Monday, 28 July 2008

Things that go bump (and scrape) in the night (and early evening)

Dear Oh Deer
Originally uploaded by rayvensmoon
The Teen-cats have not mended their ways. I've sort of passed the point of worrying myself sick over them, as so far they're turning up in the morning, hungry and mildly indignant that I haven't let them in sooner. Say, by getting up at 3am...

I've got other things to worry about. Last night, after reading younger daughter to sleep with Little Women, I sat quietly on her bed, making sure that she had descended into dreamland deeply enough to risk turning the lights off. That meant it was quiet enough for me to hear the bumping and scraping against her window. Which is on the second floor. With no trees nearby.

I'm not thrilled about being alone in a house at night at the best of times, let alone a large house on a semi-rural cul-de-sac past eleven in the evening. I listened incredulously for several seconds then struck up the courage to raise the blinds.

Nuthin'. I nervously prepared myself for bed and made the rounds, shutting all windows on this chilly night, and mulling over how much I hate going out into the black front and back yards to fruitlessly call for the Teen-Cats. In addition, I'd forgotten it was Garbage Pick-up the next morning, so had the extra pleasure of collecting the contents of the various bins, transporting them to the ill-lit garage, then, having discovered that I've forgotten how to open the garage door, hauling two large cans back into the house, down the hall and out into the dark driveway to the curb. I spotted one, then two cat silhouettes in the yard across the street and softly called before realizing they were too large to be Winsome Teen-Cat. (I'd corralled Ginger Teen-cat earlier.) Another movement caught my eye, and the ghostly shapes of a doe and her fawn hurried into a space between houses.

Eventually, fatigue overcame my night-time terror and l lulled myself to sleep with the local rock station, waking up each hour to hear how far they'd gotten in their Led Zepplin documentary.

I checked the side of the house this morning to see what was under younger daughter's window. Just a makeshift kind of shelf for kindling --- although if a man stood on it, he might be able to brush the window with his fingers. Or machete....

Early this evening, I went out back to hang younger daughter's swimswuit on the line and startled a doe grazing on the other side of the house. She galloped to the chainlink fence, leapt like a gazelle (or a deer, actually), and hung herself up on it briefly before limping into the Shasta daisies. I watched as she clopped unevenly across the road to munch on the neighbour's lawn. I understand the deer are a nuisance to gardeners, but I do hope she's all right.

You don't suppose she leapt on top of the kindling shelf last night, about 11 pm, do you?

Saturday, 26 July 2008

I tot I taw a putty tat

It's my third morning in the second of our two house-sits of our eighth strategic retreat to Victoria to a) preserve what little sanity I have left; b) avoid as much of the humid Ottawa summer as I can; and c) visit Demeter. Reason "a" has been under fire this week. Due to an overlap in house-sits I've actually been responsible for two houses, three cats and one gerbil for two days of this week. Now I'm down to one house, two cats and one gerbil. This should be a relief; I've just let the two enchanting bird-killers out after their non-bird breakfast.

See, we have an indoor cat. I remember not long after we adopted her, a brother of one of elder daughter's schoolmates was horrified at our cruelty: "You keep her locked up?" It wasn't that I was unsympathetic. All three cats under my care this week are outdoor cats, and they evidently enjoy their excursions. (Just try getting them back in; but more on that later.) I don't remember what I told that young boy then. I may have mentioned racoons. We were still living in Victoria then and a racoon family made irregular visits to our backyard. Racoons can tear up a small pet nicely. Cougars (also seen in our neighbourhood) won't leave much to tear up. It's rare for indoor cats to get fleas, and there's always the issue of the bird population which, I'm given to believe, is decimated yearly by domestic and feral cats. And indoor cats undoubtedly live longer, no matter what you may think about their quality of life. Our neighbourhood in Ottawa is littered with missing cat posters.

However, these are outdoor cats and my job this summer is keeping them alive until their owners return. "Getting the cats indoors for the evening is tricky," chirruped my long list of instructions for this particular house. No kidding, lady. I've cared for several cats in my house-sitting career, but the two feline non-occupants of this particular house are naughty adolescent cats. Witness recent events:

Our second day in House-sit #2, we return from a day of swimming lessons and checking on House-sit #1 and resident elderly creaky cat. Ginger Teen-cat and Winsome Teen-cat appear from garden, enter the house with us, only to be informed that it's only 3 pm and their dinnertime is at five. Both vanish into the backyard.
4pm: Winsome Teen-cat checks in to see if I meant it about dinner. I did.
5pm: Winsome Teen-cat digs into dinner, and since there's no sign of Ginger Teen-cat, has a good go at his dinner. Odd, since the lengthy list of instructions insists that Ginger Teen-cat is the glutton.
6pm: Winsome Teen-cat makes a quick appearance to butter up All-powerful Tin-opener and Food-giver (that would be me). No sign of Ginger Teen-cat.
7pm: See 6pm.
8pm: As I sit in a garden chair chatting to Resident Fan Boy and Elder Daughter in Ottawa, Winsome Teen-cat strolls up from side garden, hops into my lap for an ingratiation session, then streaks due east and vanishes. I worriedly mention to RFB that I haven't seen Ginger Teen-cat for five hours, particularly worrying as he hasn't shown up for dinner.
9pm: As darkness begins to fall, I rattle the food tin. Ginger Teen-cat appears out of nowhere. No sign of Winsome Teen-cat.
10pm: Getting a tad frantic; it's been a long day; we need to get up early for swimming (having missed this morning's bus --- thereby hangs a tale [not a cat's tail]; younger daughter is dragging herself through evening toiletry routine, and I'm in the back yard, rattling the tin and calling, with visions of racoons and cougars in my head. Can't resist checking out front door, so Ginger Teen-cat bolts between my legs and ignores my pleas. I slam and lock the front door, having first checked it to see that I haven't left the key in the lock. Like last night...
11pm: One more desperate try. Damn their reflective almond-shaped eyes.
4am: Check front door to be effusively greeted by Winsome Teen-cat who seems very pleased to see me. My own feelings are somewhat mixed. No sign of Ginger Teen-cat.
7am: Ginger Teen-cat strolls in as if nothing whatever is amiss.

This may be a rather long summer. They both came in together last night at a reasonable hour, although they lolled hopefully by the front door until I turned the lights out and trod meaningfully upstairs.

I have changed the names of the felonious felines to protect their doting owners. Likewise, the above photo is not of Ginger Teen-cat, but a picture I've stolen from the Internet, namely a blog specializing in cat photography. I'm not sure if Shiro Ang is personally acquainted with the anonymous ginger tom, but I'm sure he's a rascal. The tom, that is. If I ever figure out how to upload and then remove photos from a computer that is not my own, I will desist from borrowing other people's work, but maybe my crime is less if you go visit Shiro Ang's blog and leave a nice comment.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

What Summer Evenings Should Be

We are continuing in our quest to get younger daughter out of the house. This backfired a bit when the Resident Fan Boy tried to extend the campaign to elder daughter and asked her if she had even been outside all day. Elder daughter's answer was devastatingly acidic in the way only a sixteen-year-old can muster: "I'm in Summer School, Dad...."

Anyway, last evening we decided to try out the A Company of Fools' production of The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. A Company of Fools have been active in Ottawa for the past 18 years, and for the past half dozen summers, have presented "Torchlight Shakespeare" in parks in Ottawa. They'll be doing "R&J" in our local park at the end of the month, but younger daughter and I will be in Victoria by then, so after dinner, we hoisted our one lawn chair, a "picnic duvet" long packed in a Rubbermaid container in the basement, plus a bagful of younger daughter's favourite stuffed companions, and headed for Strathcona Park which is a long leafy rectangle along the west shore of the Rideau River below the Russian Embassy on Charlotte Street.

It was actually a perfect evening for it. The day had been hot, but not humid, and stepping off the bus into the golden evening was a taking-one's-place-next-to-a-lovely-fireside kind of warm. There was a tiny stage set up in the centre of the park with a small forest of lawn chairs and picnic blankets in front. The faces were mostly white, but the age range was impressive; the productions are promoted at ACoF's website as being aimed to be accessible to all ages.

And it was! Younger daughter was enthralled, from the opening moments as the actors perspired in the sun shining directly in their faces (we'd glimpsed the vigorous warm-up regimen taking place behind the tents) to the closing moments as an evening breeze picked up, showering the audience with leaves and blowing the flames in the blazing buckets serving as footlights. This version took about ninety minutes and with five actors playing all the parts (Juliet doubled as Tybalt!), the emphasis was heavily on comedy. Mercutio's death was still affecting, as was those of Romeo and Juliet, although these felt a little odd amidst all the hilarity.

I particularly enjoyed Jesse Buck,who played the Storyteller/Friar Laurence/Nurse and as such often changed roles mid-scene, by slipping a cap on or pulling his hood up. It helped that he appeared to be a dead ringer for Hugh Laurie. Juliet (Emmanuelle Zeesman) looked exactly like our star actress in high school and had many of her mannerisms, so it was a pleasant blast-to-the-past for me. Younger daughter loved the balcony scene, with Romeo calling to Juliet ankle-deep in audience. In addition, a tiny dog made the rounds and eventually curled up on our blanket behind the Resident Fan Boy's back, to younger daughter's shuddering delight.

This is what summer evenings should be: balmy, beautiful, with the distant cries of birds and frisbee-players, a breeze rustling the lush leaves overhead, and the laughter of an audience enjoying words written over four hundred years ago.

Then we went home and my family crowded around the TV to watch the latest two Marias get turfed in the coliseum entertainment known as How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria. I huddled at the computer and blotted it out, thinking of Shakespeare. Sigh.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

The Lonely Tree

Planning an outing with children, as most parents will attest, is an art. Planning an outing with a child with a pervasive development disorder is a discipline. Still, with eleven days remaining until our annual escape from Hades, I need to get said child out somewhere every day, if only for my own conscience. She, of course, would happily stay in watching DVDs and playing with her imaginary friends.

The project for Friday was to get her to the Museum of Civilization to see The Greeks, a visiting exhibit from Benaki Museum in Athens. Why? Her class did an Ancient Civilization Fair this spring and younger daughter, being a member of the Ancient Greece group, told the story of Daedalus and Icarus to whomever asked. And it looked like a nifty exhibit. And Mum needed to feed her own soul, and get the Hades out of the house.

I've learned the hard way not to spring things on her. So the lead-up began early in the week: "Soon we'll go to the museum"; "Tomorrow, we're going to the museum"; "We're going to the museum today, we'll stay a little while and then we'll come home and you can watch something".

This time, I was blessed with an outing that turned out better than I hoped. Despite its being a sunny Friday, the museum wasn't packed. I decided on the spur of the moment to purchase audio tours for both of us, and this turned out to be a hit. Younger daughter earnestly looked for the headphone icon and punched in the required number. Unlike the National Art Gallery audio guides, each spiel was short and in accessible language (at the NAC, I pick the children's option if there is one, so I can figure what's actually going on). There were also snatches of music and sound effects which younger daughter enjoyed.

And the artifacts were something else: vases, jugs and figurines made 4000 to 5000 years ago. Elaborate memorial markers and figureheads of gods, including one of Hermes, Marie, but alas he looked nothing like David Tennant...or Mario Ancic. And Hellenistic gold jewelery. Unspeakably intricate and beautiful. Here's a funerary coronet, placed on the head of the dead person to indicate their worthiness for accolades in the afterlife. There was a bracelet with minuscule dangling ornaments which turned out to be Muses sitting on pedestals. The only way you knew was by the greatly enlarged photograph by the display. Who did this kind of work? Tiny slaves? Younger daughter was charmed by bridal costumes with delicate red slippers, and a suspended and elaborately embroidered bed tent from the time of the Ottoman Empire.

As it wasn't crowded, I had the luxury of letting younger daughter read the inscriptions out to me which she really seemed to want to do, perhaps to off-set her audio intake from the headphones with visual intake. We could also sit down and rest partway through. However (also from sad experience), I was prepared to leave the exhibit before seeing everything and she did run out of steam, so we hurried down the hall to the cafeteria, arriving just before the lunchtime rush. We chose a table looking out across the Ottawa River, back to Ontario and Canada's capital city, which only proves that the prettiest view by far of the Parliament Buildings is from the province of Québec. After a leisurely lunch, I was astonished when younger daughter told me she'd like to visit the Children's Museum. The Children's Museum is a huge draw for the Museum of Civilization and one of the reasons I dreaded taking my daughters there, chiefly because we'd make a beeline for it, and I'd sit around, wander around, stand around for hours while the girls tried out the mini-cabs and buses, swabbed the decks of the freighter and transferred cargo with the pulley, explored the child-sized houses from all around the world, and hawked bread at the miniature bakery and vegetables at the market....and I never got to see any other exhibits. We'd been living here four years before I made it to the First Nations wing -- and that was on a field trip.

But here was younger daughter wanting to go to the Children's Museum, even after a morning in the Greek exhibit and the offer of returning home. I couldn't refuse her, although part of me wondered about taking a girl less than a year from thirteen. But of course, she's eager to take refuge in childhood, this lithe lady in early adolescence with the "scattered profile" that has her age 12 in some areas, age 10 in others, and age 6 in yet others. Besides, I'd inadvertently paid the general admission in addition to the tickets for the special Greek exhibit. She headed straight for the newly refurbished and redecorated theatre with a dressing room in the back featuring fanciful costumes.
She donned the Tree outfit and took the stage, saying solemnly, "This is the story of the lonely tree," and, pacing back and forth, told a tale in a lowered voice that I found hard to catch, except I gathered the tree was looking for friends in the animals of the forest and was wondering where they were. Other children appeared in other costumes, lining up to proclaim a few sassy theatrical words for their photo calls and younger daughter quietly took her bows with them and said thank-you for the bravos from these other parents. These were polite children who glanced at her, noted the difference and left, chattering to each other.

There's a cinema there now, which didn't exist a few years back, and we watched a National Film Board cartoon twice. Other children peered in, but didn't stay. Younger daughter swabbed a deck for old time's sake, and after a quick tour, we left. I had hoped to walk back over the Alexandra Bridge, since it was a lovely day without the usual Ottawa humidity, and when we missed the #8 by inches, I eagerly set off, ignoring the protests of younger daughter who didn't want "to walk all the way home". (Actually, I have made the trek from Gatineau, Québec to our New Edinburgh, Ontario doorstep in under 50 minutes, but that would be asking too much of younger daughter, especially after a full day of sensory overload.) The Royal Alexandra Interprovincial Bridge, though, takes about ten or fifteen minutes to cross by foot
and it has a splendid view of many Ottawa and Gatineau landmarks, including the Chateau Laurier, the Parliament Buildings, the Museum of Civilization, the Rideau Canal Locks and the Ottawa River itself, of course. Eventually, younger daughter got over her grudge and began to enjoy the breeze, the heady view of the sparkling water below woven with various boats, and passing comments on her fetching sunhat.

I walked alongside her, mulling over the little triumphs and heartbreaks of our excursion. A day like this underlines how far we have to go, how her differences have crystallized over the years, how much other people notice. At the same time, how far she's come, that I can bring her to the museum for nearly a full day without a meltdown, that I can share an adult exhibit with her, even that she tell the story of a lonely tree while walking a stage. I have to constantly remind myself that, where others see a "special needs child" (and many give us wide berth), I have the privilege of remembering that we did things this day that would not have been possible a few years ago.

And, oh, it was a beautiful, sunny afternoon, warm but not oppressive, crossing that bridge between two provinces, enjoying the summer green and the beautiful view. If more days were like this, I think I could almost bear living here...

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Patriotism Canadian-style

I've experienced Canada Day (this year being the 141st anniversary of the confederation of four provinces into a new country) in two capital cities now. Well, three, if you count Edmonton, but that was way back when it was still called "Dominion Day" and I have no recollection of it. I don't know how many other communities go all-out on Canada Day, but it certainly seemed more low-key in Victoria. This is our eighth Canada Day in Ottawa where it is a Big Deal, mainly because we live in a capital city that takes its capitals seriously. Ottawa is The Nation's Capital, and there's a lead-up to July 1st, something like Christmas. About three weeks beforehand, Canadian flags appear everywhere: draped from balconies, taped up on windows, plastered to walls and the sides of office buildings.

On the day itself, I'd say one third of the population dresses in red and white. Fellas of all ages sport red tee shirts, anything they can find in the right colour. You see a lot of Coca Cola tees; the Resident Fan Boy hauls out his McGill University top (his dad's alma mater). Those without red or white shirts stick flags in their caps or straw hats. Younger men simply drape a Canadian flag over their shoulders and stride along like Superman (who, incidentally, was created by a Canadian). Women go with white tops/red shorts or red top/white capris. You see many, many cute little summer dresses in red and white prints, or solid shades of scarlet or crimson. Those lacking red in the closet stick flags in their ponytails or wear darker shades of pink.

On our first Canada Day here, I was startled to board an OC Transpo bus (red and white year-round) to be confronted by rows of passengers clad in the same hues. Downtown Ottawa closes the streets leading to Parliament Hill which look like veins and arteries with red and white corpuscles.

Nope, I don't remember Victoria being quite that gung-ho, though things might have changed since the war in Afghanistan. I mainly remember picnics, open-air citizenship courts, and the international Folk-Fest which emphasized food and entertainment from around the world.

Alas for poor Resident Fan Boy who loves to ramble about the Nation's Capital like a carnival-goer soaking up the atmosphere. He spent his first Canada Day in Ottawa nine years ago without us, wandering from the citizenship court to Parliament Hill to see the RCMP musical ride, dreaming of doing this with his family. Once he had hauled us in from the west coast, he discovered that his decidedly Taurean wife and daughters didn't care for standing in the hot sun for hours on end, nor meandering aimlessly in the humidity of the central Canadian summer.

RFB was in for more disappointments in the shape of Remembrance Day, Winterlude, and the Tulip Festival, but let that pass. This Canada Day, he was determined to get us out, and since it was really a lovely day (that is, sunny and not overly hot), we decided not to resist him. We hopped on the bus and watched two gal-pal mums both with red tops and capris with white flip-flops and pearl toe polish standing alongside matching kids in car seats piggy-backed into strollers. One mum was blonde and impeccably groomed, the other plump and elaborately coiffed. Baby of impeccable blond mum appeared to be three months old and kept kicking off her sparkly red-and-white Mary Janes. Elaborately coiffed mum turned to reveal her top was slashed up the back and artfully retied at bottom. (Who was watching the babies while these women dolled themselves up? I had trouble finding time to wash my hair when my daughters were small.) Both became aware they had an audience and crooned lovingly to their babies for our benefit.

We disembarked at Rideau Street filled with red-and-white crowds milling around ramps featuring slammin' skateboards and divin' dirt bikes plus blaring music. Slipped into Lone Star for Tex-Mex (how Canadian!), just beating the ravenous red-and-white crowds descending from the midday ceremonies featuring the Prime Minister and assorted musical acts at Parliament Hill.

Resident Fan Boy, desperate for his Canada Day family excursion, led us to Confederation Park to hear snatches of JazzFest, only to find empty pavilions and a milling red-and-white crowd. So we headed home, through throngs of red-and-white shoppers at the Rideau Mall. Alas, poor Resident Fan Boy....