Betchya can’t guess where I was in this picture?

Just kidding. Pretty much anyone can recognize the Pyramids of Giza in the background. They’re an amazing sight. Eygypt7Access to the interiors is limited (only a certain number of tickets per day are sold) so I didn’t get inside – until later at the Steppe Pyramids of Saqqara – but I’m told they all smell the same inside (bat guano, anyone?) This photo, courtesy of friends who worked at the embassy then, was post 9/11 but pre-Iraq invasion so the atmosphere was one of relaxed curiosity. I was glad I was able to go, even though I did not step inside the Great Pyramid of Khufu.

 

 

Friendship, fear, death…and confessions

What do you say to a friend who is afraid to die? Even now, six months later, I still don’t know what to say.

VirgHer name was Virginia. She was 92. And she died this spring, a frail, withered shell of the woman she used to be. Her hearing was almost gone, and her memory was failing her. She could not walk without assistance and she had great difficulty swallowing (common in the elderly, I’m told). And even though her eyes were pale and rheumy, the fear was plain in them when she asked, “What’s going to happen to me?”

Other than some platitude about what good care the staff showed in their care of her (at her nursing home), I had nothing to offer. I don’t know the answer.

Her life was good, but not perfect. It was stereotypical in some ways in that her husband had passed away years before her, yet they had had a daughter who would continue their family line with her own son. But in other ways, Virginia took stereotypes and stomped them in the ground. Prior to World War II, she boarded a bus – alone – in her native Minnesota in order to join her older sister in California. She would live in various places, and she would serve as a Navy WAVE during the war and, later, as a Grey Lady at Letterman Hospital during the Korean War. She did not marry until the age of 31 – rare for women of her time and, not to mention, having a child at that age. Through it all, she worked at various jobs until I met her in the 1990s when we were both secretaries.

She taught me how to do cross-stitch. I took her to a Billy Joel concert for her…78th (I think) birthday. And…she entrusted me with her beloved tabby, Fluffy, when she felt she could no longer adequately care for the cat. To this day, I am undecided whether or not I betrayed that trust by lying to Virginia. For this is my confession: Fluffy died on December 17, 2004, not in December 2005. Some friends already know this and they tell me I did the right thing because, in December of 2004, Virginia was recovering from a hip replacement and subsequent pneumonia. She was in terrible shape, physically, emotionally, mentally. I could not tell her that Fluffy had cancer and was going to die soon. Fortunately, I had several pictures of the cat – so I could continue the lie – and gently worked my way up to Fluffy passing away the following December (I kept it the week before Christmas so I could keep the lie straight).

Fluffy

I took this picture of Fluffy with me to Virginia’s memorial service. I hope that Fluffy is with her now, and I hope Virginia forgives me. Most of all, I hope she is no longer afraid.

But instead of crying, I try to remember the laughter that Virginia could elicit with her sharp wit, even when it was aimed at me. She turned 80 just a few months after I turned 40. So when I called her to wish her happy birthday, I said “Hey, I’m half your age now!” Without missing a beat, she replied, “Well, thank God for that, I thought you’d never make it this far!”

 

Catching up….

Ever feel like you’re constantly playing catch up? I certainly do, especially these past six months since I’ve gone back to grad school to study Crisis Management.

It’s left little time for writing and even less for blogging, which I’ve come to enjoy since I began “The Far Places” blog. I apologize for being absent, but we do sometimes have to sacrifice hobbies for educational opportunities and other life-changing events. I’m glad I’m going to school again: in a strange way it has helped me fight the migraines and the allure of pain killers. I have to be mentally sharp to cope with the class load (reading those hundreds of pages of textbooks; writing research paper after research paper). I don’t want to use the migraines as an excuse to not turn in an assignment on time. I don’t want my mind to be too fuzzy and doped up that it can’t comprehend what I’m reading. The forced mental exercise is helping to re-awaken my brain.

Even if school has robbed me of spare time to write new stories, my brain’s enlivened neurons are spitting out ideas. I am once again accumulating scraps of paper filled with scribbled plot concepts, creepy visions, new interpretations of old legends, warped characters, and interesting little tidbits I come across. I’ll be starting a new class in a few days, but I’m determined to get at least an outline written for a couple of short stories.

I’ll also be sure to take a break from classes here and there. After all, there are more things to do than study and more places to see besides the local library. I’m hoping to get in a nice vacation this year, and hang out with friends. Dawn_BLogNot sure I can top last year which held a family wedding and a chance to reunite with childhood friends, Lisa and Dawn, who I hadn’t seen in more than thirty years. Lisa_BlogBut I’m sure 2015 will offer something exciting…I just have to be not so busy catching up with 2014 that I miss it.

Speaking of catch up…it would seem I’ve missed a couple episodes of “Sleepy Hollow” because I’m feeling lost in tonight’s episode. How did they kill Henry? How did Frank get his soul back? DID he get his soul back? And……I’m thinking a certain writer(s) got really drunk, watched “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and then wrote this episode while hungover. Still, I must scour on-demand for more drool-worthy Tom Mison/Ichabod Crane and those missed episodes.

Giving Thanks

It’s cliche to be expressing thanks this time of year, but today – after a busy morning running around followed by a mid-afternoon nap in the big overstuffed chair – I awoke to two cats draped across my lap, purring. And I felt thankful. Thankful for small furry bodies keeping me warm on a rainy day. Thankful for their gazes which tell me that I am their whole world.

So I’d like to thank all the felines who came before who have shared their companionship and love…and their lessons about life and death…with me.

KC

To K.C., my first cat when I was a teenager. He loved to annoy my mother by sleeping on the clean linen and taught me that I would do pretty much anything to save my cat – including climbing out onto a slippery roof to retrieve him. He was the first to teach me that hearts can be broken from many miles away: he’d gone to live with my sister because I wasn’t able to keep him and passed away without me learning about it until later. (That’s my sister in the picture.)

Lovely

To Lovely, who wasn’t even my cat. She wandered into the basement one day while I was doing laundry. Emaciated and weak, she cried for attention. Sucker that I am, I took her to the vet and found that she had cancer. I’d never seen her in the neighborhood before so I can only assume that her owners, discovering her illness, had tossed her out like garbage. So I felt it my duty to give her peace with caring human hands holding her as she passed. It was the wonderful staff at Broadway Pet Hospital who dubbed her Lovely. They didn’t want her to die unnamed or unloved. Only in my life for a few days, I believe it was her task to teach me about death firsthand, preparing me for the time three years later that I would have to let go of Indy, who I had raised from kittenhood.

Indy1To Indy, my first cat as an adult. I found him at a pet store marked down multiple times from $9.99 to $3.99. He was the smartest cat I’ve had, able to open drawers and cupboards, digging out toys that I had hidden away. At night, he lay on my right side. I would drape my arm across his body and he would wrap his tail around my arm. He taught me the true, and sometimes expensive, responsibilities of cat ownership.

marian1To Marian, who taught me that I had enough love for more than one pet at a time. She would sit in my lap while I was on the computer and rub her slobbery face all over my hands while I typed. (Yes, cats can slobber.) And she taught me guilt. The day before she unexpectedly died from a blood clot, I’d been very busy and kept pushing her away, unable to give her the attention she craved. There was no time to apologize to her, only to tell the vet to end her suffering as quickly as possible. I’m sorry Marian.

FluffyTo Fluffy, who I took in as an elderly feline on behalf of an elderly friend who could no longer care for her. She turned out to be sick, so our time together was short, but it was long enough for many laughs, like the times – completely oblivious that there was already a cat sitting on my lap – would climb right on top of that cat (usually Annie).

 

AnnieTo Annie, who taught me that it’s the cats who are in charge. She would sit on the floor halfway in between the couch and the computer desk…and wait. When she felt that I had spent a sufficient amount of time at the computer, she issued her demands: a series of sharp “MOWS” (not meows, mows) until I obeyed her and sat on the couch, so she could sit on my lap. She had deep maternal instincts, helping to raise Turtle and Bender. She was the only cat who missed those who had passed before her, looking for them in their usual hidey spots.

And, of course, to Turtle, who I’ve written of many times before. She taught me that your soul mate is not always the same species as you.

And to Ariel, who I lost last month. She taught me that a single act of kindness can change your entire world.

You can see photos of Turtle and Ariel in earlier blogs.

BoysTo Bender and Paco, thank you for being with me today. What would I do without your head butts and forehead licks, Bender? And your nose rubs, Paco? I hope that I can do whatever is needed to make your lives better. We will always have love in this house.

And lest I forget the people:

Thank you friends and family. Thank you to the childhood friends who found me on Facebook (yeah, Facebook can be a huge sucking waste of time, but I’ve reconnected with many people important to my past. It’s also giving me a chance to learn about my nieces and nephews who grew up halfway across the country and a way to get to know my two sisters-in-law.)

Thanks to the friends who found themselves terrific spouses who I’m lucky to also count as my friends.

Thanks to the friends I’ve made in my world travel with Lindblad Expeditions. I look forward to traveling with you again.

Thanks to all of those friends and relatives who have raised intelligent, outspoken, independent, and interesting children. It gives me hope for the future.

Thanks to those of you who have bought my e-books. I hope that I’ve entertained you.

And many thanks to the ancient Mesopotamians for inventing beer.

Friends: Old, New…and Lost

Traveling isn’t just about the local people you meet, the tour guides, the shop keepers, taxi drivers, the woman on the street corner selling you baskets, or the kind shop owner who serves you tea. If’s about your fellow countrymen whom you may encounter along the way or, if you’re traveling in a tour group, your fellow group members. It’s about the things you share: curiosity about the world, appreciation for learning new things, or excitement upon jointly experiencing a unique event.

From the small moments of “Hey – I’m from that city too!” when the girls behind me in line at the Heathrow airport overhear the Customs agent remark upon the birthplace listed on my passport, to the camaraderie which develops after many days of togetherness.

There were the palpable feelings of satisfaction and happiness emanating from every person standing on the deck of the National Geographic Endeavor as a wild polar bear trundled away after spending an hour studying us from the Norwegian ice floes surrounding our ship.  Or the admiration showered upon the lucky photographers who captured the moments of our only Orca encounter in Antarctica, and their willingness to share their photos and videos. And, speaking of photos, there are those thoughtful individuals who don’t miss the opportunity to snap some shots of others because they know that everyone appreciates pictures of themselves, especially ones they can use to re-create that experience back home for their friends and family.

Then there are the “it’s a small world moments” (like the Heathrow encounter): the time I walked into my veterinarian’s office two months after returning from the Galapagos Islands only to recognize the man standing next to me at the reception desk as a fellow passenger on that cruise. Or traveling all the way to the Seychelles Islands (in the Indian Ocean, 1400 miles off the coast of Tanzania) and learning that the woman I’m eating dinner with lives in my city, only a mile away.

But most importantly, it’s the aggregate of moments which make you realize how much you like the person trudging next to you across a glacier or lava field, how much you admire them, or simply how interesting you find them. Maybe they have a really cool job back home, maybe they’ve been to places you’ve only dreamed of going, maybe they’re really skilled at something you hope to learn yourself. Heck, maybe they not only surprise you, but put you to shame (though not a bad way), like Skip, who, at the age of 80, was the only group member walking up the stairs in the Dubai airport while the rest of us – all younger – were exhaustedly drooping over the railings of the escalator.

Image

Or maybe they’re just really nice, like Corrie, a warm, welcoming 70-year-old retired music teacher I met in Antarctica. I couldn’t help but like Corrie, who could? Despite being on crutches due to what she believed to be a sprained hip, and missing out on many ship activities, the smile never left her face and she never complained, even when she was obviously in pain. She was just happy to be there. She had an energy, an enthusiasm, which was contagious.

It was those qualities that Corrie exuded which made it so disappointing, so upsetting, despite having known her for only twenty days, to learn that it was not a sprain which plagued her, but a tumor in her hip joint, and myeloma eating away at her bone marrow.

The doctors said they could heal her. It would take time, of course, but they had confidence she would be back on her feet in a year or so, and able to continue her world travels. Until late summer, that is. The myeloma returned, much more aggressive than before, and a prognosis of complete recovery changed to six to nine months survival, to – heartbreakingly – six to nine days when she took a sudden turn for the worse. Corrie passed away on August 25th.

As sad as that made me, I’m glad I met her. I’m glad I took the opportunity to snap some “action” shots of Corrie in one of her rare outings on a zodiac ride to share with her and her sister (who had accompanied her on the trip) and, ultimately, with those who attended her memorial service. I was flattered to hear that one of the photos I had taken was chosen for the slideshow played for the attendees. She will remain one of my lasting memories of the Frozen Continent.

I hope that I will meet more people like her, whether it’s complete strangers I’m encountering for the first time, or friends and relatives I’m traveling with for the umpteenth time while learning new things about them, meeting them all over again.