13 September 2014

an update about Rebus


I haven't mentioned Rebus for a while — 5 months, in fact — and I thought it was about time to let those of you who might be interested what has been going on of late.

We persisted for as long as possible with the milder medication (Zylkène), but even with 2 pills a day Rebus still needed 3 vigorous play sessions daily... and even then he might display unpredictable predatory behaviour. It was extremely frustrating, and I was getting exhausted from constantly having to remain vigilant around him. I'm sure he could sense my tension, which didn't help at all.

When I first consulted our veterinarian back in February, she explained that there were two types of medication available when dealing with problematic behaviour in cats: a mild one and a very powerful one. The vet technicians told me that the latter was "heavy duty stuff", that they'd heard it made cats almost unrecognisable and practically turned them into zombies. Well, there was no way I was going to do that to my Rebus! I fought the idea for months and months, in spite of the glaringly obvious fact that the mild stuff wasn't working. (I did investigate other possibilities such as homeopathic vets, but there are no practitioners in my area.)

Everyone has a breaking point, and mine came in July. I had a lengthy phone conversation with our vet about the actual side effects of the more powerful medication. Although she was less of an alarmist than the technicians, she said that Rebus could become very anxious and aggressive, or on the contrary be completely lethargic, and even pee and poo outside the litterbox. But, she stressed, these were potential side effects, and the dosage could be reduced if any of these things occurred. After sleeping on it, I thought it was worth the risk.

This new medicine is called Fluoxetine, which is another name for Prozac. (Yes, I know.) The directions said to administer it once every two days, then once a day if there was no problem. I was a bundle of nerves on the first morning, following Rebus around and peeking worriedly into the laundry room each time he used his litterbox. His pupils were slightly dilated, and he slept a bit more than usual, but wasn't at all groggy when he woke up. He ate and drank as usual. There were no litterbox-related mishaps. He played as enthusiastically as normally did. As the first couple of weeks passed, there were really only a couple of very minor incidents — almost nothing compared with his previous behaviour.

Since everything was going so well, and with the support of our vet, I've continued to give Rebus his chicken-flavoured chew every other day instead of once a day. It's having the desired effect, so we see no point in giving him more medicine than he needs. (I confess, my bank account is quite happy with this decision too — that stuff is expensive!)

Do I feel good about giving Prozac to my cat? Obviously, I'd rather not! We did give the alternative an earnest try. It didn't work. This medicine does work, without impairing my cat's quality of life or turning him into a drugged-up bundle of fur or a wild beast.

And how is Rebus? Well, *fingers crossed* I'd say he's almost back to his old loving, snuggly, silly self!

29 August 2014

Thank you, thank you, thank you...

... for the kind birthday wishes! Yesterday was filled with reading and tea, and was capped with a corn boil dinner at my parents'. I came home with a full assortment of my mother's jams and pickles, which I'm sure will take some of the sting out of next winter.

(Below is the lovely hand-painted plate my sister and brother-in-law gifted me when we visited earlier this month.)


14 July 2014

nectarine dream


When I moved to downtown Victoriaville, my first preoccupation was to find new places to shop for groceries. One of the entries that caught my eye in the Yellow Pages (this should tell you how long ago this happened) was "Fruits Santa Rosa," with an address on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Street just a minute's walk from my apartment. The name made it sound like a wholesaler's warehouse; was it also open to the public? I decided to investigate.

Up and down the street I went, repeatedly looking at the address I'd scribbled on the palm of my hand and at the numbers affixed to facades. I was sure I had the correct address, but there was nothing there... just an empty, abandoned-looking parking lot and a squarish concrete building set well back, with a grey garage door.

I stood on the sidewalk for a moment, a little disappointed. Then, just as I turned to go back home, I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. Someone had exited the anonymous building through a chipped metal door to the left of the garage door, carrying a white plastic bag. I approached with hesitant steps, opened the door, and stepped into a bare, chilly space that was indeed a warehouse. I could see that refrigerated counters lined two of the walls, while assorted tables and racks down the centre of the wide open room held boxes, tins, and a variety of bulk products in neatly piled bags.

No one questioned my presence, so I took possession of one of the rickety carts near the door and pushed it over the uneven concrete floors, producing a most satisfying racket while I explored this unexpected Aladdin's cave. Super cheap tofu! Massive tubs of olives! Exotic spice mixes in colourful metal containers! A huge variety of rice and grains! In a smaller adjoining room, bottles of oil in a glass-doored refrigerator and shelves crammed with cartons of every kind of plant-based milk imaginable! And near the cash register (under which, I soon learned, sat a box where the employee at the till, after asking the client's permission, placed the leaves from the bunches of carrots they purchased for one of the employees' horse), I discovered locally-made rustic oatmeal cookies with jam filling that became my favourite weekend breakfast.

But the produce! Oh, the produce! As the seasons changed, my devotion to Santa Rosa could only increase; I visited every 2 or 3 days to check on new arrivals. I'd never known what "real" apples looked like before! And I knew it was truly summer when I saw the punnets of local berries ranged on dollies in front of the store.

One summer, a bushel of large, sun-bright nectarines caught my attention – or rather, it was their sweet perfume that lured me straight to them. They were perfectly ripe, as rarely happens in grocery stores. I bought four, had two for dessert that evening, ate the other two at breakfast the next morning, and picked up a few more while running errands that day. Over the following week, the happy-making scent of nectarines floated throughout my entire apartment. I must have eaten a dozen a day, sometimes over a bowl, more often standing at the kitchen sink so I could let the golden juice run down my arms freely, knowing that its fragrance would be absorbed into my skin and later perfume my bedclothes. Each was absolutely glorious.

As soon as nectarine season was over, I started eagerly anticipating the next summer. Alas, such superlative fruit never made another appearance.

I moved away a few years later, and have only gone back to Victoriaville once since. Among the favourite places I revisited was the vacant-looking building at the back of the empty parking lot – but this time, a faded "To Let" sign was hanging crookedly across the garage door. Santa Rosa and its hidden treasures were gone.

Part of me still wonders... was it all a mirage?

7 July 2014

bread and circuses

It's a few minutes past 6 o'clock on a Friday evening. You're seated at one of Des Forges Street's renowned terraces, catching up with your best friend whom you haven't seen in months; or perhaps you're there to celebrate your dad's 60th birthday with the entire family. Just as you're about to tuck in to your appetizers, your conversation is brutally interrupted by the overly amplified racket produced by a band massacring song after song and whose mildly talented singer interrupts his contorted garble to enjoin the baffled passers-by to sing along with him every two or three lines.

Over the next 45 minutes, you go from amused disbelief (when he sings Shania Twain's "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!" in perfect earnest) to outrage (at the desecration of Men Without Hats' "Safety Dance") to intense annoyance at being a captive audience to loud and not particularly well performed music when all you wanted was a nice meal in good company.

Welcome to summertime in downtown Trois-Rivières, where for 3 months, on Friday and Saturday evenings, patrons and residents are subjected to deafening noise from three stages set up along a section of the main street blocked to car traffic.

When the powers that be first came up with the idea of turning part of downtown into a pedestrian area two nights a week, the public embraced this initiative with enthusiasm; it became a popular way to enjoy the cool evening air while people-watching. But one year, some bright spark thought that the simple pleasure of dining out or taking a leisurely pre- or postprandial stroll on Des Forges Street didn't have enough pizzazz – the populace must be entertained, even against its will.

Rather than enticing spectators to a distinct location for their amusement, it was decided that the shows should be brought where individuals' auditory space could be invaded while they were powerless to leave. And to make certain that as many persons as possible were impacted, this would be achieved from not one, but three sites – which also split the amount of the artists' fees in three, thereby explaining the prevalence of bad covers.

This truly is public entertainment at the public's expense, in every possible sense.

3 July 2014

in my glass

Springtime in Quebec brings few mild pleasant days, and wears a more autumnal look every year. When summer does arrive, it makes a sudden, dramatic entrance that stuns all one's senses. 

The intense heat and humidity currently pressing down on us, slightly blunted by a perpetual breath of air for those with the good fortune to live near the river, are stupefying. For the past week, I've been doing the only things a sane person could possibly do: sitting in a breezy shaded spot, moving only when absolutely necessary (e.g. to flip a page in my book), and remaining properly hydrated.

If, like me, you avoid alcohol, detest the exaggerated sweetness and artificial flavours of most supposedly refreshing beverages (I may never recover from the trauma of ordering iced coffee at a local café and being presented with a monstrous concoction of flavoured syrup, ice cubes, whipped cream and a drizzle of chocolate, the actual coffee a mere afterthought), and are a bit short of cash, then you must either stick to good old water – a classic, and nothing wrong with it – or take matters into your own sweaty hands.

The simplest way to go about it is, of course, flavouring your water. Lemon or lime juice, plus the sweetener of your choice,* if any, transforms a jug of tap water into something infinitely more palatable. (My tip: purchase lemons or limes by the bagful and use them in EVERYTHING.) I'm told that infusing cucumber slices and fresh mint leaves is also delicious, though I can't vouch for this personally.

Plain sparkling water can be a bit boring but it, too, can be livened up with citrus juice. Instead of commercial sodas, I like to make my own by mixing sparkling water with fruit juice or a concentrate such as black cherry, blueberry or pomegranate that I find in natural food stores.

Setting aside the "caffeine dehydrates" debate, must one abandon hot tea and coffee in summer months? They're supposed to act in the same way as spicy food, by encouraging the production of sweat that, when it evaporates, cools the body.

I don't know about you, but I get to do plenty of sweating on my own, without the assistance of a hot drink. Iced tea and coffee it is, then! And if you can't bear even the thought of switching the kettle on, it's high time you discovered the wonders of cold brewing.

For tea: in the evening, fill a large jar with 4 cups of cold water, add 6 teaspoons of tea leaves or 6 teabags, place the jug in the fridge, and try to remember to remove the tea in the morning. (A note on the bathroom mirror should do the trick.) Add a sweetener if you wish. This works with all types of tea, and is especially handy to use up those boxes of boring herbal infusions gifted to you by people who heard you like tea. I always add the juice of one lime to the infused tea – divine!

Of course, you can make strong coffee and put it in the fridge after it's cooled, but here's how to make cold-brewed coffee: use 1/3 cup of ground coffee for 1 1/2 cup of cold water. Stir well to make sure the coffee grounds are thoroughly moistened. Leave in the fridge overnight and strain in the morning. If you have a french press, this makes it even easier. Stir together the coffee and water in the carafe, and refrigerate overnight; in the morning, simply put on the lid and push the strainer down, then pour the coffee into a jar. This concentrate can then be diluted with cold or hot water or (soy or almond) milk to make it as strong or as weak as you want. Sweeten to taste.

Oh, and whatever you do, don't forget the ice cubes!

* A little tip for sweetening cold drinks: liquids such as agave nectar and maple syrup work best, but you can dissolve granular sweeteners in a small quantity of hot water before adding it to a jar of cold beverage.