The Summer of Reading

It is the last week of the semester and I’m turning my thoughts to my spring/summer work plan. Like many academics, I normally start off this “research season” with very long “to do” lists and lofty plans. “This year will be different,” I say to myself, “this year I WILL DO ALL THE THINGS between April and September.”

Yeah right…

One thing I am normally doing at this time of year is finalizing my spring/summer travel plans – ’tis the season for for research trips and conferences! However, this year I plan to spend most of my spring/summer here at home in Niagara. There are many reasons for this – we are getting some much-needed major renovations done to our home. Also, we live in a pretty excellent part of the country for kayaking adventures, and I certainly hope to be doing a lot of paddling in the coming months.

Kayaking in Jordan Harbour, Niagara. (Summer 2017)
Kayaking in Jordan Harbour, Niagara. (Summer 2017)

I also have been dealing with some rather mysterious health issues lately. It has been incredibly frustrating and stressful, and we are still trying to get to the bottom of all of it. I feel like it is important to stay close to home right now as we are working this out.

In terms of my research and writing, the book I have been working on for the past decade will be out later this month. (Yay!) This project has been such a big part of my life for so long, and it feels a bit weird to not be actively working on it any more. I still have tons of material that didn’t make it in to the book – my archival explorations turned up much more information than I’d ever imagined I would find about how animal advocacy groups in the late 19th and early 20th centuries used art and visual culture. I certainly have more writing to do on this front, but I’m also thinking about new avenues and directions for my research – related avenues, but they would be spin-off projects that require me to dig in and do some reading.

I have, therefore, decided that my research focus this summer will simply be reading. I know I will feel like I need to be doing more than reading, but I’m going to try to quiet that part of my brain. Sure, sitting on my front porch reading a pile of books isn’t quite as exciting as being at the British Library, but it is what I need to be doing right now. I’m looking forward to it!

I’m surprised at how many people have asked me what my next book will be about — my latest isn’t even out yet! I’m going to draw on the wisdom of my colleague Dr. Barbara Seeber who, along with Dr. Maggie Berg, wrote the wonderful book, The Slow Professor. One of the main points they make in this book is that the scholarly work we do requires time – we need to spend time reading carefully, thinking, making notes, etc. I am not going to give in to the pressure to get the prospectus for my next book project whipped together in record time. I really feel that right now I need to immerse myself in the literature related to some of these new avenues I want to be exploring. I need to slow down, to read, to think, to figure out the next steps.

I’m excited about the #summerofreading – I think it is just what I need right now.

Some of the books I want to read this summer.
Some of the books I want to read this summer.

Update on the Porch Cats

Remember the porch cats?

I’m a bit overdue with an update on this front, although if you follow me on social media you already know how this story unfolds!

So, we managed to get both Ernie and Ollie in to the house. It was such a brutally cold winter and I’m so glad we got at least two of them off the streets. We got Ollie to the vet right away, got her checked out, vaccinated, spayed, etc. and she very quickly integrated in to our household. Ernie, on the other hand, proved to be a bit more challenging to deal with. It took a long time for us to be able to get near Ernie, but eventually Ernie started coming out for food. It wasn’t long before we noticed Ernie’s expanding belly – our Ernie was an Ernestine and she was about to have kittens! We managed to move her up from the basement to one of the bedrooms just hours before she went in to labour. We now have 4 beautiful kittens in our house as well. All have homes waiting for them when they are old enough to be weaned. The night they were born we had a horribly cold blizzard – I’m not sure they would have survived. I’m so glad that we were able to get Ernie inside in time! She is such a wonderful mom, so patient and gentle with these wee kittens. It has been amazing to watch them grow up.

The kittens have tons of fans through social media – if I go too long without posting a photo of them people write to ask if the kittens are ok. They have even been featured on an episode of the new Our Hen House TV show!

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Porch Cats – An Update

Before Christmas I posted about the “porch cats” who have been visiting our house. We have been spending a lot of time watching, feeding, and setting up shelters for a group of apparently homeless/stray/feral cats. Some of them seem truly feral (e.g.: they run away if we even look at them from a distance), some of them are a lot more used to human company. The one little black and white cat we named Ollie has been especially communicative with us. She would arrive on our porch each morning between 6:30 and 7am and would sit on our “welcome mat” by the door meowing for her breakfast.

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When the cold snap hit last week Ollie seemed to be making an extra effort to communicate with us – she meowed a little longer and louder than she had before and didn’t leave the porch immediately after breakfast like she usually did. She started to hang around more and more. One day after we had received a large amount of snow I looked outside to see little Ollie up to her armpits in a snowbank in our garden, meowing her head off. She seemed stuck and was having trouble getting out of the snowbank. I pulled on my boots and went out to grab her – I didn’t really have a plan, but I knew I couldn’t leave her out there to freeze to death in a snowbank in our garden. I brought her in the house and took her down to the basement because I wanted to keep her separate from our house cats. At first she completely freaked out – I’m sure she has never been in a house before – but she slowly started to settle down and found a warm, comfortable spot to curl up in. Within a few days she was sitting on my lap purring when I came to visit her. Part of me knows that I couldn’t leave her out in the cold, and yet there is a part of me that feels so bad for scooping her up and taking her away from her pals. Did we do the right thing?

We took Ollie in to the community vet clinic the other day and had her checked out. She had fleas, but otherwise she seemed in good health. She got the standard deworm/de-flea/vaccination treatment and we will book her in for a spay soon. I’m not sure what will happen long-term, whether or not Jenny (our senior kitty who hates cats) will let us keep her, but we have some leads one some potential homes for her if things don’t work out.

The rest of the porch cats are still out there – they won’t let us get near them. We didn’t see much of them during the cold snap, but since it has warmed up they have been back around for food and have been using the shelters I’ve set up on the front porch. I was so worried about them and was so glad to see them when they all showed up yesterday.

There are so many cats in need, so much work to do. Sometimes I get overwhelmed just thinking about it. I guess it is one cat at a time.

A number of kind and generous people have come forward to help out with the food for our porch kitties since I first posted about them. We are so grateful for your assistance, and I know that the cats appreciate the food. I get so sad thinking about all these cats with no loving, warm home to curl up in, but then I am heartened by how many people truly want to help change the situation. Thank you.

Porch Cats

The fall term is over, and I’ve had a few days that are miraculously free of meetings and other administrative tasks. Having a stretch of time to focus exclusively on writing and research is so very rare these days – I live for these moments!

I thought I would have some uninterrupted writing time over these few days, but hasn’t really worked out that way. I’m distracted by the plight of a family of homeless/stray/feral cats that have taken up residence on our block. They curl up on our porch and hang out in our garden. As I sit at my desk and work, they look in at me through the windows. We have put out food, water, and shelter for them (a couple of home made shelters lined with straw, and a fancy deluxe electric heated outdoor cathouse that we ordered online), and the plan is to eventually trap them so that they can be spayed/neutered. There seem to be 5 different cats, but only one of them will let us get close. The others take off the second we step outside. Of course, we have named them all.

There is Ollie, a little black & white cat who seems to be under a year old. She is the friendliest of the bunch and is quite vocal about asking for some food.

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Ernie is about the same age as Ollie and I wonder if they are siblings. They pal around together as if they are, and I’ve often seem them playing/play-fighting. Ernie is mostly white but has the cutest orange “hat” and some orange spots on his back. He is quite afraid of us, but is getting better.

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I put some catnip out for Ollie and Ernie the other day and they seemed to really love it!

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The other cats are all quite a bit older and are much more afraid of us. Lady Grantham (yes, I’m a bit of a Downton Abbey fan!) is black and white and has the same kind of “hat” that Ernie has. I’ve seen Ollie and Lady Grantham greet one another in a way that makes me think they are mother-daughter. Sadly, it looks like Lady Grantham has an expanding belly, and I fear another litter may soon be on its way. Tom is a fluffy orange and white cat who hangs around with Lady Grantham (there isn’t exactly Downton Abbey storyline consistency with this naming project!), and Oscar is a very sad-looking black cat. I don’t think Oscar is part of the same family unit as the other 4. He has the saddest eyes and hangs around by himself all the time. He seems as though he may have once upon a time lived with a family and has now ended up on the street whereas the others seem like they have been outside most/all of their lives.

I wish I knew their stories and where they came from. They are absolutely breaking my heart. I wake up in the night thinking of them, hoping they have found a warm place to curl up. I keep an eye out for them and worry when I don’t see them. I’ve been reading all I can to learn about how best to help these cats. I know there are other neighbours on this street who are also looking out for these cats. I wish this kind of situation wasn’t so common.
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Jilly Bean

Today marks two years since Jill, the grey-eared white rabbit, came to live with us. I can not imagine life without her now! She is so funny and has such a strong, beautiful personality. She loves to have her nose petted, and is mad for kale, lettuce, carrots, apples, and bananas. She has the run of the house (much to the cat’s dismay), but tucks herself in to bed each evening–we think she feels safest in her “house” (we hate to use the word “cage”).

Happy Anniversary, Miss Jilly Bean! I hope we have many more wonderful years together!

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