Archive for the ‘Family and friends’ Category

Last year we lost our cat Stanley to the ravages of old age.  Stan had been ‘quite the cat’ who, as a kitten, was adopted from a Chicago shelter and first lived with us near Chicago’s downtown.  Stan had a long and exciting life, as my daughter can attest, because he came to live with her in Minnesota.  Life in a college town suited Stanley very well; there he was able to pursue the indoor-outdoor life he craved.  A life which had been impossible in the City of Chicago. 

Fast forward eighteen years and Stan came back to us to enjoy ‘his retirement’ at Sontheim.  He was dropped off with the comment that “there was a warrant out for Stanley’s lynching” because the neighbours were no longer able to endure his nightly yowling concerts.  There was also a longstanding lack of song birds in the neighbourhood which rightly or wrongly had been attributed to Stanley’s hunting skills.

So Stan came to Sontheim where he yodeled to his heart’s content.  Initially the dogs, Sophia and Lilly, were terrified by his sounds.  Neither one of the girls had encountered a cat before and especially not a feisty one like Stan.

Within a year Stanley’s health declined and he left for the happy hunting grounds in the big sky.  Once he was gone, we made the decision not to bring another cat into our home.  The family was complete, especially after the arrival of our big boy Sam.  A house without the litter box, without the necessity to prevent a prowling cat from escaping out-of-doors, without the constant vigilance to keep birds safe from cat attacks, that was the goal.  

But alas, it was not to be!

Within a few days of Stanley’s passing, his mirror image appeared on the porch of our apartment in Chicago.  George called to let me know that a shy Stanley was hanging around.  For months I occasionally heard about the budding friendship between the big guy and the little alley cat.  Then one evening I got the news that the stray had overcome his fear and followed George inside; and I was told that he would be taken to the Chicago Humane Society in the morning.   A few years ago George did precisely that, he rescued a pretty little alley cat, took her to the Humane Society, and she was promptly adopted out.  But alas, this is the year of over-crowded shelters and George was told that Stanley’s double would have to be transferred to the City Pound were he would likely die alongside so many other unwanted cats.

In a panick George called and we decided that certain death was not an option.  The cat would have to travel to Wisconsin, get checked over by our vet and get a name. 

So let me introduce our new cat to you.  Meet Felix, who we suspect was sent or way by Stan who just could not imagine the family without the company of a cat.

A happy Felix with his dad and Sammy who pretends not to notice.

A curious Felix watches his dad prepare the fire.

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2010 was an enlightening year which brought me clarification on many fronts. Most importantly it brought the joy of reconnecting and strengthening a family bond which had unraveled and become fragile over many agonizing years.   My loved one, in her wisdom, pursued a path of healing which in the end brought us together again in a connection that will strengthen and endure.

But 2010 also brought sadness at the early death of two dear friends.  You already know about Patti, whom I met through our mutual love for the Bernese Mountain Dog.  I wrote about her passing ‘A few days after Thanksgiving’.   I think of her often and wonder how our young friendship would have deepened over time. 

And there was Bob, my friend Cindy’s beloved husband, who died of a brain aneurism within a few days of Patti’s death.  While Patti’s passing came after many months of unrelenting suffering and can be looked upon as a blessing, Bob’s sudden death struck like a lightening bolt and was a shock to all.   Bob is remembered as a generous man who raised his children well, a man who loved his wife, a man who will be missed.

Here at Sontheim 2010 was an important year.  The dogs have settled in and become a closely knit pack.  Our newcomer Sam has become the undisputed, but gentle leader whose presence has brought out the best in Sophia.  Because of Sam, our neurotically shy Berner girl has learned to boldly go where she never went before.  Now, Sophia comes running to collect her share of hugs and kisses throughout the day.  And what a change that is from not so long ago, when I would have to corner her, in order to bestow some petting.

And now that 2011 has begun and last year’s snow has largely melted we are settling into Winter.  The air crackles with frost and the wood burning stove warms the house.  I think of the long line of  lovely people I have been privileged to know and wish a very happy New Year to you All!

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Christmas Eve 2010 and all is well at Sontheim.

On this festive day I would like to share a lovely video which shows us the splendor of the American People’s house at Christmas time.


Enjoy, and a very Merry Christmas to us all.

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I received a gift today which will make my life more enjoyable as I continue to live with the unrelenting progression of Multiple Sclerosis.  A fellow blogger who calls himself the ‘Wheelchair Kamikaze’ very aptly describes  MS as creeping paralysis.   According to his research, Creeping Paralysis was the original name of this daunting illness, before it was given the less disturbing and very sanitized name of Multiple Sclerosis.  For who the heck knows what ‘multiple’ ‘sclerosis’ really is?  I usually explain it to people by suggesting that they think of the brain being turned into a swiss cheese.  This explanation is descriptive in the extreme and also not very kind.  But after reading Marc’s post about the frustrations our shared illness brings, I shall use ‘creeping paralysis’ instead.  The name accurately presents the condition without exaggeration or hyperbole.


Well, I know Multiple Sclerosis very well, in fact so well that after 18 years of acquaintance I know that the original name holds true.  And yes,  Creeping paralysis it is!  And there is absolutely no doubt about that.  Eighteen years ago I was strong and I participated fully in the richness of life.  I had built a challenging career, I was doing my share to make the world a better place through my philanthropic efforts, I had travelled around the world, and after my child had gone off to college, I opened my home to creatures in need of a nurturing home. 

And what a difference Creeping Paralysis makes:  today I am a recluse who hardly leaves her home.  It is difficult to appear dignified when stumbling about  and dropping things for no apparent reason.  At home it is easier to deal with failing limbs.

But  today I received the lovely gift from my sister. 

She cleverly devised a way to insure that my daily enjoyment of two cups of coffee continues. 

A lovely cup with two handles, angled in a perfect way to ensure a firm one or two-handed grip.  How cool is that???

And what could be better than a sister’s thoughtful love.  Thank you my dear Elke, your gift has brought me joy.

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I learned that my friend Patti had entered hospice care – and this morning I learned of her early death. 

This dreaded news fills me with a sadness so profound that tears are streaming from my eyes as I compose my thoughts at the death of this courageous woman.  I scarcely knew Patti, but it did not take long to learn of her generosity and the loving kindness she brought to life.

I met Patti about a year ago when she e-mailed me in response to my post on dying with dignity.  At that time she shared with me the struggle that had entered her life after cancer had invaded her spine.  She was determined to love life for the duration and to fight the spreading menace to her last breath.  So she braved the treatments and endured increasing pain.  It was difficult to witness her suffering as it became increasingly clear that Patti was loosing her battle with cancer.   

This picture was taken in June when Patti and her husband Greg met us to witness the arrival of our new BARC berner Sammy.  Sadly, this is the only time we were able to meet.  Had things gone differently we would be planning our road trip to the 2011 Berner Specialty in California in early Spring.   We were going to take an RV and one Berner each and travel through the land, visiting as many of the BARC families along the way as  would have us.

But alas, dear Patti, it was not to be!

Your courageous battle is over and amidst the sadness I am thankful that your suffering has ended.  So let me salute you one more time with a poem that you surely would have liked.

Burning Bush by Alison Apotheker


I would like to belive that in the darkness

beneath the skin, the secret dark holds

the same volatile oil as these flowers

and will ignite the stricken

silence of this summer night.


And I would like to believe the soul’s

language resides there, and the unfinished phrases

of the dead ones, the ellipsis completed

in a crush of those dark green toothed

leaves and their scent of sliced lemon.


I would hope as well that the lightning

in its body finds rest beneath the soil

and knows, as sure as the capillaries

whisper of blood’s persistent passage,

that all will be remembered and spoken for. 


Rest in Peace my dear Patti and may Eternity cradle you.

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Gelb die Stoppelfelder

und der Herbst beginnt!


As Autumn arrives I remember the lovely poem my mother recites for the occasion. 

She is in her 90’s now.  In perfect health – her mind is clear – She tells me that life is good. 

She has lived much longer than she every dreamed and treats each day like a precious gift.  Her only sadness is that her children live too far away.  Of five, not one of them nearby! 

This morning, as I look out over the river, I see flood waters swell the Mississippi still.  

For two weeks now, the small river towns have braced themselves for the approaching mayhem.  Nearby, our towns were lucky this year, and other than a flooded basement here or there, they were spared. 

Early morning brings the sun rising from behind the woods, illuminating the river as it flows heavily to our South.  Even from high up on the bluffs I see the water murky with runoff and mud.  It is darker than its usual self and flows more heavily toward the sea.

On a day like this my heart is heavy with the burden of remembrance and poetry speaks to me.

I see the chain of women leading from the shrouded past to this house on its lofty perch, high on the bluffs.  The one I loved most, my mother’s mother, visits often… her shadow follows me through the quiet house.  The dogs are calm and settle softly at my feet.  They are no stranger to the spirit world and know when spirits are nearby.

My mother tells me:   “She too will come after her time has passed.”

I laugh and doubt it – for she loves life too much – and I know her too well.  

Here is a poem I’d like to share with you.  A poem that speaks of a mother’s love… of the unbroken chain leading back into the mist…  a celebration of times past…  a promise of moments yet to come:

My Mother’s Pears


Plump, green-gold, Worcester’s pride,

     transported through autumn skies,

          in a box marked HANDLE WITH CARE


sleep eighteen Bartlett pears,

     hand-picked and polished and packed

          for deposit at my door,


each in its crinkled nest

     with a stub of stem attached

          and a single bright leaf like a flag.


A smaller than usual crop,

     but still enough to share with me,

          as always at harvest time.


Those strangers are my friends

     whose kindness blesses the house

          my mother built at the edge of town


beyond the last trolley-stop

     when the century was young, and she

          proposed, for her children’s sake,


to marry again, not knowing how soon

     the windows would grow dark

          and the velvet drapes come down.


Rubble accumulates in the yard,

     workmen are hammering on the roof,

          I am standing knee-deep in dirt


with a shovel in my hand.

     Mother has wrapped a kerchief round her head,

          her glasses glint in the sun.


When my sisters appear on the scene,

     gangly and softly tittering,

          she waves them back into the house


to fetch us pails of water,

     and they skip from our sight

          in their matching middy blouses.


I summon up all my strength

     to set the pear tree in the ground,

          unwind the burlap shroud.


It is taller than I.  “Make room

     for the roots!”  my mother cries,

          “Dig the hole deeper.”

 by Stanley Kunitz

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It’s been a year since Emma arrived at Sontheim in order to meet Greg for the first time.  As you may recall, it was love at first sight between the Berner girl and her new Dad.   We’ve missed them greatly since they left for Oregon in June and I am delighted to have received new pictures to share:

Greg writes that “Emma is doing great!!!  she is coming out of her shell, she sleeps with me now, spends most of her time out in the yard, and loves to go hiking out here.”

Happy Birthday Greg!

I want to thank you for the pictures and hope you had a wonderful birthday celebration.

Good luck at university and good health and happiness for you and your adorable Berner girl.

Ellie with Lilly, Sophia and Sammy too.

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