‘Just a Cat’

It’s been just over a week now since I lost my 14-month old cat, Sophie. I’ve been waiting to write about this until I felt able to crawl up from beneath what felt to me like a train wreck to view the events that unfolded with some perspective, untainted by the grief and trauma that I was feeling while it was all happening.

Sophie died exactly a year ago to the day that I brought her home, as Facebook so helpfully reminded me in the picture it presented in my feed, a photo of me just walking in the door with her snuggled in my coat.

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Searching her out on kijiji and going to pick her up with my BF, Mark in Woodstock as an 8-week old kitten was my way of dealing with the grief of losing my previous cat, Boo Boo, who I loved for 8 years until he died at age 12 from what was likely pancreatic cancer.

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We got her 3 weeks after his death and I expect that a large part of my ‘Sophie-grief’ was suppressed or delayed ‘Boo Boo grief’ which added to the intensity of my feelings when Sophie passed away.  Boo Boo’s death felt more manageable to me, likely because I had more warning and was able to care for him at home with IV fluids and be with him at the vet’s where he passed over incredibly gently during his appointment to be euthanized. Mark had already prepared a grave for him and my son, Chris  drove us directly to his farm with Boo Boo on my lap.  The three of us laid him to rest at the edge of Mark’s forest where there was already a lovely large stone to Mark his grave. Later in the spring I transplanted some trilliums and forget-me-nots and it makes me happy to know that his remains are there and will become part of the forest ecology. To whatever degree one can say such things, Boo Boo’s death was a ‘good death’.

Not so for my wee girl Sophie and this is why I need to write about this. I need to be able to wrap my head around the circumstances that led to her passing and I need to come to terms with the intensity of the feelings that overwhelmed me.

Sophie behind chair

I do have enough perspective,  8 days later, to see how at first I was looking for someone to blame, even if that someone was myself.   Here is a point-form summary of the events:

Mark gets Levi, an 8-month old black-and white male kitten. We hope he and Sophie will play together and become friends. We do a ‘by-the-book’ introduction routine to avoid territorial behaviour and find delight in how they play together. I worry because I feel he is stronger than her and when they would occasionally scuffle I would separate them to give them a ‘time-out’ and prevent injury.  By visit 7, they are able to sleep on the same sofa together, and can walk by each other without triggering each other. Mark says that they are ‘playing’ not ‘fighting’. I am not sure.

 One of these visits Mark and I cook an organic chicken. I cook up the liver that comes with it and feed it to Sophie in tiny bits to ensure she tolerates it. She loves it.  I then buy from the refrigerated section of the grocery store soft kibble made with chicken liver and whitefish. I give it to her as a treat, bit-by-bit increasing the amount I give her as she LOVES it. By the end of the week, she wants it instead of her regular food. It is billed as a complete food, approved by the AAFCO. I think ‘why not’?

March 23rd I bring Sophie to her vet as she has a sore on her ear that is starting to look unpleasant. I have been so careful with her food, I am assuming it is because her and Levi went at it too hard and that he has clawed or bitten her.  The sore is infected so the vet gives her an antibiotic injection, which is more convenient than giving her oral medication. It is to stay in her system 2 weeks. Sounds good to me! Later I read on to discover that some cats die after receiving an injection of Convenia. If they react badly to it, you cannot get it out of their system in the way you could stop giving an oral medication and this can kill them.

Another week later, around March 30th Sophie has two sores on her ears, some redness in her ‘eyebrow’ area and the original sore is getting worse. She is scratching and looking very uncomfortable. I am now thinking that this was NOT a result of scuffling with Levi.  I bring her back to my vet and we have a talk to try and figure out where this is coming from. I mention the food change. She recommends stopping the new food and reverting her back to her previous food. She gives her a steroid shot. Again, one that will stay in her system for 2 weeks. A few days previously I had put a cone collar on her to stop her scratching. My vet said that the steroid shot would stop her itching, make her more comfortable, and promote healing.

I bring Sophie home. That night she manages to get her cone collar off. I leave it off she is not scratching. That week her sores heal. It seems clear that it was the new food causing her sores. I learn through this that if a cat is going to react to a food, it is not necessarily going to show you this through standard digestive upsets (vomiting, diarrhea) but can also come through with skin issues. This is news to me.

She seems back to normal. Sunday, April 2nd I bring her to Tavistock to visit with Mark and Levi. They are happy to see each other. I find that she is less energetic than she used to be and spends a lot of time on a chair, just watching him. She eats some of his food. I bring her home that night and for the next two days she doesn’t eat and spends resting/sleeping. I am noticing this, but not over-worried, as romps with Levi would often leave her resting the next day. She had eaten quite a bit at Mark’s so I wasn’t too concerned about her food intake.

Tuesday April 4th I came home from work at 4 for my dinner and she hadn’t moved from my bed since I’d left at 1. I noticed that her chest was going up and down very rapidly and when she looked up at me she looked seriously ill. In fact, she reminded me of Boo Boo when he was dying and I called right away to see if I could take her in to be seen by my vet.  They fit us in an hour later and we discovered that she was respirating 120 times a minute. A healthy cat breathes 20-40 times a minute.

Staff kindly  stayed later than normal at work to give her an x-ray, which showed a large amount of fluid in her lungs, a seemingly normal heart, no intestinal blockages or tumors. She received an diuretic injection and my vet gave me 3 injections to take home with me to give her every 3-4 hours. I had some experience with injecting Boo Boo (although Mark had mostly done the needle part  for m) to give him fluids to make him more comfortable in his last days. I had to get over my own discomfort with this and was able to inject her as prescribed.

Wednesday morning, April 5th I brought her back in to my vet at 10 am. She had not improved. Another x-ray was taken but their machine to read it was broken. The vet said she needed an ultrasound but the earliest appointment she could make for me was a week away. Looking at Sophie I knew she wouldn’t survive a week. My vet called Guelph Small Animal Clinic to refer her and I called Mark to see if he could drive us there from his place enroute.

We arrived in Guelph at 2 pm and staff took her right away to put her in an oxygen tent,. We elected to wait until they completed tests. Her heart seemed to show early signs of congestive heart disease but they did not believe that this was the cause of the fluid in her lungs. The diuretic was not draining the lung fluid, and by this time she was also dehydrated. It seemed as if to treat one of her symptoms was exacerbating her other symptoms.

We left her in Guelph around 6 pm where they were going to try and treat/stabilize her. Our next step would be to let them put her on a respirator under sedation so that they could extract fluid from her lungs to try and figure out what was causing it and how to treat it if she did not improve overnight.

I received a call at 8:30 in the morning April 6th from the Guelph vet telling me that Sophie was now mouth-breathing and that I had to authorize them to start her on the respirator which I would have to commit to for at least 3-4 days which was going to cost around $7,000. Even with this option, her prognosis would not be good as she was deteriorating so quickly that if they were to diagnose and treat her she might not survive long enough for the treatment to work. If I were not to allow this option, she was suffering and should be euthanized. They had her sedated and if I wanted to see her before she died, I had to hurry up and get to Guelph from London as fast as I could.

Again, I called Mark, who dropped what he was doing to meet me at his place so he could drive me into Guelph.  I don’t know my way around Guelph and I was so distressed I did not trust my ability to drive myself there safely.

When we arrived we were brought right into the ICU where she was in her little cubicle -and I am trying really hard not to cry as I write this-in a state of mouth-breathing. She had earlier tried and failed to get into her litter box to pee which very much distressed her.  I was able to put my hand in to talk to her and pet her. Unlike when I left her the night before and the sedation had left her looking like ‘the lights are on but there is nobody home’ in this case she really did seem to know who I was. As I pet her she made these very sad cries that I had never heard from her before and then she suddenly jumped up as if she wanted me to take her out of the cubicle. This meant that she lost oxygen and the vet said that what happened to her is that she panicked from lack of air which generated a surge of adrenaline and made her look ‘wild’. She gave a big wild-kitty cry and then collapsed. I didn’t realize she had died until the vet told me.

I cannot express how upsetting the last few minutes with her was. It has taken me quite a few days to get past this, to let it go and as I write this I am sad, but not feeling the trauma that I felt initially and for the few days after.

We were able to hold her privately in an exam room where we had to decide whether to have them conduct a post-mortem on her to determine the cause of her death (or rather the cause of the fluid in her lungs and why she regressed so rapidly). This was a very difficult decision as part of me wanted to carry her home and bury her beside Boo Boo at Mark’s farm. It was pouring rain, so we would not have been able to do this until a few days later. Part of me has that Scorpio brain that will not let things go, that needs to understand root causes. Part of me was in trauma which I now understand is getting stuck in something terrible in large part because you want to figure out how to make this terrible experience never happen again. This is the part that won out. I was thinking that in order to ever get closure on this, in order to ever parent another animal, I needed to know what happened. Where did I ‘go wrong’. Or if it was a vet decision, at what point was a wrong turn made? I was seriously looking for someone to blame at this point. As the days have passed and I have been able to look back on events, I realize that at each and every point everyone involved sincerely did their best, sincerely cared about Sophie’s outcome and were all incredibly kind and compassionate. I also think that medically, every step was likely the ‘right’ step at that time based on the knowledge we had and the symptoms she was presenting.

There were also other little scenarios:  A few weeks before Sophie got sick she had ingested a length of dental floss. I saw about 3 inches of it hanging out of her mouth and slowly pulled it out. In the whole year that I had her, she had never seemed interested in dental floss. I was pretty careful about not leaving it dangling in my little bathroom trash bin, but still.

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I also used to tie her outside on a lead, either in my back fenced-in patio, or out front. I watched her very carefully and am pretty sure she did not come into close contact with any other animals. On one occasion, she jumped down from a stool and didn’t leave much length of leash so I had to go untangle her. Did she choke herself? Did she choke herself the night that she managed to get the cone collar off her head? What about the time about 2 months before where I discovered she wasn’t wearing her collar and found it between the bookshelf and the wall where I had a key hanger thing being stored. Did she somehow choke herself on that? I already obviously knew that you had to watch that your cat didn’t hang itself on its collar but I did not know that even a quick ‘choke’ that lasted just a second could trigger a nerve response that could affect the heart negatively and cause fluid build up.

Part of coming to terms with this and finding closure is about figuring out the cause. I want to know exactly why and how she died, so if/when I ever get another kitty, I can stop this from happening again.

Another aspect of coming to terms with this terrible event is finding a way in my own self to reconcile the the interconnection between the potentially conflicting ideals of doing what is medically best for my pets and doing what I can realistically afford financially.  Should I be buying pet insurance from now on?  After spending $2,000 on Sophie’s last days at this point, I have to say I cannot realistically afford to be a pet owner.

20 years ago, I might never have even had the option of having her put on a respirator, having her diagnosed by a cardiology team at the local University Veterinary School-affiliated Companion Animal Veterinary Clinic. She would likely not even have had an x-ray.  Having these advanced medical options similar to those we have for humans is a huge stresser because we really don’t know for sure what is best for our animal. If what is best for our animal is diagnostics and treatments we can’t afford, we are placed in a very difficult position rationalizing our love for our animal and it’s well-being with our own financial wellness. I am still in the process of working out what this means for me. I am also a Grandmother now. That $2,000 that I spent could pay for several trips out west to visit my new grandchild who I have not yet seen. Buying pet insurance for my next pet means that I might not be able to afford to retire when I thought I would be able to.

I do know that I have ‘animal love’ energy inside myself. I am a cat-lover with no cat to love at this point.  I also know that much of my relationship with Sophie came from inside ME, I chose to play hide-and-seek with her, to talk to her and learn to listen to the way she tried to communicate with me. I tried to make her as happy as I could by giving her enriched experiences, feeding her the best food I could afford, allowing her to be her cat-self by playing with her, providing her with the drip-drip water that she loved, getting her proper veterinary care when she needed it. All that potential love and care came FROM me and still exists INSIDE me. I also know that there are infinite number of cats who would enter my life and relate with me in their own cat-like way. Nothing is really lost here except my relationship with THIS particular cat and her own unique life expression. How my relationship with her impacted so many aspects of my life and thinking and how this process of unpacking her sudden decline and death and my intense reaction to it has been a learning experience that is still unfolding in the realm of animal health, ethics, my own philosophy of pet owning, my own emotional responses and intense grief, my need to ‘figure it out’ and get closure. My need to find blame and then my shift to understanding and the perspective that everyone did the best they could.

As I conclude this essay a few days since starting it Sophie had been gone for about 10 days. Easter has come and passed. I have had a call from the faculty member in Emergency and Critical Care Medicine who was supervising Sophie’s care in Guelph who so kindly responded to the letter I sent enclosing a link describing the possible influence of steroid medications on cats with early states of heart disease in case there was a link in Sophie’s situation. I look him up and see that one of his areas of interest is in the human-animal bond. He is incredibly compassionate and tells me that the staff in Guelph were also thrown by Sophie’s quick decline and are working quickly to sort out what happened to her. Sophie’s own vet was upset and told me that she needed time to process her death.  A dear close relative told me that she was ‘just a cat’ and reminded me of some very ill human adults she knew, that were ill in very tragic circumstances. She told me this so that I would have perspective.

Almost two weeks later, I do have perspective. Sophie wasn’t ‘just a cat’, she was MY cat with whom I was developing a lovely relationship and who brought me incredible delight and joy each and every day that I spent with her. I am still grieving her sudden and strange loss. I am hoping for closure when the post-mortem results are back.  I know that I need to learn more about feline health and have more of a game plan in terms of how to manage the inevitable decline of my next cat, if I do end up getting one. I also know that I am a ‘cat’ person, who feels incomplete without a feline companion in my home.  Why post about this in my blog that is dedicated to ‘pigs and ukuleles’?  In part because it is the best context I have to record such long-winded musings about something so important to me. But also because of advice I received about working through my grief: bring more fun in your life.  What this reminded me about Sophie and Boo Boo and all animals that I encounter is how much delight they bring into my life.  As does my ukulele, as does seeing pigs in pasture and as do so many things. Part of moving through grief and forward into a joyful life is to remember all the possible ways that you can be delighted. The delight Sophie brought into my life as a sweet and lively kitten is not limited to her nor does it end with her.  I will soon experience the delight of seeing for the first time  ‘in person’ my beautiful grandson, Owen. I will grieve again and I will pull myself out of it and love again and delight again and so it goes, the circle of life.

Sophie and me again

 

 

 

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You CAN go Home again!

A potent mixture of grace, PTSD recovery, grit, chronic pain, joy, anxiety, love and beauty in the everyday moments AND I myself make an appearance in Chapter 24, how cool is that??

It’s been over 2 years since my last blog but I love this author so much (as a writer AND as a person) that I am prompted to revisit this space to share my deep regard for this lady who has become a very dear friend. AND, btw who was also recently honored, (along with Hockey Hall of Fame Inductee Angela James for my hockey-loving friends out there)  among 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women.

I first fell in love with Cynthia Reyes’ writing while reading about her little pink house an article published in the Globe and Mail (Canada’s national newspaper). I was so moved by this lovely story that I was prompted to write the paper to share my thanks to her for writing it and to the paper for sharing it. I was delighted to find out months later, that a whole book was on the way (“A Good Home’) and that the pink house was an integral part of that book. 

I read ‘A Good Home‘ in only two sittings and was very sad to leave the world that Cynthia shared with us. Happily for her readers, Cynthia invites us back into her home with the second installment of her memoir ‘An Honest House‘.

A Good HomeAn Honest House

Imagine visiting dear friends that invite you inside their home, offer you a pair of comfy slippers and a cup of your favorite beverage. You are both relaxed and engaged by the friendly and loving atmosphere of your friends and their neighbours and relatives who happen by. The conversation meanders around food and drink, gardening, the news, family life. There are struggles with health and money and work that are shared and those struggles are supported in that sharing in a positive way. You feel completely at home here, both a privileged friend and a member of the family. When it is time for you to leave, you are sad to go, but take the memory with you of that time so well-spent and enjoyed.

This is how I feel when I read Cynthia Reyes. Which is extraordinary, because her books, which are so easy to read because they are so inviting and engaging are also subtly complex. An Honest House is at once a real chronicle of a woman suffering daily from PTSD, chronic pain, concussion and depression while also being a love story between husband and wife, children and parents and extended family, and community. It is a story of faith and doubt, little triumphs that become shining lights of hope.

Cynthia skirted around and about the accident that caused her excruciating and ongoing suffering in her first book. It was present like the elephant in the room: alluded to indirectly and obvious in its effects, but not to be discussed. She is more open about the accident in her second volume, which makes sense because as she continues with her healing, she becomes more able to confront and talk about the events that set her back. Some of the most moving passages in this book involve the sharing of the consequences of Cynthia’s decision to present an outward front with her friends and family that minimized the extent of her suffering and I was very grateful for the vulnerability expressed in that sharing. The sudden and deathly serious illness of her husband, Hamlin (who is an integral part this story) had me rattled, even though I already knew that he was ok before I started reading.

There is also great humour in these chapters, some of which had me laughing out loud (again, Hamlin figures largely in one of these). The pain and frustrations, delight in the everyday, joy, and successes are interwoven with each other in Cynthia’s chronicle to create a richness of storytelling that I find so compelling and satisfying. Reading her passages is like watching a great movie (or reading great fiction). The story is so compelling and interesting and the writing flows so nicely that I get caught right up in it and don’t realize that I have completely left my own world until I finish the last page and look up.

I am so grateful that Cynthia heeded her dear great aunt’s injunction to ‘write another book’ so that her readers could come back to ‘visit’. I also hope that the publication of this new volume entices new readers of Cynthia’s work.

Pigs in the News

Over the last month or two I’ve been noticing articles in the newspapers about pigs that have made me rather sad.  Porcine Epidemic Virus (PED) has been infecting pigs in the United States and has lately made it’s way to farms in several Canadian provinces. I’ve done a little digging and it appears that the cause for this may have been isolated and I will leave it to readers who are not squeamish to pursue this further if they so wish.   Baby pigs contract this illness and to avoid spread, the whole herd must be culled. Apparently there is no harm to humans with this virus which does not affect older pigs nor their meat.  Now, I do enjoy eating pork and I have the greatest respect for all farmers who grow my food so when I read about this, I felt a great mixture of sadness for the farmers, their families and of course the pigs themselves.

In other news, not far from London another farm tragedy unfolded when over 1,000 pigs were killed in a fire in the barn that housed them.  There seems to be no further news about the cause of this fire, but I will hazard an observation that on the whole, gathering large numbers of pigs into relatively small, enclosed spaces seems to be a very risky sort of thing to do for a number of reasons.

I am sharing these news stories with  you because I am not in denial about the downsides of raising pigs for food in the typical way we do today. I myself love pork, it is likely the meat I eat most often. At the same time, when I see these other, more positive depictions of pigs, it makes me very happy and prompts me to want to share these pictures of ‘happy’ pigs to show that there IS another way to see these animals. Before they become ‘pork on your fork’ they are pigs with personalities!  So….on the upside, the other day while checking out the Weather Network, I noticed this wonderful photo of ‘Cromwell’.

Cromwell the Pig, photo posted on the Weather Network 'photo of the day' by Cedar Row Farm Sanctuary

Cromwell the Pig, photo posted as the Weather Network ‘photo of the day’.  From  Cedar Row Farm Sanctuary

I read the caption beneath the photo and saw that Cromwell lives at the Cedar Row Farm Sanctuary.  Hmmm, where is that? I wonder. And, lo and behold it is just minutes from nearby St. Mary’s!  A few minutes poking around led me to their website and facebook page and look!  There is Cromwell!    A few scrolls down and here is an absolutely delightful video of Cromwell frolicking with a cat, of all things! 

IF YOU DO NOTHING ELSE TODAY PLEASE WATCH THIS VIDEO!

I was also very interested to find out more about the Cedar Row Farm Sanctuary. I’ve read several library books about farm animal sanctuaries and resonate very much with the desire that all animals be respected an treated humanely.  The folks at Cedar Row appear to be vegans, from what I read about them.  Clearly, the animals they take in are not being raised for food.  Their farm is not open to the public but they do have monthly work/visit/dinner days where interested people can come and see and support what they do. They are a registered non-profit and accept donations to help support the animals. I have great respect for  this family and would like to attend one of these events. I am also very tempted to help support the feeding of their pigs as I know that pigs require a lot of food and I am sure that to run a sanctuary of this sort requires a fair amount of ongoing funding.

In spite of my omnivorous nature, I cannot seem to let go of this desire I have to somehow support initiatives that aim to get pigs out of crowded confinement where they are invisible and into spaces where we can see them at their best. When allowed to exhibit their natural tendencies, they are happy, energetic, engaging creatures.  How I can continue to enjoy pork while still wanting to see pigs happy is a paradox that  I have not been able to reconcile within myself as yet.  But in the meantime, I can honor these wonderful creatures in the best way I can.

Strummin’ Along with Stompin’ Tom

It always delights me when various and disparate aspects of my life come together in unexpected ways. Some inner ‘prompting’ can make me do something I don’t really understand until later, until it all makes sense and I exclaim ‘so THAT’s what that was all about!’

Such was the case when I felt this incredibly strong urge to buy a book of lyrics and chords by Stompin’ Tom Connors.

Now, we all know that we can get pretty much all the music we want from the internet and as a person who works in a library, I am much more likely to borrow than to buy a book but one day last spring while passing time waiting for my passport photo to develop a pretty old copy of this book caught my attention while browsing through the Coles Books Store at the Masonville Mall in London.

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The pages were just this side of yellowing. I had a feeling this book had been languishing on the bottom shelf of the music section for years, perhaps. But the $40 price tag was a bit high and this being a luxury I could not really justify,  I headed back to Black’s to pick up my photo.

The next day at work,  (as my dear coworkers could verify ‘-) I couldn’t get this book out of my mind.  I felt like I should really have it. I thought it might be out-of-print and therefore a collector’s item. I felt as if I was SUPPOSED to own  a hard-copy compilation of Stompin’ Tom folk songs. I, who never use my lunch hour for anything else besides eating lunch and reading, drove over to the mall and bought this book. To my delight, it was discounted to $20 plus tax and to my greater delight, there was an index at the back, listing all of the songs and the CD’s that each was on in case I wanted to sing and play along with the real thing.

Wanting to share news of my purchase with my facebook world I posted my lucky find.  One of the members of my Stoney Creek Library Ukulele Jam asked me if my book included one of her favorite Tom tunes  ‘It’s Canada Day’ and so it did!  Because of my trip to Newfoundland there was no monthly July session  for us to play this  but I filed Carrie’s comment in the back of my mind, intending to remember to play this July 2014 instead.

Flash ahead to September of 2013 when I receive an email from Stan Skrzesjewski. Stan graciously and expertly  helped me start the Socrates Cafe at the Central Library (which is heading into it’s tenth year and managing quite nicely without me). Stan had moved to St. Catherine’s for a few years and  recently  came back to London. He wanted to present an art-y program about the War of 1812 as part of the History  Program offerings at the Central Library and wanted to meet me for lunch  to talk about the music portion of the event, in hopes that I might have some contacts for him (or so I thought).  Before we met, I dug deep into my file of local musicians that might be interested and over coffee I was ready to present them to Stan when he said “I know you’ve been playing ukulele and I’m wondering if you’d like to play a Stompin’ Tom song at the end of the program.  I was thinking ‘It’s Canada Day’.”

I was as dumfounded as I could possibly be for about 30 seconds while I contemplated the coincidence of Stan’s request. I thought “NOW I know why I was supposed to buy that book!”  I also thought that there was no way I could do this song without asking Carrie from my uke group to join me as she’d already told me how much she liked this song.  For that matter, I thought, why not invite them all?

To make a long story not-so-long, I received permission from my Branch Supervisor to invite the Stoney Creek  Library Ukulele Jam to participate in the Central Library History Program. I received a lovely letter of permission from Stompin’ Tom’s webmaster  to makes copies of ‘It’s Canada Day’ for the uke players to use and for sing-along sheets to hand out to the audience at the history event.   Three of my Library uke regulars ended up joining me downtown for what I thought of as a very innovative version of cross-disciplinary library programming and we participated in what turned out to be an absolutely wonderful evening of poetry, song, and history led by Stan and accompanied by other wonderuful musicians and artists and with an audience of around 35 people. This is a really great turn-out for a Library history program, btw, which happened on the same night and just a few doors down from the Elton John concert at the Budweiser Gardens. It was dubbed “1812 Cabaret: A New Package for an Old War”.  I am pretty sure that they weren’t strumming ukuleles during the War of 1812 but our rousing and enthusiastic night-ending renditions of ‘Battle of New Orleans” and “It’s Canada Day” definitely added a light-hearted zing to the night, let the audience participate and granted an interesting culmination to my own perplexity about the urge to buy this yellowing book by Canada’s Stompin’ Storyteller extraordinaire.

Falling in Love With My First Ukulele

The 2009 Home County Folk Festival is taking place in Victoria Park in London,  just a five minute walk from my apartment on Dufferin Ave.  I’m only in the park a few minutes before I see him. The man with the ukulele, walking towards me, singing and strumming with a big smile on his face. I’m a little intimidated by his forwardness, but even more, I’m intrigued and compelled. I let him approach and he says to me these words that I’ve since repeated many times to other unsuspecting victims…..

“Did you know that you cannot play the ukulele and be unhappy at the same time?”

Blog Thomas Dean

HE sure looks happy!  Like he’s the Pied Piper of Hamlin, I follow him to his tent where he shows me his display of Lanikai ukuleles. I can’t afford a ukulele at this point in my life.  A couple of years earlier, my son Ian and I had decided that we wanted either a banjo or a ukulele to add to our growing guitar collection but nary a uke could be found in London back then. We ended up with a banjo.  But look here!  Ukuleles by the tent-full!

I reluctantly carried on to enjoy the rest of the art and music at the Festival that night but I couldn’t get the ukuleles out of my mind. Particularly the one that looked just like  a mini-version of the two acoustic guitars we already had. Guitars that I had tried to play, but just could not get my fingers to stay on the proper places on the strings.

I SO longed to play the guitar. Since my first campfire singalong as a child at summer camp, the nostalgic feeling evoked by sitting around the fire in a circle, singing songs like ‘My Paddle’s Clean and Bright” and “It Only Takes a Spark to Get  a Fire Going” I had this dream that someday I, too might be able to play the guitar and lead a campfire singalong. I even bought a copy of “John Denver’s Greatest Hits for Easy Guitar” and tried very hard to learn ‘Rocky Mountain High’ on the boys’ guitars.  It was too hard and I’d given up.

Until.

I went to work the next day but couldn’t get that ukulele out of my mind. I couldn’t sleep that night for thinking about it.  There was an urgency to my wanting that ukulele that was unreasonably compelling. I couldn’t let it go. I had a crush on it.

Blog Lanikai Spruce TenorBlog heart

After work I went back to Victoria Park.  I’m not sure when I decided but decide I did, money be damned.  I had fallen in love with the one that had the glossy finish and looked just like a little guitar. With missionary zeal I headed toward the ukulele tent, only to find an empty spot on the grass where it had been the night before.   I experienced a pale version of that that yucky heart-wrenching feeling that lovers get when they are unwillingly parted from each other through no fault of their own and started wandering through the park with hopeful determination. I had the feeling that Ukulele Man was not a registered Festival vendor and that he moved around to avoid detection and sure enough I found him at the opposite end of the Park. His name was Thomas Dean. His business card said ‘Ukulele Journeys’.  In what must have been his easiest sell that day, for under $200 I bought from him my Spruce Tenor Lanikai ukulele with Aquila Nylgut strings, a tuner, and a case.  I was complete.

Although due to some major life changes (like moving to the other end of town and changing jobs)  it took me around year to really get down to business in terms of learning to actually play my new instrument, there was no doubt in my mind that I finally found my musical niche.  At that time, I had no inkling of the wild and crazy paths that my ukulele would lead me on but I did know deep down that although I couldn’t ‘afford’ it, I was ‘meant’ to buy it.  Sometimes in matters like this, you just have to follow your heart and it’s not until later, looking back, that your head will understand what your heart already knew.

The Angel Who Didn’t Sing

I am 8 years old, or perhaps 10, standing on the stage next to Theresa Osborn. Theresa is a grade behind me, but we walk to church choir together. Later, we will attend the same hockey games, be on the same sports teams at school. One time, sitting side-by-side on the stage of the gym waiting for our line to go on, Theresa told me my thighs were fat (they were-see how I never forgot this!). We also walked the twelve miles to Clinton and back together in a pro-life march (her mother was a big supporter at the time) and we re-connected later as adults over some other interesting shared life experiences.  These days, Theresa is  still stunningly attractive and athletic and I still have fat thighs!

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So here we are on the stage at the St. Mary’s Elementary School. The gym is filled with parents and family members watching their children in the Christmas Pageant.  I am ready. I know the words to the song because I practiced them diligently.  I sing in the church choir. I was chosen to move on to the next level in the grade four public speaking competition. I am wearing a beautiful white garment with gold-embroidered wings, and a lovely hairpiece.  I am special for having been chosen to be part of this duet. I am so ready for this.

Long before the earth and the stars were made

Angels sang a serenade

Like a mighty organ that filled the sky

They sang their praise to God on high!

Side by side alone on the stage we receive our cue and open our mouths to start singing. Out of my own well-prepared mouth comes………..nothing.  Nothing at all. I have frozen. Choked. I am not even  panicked or stricken with stage fright.  There is simply just nothing coming out of my mouth.  I can’t even whisper.

Blog Angel who can't sing

I hear Theresa beside me singing like, well, like an angel. So, I stay beside her and just mouth the words until the song is over.  Funnily enough, no one seems to notice, and apparently I have not ruined the whole pageant after all.  But I remember this incident these 40-odd years later, like it was yesterday.

Fast-forward a few year to high school. I made the chorus of a play called ‘Ferdinand and Isabella’. I am able to sing at the front of the stage with the other chorus members. Some of them choke and I can carry on even more strongly knowing that it is important to keep the song going.  I am redeemed in my own eyes.  The next year I try out for “Oklahoma” and don’t even get a small part. Ouch.

In a later memory,  I am 30 years old. I am holding my youngest son, Ian in my arms, singing to him like I sang to his older, less discerning (or more polite) brother. Ian emphatically puts his wee hand up to my lips to stop my singing. It happens again and again, so often and so pointedly that it finally hits me:  My OWN SON doesn’t like the sound of my singing! His own dear MOTHER for heaven’s sake! I must be REALLY bad if my OWN SON doesn’t want me to sing to him!  Or, maybe he just has a super discerning ear at the wee young age of six months old? Not likely.

About 8 or 9 years ago, these experiences along with my absolute love of singing finally led me to Gina Farrugia, who became my singing teacher for about 2 years. I found this amazing woman  through an article in Scene Magazine and she agreed to see me for an hour once a month. I told her that I wanted to learn to sing well enough that I could finally like the sound of my own voice.  Gina was wonderful. Although she has many young, serious students, she also had a real affinity for teaching adults in a holistic way to ‘find their voice’ and understood that this instruction ran much deeper than just improving someone’s singing voice.

I was a pretty terrible student in that I didn’t practice as often as I should. But I went to class faithfully, remembered what she taught me and learned a great deal that proved to be helpful down the road, in ways that I had no idea of knowing at the time.

Next Sunday, I will lead a carol sing at the Christmas party in the housing Co-op that I live in. For 2 years I have been leading a monthly  ukulele jam at the Library I work at.  I sing these days more than I have ever sung in my life and take great joy in encouraging others to sing, whether they think they can or not.  My youngest son, Ian, STILL can’t stand the sound of me singing, although now, at age 20, he has other ways of letting me know ‘-)

How I Spent My Fall Vacation: Last Chapter: Missing out on the Monks of New Skete, Finding St. Francis of Assisi and Piglets in Vermont!

I’ve had a terrible time condensing the details of this trip into manageable paragraphs. I recognize that I’m a bit verbose for the blog format and will try in future posts to be a bit more concise.  Suffice it to say, I am leaving out more than I am including and it’s a bit painful for my stream-of-consciousness natural writing style to edit my thoughts before typing them out. But here goes!

Rolling Vermont Hills, part of the Merck Farm Complex

Rolling Vermont Hills, part of the Merck Farm Complex

The day after visiting Jenna’s farm we decided to drive the 20 short miles into nearby Vermont, a state neither Mark nor I had yet visited. I’m not sure if it was ‘all in our heads’ or not but it DID seem as if the mountains became higher and the atmosphere  more rarefied once we crossed the border.  We definitely felt like we were driving through a movie set, with the white-sided stately homes surveying their elegantly hilly surroundings.

It also felt a bit like we were in a tourist trap. Everything seemed more expensive, coffee was sold with milk, not cream, the tourist information booth was a gift shop and the tourist bathroom turned out to be a  large Catholic gift shop filled with  Roman Catholic rosaries, books, statues, and jewellery. We did not avail ourselves of the $20 ticket sold by the Carthusian Monks of Saint Bruno which would let us by the toll road to drive up into the mountains for a scenic view from Mount Equinox, we really just needed the washrooms. But I did see a little booklet on St. Francis of Assisi which I bought for a dear friend who although not Catholic really resonates with this humble saint. When I asked my Mennonite Sweetie how he felt about being  surrounded by all of this religious iconography he just told me about all of the churches and heritage sites he’d already visited in Europe in years past so he was used to it and not put off at all.

I did think it ironic that we accidentally landed here. On our way, we took small detours intended to visit the Monks and Nuns of new Skete, located just miles away from our B&B. I’d read about the Monks for years, well-known for their books and videos on dog-training. The Nuns, who lived nearby, made cheesecake that was sold state-wide.  A bridge under construction and a closed visitors center had us out of luck visiting these Greek Orthodox mystics, yet a mundane need for a loo directed us to a Catholic gift shop. Hmmm!

Tamworth (a heritage breed) sow 'Plum'

Tamworth (a heritage breed) sow ‘Plum’

Plum rolled over SO carefully beside her already-sleeping piglet. She wanted to be close to them yet not squish them (as can happen when the piggies are smaller)

Plum rolled over SO carefully beside her already-sleeping piglet. She wanted to be close to them yet not squish them (as can happen when the piggies are smaller)

The piggies all nuzzled up together for an afternoon nap. I wish I could have properly captured them with a photo while they were grazing. They were unbelievably cute

The piggies all nuzzled up together for an afternoon nap. I wish I could have properly captured them with a photo while they were grazing. They were unbelievably cute

Plum and I were checking each other out.

Plum and I were checking each other out.

'Plum' close-up

‘Plum’ close-up

We did have Vermont destination. A brochure about the non-profit Merck Farm and Forest (no relation to the drug company) with a mention of pastured pigs led us to one of the most interesting places I’d ever been. Nestled among 3,000 acres of managed forest (from which thousands of gallons of maple syrup are made each year) are a few acres of sustainably managed crops and livestock.  For me, this was pig paradise.

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Here are the babies rooting around! It's hard work eating all day long!

Here are the babies rooting around! It’s hard work eating all day long!

The ALL looked so happy!

The ALL looked so happy!

I think Tamworth sows are known for being good Mom's to their piglets.

I think Tamworth sows are known for being good Mom’s to their piglets.

Tamworth sow ‘Plum’ and her six 4-week old piglets had my attention for at least an hour. I was able to see how they were housed and pastured, fed, farrowed, cleaned out as Mark explained the process to me. There were also working horses (who had their own implements, just like a tractor!) sheep, rabbits and chickens.  But oh, the little pigs!

Mark in the Merck Forest

Mark in the Merck Forest

Mark loves looking at equipment. Interestingly enough, on my quest for pigs, he gets to run into all kinds of things he likes: tractors, sheds, antique tools and other implements. You know-guy stuff!

Mark loves looking at equipment. Interestingly enough, on my quest for pigs, he gets to run into all kinds of things he likes: tractors, sheds, antique tools and other implements. You know-guy stuff!

We had a vigorous (means I ended up huffing and puffing) hike in the  forest in which were a number of cabins for all-season camping. We spent time perusing the cabins, the constructions details being of greater interest to Mark than me ‘-)  and had a great chat with one of the 3 full-time, year-long apprentices who happily shared her work experience with us.

I took a photo of this be'ewe'tiful lady as a way of making up for paying her almost no attention while oohing and ahhing over the pigs. She was very 'stately' and elegant in her way '-)

I took a photo of this be’ewe’tiful lady as a way of making up for paying her almost no attention while oohing and ahhing over the pigs. She was very ‘stately’ and elegant in her way ‘-)

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The 'Baby Barn'
The ‘Baby Barn’

In the interests of drawing this vacation description to a close, we headed towards Rochester the next day, staying overnight in the Finger Lakes area. Friday night with the convention for Women’s Rights made finding a place to stay a bit tricky so I will skip the part where we got just a teeeeeny bit grumpy from being tired and hungry.

Our last day had us stop at the Chicken Thistle Farm, which I had found earlier on the internet. Near Rochester, the website for this place invited visitors so we poked about when we arrived with a bit of trepidation as the family appeared not to be home. While enjoying their pastured pigs feeling a bit like we were trespassing, we talked about how the name of the farm was NOT cute to a farmer (farmers HATE thistles) and we later read that these farmers started in middle age so didn’t have the negative conotations that Mark did.  I thought it sounded kind of quaint. Sort of ‘old country’. But there you go!

I love the name of this place, out in the 'boonies' near Rochester, NY

I love the name of this place, out in the ‘boonies’ near Rochester, NY

On the way home we stopped in Cambridge to pick up my eldest son Chris. Ian was already here with his own rabbit, my kitty Boo Boo was happy to see us,  and we settled in for a wonderful thanksgiving weekend.

How I Spent My Fall Vacation-Part 4: PIGS! Up Close and Personal!

The drive through  Saranac and Washington Counties as we wound our way from Lake Placid to Salem was nothing short of idyllic.  Villages with quaint character punctuated  our journey through the autumn-coloured Adirondacks until  we arrived at our B&B which we had booked for the next 3 nights.  As we approached Salem, I made Mark stop and turn around as I thought I saw my first ‘pastured’ pig.  Although it was not the ‘real thing’ I was so intent in encountering on this trip, it was much closer in appearance than the previous pigs we’d seen and, I hoped, a harbinger of greater pigs to come.

So close to the real thing, but not quite!

So close to the real thing, but not quite!

We hadn’t google-mapped our B& B so it was really fortuitous that we had our GPS.   It was so off the beaten track that  If proprietor Laura Coldwell did not have a web-presence, only ‘word-of-mouth’ would keep her in business.  The only way anyone would stumble upon her country home would be if  they  had become hopelessly lost in the hills.  Although it was dark when we finally found the place, I could sense the  beauty of the surroundings and looked forward to morning when we could actually see where we were.

                    Bunker Hill Inn B & B, a family-farmhouse with wonderful rolling-hill views.
The Bunker Hill Inn B & B, a family-farmhouse with wonderful rolling-hill views shares the same gravel road  as the Battenkill Dairy, a family-owned operation famous all the way to Manhattan for its cream, milk, cheese and, ice cream which we sampled first-hand.  Our hearty breakfasts also included locally grown eggs and pork in the form of bacon and sausage. Yum!  Proprietor Laura Coldwell grew up in this house, then spent the next 2 decades in California before moving back 20 years ago to start the B&B.  Aside from it’s wonderful setting, I loved Laura’s laid-back-yet-professional style and that she waited in the kitchen for us to arrive for breakfast reading the newspaper with this amazing cello music playing in the background.

Our first morning at Salem started early with what was really the focal point of our trip, our visit to Jenna Woginrich’s ‘Cold Antler Farm” for an ‘Indie Day’ which was a chance for me to have one-on-one workshops with Jenna. I was very excited about this day for a variety of reasons, not the least being that I would be able to ‘hang out’ with Jenna right smack dab in the middle of all of the activity on her farm.   When turning onto her road I was almost dumbstruck (which, to anyone who knows me well, would be a near-miraculous state for me ‘-)   by the sheer and vast beauty of her surroundings. When you drive on the main roads in upstate New York and gaze out your car window across the rolling hills and mountains, all you really see are miles and miles of hills covered with trees.  For some reason I had the mistaken notion that nothing was happening in these acres of forest but wilderness.  We quickly learned, however, that there is a lot going on in ‘them there’ hills!  What looks to a passerby like wild forest  might actually be camouflage for  acres and acres of …….hayfields!  Or horse farms. Or mixed farms. Or little towns and villages. Or resorts on really big or little lakes!  It is as if there are whole other worlds nestled in amongst the hills that emerge like little happy surprises making the twist and turn of every mile a new driving adventure. So, right from the beginning, the day with Jenna started out wonderfully, just by virtue of the fact that she is living in paradise. Granted, this might have been the best time of the year to see this place, but even still, you could easily imagine how beautiful it would also be in the dead of winter, with the smell of wood burning in the air and hill-top houses lit up like welcoming lanterns. Or in the spring, when nature is waking up and the streams are running sweetly down the mountains home to the rivers below. But I digress.
Jenna’s farm was everything I imagined it to be and more. Chickens, geese, rabbits, working dogs, sheep, a goat, a horse, a pony and four pigs shared her homestead  in that romantic way that I always imagine when I think of farms of old. The only thing missing was the red barn (although we saw many of those on our trip, too).
Jenna had two immediate concerns on our arrival:  2 of her sheep were limping because they kept trying to jump the fence and getting their legs caught. She keeps a careful eye if this happens to make sure the injuries are not serious and heal properly.  Jenna is also becoming a falconer and today was the day that State authorities were arriving to scrutinize the facility she had built for her hopeful hawk.  If they approved (which they did) they would sign the paperwork she would submit in advance of receiving a license to trap a hawk of her own which she would then train and use for hunting.  Jenna just received a book advance to write about falconry and was really hoping her license arrived before winter after which it would be too late to get a hawk of her own before spring.  This was all new to me and although I don’t have a personal interest in this subject, I thought it neat that she never seems to run out of new adventures to embark on that are at the same time interesting and practical. I also thought it very interesting that over the past few years, Jenna has gone from being a vegetarian to a person who can shoot her own dinner, from her own forest.  There is definitely a gun culture in this neighbourhood which Jenna confirmed for me when I asked her if my wallet in my backpack would be safe on the cab of her pick-up truck.  “Are you kidding?”  she said.  “Out here, if you have a truck in your driveway, people assume that a) you have a gun and b) you will use it!”  So there!  The bigger worry was not human theft, but that if I left my backpack lying on the ground, it would be eaten by a goat!
After chatting a bit and discussing my hopes for our day (cheese/fiddle/pigs) we went out to see pigs.  Jenna  spoke really openly about the pros and cons of being a swineherd. Her 4 pigs have been presold for meat, which means that there is a lot at stake in terms of keeping them in their pens. Pigs are notorious for digging under fences and being hard to catch if they get out.  She also got the teaming day-long rain on the Monday that we had driven through, so the pigs’ pen was muddier than it might have been. However, that did NOT deter me from asking her if I could get in there with them for a photo and to really just be as close to them as I could be.
I thought I was in there to check THEM out!
I thought I was in there to check THEM out!

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Because I eat an omellete every day with goat-cheese on it, I thought it would be cool to contemplate someday making my own cheese. We drove to the roadside market to get some milk (cows milk, but the principles are the same) and Jenna explained to me what we were doing and why. Although there are many books and online resources available, nothing beats learning-by-doing, and I am much more confident now that if I were to try making cheese at home, I would not be nearly as intimidated.  The cheese we made reminded me of ricotta.  We speeded up the separation of the curds and whey by increasing the vinegar and it was really fun to watch things progress as Jenna described possible variations to me.  She even emailed me a couple of useful links:  The book ‘The Home Creamery” (whose author I think Barbara Kingsolver describes visiting in her wonderful book ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’) and Jenna’s favorite online supply store where you can get started making your own cheese for around $20.  I could see that cheese-making might be like cooking or baking-a skill that requires not too much knowledge to get started, but one that improves greatly with practice ‘-)

Our last ‘workshop’ of the day was a fiddle lesson.  Having never passed a bow over the strings of a violin in my entire 50 years, I had to overcome a block of fairly intense intimidation.  Having broken the ice at the Celtic Roots Festival in Goderich by strumming my first mandolin, I was eager to take this next scary step.  As those of you who have any acquaintance with the ukulele know, the great thing about the uke is that it has basically a zero intimidation factor and is known for its easiness to play and rather ‘democratic’ nature.  So picking  up  the violin (or, less intimidating to me, fiddle) was really pushing my musical envelope.  Jenna was a great ‘first instructor’ who had me playing (I want to say ‘strumming’ but don’t know the right word. Bowing???) notes right away. She made it seem easy and possible by first letting me pass the bow along the strings until I got a ‘feel’ for it and then showing me how to place my fingers on each string to play notes.  Finding out that you place your fingers in the same ‘spots’ on each string to create the different notes makes fiddle playing seem much more possible to me than it did before.  We didn’t spend much more than a half hour on this, as that was my saturation point but Jenna graciously played me a tune and we talked about performance anxiety, music as a great tool to connect people, and the joys of participation over perfection.

Jenna and one of her 'kids'

Jenna and one of her ‘kids’

What I really loved about being with Jenna was just ‘hanging out’ and how she honestly answered my questions about her farming passion and all of the various ups and downs that go with it.  Because I had already read  three of her  (wonderful) books and some of her blog posts, I felt like I knew her a little bit. Part of what I love about her writing is her honesty. She learns as she goes and then shares that learning with other hopefuls like me, to both inspire them and to give them ‘heads-up’ about some of the potential pitfalls.  Another thing I love about Jenna is that she is not ‘anti’ anything. Her goal of earning a living from farming full-time is a ‘moving towards’ goals and activities  that are inspiring her and motivating her from very deep within her own soul.  She takes calculated risks, works really hard, and enjoys the fruits of her labours even while being circumspect about the difficulties.  Jenna blogged about our visit (you can check it out here if you like, scroll down to the fourth photo and the post called ‘Lovin’ Indie Days”  and get an idea of how she is making this life work)   I was really happy to know that just a few days later she had a successful publication launch of her 4th book and that there are many people out there following her and supporting her journey.

How I Spent My Fall Vacation: Part 3-Discovering Lake Placid

We crossed the border near Kingston on Monday morning and found a place to eat a big country breakfast. We figured we couldn’t go wrong choosing a place called ‘The Diner’. Mysteriously enough, a couple of  porcelain pigs seemed to be mascots here, and when I asked the waitress if it would be too weird for me to take their  photo she laughed and said, ‘are you kidding, nothing’s too weird around this place!”

Diner Decor across the U.S. border.

Diner Decor across the U.S. border.

We decided to head towards Lake Placid, at the suggestion of Mark’s brother Roger, who’d been several times and enjoyed it. All I knew  was that it was home to the winter Olympics and I quickly found out that they were hosted here not once, but twice. To add to the interest apparently it was Dewey Decimal System Inventor Melvil Dewey who paved the way for these events. I love to find out that people who you know and love for one aspect of their lives turn out to have other, completely different but equally intriguing interests that you would have never thought of.

After several weeks of glorious fall sunshine we were past due for the teaming, non-stop rain and wind that we drove through all day, so although I wasn’t complaining  I still  hoped that when the pelting rain stopped and the sun came out again , there would still be enough leaves remaining on the trees for us to enjoy the ‘fall colour’ that this area is known for.

We made our way leisurely, noting that a quarter-inch on the map seemed to equal about an hour’s driving at the pace we were going, meandering through the hills and streams and little towns and hamlets.  We stopped at Tupper Lake and spoke with a Vietnam veteran who was the proprietor of an antique store there. He explained to us that the ubiquitous signs we were seeing that said ‘Safe NY’ with a red ‘x’ through them meant that the folks residing in this neck of the woods (Saranac County) were adamantly opposed to a proposed gun registry.  Many,  people living in this  county depressed by the closing of the paper mill used guns to hunt for food and that many people, himself included, had guns that would be considered illegal under the proposed legislation, guns that had sentimental and historical value to their owners.  This was our first real indication that we were in ‘gun country’ now, but it was really great to listen to this gentleman tell us his stories and answer our questions, even though he was officially ‘not open’.  I bought a bar of pine soap that he said would cost ‘three times as much in Lake Placid’ and once we arrived in that quaint and touristy town, I believed him.

Blog Pine Soap

In the dark and pouring rain, we looked around for lodgings that looked nice and reasonably priced.  It was worth persevering (we needed wifi for Mark’s work, which cancelled out one possibility and decided to avoid the motel with the arguing couple out front and absent desk clerk in the office). We were delighted to discover the Northway Inn along with it’s midweek rates and wonderful, although wet and foggy view of the Adirondacks.

Northway Inn in Lake Placid

Northway Inn in Lake Placid

A bonus was the tip from the desk clerk about where to have dinner. If you ever get to Lake Placid, you must visit Lisa G’s. This bustling place was clearly THE place to be if the packed tables were any indication.  I loved Lisa G’s utter lack of pretentiousness (the wait staff all wore jeans and black t-shirts) the  wonderfully interesting gourmet-type food at regular-restaurant prices served quickly, but not so quickly that  you felt rushed,  This was our  third outstanding dinner in a row on this trip and If you ever decide do the ‘upstate New York’ tour and want a destination, you couldn’t go wrong choosing Lake Placid in terms of food, activities and scenery.

High Falls Gorge

High Falls Gorge

Tuesday morning was dry and sunny, much to our delight.  After browsing through numerous brochures, we decided to forgo the historic Olympic venues in favour of trekking around the High Falls Gorge area in nearby Wilmington, NY.   This is a privately owned park which reminded me of the Elora Gorge, with miraculously constructed sturdy supports so you could walk along and over the raging rapids and read the well-done interpretive storyboards describing the local flora and geography.   After a day of sitting in the car driving, we really needed the hike up the surrounding mountains and through the marked trails.

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Mark bought me a Tilly-type hat (Dorfman Pacific Company “Outdoor” model)  at the gift-store and we enjoyed a coffee while resting  a bit before embarking on ‘Part 4’ of our trip.  After 3 days of neon, ceramic and porcelain pigs, it was time to encounter the ‘real thing’.

How I Spent My Fall Vacation: Part 2-Belleville & Kingston

Mark met me at the train station in Belleville and we headed off to his brother’s lovely home which overlooks the Bay of Quinte. We visited for a bit and then drove to Wellington, a small village in Prince Edward County, for dinner at Pomodoro. My pig sightings started a lot more quickly than I thought they would.  You know how you have that  experience of, say, buying a certain kind of car, then all of a sudden seeing that car all over the place, when you’ve  never even noticed it before?  Well, this holiday in which I was on a journey to see pasturing pigs became one of those journeys where pigs started showing up all over the place.  In this case, after leaving the restaurant we walked by a house that was built right up to the sidewalk. On prominent display on the inside ledge in the 2 large picture windows were 10 or 15 ‘china’ pigs given pride of place for all passersby to see. From a few inches long to almost a foot they were mostly of the pink ‘piggy bank’ type. I wanted to take more time to properly examine them but I could see that just a few feet away the home’s inhabitant was inside, watching tv, facing me.  I didn’t want to appear as if I was looking through his living room windows at HIM!  What I REALLY wanted to do was knock on his door and ask him “hey, what’s up with all the pigs?” and if I was by myself, I might have!  I later found out that in years past, just behind this house, a ham-packaging factory used to operate, which shipped hams all over Ontario. Was he perhaps a former employee?  Ham factory owner?  Just random porcelain pig collector?  I will never know.

Ian & Jamie and the new vehicle

Ian & Jamie and the new vehicle

Sunday at noon we met Ian and his girlfriend Jamie for a quick coffee. They were in Belleville visiting with Jamie’s parents, then heading back to Kingston where they attend St. Lawrence College. I was excited to see Ian with his first vehicle, which definitely suits him and glad to see Jamie again.

Mark’s nephew Evan and his wife Shannon also live in Kingston and we headed to their new place for a quick visit. Shannon graciously made gluten-free coconut cookies for Mark and were really pleased to discover that they are expecting their first child.  It was great to chat with them and for me, to get to know them a little bit better.  I was really excited when Evan asked Mark: “Hey, do you know anything about raising pigs? I have a friend who wants to raise some for food”.  I gave Mark a nudge and we had an enthusiastic discussion about the growing interest in raising pigs in a small-scale way.

Later that evening we met up with Mark’s friends Julian and Sylvia. Mark used to work with Julian but he’s since retired. Mark connects with them often when he’s in Kingston.  This evening they chose as a place to eat….Chez Piggy!  I don’t THINK this was because of me, but I must tell you, the food was wonderful. I  had Lentil With Twice-Smoked Bacon Soup to start. The menu was creative and interesting and I was very excited to find pigs associated with such a great dining experience.

Chez Piggy

Chez Piggy

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