Thursday, May 29, 2014

Time Flies

Dear George,
This is my 500th blog posting.  That’s a surprise.  The years sneak by when you’re having a pleasant time.  I began this enterprise on May 29, 2009, exactly five years ago today.  That comes down to a hundred posts per year, one every three or four days.

While I think mostly of family and friends as the audience when I write stories, the Internet makes for a much wider dispersal.  Since the blog’s beginning, there have been 1,373 “pageviews” from the Ukraine, 2,313 from Denmark.  7,871 people read the most popular posting, photos and comments about insects and amphibians who live in the Menominee River (“River House Creatures, Part Two”).  This month Katja’s story about “Aunt Molly’s Nose” was the most widely read.   

Sometimes when I get sleepy, I think about taking a “blogcation” – maybe a week or a month.  At other times I think about celebrating this milestone by making some kind of change in format or content.  I’ll have to think it over.  In the meantime, being a creature of habit, I’ll likely be back in a couple of days. 

G-mail Comments
-Phyllis S-S (5-31):  Dear Dave,  Congratulations.  Phyllis
-Gayle C-L (5-30):  David,  This is An Amazing Feat!!!!  CONGRATS to you for your Perseverance and Stamina!!!  My old Broker Gloria Zastko always said,  " it's easy to get on top but it's hard to stay on Top!!   No truer words ever spoken !!  So,,, Cheers for the love you have for your family and for keeping your past, present and future in all of our lives !!  Keep up the good work,,  ( it is ok If you miss a beat once in awhile)   ;)))   Lots of love ...G
-Jennifer M (5-29): Congratulations on 500 posts and being so widely read!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Beauty In Our Garden In The Month of May

Dear George,
Thanks to the efforts of Jean Ann, our gardener, the flowers in our side yard are looking gorgeous.  I take the dogs out multiple times a day, and I look over each part of our garden on every trip.  It brings such a sense of beauty to our lives.  Here are my favorites.

G-mail Comments
-Gayle C-L (5-24): David,  Hope all is well.  I've been keeping up but busy at the dans time.  Love!!!!! Your flowers !!!  Have a great Memorial Weekend.  Lots of love.  :).  G

Monday, May 19, 2014

Sophie's Peril


Dear George,
Donna called last Friday afternoon to say that Sophie had had diarrhea for several days, had started vomiting, and now was oozing blood.  I drove over to the vet’s office to join Donna after her call.  Sophie was lethargic and didn’t look well.  The vet, Dr. J, said she had a very nasty intestinal condition which he diagnosed as hemorrhagic gastroenteritis.  I’d never heard of that, but it sounded awful, and I later learned that it was frequently lethal if left untreated.  Dr. J had also felt a large hard mass in her stomach area.  He brought out X-rays that showed a hazy area over the spleen and the liver area, suggesting a large mass of some sort.  Dr. J said that the mass could be benign or it could be cancerous.  If it were just attached to the spleen, it would be potentially treatable by surgery.  However, like people, dogs only have one liver, and if a tumor had spread to the liver, it would be time to euthanize Sophie.  That was a total shock.  Dr. J said Sophie should be checked into a local animal hospital where she could be treated for gastroenteritis and where they could do an ultra-sound to give a more definitive diagnosis of the mass in her stomach area.  He mentioned several 24/7 emergency hospitals.  In fact, Sophie had been to one of them years ago when Duffy bit her on her eyelid, and Donna picked that one.  I rode along to the hospital, and Donna left her there for the night, not an easy matter.  Sick dogs, like babies, are just the saddest thing.  There’s no way of explaining anything to them. 

Donna, of course, was very distressed.  Just two weeks earlier she had had her cat, Buddy, put down after a winter-long, incurable respiratory infection, and having Sophie suddenly have a life-threatening condition simply seemed unreal.  Katja and I were very upset too.  Sophie, who is our sheepdogs Mike and Duffy’s younger sister, is practically a member of our family.  The three dogs have spent tons of time together over the last eleven plus years; Sophie has usually stayed with us when Donna has gone out of town; and she responds as if her brothers’ house is her second home as well. Donna came back to spend the night.  We all drank some red wine, played some Jumbles, and talked about our dogs and their aging. 

The emergency hospital is a big, brand new place on the east side of town.  Donna was very pleased with Dr. R, the vet there who took over Sophie’s case.  He explained on Saturday morning that Sophie had two unrelated conditions: the gastroenteritis which they were treating with intravenous antibiotics and fluids and several tumors attached to her spleen.  All of Sophie’s visible symptoms were a consequence of the gastroenteritis, and they were concentrating on that problem for the time being.  No one would have even known about the tumors if they hadn’t taken X-rays to check out the gastroenteritis symptoms.  Dr. R said that the chance that her tumors were cancerous was about 50-50.  If the tumors were benign, there was still the risk that they could rupture and cause death.  In either case, Sophie’s spleen and the tumors could be removed through surgery.  The tumors had not spread to her liver which was excellent news. Sophie was already looking better from the intravenous fluids she’d been receiving.

Sophie started eating her first solid food and drinking water from a bowl on Sunday, and by Monday morning Dr. R judged her improved enough to come home.  I went along for the pick-up.  Like hospital costs for humans, the bill seemed to me like a small fortune.  With dogs, though, there’s no insurance company that pays the bill.  Donna had set aside a pool of money to buy a new car, and she was relieved that she had that available to apply instead to Sophie’s medical costs.  She was just elated to see Sophie doing so much better and to have her heading for home.  Like Mike and Duffy, Sophie’s an older dog now.  It’s time like these that you realize how important our pets are to so many aspects of our lives.  It’s a great relief that Sophie seems to have come through her health crisis, and we are all looking forward to many happy days to come.

G-Mail Comments
-Donna D (5-20):  this is great, david.  thanks.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Becoming Parents: Not As Easy As It Sounds

Katja at 8 months with Jacques 

Dear George,
Even though it seemed haphazard at the time, having a child was definitely the best thing that Katja and I ever did.  We got married in August 1960, then moved the following week to Ann Arbor to begin grad school.  It turned out they’d just finished the first large-scale clinical study of the birth control pill in Puerto Rico, and Ann Arbor had been selected as one of the initial sites for the pill’s distribution on the mainland.  Many women were wary of potential side effects, but Katja had no such qualms and signed up as soon she heard about it.  It’s probably not true, but I like to imagine that Katja was the first American woman to have started taking the pill.  We went once a month to the local birth control clinic to pick up her supply.  It was located in a nondescript second-floor office down a dark alley off Liberty Street, a few blocks west of campus.  We always felt a little secretive and illicit about our visits, sort of like spies.  

Our years in Ann Arbor zoomed by, and, though we’d get occasional hints from parents, we were too busy to think about children.  In 1966 we moved to Cincinnati where I’d taken a job at the university.  We were given the option of health insurance with or without a maternity rider, and we picked the maternity option, just in case.  A year or two later we went to a big party at a friend’s house.  In the middle of the evening  Katja said she had some news she’d like to share with the group.  Then she announced: “I went to the doctor today.  I’m pregnant!”  Everybody broke into applause.  I was stunned.  Privately I asked Katja how she could possibly be pregnant since she was taking the pill.  She said that she’d stopped taking it after I’d asked about getting maternity insurance.  She’d interpreted that as a secret message from me that it was time to become pregnant.  Why, I wondered, had she never mentioned this?  Katja said it had been too embarrassing to talk about.  Despite my initial shock, we were both excited.  We bought a book and started thinking about names.  There were lots of good possibilities for girls -- Emily, Kate, Victoria, etc.  If it were a boy, Katja narrowed it down to J***.  My favorite was Barnaby. 

Natural childbirth was in vogue in the late 60’s, and we enrolled in a class at the hospital.  The instructor encouraged husbands to be fully involved throughout the entire process.  Along with our bedside presence and emotional support during labor and birth, our most important function was to help regulate our wives’ breathing.  Katja’s water finally did break, and we rushed to the hospital.  It was totally scary, and I felt myself breaking into a cold sweat.  As Katja’s labor pains grew worse, I started rhythmically saying, “Breathe…. breathe…. breathe,” as I’d been taught during our class.  Katja yelled back, “I am breathing, goddammit!”  That brought a swift halt to my efforts.  Very soon afterwards a nurse escorted me out to the waiting room.  I felt bad about failing in my natural childbirth husband role, but, frankly, being in the waiting room was a relief.     

Katja was in labor for about thirty-two hours.  It was a long, arduous, and painful process.  At one point she became aware that several women who had arrived after her had already given birth.  She shouted out, “I was here first!  It’s my turn!”  Nobody seemed to be listening.  Finally they did a C-section.  A nurse came out and got me.  She brought me in to see Katja and our tiny baby son.  Katja looked very happy.  “J*** or Barnaby?” I asked.   “J***,” Katja said.  It was the beginning of a whole new adventure.

G-mail Comments
-Phyllis S-S (5-18):  Dear Dave,  ,  wow, Katja told you at a party.  What a shock! …  See you Sunday at Linton.  Phyllis

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Speaking of Moms

My mom (Doris) and Katja’s mom (Helen) at our wedding (Aug. 1960)

Dear George,
One of the favorite songs in our family during my childhood began, “Oh be kind to your web-footed friends, for that duck may be somebody’s mother…”  Another frequent family observation was that the saddest thing you could ever be was a “motherless Biccus.” (Just what a Biccus was now escapes me.)  In any case, these and many other family colloquialisms made it clear that mothers are by far the most important beings on earth.  Here are just a few images of important, beloved mothers that I’m thinking about on this Mother’s Day.

Doris with her kids, Dave, Peter, Steve, and Vicki at our house on the river (ca. 1955)

Helen (right) with Katja and Katja’s grandmother Anna in Philadelphia (ca. 1942)

Katja with J at Mt. Airy Park, Cincinnati in Menominee (ca. 1972)

Margie with Steve and Jennifer (ca. 1973)

Faith with newborn Chris (ca. 1978)

Vicki with her youngest kid Abra (ca. 2010)

K with J, V, and L at home in NOLA (2014)

Katja and Vicki at our family reunion in Birch Creek (2012) 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Our Grand Old Yew Tree

Dear George,
When we bought our house on Ludlow Avenue some forty years ago, one of the selling points was the magnificent yew tree in the front yard.  The real estate agent told us that it is the largest yew tree in the state of Ohio and may well be a historical landmark. Yew trees are evergreens with dark-green needles, scaly brown bark, and small cones.  I’d say ours is about forty feet wide and forty-five feet high.  The trunk has a circumference of nine feet at its base.  Because of its large, low-hanging branches, it’s a favorite for climbing by little kids in the neighborhood. It was hit several years ago by a speeding car that jumped the curb and crashed into it head-on, though the yew was solid enough to resist any enduring damage.  Last year, though, a number of branches appeared to be dying, and a tree service came, pruned the tree, and injected fertilizer into the ground.  This spring there appears to be even more widespread deterioration.  The tree service man said we could either cut it down entirely or remove the central trunk whose dying boughs constitute a major part of the tree.  I asked how that would look.  He said, “Terrible.”  He did add that there’s a slight chance that the tree might still be rejuvenated, though he wasn’t optimistic.  He didn’t think it was the largest yew tree in Ohio, but he said it might be the oldest.  We’re going to cross our fingers and give the yew another month or two.  In the meantime, I thought I’d better commemorate our yew tree with a few photos (see below).  In addition, here are some little known but remarkable facts about yews:

  • The Fortingall Yew in Scotland is said to be the oldest tree in Europe (2000 to 3000 years old).  It's believed that Pontius Pilate slept under it while on duty before 30 CE.   
  • The bark, leaves, and seeds of the yew tree are poisonous and have been used for assassinations, suicides, and poison arrows.  Horses, cattle, and humans have died from eating yew leaves, though moose and deer are impervious.  
  • Yew leaves are used to create a drug called taxol which inhibits the growth of cancer cells. 
  • The flesh of yew berries can be used as a laxative. 
  • The oldest known wooden implement is a spear made of yew wood about 450,000 years ago from what’s now England.
  • Yew trees have traditionally been used to make longbows.  Archeologists have found yew longbows and knives from Swiss lake areas that are 10,000 years old.
  • Because of its hardness, yew wood has been used to make axles, cogs, and shuttles, as well as veneer furniture, tankards, and tool handles.
  • The yew was prized by lute-makers in the medieval, renaissance, and baroque eras.
  • In Norse mythology, the home of Ullr, the god of the bow, was named Yew Dales (Ydalir).
  • The Romans believed that yews grew in Hell. 
  • In ancient Europe the yew was believed to have magical properties, including providing protection for the dead on their journey to the otherworld. 
  • Sprigs from yew trees have been used by dowsers to find lost objects.
  • Swiss mountaineers refer to the yew as “William’s tree,” in honor of William Tell.
  • Lord Alfred Tennyson's poem, "In Memoriam A.H.H.," incorporates the yew tree as a symbol of sadness.  T.S. Eliot frequently used the yew tree as a symbol in his religious poetry.

SOURCES:, “Yew trees”;, “Yew”;, "Yew Tree Facts";, "Herbs,Trees & Fungi: Yew";, "Taxus", "Taxus Baccata" 

G-mail Comments
Phyllis S-S (5-8): Dear Dave,  I hope it survives.  Our Gardner might be able to help.  He knows a lot and used to own a gardening store before he retired. Our little yard is his paid hobby…  Hope all is well with you, Katja and the doggies.  Best, Phyllis