Thursday, January 29, 2015

Florida Sunshine

It's 9.30am, and I'm sat on a deserted beach looking out to sea.  Four pelicans have just skimmed across the ocean in front of me.  The breeze is a little chilly, but even for me it's not enough to warrant the fleeces and hats that many of the locals are wearing.  Just me and a lone seagull, and the occasional jogger on the sidewalk behind me (and the traffic, but that's mainly drowned out by the sound of the waves).  Take away the massive tankers on the horizon, and it could almost be peaceful.

We're in Fort Lauderdale -  only 2 1/2 hours flight from Baltimore.  At times it's difficult to remember that we're in the same country on the same time-zone because it could so easily be the Med.  It's definitely a world away from the snow and ice storm we've fortuitously missed in the North East USA.  The news reports, have called it a "historic storm", with 3-4 feet of snow forecast for the New England area.  Lancaster has fared a little better, but our poor cat sitter has still had to dig her way through the frozen snow and ice on our driveway.  (The cats, meanwhile, probably haven't wondered far from their cosy spot on the bed under the warm air vent).  Really not looking forward to returning to freezing temperatures again later today...

Hmmm - sunshine...
...or snow?
Tough decision.
Florida is currently basking in warm sunshine, with only a brief torrent of windy rain yesterday.  This is definitely the playground of the rich and famous, with huge yachts, beautiful condos and flashy cars at every turn.  Just the place for lazy days of people watching in the sunshine.

So here I am, just sitting here soaking up the last few hours of warm sunshine whilst hubby finishes his conference meetings.

*happy sigh*

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Ash 'n' Cinders Part 2 - Settling In

We collected the cats at the other end in Philadelphia airport (so pleased that we paid the extra money for someone else to do the running around with the customs paperwork) - looking slightly bemused and a little grumpy about the whole experience.  Logistics-wise, hubby had had to arrange a small minibus to pick up me, my luggage (4 cases) and the two cats in their cages.  And we still had a two hour drive back to our new home.  But other than a few vocal complaints on the drive back, they fared pretty well with the whole flying and travelling experience.

Once home, and finally released from their cages, the cats were initially a little confused and wary in exploring their new base - we had difficulty limiting them to a small area initially, as it's an open-plan house!  But once they'd located their food and litter trays, and our bed, they seemed a little calmer.  (Although Cinders decided that a half-unpacked bag was also a good sleeping spot for a couple of days).

They too seemed to suffer from jet-lag, although it could also have been the whole discombobulating (!) experience of being in a new house with new smells, sounds, sights and routines.  For about a week we had broken nights' sleep with 3am "songs" as they readjusted.  Initially the ceiling fan over the bed was scary, as was the electric garage door and the doorbell.  We also had no furniture for the first few weeks, and were camping on the living room floor, so comforting laps were also at a minimum, although they were happier when they discovered the big bay window to peer out of.

Most surprisingly, although previously they had been indoor /outdoor cats (often desperate to go out when we got home from work in the UK), here they have shown no interest whatsoever in going outside.  With hindsight, this is probably a good thing, as I'm not sure how they would fare against some of the larger mammals we've seen (ground hogs and possums etc).  However, it has also meant we've had to become more creative in keeping them stimulated in their comparatively smaller and less energetic indoor environment (otherwise they would sleep at every available opportunity). 

Ash gets comfortable on a camping chair...
So we've set up comfy window spots with cosy cushions and bird feeders outside to watch (more about this process later), and we spend time playing with them every day.  We've had a few weeks of initial potential "cat depression" from Ash, who found his favoured bed spot on top of the gallery landing where he could watch everyone's comings and goings, and barely moved.  But gradually they've both adjusted, probably as we have too, and now they seem much more settled.

Just chillin' in a sun ray

Lots of cuddles and patience later, and they have settled in well, and now rule the house even more than they did before!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


This weekend, we had tickets to see a real-life rodeo in action. It was the final event of the 2015 Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg, and we had ring-side seats!

It was a packed arena, and cowboy hats were de rigeur - there were lots of stalls outside selling Stetsons, cowboy boots and spangly belts, as well as Davy Crockett raccoon hats (and skunk...).

But the real action was inside.  After an introductory pageant of the American flag and all the competing cowboys / girls and their horses, the competitions began.

First up was Bare-Back Bronc Riding, where the rider attempts to stay on the bucking horse for 8 seconds with only one hand.  This made for some spectacular bucks for the horses, and some painful looking falls from the riders.  Apparently the horses are bred specifically for their strength, agility and ability to buck well!


Next came Steer Wrestling, where the rider chases a steer out of the box and attempts to drop from his horse onto the steer and wrestle it to the ground by its horns.  I didn't fancy being on the wrong end of some of those horns.

Then we had Team Roping - two riders chase the steer out of the gate - the first rider lassos the steer by the horns, the second rider ropes the steer by its hind feet.  The skill in the lasso work, whilst at speed on a horse, was fascinating.
Then came the Saddle Bronc competition (same principle as bare-back, but obviously with saddles).  More spectacular (and painful looking) throws and falls.

Then we had an interlude in the action, and a cowboy clown and his beautifully marked horse entertained us with horse tricks, including dancing, praying, sitting and bowing.

Back to the action with Tie-Down Roping - the aim of this is for a rider to catch a calf by lasso around its neck, then dismount and run to the calf to restrain it by manhandling it to the ground (literally) and then tying 3 of its legs together, all in the quickest time possible.  You can see how these events grew from actual working cowboy duties.


Then it was the cowgirls' turn, with a straight forward Barrel Racing competition - where the riders attempt to complete a clover-leafed pattern around 3 static barrels in the fastest time.  The speed they threw their horses around the turns was amazing!

The final competition was then good-old Bull Riding.  Very similar rules to the bronc riding, but on MASSIVE mean-looking, large-horned bulls.  As well as the rider, there are Rodeo Clowns, whose job it is to stay near the bull and help the rider when they get dismounted, aiming to distract the bull and protect the rider from harm.  Not a job I'd fancy - they had to be really quick on their feet and good at dodging / swerving when the bull lunged at them.  One of the poor rodeo clowns took a thump from one of the bulls and had to be stretchered off.  Many of the riders wore helmets (although some appeared to rely only on their trusty Stetsons), and unsurprisingly, bull-riders are known to have the highest injury rates in rodeo events.

Despite the dangers, it was a fantastic evening's entertainment.  Slickly organised, fast moving, exciting and visually entertaining, and appealed to my inner cowgirl.  Now I'm gonna get me some cowboy boots...

NB - Some people believe that rodeo events constitute animal cruelty. I was reassured to find that the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) who ran this event has a strict commitment to the proper care and treatment of the livestock.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Ash & Cinders Part 1 - Relocating

There was never any question that we wouldn't bring our cats with us when we relocated - they were a part of the family that we weren't going to leave behind.

Our first port of call was our local vets, who initially weren't that helpful, merely directing me to the DEFRA website.  However, after researching what might be needed myself, I contacted some pet relocation companies for further advice and quotes.

We knew the process wouldn't be cheap, and it actually ended up costing more to put the cats on the plane that it did for my own plane ticket!  However, we were pleased we had done our own research, particularly when our relocation advisor came back with a cost that was 3-4 times the cost we had been quoted by local UK companies, as well as incorrect advice that the cats would need to go into quarantine.  In the end, we decided to make the arrangements ourselves.

By obtaining Pet Passports for  both cats, and certifying their rabies vaccinations and microchips, under the European PETS initiative (Pet Travel Scheme) they are free to both enter and leave the US (and other EU and recognised countries) without having to go through quarantine procedures.  The passports were organised by our local vet in Cardiff, for a small cost.

We liaised regularly with our chosen pet relocation provider (we eventually selected Pet Air UK), and they patiently answered all of our neurotic questions and queries.  We had to choose the best destination airport for them to fly into, in the end deciding on Philadelphia as it seemed to be better set up for receiving small animals.  We also decided to pay an extra fee to have all the customs paperwork dealt with on our behalf at the US end.  The cats actually flew on the same flight as me, and having to deal with the lengthy, protracted customs paperwork process (involving travelling back and forth between two separate buildings of the airport), would have been challenging, frustrating and tiring after an 8 hour flight and a 90 minute queue at passport control...

Because the flight was on a Monday, the cats were actually collected direct from our home in Cardiff on the Friday beforehand, and kennelled over the weekend by Pet Air UK in Windsor, nearer the airport.  They took care of all the pre-flight health checks, the outgoing paperwork, and getting the cats safely boarded.  I just had to worry about getting myself to the airport.

The cats each had their own custom-built wooden cage (Ash's had to be made slightly bigger than normal because he's a big heavy boy).  We weren't able to leave them with their favourite blankets, but I could give them a small square of fabric each that I'd kept under my pillow, so that they at least had something of comfort that smelt of home.  I made sure I packed their blankets and a few toys in  my hand luggage, and their beds and scratching post went in the air freight.  The cage itself was lined with absorbent puppy pads and warm vet fleece, and they had a water bottle attached for the journey.

On flights, animals are placed in a heated and pressurised part of the hold - because it's warm and dark, allegedly they sleep for most of the journey (at least, that's what I've been telling myself).

To read the rest of their relocation story, keep following along!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Twixtmas Project for DewCatDesigns

I had a lovely little project to complete in the odd period between Christmas and New Year (Twixtmas).  I was contacted by a customer who wanted a particular cross-stitch kit completed and made-up for her - a "Baby Sleeping" Door Hanger, from the Sweetheart Tree, which had particular sentimental value to her and her family.  She had specific colour requirements, and also wanted a musical box insert put into the back of the piece.

I knew that the cross-stitching would be relatively straight forward, but wasn't entirely sure how I would manage the musical box insert - but was willing to go ahead.

The stitching itself didn't take that long - around 3 sessions of dedicated time.  I really enjoyed stitching on linen for a change (most of my cross-stitch projects are on aida), and loved the mini quarter-stitches which allowed so much more detail in the 28 count fabric. 

A cute teddy bear charm helps finish the piece

Then, on New Year's Day, whilst hubby settled in front of the football (soccer), I played around with the musical box insert, some felt templates and lots of pins, and did a dummy run to make sure everything would fit together properly.

Reverse of the completed piece showing the musical box key (the musical box is carefully hidden inside the piece)

Then I was ready to make it up!  Making up a template beforehand really helped, and it came together really quickly in the end - all hand-stitched together (with something this precious, I certainly didn't trust my beginner's sewing machine skills!).
The finished piece!
I was really pleased with the result - and my customer was too!