Felix Finds his Feet

I dn==========] (Felix wrote that walking across my keyboard) don’t think he ever lost his feet, but my cousin commented that Felix has landed on his feet. Felix has been with us for just over two weeks. He weighs 3lb (1.36kg).

It’s nice to hear the pitter-patter of little feet around the house. Sometimes it becomes the galloping thunder of little feet. ‘He’s a mixed blessing,’ says Mum as she looks at the pulls in her skirt made by his claws or stands up from her chair to find the laces of her shoes are untied.

Here is Felix the Fearless exploring and playing.

Of course, there are many missed shots of Felix in mid-air, doing somersaults and star jumps, and those funny sideways jumps kittens do. You’ll have to imagine those.

The back of a dining chair helps Felix work on his balance, his poses and applause.

Then it’s time for a stretch on the chair cushion, displaying fangs Dracula would be proud to own.

Can a cat ever be cured of its enthusiasm to join in our meals? We have to shut him in his room at dinner time.

While Felix is mostly confined to the house for now, he has spotted one interesting neighbour – and one outdoor resident.

Felix has some hiding places and out-of-the-way retreats.

Felix in repose is perhaps when he is at his most endearing – even if he’s taken your chair (and the remote).

Hop in!

It’s funny what turns out to be a highlight of the day. I’d taken my 94 year old mother for her driving test. We’d arrived at the testing station in her old Suzuki Swift from which we’d hastily swept the cobwebs before setting out. When you’re sitting a test at 94 you do all you can to make a good impression. Our eyes were caught by this sleek, shiny car at the end of the queue. No cobwebs here.

I was interested by the ‘McLaren’ insignia on the car and asked the driver if I could take a photo. My brother is car-crazy and has a dog called McLaren (after NZ racing driver Bruce McLaren) and at that point that was all I was thinking – that he’d be entertained by a photo. The driver said, ‘Sure,’ then to my surprise hopped out inviting me to hop in. He kindly took a photo or two.

That’s a gull-wing door, my sister said. I found out lots more about this car before the day was much older, including the technical name for those doors: dihedral.

Turns out, only 50 of these cars have been made and two of them are in NZ. It’s a McLaren 720S Le Mans Coupe Limited Edition. And here’s a review.

The interior is very high spec, with top stitching, which reminded me of a friend’s new Peugeot which has lime green top stitching on the black upholstery – and matching lighting strips along the dashboard.

Top stitching in the Peugeot – a sure sign of quality

There’s no top-stitching in my new Suzuki Swift hybrid, but it has more than enough features to keep me busy.

Thinking about it now, it’s refreshing that the driver of the McLaren car was young-ish, tall and neatly dressed, supple enough to slide into the low-slung vehicle. More often you see old, grey or bald men, a bit dishevelled or time worn, driving sporty, often convertible, cars and think (with a bite of car envy), ‘What a waste!’ Like me in the photo: I don’t fit the picture. I hope he was the owner.

My brother’s response to the photo I sent him was, “Yes, but it is not a Ferrari”. Geesh!

Oh, and my mother passed her test. When you have old-lady charm the cobwebs don’t matter. And her older model Suzuki interior does have top-stitching!

Meet Felix

One of my nephews has been keen for a while to get his grandmother (my mum) a cat. I knew she would love that, but I’d been adamant that our pet-owning days were over (all that effort and heart-break) and had the dog and cat doors removed long ago. The arrival of the hens is another story altogether.

Eventually, my nephew got us in a weak moment to agree that Mum would love a cat to sit on her knee. It’s her 94th birthday this week, and he got his family organised to visit the SPCA. They sent photos of the kitten they had chosen, and I had to speak to an SPCA employee to make sure I approved the adoption – and to ‘pass the test’, I’m guessing. She sounded pleased that I’d rescued my last cat, Skipper, from a skip. Come to think of it, all my pets (now called ‘companion animals’) have been rescued. This little one was found on his own under a pallet. His birth date is 9 October, though I don’t understand how they can be so accurate!

He arrived at our house on Saturday afternoon. He was already neutered, microchipped and vaccinated. He had his own sheepskin blanket and a toy dog. The family added a sleeping igloo and plush catnip balls (which he loves) – and cat litter, box and scoop.

We spent a pleasant afternoon watching the kitten settle in and explore. Following the literature provided in his adoption pack, we have kept him to one room for now. Even with the doors open during the day, he shows little interest in going further – so far.

Mum was very quiet and we hoped that he would prove suitable for an elderly person who might be nervous of scratches to fragile skin or stockings. Fortunately, he seems (so far) to be gentle and quite timid. We asked if she would like to choose a name and she quickly decided on ‘Felix’. His SPCA name was ‘Raindrop’.

Felix spent his first night with the donkeys.

It seems miraculous that a creature so small knows how to take care of itself. He came toilet trained (thankfully – only one ‘accident’ overnight) and is good at his ablutions before settling to sleep.

Yesterday, Vera stepped in to take a look at the newcomer and spent a while studying him. Both kept their distance. Felix was becoming bolder, playing furiously, then sleeping. I bought him a scratching post – choosing a solid, NZ-made one, no assembly required. Last night Felix slept again with the donkeys.

This morning, Felix played, hunted a fly, luxuriated in the sunshine and then, in a break-through, settled on Mum’s lap. Job done, everyone!

Mabel

Mabel was the chook who took over Dora’s role as look-out for the flock. She stood up to visiting dogs and put them firmly in their place (quivering inside the door).

Betty and Mabel tell McLaren who’s boss

When the new deck was being built, Vera inspected the work – even wandering in the open door and looking at the startled workers from inside the house.

It was, therefore, surprising that Mabel should suddenly go downhill. Perhaps she was grieving for Betty who had recently died, or grieving for her loss of freedom. Once the deck went down, Mabel and Vera were confined to their run and, extensive though it is, the run does not include their favourite haunts: the garage, the deck, the lawn and the raspberry patch.

Whatever the reason, she became more withdrawn, puffed up, eating little, and spending most of her time on the straw under the henhouse. Vera spent a lot of time with her.

She died on Christmas Eve. She has joined the illustrious company of Betty I, Dora and Popcorn under the lilac tree, with Betty II nearby under the roses.

Vera, who was the lowest in the pecking order before, is the sole survivor. Her appetite is good. She seems to enjoy sitting in the warm hay in the run, or under the henhouse (where I have placed a mirror to help her feel less alone).

In the last couple of days, I’ve let her out onto the lawn for a couple of hours as there is no grass or clover in the run. She enjoys sinking down into it gracefully like a lady in a crinoline and spreading her ‘petticoats’ in the sun.

Out in the world, there is a shortage of eggs as poultry farmers adjust to the new animal welfare rules and ‘battery’ farming is banned. I have no plans to replenish the flock, however.

This little flock, a Christmas gift, will do for now.

Harriet, Hester and Henrietta

Trifle

A small thing’ – really?

ARCHAIC

talk or act frivolously.

“we will not trifle—life is too short”

Google Dictionary, Oxford Languages
The finished trifle, photo bombed by a Christmas elf

You have to wonder why this creation is called a ‘trifle’. It’s a complicated assemblage of ingredients over two days – well, this version at least. The particular trifle I undertook to make for Christmas dinner is called Strawberry Daiquiri Trifle. It involves jelly, sliced strawberries, vanilla bean custard, sponge fingers, rum and lime syrup and a final layer of whipped cream and macerated strawberries. I opted out of making the sponge fingers and vanilla bean custard and sourced them in two different supermarkets – and topped up my white rum supply while I was out. My penchant for cocktails seems to have influenced my choosing this particular dessert.

Then began the making of jelly, refrigerating (I had to remove a shelf to fit the dish in) and waiting before adding strawberries, more refrigerating (overnight), making rum and lime syrup into half of which went more strawberries to soak overnight and, next day, layering the custard, the sponge fingers drizzled with rum syrup, and more strawberries, and more hours of refrigeration. No trifling matter.

Before serving, a topping of cream and macerated strawberries is added. The end result is anything but ‘a trifle’. It weighs a ton. But it does look spectacular.

My niece caught me looking very pleased with the result…or is that expression a consequence of too much bubbly?

Grasping an invisible glass

My sister looks delighted too – not to mention delightful.

The trifle aftermath is less spectacular. The structure that makes it visually pleasing collapses into a mess of custard, cream and soggy strawberries as soon as you dig into it. That visual disappointment seems to affect the taste which is perhaps unbalanced, although some texture from the sponge fingers and the subtle flavour of rum and lime are perceptible.

Despite that, I and (I suspect) the Christmas elves, are happy to have the left-overs for breakfast – and perhaps a trifle more for lunch today, Boxing Day. On a philosophical note, perhaps the greatest pleasures of our lives are, in sum, made up of everyday trifles.

Aglow

It’s the time of year for brightness and abundance. Summer Solstice was this week and we’re on the downhill slope into the fullness of summer.

I arrived home at dusk recently and found my back garden glowing with the white flowers of feverfew. I’ve heard of people favouring white flowers in order to achieve this breath-taking effect. Now I know why.

The myrtle tree is covered with white flowers too – although recent rain has subdued it somewhat. The feijoa has very festive flowers, as does the fuchsia. The sweet peas are out and smelling wonderful. The Ake ake is a festive look in a vase, which I discovered after pruning it a little and deciding I couldn’t just discard the flowering stems. A kind friend gave us Christmas lilies.

Even the Strawberry Daiquiri Trifle I’ve begun to assemble, like a work of art, has a glowing layer of strawberry jelly.

Merry Christmas!

All hands on deck

The new deck seems larger than the old one. Perhaps it’s the wider boards. Or the lack of clutter. I finished painting the new rails and step edge today. The new step down to the lawn makes all the difference for access from house to garden.

The old deck was rotting and unsteady. The landscaper removed the old boards and we could see why. There was hardly any bracing underneath.

My nephew, a builder’s apprentice, spotted the issues immediately and the family rallied. He and his dad got to work and put in many bolts, new bracing, and concrete piles. Others in the family collected supplies and laboured. I removed all the mint spreading underneath, and wisteria which had wound its way towards the house. I dug out a lot of dirt and repainted the lower weatherboards and the deck edge.

The chooks inspected the work.

This was the chooks’ last chance to be on the deck, as I decided they must keep off it and they needed to be out of the way while the work on the deck was being done. I extended their run and they now have a large area with plenty of shade and shelter and even access to the garden shed. They seem to be getting used to it and they still get all the usual treats! I am no longer on constant ‘chicken-poo patrol’ cleaning up the deck and lawn.

The deck installers, two young Yorkshire men, took twelve hours to complete the deck with ‘the boss’ helping with the final push at the end.

I supplied fresh rhubarb muffins and homemade elderflower cordial (“That’s well good,” said one) and, later, cheese and crackers and ginger beer. I was worried about them working so long in one day, but they seemed to take it in their stride.

The new deck is as steady as a rock and, with no chooks on board, it is a pleasant place to sit outside.

RIP Beautiful Betty (No 2)

Hens have a way of fixing you with a look:

Betty, August 2022

As she got older, Betty’s feathers darkened. The pattern on her back was distinctive and reminded me of wholegrain oats.

She came to live at our house in March 2021 from Dunedin, with her two flock-mates, Mabel and Vera.

Her previous owners came to visit from time to time.

Will renews acquaintance with Betty

For over a year, we had a flock of five hens and plenty of eggs. In the last few months, however, egg production has stopped permanently. These brown shavers are bred to produce and then die, basically. Now Betty is gone, there are two left.

Betty had been sick for a week. I had to carry her out of her house each day and she would sit in a quiet, shady spot all day, sipping water and only occasionally showing an interest in food.

Mabel and Vera sat with her a lot during the day. She would walk back to her house each night – until the last two days when I had to carry her. She passed away last night.

There was an ‘open casket viewing’ before burial.

Mabel and Vera pay their last respects.

The chicken burial plot under the lilac tree is quite crowded now: Betty No 1, Dora, Popcorn. I buried Betty nearby under some roses where there is undercover of violets and Solomon’s Seal.

The last of the mojitos?

The deck is being replaced and I’ve pulled out the mint which was further threatening its flagging integrity by growing up between the planks. It was also making its way along the edges of the house and making a bid for the territory of the rhubarb. While the rampant mint smelt lovely when it was crushed in the french doors, I had to admit that it was better contained in a pot.

Some pieces with roots were saved to plant. It will be a while before there is sufficient for cocktails, however. Some leaves were picked to use later, but they are looking a little the worse for wear, despite being in a cool spot. I have a flourishing pot of Vietnamese mint, but I guess it won’t do for a mojito.

A further blow to the prospect of mojitos is the scarcity of limes. My young lime tree had one lime this year, having had six last year. It has been fed and mulched and is showing new growth and plenty of flowers now. I have had no luck finding any limes at the local shops recently, although a month or so ago there were plenty of NZ limes, and imported ones too. For tonight’s mojito, I used the last half of a lime which was lurking in the fridge.

Note the scallop-edged china cupboard or cabinet handle (broken) beside the vase of mint leaves. I found it in the soil dug up for cement piles under the deck. It looks Victorian. It joins the jar full of other fragments of interesting china discovered in the garden (see earlier post ‘Digging Deeper’, July 16, 2021).

Double take

I picked up these pine cones near the beach some months ago. They are smooth to touch and look as if they have been lacquered, unlike the usual dry, dusty cones which are collected in sacks to sell for fundraising and which we burn on our fires.

These cones reminded me of the neat little cone my dad made into an owl when we were little. He varnished the closed cone, inverted it so it was point-side down, and added spindly legs and bead eyes. It sat on the glass shelf arrangement called a shadow box on our living room wall.

If you look closely at the photo, you can see that each scale of the cone has two grooves, each holding a seed which looks a bit like a coffee bean. Most of the seeds had dispersed when I found the cones.

I had put a third cone on the outside table. While the deck is being repaired, the table has been moved onto a paved area exposed to the elements. It rained heavily not long after, and I did I double-take yesterday when I noticed the cone had closed. It was a spine-tingling moment of wonder. How could something I thought was dead move its scales to protect the seeds inside? I knew that pine cones open as they dry out. That’s why sacks of pine cones bulge more and more as the cones inside expand, and they make cracking sounds as they open wider if they are in the sun. But to close up in the rain seemed to suggest a mind at work!

Scientific studies have been done to show how pine cones react in wet conditions. It’s quite nice to have a rational explanation, but it’s still an awe-inspiring phenomenon.

I have also learnt that you can hang a pine cone outside to predict dry or wet weather.