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May 8, 2013

We have a cat. Her name is Peanut. She’s also called the Nut, Pea, and Doodles (don’t ask). I’ve had her a while. She pre-dates Meg’s presence by about seven years and the boy’s by nearly 12. I’ve long joked that the house is actually hers. She simply allows Megan and I to live there with her, pay for it, and tend to her needs. She’s cute that way.

Peanut’s a bit of a head case, even for a cat. She doesn’t take well to change, which is true of a lot of cats, but the Nut seems to take it a step further. Each successive move to a new home has deepened her anxiety and, as a result, she’s licked away patches of her fur. A series of visits to the vet helped me learn that she is — and I believe this was the technical term they ascertained after a battery of tests that, cumulatively, cost me in excess of $1,000  – “nervous”. This was all well and good until she licked her tummy hairless.

They initially thought she might have fleas, parasites, or even ring worm. Nope. Maybe it was food allergies, so Peanut’s diet was changed and she could only eat meals she’d never had before. She was then, for six months, given a steady stream of chic designer cat foods that consisted mainly of rabbit, venison, ostrich, and some bizarre and horrible-smelling fish (which, according to the label, was from Australia). Nope.

She’s “nervous.”

I was given the option of hopping her up on some sort of kitty Xanax and offered the number to a noted cat psychiatrist (“best in his field”). Upon hearing these recommendations, I quickly got used to the idea that my cat would be less hairy than other kitties. Even though she was different, we’d love her all the same and hoped the cats in our community would still include her in all their neighbourhood box socials.

Then Owen came into her life.

While the Nut wasn’t terribly impressed that this small human was siphoning  her attention, he didn’t move much, so he was tolerable. Early on, Peanut’s biggest qualm seemed to be that her “sun room” was transformed into the boy’s bedroom and she needed a new spot from which to tan her bald tummy.

As time marched on, Peanut began finding it more difficult to escape as the boy, now able to crawl, would lumber up and grab her tail or yank her ear. (Owen has a weird fascination with her ears.) Peanut’s anxiety was ratcheted to a new level, however, just before Owen’s first birthday when he learned to walk independently. I should point out that Owen actually loves the Nut, and one of his first words was “cat,” but the boy sometimes has trouble appropriately expressing his softer emotions… Such as the time he walked up to the cat and hit her full out on in the head with his sippy cup. Generally pretty docile, Peanut had clearly had enough and hauled off and popped the thug on his nose.

[To Meg’s chagrin, Peanut still has her claws. In this instance, Owen received a small cut on his nose. I view this as a life lesson. People and pets will hit back when you wallop them upside the head with cups. He was more shocked than hurt and he’ll be well suited to remember this the next time he thinks about assaulting someone. Unless, of course, they have a cookie; no one will ever blame him if they have a cookie.]

At any rate, it was, not coincidentally, around this time that Peanut began licking the fur from her legs as well. She clearly realizes that the boy isn’t leaving and, it seems, she’s not terribly impressed with him or with being poked, jabbed, hugged and, sadly, hit. Since I’ve thus far been unable to impart the increasing importance of, “Owen, leave her alone, you’re making her go bald,” to my 18-month-old, I’m now a smidge concerned that my cat’s going to lick away her fur in its near entirety.

So, it’s with hat in hand that I ask the hippies (even the dirty, awful ones) out there reading this: Is there a herbal equivalent to any of the anti-anxiety kitty drugs on the kitty RxList?

May 6, 2013

There are days when I truly, in my heart of hearts, wish Owen had an ‘Off’ switch. I love the boy beyond words, but suggesting that he has “boundless energy” simply doesn’t do his boundless energy justice. I’m finding myself looking to flick the imaginary switch on his neck, vainly imitating how Solo and Leia turned off C-3P0 in the Star Wars movies… Nothing permanent, but enough to “shut him down” and give him (i.e., me) a break.

To help him release some of his pent up energy, Meg and I enrolled Owen in Monkeynastix at the community center. For half an hour each Sunday morning, toddlers between the ages of one and two hop, skip, roll, crawl and flip to the beat of classic ‘80s pop and venerable children’s cult heroes like Rafi and the Doodlebops. Seemed a good idea. The boy has energy; this would burn that energy.

Each class begins the same way: the children and their parent or guardian sit in a circle and, together, stretch to the polite encouragement of their teenaged instructor. She begins the warm up by asking the kids to lift their arms and stomp their feet before beginning their main activities at the other end of the gymnasium. Some of the kids are too young and are only able to do their stretches with the direct help of their parent; others, the older ones that are already “too cool for school,” tend to sit and wait patiently for the real fun to begin.

And then there’s Owen…

Seems stretching is for suckers and, while the others are touching their toes, Owen (who never sat in the first place) takes flight in the opposite direction and runs full clip from one end of the gym to the other. Meg and I are forced to abandon the group and try our best to shepherd him back to the flock. Once he’s been forcibly returned to the circle, it’s no more than seconds before Owen is off again like a rabbit. Only this time, the quiet serenity of the stretching circle is broken by my dashing child bellowing at full volume:


Though fairly quick, he’s less graceful swan and more waddling penguin, which only adds to the sight of the stands, filled with the parents that haven’t been tasked with stretching their kids, laughing at Megan and I vainly trying to corral our frenetic 18-month-old. Each Sunday, I’m more sheep dog than doting parent.


When the stretching circle breaks, the children are prompted to step over obstacles, crawl through tubes, dangle from bars and all sorts of other Monkeynastix-goodness for the remaining 20 minutes of the class. (Yes, while the others have been wiggling their feet, by this point, Owen, Megan and I have been on the run for a full ten minutes.) It’s a bit of a free-for-all as you are expected to wait your turn and perform each task one at a time. Or, as Owen sees it, push the smaller children aside and wedge in front of those too big to be nudged (i.e., tripped) out of the way. The odd time we’re actually able to strong-arm the boy into lining up for an obstacle proves a short respite as it's usually only moments later that he again bolts from our grasp. By time we reach him, he’s often running in circles, clapping and dancing along to whatever is playing on the radio — Flock of Seagulls, Elmo, Culture Club...

It’s a pretty informal group, this Monkeynastix… no one takes attendance and few families seem to interact with the each other. Funny then then that everyone knows Owen’s name.

Yeah, everyone knows Owen.

When the class (finally) ends, most of the children seem somewhat winded and calmly make their way from the gymnasium. Owen, however, has only just limbered up and is raring to go. He lets loose a torrent of tears and has a tantrum when we tell him it’s time to go home.

That’s when I reach for the back of his neck.
Damn it… still no switch.

May 6, 2013

The past couple years were a struggle for me to keep my lawn in tip-top condition as the extreme heat and lack of rain shriveled and baked the grass. Ask Megan, who nearly had a stroke when she saw our water bills last summer, and she'll agree that I put in a lot of work to keep it looking good. That I had strangers complimenting my lawn is testament to my toil.

This isn’t to say it was perfect — weeds are a particular struggle since our environmental-do-gooder provincial government banned any pesticide or herbicide with the potency to do anything. Say what you will about Americans, but their poisons work and their lawns are beautiful (maybe just don’t stand on them for very long). Nonetheless, and in spite of the weak poison at my disposal, I was proud of my lawn.

Summer turned to fall and fall to winter and, finally, winter has given way to spring.... and I saw my lawn again. Oh, bloody hell, my poor lawn. The voles not only got at it, the voles utterly destroyed it.

For those of you that aren’t hip to voles, they’re mouse-like, but a bit smaller. They’re quite cute actually. They create tunnels, or “runs,” just below the grass. Think of their runs as vole-sized subway tunnels. The runs provide the voles cover as they amble to and fro. During the warmer months, they tend to build their runs close to the house or fence, which keeps them out of the open, but which also minimizes the damage they tend to do. However, shielded under the snow’s protective cover, the voles went utterly nuts this past winter.

My lawn is now a crisscross of tunnels surrounded by dead and dying swaths of chewed grass. It’s more an elaborate World War I trench system, replete with the requisite reserve and communication trenches, than the sea of lush, full grass it was last fall. This will not stand.

I’ve had varying degrees of vole trouble each of the past couple years. I tend to be all for nature when it leaves me alone but, a couple years ago, they dug holes along the base of the steps in front of the house. A few traps and that problem was dealt with. I then had a minor infestation last year and, with the help of the good people at Lowe's, I was supplied with enough traps to break the colony. This came to be known as the Great Vole Purge of ’12. Last summer was largely a vole-less one. The survivors were happy and I was happy. Vole-Human equilibrium at its best; a detente thus ensued.

But this year is different. While the weather was frosty, they dug nearly a dozen holes along the shed and half a dozen along the deck. This year is different. This year they’ve set up their base in numbers. This year I’m pissed. Nature’s all well and good until it messes with my lawn. The first trap was sprung minutes after I finished laying it. That first night saw four voles lose their life.

It’s here when I began to soften. I’m a bleeding heart when it comes to animals. I choke up when I see those SPCA commercials and I usually want to run over and adopt all the orphaned dogs and cats. So, killing an animal, even a vole, gnaws at me.

Anyone that has never set this sort of trap thinks they’re quick and painless. I did. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sure sometimes they snap the vole's neck or, as happened last week, they crush it's little vole skull. But often — usually — they’re left crippled… and alive. Another fun fact: voles scream when they’re first snared. It is not pleasant.

I hate it. I hate it because I won’t let them suffer and choose to put them out of their pain. A heavy patio stone is my method of choice. I’ve already made another trip to Lowe's this year for more traps. I leave a pair of gloves and the patio stone at the side of the shed. It doesn’t get easier, no matter how many times I do it.

I hope my lawn is as beautiful this year as it was last.
I’m not sure I’ll enjoy it as much. I doubt I’ll be proud of it this year.