Monday, 7 November 2016

Large, please

Yesterday daughter N was off to yet another birthday party - she's been to about one hundred and forty-five in the last two weeks -  but this time an extra special one because it was her best friend's party (the young lad I've mentioned before here and here.) The party was also special because it involved reptiles. And a tarantula. A reptile lady came around and showed kids some amazing specimens, which they were allowed the hold and stroke. All but the tarantula, apparently a slightly unpredictable specimen and prone to nervousness. What exactly that means, I do NOT want to know. In any case, the reptile lady taught the kids all about reptiles and what you need to do should you run into one somewhere. They even got a wee diploma at the end of the session.

After dropping N off at the party, I took son S into town for a bit of mother-son togetherness, something we both really appreciate. We sat at one of our favourite cafe's, outside, not caring a fig that it was raining. We sat under the awning with an outdoor heater on, enjoying people rush by. "Would you like a small cappuccino or a large one?" the waiter asked. Normally I always go for small - I really have to watch the caffeine intake - but this time I thought I'd pull out all the stops. "Large, please."

My son laughed. "You and your cappuccino," he said.

Early evening we picked up N from the party. It was dark. There were stars out. A sharp scent of burning fireplaces filled the air.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Bionic dwarf hamster

You may recall Binkie, the cat we rescued from the shelter a little over a year ago. I was convinced Binkie would be with us forever - that is to say, until he would one day return to the Big Cat in the sky - but unfortunately that was not to be.

It all started around March, when Binkie suddenly squirted red fluid all over my bedroom door.  'What the hell just happened,' I asked him as if he was about to give me an explanation. As soon as the shock had subsided, I got on the phone and called the vet. 'Most likely a bladder infection,' she said. I took him straight over, she examined him, took a urine sample and lo and behold: a urinary tract infection. Not a bacterial one however, so antibiotics wouldn't do him any good. In fact, she thought it wasn't due to any physical illness, but stress. Stress?! Binkie was about the most relaxed cat in town, or so I thought. That is, until a few days later I witnessed him being bullied by a neighbourhood cat. You know the kind: bulky, intimidating, ginger-furred. A real thug. Straight from a gangster movie (he's even missing a leg).

In the following weeks I made a point of observing Binkie's interaction with other neighbourhood cats and in practically all cases, he was - to put it bluntly -  a complete pussy (I hate that word, but somehow it seems appropriate here). Binkie's predicament was heart-breaking. But so was ours, since what I also began noticing was an increasing instance of cat pee/spray in the house. On doors. On walls. On table legs. Even on son S's new skateboard. It became totally frustrating and I again consulted the vet. She admitted him to her clinic for the day, ran all sorts of tests (bladder, kidneys - the works) but to no avail. I seriously hoped she would find something - "Aha - the kidneys are the culprit; give him this pill daily and he'll never pee/spray in the house again. Ever." - but that wasn't going to happen. To cut a long story short: after trying everything, including extremely-expensive-stress-lowering-nibbles, I saw no other option than to return him to the shelter. It was a very, very difficult decision to make.

By now you're probably wondering what the heck this has to do with a dwarf hamster. A bionic one, no less. Please bear with me, I'm getting there.

After some time of grieving over Binkie, the kids were ready for a new pet. Let us choose a small one, I thought. One that won't be too expensive to buy and keep. Binkie had cost a lot in vet bills, plus taking him out of the shelter as well as putting him back in weren't exactly bargains either. Anyway, last Saturday I took the kids to pick up a wee dwarf hamster I had seen in a local pet shop. What a sweetie! Dwarf hamsters are not new to me - years ago I had two of them and they both lived to be three. But let me stick to this little fellow, whom we called 'Spekkie' (loosely translated: Marshmellow). Spekkie took to us pretty quickly, sitting quite happily on one of our hands and scurrying enthusiastically through the Lego maze the kids had made for him.

But then, the day before yesterday - Wednesday to be precise - something happened. As I was depositing cute little heart-shaped-breakfast-thingies into his bowl, he popped his head out of his little dugout, only to reveal a great hump of pink flesh hanging out of his mouth. 'What the hell just happened,' I asked him as if he was about to give me an explanation. And once again, as soon as the shock had subsided, I got on the phone and called the vet. 'Most likely an everted cheek pouch,' she said. 'You should come over right away.' And so I picked the little guy up, put him in his miniature travel basket and off we went. 'That doesn't look good,' the vet said. 'The pouch is infected as well.' No kidding. She suggested Spekkie stay at the clinic, so she could push the pouch back in and observe whether it would stay put. And did the pouch stay put, I hear you wonder. No, of course it didn't! The vet called me around noon to say that one of two things could be done: put Spekkie down, or operate the cheek pouch (not without risk, she added; the anaesthesia could kill him). Well, putting him down was out of the question. And so little Spekkie was wheeled into surgery, where part of his pouch was successfully amputated and the rest reattached to the inside of his mouth.

The irony? We have had little €9 Spekkie for six days and he has cost me €150 in vet bills already. Wow. A little painful, but as Roald Dahl liked to say: 'Always, ALWAYS, be kind to small animals.' 

Warning: the photo below shows the everted pouch.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016


Don't you just love Autumn? Blustery days, golden leaves falling, that special light the colour of lemon juice. Though I look forward to it every year, and certainly after late Summer heat, the one thing that always takes me by surprise is the tiredness that accompanies it. And I mean tiredness to the bone. It happens to me every year, in September and October - sometimes even November. And every year I wonder what the heck is wrong with me. Am I anaemic? Too overloaded with work? Dying, perhaps?

I have just returned from a thorough check-up and apparently the latter is not the case. Not just yet anyway. And since I'm not aenemic either, it must come down to too much work. However...I have cut back on my teaching hours this year, so surely that can't be the case. What I am therefore beginning to suspect is that I am simply suffering from a decline in (mental) flexibility. You see, there is nothing I love more than the languid mornings the Summer holidays offer, when I ease my way into the day without the persistent ringing of an alarm clock, mornings in which I wander downstairs when I'm good and ready to find that the kids have pretty much taken care of themselves (quietly too!). M and I are lucky enough to practise the same profession, hence no alarm clock for him six consecutive weeks of the year either. And that seems to slow us down to a normal pace of life. In fact, I am always visited by a particular peace of mind that is pretty much a stranger to me during the busy months of the school year. All this makes the start of the new school/working year a shock to the system. There's schoolbags to pack, sports kits to think of, kids to get out of bed (increasingly difficult!), lunches to make (thankfully M takes care of those) etc. Not to mention a flood of emails to plough through, play-dates, birthday parties and so on and so forth. And our own work to top it off. Anyone with a young family knows what I'm talking about. 

As an antidote to the exhausting business I mention above, let me include a couple of photos from our Summer holiday this year. Instead of going abroad as we usually do, we stayed in Holland and went sailing in Friesland. And I'm glad we did. As the domestic tourism campaign slogan used to say back in the days when I still lived in New Zealand: 'Don't leave home till you've seen the country.'

(And yes, I'm the one hiding under the umbrella to prevent sun rash, being the all-round sensitive girl I am).