Friday, April 17, 2009

Good books and a belated promise

Hi y'all.

I owe everyone a big apology! I promised a wicked post about my holiday at the end of my trip to Texas last year and I have failed to deliver. Yes, there were good books in the way.
Son of a Witch
The Magic Ship
The Lark and the Wren
umm.... I can't remember the rest.

Mum bought me both Don Quixote and Self Editing for Fiction Writers for my birthday - both at my request. I've not begun the Spanish saga yet but I'm looking forward to it.

But now! Photos and some textual dribble about my holiday in the states.


Geoff and I intended to take three weeks and travel out of Dallas to San Diego. We'd go to the zoo, see the city and take a day trip or an over-nighter to Mexico. From SD we'd fly to San Francisco, then up to Seattle. From Seattle we'd drive over the Northern Border to Fort Langley in Canada for a night or two, drive back to Seattle and fly to Pennsylvania. From there to New York, Washington DC, and then the train back to Dallas. When we found out we'd only have time for about ten days at the end of our deployment, we frantically re-shuffled. Pennsylvania was move to Thanksgiving and I've already posted about my stay there in the snow, and Geoff's ridiculous burger. We dropped San Diego, New York, Washington and the train.

First up - Seattle.

We were met at the airport by Geoff's Aunt and Uncle. They're kiwis but the family has moved to the states. Their three children also live in Seattle. As well as his family, there were two other attractions which provided a draw-card for us. The Museum of Flight and the Boeing Factory.


The Boeing Factory

Museum of Flight

I couldn't take pictures on our tour of the Boeing Factory, but since I work on planes it was all very fascinating. On the one side of the hangar is the 747 production line. We viewed them from a high balcony in the middle of the building, above the offices. It reduced the impact of their size but when I saw a man in the 'bucket' of a cherry picker, and how small he looked halfway up the vertical stabiliser (rudder/tail) I realised just how massive these birds are. Our tour guide was friendly, helpful and knew her stuff but it was obvious she wasn't an aircraft tradesperson. She did answer quite a few of my questions about employment there. It might be a great opportunity if I left NZ.
On the other side of the hangar there were plenty of other planes being constructed and at the head of them all the first Dreamliner. It had been all painted up for its presentation at a champagne unveiling, then returned to the 'shop as the work inside wasn't actually complete!

The Museum of Flight was pretty cool, and they had some great planes. They had the first Stealth Bomber and even a mock up of the Wright Brother's plane. (No Richard Pearce in sight however). It wasn't what I had expected though, and we didn't spend a great deal of time there.

Stearman C-3B

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15

Douglas A-4F Skyhawk II

The Royal New Zealand Air Force used to fly Douglas A-4K Skyhawks as our main Strike Fighter force. Before they disbanded the strike wing.

Anyway, from Seattle we drove North and once again crossed the border into Canada to visit my cousins. Viki and Maurice live east of Vancouver in a little place called Fort Langley. It took less than two hours for us drive up.

I know it ain't llamas, but it was the best I could find!

I recommend clicking on this one to make it larger. It was such a beautiful sight. I love the mountains so much and really missed them when I was in Texas. Seeing the sun leave his last golden rays on this peak made me think tenderly of home.

After favouring the snowy peaks, the sun decided to light up the whole sky.

After an hilarious kerfuffle with mistaken houses, lost phone numbers and a cup of tea with some pommy ex-pats who live next door, we finally made it inside for a family catch up and some dinner.

Ju's Little Sister and Cousin Vicki

While I talked the night away about family and Canada and New Zealand, Geoff was happily entertained by the Wii. With a little hand-held controller he could play tennis against a character on the TV, go ten pin bowling or a goodly number of other games. It started snowing that night and before breakfast the next morning I took a picture of the little kiwi sitting in the back lawn. Another little wave of homesickness settled about me, but I was with family and home wouldn't be too far away. Besides - there was still so much to see!

When everything but the head is covered they know they've had a decent snowfall!!

Vicki decided she would take us to the fort before she went to work so we wrapped up warm and jumped in the car. There was a thick layer of snow on the window and the town looked very picturesque. It also looked very cold and not much fun to be in! I'm glad our Christmases are full of sunshine and fun. I like being warm!

Before we made it to the fort, we took a quick detour to the river. I'm sorry I can't remember the name of it anymore but Vicki thought it would be worth seeing. We parked in the lot a little way away from the ferry terminal and had to walk along a jetty. There was no one else around. Vicki decided the ferry would not be running today. Something about a new snow which always makes me marvel is how quiet it is. Heavy flakes come softly down around but never make a sound. The birds and insects must have huddled away somewhere. Only humans are stupid enough to venture outdoors.

It was still snowing too

No ferry today

We didn't go right into the fort either but had a look in the foyer of an info centre at the bottom of the hill. It had a large map of the area on one wall with all the forts and old trader routes mapped on it along with some Indian tribal camps. Vicki explained it wasn't a military fort but a trading centre from which the town got its name. There were some flint arrows and a couple of other odds and ends in glass cases but nothing that caught my real interest.

After dropping my cuz off at her work Geoff and I made our way back to Seattle. In the blizzard.

One thing I noticed about Canada was the friendliness of the people. It just reminded me so much of home. Not two hours away were people who wouldn't meet your eye in the street, and here living next door to my cousins was a wonderful family who invited two strangers into their home, fed them and plied them with funny stories until the neighbours came home. I know they're originally from the UK but to me it just confirms my belief that the Commonwealth is cooler than the USA.

Anyway, back to Seattle. Geoff's uncle took us for a drive around the city. It was definitely a bonus having a local tour guide who also understood how and what we would be thinking. He was informative and intelligent and understood both the American & the Kiwi view on life. It helped me understand some of the prejudices I had been harbouring while in Texas and I found I appreciated Americans a little bit more.

He took us to see:




Some of his Cars:

Then we were off to visit even more of Geoff's family for a big reunion dinner. Thankfully everyone there was friendly and I never really felt out of place. The house was warm, the food delicious and the company just like home.


Coming up next: SAN FRANCISCO!!!

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Black Cat

I had some sad news on the phone today. The sweetest member of our family has finally past away. She turned 20 years old just before Christmas 2008, and met her end only a couple of weeks ago. She was having trouble remaining upright and had lost her appetite and so the family decided it would be cruel to have her suffer much longer. I have known The Black Cat for more than three quarters of my own young life - even my Nan was not a part of my life this long. She was universally loved (even by my cat-disliking father) by all who met her. She was always up for a cuddle and a tummy rub but never forced herself on anyone. She caught her own rabbits, left us birds as gifts, and tried to teach us to hunt mice. This never stopped her from loving the rabbit mince Mum would buy her, or from quietly waiting all morning for something - anything - from a can of Chef.

Even the paparazzi loved her...

I remember the day we collected her - a frightened young kitten in a dark old shed. We picked her brother out first - I had always wanted a ginger cat, and the sweetest little red and orange kitten there ever was immediately captured my heart. We put him in the box. He jumped out. We put him in again. Then we went after Her. I remember seeing a tortie in the litter. I can't remember why we didn't go for her. It might have been Mum's decision. Mum would have known how flighty torties can be - probably not a good choice for a farming family.

She was in the shed. I don't remember when we spotted her. But she knew we were Big and Bad and we'd come to shake up her wee life. She hid behind some big green 40-gallon drums. We tied some paper to a piece of string and spent HOURS coaxing and tempting her from her hiding place. Okay I was only six, so it might not have been hours, but I don't think I've ever been so patient ever again. She was worth it though.

Favourite scratching places: Tummy and chin

She set a precedent that day hiding behind the drums. From then on the story of her kitten-hood is pretty much hiding behind things. The couch, the deep-freezer, the bed, the TV. She liked it under the house. Her brother was finally named (by me) Marmalade. Seeing it written down now it actually looks a bit girlie, but it ultimately doesn't matter as he was always referred to as Ginge anyway. Interestingly I am currently flatting with a man named Ginge. I bet Freud would have a field day.
She was never named. She officially belonged to my two older sisters (Ju, and Ju's Twin) and it wasn't that they couldn't agree on a name - it was a matter of 'no name is good enough for her.' Her whole life she was simply The Black Cat.

The Black Cat was almost the perfect pet. She could feed herself, she didn't worry if we were away for a long weekend. She loved the sun, she loved laps, she loved being cradled like a baby with her tummy being tickled. If visitors came she would wander over for a nosey and a possible pat. If Dad tossed her off HIS chair, she'd wait for him to get settled then jump up and sleep on his lap.
She was a silent cat. She'd sit by the door for half an hour waiting for it to open without once making a meow. Next to her brother - who clawed his laps, dribbled on his cuddler and let out a rousing Siamese yeowl every 20 seconds (that's an average, often it was every 2 seconds) - she was an angel.

The Black Cat accepting her prize for Most Popular Cat

Often we would come home from school and find the two cats on the back lawn. The Black Cat would be eating a rabbit like a mighty lioness and growling while her brother paced around her - the jackal who wanted her catch. We would frighten him away so she could eat her catch in piece. It wasn't until years later - long after I had left home and Ginge/Marmalade had gone - that we learned it was much more likely he had done the hunting, and she had stolen the rabbit off him. This made a rather embarrassing sense as we remembered it was always Ginge who caught lizards, skinks and mice.

There were other ways she wasn't quite the angel she made out to be. She disappeared for a few weeks with no word as to where and why she had left - not even a message with her brother. We worried and stressed. There are stray cats on the farm - people tend to dump their unwanted kittens out in the 'wilderness' where we come from. Had she been beaten up by another cat?
She came home pregnant and quite unrepentant without an apology but definitely with a sense of "Well I'll just cuddle you a lot more these next couple of days to make up for it."

(Possibly evil)

She had four kittens, each given away to become Prince, Minty, Toya, and Mother Cat.
Prince and Minty fell victim to tragic accidents involving a backing car and a swimming pool respectively, and Toya went to live with the local doctor and her young Dalmatian dog. Presumably the three are still living together today. Mother Cat was so named because she stayed in the valley where we are from with the local school teacher and her daughter. True to form Mother Cat followed in her mother's footsteps and disappeared into the wilderness for weeks, only to return with a rounder belly and four little future kittens. Smokey and Katie were given away, but when Mother Cat returned to the wilderness - this time pretty much for ever - Tiger and Fluffy stayed in the family. Two beautiful big - BIG and LEAN - tabby cats who loved a cuddle as much as their Grandmother. The school teacher and her daughter always referred to The Black Cat as Grandmother Cat, but it never really caught on.

Years later when us kids had all moved out and Mum and Dad had almost moved to Ashburton (a nearby town) there wasn't really anyone at home to look after an ageing Black Cat. She was getting too skinny, and a bit wobbly for any of us to believe she could still be catching her own food. My sister (Ju's Twin) was managing the farm but living in a cottage. She would come and feed her but it was proving a logistical pain in the proverbial. So it was decided The Black Cat would move to the cottage to live.
Well! Goodness me but it must have been like Heaven on Earth for the old girl. She was suddenly warm again, fed again, and most importantly, loved again.
In her older age she became more vocal and voiced both her love and her hunger with quick meows which held at their core the Siamese in her blood. She was always attended instantly and with compassion. But mostly she slept, and gave the most delicious hugs of her life - pressing her head and shoulders against her cuddler with such fervour you'd think she'd never been hugged. Her claws grew long as she stopped sharpening them and they would hook into your jumper like a physical manifestation of her desire never to be let go.

More recently she couldn't stand or walk so well - 'wobble' grew into 'unsteady' and became 'unstable.' Her appetite waned and 'skinny' was really rather 'anorexic.' So, in an Of Mice and Men moment, she was put down.
She won't be at home the next time I visit.
And home will be a little bit lonelier because of it.

Goodbye Black Cat. You'll never be forgotten.