Monthly Archives: August 2008

Another loss

My father-in-law died this morning in a hospital in Wisconsin. Of pneumonia and the frailty of old age. He was 87 years old and everyone called him Bakka. He had Alzheimer’s, though he still knew who he was and mostly still remembered his family. He couldn’t remember how to take care of himself so he was living in an assisted care facility. With every day, the quality of his life was becoming more intolerable, to him and to everyone who cared about him. The decision not to resuscitate had been made long ago. The end came quickly.

I am no longer married to his son and I hadn’t seen Bakka in several years, but he still has a very special place in my heart. It is hard to realize that I have no place among the mourners. I am not able to share my grief with those who knew him and loved him. There is no one with whom to share memories or to celebrate the fullness of the man’s life. I am not even able to comfort my own children on the loss of their grandfather, as one is in another country and the other is out of town attending a friend’s wedding. It’s a lonely sort of grief.

Bakka and Nana came to stay with us many times over the years and he continued to visit after she died. He could be a difficult old curmudgeon, and often was, but I’ve been thinking today about the way he would laugh at something one of the kids said or at some playful antic of the kitty. He had a wonderful laugh. He’d get a look on his face that was almost surprise, as if he hadn’t expected to find something funny just then.

One of the last times he came to stay with us his doctor had just told him he had to give up chocolate. He was indignant. Told me that he’d already given up alcohol and red meat and coffee, even the decaf he loved so much, and he would be goddamned if he was giving up his Oreos. And then he grinned as he lifted the lid off the cookie jar. I always bought Oreos for him.

So I will quietly grieve in my own way. Just as I will always remember and love him in my own way. And it will have to be enough.

Rest in peace now, Bakka.


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March of the Penguins, Flight of the Cat

Yeah, I’m busy. So you get more words from my daughter. She’s more interesting than I am right now anyway. She’s an animal lover. She especially loves penguins. She made me watch that movie “March of the Penguins.” Twice. If you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s an amazing story of determination and survival in brutally harsh conditions. But I digress. So, she loves penguins. Almost as much as she loves dogs. And cats. Here is an excerpt from one of her Argentina blog posts:

I absolutely adore my family here! I have a madre whose name is A, and two sisters X and C. They are so nice and friendly! And a kitty whose name is Michi, which actually means “kitty,” just like my cat’s name! Michi looks just like my cat, except where Kitty is black, Michi is gray. But Michi has white paws and a white belly, but he doesn’t have a white nose like my kitty. He already recognizes me and will jump up on my bed to sit with me. Apparently he doesn’t do this with anyone else! My madre jokes that Michi has fallen in love with me. The other day when I was in the shower, he was sitting outside the door meowing because he wanted to come in to see me. And Friday night when I got home at 4am from going out, Michi was outside because he had to use the bathroom in the middle of the night (he doesn’t have a litter box but goes outside like a puppy), and he came running across the street to see me, meowing the whole time. I was surprised that he’s learned to recognize me so quickly! And unlike my kitty, he actually lets me pick him up too, much to my delight!

Note: We rescued our cat from the wild when she was just weeks old. Her idea of snuggling is to sit on the far end of the couch and glare. Suspiciously.

So I emailed my daughter the link to the article in the last blog post about the penguin being knighted. I knew she’d find that delightful and it would make her smile. Last weekend was a four-day holiday and she and some friends traveled to Cordoba. I didn’t expect to hear from her while she was there, but she sent me this email:

my ancestors just knighted a penguin!!! that made my day! because i have had quite a bad time today… michi had a bad accident on thursday morning. our house is 3 stories, and he climbs the neighbor´s tree and jumps onto the roof…well thursday he missed, and impaled his stomach on the top of a gate, and had to have surgery. and my madre just sent me a text today saying ¨”michi se fue de casa” which means he left the house. i dont know if he ran away (to die because of his wound), or if that´s a nice way of saying he died, but in the house. either way i´ve been very sad all day, and that news about the penguin just made me very happy. love you!

You send your child off to a foreign country and there are so many things you warn her about, so many dangers you want her to be aware of. Caring too much should not have to be one of them.


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Benighted in Scotland

When is a king really a knight? When he’s a penguin, of course. Yes, a king penguin has been granted knighthood. By those notoriously funny Norwegian Royal Guardsmen.

From an article in Edinburg’s Festivals Guide:

Nils Olav, a king penguin at Edinburgh Zoo, was knighted Friday 15 August at a ceremony conducted by Tattoo Chief Executive and Producer Major General Euan Loudon, acting on behalf of the King of Norway, King Harald V.

The king penguin already enjoyed the ‘rank’ of Honorary Colonel-in-Chief of His Majesty The King’s Guard of Norway after being adopted as a mascot by the Royal Guardsmen in 1972 and promoted through the ranks on five prior occasions.

The ceremony was attended by 130 members of His Majesty The King’s Guard of Norway – who are appearing at this month’s Edinburgh Tattoo – along with the Acting Norwegian Consul General in Edinburgh Mrs Kjellaug Myhre, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh George Grub and representatives of the Tattoo including Tattoo narrator Alasdair Hutton OBE TD, upon whose shoulders fell the task of reading the citation from King Harald V of Norway. The citation concluded:

“We being well satisfied with loyalty, courage and good endowments of Our Trusty and Well-beloved Nils Olav, and reposing entire trust and confidence in you as a Penguin every way qualified to receive the honour and dignity of Knighthood and the Office aforesaid.”

As Alasdair Hutton spoke, Nils Olav waddled through the assembled ranks of His Majesty The King’s Guard of Norway, where he was met by Tattoo Producer Major General Euan Louden bearing the sword of the Norwegian King, brought to Scotland especially for the ceremony.

Describing the event as “indeed an honour” as well as “probably a first in Scottish history” Euan Louden then tapped the penguin on both ‘shoulders’ and announced him ‘Sir Nils Olav’ to the applause of the gathered crowd.

Speaking after the ceremony, Alasdair Hutton said: “the penguin was very conscious of the honour bestowed on him. It was perfectly clear that he realised that he was carrying one of the highest honours that Norway could convey.”

More details here in the Daily Mail article where they report:

Darren McGarry, Animal Collection Manager at Edinburgh Zoo, said: ‘Nils always recognises the Norwegian Guardsmen when they come.

I’ll just bet he does. And this:

Norwegian King’s Guardsman, Captain Rune Wiik added: ‘We are extremely proud of Nils Olav and pleased that an enduring part of the Royal Guard is resident in Scotland helping to further strengthen ties between our two countries.

‘I understand he continues to carry out his duties as Honorary Colonel in Chief in an exemplary fashion and this latest award is clearly very much deserved.’

It would appear that, although most of the more vicious pillage-and-burn tactics of my Viking ancestors have faded into the mists of time, Norwegians are still invading Scotland with sword in hand to perform unnatural acts upon the hapless wildlife.

And you thought Norwegians were stoic and humourless.


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Guest Blog: from Argentina by way of Cusco, Peru

Okay, I’ll admit it: I worry. Having a daughter studying abroad in Argentina has done nothing to make me worry less. You could even say it has made it somewhat worse. Okay fine, the usual worry has combined with my writer’s imagination and developed into full-blown paranoia. With delusions.

You would think I could take it in stride that she didn’t call on Sunday as she usually does. Or that it would be no big deal that she hadn’t replied to the last three emails I sent. And of no concern whatsoever that it had been more than a week since I’d heard from her. Nine whole days. Not that I was counting.

So I finally got an email from her:

Well, [BF] hadn´t talked on the phone to his mom in a month! I´m way ahead of the game! It´s just that the computers at COPA are very slow, and there are only 3 for 41 people, so I don´t always have access to them. And I don´t have internet at my house, and I don´t go to a cafe with wifi everyday…it´s different here! People aren´t glued to their computers, it´s nice. But I am doing wonderful! I WENT SKIING!!! on saturday a group of about 15 of us went to a ski place for the day and it was so much fun, but the slopes are definitely a lot harder here than they are at snowshoe! i´m getting better though!

Oh, well, good. Because I was thinking maybe she had made some rash political statement that caused an international incident and was being detained until the State Department could be contacted. Or that rebel forces had abducted her and were holding her for ransom. Maybe next week. So glad it was just a ski trip. Now all I have to worry about is her falling off the side of a mountain and breaking a leg and being unable to summon help and freezing to death and leaving wild beasts to fight over her thawing carcass in the spring. Sigh.

I had asked whether I could post excerpts from her blog here. Because some of you were curious to know what she’s been doing. Besides, I’m busy and have nothing of particular interest to say right now anyway. She replied:

i guess you can copy and paste some stuff of what i wrote in my blog, that´s just kind of odd though, can´t you just tell them what i´m doing?

Um, no. My version would contain too much anxiety over bad things about to ensue. Isn’t it odd how the apostrophes are backward? Is that a magnetic thing in the southern hemisphere or a characteristic of computers used in Spanish speaking countries?

Here is some of her post about when she was in Cusco, Peru:

So, some key details about Cusco. While taking the taxi from the airport to our hostel, which was about a 10 minute ride, we put our lives in the hands of a truly Crazy Taxi driver. (Those of you who play video games will understand my horror.) There are no traffic laws, maybe two stop lights in the whole city, no lanes, no rules that anyone seems to follow. Our taxi driver drove seriously two inches away from the car next to us. I was amazed we arrived at the hostel in one piece. Also, attempting to cross the street was an adventure as well. Generally in the US pedestrians have the right of way at crosswalks, and most drivers will stop before they run you over. Well, in Cusco it is the opposite. A driver will not hesitate to run you over if you are in their way. Also, there are about a billion punch buggies (VW Beetles) in Cusco.

And you wonder why I worry? She continues:

The food was incredible! Everything was fresh, which is something that is hard to come by in the US. Fresh squeezed orange juice, fresh vegetables, fresh meat, etc. It is incredible the difference in taste between fresh food and processed food. And everything was so inexpensive too! One night as we were going out to the Plaza de Armas for dinner we were stopped by a parade of children. It looked like elementary school aged children, and each grade/class was performing a different traditional Peruvian/Andean dance, complete with costumes and music and everything! They paraded around the entire plaza in the street, and the kids were absolutely adorable in their fancy dresses and costumes doing these wonderful dances! All of their families were out there taking pictures, it was truly incredible. From the restaurant we could continue to watch them because every restaurant in the Plaza is on the second floor and has a balcony (with windows to be open air or closed to be inside) where you can sit and eat and look out at the plaza from above. At the restaurant there was a band playing traditional Andean music, and the lyrics were all about harmony between people and the earth, and Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) and very spiritual stuff, but spiritual in the sense of being connected to the earth and your surroundings. The music was so beautiful. [BF] bought their CD too!

Okay, that’s enough for now. Maybe later I’ll “let” her guest blog about the trek to Machu Picchu. It’s harrowing, I tell you. Dangers abound.


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The distance between me and . . . not me

I cut myself yesterday. Not badly. No arterial geysers. No need to re-attach severed flesh. Just enough to bleed a bit. So I did what most people do. I stuck the bloody mess in my mouth until I could track down a tissue and a band-aid.

For some odd reason — hey, my mind wanders — this made me think of something a high school English teacher once explained to our class: the concept of “me” and “not me.” I have no idea what this had to do with HS English, or anything else, but the teacher was my dad so I’m sure it had some relevance. Though his mind wandered on occasion too.

Anyway, he explained that we each have pretty clear boundaries about what is “me” and what is “not me,” even though they can differ from person to person. That blood welling up out of my cut was “me” or I wouldn’t have just stuck it in my mouth like that. Had I let several drops ooze out onto a spoon, I probably would have felt differently about it. I sincerely doubt I would have taken that spoonful of blood — my very own fresh, still warm and not yet clotted blood, mind you — and stuck it in my mouth. At some point, it would become “not me.”

Same concept applies to saliva. We swallow our own spit every day. We think nothing of it. It’s not gross or disgusting. But put a quantity into a glass and consider drinking it? Uh, no. Not even if it’s still warm. Because it’s no longer “me” at that point.

Same thing with snot. Drips down the back of our throat and runs into our stomach. No big deal. Blow it out and eat it? I don’t think so. Although some people don’t seem to be even slightly offended by removing bits of goo from their nose and eating them. Ick.

Ever bitten off a hangnail and rather than spit out that tiny bit of skin, you just swallowed it? Ever stuck out your tongue and licked off tears running down your face? At what point do those things become “not me” for you? I once knew a kid who liked to pick off scabs and eat them. Eeew. Obviously his definition of where “me” left off and “not me” took over was different from mine.

So, interesting concept, “me” and “not me.” One I haven’t thought about in many years. Where are your boundaries?

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