Friday, December 23, 2011

A Christmas Tail

Yesterday I received a Christmas blessing that is so rich I felt I must share it with you.

Last Friday evening we noticed an odd-looking white cat outside our gate. I very quickly realised it looked odd because it had no ears. That’s right – no ears. It was not pristine and quite rough looking and I feared it had been a victim of some kind of cruelty.

Over the years I have given both time and money to animal charities but still remain very sensitive to this, as many others are. To the point that one day I found holes cut out of the newspaper – my dear husband had censored some upsetting stories for me!

Back to White Cat though, she came meowing out from under a car as we walked past. We came back a few hours later and she was still there, calling out loudly. She was very friendly and allowed me to pat her. I brought some meat out and fed her on the grass verge.

The next day we didn’t see her and I thought she might have gone home. She was back on Sunday and over the next few days I fed her some more. I realised what a fabulous man my husband was when he suggested we take her in when that was what I was thinking too.

On a night of torrential rain we brought her inside (we had already been giving her breakfast and dinner) and she stayed the night. She hissed and growled at Jessica a lot but I thought they would get used to each other. She stayed the next night too.

I thought after Christmas I would take her to the vet for a check-up and see if she was micro chipped to try and track down an owner if there was one, but we feared she may have been dumped.

She didn’t look young and when you picked her up she was light as a feather. Quite a difference from Miss Jessica who looks dainty but when you lift her it’s like a bag of sand in your arms!

Her ears told me another story though. They didn’t look hacked off, but surgically removed, and I realised she may have had skin cancer being a white cat, which would have necessitated ear removal. She looked a little ferrety with no ears I have to say. And I was patting her yesterday morning and my ring got caught on her ear-hole. It didn’t hurt her but I felt terrible.

I thought she must be a lost, loved cat if someone had taken the time and expense to have her ears operated on. Plus she was very tame and operated our cat-door no problem at all. She was not a wild cat Miss White Cat.

At work yesterday I decided to see if I could find White Cat’s owners. First I placed a pet lost and found ad on Trade Me (like eBay here). I rung two vets in the area and asked if any of the cats on their records were white cats with no ears. Then I did an internet search. One of the New Zealand pet websites with a lost and found section allowed you to search by keywords and areas.

Up came a white cat lost in our area but it had ears. I clicked on the photo anyway and what do you know, the description of the photo said ‘this was taken before she had her ears reduced due to skin cancer’. And she was lost in a big park right near us. I couldn’t ring the number quick enough.

I phoned her ‘Dad’ and he couldn’t believe we had his girl. She is 12 years old and had been with him since she was six months old. She had hopped into a friend’s car, unbeknownst to him of course and the friend drove off. When he got to where he was going (right by our street) she jumped out frightened and ran off and that was the last they saw of her at the end of November. She had been living rough for more than three weeks.

Her Dad came around last night to pick her up. He was such a lovely man, a retired police detective. He said he had tears in his eyes after I rung him to say we had his puss.

I still can’t believe it’s worked out so well and Dolly has been reunited with her family (her Dad is a country music fan and named her after Dolly Parton 'because she is blonde'). And only a few days before Christmas. I couldn’t think of a better Christmas present myself.

And full credit to Jessica for being such an accommodating hostess to White Cat. She did not hiss or growl once, despite a strange cat staying with her. And the nice lady at the cat shelter said she liked her own company and didn’t want to be around other cats. Jessica’s my true Christmas angel.

I was so happy last night thinking of them cuddled up together. I asked him if she slept on the bed with him and he said ‘tonight I might let her’, and he was planning on locking her in the house with him.

Merry Christmas to Dolly and her Dad!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Lessons from Madame Chic

I loved everything about this book, in which the author recounts her time spent with an aristocratic Parisian family and details the fabulous lessons learned from them, and others she came into contact with during her time spent in France.

Jennifer has a friendly conversational tone of writing that makes you feel instantly pulled into her circle of girlfriends. Often I felt I was having a cup of tea and a chat with her.

I, along with many others followed Jennifer’s blog series The Top 20 Things I Learned in Paris. This book carries on with these lessons and goes more in depth. There are also many new stories about her time in Paris..

From her writing, both in this book and on her blog, The Daily Connoisseur, I sense that Jennifer is an elegant and gentle person. It was a pleasure to get to know her better through her first book Lessons from Madame Chic. I really hope there are others.

I certainly picked up many tips to elevate my day-to-day life to that of art. We may not all be French aristocracy, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to live beautifully, every single day of our life.

Thank you Jennifer for writing this fun and well-designed book. It will keep Paris alive in my head and rightly deserves a prime spot on my French Chic bookshelf.

Disclosure: Jennifer kindly emailed and asked me if I would like a copy of Lessons from Madame Chic sent to me to review. Yes please! And thank you!

Additional note: Our rescue-cat Jessica published this review post when it was only half finished so I apologise on her behalf if you received it incomplete.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A serene season

I have decided this year I am not buying into the craziness. I know some enjoy the frenetic buying energy of Christmas, but I’m not one of them. I just get stressed and unhappy. And this year ‘by rights’ I could be more stressed as we are hosting two family gatherings. Other years because we lived in such a tiny place we were always the guests, so why exactly was I feeling so put upon then?

So whether things are stressful or not, I will be calm. I will be happy and 'up' and little things will not bother me. Sometimes it is as simple as making a decision to be that way.

I had planned to keep up my walks and yoga as far along December as possible, but it has been too busy in the shop. That’s okay though, I am still calm. Making sure I eat enough protein has been a key factor in this I think. I have been keeping away from junky foods for the most part and planning in a good dollop of protein with each meal. It keeps me full for longer and I haven’t been craving sugar.

And not eating sugary gross foods means I feel happier and more in balance. Despite there sometimes being an instant connection to eating a bag of lollies and then me feeling jittery, hot and irritable, I still didn’t click and change what I did next time. A friend of my Mum’s who is a cancer survivor and is now much more aware of her health stays away from sugar entirely. It’s really not good stuff even though it comes along in bright colours and says ‘look at me I’m fun, you’ll have a good time with me’. And it’s marketed at children!

I’ve also been listening to my good friend Dr Norman Vincent Peale on his audiobook The Power of Positive Thinking. He is a religious man and likes to quote the bible every now and then. I am not particularly religious (I think of myself to be more spiritual) but what he says makes so much sense and it is very calming to listen to him. He really makes me see reason and the world seems a more manageable place after I’ve had a dose.

Dr Peale says none of us are born as worriers and that it is a habit we acquire over time. We go into it bit by bit and so we have to turn things around in a slow and steady manner. I still have a long way to go but I am willing to keep doing the work to be a happy and serene person who lets minor annoyances wash over them.

Another way I have been cultivating calmness is to do things ahead of time. Some family members and I swapped wishlists which I have to say I’m a real fan of now. It takes the stress out of gift giving, and isn’t a ‘surprise’ gift a waste of time and money if it is not used? In my ideal world we would all swap good wishes rather than buy stuff, but who doesn’t like to open a brightly wrapped Christmas present on the day.

My relaxed and calm Christmas feeling was severely tested this morning. The first post on this subject I had been writing over the past few weeks went ‘pop’ just as I hit publish and completely disappeared. Even though I had been saving and autosaving all along, every single word was gone. After checking and rechecking that I couldn’t find it, I decided it wasn’t worth getting upset about and started writing another one.

And now here I am with a second post. And I’m calm. Today I am at home for the whole day, oh joy, and I can really get stuck in and whip our chateau into shape.

Be serene this Christmas everyone!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Living as our grandparents did

I’ve never really thought of myself as ‘green’, more ‘old-fashioned’. But the more I research, the more I’m convinced they are almost the same thing. I was reading this article in a great new magazine I have out from the library:

Living Lightly and Saving Money

The article compiles many ways our ancestors went about life and were thrifty in the process. In the eighties we went away from this in favour of conspicuous consumption. Thank goodness thrift is back in vogue again.

Aside from the saving money aspect, I feel disrespectful if I waste food or throw away something that could have been used by someone else. In fact I just can’t do it. When we were moving I drove my husband nuts, sifting through everything we were decluttering, figuring out where it could be donated to.

As much as I love those decluttering programmes on tv, it really upsets me to have the solution be a big skip outside, where everything is thrown in. If an item is in good, usable, clean, unbroken condition there is always someone who could use it that otherwise might not have the chance. I think it is our duty as a caring human being to try and find that person, via thrift shops, to charities that assist others or simply directly, by asking around.

Other ways I am like our grandparents?

I scrubbed our kitchen floor and entrance-way with hot water and sugar soap not long after we moved in (it was pretty filthy). Strongly-scented floor cleaners aren't for me. Normally I use hot water, white vinegar and a squirt of lemon dishwash. A few drops of essential oil are added if I'm in the mood. And I hang washing outside. And cook many of our meals from scratch.

Even when eating, the question could be asked ‘would my Grandparents recognise this food?’ when choosing what to eat. The world’s population would be a much healthier place if we ate according to this.

Many of the things listed in the article I do, and they were originally done in the name of thrift or making do. This is what I do! And now it’s green! I do these things to make the most of my resources, and also because I feel disrespectful to the Universe if I waste things.

I simply cannot throw something in the rubbish if it can be used by someone else (so I donate it) and I feel terribly guilty if I throw out food. If it’s vegetation I throw out I feel bad that the Universe grew it for me and I wasted it. Even more guilt is felt if it’s meat or eggs I throw out. An animal died (or laid) for me and I can’t even be bothered to appreciate it?

As a result I throw out practically nothing. I honestly can’t remember the last time I threw out food. If I don’t eat something as leftovers for lunch the next day (like our creamy chicken and mushroom pasta from tonight, which I’ll have with salad for lunch tomorrow), I will tuck it in the freezer to have another day. If it’s something like a small piece of blue cheese or half a chopped onion, I will freeze to include in a casserole or soup.

Another aspect of living like our grandparents did is mending something if it’s broken. There is much satisfaction to be gained from utilising our grey matter and working out how we can fix a problem. My sister was telling me today how she hemmed a pair of jeans shorter, and in the process used the excess denim to almost invisibly patch a hole in the knee. Result: one ‘new’ pair of jeans which are currently receiving a lot of wear.

I understand not everyone sews, but really, in the olden days it was just something you did. If one is really interested in living a thrifty life, at least knowing how to sew on buttons, hand-stitch a hem or sew up a small hole is mandatory.

Reading instead of tv watching, going for a stroll after dinner, eating real food, being a good steward of our finances, appreciating nature, growing herbs or even vegetables, making things with our hands: these are all ways we can enjoy life by living as our grandparents did.

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