The Project Debrief – Attack of the Killer Couch

Maybe it’s not symbolic of the whole year in general, but it sure is special when Eva decides to crawl under the fold-out couch and then climb up inside the mechanism and shoot her paw out between the couch cushions to slash at your feet and wake you up just 4 hours into your recovery from a 14-hour shift. All your brain can think is “Why is the couch trying to kill me?!?!” screamed at full mental volume. And then you see the little white-tipped paw retreat back beneath the cushions and realize that it’s just someone cute being a dick to you because they find it amusing.

It’s probably because I took her frog off her. It was a real frog, hiding among my potted plants, and it was squealing with that horrid noise that distressed frogs use. It appeared unharmed, if only because she was so put off by the sound that she was just standing back, sniffing and occasionally tentatively batting at it. So I put a pot over it, and distracted all of the cats with treats while I let the frog get away. This apparently meant that Eva was going to spend the next few hours primed with the caffeine high of hunting energy… and that she was going to get more creative with her stalking technique.

Or perhaps this is symbolic of the year in general. We started the year fairly settled and looking for a pretty section to buy. We’d put in a lot of work trying to find a place over the previous year, and we juggled a few squirming cats and distressed frogs, but we were generally optimistic about our future here. And then we found a place and (despite some issues trying to sort out the finances) we bought it. Sorted.

But perhaps the financial issues at the start were just a sign of things to come. Everything seemed fairly settled and the tasks were moving ahead well when the proverbial couch decided to try and kill us. Surprise! You don’t have a mortgage anymore!… Surprise! It turns out that you never did!

That was tough. And the fact that this sweeping change piled on top of the recent revelation that my job no longer had the potential for future growth… well it was like falling down a deep well. Trapped. No way out. Wondering how the heck you ended up here.

And I have ended the year still trying to climb out of that well. Less optimistic than when we started, but persisting forward because there are no other options. There are still a lot of things that need to be sorted out for the house. I’ve had a couple of encouraging sniffs at new jobs, but no concrete offers at this stage. Still, we are trying to climb.

In between those 14-hour shifts…

 

Big Dry

See, I wasn’t kidding about the fact that the new section is pretty parched. This isn’t actually part of the pasture – it’s the bit that’s been scraped off to put the house foundations in – but you can see how the clay is already starting to flake and crack in the heat.

On days like this the sun is just unbearable. As with yesterday, my husband and I did some work in the morning, and then came home at lunchtime and laid about having a siesta. After just an hour and a half up at the section, working without any shade, we’d both sweated gallons and ended up with pounding headaches. He was laying down weed-mat, and had an allergic reaction to some of the weeds. He gets bad hayfever anyway, and this time his arms broke out in a mass of red welts. The combination of these factors was enough to drive us back home (and to the pharmacy) with very little done.

It was so hot that when we got home we found our (black) cats all snoozing on the back porch in the shade. Eva had even curled up in a planter pot, which was still damp from where I’d watered it that morning. I think if we had a fountain or pool outside they would all have been puddling about in the water to cool off.

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I returned to the section later in the evening to finish the weedmat and water what plants I could. One of the neighbors stopped by to tell me to mow the grass… Yeah, we tend to mind our own business with our neighbors and we appreciate it when they do the same. But I was polite. Politer than I should have been.

Perhaps it was the heat.

Shade

Of course, when I finally stirred at 7am, all of the kitties attacked me. It is Breakfast Time with a capital B. Gomez did his unnatural smoochy thing with a big stripe of kitty litter dust right down his nose. I don’t really understand what he does in the litter box, but somehow he often comes out with warpaint on his face. It’s like he’s rolling around in the friggin’ stuff.

It is another summer day, full of the promise of sunburn and prickly heat. After rushing to water most of our trees before work yesterday, there is still more watering to do. There are still more vegetable seedlings to get into the ground. There are still new seeds to sow. And there is endless weeding ahead.

Unfortunately there is also no shade at the new section. I mean none. At least we now have our little shed, but it will be only minimal respite from the sun. Eventually, if we can keep these trees alive long enough, they will give us a bit of shelter from the wild heat of an Auckland summer.

And then I will be able to move my shade garden, above. I will be able to relocate my hostas and heucheras and liriope. I will take the hydrangeas, and astelias, and acanthus, and liguarias. The Mexican orange blossom. The Canterbury bells. All the ferns.

But for today… well, maybe I will just come home at around lunch time and find some shade.

Dinner

It’s undoubtedly a sign of how shitty your work week has been when you come home on a Friday night and get out the cider and a giant Toblerone.

This wasn’t actually my dinner. I cheered myself up by making venison, butternut and feta empanadas, which I’ve been meaning to make for ages. I bought the venison steaks on special about a week ago and they’ve been staring at me in the fridge ever since.

But, in retrospect, I ruined them. They were leaner than lean – I mean almost purple they were so dark. It’s easy to ruin venison when it’s this lean. I rubbed them with cumin, cilantro, lemon zest, salt and cinnamon. I flash-fried them in a hot pan for less than 60 secs per side. I let them rest in the same pan so they could release their juices and lose all of that sizzle-tension that causes them to shrink in the heat. And then I sliced them up. And they were beautiful – medium rare, soft as butter, delicious… But then I folded the slices into my empanadas and cooked them again. They turned from soft and buttery to slow-cooked flaky, and lost some of that wondrous flavor.

I should have just done venison steaks and coleslaw for dinner. They were perfect before I cooked them again. You live and learn.

And then my lovely husband came home with flowers because he’s lovely. And Scrappy fell asleep against me as I lay on the couch – curled up against my cheek with his head on my cleavage, as he twitched and fidgeted and dreamed. It was sweet. This is the stuff that makes me carry on.

This and, you know: cider and chocolate.

Giving Thanks

Why exactly do we insist on giving thanks by eating copious amounts of food? It does kind of make sense if we are thankful for a harvest, and if the weeks leading up to this have been starving times where we waited impatiently for the food to come… But like most people in the Western world, I have a supermarket nearby, so the highs and lows of subsistence farming no longer affect me. Basically I’m just showing thanks through gluttony.

And there’s still Christmas to come.

My husband was grateful though. Grateful that I would rush home after 11 hours at work to cook a big meal so that he could come home from his work day and eat dinner with his wife. And I am grateful that he is wonderful and he wants to have a meal with me. And that he will do the dishes.

I’m grateful that we finally found a section to buy, and figured out how to make the loan work, even though it’s currently crippling us financially.

I’m grateful that we have a happy home, with 3 sometimes-lovely cats (even though Scrappy kept jumping up on the table throughout dinner and trying to steal turkey off our plates).

I’m grateful that our plants are mostly growing, and in a few months there will be harvests of our own to do.

But mostly I am grateful for him and how supportive and kind he is. I am grateful for that every day.

Despite the harshness of the past winter, there is so much to be grateful for this year.

 

Missing Time

At least, after the second round of crazy-long events this week, I got to come home to a husband and pets who missed me. My husband was briefly happy and sympathetic, watching an episode of Seinfeld with me before he had to go to bed himself. While Scrappy and Eva alternated between the climb-on-your-torso-purring-headbutting-and-licking-your-face type of cuddles, and the more gentle curl-up-next-to-you-and-clean-myself cuddles. Eva also throws in the here’s-my-butthole show of appreciation, just to mix things up a bit. It is nice to feel wanted.

After this weekend, I am beyond sore. My gut is in pieces again, and my legs shake when I stand on them. It’s like I’ve suddenly got really, really old…

And all I can think about is getting back into the garden again on Tuesday. Hopefully it is not sheeting down with rain again this time. Hopefully I can get those fruit trees in the ground. Hopefully I will have more vegetable seedlings to plant out.

Hopefully I don’t just spend the whole day sore and asleep…

Fuji Waterfall

There’s nothing quite like climbing into the shower after a few hours bent over weeding. All the scratches on my forearms and legs start to sting. The dirt that fell down my cleavage softly sloughs off my skin. I can pumice the rough spots on my feet and start to feel more human again.

There was no point in wasting the break in the rain. I decided to attack the garden at the side of the house, and in the process revealed the evening sunlight to the show-stopping baby hydrangea above. I’m not usually a fan of lacecap hydrangeas, but Fuji Waterfall is such a delicate, elegant flower that it’s hard to find fault.

Even the cats came outside to help me with the weeding (well, two of them did anyway – Gomez rarely deigns to such things). Eva lolled around in my freshly-dug dirt, giving herself a dust bath and generally trying to distract me with her cuteness in the hopes of getting treats. When that didn’t work, she climbed the plum tree so that she could dangle from a branch above me, purring loudly and occasionally trying to bat me on the head. Scrappy thought it would be much more fun to hide in the bushes and rush out to attack my gloved hands as I worked. He got quite miffed when I tossed a handful of dirt at him – running away because I dared to fight back. It’s wonderful when they’re in a silly mood. Just not that helpful.

It also seemed that every 30 minutes or so I was impatiently returning to my peat pots to check on the seeds I planted on Wednesday. It’s ludicrous, but my beans and blue corn got me all excited when the seeds pushed themselves up through the soil again within 24 hours of first planting them. Since then they have sat there – probably putting down roots over the subsequent 24 hours, but stubbornly refusing to break into leaves. And I am like a chef constantly watching the pot, counting down eternity while I wait for it to boil. Germinate, damn you! I want summer beans!

But all will happen in time. Gardening should not be the vocation of impatient people… Or impatient kitties for that matter.

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Bills Are Evil

See, if I didn’t take pictures of stuff like this, nobody would believe that the cats eat our bills.

That’s Eva, and our quarterly Council Rates bill – which fortunately I had just set up for payment shortly before she decided to destroy it. Our cats have always had this very odd habit of chewing up paper and cardboard. They don’t actually eat it – they just quietly and meticulously tear it into little bits and toss it all over the room. I’ve never had a cat with this habit before, but all of these three siblings do the same thing. Perhaps they just really like confetti so resort to making their own. It would be more annoying if it wasn’t so cute and hilarious.

In the end, the wind convinced me not to go planting trees today. Instead, I stayed home and planted seedlings and did some weeding. I know there will be another property inspection in early December, so it’s probably a good idea to knock the weeds back now before they get away from us. The trees still need to go in the ground though, so I will need to find some time in between my crazy schedule of events and no sleep.

… And speaking of that. I just realized that I have to go to work an hour and a half earlier than I thought on Thursday. Because conferences.

Well, so much for sleep.

Secret Time

I’m sure there will be too much detail in this post, but why is it that cats cannot seem to respect toilet privacy?

I came home from work late at night and went to the toilet to do a poo. So of course, Scrappy pushes the door open and starts alternately staring at me intensely and smooching and purring around my legs. Then he jumps up on my lap, still purring loudly, and begins smooching my face so much that he’s basically kissing me. It’s nice to be so loved, but it does make it really hard to concentrate on the actual business at hand.

And I have to wonder why cats are so vastly fascinated in humans’ toilet habits. They don’t do this to each other. When one of them needs some “secret time”, the others don’t follow them into the litter box and cuddle up with them – they’re likely to get smacked. Instead the respect one another’s privacy.

But even on a scale of regular toilet-bothering, this session from Scrappy was particularly intense. I mean, he just wasn’t going to let me get on with my own secret time. He was so clingy that he was practically crawling inside my face.

… Oh, there was an earthquake last night at about that time. That’s probably why. There was a big earthquake in the South Island and so my cat wouldn’t let me take a poo without him.

I guess things could be worse.

Hunting

In the past few days, our cats have caught at least five small animals – four birds and a mouse, which Scrappy helpfully released in the lounge alive, and made me run around and chase it outside. Perhaps he thought I needed to learn how to hunt. We figured that all this killing must be a sign that it’s worming time. Either that, or they regard the spring in much the same way as we regard pre-Christmas sales. “Look at that abundance! I don’t really need one of these, but it’s on sale!”

We keep our cats in at night, but it does beg the question as to why we let them outside at all. In New Zealand it’s perfectly normal to allow your cats to roam outside, day or night, and keeping them contained is largely seen as cruel. It would be like having a dog and never allowing it to go outside. We don’t have any snakes or large predatory wildlife to worry about, and it doesn’t snow across most of the country, so there is little reason to be concerned about a cat outdoors.

Except, of course, for the hunting. New Zealand’s large fauna are almost entirely birds. The only mammals native to these islands are bats and seals. Because they had no predators (or their predators were also birds) many of New Zealand’s birds evolved to live on the ground. But then humans came along, and we brought with us dogs and pigs and rats and stoats and possums and (yes) cats. And we wiped out an awful lot of birds.

Cats, of course, have no filter for whether a bird is a native or introduced species. So far everything I’ve seen them kill is an introduced species, but that’s probably just because there’s more of them about. To their credit, they also kill rats and mice, which will in turn help native bird populations by taking away some of their predators. Plenty of people in New Zealand are quick to damn cats for the damage they do, but give them little credit for their assistance in controlling rodents.

There’s really no perfect solution. We can keep our cats inside, and we can keep trapping and poisoning the possums and rats, but we can’t turn back the clock and get rid of the problem entirely.

In the meantime: worming pills.