Katniss and Toffee’s Christmas Presents

Toffee opens her Xmas present

Toffee opens her Xmas present

Toffee is our last inside cat. We brought her from Egypt in 2004 with her two companions. They both died this year. At first she struggled to adapt but now she enjoys having all the attention she missed out on, as she was always the baby cat. Her fur was always coarse but we have added a probiotic to her food and it is glossy and thick. She has a desert coat with an undercoat and hobbit feet for hot sand.

This is a video of her opening her Christmas present yesterday with silly Mummy talking in the background. She is surprisingly vocal in her thanks! Here is the YouTube link –
Chatty Toffee opening her present

Katniss is our outside cat – as feral as a raccoon and born in the wild. After our second cat died she turned up looking for food although I have seen her for about 3 years. She knew my broken heart would let her in. Recently I gave her a catnip toy and she played forever. So yesterday she got a catnip toy dog inside tissue paper and this is the YouTube link to it –

Katniss with her first Xmas present

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Thank all the holiday workers

kerryxmasvol2

Crazed Christmas Volunteer

This photo shows you that I am not vain…I look like I should be involuntarily held somewhere! In my defense, this was 8 am on Christmas morning and I was running out the door to volunteer. Most people, that I helped, were very grateful with one or two exceptions. Now I think they may just have been frightened. I had a hangover from Christmas Eve and I am sure that three coffees later I looked okay.

I had one Grinch moment when a member of staff fist-bumped me for saying ‘Merry Christmas’ instead of Happy Holidays. Really? I am not politically correct, in any case, but it was the 25 December. Just to demonstrate – this guy is a horse’s ass. 🙂 Do you remember to wish your Indian colleagues, a Happy Diwali or Happy Hanukkah to your Jewish friends? It is perfectly okay for institutions to wish everyone a Happy Holiday when there are so many different religious festivals around the winter solstice. When was the last time you wished anyone a Spiritual Solstice on the 21st, eh? Did you offer to run naked around the woods with them – what kind of friend are you???

Almost to prove the point, I don’t know how many Muslims, Hindis and Sikhs wished me a Merry Christmas and they really enjoyed that I gave up my time to help them. After five chaotic hours, I could feel the the Christmas spirit disappearing and desperately needing some of the other ‘Spirit’. It struck me that we never really notice when the Pakistani gas station employee, for example, is working on Thanksgiving or Ramadan.

Finally, I’m not really thanking myself. Most volunteers love what they do. No comments about keeping the Christ in Christmas – only positive comments allowed!!! HAPPY HOLIDAYS…lol!

The Christmas Letter

zed in snow

Zhenny in the Christmas Snow

For some reason I thought it was perfectly okay to announce that my husband was laid off on the world wide web before telling family or friends. It is as if I am writing a diary to a special friend instead of hundreds of people. Once we started receiving email attachment and snail mail letters my husband thought that I should compose one. I had actually written a short note to put in my overseas mail but they were sent before the bad day. It was impossible to think of a way to write a letter. Should I do my usual, list our vacations, health issues and then just finish with ‘and BTW my husband was laid off’? I finally decided that humor and straight forwardness was the best bet. This is, more or less, what I wrote to friends and family (leaving out some personal details). My husband is A.

Festive Greetings friends and family
First, and most important, who sent the chocolates to Auntie M.? She thought it was me, so before any other relatives get embarrassed and have to say, “I haven’t sent you anything” please tell her who the culprit was.

I saw this marvelous quote from NBC News –‘Tis the season to get flooded with Christmas letters — often a litany of bombastic bragging disguised as holiday cheer’. I thought that is a tad harsh but sometimes I have thought that and you might have about our letters… So without further ado, as soon as we came back from a fabulous vacation in Baha, A. was made redundant or laid off, as you say in the States. His company has been really struggling with both the oil price and the hostile takeover. They kept moving him from job to job but I could see the writing on the wall.

A. has been given a good severance package and we figure we have a year to get him a job in Siberia or Saudi… At first you are devastated – what next – but then reality sinks in and you think, ‘I could be living in Syria’. He is most likely going to become an independent contractor and has been given a verbal offer of a contract in the next few months. Given how bad things are, however, we will wait until there is something in writing before we open the cheap wine.

We applied for Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act and are eligible, but not able to apply until our health coverage runs out (3 months as we are, 18 months on Cobra). I was putting off applying for Disability as my doctor suggested I do, so I will think about it seriously in January. In the meantime we had a laugh when my earnings were predicted to be more than A.’s in the next few months between the book earnings and my occasional job as a writer for a local magazine. So far, so good and I am onto my third article.
Blogging is keeping me sane so there are endless blogs for you to peruse when you are bored. This is the one about A. being laid off
A Bad Day
This is one about our vacation in Baha
The Exciting Bus Ride
Our oldest cat
Mrs. Stripe

So have a wonderful holiday season, Merry Christmas, Super Solstice, Happy New Year. I am working on the 25th then will come home and cook my Teddy something reasonably nice for dinner. We swapped offices yesterday and didn’t start divorce papers so all is well and we had great fun at my fancy holiday event.

Love Kerry and A. xxx

We have had a few lovely responses from friends offering commiserations to practical help such as visiting Mum in the Alzheimer’s unit in Scotland. Many people we know work in the oil industry so there is barely anyone unaffected by this current downturn. Misery loves company! I laughed when I read the quote about Christmas letters. We have no children and have traveled frequently so ours probably sounded a bit like that in the past. You tend not to say that you have had vajazzling or many psychiatrist’s visits… Still, this blog is a way for our friends to know more than they ever wanted to about our sex life, my bad mental health and all the other funny things I write about. MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ONE AND ALL!

Work Holiday Parties…

Andy&Kerry xmas 15 001

In the chaos of the last few weeks we completely forgot that I had a ‘work party’ for the place where I volunteer. It is a huge organization so it was located in downtown Houston which is over 30 miles away from where we live. We had decided to stay in a hotel but after my husband was laid off we cancelled it. After the initial shock we started to realize that 2016 might be a year of opportunities and something to celebrate so rebooked another cheaper hotel. We left our home before lunchtime, got stuck in the endless queues on the main interstate because there is always an accident. This one involved many cars and trucks but didn’t look like a fatality – thank goodness.

My husband traveled extensively with his previous position so he still has perks with hotels and airlines. We were immediately upgraded even though it was a cheap deal, so we had a sumptuous suite with two bathrooms. It was a beautiful cold sunny day and we went walking to find somewhere for lunch. The bar I had in mind was not open so we went to a lovely Tapas restaurant that my husband had been to. Although we have immediately gone into frugal mode with most things we still haven’t come to terms with not being able to eat where we want. I decided that it was Christmas and to just let it go, mentally.

After lunch, we went back for a little nap and then got ready for the event. As soon as I walked in and started recognizing people, I felt at ease. Everyone had made a big effort to dress up which added to the festive feel. It helped knowing that many of the employees do not earn large salaries – no-one was bumming (boasting) about their Porsche or Harvard educated children. I earn nothing as a volunteer but love every second of my job, helping members of the public, sometimes in dire straits. As you can see from the photograph, my husband was not quite in his element to start with, but got on very well with my mostly male colleagues who were sitting at our table.

The food was tasty, there was a well-stocked bar and the band was astonishingly good. My boss told me to get up and dance and I needed no persuasion. I LOVE dancing and am pretty good at it. Funky would be the best description.  🙂 For some reason, she also wanted me to dance with top boss. ‘No problem’, thought I and he seemed to enjoy his very forward volunteer asking him to dance. What always fascinates me is how your partner perceives all your colleagues and their opinion of me. He was very impressed that my relationships were easy and full of humor with paid and unpaid employees. Eventually, he felt comfortable enough to get up and dance properly. I would say that most people had a great time (apart from the organizers who seemed a bit stressed) and I could have danced all night.

My dance moves belied the fact that I have a spinal condition and arthritis for which I take Celebrex. It is two days later and I still ache all over. I will have to take Celebrex for quite a few days… I did hear a few bitchy comments but that’s normal as long as the comments aren’t too mean. Houston is the most ethnically varied city in America and the couple who won ‘best dressed couple’ were in full African regalia (Nigerian, I would guess). I am so fortunate to work at a place where I have made friends and acquaintances from every corner of the world. We live in a very affluent small city outside Houston and it is good for your soul to have friends who come from a different ethnicity and socio-economic strata.

Christmas in Egypt

Happy New Year

Christmas was different in Egypt, for all sorts of reasons. At the time we were there it was close to Ramadan on two consecutive years. Ramadan is celebrated on the ninth month of the Muslim year and their calendar is different from our Roman one. Muslims have to fast from sunrise to sunset. Each country celebrates this religious event in a different way but in Egypt it was party central. As soon as sun set everyone crowded restaurants, ate delicious meals at home and stayed up all hours. We all dreaded the festival because, quite naturally, everyone was a tad grumpy while fasting. They had also eaten too much and slept too little making the driving more chaotic than usual.

Most households light little blue glass Ramadan lanterns which were hung from balconies. As it was approaching Christmas it gave Cairo a festive feel. We lived on the edge of the city at that time, close to the desert, and on a cold winter night you could see the stars so brightly in the sky. It was endlessly fascinating because we were in a different position of the world, as was our view of the constellations. There is a large minority of Coptic Christians who are believed to be the original Christians. They have their own Pope who I had the privilege of seeing at the airport. They celebrate Christianity in a more Orthodox manner and Christmas Day is on January 7th. So we had three festivals one after the other – it was a wonder the country functioned…

One crisp cool night, I remember looking up at the stars and thinking how close we were to the place of Jesus’ birth. Did it look, smell and sound similar? It was as close as I was going to get to the Holy Land as your passport could not have both Israeli and Middle-Eastern stamps on it. My husband had two separate passports to travel on for work. The desert has a magical feel, especially in the winter. It can reach almost freezing but warms up dramatically during the day. You can easily image djinns or genies as the westerners say. Our Egyptian friend who was a strict Muslim still believed in djinns and thought to them with some fear. In general Egyptians were superstitious especially if they were Bedouin and many were.

One Christmas party I met an Algerian lady who was very pretty with brown eyes and blonde hair. Her brown eyes came from her French Algerian mother but her blonde hair came from her blonde, blue eyed Berber farther. Apparently it is quite common – Vikings, I assume? I would have loved to have visited Algeria and Berber villages but it was just too dangerous especially in the middle of the Gulf War. Most of the expats left Cairo desperately at Christmas time to have some normality at home but we had nowhere to go and the flights were expensive. It was really quite nice spending the holidays in such an exotic place.

One more opportunity to market my book –Letters from Cairo by Kerry Duncan.

Christmas Cats

cats santaaction cats 2014 These are our three Egyptian street cats that we rescued from Cairo between 2002 and 2004. We had no intention of bringing any animals to our next posting which turned out to be Houston but they were impossible to rehome and we had bonded. Mrs. Stripe was first, the mama of Toffee who was next and finally Zhenny who I brought home to die from the cat shelter. Truly feral cats like these normally only live a few years in the wild but their ages range from 11 to 13. That means they are both geriatric and amazing. We struggled to adapt to looking after the equivalent of wild raccoons that would hiss, spit and bite at the first opportunity but they all had injuries or illnesses. On one memorable occasion in 2003, the Sudanese manager of the cat shelter, my husband and I were trying to capture Mrs. Stripe who was trapped in our bedroom with a sore paw. I swear that she was running across the ceiling a la Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. We gave up in defeat, me sobbing and she disappeared off into the garden. The next day she came back, her paw healed with the adrenaline, and two little kittens. I could hear her saying, “This is why I couldn’t go to the vet”. Just before we immigrated here in 2004, all three were neutered, vaccinated and ready to go. It was a horribly traumatic time trying to get three wild animals in cages but when we got to Houston via KLM, they were sitting waiting for us. We asked my husband’s company to provide a truck because the cages were so big but they sent a Limo driver with a peaked hat and a stretch limousine. I will never forget the look of delight on their faces when they were put in the limo with their new mum and dad. Click on this video link to see them having fun today on Christmas Day 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5UcF4G3KJWk