Friday, June 30, 2006

flowers and memories

Back at the start of June the Peonies were in full bloom, announcing the arrival of another summer. But those beautiful blooms mean more to me than the mere start of summer. They are a living reminder of two people who were significant in our lives.

These Peonies along our front walkway were propagated from cuttings taken from our next door neighbor's plants that still line both sides of the driveway. My plants were started 30 years ago and are thriving still, much as the memory of Karol and Emma,then our neighbors, still thrive in us.


Karol was a slight man, 5'6" and 135 lbs. soaking wet (which he often was because of the backyard pool he and Emma enjoyed so much), but strong as an ox. He immigrated to this country from Poland after WWII, and eventually settled here after getting one of the manufacturing jobs in the abundant factories that made this city so vital back in the 50's and 60's. Emma, a German immigrant, was exactly as you would picture a German hausfrau, short, somewhat round, with gray hair pulled back tightly in a bun at the back of her head. They met here and married late in life, both being near 40 years old when they finally got together. Emma often joked that Karol was probably responsible for her first husband's demise in the war, since they were on opposite sides, just so he could have her for himself. Karol never denied it, and, I think, secretly enjoyed the possibility of such heroic action. The truth was that Karol was a POW for three years of the war in Germany. He got along well during that time because of his blacksmith skills, which were much in demand during the war.

After they met and married here, they both worked at full time jobs, Karol in a factory maintaining the machinery, Emma as a cook in an exclusive downtown club for businessmen. They lived frugally and saved their money until they eventually had enough to build the house next door. By the time we moved into our house, Karol and Emma had already been retired from their jobs, both being in their 60's, and were enjoying the best time of their lives.

Whle some people can be said to have a "green thumb," Karol must have had a green body with green blood coursing through his veins. His backyard provided enough space for him to cultivate a garden that was approximatley 150' square, in which he grew every imaginable vegetable. That garden occupied about half the backyard space; the other half had a variety of fruit trees, bushes , and vines including apples, pears, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, grapes, and currants and still had enough room for that above ground pool.

Karol was a great advocate of the natural way of gardening, even going so far as to use natural mosquito repellant when in his garden. He would break off a head of fresh garlic and munch on it like an apple. He claimed that all that garlic in his system made him unattractive to the mosquitos, which stayed a good distance away from him. Of course, no one else wanted to get too close to him either when he finished munching his garlic.

The vegetables Karol grew fed them throughout the year, since he dug a root cellar in a storage building to keep the carrots and potatoes and other root crops fresh through the winter. All the fruit trees, bushes, and vines provided the raw material for his wine and more distilled drinks he was so fond of. I was fortunate enough to have sampled apple wine, cherry wine, pear wine, currant, raspberry, strawberry, grape and even rhubarb wines over the years. All of those wines were also distilled into brandies for those special occasions that required a more serious libation.

Karol and Emma had a wonderful relationship, but of course, as most married couples, had their disagreements and minor confrontations. I like to think they got through those episodes because they each reverted to their native tongue at such times. If Karol, as husbands somtimes do, stepped over the line, Emma would berate him in her native German, a good portion of which would safely pass from ear to ear without making a comprehension stop in Karol's head. He, if he felt intrepid enough, would respond in Polish, much to Emma's chagrin. They made it through those disagreements due to the lack of total understanding of all those words hurled about. They never stayed angry long, both realizing that life was too short for such nonsense.

Both Karol and Emma spoke heavily accented English, his with a Polish influence, hers with the gutteral German background. But with a lot of pointing, head nodding and shaking, and wild gesturing, we were able to communicate and formed a bond that was more than just neighborly. Emma, always wise, was a surrogate mother for Mary. Karol filled the gap left by my father's early death, giving advice and a life's philosophy without ever setting out to do either. He was a great advocate of, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it. If it's broke, fix it. If something needs to be done, do it. If a problem arises, solve it. Whatever needs to be done, do it. Hard work is its own reward." I like to think that I embody some of that philosophy in my own life due to his example. I hope I give homage to Karol whenever I "just do it" without complaint.

Both Karol and Emma were naturalized citizens of this, their adopted country. And as new citizens of the US, they were exceptionally proud and patriotic. After all, as Karol often said, America is the land of opportunity. He was a prime example of that. To Karol the greatest holiday of the year was the Fourth of July. On many a 4th we would pull out our lawn chairs and sit at the end of his driveway to watch the fireworks set off a few blocks away at the local high school. Being a special occasion, Karol would provide bottles of his best vintage brandies, and with each spectacular display of skyward explosions, he would pour us each a shot and toast, "to America". As the fireworks continued, more and more of those shots of "serious libation" would dribble down our chins, while Emma and Mary clucked at our foolishness. But, truth be told, I never felt more patriotic than at those times when Karol, a Polish eimmigrant, would toast, "to America" with fervor and gratitude and the faint hint of a tear in his eye.

One of the great legacies Karol and Emma left was the very positive influence they had on our two children. Carrie and Jonathan learned that older people have a lot to offer. Karol and Emma were another set of grandparents to them. From the time they were both little, Carrie and Jon learned a great lesson in life by valuing their relationship with our older neighbors. They all grew very fond of each other and Karol and Emma loved those kids like their own. The language barrier never seemed much of a problem, as it probably made the kids listen more carefully to what was said. I know that having known and loved Karol and Emma, both my children are far more appreciative and respectful of the elderly.

As always in life, death visits inevitably. On a late May morning, Emma called us frantic with shock. Something was wrong with Karol. While I rushed over there, Mary called the paramedics. I found Karol lying on the floor in the bathroom, foam sputtering from his mouth with each labored breath, his eyes rolled back. He had suffered a stroke. Praying he could hear and understand, I told him to be strong, that help was on the way. And indeed, within minutes the paramedics arrived to take charge and rushed him to the hospital. Karol languished for three days in the hospital, never fully regaining consciousness. In my visits to him, I assured him that we would do all we could to take care of Emma. Karol died on a late Spring day at the age of 78, right around the time the Peonies were in bloom. On the day of his funeral, on the way to the cemetary, his funeral cortege passed by his house so that we could all revel in the magnificent blooming display of the Peonies he so loved.

Emma lived in their house for another 6 years before she was able to rejoin Karol, but it was never the same without the garden that she couldn't manage herself. During the summer after Karol's death, we, and many of their friends, did what we could to maintain and harvest the garden he had planted before he died. Reluctantly that Fall, we tilled the garden under and planted grass over the once prosperous and bountiful ground.

Now, every year when Summer arrives, when the Peonies bloom in all their extravagance, we are reminded once again of how fortunate and blessed we are for their presence, and rejoice in their origins with our beloved neighbors. As long as those flowers bloom, Karol and Emma will be remembered for the beauty, friendship, and goodness they brought to our lives.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

wisdomless, or you can't keep a good woman down

Nine AM this morning we were in the oral surgeon's office, ready for the great extraction. I didn't even have to drag Mary into the office kicking or screaming. She actually went voluntarily, though she was mumbling something about "stupid, why am I dong this" under her breath and hoping that I would turn the car around and take her home. But she's a tough broad when she has to be, so there we were. I may have been more nervous than she, wondering what kind of suffering I would have to put up with afterwards. Yeh, it's all about me.

Mary opted for a local anesthetic and some "laughing gas" to get her through, since a general anesthetic wouldn't allow her to clean the house, wash the windows, cut the grass, and paint the window trim when she got home. She actually planned on doing a bunch of stuff like that. I fully expected her to curl into a whimpering ball and hide in the corner begging for death when we got home. But, like I said, she's a tough broad.

They tell you that this type of procedure, wisdom tooth extraction, usually takes only about a half hour to complete, assuming no complications occur. So when it got to be an hour that I spent sitting in the waiting room waiting ( I guess that's why they call it a waiting room), I was beginning to imagine all sorts of horrific scenarios taking place in the depths of that torture chamber. I just knew that somehow when he pulled that top wisdom tooth out, the doctor didn't get his finger in the opening fast enough to prevent her brains from leaking out, leaving her a rutabaga forever. I hate rutabagas. A nice acorn sqaush would have been nice, though.

Anyway, the nurse finally appeared to inform me that all was well, there had been an unexpected difficulty with the lower tooth that was fractured and had an abcess that was HUGE and required the use of extraordinary equipment and expertise (I had visions of the doc scurrying across the street to get Joe Muscles and his Jackhammer from the construction site) to remove, and if they could just get her to shut up for a while she would be released to my custody.

It seems that laughing gas, when applied to a normal person, induces a quiet lethargy and calmness in the recipient, allowing all sorts of mayhem to be perpetrated on her. However, we are not talking "normal" when we discuss my loving wife. Of course, the gas turned her into a nonstop chatterbox, yakking away incessantly, while the poor dentist tried to work his fingers past her rapidly flapping lips and into her mouth. I'm sure he was longing for a roll of duct tape to seal the offending orifice, but that would have only made his job that much more difficult. In situations where she rambles on and on, I've found that a hammer does the trick. But he didn't ask me.

Eventually the deed was done and she reappeared, somewhat swollen in the cheek area, but still talking-- unintelligibly because of the mouthful of cotton stuffed in her mouth. I knew it was unintelligible because I actually listened to her for a change. The doctor left her with specific instructions to take it easy for the rest of the day so as not to run the risk of tearing the sutures in her mouth and to take the Percoset he prescribed for the inevitable pain that would hit her when the anesthetic wore off. I helped her to the car (for once she was moving as slowly as I ) and brought her home to a quiet day of relaxing and recovering.

Yeh, right. She made threats about vacuuming until I assured her that I would do that tomorrow. She refused to take the Percoset ( I was so looking forward to her being comotose from drugs for awhile), instead ingesting fistfuls of advil. She proceeded to run around the house dusting and then insisted that I make her some lunch. I had gone to the grocery store to stock up on cold soft foods like yogurt and applesauce to sustain her, but she was having visions of a raw steak to ravage. Did I mention she's a tough broad? She accepted the yogurt and some cottage cheese while mumbling about concentration camps and starvation. I caught her painting that window trim this afternoon--she snuck out while my back was turned for just one second. I think she was contemplating joining the carpenters who were building a garage at one of the neighbors, just to keep busy.

She has finally slowed down this evening. She is still talking, now on the phone to her best friend, relating the events of the day. At least she's sitting down and mostly relaxing. I however am looking longingly at the Brandy bottle and thinking seriously about that Percoset for myself.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

home for awhile

We came home last evening from the cottage for a few days of the usual chores around here. Laundry and grass cutting mainly.

And Mary has a dental appointment tomorrow to have her wisdom teeth yanked out. Ouch. I will be a good husband and hold her hand and sooth her with ice cream and alcohol, not necessarily in that order, to help her through the ordeal. I will reserve some of the alcohol for myself, of course. She is not normally a good patient when it comes to medical stuff. She likes to make me suffer right along with her. I will do my best to accomodate her need to share.

Coming home from the cottage is not really a big deal most of the time. At least it shouldn't be. But somehow it always turns into a major production along the way. Mary will usually decide when we are going a day ahead of time, and then proceed to start the process of packing up and getting ready, when it should only take a matter of 10 minutes to load up the van with the "stuff" and hit the road. She will decide our departure time and then get all bent out of shape thinking about all she has to do before leaving. Like a massive house cleaning every time. I don't need to tell you that I think that is unnecesary.
After all, there's only the two of us and we are actually fairly clean people most of the time. Of course, the dog creates some mess with her shedding and the cat manages to get litter spread around some, but not enough to require a sterilization of the cottage everytime we head for home. Can you say compulsive?

Ok, so yesterday she decides we will leave for home after the dinner hour. That suits me fine since I figured I would get off the golf course around three-ish and still have time for my daily nap before dinner and maybe even a quick kayak ride before leaving. I lay down for my nap thinking my schedule was intact. Half an hour into my hour's nap, I hear the garage door opening, the van crunching across the gravel driveway, doors slamming, and the unmistakable sound of a demented and compusive female hustling around. My schedule was in shreds at that point.

I debated lying there for the rest of my usual siesta, but realized all the racket she was making was for my benefit. Without actually saying the words, she was telling me to get my lazy ass up and start helping. So I did. Without any supper. Without my kayak ride. Without a sense of leisurly withdrawal from the lake and a calm and casual drive home. When Mary decides it's time to go, we go. Schedule be damned. When she gets it in her head to leave, she cannot abide waiting around, no matter that she made the schedule in the first place. I guess it really is a woman's perogative to change her mind.

We arrived home about 9 PM and she proceeded to spend the next three hours doing laundry and whatever other domestic chores drive her lunacy. The woman is unstoppable. She is the mother of the energizer bunny. I get tired just being around her. So I went to bed. After all, my nap was cut short, so I deserved an early retirement.

Monday, June 26, 2006

rainy day

Woke up this morning to dingy gray skies leaking their moisture on us. By the time I woke up and got ambulatory, Mary had already been to town to get a newspaper and some rather decadent looking frosted cinnamon rolls, that I took way too much pleasure in eating. Rainy days bring out the hedonist in me.

Rainy days also provide a respite from the compulsion to make the most out of every day by straining to do everything possible outside while the weather is cooperative. On rainy days I don't have to get on my bicycle and ride for exercise. I don't have to get in the kayak and paddle my way around the lake. I don't have to cut the grass. I don't have to drag the canoe out and stear Mary around the lake to look at the same landscape once again.

On rainy days I get to sit inside and relax in my chair and catch up on the magazines that have been accumulating dust on the table. I get to read a hundred pages in the book I haven't had time to really get into. I don't even have to get dressed for the day, unless for some unfathomable reason, I have to go out in public. I can take my time fixing lunch and dinner without a schedule to guide me. I get to watch most of the golf tournament on tv and even take the time to try to appreciate the World Cup soccer games on the tube. I don't have to feel guilty about not doing anything constructive on rainy days. Rainy days are Natures way of allowing us to recharge our batteries.

On rainy days Happy Hour comes earlier so I get to have an extra glass of wine before making dinner. Rainy days are great movie days that let me watch a movie in the afternoon if I want, instead of waiting until evening as I normally do. Even the dog seems to like rainy days that allow her to sleep more instead going for that long walk.

Rainy days seem like a good thing most of the time. The only drawback here at the cottage is that Mary uses those days for cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, and trying to get me to participate in her cleaning. Or she will insist on running into town to go shopping for something, anything, as long as it gets her outof the house. Nevermind that, here in this small central Wisconsin town, there is nothing to shop for nor anywhere to get it. It's the idea of shopping on a rainy day that gets her going. Mary is not a relaxing type of person. She needs to be busy all the time and has not yet learned the art of repose. I keep trying to teach her by example, but she just calls me lazy.

Rainy days are lazy days by definition in my book. Now I just have to get her to understand my definition of a rainy day. The effort to do so is making me overwrought and grumpy. I better go take a nap. Good thing the sun isn't shining in the bedroom window to keep me awake.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

a sense of accomplishment

Just last week I finished making a new platform bed for us here at the cottage. Doing that started me thinking about all the other furniture I've made for this place and all the other constuction and decorating projects I've done to make our little lake cottage special and all our own. Frankly, I amazed myself when the final tally was in. I had forgotten how much creative effort and hard work had gone into this place over the years.

Looking at the outside first, there is the "L" shaped Cedar deck I designed and built (for nearly 20 years I had my own design/build business that specialized in deck design and building), that runs around the lake side and east side of the cottage. There is a Cedar "park bench" sitting on the end of the deck. An integral part of the deck is a Cedar storage shed we refer to as the toy box that holds the lake toys and other stuff. Over near the fire pit, where we have our bondfires, is a Cedar firewood enclosure that matches the the design characteristics of toy box shed. On the other side of the cottage I built a boat shed for storing the sailboat, canoe, and kayaks that also matches the other two structures. All have Cedar shake roofs and are really quite attractive. I like the design and construction as much now as I did when I first built them 15 years ago. Oh yeh, I also built the pier decking to match the cottage deck. The two flow together in a seamless walkway. All that doesn't take into account all the various landscaping and yard changes made over the years.

Inside the cottage I look around and everywhere my eye stops is another piece of furniture that I made at some point, usually when Mary decided that we needed that particualr piece. While sitting here at the desk I made, I can see the entertainment center cabinet, that houses the TV and DVD player and stereo surround sound system, that I designed specifically for that spot. There's the footstool and magazine rack/table. I even made all the mouldings and doorframes to match the Cedar panelling I installed. Looking behind me, the kitchen has cabinets I made and countertops I installed. I also made the counter/table where we eat some of our meals that sits on the hardwood floor I installed. To my right are the two bedrooms that have the new platform bed that started this post, and the headboard I made a dozen years ago in one bedroom and the linen cabinet and end table and floor lamp in the other. To my left is the room we refer to as the porch, where I made 6 different tables of various size and shapes to serve specific purposes, a Cedar/Redwood bench, two footstools, that when joined together with a table top I made, serves as a coffee table when we have guests for happy hour. There is also another floor lamp in the corner where I like to sit and read. Of course, I made all the woodwork mouldings and installed the Cedar ceiling and wainscote as well. And let's not forget the wall sculpture I did in the porch, a picture of which I previously posted here. Most of the furniture I've talked about here can be seen on my flickr site (linked on the sidebar)in the furniture set if you feel like looking.

All this isn't meant to blow my own horn or to brag about my abilities as a woodworker. It is just that I sometimes forget about all the effort and, yes, love, that has gone into this place over the years. I feel very fortunate to have been able to do all these things, and derive a good deal of satisfaction from the process as well as the results. I hope that you all have something in your lives that can provide the same sense of accomplishment and pride.

I just wish I had a dime for all the pounds of sawdust I've made over the years.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

big, but small world

Our globetrotting veterinarian is at this moment in the sky somewhere over midAmerica on her way back to Berkeley. After her 6 weeks in Africa, her trip home to the States seems to take nearly as long. The world is a huge place when you consider how long it takes to travel half way around it. Yet it is a small place when you can coincidently make an unexpected connection with family when still far from home.

Here's the story. Carrie, our wildlife vet daughter, is traveling from Africa back to her home at the University of California-Berkeley, after spending the past 6 weeks doing some research in Namibia. Those of you familiar with this blog are aware of all that. (If you are new to this site, look back into the May and June archives to read more about her adventures in Africa). Her flight from South Africa terminated in Washington D.C. at aboiut 6 AM this morning, leaving her with a 6 hour layover before boarding the flight that will take her back to Callifornia. Her brother, our son Jonathan, has been on a vacation road trip with Katie, his wife, that has taken them through New England to Maine and then down the eastern seaboard, culminating in a visit at Georgetown with Jonathan's best friend, Dominic, who is a 4th year Medical student there. When they planned their vacation they were unaware of Carrie's travel schedule and she unaware of their's. The happy coincidence is that they both found themselves in the same part of the country at the same time for a few hours, both still far from home.

Yesterday when we realized that they would both be near each other, we called Jon and told him about it. We could not reach Carrie, of course, since she was in the air over the Atlantic at the time. Jon said he would make every effort to get to Dulles to see if he could find her. They have not seen each other for nearly a year. The last time any of us saw Carrie was at Jon and Katie's wedding last August. So this was an opportunity that couldn't be passed up.

Jon scrambled around for awhile, ( we were in phone contact with him while this was happening), finally having her paged at the airport. And, yes, they got together. It was only for about half an hour, but they made the connection. Is this a small world, or what. It makes us feel so great that our two children were able to get together for a quick visit while both were traveling, heading in different directions, far from home. It makes us feel even better that Jon was willing to put in the effort to do so, so he could surprise his sister.

This has been a really feel good day.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

do the right thing

When Mary bought new furnture for the cottage, a new sofa and love seat, she was faced with the problem of getting rid of he old stuff, which was perfectly usable, if slightly used. The old sofa and matching loveseat languished in the new garage, unused, seemingly ueless, and somewhat forlorn looking, being stuck out of context as it were. We joked (at least I think she was joking) that now I would have a place to sleep on those occasions when my husbandly transgressions forced her to discipline me by exiling me to the "dog house."

So there they sat, taking up valuable space in MY garage, which I envision as a workshop sanctuary when I need a place to hide and do my woodwork thing at the cottage. My dream is to replicate my home workshop at the cottage so I have a place to maintain some continuity while away from home for most of the summer. Those two pieces of furniture were taking up the space meant for my workbench.

Mary had visions of grandchildren someday sleeping on the sofa bed (moved back into the cottage , of course. No grandchild of hers would ever sleep in the garage. Husbands, ok. Grandkids, uh uh) despite the fact that we have no grandchildren yet, nor any immediate prospects for any. Faced with the prospect of having a couch instead of a workbench, I proposed that we might consider offering them for sale. You know, make a buck or two to help defray the cost of the new stuff. After listening to my mercenary whine for while, she finally relented and put an ad in the local newspaper.

Mary fretted over what to charge for them, not wanting to sound too greedy on the one hand, and not wanting to be taken advantage of on the other. Once she settled on a price she fretted that the phone wasn't ringing constantly with people eager to take the furniture off her hands. Then she finally got a call from an Hispanic sounding man who wanted to please come to look at the stuff. Mary set the apointment, hoping she was being understood, since he spoke hesitant English and she little Spanish. Somehow the communication worked.

Right on time, the car (a ten year old Pontiac, in good shape, but looking somewhat road weary), turned into our driveway. Out stepped a young Mexican man, smiling and eager to shake my hand. HIs pretty wife was more hesitant to approach us, but that may be because of the baby she had attached to her hip. And behind them both, three more of the most beautiful little children tumbled out of the backseat of the car. The oldest child looked to be about 8, his little brother and sister maybe 6 and 4. Along with the baby in her mother's arms, those four kids and their obviously proud parents made up a family that melted Mary's heart. Even I, curmudgeon though I seem to be, was smiling. I'm a sucker for little kids.

The young man explained that they were just arrived from Texas and had rented a trailer to live in, which need some fruniture. He said they had spent the earlier part of the day going from one rummage sale to the next looking for things they needed and could afford to set up housekeeping here. Mary showed them the furniture and when she opened the couch into a bed, the kids went wide-eyed with astonishment. We invited the little ones to lie down and test it, but only the middle son was brave enough to take us up on the offer.

While they looked over the furniture, quietly discussing the possibility of buying it, Mary glanced my way and when our eyes met, we were in complete accord without ever saying a word to each other. Being married for so long creates a mental telepathy that is unexplainable, but no less real for its unexplainability. So I piped up, asking if they had any way to transport the stuff home, indicating my pickup truck as a possible means of delivery. He said his brother had a pickup and could help with that. Mary then said you better call your brother to come because we want you to take the furniture. And, oh yeh, there's a standup lamp there in the corner we don't need, You might as well take that too. And I almost forgot, I have all the bedding that we used for the sofa bed, you should really have that, too.

They, of course, were somewhat confused and overwhelmed, not quite understanding that we meant to give them the stuff. It wasn't until Mary said we don't need the money that we could sell this stuff for, we'd rather just know that someone was getting good use out it. Once they realized what was happening, the young father gave Mary a hug and rushed over to me to shake my hand, uttered a thank you, and gave me a man hug. I swear there was a tear running down his cheek. And mama was just standing there looking shocked and afraid to believe what was happening. After a somewhat awkward moment, everyone sprang into action. They piled back into their car to go and get the brother and his pickup, Mary stood there beaming at them and waving them out the driveway, and I shuffled away so the little lump in my throat wouldn't be too noticable along with the tear froming in my eye. Gotta keep up appearances, you know.

Not that I want any big thank you or pat on the back, but that whole transaction sure felt good. Mary and I both know that only good can come from something like this, and that if there is a reward for our actions, it will come to us tenfold, either in this life or the next. For me, the reward was seeing a young family happy at their good fortune and the simple, quiet, sincere thank you uttered by that young man. Doing the right thing sure feels good.

And, oh yeh, I now have room for my workbench.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

more from Namibia

Here is the latest installment from my intrepid daughter over there in Namibia. I love it when she sends these wonderful emails, not just because I love hearing from her about what she's doing, but because I can post them here and I don't have to think about what to write. She has so many more interesting things going on than I do. So enjoy along with me.....

Hello again! I'm trying to get everything done here before I leave tomorrow morning for Johannesburg. I'll be in Joburg for two days, meeting with a professor from University of Witwatersrand who might be interested in working with me on my project. Then I fly out of Joburg Monday evening, & get into SF on Tuesday afternoon. So I've been trying to finish up all the culturing work here, which has been difficult as everyone keeps bringing me new samples to culture. That would be fine if they were all from here (as that helps our project data), but some of the samples are from dead animals from game farms around here, which might be interesting for us, but perhaps not right now. Then people here are very excited that I know some things, so they ask my advice regarding how to read certain slides, or how to do certain procedures, or how to read some reports, which is very flattering & all, but it takes some time away from my actually sitting down & thinking about what I might do here. I've been very helpful to them, though, as they've been very helpful to me; I just hope we won't have to draw a line so I don't get roped into doing work I shouldn't be doing here at the expense of my own time.



Anyhow, I've been mostly in the lab & office then, though we did get out on a game drive this morning, which was nice. We saw a rather large male lion who walked regally into the bush, grabbed a springbok carcass (or half of one, as it were) he had stored there, moved it 20 feet to behind a new bush, & again walked off regally. I don't know what he accomplished with that maneuver, but he seemed pleased with the outcome. We also saw a monitor lizard waddling into the bush, a ground squirrel keeping vigil over its dead mate (alas, roadkill), & a snake leaping into the grass (literally leaping) at the approach of our car.


Wendy's friend Nicole is visiting for the week, & she arrived last Sunday. Not ten minutes after she rolled into camp, Werner came by looking for me as he had a jackal writhing in the road in front of his house, seemingly in the death throes of rabies. So we all went along to watch the thing grovel in the dirt, its head thrown back & eyes twitching. We had to kill it, obviously, but all Werner had access to was an elephant rifle. Luckily, Piet was home nearby with a .22, or we would have experienced all the wonders of exploding, rabid jackal. He had to shoot the thing twice in the neck (had to preserve the head for rabies testing), which was the first time Nicole has seen something be shot. Welcome to Namibia! So far I haven't seen any other rabid jackals in the camp, though there are plenty of healthy ones that ravage our garbage nightly. The list of jackal likes & dislikes grows: Likes: potato skins, styrofoam meat containers, old chips bags, used feminine hygiene products, kleenex, soy milk (surprisingly); Dislikes: tea bags, other paper products, not much else. They also make an ungodly racket most nights, yelping & crying & singing a horribly whiny song complete with barks & yips. It's really funny to listen to, as they sound so very very earnest, but sing like an old man being castrated.


The other night, two nights ago, I think, I was sleeping, only to be woken up by an amazing clatter around 1:30 AM. It was like waking to the sound of ten people standing around your bed, hitting pots & pans with kitchen implements & shouting in your ear all the while. Two lions, one to my right, one a bit farther off to my left, were roaring & grunting & calling back & forth to each other. That's not that strange to hear in the middle of the night; the odd part was that they sounded like they were IN the freaking camp, they were so loud & close. I usually just hear their low, far away grunting, & so hearing active roaring & right in my ear was disconcerting, to say the least. I didn't know whether to be awed or terrified, so I just sat really still, my eyes open wide, listening to the raucous racket. Something else must have been going on as well, because I wasn't just listening to roaring; something else was filling in the gaps in the register that the lions left open. I don't know if they were killing something, or if the jackals had joined in the chorus, or both, but it was an amazing, guttural wall of sound that I was convinced was coming from 20 feet outside my tent walls (sound travels very far here, given the lack of topography & tall vegetation, so I'm sure they were outside the camp fence, but it sure sounded like they were eating Wendy). The strangest part was to come, however. I listened to the bush symphony for, who knows how long, 30 seconds, a minute, five minutes, & then it stopped. Completely stopped. That's it. One last note from both lions, & click, no sound at all, everything completely silent all at once with nary a peep nor a cry. It was like the end of the Beatles Day in the Life, that builds & builds into a cacophony of symphonic noise & then ends in one loud, deep note & that's that. The lions started up again around 5, but not quite to the same extent (though they were still alarmingly close).


Other than that, nothing much else to report. I will try to email from the airport on Monday, if I have time to sit there before my flight. Otherwise, I will let you know when I get home.


love, carrie

The next time we hear from her she should be back home safe and sound, no more lions close by to interrupt her sleep. What more could a father ask for.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

nature's noise

There's a lot to be said for the sounds of nature. If you listen closely enough here at the cottage, you can hear the quick splash of a fish jumping in the lake, the honk of geese as the soar overhead, the buzz of crickets at dusk, the breeze teasing the leaves as it moves from tree to tree, the rasping croak of the Sandhill Cranes foraging in the fields, the bees buzzing happily from flower to flower. All lovely, inspiring sounds of nature.

Then there's the raucous chittering of those little feathered demons who insist on waking you at the first hint of light glimmering on the eastern horizon each morning. Their incessant racket is enough to make me long for the background noise of traffic whizzing by my front door at home. Why do they insist on clamoring for me to leave the stuff that can only happen in dreams, to alert me to the reality of the new day? My reality starts at a more reasonable hour than 5 AM, thank you very much. I don't need to be reminded by some fat, open-beaked, loudmouth, singing birdy arias outside my window, that a new day is dawning. As long as I didn't die in my sleep, I will arrive at the same conclusion they are yammering about--yeh, it's the tomorrow I knew was coming yesterday.

Please let me greet it with blessed silence from now on. I promise never to eat another of your feathered cousins if you will just shut up and let me sleep for a little while longer.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

away for awhile

For the past week I have been atr the cottage, away from the benefits of home. That means no easy internete access among other things. So I feel left out, uncommunicative, out of touch and isolated. I've come to depend on a daily fix of writing and reading emails and, of course, reading all those blogs that I like to keep up with. Naturally, the situation being what it is, I can't post to my blog as readily as I would like either. So if those of you who are regular visiters here to the land of Bobology are wondering why I haven't posted more, it is because circumstances are conspiring against me.

I am posting right now from the local small town library where several computers are available to the public. However, there is a 30 minute time limit imposed on their use, so I find it difficult to do all I would like to do, since I can't think that fast. Not only that, but the computers available are of the PC variety, and this dedicated Mac user finds them to be cumbersome and uncooperative. There is a learning curve involved, so 30 minute sessions are actually more like 15 minute sessions right now. I hope as the summer goes on I will become more productive in that limited time. Until I do, please forgive me for not leaving comments on your blogs or for not posting more often. Every 10-14 days we will head back to our civilized home where I can spend all the time I want on my home computer. I will try to catch up with all of you then. I'm about to be closed down.....back soon........

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

memories and flowers

Back at the start of June the Peonies were in full bloom, announcing the arrival of another summer. But those beautiful blooms mean more to me than the mere start of summer. They are a living reminder of two people who were significant in our lives.

These Peonies along our front walkway were propagated from cuttings taken from our next door neighbor's plants that still line both sides of the driveway. My plants were started 30 years ago and are thriving still, much as the memory of Karol and Emma,then our neighbors, still thrive in us.


Karol was a slight man, 5'6" and 135 lbs. soaking wet (which he often was because of the backyard pool he and Emma enjoyed so much), but strong as an ox. He immigrated to this country from Poland after WWII, and eventually settled here after getting one of the manufacturing jobs in the abundant factories that made this city so vital back in the 50's and 60's. Emma, a German immigrant, was exactly as you would picture a German hausfrau, short, somewhat round, with gray hair pulled back tightly in a bun at the back of her head. They met here and married late in life, both being near 40 years old when they finally got together. Emma often joked that Karol was probably responsible for her first husband's demise in the war, since they were on opposite sides, just so he could have her for himself. Karol never denied it, and, I think, secretly enjoyed the possibility of such heroic action. The truth was that Karol was a POW for three years of the war in Germany. He got along well during that time because of his blacksmith skills, which were much in demand during the war.

After they met and married here, they both worked at full time jobs, Karol in a factory maintaining the machinery, Emma as a cook in an exclusive downtown club for businessmen. They lived frugally and saved their money until they eventually had enough to build the house next door. By the time we moved into our house, Karol and Emma had already been retired from their jobs, both being in their 60's, and were enjoying the best time of their lives.

Whle some people can be said to have a "green thumb," Karol must have had a green body with green blood coursing through his veins. His backyard provided enough space for him to cultivate a garden that was approximatley 150' square, in which he grew every imaginable vegetable. That garden occupied about half the backyard space; the other half had a variety of fruit trees, bushes , and vines including apples, pears, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, grapes, and currants and still had enough room for that above ground pool.

Karol was a great advocate of the natural way of gardening, even going so far as to use natural mosquito repellant when in his garden. He would break off a head of fresh garlic and munch on it like an apple. He claimed that all that garlic in his system made him unattractive to the mosquitos, which stayed a good distance away from him. Of course, no one else wanted to get too close to him either when he finished munching his garlic.

The vegetables Karol grew fed them throughout the year, since he dug a root cellar in a storage building to keep the carrots and potatoes and other root crops fresh through the winter. All the fruit trees, bushes, and vines provided the raw material for his wine and more distilled drinks he was so fond of. I was fortunate enough to have sampled apple wine, cherry wine, pear wine, currant, raspberry, strawberry, grape and even rhubarb wines over the years. All of those wines were also distilled into brandies for those special occasions that required a more serious libation.

Karol and Emma had a wonderful relationship, but of course, as most married couples, had their disagreements and minor confrontations. I like to think they got through those episodes because they each reverted to their native tongue at such times. If Karol, as husbands somtimes do, stepped over the line, Emma would berate him in her native German, a good portion of which would safely pass from ear to ear without making a comprehension stop in Karol's head. He, if he felt intrepid enough, would respond in Polish, much to Emma's chagrin. They made it through those disagreements due to the lack of total understanding of all those words hurled about. They never stayed angry long, both realizing that life was too short for such nonsense.

Both Karol and Emma spoke heavily accented English, his with a Polish influence, hers with the gutteral German background. But with a lot of pointing, head nodding and shaking, and wild gesturing, we were able to communicate and formed a bond that was more than just neighborly. Emma, always wise, was a surrogate mother for Mary. Karol filled the gap left by my father's early death, giving advice and a life's philosophy without ever setting out to do either. He was a great advocate of, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it. If it's broke, fix it. If something needs to be done, do it. If a problem arises, solve it. Whatever needs to be done, do it. Hard work is its own reward." I like to think that I embody some of that philosophy in my own life due to his example. I hope I give homage to Karol whenever I "just do it" without complaint.

Both Karol and Emma were naturalized citizens of this, their adopted country. And as new citizens of the US, they were exceptionally proud and patriotic. After all, as Karol often said, America is the land of opportunity. He was a prime example of that. To Karol the greatest holiday of the year was the Fourth of July. On many a 4th we would pull out our lawn chairs and sit at the end of his driveway to watch the fireworks set off a few blocks away at the local high school. Being a special occasion, Karol would provide bottles of his best vintage brandies, and with each spectacular display of skyward explosions, he would pour us each a shot and toast, "to America". As the fireworks continued, more and more of those shots of "serious libation" would dribble down our chins, while Emma and Mary clucked at our foolishness. But, truth be told, I never felt more patriotic than at those times when Karol, a Polish eimmigrant, would toast, "to America" with fervor and gratitude and the faint hint of a tear in his eye.

One of the great legacies Karol and Emma left was the very positive influence they had on our two children. Carrie and Jonathan learned that older people have a lot to offer. Karol and Emma were another set of grandparents to them. From the time they were both little, Carrie and Jon learned a great lesson in life by valuing their relationship with our older neighbors. They all grew very fond of each other and Karol and Emma loved those kids like their own. The language barrier never seemed much of a problem, as it probably made the kids listen more carefully to what was said. I know that having known and loved Karol and Emma, both my children are far more appreciative and respectful of the elderly.

As always in life, death visits inevitably. On a late May morning, Emma called us frantic with shock. Something was wrong with Karol. While I rushed over there, Mary called the paramedics. I found Karol lying on the floor in the bathroom, foam sputtering from his mouth with each labored breath, his eyes rolled back. He had suffered a stroke. Praying he could hear and understand, I told him to be strong, that help was on the way. And indeed, within minutes the paramedics arrived to take charge and rushed him to the hospital. Karol languished for three days in the hospital, never fully regaining consciousness. In my visits to him, I assured him that we would do all we could to take care of Emma. Karol died on a late Spring day at the age of 78, right around the time the Peonies were in bloom. On the day of his funeral, on the way to the cemetary, his funeral cortege passed by his house so that we could all revel in the magnificent blooming display of the Peonies he so loved.

Emma lived in their house for another 6 years before she was able to rejoin Karol, but it was never the same without the garden that she couldn't manage herself. During the summer after Karol's death, we, and many of their friends, did what we could to maintain and harvest the garden he had planted before he died. Reluctantly that Fall, we tilled the garden under and planted grass over the once prosperous and bountiful ground.

Now, every year when Summer arrives, when the Peonies bloom in all their extravagance, we are reminded once again of how fortunate and blessed we are for their presence, and rejoice in their origins with our beloved neighbors. As long as those flowers bloom, Karol and Emma will be remembered for the beauty, friendship, and goodness they brought to our lives.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

camping in Namibia

Here is another email that arrived this morning from my daughter. If you read her previous emails that I posted here, you know she is a veterinarian and is in Namibia, Africa doing some Anthrax research on wildlife there. And since she is south of the equater, it is winter there now. The days can be quite warm, but since it is a desert climate, the nights can be cold. That may help to explain some of the camping hardships she is talking about.

"We went camping this weekend out in the west of the park, which is still fortunately closed to most tourists save for a few licensed tour operators who are allowed to drive people around for a day or so. The west of the park is a bit nicer than the east, as it's got some actual topography. They call them mountains here, but they're really no more than some craggy hills made of stacks of rounded dolomite that have sprouted trees & brush. The trees on top of the hills actually look like completely different species than those below (which would be odd, as the hills really are only a couple hundred feet high at most), but it's only due to the fact that the browsers can't quite reach those plants on top of the precarious rocks & so the giraffe & kudu aren't given the chance to groom them into funny shapes. Even though the hills aren't real mountains (they're also referred to as "koppies," which means something like "pile of random rocks" in Afrikaans), they do a surprisingly good job of breaking up the terrain; it's amazing what a few shadows can do for the optical soul. The plants out west also tend to be a bit higher, which is also a nice change from the plains. The animals are quite a bit more skittish out there, as they aren't accustomed to seeing very many people or cars; whereas the eastern animals will stand in the road, pooping & eating & lazily watching you through the windscreen as you try to drive over their feet, the western ones get a whiff of something strange & scramble away into the brush as quickly as possible. The exception seems to be the mountain zebra, which are much nicer creatures than are the plains zebra. The mountain zebra is a separate species (though there's been some recent hybridization between the two, owing to the manmade waterholes that have lured the plains zebra across the otherwise arid stretch between east & west) that's much bolder, less ass-like, prouder, & more striking than the rather donkey-like plains zebra. The mountain zebra's best features are their stripes, which have no grey ghost stripes between them (thus making for much more contrast between white & black), & which extend all the way down to their feet like funny stockings. These animals also have the funny habit of snorting at you when you enter their territory, pretending to briefly be alarmed, then letting their curiosity get the best of them & turning around to stare at you indignantly while they snort a few more times.

Anyhow, we drove out west (me, Wendy, Holly, & Werner), saw some animals, found a springbok carcass that we swabbed for anthrax culturing. We also scraped the eviscerated intestines for a fresh fecal sample, which was amusing to us but probably to few other people in the world. & then we crawled up on top of a water reservoir to camp. Again, most of the watering points out that way are manmade, & they've rigged up windmills to power pumps sunk into deep wells that then fill reservoirs to feed waterholes. So we camped on top of the cement reservoir to keep out of range (or mostly) of lions. Werner had his rifle handy just in case, as starving lions have been known to go for broke & try to climb the walls to reach the tasty morsels camped out on top. Namibians have made an art of car camping, much more so than have Americans, so we were the lucky beneficiaries of their luxury camping gear (all borrowed from others). They don't just cook some crap from cans on top of a tiny gas-powered cook stove. No, they bring halved metal drums in which to build spectacular fires for grilling meat & potatoes & the like over the coals. & they don't sleep on thin mats using their jackets as pillows. No, they've invented bedrolls that are basically large canvas sacks that house a two-inch-thick pad & that can swallow a sleeping bag, a few blankets, a couple of large bed pillows, your pajamas, stuffed animals, a small child or two, & still manage to be rolled up into one pat canvas roll & thrown into the back of a truck. When you sleep in these bedrolls, you climb into your sleeping bag, cover yourself with blankets, nestle into your pillow, then cocoon yourself completely by zipping up the canvas around yourself until only the top of your head is poking out. It really is roughing it. I still managed to not sleep very soundly, as even though most of me was warm, I somehow managed to create a wind tunnel for the cold, stiff breeze. I covered everything I could, but still my eyelids were so cold I couldn't get comfortable. But it was still fun sleeping under the stars, listening to the lions in the hills. In the morning we made another fire so we could have oatmeal & tea (yes, we always, under all circumstances must have tea. We even heated up extra water to put into thermoses so we could have tea later in the day as we tailgated).

& then we drove back to Okaukuejo. Along the way we didn't see much for large game, though we happened across a thick stream of slave-maker ants crossing the road, frantically yet systematically carrying their booty of pilfered ant larvae. Apparently these kinds of ants stage well-executed raids on other ant colonies, steal their larvae, then carry them home to rear them as their own personal slaves. Kind of a nasty sentiment, really, but it's still impressive to see that many ants all methodically staging a raid as well-controlled as that of any human army (perhaps more so). In fact, when Wendy killed one so she could see what it was carrying (they were moving to quickly for us to focus on their packages), the others around it, without skipping a beat, picked up the larva & whisked it away before we could even get a glance. We also came across a chameleon in the road, who thought it wisest to pretend he was a leaf so we wouldn't notice him. If you've ever seen a chameleon do its leaf walk, it's pretty amusing; they lift two legs (say, right front & left rear), reach forward with their two toes open for grasping, & rock back & forth with legs suspended in the air, sometimes for minutes. Eventually the legs get somewhere, but it takes a lot of forward & backward rocking for them to advance to the point at which they can again touch the ground & the other legs can have their turn. So the chameleon took at least half an hour to cross half the road in front of us like this, then got to the grass & ran off like a normal lizard & climbed a tree in no time flat.

Anyhow, so that was that, & today it was back to lab & office work & such. Nothing too exciting today, other than trying to net a couple of owls tonight in Werner's backyard for banding. When that took too long, we left & drank beer instead. Rah!"

love, carrie

Nothing like camping within earshot of hungry lions. I think I will stick with Holiday Inns and leave the more adventurous stuff to her. She seems to thrive on it. Whose child is she anyway?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

watch out

So two days ago I'm coming into the house after cutting the grass, with the intention of making some lunch and relaxing and recharging the old battery for an afternoon of continued grass cutting. Being the sanitary sort that I am, I need to wash my hands before handling anything that they might touch that which will ultimately enter my mouth. To do so I also need to remove the watch from my left wrist so as not to get it wet, since it is a cheap thing and probably not waterproof. Ok, now the problem begins. Where oh where has my little watch gone? After washing my hands like a good boy, I failed to put my watch back on and now the time gods are fucking with me. They have somehow absconded with my watch or employed a conjourer to enter my world and make the thing disappear, never to be found. I am totally dumbfounded by this turn of events. I don't lose things. I am careful and conscientious with my stuff. I know where everything is because everything has its assigned place in my very orderly world. To be treated so rudely by forces unknown has me in a dither. I am perplexed and dismayed. I am confused and distraught. That I might actually be responsible for losing my watch has me in a state of denial. I don't lose things. Things lose themselves and blame me. That I feel nearly naked without my watch on my wrist is punishment enough. Why do have to tolerate the looks of people who are tsk, tsking, when they point at me and say, " that guy lost his watch. What a loser he is." Why do I have to listen to Mary tell me that I am irresponsible and careless when that accusation does not fit my self image? I need my watch back on my wrist. NOW.

Of course we all know that as soon as I admit the old watch is gone for good, a fleeting memory, and I go back to the cheap watch store to replace it, the old watch will magically reappear right where I left it. Do I have to go that route to make it reappear, or can I fake out the watch gods and their conjourer and fool them into returning the watch without going to the expense of buying a new one? Dilemna, raise your wicked head! Then again, if I can somehow cajole Mary into stopping at the cheap watch store and I beg like a little wuss, I can get her to spring for the new watch. Then when the old one turns up, inevitably we know, since I didn't actulally buy the new one myself, then I won't feel so responsible or feel guilty about sporting the new one on my wrist in its place. Take that, watch gods! Beware who you mess with.

I think this has gone on long enough, but I can't be sure. I don't have my watch on.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

the further adventures of the wildlife vet

The following few paragraphs are another excerpt from an email sent by my daughter from her current worksite in Namibia.
I just have to share them with the world. Enjoy.

...."I haven't been out of Okaukeujo (where the institute & the research camp are - the little village inside the park - pronounced Oh-kah-KOO-yo) in over a week now, except for an expedition to Otjiwarongo 2.5 hours away to pick up something for lab supplies. We've been doing a lot of work in the lab, all the culturing stuff, which looks like it's turning out well. So I'm glad about that, though it's not that directly related to my project (other than the fact that the data adds to the database of anthrax mortalities over the years). I'm hoping that once the lab work is mostly done I can actually do some thinking about my own project ideas, though I'm not really sure where to start on that one. I'm hoping something comes to me & that I think of all the right questions to ask while I'm here....

Other than the lab work I haven't been doing much exciting here lately. It's kind of cool to be doing lab work in a somewhat bare-bones lab, spearheading it myself & having it mostly work. I enjoy doing the lab work, at least for awhile, though then I need to get outside again & into the field. But at least I feel like I have a set of objectives & a set of skills to use to achieve those objectives. It's kind of reassuring to actually have a plan for a change, even if it's only to do some culturing work for a week or two.

We saw some owl chicks yesterday, which was cool. Apparently barn owls lay eggs in succession, so there's one huge chick & then a couple of younger, smaller ones. I'm not sure, but I think it's the case in which if the big chick survives to a certain age, he'll eat his siblings. Tasty.

I've been running here nearly every evening, which means I've got to get going by 5 or so if I don't want to run in the dark (the sun sets around 5:20 now). There aren't that many places to run here, so I end up doing loops & loops & waving to the same people over & over. I prefer to actually stay on this half of the camp, & avoid the tourist area, even though the tourist camp is more lit & paved. It's kind of strange that the people on this side that I have little in common with, both culturally & physical appearance-wise are actually worlds friendlier than are the fat white German women & their leering male companions. All I have to do is give a wave to the people over here, & they wave & smile & say hi. I must look pretty silly to them, some strange white chick running for no reason other than to run, wearing silly looking shorts & funny shoes. Most of the blacks here seem to exist in that strange limbo world between European & African ways of living, though there's one caravan on the corner by the research camp that seemingly houses at least 20 Herero people. The Herero are a tribe, I guess you'd call them, or a group of people, & the women (at least the older ones) wear long, elaborate dresses & hats that look like they've got horns coming out the front. I must learn more about them, as I'm pretty ignorant & can't really give you more detailed information than that, unfortunately. Anyhow, the kids & the young adults at the place are pretty quick to call out hello & smile, but the elders are way more wary of me. There's an older man, maybe in his 60s, maybe 70s, maybe older - it's hard to tell - who sits outside all day long, tapping his cane in the dirt, sitting around the fire, or taking a nap on the ground in the hot afternoon sun (he doesn't seem to like the shade). I walk past this place at least twice a day, & with the running my pass-bys must total 6 or 7 some days. Anyhow, I started waving to him from day one, & it took him awhile but now he waves & says hi nearly every time I pass by, which is like a fun little victory for me. This old guy must seriously think I'm pretty damn strange, a white chick walking everywhere carrying weird things (the white people don't walk here - they always drive), running laps around his house, & persistently waving even when getting scowled at (it depends on the relationship, but most of the whites here still don't really acknowledge most of the blacks, unless they work closely with each other, or are somehow friends... there's still an enormous cultural divide here which is a little disconcerting at times, coming from PC America... in the tea room - we have tea twice a day, this being a civilized country & all - there's only one black ranger who ever comes to tea. & Gabriel has to put up with all the little racist comments that fly about the room like gnats - nothing usually big enough to swat at, but enough to annoy you with their buzzing in your ears).

So that's my story for today. I'm sitting tucked into my bed in my tent, & it's quite cozy. It's a huge tent, though, so it's less cozy than my nice little pup tent I've got at home. Still, I can walk around in it, do jumping jacks in it (if I so desired), have parties in it (if I so desired). It's so tall I can't quite reach the top while standing on a chair, & it's got room for two beds (I use one as a shelf of sorts), a big old metal table, & a big metal cabinet-cum-armoir. I also have a few resident spiders who are alarmingly large, & a rodent of some sort that likes to leave me presents of the fecal variety but not much else. & I have electricity in here, which is pretty wild. A freaking wired tent. It's got a cement base (though the tent floor covers it, of course, so when I'm zipped in I'm essentially sitting inside a big green canvas box), & is surrounded by shade-cloth so I have a little porch area to sit in out of the sun if I want to. We have a communal bathroom that now has two (count em, TWO) working toilets (that was a major victory given Nigel's - the camp supervisor - state of mental affairs, but that's a story for another time!), & a communal kitchen with the most motley assortment of cook-wear you've ever seen & a stove that looks like it's an Easy-Bake Oven wired for actual gas output. & we have a fire pit which we can use to cook vast quantities of meat, this being a thoroughly meatified country, & a shaded seating area outside the kitchen that was once used as an area for tying up the now nonexistent park horses. So it's a pretty nice set up which has gotten better this week after Nigel was none-too-gently prodded into action by a couple of other rangers (though he complained the whole way; again, a story for another time!).

Now it is high time for me to label a few pictures & then to watch TV shows on my laptop, because I can think of few things more incongruous than watching American TV shows on a laptop while sitting in a wired tent in the middle of the Namibian desert."

love, carrie

That's my girl. I especially like the description of her runs around the camp (she is a dedicated runner and just last month ran the Avenue of the Giants Marathon in California) amd her persistance in getting the old guy to wave to her and say hi. I can just see her satisfied grin when he finally aknowledged her. That just illustrates her persistance in everything she does. If you don't look out, she'll have you smiling and waving hello, too.