Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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Meet the cats

I have a posse of three who haven’t had much blog time to date.

Zoë

Zoë has been with us the longest. Jean saw her at a pet store—not one of those stores that sells kittens and puppies, one of those that displays rescue cats up for adoption—and couldn’t resist. He called me.

“I’m at Pet Value, want to adopt this cat,” he said.

“So she’s black calico?” I answered.

Jean, confused: “So you’ve seen her too?”

No Jean, I hadn’t seen her too. I just knew that Jean had been missing our black calico, Bob, who’d passed away some months before.

Zoë indeed resembled Bob very much; in older pictures, it’s hard to tell which cat is which. And she shares Bob’s graceful elegance of movement.

But she’s her own cat. Her big round eyes give her an air of constant inquisitiveness; when awake, she always seems to be fascinated by something. The background she was rescued from was a house overcrowded with cats; she’s never really lost her interest in sneaking around, scrounging around for food, though now it’s just for fun and not survival. And if she does get mouth on something good, she stills goes to hide in the corner to eat it, though the other cats have no interest in trying to steal it from her—they don’t even like “people” food.

She’s the shyest of the bunch and is not exactly a lap cat. But she enjoys being pet in particular places: up on window sills, in the bathroom (as long as she’s the only cat in there), and on us, as long we have a blanket barrier. She also has a daily ritual of joining us for meals at breakfast, on her own stool, content to hang with us whether or not she gets any treats.

McSteamy

McSteamy was picked out of a “catalog” of rescue cats. We were “shopping” because Romey, a stray who’d adopted us years before (and remains our sweetest cat ever) had passed, leaving us with just Zoë. McSteamy was gorgeous, a blue-eyed tabby-Siamese cross.

A handsome fellow

Unfortunately, he was also terrified of us.

It was nothing personal. His foster owner said he’d also been scared of her at first, but had gotten over it, and now she adored him. I was skeptical, but Jean was taken in, so we brought him home and put him in a room for an adaptation period, during which he scrambled under furniture every time we entered. But, once safely “hidden” away he did let us pet him, and would eventually sneak out a bit more.

One day, not long after he’d been allowed out of the one room, some commotion gave him a big fright. He ran up three flights of stairs, jumped on a bed, then crashed through a screened, second-floor window. He through the back yard, beyond the fence, and out to hide with the gophers in the wooded berm.

The cat rescue organization was very helpful in dealing with this crisis. They lent us a trap, told us to put as close to the window he’d escaped from as possible, and to wait. Again I was skeptical, but darned if McSteamy didn’t make his way into that trap around 2:00 in the morning.

Once back in the house and release, McSteamy decided we were the best people ever. And he has never really stopped thinking that. His fear of us was gone for good.

Frankly, I shudder to think what kind of experience he’d had before ending up at the shelter where the cat rescue organization got him, because now this is one of the friendliest, most relaxed cats I’ve ever encountered.

McSteamy’s stressful life

mcsteamy
McSteamy_(3_of_5)_160403

He’s the first to visit “strangers” to the house. If there’s a commotion, he’ll amble over to see what it’s about. He not only accepts attention now; he demands it. With insistent meowing, when necessary (whereas he was a basically silent cat at first).

And yes, he was named after the character in Grey’s Anat0my, a show we watched at the time. Most people find the name a hoot…

Mocha

Mocha was adopted at the same time as McSteamy, but by the same method as Zoë: She was the featured rescue cat at Pet Value. In the store, she seemed the friendliest, most cuddly cat ever. Once we got her home, she proceeded to hide from us behind and underneath furniture, for months. Devious!

Through their time of joint fear in the “adaptation room”, McSteamy and Mocha formed a bond that persists to this day. They often cuddle and sleep together, which always looks adorable and bit funny, because Mocha is an unusually tiny cat, and McSteamy is… not.

Fury Kid's looking cute

At any rate, Mocha did eventually warm to us as well—especially Jean, whom she loves to climb up and all over when he’s at the computer. “Too intense, Mocha!” is a common refrain. And she’s decided I’m OK, too. Especially that I’m not off on canoe or business trips as often as Jean; Mocha has to get her petting somewhere.

Though much calmer than on first adoption, she remains a bit nervous and jumpy, especially when it comes to eating. Her backstory: likely a pet that got out when she went into a heat. She and her kittens were rescued from someone’s backyard. (She and all our cats are now neutered, of course.) But the “rescue” likely involved getting trapped in a box when she snuck out to eat, and she apparently fears that might happen again.

Mocha!

But mostly she seems happy with her lot


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How to make a Canadian quilt

In honour of Canada Day, I just installed the Canadian English Dictionary extension for Firefox, so now WordPress doesn’t mark “honour” with a “u” as a typo. Yay!

I also spent some time (badly) photographing possibly the most Canadian item I own: A red and white quilt signed by various Canadian celebrities. My mother won it in a museum fundraiser back in 1997, and I recently inherited it.

Since 1997, some of the signatures have faded, and some of the “celebrities” have become obscure. But a number remain fun to look over.

Mr. Dressup signature and image

Aw, Mr. Dressup!

Jann Arden, Pamela Lee sigzantures

So Pamela Anderson was still married to Tommy Lee in ’97. And an interesting juxtaposition beside Jann Arden’s drawing (yes, that angel is naked. As angels are.).

Pamela Wallin and Jean Chretien signatures

Speaking of Pamelas and juxtapositions, Pamela Wallin was then just a TV journalist, not a disgraced Conservative Senator. The modest signature below hers is that of the Prime Minister of the day, Liberal Jean Chrétien.

Shania Twain, Stompin Tom, and Michelle Wright signatures

Stompin’ Tom was still was us in 1997, and Shania Twain is still with us today. Not sure what’s up with Michelle Wright these days…

Lynn Johson signature

And this one is just lovely

A few more items in Canada’s tapestry:

Google logo, Canada Day

Google’s logo today

Songza’s curated Canada Day playlists.

Raccoon on deck

A recent deck visitor

Trout, spinach, and roseRaspberries, strawberries, and dessert

Some fine local food.

Happy July 1, everyone! Canada flag


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Toronto in pictures

Our annual “weekend in Toronto in winter because Jean has a conference” wasn’t terribly eventful—we drove back before da big storm really hit—but it did provide some photographic opportunities.

We visited the very crowded, kind of expensive, but still pretty neat Ripley’s Aquarium.

Ripley's Aquarium, Toronto, Ontario

The big draw seemed to be sharks swimming overhead.

Ripley's Aquarium, Toronto, Ontario

But there were other interesting critters, too

Ripley's Aquarium, Toronto, Ontario

Hello moray

We had some trouble getting dinner reservations Saturday due to (I assume) Winterlicious being on. But we managed to get in at Frank, at the AGO. Jean had their Winterlicious items while I ordered from the main menu.

Frank's at the Art Gallery of Ontario

This was the mussel appetizer.

I had a roasted squash salad. For mains, we each had a tuna entree, but prepared different ways—both good.

Frank's at the Art Gallery of Ontario

This was the Winterlicious entree.

For wine, we had a bottle of a Spanish white, an albarino, that was on special. Quite nice, and appeared to be low in alcohol.

For dessert, Jean’s had rum raisin crème brulée. Yum.

Frank's at the Art Gallery of Ontario

I had the Tres Leches Cake—not too shaby, either.

For January, the weather wasn’t too bad. It was partly sunny on Saturday, and not that cold, especially when not in the wind. So we did do some walking around, and Jean took some photos.

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Toronto City Hall

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Skating rink at Nathan Phillips Square

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View from our hotel

Sunday we had some delicious dim sum (no photos), then visited the Douglas Coupland exhibit at the ROM. It was more to my taste than Jean’s. Therefore, you must now prepare for a precipitous decline in photo quality, because the following ones are mine.

If you look at the next image through the camera of your cell phone, they’ll look quite different than they do with the naked eye. It’s really weird. (And if you actually take the cell phone picture, you lose the effect.)

IMG_20150201_121624

I don’t know what you do if you’re looking at this post on your cell phone.

The exhibit was very pop art-like. One set of paintings was of QR codes that bring up phrases like “Sworn to fun, loyal to none” and “I wait and I wait and I wait for God to appear”, that you can then text to your friends to confuse them. Another was a large installation of found objects, arranged to represent the four quadrants of the brain, and the cerebellum.

The following photos might help you judge how interested you might find all this. How many of these coloured squares do you want to read?

IMG_20150201_121651

IMG_20150201_121706

I read them all.


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Running around Seattle, seeing stuff

While we did take some time to stop and eat, meet with friends, read, and relax while in Seattle, this post will focus on the activities we managed to pack in.

The initial weather forecast for Seattle wasn’t that great, but after we got there (in the rain), made it to our hotel, had a snack, and were ready to head to explore, it had become very nice and sunny. Our hotel was right by the famous Space Needle, so we decided to take the opportunity to go up that right away, while the weather was cooperative.

While at, we also bought a City Pass, which gave us access to four other sights along with Needle, saving you about half the cost in entry fees, if you visit them all.

You do get some nice views of Seattle from the Space Needle:

View of Seattle from the Space Needle

But overall, the experience is a bit underwhelming. They have some interactive displays of other Seattle sites up there, so we virtually checked out the Pike Street Market area, but overall there isn’t that much to do. I think the CN Tower and Empire State Building were somehow more impressive.

Though it must be said that the Space Needle involves much less rigmarole getting up there (at least in October)!

We had some time before dinner, so we also walked far enough to get an actual view of the Pike Street Market, and some of the waterfront. Seattle looked very pretty:

Seattle at dusk

Thursday was supposed to be cloudy, but Thursday didn’t get the memo, apparently, and instead was beautiful and sunny all day. So we focused on outdoor activities.

We started at the Olympic Sculpture Park. It wasn’t quite what we had pictured in our minds, which more of a traditional park, only with city art installed in it. It had more concrete barriers and paths than we were expecting, and wasn’t that large.

Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle

But it did contain some rather interesting art:

This guy's got a big head... 40 ft in fact!

And a very cool fountain:

Seattle fountain

Our City Pass included a one-hour Seattle Harbor cruise, so we walked to the waterfront next to get tickets for that. We had lunch in the Pike Street market area, and on the way to the restaurant we happened by the famous bubblegum wall (where that walls are full of designs in gum). It’s both interesting and gross.

The cruise was quite informative. We got a bit of a history of the pier and of some of the buildings viewed from shore, like the hotel where people could fish outside their window, and the office building that met the city height limits without losing any floors, by giving all tenants low ceilings. And we learned about some of the tourist sites, like Space Needle, built for a World’s Fair, and the ferris wheel, a more recent addition.

Setting Sail for Seattle

Seattle skyline

We got a closeup view of the boat loading operations, whose cranes look a bit mysterious from the shore:

Cranning to the see the stars in Seattle Harbour

We also got an excellent view of Mount Rainier—unlike when we were actually there!

Mount Rainier in the background

Mount Rainier in the background [This wouldn’t have been my photo selection for this, but Jean did the selecting…]

We also saw some sea lions. And the tour guide talked about the Seattle weather, noting that the annual amount of rain there is less than many other American cities—such as Honolulu! But it’s just that those cities tend to get heavy rainfalls during a short season, whereas Seattle has a very long season of light rain.

Once off the boat, we walked to the Pioneer District, which is the oldest part of Seattle. We noticed that it was more run down than the other parts of the city we’d been in, with more homeless and litter. It was fine during the day, but I wouldn’t want to be there at night!

While there, however, we did take the Underground Tour, which was fascinating! (Though low on pictures.) It was funny, because on the way there, I was asking Jean, “Which city was it that they raised the whole level of by adding dirt, or something?” And he looked at me like I had two heads, as he had never heard of such a thing.

Well, Seattle is that city! It’s still a pretty hilly place, but back in the day, it was even more hilly, and the lowlands had problems with flooding and issues with a lot of stuff—like raw sewage—flowing down and pooling where people were trying to live. So when the whole of downtown Seattle burnt down, they decided to tackle this problem by moving some earth down off the top of the hills, making those less steep, and raising the lowlands, actually pushing the water line back.

Sounds a bit crazy, but was actually a good idea that worked well. Only problem is that to complete the whole project was to take a good 10 years. And Seattle businessmen did not feel they could wait that long to rebuild.

So they didn’t. They rebuilt immediately, but with the intent that their second floor would eventually be the main floor, and that the first floor would be underground.

On the Underground tour, apart from learning about all this (and more), you tour the old sidewalks and lower levels of buildings, still located underneath the modern sidewalks and main doorways above.

It’s a very interesting tour, all day presented with a lot of humor—highly recommended if you ever visit Seattle.

This had made for a lot of walking in a day, so on the way back we took the light rail, then the monorail—an almost absurdly short ride, but it’s cool. (We later learned it was built for the World Fair, and just never expanded from that.) And on the way back to our hotel, we found a new path through Space Needle Park, featuring another neat fountain:

Seattle Fountain

Friday offered up some of that famous Seattle light rain we’d been hearing about, so we decided it would be museum day.

We started at the Pacific Science Centre (City Pass!), whose special exhibit was the science behind Ripley’s Believe or Not. We were surprised to see a Government of Ontario logo on the way in; turns out the exhibit was developed at Science North in Sudbury! It was a good exhibit—fun and interesting.

And we visited the butterfly room.

Butterfly, Pacific Science Center

One of these types of butterflies landed on me and refused to depart. It had to be shooed away by an attendant.

Our City Pass had included an Imax movie, so we saw Sharks 3D! It was very well done, really, presenting the efforts to better understand great white sharks and encourage their protection.

The next stop was the Chihuly Museum (where we also had lunch). He does incredibly beautiful work in glass. Some of it was featured in indoor galleries, other pieces outside in a garden.

Chihuly Glass Floats

Chihuly in Seattle
Our final museum du jour was the Seattle Aquarium. (This is a true research aquarium—no dolphins doing tricks here.) While not the most impressive aquarium we’ve ever visited—it was a bit small—we did enjoy seeing the tropical fish, their good collection of sea birds, and the various types of otters. You’ve got to love otters! It was also interesting to learn that animals here aren’t necessarily stuck for life; where possible, they get released and replaced with new ones (who are later released, too).

Here's Nemo

Nemo!

Rainy Saturday morning, we polished off our City Pass with a visit to the EMP (experimental music projects) museum. As predicted in advance, I found it much more interesting than Jean, so we have very few photos!

It had special exhibits on:

  • Horror movies
  • Icons of science fiction
  • Jimi Hendrix in London
  • Nirvana: Bringing punk to the masses
  • The art of the music video
This one is totally for Cathy !

Mr Pointy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer – part of the horror movie exhibit, and our only photo from the EMP

Unlike Jean, I found something of interest in each exhibit, though the music video one was probably my favorite, Interesting to see some of the more recent innovations in that art form (interactive, 3D, remixing, fan versions)—along with the more familiar history—as I really don’t keep up with music videos anymore! I also spent a bit of time in the room where you experiment with the keyboards (and many other instruments), learning how to play along with famous songs and such. Fun, though I didn’t much time.

The afternoon cleared up, so we visited the Capitol Hill neighborhood. It’s characterized by a lot of interesting shops—bookstore / cafe that specializes in technical and science books (from science fiction to heavy computer programming); music stores highlighting all types of music, not just the most popular—that sort of thing. There’s also a Jimi Hendrix statue there, and Broadway St, features some dance steps on the side walk.

(But I don’t have pictures to prove any of that…)

I think we got a lot in, including a lot of walking! Despite all that, we missed a few items on the list:

  • Doing a wine tasting and bringing some Washington or Oregon wine home (weren’t in the mood when we walked by the place)
  • Visiting the Museum of Flight (too far; closer to the airport)
  • Visiting the Seattle Museum of Art (ran out of time)
  • Taking a culinary tour (just going to restaurants won out)

I guess there’s always next time…


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Vacation photo count: Low

The nature of our week-long Ontario getaway—combined with some unseasonable August weather—meant that the number of photos Jean took was much lower than usual. Good thing we went to Science North in Sudbury, or it would otherwise have been close to a count of zero.

Science North building

The Science North building is itself very interesting, built right onto the rock of Sudbury

Flowers overlooking the lake in Science North

It was a gray day in Sudbury, so a good one to be inside a museum

We weren’t the only ones with that thought, though; Science North was crazy full of parents and their kids!

Butterfly close-up from Science North

The butterfly room was a nice, calm oasis away from the crowds

We probably spent the most time on the floor focusing on wildlife. We were there late afternoon, which happened to be feeding time for a lot of the critters.

Porcupine at Science North

If you’ve ever wanted to pet a porcupine, Science North is the place for you

Skunk feeding at Science North

The skunk was too shy for petting, especially with all the kids there that day, but couldn’t resist coming out for meal worms

Beaver feeding at Science North

The beaver was nonplussed by his audience, and a big fan of green beans

And to conclude, the now almost obligatory photo of me in front of food, at Churchill’s restaurant in North Bay (another day, on the way back).

Ahi tuna at Churchill's Restaurant in North Bay Ontario

Lovely ahi tuna


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African Lion Safari

Good thing people sometimes visit. Otherwise you might never your home town’s tourist attractions.

So it was that, after 22 years in the region, we finally visited African Lion Safari. Turns out it’s more than just an annoying theme song. The idea of this “zoo” is that the animals roam free, while people are kept in metal cages (also known as cars). The preserve has had good success in its breeding program for a number of endangered species.

They really do have majestic lions.

Male lion

Female lions

But the most exciting big cat encounter was with the leopard cheetah, who decided to walk over to our car.

Leopard approaching

And hang out right beside it.

Leopard hanging around

The ostriches, who look like living dinosaurs, pecked at the car window, hoping for food.

Ostriches

The baboons often climb on the cars, but ours didn’t prove attractive to them.

Baboons

We discovered that giraffes aren’t overly fond of rain (that it was raining for a change was amazing in itself), as they all huddled together under a shelter.

Giraffes

Rhinos are really big. Fortunately, none of them did any car-charging, that we saw.

Rhino

Some other continents were also features, such as kangaroos of Australia.

Kangaroos

And even deer of North America.

Deer at African Lion Safari

It was fun. Definitely worth a visit, if you’ve never been.