Category Archives: home

Our Cat’s Reaction to Working from Home

When we were first instructed to work at home due to Covid-19, for all of us, it meant some adjustments.

Initially, I commented on how interesting it will be to see how Ivy the Wonder Cat copes with her dad (and soon-to-be two dads) always being around. I honestly thought that she would get sick of us encroaching upon her routine, and would become increasingly distant.

The truth is that I underestimated how much attention she really craved.

When I first met Ivy at the pet store, where the local shelter offered cats for adoption, she was the calmest, coolest cat I could imagine.

I didn’t make the connection at first, but she liked having people around. I eventually figured out that because the clerks were in her line of sight from 8 am to 9 pm, in addition to all of the visitors passing by to say hello, this extroverted cat was likely in what was paradise for her.

As much as I was told that cats were pretty independent, little did I know that my pre-Covid work routine might not have been enough attention for her, even though the signs weren’t that obvious to me at first.

I assumed that she slept all day while I was at the office. The evidence showed that at some point she woke up and circulated, as her quota of food was consumed and the litter box was used.

I was under the impression that her world generally revolved around her little basket, with the comfy blanket, overlooking the backyard, supervising the birds, the squirrels and the folks walking their dogs, in between her naps.

On those rare days I might be at home for a sick day or a vacation day, this was generally the pattern she followed. I tried not to interrupt her sleepy routine.

But during the evenings and weekends, I found her to be a generally vocal cat. It hadn’t fully clicked for me as to why she did that.

Ironically, when the work-from-home order started and I was around the house so much more, I found her more calm and meowing much less, despite our imminent move to the country and the growing mountain of packing boxes in every room. Where I thought the disruption might be offensive to her sensitivities, Ivy was seemingly enjoying the cardboard play structures. It must have been like feline Disneyland in her eyes.

She would check in on me periodically throughout the day and she seemed rather pleased that her servant was available for the day shift.

After we moved and continued working from home, when the shock of the move faded, she was genuinely less bothered by our constant presence than I originally estimated.

However, there was still a little drama. There have been times when she was contentedly napping for 4 to 6 hours in the guest bedroom, in a separate corner of the house, but when she woke up she would wail powerfully, like the queen of the manor, “where are my humans and why is my food bowl empty?” Unfortunately, those words have echoed on a couple of conference calls, reaching from coast to coast.

As a result, I have learned to be pretty nimble with the mute button whenever Ivy starts bursting out in song or critiquing the state of the litter box that hasn’t been scooped in the last hour. But everyone is balancing different priorities these days.

Either way, I count my blessings, as Ivy is really a good cat and developed into a good communicator. When she is lacking something, she meows and often sits down in the general vicinity where action is needed. It’s pretty simple. I would rather have her meowing than having her destroy anything or having “accidents” to make a point.

But thankfully, more often than not, she quietly joins us in one of the two makeshift home offices, and resumes her nap time in our presence, on one of the many blankets and throws she has claimed in the name of Ivy. Maybe this is the convenience she was lacking when I wasn’t at home, which makes her feel more reassured overall.

Does she suffer from separation anxiety? My partner might say yes as Ivy does get loud when I am out for a socially distanced grocery run… or just on the other side of a closed bathroom door. Anything is possible with a rescue cat that was abandoned. Does she remember that far back? Who knows what motivates such strong reactions.

It makes me wonder how she survived emotionally when I was at the office all day and had the house to herself. Was she similarly needy, but I was never there to witness it?

During the pandemic, Ivy truly had no objections to us being home all the time. In fact, she loved it! And frankly, the feeling is mutual.

As a first time pet owner, what I find so heartwarming is how this little animal finds relaxation and comfort in my presence. For someone who has had his own share of anxiety, it seems a little backward to me, but I must be in a much calmer place myself if she actively seeks me out to feel balanced after all of the changes that we have been through. I am more than happy to oblige.

The best part is that with my retirement just a few months away, I look forward to having more free time to hang out together… as long as it doesn’t disrupt HER routine!

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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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The Dreaded Super-Sized Grocery Cart

For as long as I can remember, when it came to grocery shopping, I was almost always a handbasket kind of guy.

Back when I was driving to work every day, it made perfect sense to make a quick stop on the way home to buy just the items needed in the short term, and then to breeze through the express checkout.

For those rare times that a handbasket wasn’t enough, I might have opted for the smallest shopping cart possible and going through a regular check-out lane, but that was fine. All in all, it was a pretty efficient system for me for many years.

But why might I have an aversion to super-sized grocery carts? It might be due to trust issues resulting from being stuck with the cart with the annoyingly bad wheel, no matter how infrequently I may use them.

Or possibly, is it just a hyper sensitivity to spatial awareness that I fume when I am stuck behind someone with the big cart, parked in the middle of the aisle, and having to wait for them to make a life-or-death grocery decision before getting through. With a hand basket, I could just suck in my stomach and go around them before they even noticed that I was there.

When my partner and I moved in together, I understood that shopping for two might mean using the small shopping cart more often. Of course, I was happy to make that change.

But then Covid-19 happened.

With public health officials advising us to stay home, to only make essential trips, and recommending less frequent grocery runs, it took some adjusting. But because making lists is one of the things I do with great joy and enthusiasm, it seemed like the transition to a 7-day shopping trip for two people should be easy enough.

But it took some adjusting there as well. Continue reading

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Taking the Microwave Oven for Granted

I don’t think we realize how much we appreciate an appliance until it isn’t there for us.

And when the option to replace it quickly is not there either because microwave ovens are backordered everywhere due to supply chain issues resulting from Covid-19, that is when the reality check sets in.

A few months after we arrived in our new place, we were sitting in the living room, watching TV, when we heard the microwave making beeping noises. We weren’t cooking anything, we hadn’t left anything in it, and frankly there was no reason for it to be beeping, but it was. We dismissed it as just a random incident and didn’t think much of it.

But in the days that followed, it happened again and again. Not just one or two beeps, but a series of beeps like our microwave oven was receiving Morse code from somewhere, and for prolonged durations. Even in the quiet of the night, from our bedroom we could sometimes hear the beeping competing with our cat’s nightly choir practice.

We just chalked it up to another one of our house’s “stories of the unexplained”.

A few weeks later, without being asked, the microwave’s screen started showing us random recipe instructions and maintenance instructions, or going into “demonstration mode”. We started wondering if the microwave was slightly haunted. But we took the scientific approach and unplugged the microwave, waited one minute, and then plugged it back in. It seemed to work fine… for a while. Continue reading

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Learning to Appreciate Snow Again

As I sit down to write this piece, all is calm, all is bright. Miss Ivy, the “guardian cat”, is snoring on the wing chair beside me while I sip my morning coffee. Just outside my window is the first major snowfall of this season.

What a great way to spend a weekend snow day. I am very fortunate indeed for this simple pleasure.

I look out my window and think to myself how pretty the winter wonderland is. Then I stop myself and say “Whoa! What happened to that guy who used to ‘hate’ winter?”

The answer is that things have changed quite a bit.

For so many years, I have equated snowfalls with stress, the fear of the unknown, and having to dig deeply for an extra dose patience.

I don’t know why in Ottawa the show must go on, even in inclement weather, but only in rare and very extreme weather conditions was work ever “cancelled”.

It always brings a smile to my face to see news reports from other cities that shut down when they had one or two inches of snow on the ground. “That would never happen here”, I always think to myself as one to two inches on the ground is just an average winter day in Ottawa. But it didn’t mean it was an easy day.

Back when I was taking the city bus to school or to work, a snowy day meant a longer commute time in an overheated bus, while wearing a winter coat, sweating like a pig, wishing I could take another shower by the time I got to my destination. It also meant the crap shoot of whether the bus will be late or if it will show up at all, meaning that extra layers of clothes were needed to stand outside waiting, to protect from the elements.

It also meant the risk of being late for an important commitment, which is excruciating for someone who prides himself on his punctuality. Continue reading

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My Long-Standing Fascination with the Mail

When I was a child, I loved getting mail. It didn’t happen often, but when an envelope showed up with my name on it, I knew I could tear into it (before I knew what a letter opener was) and enjoy whatever was inside.

My first pieces of mail were birthday and Christmas cards, which always brought me supreme joy. Not too long after that, I had a few pen pals with whom I loved exchanging news from our respective parts of the world.

It didn’t really matter what it was. If it landed in our mailbox and had my name on it, it always had a bit of a surprise factor to it. It always warmed my heart and made me smile to think that someone was thinking of me and took the time to send me a note.

I wonder if that sentiment is what inspired me to reciprocate and to get into the routine of sending birthday and Christmas cards as I got older. Perhaps the mail service was also an opportunity for the emerging writer in me to break from the university or corporate writing routine, and to write letters for the pure fun of it… I know some people will disagree with me on that, but yes, I think it’s fun.

When I think back, I don’t fully understand why I was so fascinated with mail when I was a kid. I don’t know if it’s because it made me feel part of some sort of exclusive club to which I had been accepted as the mail was something I saw as typically reserved for grown-ups.

If I remember correctly, I think I twisted my Mom’s arm into getting me a subscription to “Vidéo Presse”, a popular French magazine for kids back in the day, not just for the content, but also for an additional piece of mail in my name. Continue reading

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The Wild Life of Living in the Country

But with farm land surrounding us, I didn’t expect to feel quite so unenlightened and “green” when it came to the animal kingdom. It’s like I turn into a kid again when I see or hear things for the first time.

Shortly after we arrived I experienced flying ants for the first time. It was a very weird sensation, as I had no idea an ant could fly, but out here they do. They are quite the annoyance if you are trying to get something accomplished and they persistently fly back no matter how many times you try to shoo them away. Fortunately, the wave of flying ants was over after about two weeks.

When taking a stroll or working outside, it’s not uncommon to hear cows in the distance, a sound that I haven’t heard in ages. It’s a sound that brings me great joy, as a reminder of our more peaceful surroundings. I never thought that a cow mooing would have such a relaxing effect, but it does.

Just down the street, one of our neighbours has a couple of horses. I don’t recall been near a horse since a pony ride maybe 50 years ago. One day I was driving by, only to see one of the horses relieving itself (#1) which totally blew my mind as I finally witnessed and understood the saying “peeing like a racehorse”.

I was surprised that we didn’t have more squirrels and chipmunks, but the ones we have are more than enough as they seem to be in a bit of a “West Side Story” turf war. My partner and I have both seen the chipmunk get very aggressive with the squirrel and even take a swipe at him. That chipmunk is quite a scrapper! Continue reading

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Country Living: Farm-to-Table

One of the best parts about moving to the country has been experiencing the joy of savouring freshly picked produce.

It is interesting the way that things have flip flopped: When I lived in the city, within a small radius, I had ten grocery stores to choose from, two farms from which I could buy seasonal produce, and one farmer’s market that would set up on Saturdays. In the country, I have one excellent grocery store nearby, I am surrounded by a multitude of farmers’ stands that sell produce, and around here, any day of the week is pretty much “farmer’s market” day.

Needless to say, we took full advantage of this opportunity.

Over the course of the last four months we have enjoyed fresh tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, green and yellow beans, peas, corn, potatoes, zucchini, broccoli, onions, garlic, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and several varieties of apples, all grown locally.

There have been other products available, but there just haven’t been enough hours in the day to try them all.

When you add to the mix a local butcher shop that also sources products from local suppliers, we have found ourselves marveling on more than one occasion at how everything on the dinner table was truly local.

I will be the first to say that I appreciate the convenience of a good supermarket that can sell you anything, anytime, especially in the middle of a Canadian winter when the ground is frozen and growing season is over. The availability of imported fruits and vegetables is certainly a delight to add colour and variety to our diets through the twelve months of the calendar year. Continue reading

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Needs and Wants in the Covid-19 Era

Five years ago, I wrote a blog post called “The Conquering Clutter Resolution” in which I discussed my wake-up call when I replaced flooring throughout the house, which meant having to pack and relocate everything.

During the process, I could not believe how much “stuff” I had. It was nothing on the scale of an episode of “Hoarders”, it was just mystifying how much I could hide in a closet when it was neatly and efficiently organized.

This prompted me to start a purging habit of getting rid of one cubic foot of “stuff” (aside from the regular garbage and recycling) every week. This was definitely an easy and achievable goal, even on the busiest of weeks, to see slow and steady progress.

Gone were the kitchen gadgets that got little use. Gone were the hobby items that never developed into an actual hobby. Gone were the collectibles that never really turned into a collection.

As the months went by, I patted myself on the back as I felt lighter with each donation and each extra garbage bag. I thought that by the next time something like that came up, moving my “stuff” should be a breeze.

But when I moved this past spring, despite my best purging efforts, my moving van was still astonishingly full. How did that happen? Continue reading

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In Search of Dim Bulbs

From the moment we walked into our new home, we have struggled to understand the lighting situation.

In almost every room, there is an overhead light fixture; no problem there. But switching one on usually turns into a scene from a vampire movie, with one or both of us shrieking in fright, shielding our eyes and yelling “Turn it off! Turn it off!”

The lights in this house are freakishly bright, the kind that could be used to land an aircraft.

What is puzzling is that these aren’t high wattage bulbs. Throughout the home, our previous owners left us with an assortment of LED, CFL and incandescents equivalent to 60 watt bulbs… which is considerably better than in one of my previous homes where the previous occupant left one light bulb for the whole place.

I don’t know if it is the bulbs themselves that are set to “harsh white”, or is it the fact that they are affixed to ceiling fixtures that their light bounces off the gleaming white ceiling making everything look brighter than it really is. Could it also be because some of the fixtures have three bulbs in them that the light radiating from them is more than we were used to, coming from homes with very little in the way of overhead lighting, mostly table lamps?

Either way, in a home with two people who are prone to migraines, this was a problem. Continue reading

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When the House Makes Me Jump

One of the pitfalls of having very good hearing (as I do) is the process of getting familiar with a house’s noises.

In my last house, after almost 20 years, I knew exactly what “normal” sounded like for each individual appliance, sink and toilet as well as for the furnace, the air conditioner and the hot water tank.

I knew that dramatic drops or increases in temperature outside would make the house pop as the building materials contracted or expanded. I was also familiar with the specific creaking noises that tree branches outside would make in heavy winds.

Each sound had a distinct fingerprint, and after 20 years, whenever the house made noise, I could usually pick out the cause and not worry about it.

But in having my radar on like a bat and the ability to filter out common “normal” noises, it goes without saying that noises that weren’t so common and didn’t match the usual patterns, could sometimes make me jump higher than I would when watching most horror flicks.

I wouldn’t chalk up that reaction to perhaps being a little over-caffeinated or being a nervous person by nature. I think it stems from a pride of ownership in my home and any noises that aren’t considered “normal” should be investigated right away to ensure they aren’t a sign or a more serious problem.

When that happened, Ivy the Wonder Cat and I would turn into Scooby and Shaggy (respectively), slowly walking through the house, flashlight in hand, waiting for the noise to happen again to be able to figure out where it is coming from, what it is, how to stop it and if a professional noise-eradicator needed to be called. Continue reading

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