Monday, June 29, 2015

A Sad, Painful Time

Duffy on his next to last day

Dear George,
We lost our beloved sheepdog, Duffy, last Friday.  He’d been having trouble with what I thought to be a strained leg muscle as well as difficulty getting from a standing to a lying down position.  We took him to the vet for diarrhea about ten days ago.  In the following week Duffy began developing an increasingly severe limp.  When we brought him back for a followup check, the vet did an X-ray of his right hind leg.  The X-ray revealed that Duffy had bone cancer as well as a fracture in his lower leg.  The vet said he was a tough old dog to be bearing up under all that pain.  There weren’t any realistic options except euthanasia.  I asked about bringing Duffy home for the weekend, and the vet said the fracture would get worse and the pain more severe.  Katja and I bit the bullet and, with broken hearts, agreed that Duffy’s time had come.  A technician gave him a shot with a sedative, and we sat on the floor with him while he became increasingly drowsy.  Then the vet administered a large dose of phenobarbitol.  I thought he was still breathing after a minute, but the vet said his heart had stopped.  We cried a lot, as you might imagine, then sat with Duffy in the room for a while.  We still can’t quite accept it.  Duffy was a wonderful dog, a source of great joy in our lives for thirteen years.  He was my companion on many camping trips and hikes in the forest.  I’ll probably write some more about him in the near future, but for now it’s just a quiet, sad time.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

At the O.E.S. Rest Home

Dear George,
When Mike and Duffy about a year old, we were walking on Ludlow Avenue and an oncoming pedestrian asked me what breed they were.  “Old English Sheepdogs,” I said.  The man chuckled and replied, “They don’t look that old.”  Now it’s a dozen years later, and the dogs still don’t look that old. However, they actually are, having turned thirteen in April.  The average length of life for the breed, as reported by owners, is 12.48 years.  If they were humans, Mike and Duffy would be 92.

You wouldn’t guess the dogs’ ages from their temperaments and manner.  They’re not cranky or grumpy in the least.  As they’ve been since puppies, they remain sweet, affectionate, gentle, attached to their owners, and thoroughly enjoyable.  However, they’re physically struggling because of severe arthritis in their hips.  Both have trouble getting up from a lying down position.  It’s difficult when they’re on the carpet and impossible from the hardwood floor.  Mike can’t get up the stairs without help, and Duffy struggles going up and down, sometimes using only three legs.  Lately he has had a lot of trouble sitting or lying down because of hip pain.  Neither has been able to jump into the bed or the car for a long time.

More and more we find ourselves being caretakers for the dogs, particularly with respect to helping them get up off the floor.  Because of their difficulties, I get anxious when we leave the house for any length of time, and I try to arrange schedules with Katja so that one or the other of us is at home most of the time.  Last Saturday night we went out for almost four hours.  The dogs were manically excited upon our return, but were unable to get up, and were very shaky on their hind legs when we did get them to stand.

I’m struggling to come to terms with the dogs’ aging, much as one might do with elderly grandparents.  Several months ago the vet said we should count each day that we have with the dogs as a blessing.  I think about that all the time.  We’ve learned a lot of things from Mike and Duffy over the years.  Now it’s about end of life issues.  Despite their infirmities, the dogs remain happy, curious, and responsive to their loved ones.  That’s a model for all of us to follow.
P.S. The photos of Mike and Duffy below were all taken last week.  Mike has the all-white head; Duffy, one black ear.  

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Father's Day: Some Familiar Faces

Dear George,
It’s no easy business being a dad.  It takes hard work, perseverance, and a certain degree of sensitivity.  Dads are forced to actually enter adulthood and stay more mature than the kiddies.  We never got any lessons in school about fatherhood.  We mostly learned from observing the role models around us.  These are dads from Katja’s and my family who have been important in that endeavor.    

Buck with Ami and David (circa 1955)

Here’s my Philly father-in-law Buck
Dad to Katja and David and Ami
He took them each summer to the Jersey shore
Where life was idyllic and balmy

David (front right) with Mandy (front left) (March 2012)

This is my brother-in-law David
Who raised Tyler, Jonny, and Mandy
They lived in the biggest house in Dixon
They’ve been lucky that David’s so handy

Vic with Steve (July 1944)

This is my own dad, Victor L.
Plus Steven and Peter and Vicki
Vic bought us all the ice cream we wanted
No wonder our palms were so sticky

Kent (left) with his son Thor and his twin brother Karl (ca. 1949)

My Uncle Kent ran the Menominee Drugs
Dad to Stewart and Kurt and Thor
He came back home with a Silver Star
From France in the Second World War

Ralph and Martha with John and Ann (ca. 1955)

Uncle Ralph operated the Marinette Drugs
His kids were Johnny and Ann
Ralph was a big-hearted and generous man
He loved to be home with his clan

Steve with Jennifer and Greg (ca. 1972)

My brother Steve’s family lives off in Seattle
There’s Jennifer and Jason and and Greg
Steve took them all fishing on Puget Sound
As a dad he was such a good egg

Peter with Chris (left) and Jessica (right) (ca. 2000)

Peter was head of our East Coast branch
His kids are Jessica and Chris
He always signed off saying “I love you”
It’s a habit that all of us miss

George with Abra (August 1982)

Vicki’s George, such a devoted dad
To Jacob and Abra and Rhys
He taught them many deep lessons in life
Most of all a commitment to peace

Dave with J (ca. 1972)

Here I am with our own son J
J was born in nine sixty-nine
We had many good times at the Cincy Zoo
Never once did I hear that J whine

J with L (left) and V (right) (April 2014)

Now J has become a dad on his own
In September V and L will turn seven
J is so devoted, loving, and caring
The kids’ lives are sort of like heaven

* * * * * * * * * *

Things I learned from the fathers in our family

From my father-in-law Buck I learned to be thrilled by one’s children’s doings.

From my brother-in-law David I learned to approach parenting with a quirky sense of humor.

From my dad Vic I learned to hold high expectations for one’s kids.

From my uncle Kent I learned to hold firm to a righteous path.

From my uncle Ralph I learned to be kindhearted and expansive with one’s family.

From my brother Steve I learned to introduce one’s children to a life of adventure.

From my brother Peter I learned to express boundless love to family members.

From my brother-in-law George I learned to be playful and creative as a father.

From my son J I learned to always be there for one’s kids. 

If you put all of these together you would wind up with a Super Dad.

Love on Father’s Day,

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Peter's New York City Photos

Dear George,
Today is my brother Peter’s birthday.  He was born on June 9, 1945, in Menominee, MI, and he passed away nine years ago on July 21, 2006, at East Hampton, Long Island. Peter lived an enthusiastic, many-sided, adventuresome life.  He was very family-oriented, and he chronicled our family’s history photographically, resurrecting our father’s treasure trove of photos from the 40’s to the 60’s and adding his own rich collection from the 70’s to the 2000’s.  He sent many of Vic’s and his own photos to family members in the form of postcards that he produced.  New York City was among Peter’s great passions.  He and Gayle lived in Princeton, NJ, and they would frequently spend their weekends in Manhattan, with Peter taking photos in Central Park, Midtown, the Village, Soho, and other locations.  I’ve put a sampling of these below.  Sometimes they remind me of Weegee, New York’s famous freelance street photographer of the 40’s through the 60’s who specialized in gritty urban scenes.  Today would have been Peter’s 70th birthday, and I’m sure he would have made it a gala occasion, probably inviting family members to Princeton for a celebration.  In the sad absence of such a possibility, I decided to spend time with some of Peter’s images of the city.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Online Terrors

Dear George,
My sixtieth Menominee High School reunion is coming up in July.  When I got the invitation, I had mixed feelings.  I’ve enjoyed my past reunions, but I always get anxious about big social events.  Mostly I worry about leaving Katja home alone with our aging sheepdogs.  They have trouble getting up off the floor or climbing the stairs, and they can't get into the bed at all.  The dogs weigh eighty pounds apiece, and I'm the heavy lifter in the household.  Katja, though, says she would do fine taking care of them, and she encouraged me to go.  When our friends Bob and Lois invited me to stay with them, that was the clincher. 

Katja looked over my shoulder as I was making airline reservations on the computer.  "You really enjoy doing this," she commented.  "No, I definitely don’t," I replied, "it makes me nervous.”  I was searching for the best flight from Cincinnati to Green Bay on the Odysseus travel website (pseudonym).  Our computer is so antiquated that it seemed to take forever, and the server crashed twice in the middle of my mission, requiring that I start over from the beginning.  Gargantua Airlines (also a pseudonym) offered the best options.  I found a convenient departing flight at about 4 p.m. on Thursday afternoon and a return flight from Green Bay at 5 p.m. on Sunday.  Odysseus said I could save a lot of money by booking my flight and a rental car together, so I checked that out.  A car rental combined with my flight would be an additional $253.  That seemed sort of high so I checked the price for just renting a car all by itself.  The four-day price was $82.  I vaguely wondered if Odysseus was gouging its customers.   In any case, I made one reservation for a flight, a separate reservation for a car rental, bought a travel insurance policy, and paid with it all by credit card.  Pleased with myself for being such a well-organized and astute decision-maker, I looked over the confirmation report that Odysseus provided.  The flight plan I’d purchased came as a complete shock.  Much to my horror, I discovered that they listed me as departing from Green Bay at 6:45 a.m. on Sunday morning (rather than 5 p.m.).  I couldn’t imagine how that happened.  6:45 a.m. was impossible.  It meant I would have to get up in Menominee at 3:30 a.m. and be on the road by 4:00.  There was no way.   

In a state of panic, I rushed to the den to get the Yellow Pages and found an 800 number for Gargantua Airlines.  After an agonizing ten-minute wait because "all our agents are busy with other customers," I reached a pleasant woman named Shirley and told her that a terrible mistake had occurred.  Explaining what had happened, I said I'd made the reservation only thirty minutes ago and hoped that she could help me to fix the problem.  I added that I had purchased travel insurance just in case.  Shirley said that she would be more than happy to help and that there would be a $230 fee for a reservation change.  My heart sunk.  I repeated, "It was only 30 minutes ago.  I don't even know how this happened.  I didn’t do this.  This was not the flight I chose."  Shirley explained that, if I had bought my ticket directly from Gargantua Airlines, they would be able to change my reservation without any fee.  But since I had purchased it through Odysseus, she would have to charge $230.  She said I could try contacting Odysseus and see if they could do anything.  She gave me their 800 number.  She suggested that I might want to buy my tickets directly from Gargantua in the future.  I thanked her and said I definitely would.  

All of the agents at Odysseus were very busy with other customers, but I listened to their telephone music and eventually got connected to a friendly fellow named Sanjit.  I think he might have been located in India. Between my imperfect hearing and Sanjit's thick accent, we had some difficulty communicating.  I explained what had happened to me and also that I had travel insurance. After a few questions, Sanjit said that Odysseus would allow me to cancel my reservation.  I was overjoyed.  He put me on hold while he completed the process.  Once he was done, Sanjit encouraged me to check my itinerary more carefully before I made another reservation.  He was very fatherly, and I promised him that I would be more careful next time.  In truth, I thought I’d been careful the first time. 

Traumatized by my experience with Odysseus, I went to the CheapTravel website to make a new reservation.  They listed the same Gargantua flights, but now they cost a hundred dollars more than Odysseus had charged.  I didn't care.  I felt I'd just saved $230, so I was still coming out ahead.  I scheduled the flights I had originally planned to and from Green Bay.  I read the itinerary aloud five times before I clicked the "Book Now" and "Pay Now" buttons.  I’m pretty sure I got it right.  I did get a voice mail the next day from CheapTravel to inform me that there had been a change to my return flight schedule.  I’m not positive what the change was, but that’s o.k.  If I get marooned in Minneapolis, I’m sure my travel insurance will cover any hazards.  Wish me luck.

Monday, June 1, 2015

June Is Bustin' Out All Over

Dear George,
Today is June First.  That’s a happy event.  I sometimes find myself wondering which month is the best.  Gallup polls find that Americans by and large agree that spring is their favorite season, but there's no consensus about a favorite month.  May, June, October, and December are just about tied for the highest ratings. (7)  [Note: numbers in parentheses refer to sources listed at end.]  June is definitely special.  That’s because it’s the end of the school year and the beginning of summer vacation.  For myself, that’s involved not only grade school through college, but grad school, a 43-year teaching career (when I was eager for summer vacation every year), and, even today, the academic year’s end to the OLLI courses for seniors that Katja and I are taking at the university.  In childhood June also meant the first month of the year in Menominee without snowfall, beginning of the serious swimming and boating seasons, regular camping outings to Mason Park and Pig Island, my mother’s garden coming into full bloom, and the brand new lushness of the forest.  Here are a few important facts about the month of June.

JUNE’S NAME:  “June”, from the Latin name Junius, is named for Juno, the Roman goddess of marriage and the wife of Jupiter.  Wherever Juno went, she was accompanied by her messenger, Iris (the Rainbow).  Iris moved so quickly that she was rarely seen, but she left behind a radiant trail of her brightly colored robe in the sky.  (13)

JUNE BIRTHSTONES AND BIRTH FLOWERS: Pearl, alexandrite, and moonstone; honeysuckle, rose.  (18)
SUMMER SOLSTICE:  The summer solstice in the northern hemisphere occurs on June 21 (or sometimes on June 20 or June 22).  The solstice is the day on which the earth is tilted most directly toward the sun.  Daylight hours are the longest of the year on the summer solstice in the northern hempisphere (and, conversely, the shortest in the southern hemisphere).  (21)

SOME OTHER NOTEWORTHY JUNE OBSERVANCES: Rebuild Your Life Month; National Adopt-A-Cat Month; International Sex Workers Day (June 2); Donald Duck Day (June 9); Flag Day (June 14);  Juneteenth Day (June 19); Father’s Day (third Sunday in June); LGBT Pride Month; Black Music Month; Eat Your Vegetables Day (June 17); Go Skateboarding Day (June 21); and Torture Awareness Month.  (4, 11, 19)

JUNE HOLIDAYS FOR THOSE WITH A SWEET TOOTH: June 1, National Doughnut Day; June 2, Rocky Road Ice Cream Day; June 4, National Frozen Yogurt Day; June 7, National Chocolate Ice Cream Day; June 9, National Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Day; June 11, National German Chocolate Cake Day; June 14, National Strawberry Shortcake Day; June 16, National Fudge Day; June 21, National Peaches and Cream Day; June 22, National Chocolate Éclair Day; June 26, National Chocolate Pudding Day; June 30, National Ice Cream Soda Day.  (16)  

HISTORICAL EVENTS IN JUNE: Chinese troops opened fire on unarmed protesters in Tiananmen Square (June 4, 1989); Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in L.A. (June 5, 1968); the D-Day invasion began in Normandy (June 6, 1944); Medgar Evers was assassinated in Jackson, MS (June 12, 1963); (June 12, 1924); five Watergate burglars were arrested (June 17, 1972); civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were murdered in Meridian, MS (June 21, 1964); the Korean War began (June 25, 1950).  (10)

SELECTED BIRTHDAYS IN JUNE: Marilyn Monroe (June 1, 1926); Marquis de Sade (June 2, 1740); Paul Gaugin (June 7, 1848); Frank Lloyd Wright (June 8, 1867); Cole Porter (June 9, 1893), Judy Garland (June 10, 1922); Jacques Cousteau (June 11, 1910); Vince Lombardi (June 11, 1913); Ann Frank (June 12, 1929); Harriet Beecher Stowe (June 14, 1811); Jean-Paul Sartre (June 21, 1905); Jack Dempsey (June 24, 1895); Helen Keller (June 27, 1880); Peter Paul Rubens (June 28, 1577).  (10)

JUNE BIRTHDAYS IN OUR FAMILY: Ingrid L. Burke, June 5; Peter L., June 9;  Jacob Levenson, June 13;  Margie L., June 30.

SUPERMAN’S TWO JUNE BIRTHDAYS:  According to Action Comics #241 (1958), Superman celebrated his birthday on June 10, the day that he landed on earth; but, as Clark Kent, his birthday was on June 18, the day that he was adopted by the Kent Family.  (12)
SONGS WITH JUNE IN THE TITLE:  “June Hymn” (The Decembrists),”June in January” (Bing Crosby; Dean Martin), “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” (from Carousel), “June Night” (Jimmy Dorsey), “Memphis in June” (Julie London),  “The Last Day of June 1934” (Al Stewart), “Waiting on June” (Holly Williams) (8, 14)

FAMOUS WOMEN NAMED JUNE: June Carter Cash (1929-2003), country singer; June Lockhart (1926-), TV actress; June Allyson (1917-2006), movie actress; June Pointer (1953-2006), R&B singer; June Havoc (1912-2010), stage actress; June Christy (1925-1990), jazz singer; June Haver (1926-2005), movie actress; June Taylor (1917-2004), dancer.  (20)

FAMOUS MEN NAMED JUNE: June Jones (1953-), former head football coach at Southern Methodist U.; June Mar Fajardo (1990-), Filipino professional basketball player; June James IV (1962-1990), NFL football player. (6, 20)

A dripping June brings all things in tune.
He who bathes in June will sing a merry tune.
If June be sunny, harvest comes early.
A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay, but a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon.
June damp and warm, does the farmer no harm.
Marry when June roses grow, over land and sea you’ll go.  (1, 2, 17, 15)


Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June.  (Al Bernstein)
To read a poem in January is as lovely as to go for a walk in June.  (Jean-Paul Sartre)
It was June, and the world smelled of roses. The sunshine was like powdered gold over the grassy hillside.  (Maud Hart Lovelace)  (3, 4)

MIDSUMMER’S DAY:  Midsummer’s Day (June 24) comes shortly after the longest day of the year and is associated with magic, witches, fairies, and dancing.  In Britain tradition held that young girls, in order to get their true love to visit them, should scatter rose petals and say:
Rose leaves, rose leaves,
Rose leaves I strew.
He that will love me
Come after me now.   (15)  

SOME THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO IN JUNE:  NBA Finals, French Open, Wimbledon; sheepdog hikes at Eden Park and Miami Whitewater Forest; first camping outings of the season; summer TV premieres (including True Detective and Poldark); Bellevue community yard sale; Esquire and Mariemont movies; chocolate sundaes at Putz’s Creamy Whip.  

(1), “Seasonal advice for June”;
(2), “Wedding and Marriage Superstitions”;
(3), "June"
(4), “Month of June Fun Facts, Quotes, and Trivia”;
(5), "Horoscopes: Gemini, Cancer";
(6), “Celebrities with first name: June”;
(7), "Most Popular Season Coming to an End" (June 20, 2005);
(8), “Song Titles with Months in Them”;
(9), "Quotes About June";
(10), “This Month in History: June”;
(11), “Special Months: June”;
(12), “Superman Secrets”;
(13), “June Trivia”;
(14), “9 Songs About The Month of June”;
(15), “Facts About June”
(16), “June Food Holidays”;
(17), “The folklore of June”;
(18), “All About June”;
(19), “June”;
(20), “June (given name)”;
(21), “Summer solstice”