Sunday, August 14, 2016

Notes from a not-so-small Island

Here I am at Heathrow Terminal 5 waiting for my flight back to Boston -- delayed 45 minutes. I've managed to find one of maybe half a dozen places here to recharge my phone and computer. And, here's the good news, British Airways has got off its elitist high horse and allowed us to get access to the Heathrow free wireless. Previously, there was wireless here but "only for club and first class, Sir"

So, what's changed here, especially in light of Brexit? Surprisingly, not a lot. Still the same great food and beer. Still the same excellent road system. What's really a pleasant surprise is that "Team GB" is now in third place in the medals table at the Olympics. Normally, we languish at about 10th place, if we're lucky. Even my rental car was a treat (well done, Hertz). Although they tried every trick in the book to make me pay more than the basic cost of the rental. He could upgrade me to "a very nice Mercedes... just a small increase in the rate." What about SatNav (GPS)? (turned out it was in the car already so I'm certainly glad I didn't opt for that). And then, of course all the CDW nonsense. Finally (and he tried each of these at least twice), was prepaying fuel. I was tempted because their rate was L1.03 per litre (I ended up paying L1.23). But of course I knew that anything that he was so keen to sell me must be bad for me. And of course it was. Even though I must have driven about 400 km all told, the efficiency of the (diesel) car was so good that I had used barely a quarter of the tank. So, prepaying for fuel, even at the good price, would have cost something like L70 instead of the L25 that I actually paid to refill it. That's the part they forget to point out: you probably won't use all the fuel in the tank.

Speaking of the food and beer, they were great (again). There was a time very recently when the quality of British beer had gone right down the drain. Too much choice amongst different beers combined with a general lack of knowledge about keeping the stuff meant that frequently the beer was bad. My solution is to enquire which is their most popular beer and buy that. But I've discovered that you can actually ask for a sample now! That's the way to go (next time). In the car heading to the airport, I was listening, on Radio 4, to an interview with someone who has been a director (or spokesman, or something) of CAMRA (the campaign for real ale) for many years. He pointed out something I hadn't really thought about. The decline in beer quality that the big brewers tried to ram down our throats, unsuccessfully, in the 1970s actually paralleled a decline in food quality. Big profits and lots of advertising, meant that they were getting away with passing off alcoholic lemonade and many different types of food as real beer or food. Many people weren't noticing. But some were, fortunately. I was one of those.

To all my American friends. You really don't know what you're missing if you haven't eaten/drunk in a British country pub. And, it's not just pubs. In the supermarkets, they sell real bread! And of course lots of great savory dishes and pies.

What else can I tell you about the trip? It was just great hanging out with family. Especially seeing my 91-year old mother. I wanted to encourage her to work on our family tree. To that end, I did quite a bit of research into genealogical tools. My conclusion? Very disappointing.

Ancestry, the most senior of the offerings, is still quite difficult to use. Too difficult for my mother, certainly. Plus it has several annoying bugs. It doesn't work with Internet Explorer. And, despite advertising 1 billion records, they seem to have a lot of trouble finding my family members (and, no, they weren't all shipped off as convicts to Australia!). We did discover some things she didn't already know (her mother had four more siblings than the four she knew about, for example). FindMyPast was even worse. Not so many bugs and maybe a bit easier to use. But, even with their two billion records, it was no better finding my relations. When you consider that these things want to charge you more than $10 per month, it's just daylight robbery IMO.

Well it's seems we're boarding to it's bye from me.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Puga, the love hound

Hello all, this is Kim, borrowing Robin's blog to commemorate the story of our beloved Puga.

Puga arrived in our lives on April 8, 2008. From the first, she liked to be petted and stroked so much that when I stopped, she would always nudge my hand until she got more. I called her “the love hound” because of this, but also, because she turned out be a supremely devoted, loving little dog. Her heart failed her on April 5, 2016.  She enriched the past eight years of our lives beyond measure. There will never be another dog like her. 

Puga as photographed by her wonderful dog walker, Amy
I first saw Puga’s photo on as I was searching to fill the gap left by Darcy, Robin’s dog who lived with us for the first three years we were married. With Robin’s acquiescence, I submitted an application to adopt Puga from Great Dog Rescue New England. I received an affirmative response that she was still looking for a home, but I couldn’t meet her since she was in Tennessee. They suggested I could talk on the phone with her foster family and find out everything about her, and if we decided we wanted her, she would travel on a special transport truck to Massachusetts. Huh! That’s when we first found out about South-to-North dog adoptions.

And that’s when I had my first conversation with Susan Gilbert, a dog rescue angel in Jackson, TN and Puga’s foster mother. Little did I know that over the years, Susan and I would become further acquainted, share a couple of crazy lost dog adventures (both dogs were found), visit back and forth, and become great friends. Both of us will always be thankful for the little dog that brought us together.

Susan and I at her home in Jackson, TN, 2012 with Puga 

Susan and Puga
Having been assured that Puga was the great dog we were looking for, she did ride the transport and came somewhat nervously into our family. But she quickly became my devoted companion, following me from room to room, sleeping by my side, and waiting for me in her dog bed by the front door every time I went out. If I went on a work or bridge trip, Robin told me that she waited by the front door the whole time. She was always there to give me an enthusiastic greeting when I got home. Puga’s tail wagged constantly. My sister Kara called her a “world-class champion tail wagger.” 

Puga on the day she arrived in 2008

And that name? Well, she answered to it, so we kept it, but we never found out its origins. A Portuguese-speaking acquaintance theorized it might have started as “Pulga,” or “flea.”

She did have a happy life with us. For a few years, we were busy hiking the mountains of New England and Puga followed us up many trails. She loved the outdoors. We always tried to find her a swimming spot in a pond or stream. She didn't really swim, but loved to wade up to her chin to cool off. In her early days she thought it was her duty to hunt rodents, birds, deer, and anything else that moved in the woods. We once lost her for half an hour when she went after a wild turkey. She jumped into nasty swamps to chase ducks, and the one time we took her to the beach, she leapt into the waves and started swimming out to sea in pursuit of gulls! We had to work hard on her training to get her to come back to us, and for many walks and hikes she wore a bell so we would at least have some idea of where she was.

Puga liked going out in the snow....

....and in the rain
I have so many beautiful memories of being in the woods and mountains with Puga by my side. These photos reflect a few of those outings. 

On the trail to Little Monadnock

Cindy and Puga at Lonesome Lake in the White Mountains, 2011

On top of Mt. Hight, 2011

Mt. Caribou in Maine, 2008
Puga’s 4,000-footer achievement list included Jackson, Pierce, Monroe, North and South Kinsman, Carter Dome, Osceola, Moosilauke, Abraham, and Bigelow. And there were many lesser peaks — Cardigan, Ascutney, Kearsarge North, Chocorua, Caribou — as we trained for the bigger ones. I remember Puga leaping across a wide, fast-moving stream on Speckled Mountain as I tried to gingerly cross on the rocks. Puga arrived dry on the other bank; I did not.

When we started fostering other rescue dogs, Puga got a little less attention than she would have liked. To try to make it up to her, I took Puga to a number of recreational and obedience classes including Agility, Nose Work, and Canine Good Citizen. She was never a top performer. I finally realized that what made her the happiest was just being out in the woods — whether on a mountain trail or rambling around the pond near our house. Robin and I did a lot more walking over the past eight years than we would have without her to motivate us — that’s for sure!

Puga in the woods near our house, 2013
A few other memorable aspects of Puga: She got grumpy towards our other dogs as she got older, barking ferociously at them if they threatened to hone in on any available food. Her coat was silky soft, the softest I’ve ever felt, and I loved stroking the fur on the top of her head. She kept a reliable internal clock for mealtimes, and she would give her signature howl when it was time to be fed.

Scruffy Puga

The Howl?

Puga with foster dog Charlie. "Our bowls are empty and we're not happy."
In recent years, Puga stopped running off as much and stuck closer to us. We tried some vegetable gardening in our back yard and Puga loved being out there with me, poking around whenever I was watering plants or whatnot. When our Chihuahua Pixie died 3 years ago, we planted one azalea as her memorial, and then another and though we watered them profusely, neither survived. Puga is now buried nearby, behind our apple tree and soon more flowering bushes of different varieties will be going in to help remind us of them both. Let’s hope the new ones make it!

Puga and CJ in 2013

Lillian and Puga in their Christmas finery, 2011

And a new sweater she got that Christmas!
When Puga was diagnosed with heart disease this winter (we took her to the vet for a telltale cough), we knew her life expectancy was limited. She saw a cardiologist and went on meds that were supposed to keep her alive for 18 months, on average, but she only got another two. I kept her close to me during those two months, and had the chance to spoil her a little more than usual. Her tail was wagging right up to her final moments. I consider it a great gift that she was able to spend them in my arms and that her end came peacefully. Her absence is enormous and my sadness is deep, but I am so very grateful that Puga, the love hound, was MY love. She and I had a beautiful friendship. I hope to find another great doggie love someday, but there will never be another like Puga. Thank you my girl for your unwavering devotion and love.

March 2016

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

John Biggins

My son Will recently introduced me to the novels of John Biggins, an English author who writes about the early days of the 20th century, with a particular protagonist: Otto Prohaska, who is at various times a submarine commander, a naval gunnery officer and a flyer for the decaying Austro-Hungarian Empire.

There are four novels in the Prohaska series and they open a window on a lesser-known theater of WWI: the Adriatic sea. The background to the stories is factual and well-researched. The specifics, like those of Conan Doyle's hero of the Napoleonic wars Brigadier Gerard, are entirely fictional.

The first in the series is titled: A Sailor of Austria: In Which, Without Really Intending to, Otto Prohaska Becomes Official War Hero No. 27 of the Hapsburg Empire.

I highly recommend these books, especially if you have an interest in naval history, or European history, or just the World Wars. The humor is a little more scatological and slapstick than the subtle humor of Patrick O'Brian in the Jack Aubrey series, but is nonetheless very engaging. There is, for example, the exploding lavatory, and the camel, a reluctant passenger from Cyrenia to Crete.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

We Adopted a Teenager

(Another guest entry by Kim)

CJ’s adoption was finalized in court on Tuesday, September 9, 2014. We could not have asked for a lovelier experience on the big day.

CJ had wanted to keep the event low-key, i.e. not a big party with all our friends. We wanted to respect his wishes and keep the day about him. But as we neared the official date, he decided he wanted to invite three of his school friends (Jacob and twins Maggie and Andy), along with their parents. These two families have been a big part of CJ’s life this past year and have warmly welcomed him to the community, and we were so happy to have them be part of this occasion. We were also impressed that CJ decided to share his Adoption Day with his friends.

Also in attendance were CJ’s grandparents, Cathy and Bobby; CJ’s brother Liam and Liam’s mom/my friend Karen; CJ’s social worker Katy and his lawyer Garry; our social worker Maria; my sister Kara and her boyfriend Brian; and our good friends Jim and Eileen. Robin’s daughter and son, Miranda and Will, both took the day off work to be there (Miranda flying up from DC just for the day) and we are grateful to both of them for making this a very special family event.

In the courtroom, the super nice judge came down from the bench and sat with us at a table and talked to us about our lives and the adoption. She was full of appreciation for what we were doing, and remarked how nice it was to have a happy occasion in court. In a remarkably thoughtful touch, she gave CJ the gavel and instructed him how and when to use it to finalize his own adoption. I loved that. CJ was indeed happy and enthusiastic about the whole occasion, and his good spirits were contagious to everyone.

Talking with the judge in court

Should we be worried that after CJ’s adoption was decreed as “final and irrevocable,” he muttered to us, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!” ??????  Haha love that kid.

Family! Robin, Kim, Liam, CJ, Miranda, William (with judge in back)


After court, our group of 20 went to a nearby restaurant for drinks, snacks, and cake. We had a little speaking program in which nearly everyone, including the youths, got up to wish CJ well, and said nice things about him and about us. We really felt the love! One doesn't get to be the center of attention very often in life, but we did enjoy it on this special day.

In a way Tuesday was just a formality. We first met CJ seventeen months ago, and since then we've been working on becoming a family. We’re pretty much an ordinary family now, albeit one in which the three members of the household have three different last names and the 13-year-old calls his parents by their first names. But I still get a hug every morning and every night at bedtime, and Robin is helping CJ with his algebra and shepherding him through his fall soccer season, and we’re trying to get him to brush his teeth without us having to remind him Every. Single. Time. It is all I hoped it would be, and more.

THANK YOU SO MUCH to all our friends and family who have given us your unconditional support, and opened your hearts to CJ, during this incredible process. Life is Good.  

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Sudden Hearing Loss

Hello Readers,

This is Kim once again, "guest blogging" with an unfortunate new development in my life.

I have learned this week why it’s such a good thing that our bodies evolved with so many redundancies: two ears, eyes, limbs, etc. When you lose one, you still have the other! As many of my acquaintances know, I’ve been suffering from an “ear blockage” and deafness in my left ear for the past six weeks. On Monday I finally saw the ear specialist and my official diagnosis is SSNHL (sudden sensorineural hearing loss). She gave me the unwelcome news that I am now permanently deaf in my left ear.

I learned that the feeling of “blockage” had nothing to do with a head cold or trapped fluid in the ear; that there is no known cause for this condition, but it affects about 5 in every 100,000 people; and that the leading theory is that a virus causes inflammation of the inner ear, which destroys the nerve cells. Had I seen a specialist in the first two-four weeks, I would have been treated with steroids in an attempt to reduce the inflammation, which sometimes works. But although I first went to a CVS Minute Clinic and then my own nurse-practitioner in the first 12 days of my symptoms, neither of them referred me to a specialist immediately. My NP flagged the possibility and called Mass Eye and Ear Infirmary (MEEI) and they advised us that I should see a specialist, but the first available appointment was four-and-a-half weeks in the future. When I finally saw her, six weeks after the onset of my symptoms, she told me the hearing loss is untreatable and irreversible.

Now that we’ve read several articles about it (see links below), it is clear that anyone experiencing sudden hearing loss should go to a specialist or the ER immediately. But as the articles explain, this condition is actually so rare that few medical practitioners know how urgent it is to receive speedy treatment. And the symptoms are very similar to head colds or fluid blockages, which is what everyone thought I had. Those conditions are treatable or resolve themselves, and I was taking lots of decongestants, nasal sprays, etc. to try to clear the blockage when that was not my problem at all. Yes, I am feeling some anger and incredulity over how it happened that although I sought medical attention twice within the treatment window, and even had MEEI on the phone, I somehow never got advised to seek urgent treatment for sudden hearing loss.

Still, what’s done is done, and even if I had been treated, chances are iffy that it would have worked. I definitely had additional issues of vertigo the first week, and the articles say that hearing is recovered less often when those symptoms are present too. Sometimes one just gets unlucky, and that seems to have been my fate.

Enjoying London in February with one good ear!

As to where I go from here, I found out that hearing aids can’t help since amplifying sound, just to reach a non-functional nerve, would be futile. There is a type of “transmitter” they can implant in my skull on the left side, which would send sound over to my right ear, theoretically improving my ability to hear sounds from my left. The doctor says most people find this doesn’t help enough to be worth the effort, and that most make do with their one good ear, but it is something I can explore. I also asked what would happen should my right ear suffer the same fate. She said that was highly unlikely, kind of like being struck by lightning twice. SSNHL is almost always in one ear only, and chances of it happening to me again are 5/100,000. They told me at the doctor’s office that if I ever DO feel the slightest problem in my good ear, to rush immediately to the ER at Mass Eye and Ear. Also, no scuba diving, loud machinery, or rock concerts in my future – a “monaural” person has to keep their good ear as safe as possible.

Anyway, although it must be recognized that this is somewhat life-altering, (yeah, I can't hear a lot of stuff now), I am focusing on being grateful for my general good health and all my blessings. Robin and CJ are going to be very supportive and remember to talk to me in my good ear. I’m also feeling appreciative that here in the US the driver sits on the left side of the car, so my passenger can still talk to me (wouldn’t work if I were driving in England!). Thanks be for my good ear, as I’ll still be able to enjoy life “almost” to the fullest. I guess when I think back on the past six weeks, there have been some irritations and inconveniences, but life in general has gone on. I have much to look forward to.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Memories of Pixie

Hello Readers,

This is Kim, a guest contributor to Robin's Rural Rides. Both of us have been really saddened by the loss of our dear Chihuahua, Pixie, two weeks ago today. As Robin said, "There was an enormous amount of character, loyalty, and affection in that little body of hers. We are really going to miss her."  

We wanted to capture some of our happy memories of Pixie over the past three years, and there were many. Here is what we came up with.

Pixie came to us on April 2, 2010. She had been found as a stray on the streets of Worcester in February. She went through Worcester Animal Control, the Worcester Animal Rescue League, and then Great Dog Rescue New England, who asked us to foster her. By the time we got her medical issues sorted out, we couldn't give her up.

She had three surgeries the first year with us: spaying, tooth extraction, and eye removal. The latter was a tough decision but was so right, as it ended her pain and she adjusted beautifully. After those surgeries, she was in good health, although we still cared for her like a baby and spoiled her rotten. In the spring of 2013 she started suffering from IBD, which daily Metronidazole miraculously cleared up. Her last week she was slowing down, but her death was unexpected and sudden.

Cutest one-eyed dog
Pixie lived life to the fullest right up to her final day. She died on July 7, 2013 of congestive heart failure. Her clay paw print is buried next to our crab apple tree under a white azalea bush we planted in her memory.

Pixie was full of life and personality. She greeted us with furious tail wagging when we came home, and waited until we acknowledged her and petted her before she went back to her spot. She loved to come on errands, and followed me around the house to make sure she wasn't missing anything.

She had a furious little bark and afterwards made little motions with her mouth like she was adjusting it back into normal position. She always barked at our dog walker, Amy, even after she’d been taking care of Pixie for months and years.

We sometimes described her as ornery since she didn't like strangers. During her past, she must have had trouble with a tall man wearing a baseball cap, as she could be quite aggressive towards that type. She once lunged and bit a plumber matching that description on his way out. (Fortunately, she did no serious damage.) After that we learned to keep her separated from service men visiting the house. However, she accepted many of our friends and relatives by sitting in their laps on the sofa.

Mt. Kearsarge 2011
She participated in hikes and walks in the woods with us and our other dogs. She gave us a scare the first year by taking the wrong trail and getting lost in Pisgah State park – she could be a little too independent! Sometimes she would go on ahead (especially on the way home). But more often, she would trail behind, sniffing, and we would have to call her to come trotting back.  She could put on quite a show of speed when she wanted to. Her longest hikes were 6 miles, up Mounts Percival/Morgan in New Hampshire and Mount Ascutney in Vermont – both steep, rocky climbs. Her only reservation was crossing any stream or watery spot, so we had to pick her up and carry her over. Otherwise, she loved the woods and the outdoors like any dog.

We got an Agility set for Christmas one year. During the months I had the weave poles set up in the basement, Pixie was just as proficient on them, if not more so, than the other dogs!

She made an endearing little grunting, throaty sound when she settled herself down.

She shed like a year-round blizzard going on in our house.

She loved her heated dog bed, especially in winter. She also sought out any spots where sunbeams came through our windows.

Pixie loved when Robin and I were close together on the sofa or in bed, and insisted on snuggling between us. She showed her contentment by licking our hands, arms, and legs.  She was quite a “licker.” A true lap dog, she spent many, many hours in Robin’s lap while he worked at his computer.

She was a faithful sleeping companion. In the winter she would sleep cuddled up against our knees under the blankets. In the summer, she would sleep right next to us or on top of us. She spent the winter nights of 2010-11 with Miranda, who lived here during her last year of vet school. 

Pix, as we often called her, impressed many in our circle of friends, who told us of their affection for her, most notably Miranda's friends Jenni and Sarah. She did not win over everyone, but those who were won over often told us how much they adored Pixie.

In the morning when Pixie woke up, she would come lie on my stomach and gaze into my eyes, and I would massage her and she would half close her eye and stay there for as long as I would pet her. Her ears would go horizontal and she reminded me of Yoda. She always welcomed a tummy rub too.

Pix was part of the group that drove to Memphis and back in 2012. On long car rides she would stay in my lap with her head in the crook of my arm, wrapped in a blanket, and snooze the journey away.

She loved coffee with cream and sugar.  She had a special bark for coffee, and would come into my lap and try to get at it. I usually gave her the last few sips from the cup.

During her last two springs and summers, she discovered joyriding with her head out the car window. She loved this with a passion. Thanks to the stern warnings of Cousin Jeff, she was harnessed and tethered while she did this. She would follow me around in the warmer seasons, hoping for a car ride each day. During her last few months she got in a lot of joyriding, including on her way to the vet the day she died. She especially enjoyed the trips to Kimball’s and getting a spoonful of ice cream.

Pixie was ingrained into the fabric of our lives and was a daily bright spot. She loved us, and we loved her, with all our hearts.

Thanks for all the love, our little Pix.