapidated in this case).

It was my first time with that company and it was a mostly positive experience. It helped that I was one of the last people standing amid the gastroenteritis that blazed through our small group.

In the initial kayaking excursion, my friend and I were champions in our first time paddling together. The second excursion … well, we didn’t capsize or get swept out into the open ocean, but not for want of trying. Because we had seemed to know what we were doing the first time, our guides left us behind to fend for ourselves so we finally arrived at the destination exhausted and cranky.

But then we went snorkeling again, and crankiness couldn’t survive in this volcanic landscape inhabited by otherworldly creatures.

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Cramming in Kauai

 

“Oh shit!”

I heard the words and so never did see the wave that inspired them. When your raft captain yells an expletive, you know to hang tight to the rope and duck your head. You also know the heightened sense of adventure is what you paid for, so no panic necessary.

The Na Pali coast is the most spectacular feature of Kauai, and that’s saying something considering the Hawaiian island is also the home of “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon. The Na Pali cliffs, standing up to 4,000 feet (1,200 meters), dwarf even the ocean below. And the ocean sure dwarfed the 14-person inflatable raft we were clinging to.

The bumpiness factor was nothing compared to some trips, we were assured, yet we also knew that if ocean conditions are too rough along the Na Pali coast, the rafts are diverted south, or cancelled. Capt. Andy’s offers more sedate catamaran tours, and they are serious about making you consent over and over again to having no medical issues that would be exacerbated by bouncing on the ocean for four hours, but the little inflatable vessels are closer to the water and therefore to the numerous Spinner dolphins and sea turtles we encountered (I may have squealed every time one broke the surface), and rafts can be maneuvered into the caves carved into the cliffs. I have no regrets. After hours of clenching the rope in a death grip, my hands might disagree.

That was just one of the Kauai adventures I crammed into three days. As a travel junkie with not unlimited funds to indulge the habit, I wonder about the wisdom of subscribing to YVR Deals’ email list. (The man behind the deals, Chris Myden, also runs sites for flights originating from several other Canadian cities). How could I resist a $300 flight – including taxes – to Hawaii, even if limited vacation time and budget for such spontaneity meant only three days on the ground? I’m not a beach person, but I have turned into something of a beach-adjacent person.

I went kayaking on the calm Hanalei river, snorkeled and tiptoed around a sleeping seal in Poipu, hiked near the colourful Waimea Canyon, and took a surfing lesson from the Kauai Surf School – which turned out to be more of a boogie boarding lesson, but maybe next time I’ll actually stand up. And then in accidentally perfect timing, just before getting on the big plane home I took a small plane tour over the island with Wings Over Kauai, seeing from the air what I’d just seen from the ground, a new perspective of those stunning cliffs and canyon, of Hanalei Bay, and of Mount Waialeale, one of the rainiest spots on earth (like, even rainier than Vancouver).

Kauai is a small island — fourth largest of the Hawaiian islands and geologically oldest— but from above it was easy to see I had covered a lot of ground in three days – and a fair bit of bumpy ocean.

BTW:

  • No-fuss kayaking: Unlike some rental places, Kayak Hanalei has a private dock leading to the water, meaning you don’t have to strap a boat to your rental car. Reservations aren’t required for rentals, which are for 24 hours; if you rent later in the day (a discount is available after 1 pm) you can come back the following day for more. Stand-up paddle boards are available, and they offer tours as well.
  • A meal to remember: For the most part we grabbed fish tacos and shaved ice on the run, or threw together our own meals, but dinner at Art Cafe Hemingway in Kapaa was a lovely indulgence. My tongue still dreams about the baked pear with blue castello cheese, pine nuts and thyme honey.
  • Mobile massage: After getting buffeted by the ocean in various ways, a lomi lomi massage was the perfect way to end a day. Aloha Massage Kauai will come to you, or they have studios in some of the major centres. You can even book online.
  • Water water everywhere, but where to shower? What to do if your flight home is in the evening, you checked out of your accommodation in the morning, and in between you’ve coated yourself in layers of sunscreen, sand and salt? One option is to savour the sticky/gritty combination on your flight home. But a free option to get all your crevices clean without shocking bystanders is the showers at the Lydgate campground not far from the airport. They offer more privacy than the ubiquitous open-air beach showers, which are more suitable for a quick rinse than a full shampoo and soap job.
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I don’t care if you like my tattoo

Photo by David Boté Estrada

Photo by David Boté Estrada

When I was young I would wait until it was unavoidable to admit my dad was dead. I wouldn’t correct the plural on “parents” but if someone asked directly about my father, well, I wasn’t about to lie, evade, or reenact the Monty Python parrot sketch.

I didn’t avoid talking about it to avoid my own pain. I was 10 months old, not yet a sentient being, when he died, so I felt an absence more than a loss. My reticence was to avoid the discomfort of others. When a child tells you her dad is dead, if you’re like most people I encountered you react as if you have just killed him yourself. My protestations that it was ok, I was too young to remember him, you haven’t picked the scab off a wound, didn’t erase the regret from faces. At a certain point I’d worry that protesting how little talking about it bothered me would make me seem freakishly cold.

In general us WASPy type people don’t like talking about death and aren’t good at it. About a decade ago I lived in Mexico for a couple of years and admired their openness and playful sense of the macabre, but whatever lessons I learned were mostly as an outsider who wished my own culture had less of the “do not disturb” attitude of talking about death.

Dealing with a loss that has rocked my foundations over the last few years has meant being more open about my brother’s death. Also? I’m an adult, and death is far less rare among acquaintances than it seemed as a fatherless child, and I buy into the philosophy that we’re all adults and we can handle a little discomfort in the service of showing our humanity to each other.

I still wondered how I would answer the first time someone asked me about my tattoo. I’d meant to get it in a place only I could see, but an aversion to pain and desire to be able to easily see it myself means it’s exposed when my ankle is. If only we lived in Victorian times I wouldn’t have had the fear of many awkward conversations to come.

I can’t remember who asked about it first, just that it was someone I didn’t know well. But I remember it being a lot easier than expected to say a simple: “It’s a memorial to my brother who loved robots.” I didn’t feel awkward, I felt relief. Since then, I answer with as much or as little detail as the situation warrants. Closer friends (and complete strangers on the internet) get the “everything’s better with robots” story.

It turns out I don’t mind being asked about the tattoo because I like being able to share in a very small way who Steve was and what he meant to me. If people regret asking, they generally don’t show it and honestly? I generally don’t care. We’re adults. Discomfort is not the worst thing we face.

Some people have made comments before asking – my realtor laughing at it, people expressing their distaste for tattoos in general. I learned that I don’t want them to feel badly, any more than people should have felt badly for talking about fathers in front of Little Diane.

I’ve also learned that I don’t care. I hadn’t considered before getting mine how personal and meaningful many tattoos are to their bearers. I hadn’t considered how welcome the question “what does it mean?” might be to someone who was showing their heart on their skin, even if they originally meant it to be on hidden skin. The tattoo is for me. It’s part of me. And I appreciate people who let me share myself with them, awkward bits and all.

photo2.jpg

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A not-a-bucket of colour-blind monkeys

Monkeys

I chose early on not to mark the anniversary of my brother’s death. I instead wanted to have my private little ritual on a day celebrating his life: his birthday on April 8. It’s a ritual that involves cake and not much else.

I’m not big on ritual. I am big on cake.

I want to remember how lucky I was to have him in my life more than how hard it was to lose the person who knew me longest and understood me best. But I guess it’s time to admit that in my efforts to not mark the anniversary of his death, I have accidentally created a ritual around not marking it.

The impending dread seeps into my subconscious weeks before I realize it’s coming up, and the eventual connection between feelings and calendar makes me want to look purposefully, positively at the future. I want to make myself dwell on the opportunity to shape my life instead of on difficult memories. So today marks three years of post-Steve me, and the third anniversary of me posting about my not-a-bucket list.

The list exists only in my head and is subject to change on a whim. This new habit of regular re-examination helped me realize that what was important to me when I bought my last condo – a Vancouver address, a second bedroom – was no longer important to me. And what is important – a connection to nature, a room with a view, a sense of community – could be a couple of painful real estate transactions away. Now I’m happily exploring my new home of Port Moody and sampling the trails, arts classes, theatre, kayaking and ice cream in the neighbourhood.

I thought it would be harder to give up Vancouver, but living in a smaller community has been a good way to focus and spur myself to get more involved in finding activities to join and places to explore. Living so close to the trails around Burrard Inlet gives me that instant connection to nature I crave, and living in Suter Brook Village gives me that instant access to urban life to escape from nature. Living across the street from a great grocery store has been a good way to be motivated to bring lunch to work regularly (let’s not talk about the Cobbs Bread, Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt and liquor store next to it). Living in a building with access to a well-appointed gym is a good way to avoid the gym … but to have good intentions of making it more of a habit. Oh and I really like my condo too.

When I wanted to paint the new place, I didn’t have faith in my ability to pick shades that wouldn’t look like a colour-blind monkey helped me, so I got a colour consultation from a paint company. I knew I wanted blue for the long unbroken wall in the living room, but what shade? What neutral would complement it? I showed the interior designer the 539 blue paint samples I’d collected, a blue rug, and a painting with blues in it. I told her I wanted the bedroom to be a green that would complement the blue. She wandered off to do her colour whispering with her swatch book and came back with the pronouncement: “I tried to find a way to bring a blue into the colour scheme but it wouldn’t work.”

She also advised me not to paint the bedroom green but to leave it white so it wouldn’t look smaller. But … it’s tiny. The condo sells itself as loft-style, so the bedroom is a small room carved off from the one giant room of the living room/kitchen. The bedroom couldn’t possibly look smaller because of paint. It could only look smaller if it entered a black hole.

The illusion of spaciousness wasn’t my goal. My goal was a shade of green to complement the frigging blue I asked her to help me select. My goal was to feel cozy in my bedroom, to feel good in my home, to feel it was mine, to feel the colours reflect my taste.

And of course there was only one way to do that. I took the sheet she gave me with the colours she’d selected – lovely shades of grey and greenish-white – and threw them out. I promptly selected my own blue and green, and I love the new paint job.

It’s my home. My life. And the lesson of death is that life is short. So I’ll keep trying to be more the person I want to be, and less the person who cares if others think I’m a colour-blind monkey.

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100 days of nothing

adbusters_everything-is-fine-keep-shopping

I think of my recent move from Vancouver to a smaller but — in my eyes — better condo in Port Moody as an upgrade. Space conscious people would not agree. The me of six years ago, determined to have a Vancouver address and extra bedroom, would not agree. But the move has been invigorating for a few reasons, including the dramatic purge required in the downsizing.

It was difficult intellectually, emotionally, physically. I had to consider my criteria for chucking, donating, or keeping. I had to part with sentimental items — after taking a picture — and then sometimes snatch them back from the donation pile when I realized I couldn’t give them up. And I had to cart carload after carload to recycling or Value Village.

The purge was also hugely liberating. Getting rid of stuff I hadn’t used or seen in years felt good. The physical weight of all this stuff turned into a feeling of lightness when it was gone. I am the sum of my experiences, not of my belongings.

So when my friend Lisa sent me a link to a woman who resolved to buy nothing after the death of her father and resulting disposal of his estate, we started talking about doing a no buy challenge of our own. Our motivations and situations are slightly different, so our personal rules for the challenge are slightly different. Here’s mine:

As of September 1, for 100 days I resolve not to accumulate more stuff or contribute to the accumulation of stuff in the world. If I absolutely need or want something I will buy it second hand.

Before you worry I’ll come over to borrow a cup of sugar … and flour … and eggs … and maybe steak and milk and fruit … daily … there are exceptions. Food, toiletries, other consumables, gifts and experiences are on my exception list.

I’m never going to be a true minimalist. No one who owns a Sodastream and an entire cupboard of tea can claim to be making that attempt. But the older I get the more dismayed I am at rampant materialism, and the more I value experience over things.

Given that perspective, and given that I don’t like shopping anyway, my initial naive thought was that this 100 days would be easy for me. But a day in, I think I’m going to be surprised by how much of a challenge this challenge is. I’m used to buying what I want, and quickly, painlessly. Now I vow to consider those wants very carefully and take the time to sift through second hand sites and stores if I intend to buy.

Or wait for 100 days. But I’m hoping the challenge will open my eyes to the possibility of living a lighter life without feeling a heavy sacrifice. Bring it on.

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