Friday, February 26, 2010

Dad Would Be Proud

I took this photo of a cotoneaster beside an antique cultivator last fall. This is one of several antique farm implements on our property that came from Paul's grandfather's farm. This one sits in a rock garden in our yard. Paul remembers walking behind the cultivator hooked to one of the farm horses and in front of his grandfather. Walking behind a cultivator and a horse? What century was that?

With this photo, last fall, for the first time in my life, I entered a photo competition. I actually entered two contests and won both with the same photo. The real estate company I work with, Residential Properties Ltd., has a photo competition four times a year, one for each season. We have so many fabulous photographers among our agents, I never considered entering a photo until I saw this one. The winning photos are used as part of a slide show on the company's website. Most of the winning photos have always been interesting houses or local scenery. This was a little out of the ordinary but I think they liked it because it was in my yard and had a personal story.

The second contest I entered with this photo was on the blog The Badass Geek . A professional photographer himself, The Geek has a really cool website at Shift Photography, please go visit him. Feeling pretty full of myself after having won the company contest, I figured 'why not?' I entered and won! The Geek actually offered a prize. I was told to choose a photo from his website which he would send matted and ready to frame. I picked a beautiful sunset over water which arrived yesterday.

I started taking pictures when I was eight years old. I don't know what I was using for a camera back then but I remember seeing what looked like 35mm negative strips hanging in our make-shift darkroom. Soon I had my own little 110 Instamatic. I've moved up a little since then. Here's my newest camera.

My father set up a darkroom in the cellar of our house in the early 1960's. And I do mean cellar. Half the floor in the cellar of our early 19th century house was dirt. The photo enlarger was on an old work bench. I use to develop and print black and white photos. There were only three baths necessary to develop black & white and many, many more for color so we only worked in black & white. My father is gone so I can't ask him so my memory of the whole process may be a little fuzzy.

I remember how cool it was to watch pictures of my dog Missey come up from the trays. Notice there's always a dog in my stories? I still have some of those photos. I also remember one day, in my clumsy way, knocking a bottle of a chemical wash over in my mother's kitchen. I watched the cabinets instantly turn white as the stuff splashed across the wood. Fortunately it washed off but for a minute I thought I was in big trouble.

So after starting my photography experience in a dirt cellar 45+ years ago, I still enjoy taking pictures.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Adventures in South Africa--Animals!

Here is the bunch of photos taken during our two weeks on safari in South Africa. We were in the Northern Province near the Limpopo River which separates South Africa from Botswana.

Eric, the professional hunter, took us out one day on the Limpopo in this boat for some sightseeing and a picnic. He docked the boat on the other side, we jumped off and said "We're in Botswana!"

Can you spot the monkeys in these next two photos?

The animals we saw in Pilanesberg National Park were wonderful but seeing them in this environment was even more amazing. Eric has 5500 acres of land which is fenced with miles of roads cut through it. As we drove the roads we spotted animals everywhere including warthogs, rhinos, impalas and giraffes. The giraffes were my favorite. A bull can be 18 feet tall and weigh 1500 pounds. They only feed on leaves from the tops of trees so we often saw their heads peeking through as we drove along.

This guy spotted us, watched for a few moments and they he was off!

We were driving along, turned a corner and this is what we found. We stopped and he stopped as if he was posing for photos. Check out the guy in the back of the second photo.

Paul was there to hunt, of course, and I stayed behind for most of the hunts. Below is group of warthogs around a watering hole.

Erik employs two African trackers, Piet and Joseph. Here is Piet at the top of a spotting tower. He's using a walkie talkie to direct the hunters towards animals he can see.

Here is Joseph and Paul stalking something.
Paul and Erik heading back to the lorry during a hunt.

Piet and Joseph were incredible trackers. They could look at dozens of tracks and tell what the animal was, which way it was headed and how long since it had passed by. The sticks you see them carrying are shooting sticks used to make a tripod to rest the gun on if necessary for a shot.

This is a blind situated at a water tank. It's called The Pizza Oven 'cause it gets pretty hot in there at midday. A couple weeks earlier a black mamba, one of the deadliest snakes in Africa, came slithering into the blind as hunters sat there. Fortunately Erik spotted it and they got out before anyone was bitten. Only two hunters fit in The Pizza Oven, and I spent some time with Paul watching and waiting.

This herd of wildebeest came through as we sat in The Pizza Oven.
This guy was my favorite. We saw him several times over the two weeks we were there. Erik estimated that he was 18 feet tall. Poor guy was missing most of his tail.

This water tank was about 5 feet tall so this gives you an idea of just how big he was.
Take a look at the thorns on this tree.

This is a termite mound. We saw many as tall as 5 feet.
This is a the remnants of a termite nest after an aardvark had lunch.

Come by next Monday for the final installment of our Adventures in Africa and see the culmination of Paul's dream hunt.

Friday, February 19, 2010

We Are Family

Four of the last five weekends our oldest granddaughter Katie has stayed with us. She has an open invitation and Paul and I always enjoy having her here. At 17 she drives herself to our house but before she had her license she would call and Paul would pick her up. Her sister Madeleine has come along a couple times but even at 15 she is more of a homebody and likes to have her mother close by.

We never do anything all that special. We usually eat at home, have gone to the movies a couple times, and one Saturday she came along with me to show a few houses but mostly she's just here. She's helpful, more than she is at home I venture to say, without being asked.

I remember spending time with my grandparents when I was a kid. I have great memories of the special time when my grandmother would fuss over me a little but mostly I was just there, too. I hope we are making memories like that for Katie. She'll be starting college this fall so I know these visits will be over soon.

Katie is the oldest of our five grandchildren. Five that Paul and I are Grandpa Duck and Grama Sandy to. Katie and Madeleine belong to my stepdaughter Pam and her husband Geoff. My stepson Paul and his wife Martha have three; Travis, 14, Julia, 12 and Alex, 8. They all live close by which is great. Travis has stayed once but no regular sleepovers. That seems like more of a girl thing anyway.

Paul and I have what I call a blended family, and I am so proud of us. I love to talk about how the family has evolved and grown and how well everyone gets along and enjoy each other's company.

When we got together his son was 20 and still living at home. Pam was 22 and had just finished college. The summer after college she spent working and living on Cape Cod. Within 6 months of starting our relationship Paul and I were under contract to buy our own home and were each selling our individual houses.

When we moved, Paul came with us. Within a couple months, Pam came to live with us, too, and stayed a few months until she got married. So I went from being single, living in my own house with my cat and dog to an instant family of four, and I had only met the kids a couple times before the move. I'm sure it was a big adjustment for them, too, although I don't ever remember any difficult moments.

In nearly 25 years we have gone on to become a family that includes great-grandparents, grandparents, and in-laws of all variations. Notice I don't attach 'step' to any of the grandparents, you can never have too many grandparents. I do say stepmother when it comes to Pam and Paul, Jr. because they have a mother, and you only get one of those, but we have special bonds and relationships.

They have always been wonderful about sharing their kids with my parents, and the grandkids have been a bright spot in my parents', especially my Mom's, lives. Pam and Paul's mother lives nearby, and she has always been very gracious about sharing her children with me and my parents as well. I have always given her the respect her role deserves, never tried to 'mother' her children and I think that is key.

Here is the crux of my thoughts about our family. You can do it if you want to. I love to talk about us and how well we all get along. There was that day when my husband came home and there at his kitchen table sat his daughter, wife, ex-wife and ex-mother-in-law. I remember he just made a funny noise, shook his head and kept walking. How many families could have such a moment?

When the kids both got married, everyone was involved. There was never any question of who sits where, keep that one away from that one, who doesn't speak to whom, etc. Holidays are fine, too. Christmas Eve is usually the immediate family at our house with the kids, grandkids and my mother. Pam and Geoff traditionally host Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day dinners which works well because she can have both of her parents there along with Geoff's parents, siblings and their families. It becomes one big very well blended and noisy group. We all genuinely enjoy each other's company.

When I hear people talk about how fractured their families have become after divorce I feel badly and love to tell our story as an inspiration of what you can do if you try. I know every family is different and every divorce is different. But the fact that children need their family, all of it, doesn't vary. When you share children you have a bond for life, like it or not; do it well or not. But if you don't find a way to get along, the kids will suffer and you may miss some wonderful moments.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

How Old is Dirt?

Have you ever said "older than dirt" when asked how old you are or feel? This society is so focused on age and staying young, I can't figure out if as I get older I feel that pressure more or less. Depends on the day and what I see in the mirror, I guess. I remember saying the only thing worse than being 40 was having a kid who was 40. My mother made a face at that.

Until the last few years I really could feel like a kid or at least like I did when I was in my 20's. That ship has sailed for good. The one good thing about getting older is that I care less about what others think of me. By that I don't mean I don't care what they think, I just feel less pressure to meet their expectations. That can be very liberating.

I have many friends who are exactly my age, actually born in the same year as me, which I find interesting since we didn't go to school together. We've become friends over the years through one association or another. I mentioned some in my post about the dinner club. We used to say we looked pretty good when we got dressed up to go out. Now we're more likely to say we look good for our age.

Despite making it sound like I was born in prehistoric time, I went to this Info Please site to find out just what was going on the year I was born. It was fun to read about what was happening that year, it was even more interesting to read about the years my parents and grandparents were born.

Go check it out. It gives information about what was going on in the world, politics, entertainment, sports, science and more. If you don't know the day of the week you were born on, I was a Thursday's Child, there is even a calendar of the year to find out. Go look and find out who died, got the Oscar, won the World's Series and more.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Adventures in South Africa--Pilanesberg National Park

Less than two hours drive from Johannesburg is Pilanesberg National Park. The Pilanesberg Game Reserve is extremely beautiful with rolling hills and an extinct volcano which is now an expansive lake. Throughout the park thick vegetation contrasts sparse brown grassy fields, where herds of zebra and various species of antelope can be seen and tall giraffes stalk along the horizon.

The abundance of game on the reserve is the result of Africa's biggest game relocation project from the 1970s. Critics use this to argue that the game park lacks in authenticity. The fact that this was a preserve made me happy because it's obvious the animals are protected. They are also in their natural habitat and wild. This is not a petting zoo!

Rhino, leopard, lion, buffalo and elephant make up what is called Africa's Big Five. The Pilanesberg Game Reserve is home to all of them. Pilanesberg is a prime location for viewing lions. These stately creatures can often be spotted padding along the reserve's roads.

Despite our best efforts and sharp eyes, the day Paul and I were there we were weren't lucky enough to see any lions. There were no cat sightings by any of the people we spoke to that day. We were told that many visitors to the park spot whole prides of lions on game drives. The elephant and giraffe populations are large too, and we were fortunate enough to see many, many of both.

We took an escorted ride through the park in an open lorry like the one in the picture above. Our guide rode up front and had a loaded high-power rifle on the dash of the truck. Before starting out we were given instructions about some of the more dangerous animals we might encounter. He told one story of a tourist who had been attacked by a lion. Whether it was true, who knows, but we paid close attention to his instructions.

Soon after we headed out, as an elephant came toward the truck, the guide told us to basically stay seated, be quiet and don't take any photos because he had the power to overturn the truck if he felt like it. Sure enough he walked right along side the truck with his eye level with us. It was obvious he was looking into the vehicle as he walked by. The photo below of the elephant walking away was the only one I got of him!

This car was ahead of us. You can see that the elephant has the right of way in this environment.

This was a "maternity herd" of elephants, just mothers and babies. We watched them for a long time as they fed on the vegetation. They don't just munch on the trees, they wrap their trunks around them and yank them out by the roots. We've all heard elephants on television and maybe even in the zoos, but to hear mothers call to their babies in the wild is something I'll never forget.

The giraffes were my favorites by far. We actually watched two bulls fighting. They look so graceful as they swing their heads around but then they use them as mallets on each other. We could hear the sounds of them striking each other.
Here they were on the move across the grassland. I love that the one all the way to the right was looking straight at us. My favorite shot of the zebra all in a line. In the back is the lake in what was a volcano.

You have to look closely but here is a mother hippo and her baby resting along side the water. They weren't cooperating that day, and we didn't get a better view than this.

Below is a wildebeest often referred to as a gnu. The folk lore in Africa about the wildebeest is that when God was done making all the animals, he had parts left over and made the wildebeest.

As we rode through these hills we hoped to see lions but no luck that day. Here is a herd of Tseebe, a variety of antelope.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day

For it was not into my ear you whispered,
but into my heart.
It was not my lips you kissed,
but my soul.

Friday, February 12, 2010


My husband sent this to me in an email last Tuesday with the comment "I know you're going to kill me, but......" I try to never disappoint him.

(Click on the photo to enlarge it)

He's being laid out Monday at Duffy's Funeral Home on Mendon Road from 4-8 p.m. Family and friends are invited to attend.

The Best Dog There Ever Was

Can you handle another Golden Retriever story? I promise, I'll cut back after this one.

As much as I love Rosey, she was not the first Golden Retriever in my life. Rosey really is more Paul's dog than ours anyway. It took nearly a year for me and Rose to bond. She has always seen me as competition, mostly for Paul's attention. She can be really funny. If she sees him hug me, she'll start to bark and jump up and down. Sometimes we do it just to piss her off.

The first Golden love of my life was Jessie. I still tear up when I think of her. Jessie came into my life in 1984 when she was just 7 weeks old. What happened was I sort of threw my ex-husband out one week and brought her home the next.

I don't know that I was really looking for a dog but when I saw an ad in the paper for Golden puppies for $125, I called my mother and asked "How would you like to buy me a dog?" Money was tight to say the least. A friend drove me to the house of what I realized later was a 'backyard breeder' (note: don't buy from such a breeder without doing your homework) and there were ten little Golden Retriever puppies lined up in a row. I picked one and home she came.

Let me say, I was not prepared to have a puppy. First of all, I was alone and I worked full-time so she was by herself entirely too much. There was Tigger the cat who at 2 years old watched her with a "What is THAT and when is IT leaving" stare. For a few weeks my mother came to my house at noontime to feed Jess and let her out.

It was a challenge but I loved her immediately. She was there during a very difficult time in my life. She was company, and it was wonderful not to come home to an empty house but to that unconditional love of a dog. I had my own home with a nice yard and a cousin put up a dog run for me. Jessie rode well in the car and went most everywhere with me. We were a great team.

A couple years later Paul came into our lives. Always a dog lover, he and Jessie got along great. He tried to make a hunter out of her but she turned out to be gun shy. He never did like Tigger, however, who lived another 14 years, but we were a package deal and he put up with her.

One day in 1990 Jessie came in from her morning walk, laid down and wouldn't get up. She laid there panting and panting. At first I thought maybe she had gotten bumped by a car although there weren't any marks. That night, there was no change. The next day we took her to the vet who put her under anesthesia and x-rayed her.

The x-rays of her hips showed what the vet said was the worst case of hip displasia she had ever seen. Even without any medical knowledge, we could see the calcification and the misalignment in her hip joints. The only solutions were to put her down or to do a hip replacement. She was only 6 years old.

We took her home to talk about it and do some research. Jessie still could barely walk, and I was carrying her outside daily. After three weeks, I finally made a contact with Angel Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston. After much discussion of the costs, etc, we made an appointment.

We carried Jessie in that Monday morning, she had the surgery on Wednesday and walked out with us on Friday! It was like a miracle. They had shaved almost a quarter of her torso right down to her foot, she had an incision that took 15 staples to close but she could walk and came out with her tail wagging when she saw us.

The doctor said the reason for her final collapse was that an osteophyte, or bone spur, had broken off and lodged in her hip joint. She must have been in tremendous pain. The surgery cost $2,000 but somehow I found the money and never regretted it. More than one person at that time thought I was crazy to spend that kind of money on a dog, but I never ever considered the other option. Her recovery was total, and she lived another seven years with her artificial hip.

In the fall of 1997 after a good long life of nearly 14 years she was failing and stopped eating. I would have done just about anything to keep her going but I had promised her that I would do the right thing when the time came. I counted on Jessie to let me know when it was time. That time had come.

Our vet who was there for us during the surgery came to the house and said she was in kidney failure. She sent Jessie to her final sleep on her bed in the kitchen as I sobbed with my hands buried in her fur. It was the hardest thing I had ever done but I always said I would be with her to the end. It was very peaceful, and although I couldn't look at her, Paul said the look in her eyes was grateful.

When it was over, Paul and I took her out and buried her on her bed in the orchard where there is still a marker with her name and dates.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Don't Know If My Clients Will Get the Fist Bump

I'm beginning to wonder if I've become a germaphobe. Maybe it's all this talk about hand sanitizers, antibacterial wipes, sanitizing sprays, etc., during this so-called flu epidemic, but I don't know.

I think I've been coming to this for a long time. I've had hand sanitizer in my bag forever but seldom used it, and I always have wipes in the console of my car because I am on the road a lot and sometimes eat on the run.

I have always had a problem with dirty hands. I'm not good with finger food. It's a wonder that I can even eat a sandwich. I always have to have two napkins; one in my lap and one for my hands and mouth.

When I started in real estate I had to learn to shake hands more easily. I got used to it and now it's usually second nature. Until recently. I don't reach first as often. Of course, if someone offers their hand, I readily shake it. And then discretely run to wash my hands as soon as possible.

But let me tell you what has been going on. I read before going to sleep every night as I lay in bed. The other night as I turned the page of the library book, there between the pages was a short, black hair! Holy crap. But before I could get up to get rid of it, it fell out! I had my robe over me on the bed which I carefully lifted up and shook out. That robe went right into the laundry basket. Ewwwww, I was so grossed out!

I think it's time for a Kindle. The problem is that I don't buy many books. But I'm starting to rethink library books. I definitely get up and wash before going to sleep after reading. Of course with the Kindle you have to buy the downloaded books which I'm not crazy about.

Back to my germaphobia. As I said I do carry hand sanitizer and have begun to use it regularly. Something else that freaks me out is restaurant menus. As soon as I pass the menu back to the waiter, I either go to the ladies room to wash or use the sanitizer. Who knows what's on those menus!?

Let's see, what else? My bed. No pets have ever slept in or even ON my bed. I've only had one cat and she used a litter box......major ewwwww. Don't even get me started about people who let cats on their counters and tables.

There's no getting between the sheets in anything that sat on a couch or chair either. Absolutely not. Paul humors me on that but he generally doesn't sit on the couch in what he wears to bed anyway. You figure it out.

However, he does have occasional lapses in judgement. A few weeks ago before we fell asleep he jumped up, went downstairs and into the garage. I have no idea what he was doing but when he came back into the bedroom, I asked..."Did you go into the garage barefoot?" He had, and he said so. I immediately said "you can't get back into bed with THOSE feet!" Rather than argue with me he went into the bathroom and washed them. Good man.

When he got back into bed, I mumbled...."Men, not much better than barnyard animals....."

Monday, February 8, 2010

Adventures in South Africa--Amanita Safaris

It's been a long time since I've posted about our travels. I always intended to show you more photos from our trip to South Africa. The photos in my blog banner are some of the many, many I took during the two weeks we were on safari. So over the next couple weeks, I'll share some with you and the stories behind them.

The professional hunter that Paul hired was Erik Terblanche of Amanita Safaris. Erik met us at the airport in Johannesburg after a nearly 16-hour flight from Boston. I started peppering Erik with questions before we got out of the airport garage. That continued throughout the two weeks there, and he patiently answered them all.

I admit I knew little or nothing about South Africa and my first question was about the language I was hearing. It was Afrikaans which is a mixture of Dutch, German and English. I studied German for many years and still remember a few key words. I recognized many during our visit but not enough to understand much. Erik and his wife, Tillie, speak Afrikaans, English, German and several African languages.

The ride from the airport to his ranch in the Bushveld of South Africa's Northern Province took another four hours. His ranch is near the Limpopo River which separates South Africa from Botswana.

Here are some of the photos from the ranch.

This is the lodge and private house of Erik, Tillie and their three children. Their house is on the right. Also in the foreground on the right is an in-ground pool. We were there in July which in the Southern Hemisphere is their winter. The sky was just as clear and beautiful as you see. We never had any rain, but the temperature at night often got down into the 20's and up into the 80's during the day. The sun was strong and warmed up nicely by mid-day.

Here's a balcony off the residence. Notice the house is brick but the roof is made of grass found in the veldt and called thatch and logs.

Here is the lodge where we ate and relaxed. Most days if the hunt was nearby, they went out early, came back for lunch and a rest and back out in the afternoon.

Here is home, sweet home for Paul and I for the two weeks. Called a rondavel, it was one of several on the grounds. Paul had a private hunt so we were the only people there. The rondavel had two bedrooms, a main room, kitchen (which we never used) and a bathroom. The houses there, including Erik and Tillie's, have no central heat or air conditioning.

The mornings were chilly in our little house and Eric brought me a small electric heater after my first bath in the cold. No showers! Just a handheld shower head in the tub. But everything was quite comfortable. Every morning we put our laundry in a tiny little basket. The two African women they employed came in after we left, took the laundry away and it was there in the afternoon washed, dried and folded! That was a beautiful thing.

This is the ceiling of our rondavel. See the little white patches? They were spider nests. We never saw any spiders but one of the last days Paul was apparently bitten and came home with fever and chills. When we got home he had what looked like a bite on his belly. It took several weeks of antibiotics before he was feeling back to normal. Other than that, we had absolutely no problems with our health.

Here is the inside of the lodge. It was very comfortable and very interesting.

The dining area of the lodge where we ate together with Erik and Tillie. We had three wonderful meals a day plus all the South African wine we wanted, and I wanted lots! The food was outstanding, and we got to try many new dishes. One night we sat around the braai, a traditional Afrikaans barbecue and were served Eland steaks while we looked at a star-filled sky including the Southern Cross.

There were several different birds in the trees outside our rondavel. These were my favorite.

I'm not sure what this was but it was growing all around the rondavels. Looks like bougainvillea to me. There were also lemon trees growing all around the compound that we ran out and plucked each night to have in our vodka and tonics.

Erik employed two trackers, one skinner and two women who cleaned, helped in the kitchen and, of course, did our laundry. This is Franz, the skinner. The men all spoke fairly good English, the women didn't at all.

This was some of the native transportation.

The resident Ostrich. She hung around outside of the fence that enclosed the compound. One day she raced Erik as he drove the lorry out of the camp. We clocked her at about 30 mph and she didn't even seem like she was trying.

Here I am with Erik and one of the trackers with the lorry they went out in to hunt every day. It must have been early; you can see the warm clothes we had on.

Erik owns 5,500 acres which is all fenced and has these roads cut all through it. He also has access to another 10,000 acres. Here are Paul and Erik coming back to the lorry after tracking something.

Stick around, next I'll show you some pictures from the veldt and what we saw.

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