Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Memorial Day at the Dog Show

Dear George,
Donna, Katja, and I went to the Cincinnati Kennel Club Dog Show over the Memorial Day weekend.  I think it may have been the first real dog show we’ve been to, certainly the first in many years.  It’s a major event, with 140 breeds and 1400 dogs competing over the four-day weekend.  We saw license plates from New Jersey, Virginia, Michigan, and other exotic places.  They held the show at the Butler County Fairgrounds in nearby Hamilton, and it took up the entire complex, with 12 indoor and 3 outdoor judging rings.  The temperature was in the low 90’s, and there were lots of RVs with their air conditioning running to keep the animals cool.  For dog-lovers like us, it was non-stop fun.  In fact, we went for two days.  They had every sort of dog one could imagine, large and tiny, bushy and short-haired, spotted and plain, cute and majestic.  We liked the big dogs the best: Scottish Deerhounds, St. Bernards, Briards,Great Danes, Afghans, etc.  We only saw three Old English Sheepdogs, but they were grand.  They looked at least twice the size of Mike and Duffy, but, when I asked, they actually weighed less than our dogs and were mostly big balls of fluff.  The owners in general were very friendly and enjoyed talking about their dogs.  Some owned as many as two dozen.  It was clear they took the competition very seriously, grooming their dogs at length, practicing their routines, and working out the dogs with utmost care.  The dogs too were exceedingly well-behaved and seemed to like performing in public.  We rarely heard a dog bark the entire time we were there.  For the most part, the dogs ignored one another, concentrating on the business at hand.  The obedience trials were especially interesting, and we wished we had taken that task more seriously when our dogs were young.  I took a bunch of pictures at the show.  Here’s what some of it looked like.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Our Sweet Zoo Chums, the Takin

Dear George,
I find myself going to the Zoo more often these days.  It’s just intrinsically pleasurable.  The flora is remarkable, and, of course, watching the animals and birds is rewarding.  There are many highlights, but I think my number one place is the Wilderness Canyon.  It features a Sumatran Rhino, Bactrian Camels, Red River Hogs, Prezewalski’s Horses, an Emu, and several Takin. 

Though I’d never heard of them before, I’d have to say that the Takin are now my favorites.  They are lively animals, and they are as cute as Muppets or even Old English Sheepdogs. They like bumping heads with one another, or, in the absence of an adversary, against a sturdy post which stands in their yard.  In the wilds, Takin are mountain animals.  They come from China, Burma (now Myanmar), and Bhutan where they are the national animal.  On average they’re about three and a half feet tall and weigh 600 or more pounds.  Their coats are yellowy brown, and it’s been speculated that the legend of the “Golden Fleece” sought by Jason and the Argonauts was inspired by the Golden Takin.  They’re related to musk oxen, sheep, and goats.  Biologists classify them as goat-antelopes.  They eat twigs, leaves, and bamboo shoots, and they love salt.  Takin fossils have been dated back 1.6 million years.  Today they are considered “vulnerable”, with two of their four sub-species “endangered”. 

Recently a female Takin (named Mulan) was born to parents Xena and Noah at our zoo.  I haven’t been able to get a picture of Mulan yet, but here’s the rest of the crew.

SOURCES: http://books.google.com ("International Wildlife Encyclopedia, pp. 2622-23); www.wikipedia.org ("Takin"); www.arkive.org (“Takin”); www.cincinnatizoo.org (“Takin”).   

Monday, May 21, 2012

Mysteries of the Surgical World

Dear George,
I don’t know why, but we seem to be spending more time at the doctor’s office than we used to.  Katja’s sort of banged up right now.  She had a successful left knee replacement several years ago, but now her right knee is acting up.  I went along with her to see her knee surgeon, Dr. P, and he said the time has arrived.  Dr. P is a gray-haired, grandfatherly sort with a warm, reassuring manner.  He told Katja that she was a great candidate for knee surgery and that it would dramatically improve her quality of life.  Katja was all for it.  As he did last time, Dr. P asked for Katja’s permission to pray before and after her surgery, and he recommended that her circle of family and friends pray during the operation too.  Katja said that was good, though I didn’t know if she’ll really arrange it.  I myself am wary of surgeons who rely too much on prayer to produce positive outcomes, but what do I know?  Katja also has a lot of pain in her left shoulder from a fall two years ago, and steroid shots no longer seem to help.  Dr. P has stopped doing shoulders, but he referred her to his colleague, Dr. N, who is an expert in upper body renovations.

Later we talked to a doctor friend who wasn’t enthused about shoulder surgery.  He said it’s more complicated, is done less frequently, and is less reliable than knee replacements.  He advised Katja to explore the alternatives.  Then another friend told us that her mom, a registered nurse, had gone to a conference on shoulder surgery and promptly cancelled her plan to have such an operation herself.  That was food for thought.

Katja did go ahead and make an appointment with Dr. N, the shoulder surgeon.  We arrived early and I spent some time looking through the “Senior Citizen’s Guide” from the rack in the waiting room.  There was an interesting article on hearing loss that began with the question, “Do you feel that people mumble and do not speak clearly?”  I doubt that I have any kind of hearing loss, but I’ve definitely noticed that people mumble more  nowadays.  I’m not sure why that is, though it could be related to the Republican-dominated Congress and/or the decline of American civilization (both of which have been causing people to mumble more).  Then I ran across a blurb on home health care that said that Certified Home Health Care Aides cost $33 an hour while Uncertified Home Health Aides cost $18 an hour.  I asked Katja which she would prefer, and she said Certified.  I thought that Uncertified Aides looked like a better bargain, because I couldn’t imagine how Certified Aides could be twice as good.   If it comes to it, we’ll probably hire separate home helpers. 

Just about then, Dr. N’s assistant called us into an examination room.  He looked over Katja’s past records, asked a few questions, and went off to see if he could find an old MRI.  Katja put on a hospital gown with an open back.  Then a junior doctor came in, asked some more questions, and put Katja through a series of range of motion exercises with her left arm and shoulder.  She did pretty well.  Since Dr. N hadn’t yet arrived, Katja wondered why the junior doctor had examined her.  I said I thought it was like having both Uncertified and Certified Health Aides.  The junior doctor did the real work so the Big Doctor wouldn’t have to waste his time.  Dr. N did arrive shortly, accompanied by the Junior Doctor and a female physical therapist whose only function seemed to be to act as a chaperone.  Dr. N was friendly and jovial.  He asked Katja about her recent trip to Italy and recounted that he was just back from giving a conference paper in Milan.  They exchanged a few minutes of Italy talk (probably about $25 worth at a rate of $300 per hour).  Then Dr. N repeated the same range of motion exercises that the junior doctor had already done and looked over her X-rays.

Like Dr. P had said about her knee, Dr. N said that Katja was an outstanding candidate for shoulder surgery.  He explained how they would make a 3-inch incision in the front of her shoulder, attach a metal ball to the end of her arm bone, scrape out the arthritis, and glue in a plastic lining in her shoulder socket.  According to Dr. N, the procedure is 99% successful, produces dramatic pain reduction and very high satisfaction among patients, and will have her driving in a week and playing tennis in a month.  Dr. N didn’t see any point in more steroid injections, and there was nothing that Katja’s personal trainer could do to help (quote: “You have to watch out for these personal trainers”).  I said I was worried because Katja had developed a blog clot from her first knee replacement, then a life-threatening infection from another hospitalization.  Dr. N said no problem.  He was very confident and optimistic, certainly moreso than our other consultants. He didn’t mention anything about praying before or during the surgery, which I regarded as a point in his favor.  Katja was very enthusiastic afterwards.  I guess if I had all that pain I’d be eager too.  The whole idea makes me nervous though.  I’ll probably go ahead and pray even if Dr. N doesn’t encourage it.

G-mail Comments
-Vicki L (5-22):  Hi D,  Enjoyed your blog as always. Re. your commentary on mumbling - I'm in agreement. While I see lots of clients I've thrown my training out the window. Mostly I tell them that their depression is a solid indicator of their mental health; the world is a horrifying place and anyone who can't see that is in serious trouble. They mostly go away happy in their depression or at least proud of it. Love, Sis

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Playing Cards With Satan and You Know Who

Dear George,
Katja and I recently went to a performance at the university of Igor Stravinsky’s opera, The Rake’s Progress.  We were disappointed in the production, but I did get involved in the climactic scene in which the Devil challenges Tom Rakewell to a game of cards for the possession of his soul. The Devil says he will cut the deck three times.  If Tom  correctly identifies the card at the bottom of the deck three times in a row, he’ll keep his soul.  But if he misses even once, the Devil wins.  The Devil cuts the cards, and Tom, thinking of his lady love, says the Queen of Hearts.  The Devil turns the cards over, and, lo and behold, it is the Queen of Hearts.  The Devil cuts the deck again; Tom guesses the Two of Spades.  He’s correct again.  Then Tom is right with the third and final card.  The Devil was exasperated.  I personally thought that God must have intervened on Tom’s behalf.  But even so, the opera had a tragic ending.  The vengeful Devil turned Tom into a raving lunatic, and he spent his remaining days locked away in the madhouse. 

Tom Rakewell’s card game reminded me of an experience I had at age thirteen.  Like many teenagers, my peers and I had been debating whether God really existed. I wasn’t that religious.  Our family belonged to the Presbyterian Church, but we only attended on Easter Sunday.  I never heard my parents express opinions, one way or the other, about God’s  existence, but I was already disillusioned about Santa and the Easter Bunny and suspected that God might be just one more version of adult trickery.

Finally, to resolve the nagging question, I decided to put God to the test.  I took a deck of cards from my parents’ bureau dresser and shuffled it several times. I decided that, if God really existed, he could prove it by telling me what playing card was at the bottom of the pile.  I closed my eyes, silently posed my question to the Almighty, and concentrated as hard as I could.  An image of the Five of Clubs popped into my mind.  I waited a few seconds till I was certain.  Then I held my breath and turned the cards over.  I nearly went into shock.  The card I uncovered was …. the Five of Clubs!  I was astonished and shaken.  I realized that, with fifty-two cards in the deck, there was one chance in fifty-two of predicting the correct card.  That’s not beyond possibility.  However, to do that the very first time with reference to such a momentous life question was beyond belief.  The odds might as well have been a million to one.

I looked around the living room for vapors or auras or some other sign of a mystical being’s presence, but everything seemed normal.  I considered testing God one more time.  Then I thought that wouldn’t be right.  I’d done my test; I’d gotten my answer.  On the other hand, if I did give God one more opportunity and got the correct card again, that would be hard to dispute.  After wavering back and forth, I shuffled the cards again and cut the deck.  I made my prediction and turned the deck over.  I wasn’t even close.  No revelation from Heaven above.  I was partly disappointed, partly relieved.  I tried one last time, and I was wrong again.  Either God didn’t exist, or he’d turned his attention to more important matters.  A True Believer would probably say that God had shown me the truth, but, since I failed to accept his message, he’d left the game.  A True Skeptic would find it all amusing and say that you can never know what’s likely to happen in our chaotic universe.  In essence, anyone can make of it what they will.  From my adult perspective, I’d have to conclude that this wasn’t a good test in the first place.  If God were out there watching over us, he probably wouldn’t bother to prove himself to a 13-year-old.  After a few weeks I forgot about the issue of God’s existence and starting thinking about girls instead.    

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Thinking About My Mom On Mother's Day

Doris with Dave and lamb

Dear George,
We owe Mother’s Day to a woman named Anna Jarvis who was born in the tiny hamlet of Webster, West Virginia.  Her mother, Ann Maria, had founded Mothers’ Day Work Clubs in five cities to promote sanitary conditions and to feed and clothe Union and Confederate soldiers.  After her mother’s death in 1907, Anna embarked on a campaign to make “Mother’s Day” a recognized holiday, and her efforts resulted in Woodrow Wilson declaring it an official U.S. holiday in 1914.  It didn’t take long, though, for Anna to become fed up with the commercialization of Mother’s Day, and in the 1920’s she and her sister spent their family inheritance protesting against what the holiday had turned into.  Both died in poverty.  Embittered by so many people sending their mothers printed greeting cards, Anna said, “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world.  And candy!  You take a box to Mother – and then eat most of it yourself.  A pretty sentiment.”

Despite such misgivings, I always get nostalgic on Mother’s Day.  I’m sad that my mother is no longer alive and regret not saying to her many things that I might have.  People whose mothers are still living should relish the fact and take advantage of it.  Growing up in our family, the saddest thing we ever talked about  was being a “motherless biccus.”  No one knew exactly what this meant, but being motherless was clearly a dire state of affairs.  I spent some time this morning looking at photos of my mom, Doris L.  These were taken mostly by my dad but also a couple by my brother Peter.  Here are  a few memories in honor of Mother’s Day and of my mother in particular.      


My mother was a quite striking beauty.  She grew up in Omaha in a one-child family, majored in French in college, and met my dad at the University of Wisconsin around 1929 or 1930.  She was a sorority girl, a horseback rider, and an excellent tennis player  Doris had a deep voice such that callers on the phone would frequently say, “Hello, Mr. L***”   She tanned darkly in the summer, and, even though she was a 100% Daughter of the American Republic, my dad joked that she was part American Indian. 

Doris and Vic

Doris and Vic married in 1932.  After a stint in Omaha, they returned to Menominee.  They led a most amazing life together.  They struggled to survive financially through the Great Depression.  When Katja and I married, my dad gave me a silver dollar that Doris and he had kept in a secret place during the late 1930’s in case they lost everything.  Then my mom raised Steven and myself while my dad was stationed in the Pacific theater during World War II.  The fifties got better.  

Family photo at YMCA camp (circa 1950)

Doris was a wife, mother, homemaker, and social hostess; Vic, a Menominee lawyer and prosecuting attorney.  She gave birth to four kids: Dave (1937), Steve (1941), Peter (1945), and Vicki (1947).  In most families we knew the men were breadwinners and the women raised the children.  With four children in our family, it wasn’t an easy task.  Here we all are at family visitation day at the YMCA camp near Green Bay.   

With Vicki

After three boys, Doris was completely thrilled to have a daughter, and she lavished special attention on Vicki.   While the boys presented more problems, I think that Doris worried the most about Vicki and devoted herself to bringing her up properly.    

Doris with Steve and Dave at River House

From 1946 on our family lived in a house made of Norway pine on the Menominee River.  My mother loved that house and its surroundings: the summer sunsets, the trees and wildflowers, the river and its view, even the snowy winters.  She stocked a bird feeder outside the dining room window daily and called us excitedly if a cardinal or a red-winged blackbird appeared in the driveway. 

Uncle Karl, Aunt Millie, Thor, and Uncle Kent

Doris and Vic made Xmas a special occasion in our household.  Our extended family would gather on Xmas eve, along with visits by friends.  Vic’s twin brothers Karl and Kent and Kent’s family, along with my aunt Martha, Uncle Ralph, and their kids came every year.  We children would be at a fever pitch in anticipation of Santa’s pending visit.  Doris was an excellent cook, and she would prepare a big dinner of turkey or ham or even a goose.  The adults would get a little tipsy after a couple of Jim Beams on the rocks. 

Vicki and Micky at Mike’s grave

We had two Irish Setters in our childhood, and Doris adored the dogs.  When Mike fell through the river ice one winter, Doris commanded the children to stay in the house, and we watched out the living room window as she crawled out on the ice on her stomach and pulled the dog to safety.  On another occasion Mike and Micky got into a vicious fight, and Doris sustained a deep gash in her hand when she got in the middle to break up the fight.  

Friends at hunting camp in Cedar River (Doris second from left)

Doris and Vic lived their whole adult lives in Menominee, and they had a wonderful friendship   group there.  My mom was very sociable and enjoyed nothing more than gatherings with their close friends.  At the Worth’s hunting camp, we kids would go off in the forest while the parents hung out, drank beer and smoked, and talked and talked. 

Swedes at the costume party

Doris, Vic, and their friends had many parties, and often these were theme parties, e.g., centered on art, poetry, music, theater, etc.  Costume parties were the best.  Here are some Swedish warriors who, despite their beards, are actually my parents.   

Doris and Jean

Jean O’Hara was Doris’ best friend, and our families spent a lot of time together.  The moms spent a lot of time cooking and talking in the kitchen while their husbands debated politics and Notre Dame football in the living room.  

Doris and Dave on the Green Bay shore

The O’Hara’s lived on Green Bay, and we spent a lot of time swimming there.  Usually Doris sat in a lawnchair on the shore, keeping a watchful eye on her children.  I still have a vivid memory of walking alone into the bay at around age 6 till the water got up to my neck, then completely panicking and screaming for my mother to save me.  She did, and I got a lifelong lesson in why mothers are so important.

Doris and Steve at the art museum

U.P. towns like Menominee were small and fairly isolated, but they were in driving distance of Milwaukee and Chicago.  Doris and Vic took us on regular forays there, and visits to the Chicago Art Institute were an annual part of our childhood education.  

Family reunion

My mother was distressed when her kids reached young adulthood and scattered all over the country – Vicki in California, Steve in Washington State, my family in Cincinnati, and Peter in multiple places from L.A. to Toronto to New York City.  My parents insisted that we all convene each August in Menominee, and these were wonderful occasions.  Here are Doris and Vic at the foot of the willow tree in our front yard at River House, with various children and grandchildren up in the tree.       

With Aggie at Farm

In the mid-1970’s Doris and Vic moved into a farmhouse that they had renovated in the Birch Creek area.  Farm was an immense source of gratification to them in their later years.  Here’s Doris with Aggie, one of their several dogs during this period.  Though Aggie was a rather hyper dog that killed their pet goose in the front yard, Doris remained emotionally attached to her nonetheless. 


When Puff, my parent’s last dog, was killed by a passing car, a friend gave Doris a white cat named Lovely.  Though she’d been a dog person all her life, Doris bonded completely with Lovey and spent many hours petting her at the living room window.

Doris and Vic leaving Farm

My mother’s last years were difficult.  She’d had two bouts of lung cancer, and she had difficulty walking because of being in constant pain.  She pretty much gritted her teeth and rarely complained to others.  Peter and I were with her in her hospital room on the last day of her life, and she said to us, “I’m grateful.”  I think those were probably her last words.  Even at death’s door, my mother’s inclination was to be considerate to others.  

Doris laughing, with Vicki and Peter

More than anything else, what I remember about my mother was her laughter.  She had an ever-present sense of humor and impressed upon us the importance of fun in one’s life.  Of the four of us kids, I think that Steven learned that lesson the best.  But Doris knew more about having fun than any of her offspring.  That makes me happy.  

G-mail Comments
-Kiera O (5-16):  O, my, David. Such a feeling of richness I have upon concluding the Mother's Day installment of your blog. Thank you.
-David W (5-13): wonderful entry David!!! So funny-i had a dream last night night that you and I were hunting alligators which were chasing us all over this swampy area-funny and horrifying.  Take care.    david