Cat People

There are unsung heroes among us. Almost everyone knows one or two, or at least hasRene Chartrand Parliament Hill feral cat colony encountered them. They’re usually not thought of as heroic or civic-minded. Instead they’re a code word for loneliness with a bit of looniness thrown in. In cautionary tales of self-help articles and advice from well-intentioned relatives, you might hear something like, “and if you keep on acting like this, you’ll end up being one of those cat ladies“.

Almost every community has at least one – the person who quietly feeds and shelters stray and feral cats. They use their own resources, even paying for neutering and medical treatment out of their own pocket. If you want to get a cat, they’re often your closest resource. They’re happy to find homes for the cats that want homes. They may be your most relied upon resource if you want to solve your problem with an unwanted cat or a stray that’s hanging around your house. But to people neither acquiring nor getting rid of cats, they’re probably just seen as eccentric at best, a hoarder or crazy person at worst.

Wannabe Cat Lady

Years ago, I was seen as the cat lady of the village I then lived in. I suppose it all fit. I lived alone in an old ramshackle house, I wasn’t from there, I had no visible means of support and kept odd hours. Also I kept chickens and had three cats. I realized I fit the bill one fall when children began coming to my door with kittens or adult cats.

It seemed there had been a lot of cats dumped off in our town that summer. So kids, looking scared out of their minds, would hold up a tiny kitten or bedraggled old moggy and say “Mam said you’d be able to help with this cat. We can’t keep her and Mam said you’d know what to do.” I tried taking the cats in, at least until I could figure out what to do with them.

But my cats wouldn’t let me become a real cat lady. My mother and son cats loathed other cats. The third cat was a stray who had simply refused to leave despite their best efforts to drive him off. When new cats began coming in the house, the three bonded and became a tag team of terror toward any new arrival. After fearing for the lives of the new strays until I could get them safely to the SPCA shelter, I had to refuse to take any more. And so ended my career as a cat lady.

René Chartrand, Parliamentary Cat Carer

Rene and Parliament Hill Cat Colony 2006 photo Jim Stewart One of the best known “cat ladies” in Canada is a man. For 21 years, René Chartrand looked after the feral cat colony at Parliament Hill in Ottawa. If you go behind the Parliamentary Library and walk along the river, you’ll see a wrought iron fence. Inside there, on the hill, is the cats’ headquarters. Mr. Chartrand built a condominium of shelter boxes for them. The roofs are of the same style as the Parliament Buildings. There are verandahs running along the sides with food and water bowls. There are donation boxes on the fence to help with the costs.

It’s a long-standing colony of cats, from long-ago Parliamentary mousers, cats from vessels on the Ottawa River and ones that have been dumped or strays that found their way there. For many years they have been helped by the kindness of strangers. The first long-term caretaker was Irene Desormeaux in the 1970s. She fed them, got veterinary care for them and began neuter and release efforts. Mr. Chartrand took over responsibility for them after her death in 1987. He retired in 2008 and a small group of his helpers continues to care for the cats. You can read about the cats and see pictures of them on their Facebook page. There’s also lots of articles and information on them on the web.

Buy an extra can of cat food

Most feral cat colonies and cat ladies aren’t as well known as Ottawa’s. But every city and village has them. Without the efforts of the cat ladies, the feral cat population would be a much greater problem than it is. So, if you notice someone buying cat food by the case, try to find out why. If they’re feeding strays, buy a couple more cans of food or treats and put them in their shopping bag. They’ll appreciate the help.

First posted as “A Cat Digression” on my St. Thomas Dog Blog Mar. 23, 2010. Acts of Kindness describes how individuals and a group made a difference in St. Thomas ON.

Mr. Chartrand died Dec. 7, 2014 at the age of 92. After the last Parliament Hill cat, Bugsy, was adopted in January 2013, the cat colony was officially closed and the Cat Parliament Buildings demolished. Thank you, Mr. Chartrand.

Corrie Street Dec. 28/14

When I’m 62

poor tracy cryingTracy got the news that Rob got 25 years in prison and she cried genuine tears. Poor Tracy, I thought with my heart going out to her. “I’m going to be 62 by the time he gets out.” Poor Tracy indeed. Yes, that’s what will keep Rob awake nights worrying about in his jail cell while Big Louie and the other inmates try to get to know him better.

She is truly distraught about Rob, but she just can’t help it: her misery takes priority. tracy-at-bedroom-doorLosing her true love to decades behind bars is unfortunate for her, but it’s a damned sight more unfortunate for Rob!

Tony’s sympathetic words about picking yourself up and carrying on did push her to see if she could go on with her life. First step, attract a man. She needs to know that she can do it, to keep her from becoming a lonely old lady “who has cats”.  So what if that man is someone else’s?

Tony in the crosshairs

tracy-propositions-tonyYou knew Tony didn’t stand a chance, and maybe he didn’t want to keep away. For Tracy, it was just proximity, I think. It just happened to be Tony who was there. Could have been anybody with a pulse. On Tony’s part, who knows?

Tony-carries-Tracy-to-bedThe bonus of this scene was seeing Tony’s apartment. I like it. Maybe we, and he, will be seeing more of it now that he’s carried Tracy off to the bedroom. Because you know Liz is not going to forgive or forget. Maybe Tony should think about getting a cat – would be much safer company than Tracy, or Liz once she knows.

Corrie Street Dec. 21/14

Family Day

family day minglingFamily Day at Jamila House: almost everyone was there, dressed up for family portraits. But they were consumers, not participants. Willingly or not, the Nazirs ran the event, led by Yasmeen.

Poor Sharif was forced into a Santa suit by his wife’s steely eyes showing him the living hell he would endure if he did not. When he made his first appearance, Michael tsk-tsked santa-shoesabout his lack of black boots. Michael said he had always made sure he had the costume right in his many years of playing Santa at many events. So Yasmeen had not asked around, asked whether anyone in the community had experience or interest in taking part in any way other than as paying audience members.

Similarly, Alya was less than thrilled to be forced into her elf costume. But I bet Katy would have loved a chance to dress up in that little outfit. Maybe a career path for her! The only non-Nazir worker bee was the photographer – a complete stranger.

Sally illustrated the atmosphere of service provision rather than sally-wants-reshootparticipatory event in her wish to have her photograph reshot. Tim, she said, looked “confused.” Yasmeen said “and you think that is the photographer’s fault?” After a moment’s reflection, Sally said “no, that’s Tim’s fault.” Brilliant deadpan by both.

Storylines furthered

Storylines were furthered in the hubbub. Some reached resolution, others got started. gail-panickingTim realized that, no matter what, he was going to have to tell Faye his reading skills were not up to compering the school auction. Katy whispered to Alya that Gary and Izzy might be getting back together. Kylie hadn’t shown up, sending Gail into fits about the incomplete family photo and a worried and suspicious David off to look for her.

Young Jack wreaked havoc. He kicked Alya the elf, then banged into Maria as she was upset-elf-alyarepairing her make-up, causing her to stab herself in the eye with a mascara wand. Luke saved her day, and family photograph, by finding pirate gear and dressing her and Liam up with eye patches. He used the photographer’s lights and camera and took the picture himself. Maybe he could have been the official photographer. Yes, Yasmeen,  Santa’s helpers abound – in your own neighbourhood.

Corrie Street Dec. 14/14

Ruby Tuesday

red-lips-sofaThe week had a lot of gems, but the sparkliest of all was Tuesday’s ruby red lip sofa. It’s too bad it wouldn’t fit into Kevin’s house. He doesn’t care whether it matches his wallpaper, or any aspect of his house whatsoever. Jack could have coloured his heart out on it and no one would have cared. But it ended up at Sally’s instead.

sally-sees-sofaNow Sally does care about whether things look nice. She knew that the great big set of lips did not fit with her decor. “A monstrosity,” “Mick Jagger blowing a raspberry” – these were her first, unstudied and accurate comments on it. However, after a consultation with Dr. Google, she discovered it was “by Le Coeur, their Manhattan line” and worth a bundle. After that, they’d take it from her only by prying the genuine Italian cowhide from between her cold, dead fingers.

By the end of the week, a social-climbing battle is being waged within her. She has met the sofa’s previous owner, likes her, and has found out it was sold without her knowledge and that she wants it back. If Sally keeps it, she will be able to show off her ‘designer’ taste. But she will not be able to pursue a friendship with the nice and, more importantly, upscale American woman from a ritzy part of town because she can’t invite sofa-will-not-fither home as long as the sofa is there. One can only hope that a new friendship and sympathy for a wronged wife will win out. Another week of looking at that sofa and we’ll all be having nightmares.

Phil the Masseuse

The other gem in Tuesday’s episode was Phil the masseuse. On their spa day, Carla graciously agreed that Michelle could avail herself of the massage skills of the gorgeous Claudio-and-PhilClaudio and she would take the other one, Phil. That’s short for “the bosses reckon Philomena is a bit of a mouthful. Phil-o-men-a, what’s so hard about that? You’d think there weren’t any vowels in it or that you got to do a click. People are just lazy aren’t they.” She is an absolute treat. Surely there is a vacant building near Coronation Street that they could set up shop in.

Carla’s graciousness continues to be tested during the rest of the week, and she meets the challenge. She confronts Tracy who is trashing the factory. Carla defuses a tense situation while bringing them to a better understanding of each other’s feelings toward Rob and considering-sofa-optionswhat he had done. Extremely moving and well done. But the sofa kept intruding in my mind. Hmm, maybe it could work in Carla’s flat. She’s doing well with challenges right now.

Salvador Dali’s Mae West Lips Sofa 1937, from The Guardian.


Corrie Street Dec. 7/14

Stand and Stare

Tuesday, Steve has a hideous day. He had gone to the doctor and been diagnosed with depression. He asked for something to make it stop but, thankfully instead of pills, the Steve-with-cardoctor prescribed talking it out with a therapist or someone close. His mother, he said, he could talk to her.

Afterwards he went driving in his new car. He pulled over somewhere and sat thinking. When he was ready to go on, the car wouldn’t start. So a call to Webster’s towing service and a ride home with Kevin for him and the car.

And over the road they came, like a pack of angry chickens. Liz, Michelle, Tony, Lloyd and steve-sees-approaching-posseAndrea. Andrea, who had seen him leaving the clinic, was the only one to not want to peck him to death. He focused on his mother, trying to tell her he needed to talk to her. But she and Michelle focussed on telling him what a complete waste of oxygen he was. Lloyd and Tony kept close, waiting for the kill.

What’s wrong with you?

They all want to talk. “What’s wrong with you? I’ll tell you what’s wrong with you!” No Liz-blasts-Stevechance to get a word in, Steve realizes, even in self-defence let alone the opening up of a troubled soul.

We viewers all can see that Michelle hasn’t once wondered what’s wrong with Steve. All she can think is that he’s gone off her, that it’s her fault somehow. How self-centred, we say, that she can’t imagine that something in his head is not about her. But have you not felt the same when someone is distant from you? The thought that something else is going on may occur to you, but mainly you’re going to fret about what you have done, why they are mad at you.

Unlike Michelle, Liz isn’t thinking that she is the reason for his weird mood. Maybe it Liz-pursues-stevewould slow her down, and give him a chance to tell her what’s wrong, if that thought did cross her mind. She is simply furious with him for letting everyone down, so does the mother thing of ‘a good talking to’. This is for sure a time when the other motherly response, a listening to, is called for.

The best way that stories teach is by showing someone or something from all sides. We steve-at-cornersee how insensitive or counterproductive words or actions can be because we know what is going on from each character’s perspective. Fictional emotional turmoil allows us to be totally removed from it. We have no horse in the race, so we can watch their jockeying dispassionately.

The poem Steve quoted from, as his justification for doing nothing, is Leisure by W. H. Davies. Steve may as well recite The Cat in the Hat for all the attention anyone is actually paying to him.

Perfect Rice

washing-rice The trick to fluffy steamed rice, with grains nicely separated, is wash it first. Put the amount of uncooked rice you want in a pot and add water. You’ll see the water go cloudy. Pour it off and add more water, repeat. You can let soak a few minutes before draining. Keep doing it until the water runs clear. By doing this, you’re removing the starch and it’s what makes rice sticky.

Long grain rice

measuring-water-for-riceUse long grain rice. Basmati and jasmine are my favourites. If your package doesn’t have instructions, or if they don’t work right, here’s how I was shown to make steamed rice. It’s easy.

To the washed rice in your pot, add cold water until it is over the rice. Lay your hand, slightly arched, so just your fingerpads lightly touch the rice. Add or remove water to make it cover your fingers to the middle of your first knuckle.

Steamed Rice

steam-coming-from-riceCook the rice on high heat, uncovered, until the water is almost gone. You usually can hear it, a change from bubbling to a slight crackling noise. Turn the heat to low (even turn off) and place a tight fitting lid on the pot. Let it sit for the same length of time as it took to boil the water off, about 15 to 20 minutes. Don’t remove the lid – the rice is steaming in there. Do not stir it at any point.

finished steamed riceAnd there you have it: perfect steamed rice. Depending on how much heat was under it during the steaming, there may be a crust of browned rice on the bottom and sides of the pot. That’s fine. Put cold water in the pot and it will soak off easily. I was told the crust was the mark of perfect rice. With it or without, this way of cooking rice has worked for me in any amount and any size pot.