March 29, 2006

Hannibal's Passing

Hannibal passed quietly March 28th at about 4:20 pm, with us by his side stroking the soft fur on his head. He appeared ready to go...he was tired and refused the last little bit of ice cream Megan tried to give him. He was relaxed, lying on his side and drifting in and out of sleep even before the vet administered a sedative, and when the end came it was very quick.

Megan and I spent the last weekend with him hanging around and telling stories. On Saturday we spent a nice afternoon at a nearby park, Hannibal lying on a blanket, sharing our meal occasionally and watching the other dogs play. Megan and I read poetry about dogs from a book called "Bark", passing the book back and forth and occasionally breaking down into tears at some poignant piece. On Sunday, we took him up to Sandia Peak and I carried him about 50 feet up the 10K trail and set him in the snow, so that he could once again feel the wind blowing down the mountain and feel the snow under his feet. We then went back to the park, and laid him down under a shade tree, and we stretched out beside him and we all promptly went to sleep. It must have been quite a sight -- two adult humans and their dog all stretched out together, slumbering away in the park. Megan remarked that Hannibal was still teaching us, this time teaching us about the importance of resting on our supposed days of rest.

Hannibal enjoyed lots of hamburgers, steak, ice cream and cheese during these final days. We joked that he was probably thinking, "What the f$%^? I've been telling you guys that I want more cheese, steak, hamburger and ice cream for my entire life and you wait until the last three f%*$ing days I'm alive?"

Our vet, Dr. Kathleen Blackshear, was extremely kind and very gentle in how she performed the procedure. She was also very supportive. She developed a bond with him too, and it wasn't easy on her to perform this duty, but in the end we all agreed it was best.

Hannibal's ashes will be returned to us, and we plan to have parts of him sprinkled in the places he loved in all the places he lived: Washington Park in Milwaukee (and perhaps Elkhorn, WI), Brackenridge Park in San Antonio, along Bayou St. John in New Orleans, and on Sandia Peak in Albuquerque. We will keep a very small portion of his remains with us.

Hannibal spent 4 years of his life in New Orleans, which as many of you know, has the right idea about death. Death is not something to be mourned, but to be celebrated because the deceased has finally been called home. "When I die," goes a New Orleans song, "you better second line." In other words, have a big procession with music, dancing, tears AND laughter. So we put on that song, maybe about a half hour after Hannibal passed and danced through our tears until we were laughing and making up lyrics about Hannibal (you better leave that ice-cream on the floor, in case he comes back through the door...when pup dies, you better second line), though we did this with the blinds closed so that our neighbors, who saw us carrying the dog out and wandered over to pay their respects, didn't think we had flipped out.

We can't thank you enough for the support you've expressed over e-mail and in person. Many of you remarked about how close we were to him. This was very true. Perhaps it is silly to feel this way over a pet, but he was more than a pet to us -- he was a valuable and honored member of our family. There is already an emptiness in our house left by his absence. So, your words of support and your understanding of his place in our lives meant very much to us...and we were gratified to know that at the time of Hannibal's journey home, so many of you were thinking of all of us.

This photo is Hannibal's last picture, taken in our back yard about a half hour before Dr. Blackshear arrived. We also want to leave you with two of the poems we read to each other that Saturday in the park which struck deep chords with us:

Tribute to the Memory of the Same Dog
William Wordsworth

Lie here, without a record of thy worth,
Beneath a covering of the common earth!
It is not from unwillingness to praise,
Or want of love, that here no Stone we raise;
More thou deserv'st; but this man gives to man
Brother to brother, this is all we can.
Yet they to whom thy virtues made thee dear
Shall find thee through all changes of the year:
This Oak points out thy grave; the silent tree
Will gladly stand a monument of thee.
We grieved for thee, and wished thy end were past;
And willingly have laid thee here at last:
For thou hadst lived, till every thing that cheers
In thee had yielded to the weight of years;
Extreme old age had wasted thee away,
And left thee but a glimmering of the day;
Thy ears were deaf, and feeble were thy knees, --
I saw thee stagger in the summer breeze,
Too weak to stand against its sportive breath,
And ready for the gentlest stroke of death.
It came, and we were glad; yet tears were shed;
Both man and woman wept when thou wert dead;
Not only for a thousand thoughts that were,
Old household thoughts, in which thou hadst thy share;
But for some precious boons vouchsafed to thee,
Found scarcely anywhere in like degree!
For love, that comes wherever life and sense
Are given by God, in thee was most intense;
A chain of heart, a feeling of the mind,
A tender sympathy, which did thee bind
Not only to us Men, but to thy Kind:
Yea, for thy fellow-brutes in thee we saw
A soul of love, love's intellectual law: --
Hence, if we wept, it was not done in shame;
Our tears from passion and from reason came,
And, therefore, shalt thou be an honoured name!

The House-Dog's Grave
by Robinson Jeffers

I've changed my ways a little: I cannot now
run with you in the evenings along the shore,
Except in a kind of dream: and you, if you dream a moment,
You see me there.

So leave awhile the paw-marks on the front door
Where I used to scratch to go out or in,
And you'd soon open; leave on the kitchen floor
The marks of my drinking pan.

I cannot lie by your fire as I used to do
On the warm stone,
Nor at the foot of your bed: no, all the nights through
I lie alone.

But your kind thought has laid me less than six feet
Outside your window where firelight so often plays,
and where you sit to read -- and I fear often grieving for me --
Every night your lamplight lies on my place.

You, man and woman, live so long it is hard
To think of you ever dying.
A little dog would get tired living so long.
I hope that when you are lying

Under the ground like me your lives will appear
As good and joyful as mine.
No, dears, that's too much hope: you are not so well cared for
As I have been,

And never have known the passionate undivided
Fidelities that I knew.
Your minds are perhaps too active, too many-sided....
But to me you were true.

You were never masters, but friends. I was your friend.
I loved you well, and was loved. Deep love endures
To the end and far past the end. If this is my end,
I am not lonely. I am not afraid. I am still yours.

Hannibal's last picture, taken ½ hour before vet arrived.
Yes, I am crying...
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March 25, 2006

The Hardest Decision

Yesterday, Megan and I made the hardest decision we have ever had to make.

We knew it was coming, but we didn't want to admit it. But it finally faced us, demanding an answer, and through our tears we knew what the answer had to be. We will send our friend and companion, who traced the arc of our lives together almost from the beginning of our relationship, through the last door of life into a place where we cannot follow him.

Hannibal has been deteriorating. We've known this a while. But because he was still interested in begging our cheese and toast and ice cream, we overlooked that he was having more trouble walking and standing. Actually, we didn't overlook it, but we simply made adjustments for it, occasionally remarking on it. Over the past year, he got sick a lot, and we accommodated that too. We did what was necessary, dropping lots of money, because that's what you do when someone in your family gets sick. You care for them, and spare no expense.

Some may say that we went overboard. Our vet seemed impressed that we were willing to take care of him past the point where some other dog owners would. Not to make ourselves sound saintly, because perhaps when we own a pet the next time we will make different decisions. But we love this dog and treasured every additional minute that he spent with us.

On Tuesday, all that will come to an end. We will be left with his memory, and our lives will have to adjust once more...this time to his absence. We have traveled a lot of roads on our journey to this moment, which have ranged the gamut of emotions from joy and happiness to most recently sorrow and grief. But one emotion has remained constant - our thankfulness for Hannibal's contribution to our lives. I told Megan the other day that I felt he made me a better person, and I mean that. And I know that half of the great people that we've met and made friends with in the past 15 years would not have entered our life had Hannibal not been present. With his pure white coat, so distinctive among dogs, to his friendly and outgoing demeanor, his patience with people, and his love of life, he was a magnet and made friends in the most unlikely places. Our lives have been enriched not only by Hannibal's presence, but also the ways in which he has led to other, important presences in our lives.

Hannibal, we will miss you terribly. You will leave a big hole in our life. Eventually, we'll find ways to fill the hole, but like dirt settles into a hole, those new things will settle and pack in, leaving a lasting imprint that will constantly remind us of you. Posted by Picasa

March 07, 2006

Random Picture of the Week Pt. III

February 27 - March 5th

It's impossible to remember all the names in this photo, taken probably in the early 1990s. The folks in the picture are mostly ex-Jesuit Volunteer Corps people who we hung out with, some more than others, when we lived in Milwaukee. Lower row is Felicia, her now husband Harold, Joe and unknown. The only persons in the top row whose names I remember are top left: Trish and Tori.

March 6 - 12th

These two handsome guys are Matt Simonette and Jim Chilsen. Both were Megan's colleagues at Marquette's Journalism School. Matt went on to New York University and received a Masters in Film. He currently works for a publication in Chicago. Jim lives in Evanston, Illinois, is married with two children, and works for the Citizens Utility Board in Chicago -- an advocacy organization. This picture was taken in 1995.

Do you want to see the Random Pictures from last year? Go to my Flickr page to see the archive from July - December of last year. Posted by Picasa

Random Picture of the Week Pt. II

Here is the second set of random pictures, catching us up to the present.

January 30 - February 5th

A picture of our grapevines in our backyard in Albuquerque during our early spring snow in April 2005. The snow made the grapes scarce that summer, along with the apricots that usually grace the neighbor's tree. Even our pomegranate bush failed to produce this past fall, even though it bore tons of fruit the year before. We're not sure what will happen this year...we have had very little precipitation this winter.

February 6 - 12th

The courtyard of the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida. The museum was established by the same Ringling of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. The museum contains many pieces of art collected by its founder and patron, as well as putting on special exhibitions and playing host to traveling exhibits.

February 13 - 19th

Here is Mike, standing in front of Big Balls of Cowtown. This picture was snapped by Megan in Fort Worth, we believe, when we visited there in the late 1990s. While both of us were never attracted to Dallas as a city to visit or live, Fort Worth seemed like an interesting place. Unfortunately, the downtown looked like a tornado went through it, because a tornado really did go through it, blasting windows from some of the high rise buildings there.

February 20 - 26th

The Davis-Hartmann wedding party. Kristen, the bride, was a volunteer in the program Mike ran in Milwaukee. Stefan was a member of the Pallottine order. They had a civil ceremony in Germany, where they live on a collective farm, and a religious ceremony in Geneva, NY where Megan and I delivered the homily for their wedding. Posted by Picasa

Random Picture of the Week Pt. I

Another part of my other site, which nobody sees, is the "Random Picture of the Week." Basically, I share a picture, chosen randomly, from the collection on my computer that is digitized. These pictures may look more, or less, professional (after all, we aren't professional photographers). The subjects may be anything, anybody, any time period. I do not influence the selection, even if I don't particularly like the picture. I accompany each with a short explanation.
Each week, I'll post a different random picture, along with the random link, for your enjoyment, or boredom. This is the first of the series to catch us up to present.

January 2 - 8th

In fall of 2004, we received a visit from Michael Kamerick (Megan's brother) and his wife April Orcutt. We took them on a hike on the 10K trail on Sandia Mountain just outside Albuquerque. In Del Agua Canyon, the aspens were starting to show their fall colors, and April snapped this photo from the overlook at the top of the peak.

January 9 - 15th

This picture is from a "medieval" style wedding in Germany, and includes the bride and groom in front with various guests. Notice Mike and Megan in the back on the left. Unfortunately Norman and Sigi are not together any more, but their wedding was quite a good time!

January 16 - 22nd

What can we say about the Golden Gate. Still one of the, if not THE, most picturesque bridge in the world. This picture was taken by Megan while she was in California for her brother Michael's wedding to April Orcutt in 1991.

January 23 - 29th

This fine specimen of manhood is Mike walking along a beach in Texas. Though the beach is most likely on Galveston Island, it could also be at Port Aransas. Megan, after spending much time at her parents' in Florida, was underwhelmed by the brown sand. Mike likes the ocean but is used to the small cove beaches and the dramatic cliffs of the Northern California coast. Both of us were disturbed that Texans simply drive their huge trucks and SUVs right onto the beach, which to us mars the scenery and the beauty that is a beach. But to each his/her own. Posted by Picasa

March 06, 2006

Random Link of the Week

As you may or may not know, I maintain a website for Megan and me at However, nobody really goes there regularly, so the stuff I post, minus the "Thoughts" which are my blogs on this site as well, never gets explored.

With that in mind, I think an interesting thing is the Random Link of the week. I have done a number of these over the last few months, some of which you may find interesting. I will continue posting a random link that I find here weekly. Here are the previous links and a short description:

August 22 - 28th: BookCrossing
Have you ever wondered how to get rid of some of the older books on your shelves. Don't have time to take them to the used book store for the pitiful amount you'll get? Release them into the wild! BookCrossing shows you how to set your books free so that others may find them, read them, and set them free again. Track the books you release online! Remember, if you love something, set it free!

October 24 - 30th: Mr. Picassohead
Fun little diversion. Just move the Picassoesque elements around to create your own Picassoesque face! Upload to the gallery. View other people's creations. Ought to waste at least 5 minutes of your time.

October 31 - November 6th: Propaganda Critic
Has six, count 'em, six old propaganda films that you can view. Remember the old school duck and cover film? How about where the revolutionary war hero time travels to save a college campus from those evil radical anti-war organizers? Check 'em out!

November 7 - 13th: The Death Clock
A nice little morbid one for just after Halloween! Have you ever wondered when you might die? Simply input some information into the Death Clock and it will give you the predicted date you can expect to meet your maker.

November 14 - 20th: The White House
Don't be fooled. This is not the official White House site. This is -- a site that skewers and lampoons the current administration. I think it's wickedly funny and sometimes blurs the lines of good taste. The old time posters are really funny.

November 21 - 28th: Smoke Kills
A cute little Shockwave film from Russia on how smoking cigarettes kills. If you are still sensitive about 9/11, be warned that there are images reminiscent of that day in this.

November 28 - December 4th: Microsuck
This site is devoted to the shortcomings of Microsoft. Megan fully agrees, as she's been working Macs for a long time, but we have a MS platform computer at home.

December 5 - 11th: PressDisplay
Displays a number of papers from around the world in graphics that make it look like you are really reading a newspaper. Registration appears to be completely free!

December 12 - 18th: Django Reinhardt
A site devoted to the life and work of the god of guitar jazz, Django Reinhardt! Django was loosely portrayed by Sean Penn in the movie Sweet and Lowdown, and the child of Nana Visitor (Major Kira on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) and Siddig El-Fadil (Dr. Bashir on the same show) is named Django! We're not nerds, we read about it in the paper.

December 19 - 25th: The Forbidden Library
This site keeps tabs on books that have been banned in various localities and states. Nice to see what is considered "dangerous" in our day and age so that you can be sure to run out and read it all!

December 26 - January 1st: Elevator Moods
A cool bit of interactive web. A series of short films set in an elevator!

January 2 - 8th: Monterey Jazz Festival
Probably the best known jazz festival on the planet.

January 9 - 15th: All About Jazz
Nice website with reviews of jazz CDs and previews of new releases.

January 16 - 22nd: Springfield is for Gay Lovers of Marriage
Somehow, even though it has the Fox logo on it, I don't think the Fox network would approve of this "Simpsons" site. Don't worry, it has no overtly sexual content except for the theme.

January 23 - 29th: CounterCurrents
This site from India proclaims "We bring out what the mainstream media fails to tell you, or hides from you. These are the things that really matter. The things which may determine the fate of planet earth! The future of our children! In a word, the survival of the species!" It has some good, provocative articles.

January 30 - February 5th: Declaration of Revocation & The Story Behind It
Allegedly written by John Cleese, this piece of e-mail gives the reasons why Britain is revoking America's independence. There is really a fascinating history behind this piece of spam which has entered inboxes worldwide -- and none of the history actually involves John Cleese!

February 6 - 12th: I Park Like an Idiot
I bet you've always wanted to slap these stickers on someone's car. You know, someone who has made it impossible for you to extricate yourself from a parking spot without a can opener!

February 13 - 19th: Interesting Internet Timeline-Clock
This doesn't do much but present time in a different way.

February 20 - 26th: Interesting Motherf#$%^&s
Despite the name of the page, this website highlights people "whose eccentricity forced them to stray from the path of normal humans and follow their own twisted visions. They are the freaks, the geeks and the cult icons of pop entertainment."

February 27 - March 5th: Senior Dog Project
As the owners of a senior dog, we realize how rewarding and difficult caring for such dogs can be. However, senior dogs, if picked up and put in shelters, will often not get a home. So help make some dog's golden years special.

March 6 - 12th: Meet Tyson, the Skateboarding Bulldog
A skateboarding bulldog? There's wierder things on the Net. I just wish we would have gotten Hannibal into some of this stuff when he was young enough to make us money!

March 02, 2006

Lent is here, but oh what a Mardi Gras

When we made the decision, in spring of 2000, to move to New Orleans so that I could begin my doctoral studies, I thought that we'd be overrun with visitors. Who wouldn't want to come to New Orleans? I had friends from college visit me in Milwaukee. We had friends come down from Milwaukee to Texas when we lived there. So it only seemed that since we were moving to one of the most, if not THE most, interesting and different city in America, we would have plenty of visitors. I especially expected hordes of friends, like Visigoths tasting the delights of Rome for the first time, to pour out of the hinterlands of America and beat down our doors during Mardi Gras.

It never happened.

Sure, we had friends visit us. But fewer than I expected. And none, absolutely none, during Mardi Gras. My mom and sister visited us during the other New Orleans event, Jazzfest, once. And that was it.

I was puzzled. Why didn't people want to come see us in New Orleans, during one of the most different celebrations in America?

I got hints here and there. Slowly it became clear to me. Mardi Gras in New Orleans was associated with big crowds of young people participating in licentious behavior. My friends, in their mid-30s, didn't see anything in it for them. Their exposure to Mardi Gras consisted of brief television pictures of college-aged kids cavorting half naked on Bourbon Street, flashing various body parts at each other for cheap sets of beads. I even heard of a teacher in a northern state getting upset at a young girl who went to visit her relatives in New Orleans during Mardi Gras and who brought back beads to give to her classmates. This teacher snatched the beads away, according to the story, and made a reference to the disgusting things that are done to get beads.

My exposure to Mardi Gras was different. I first had to learn that Mardi Gras was just one day out of a Carnival season. Technically beginning on January 6th, Carnival continues until Ash Wednesday, serving as a time when one gets all their sensual pleasures out of the way before beginning the Lenten atonement before Easter. I had known about Carnival the way it was celebrated in Europe, having been in Germany during the Carnival season, but I hadn't equated New Orleans Carnival celebrations with Europe's. But, like Europe's Carnival, New Orleans Carnival season consists of balls and parades, especially in the last two weeks before Ash Wednesday.

I also learned that the questionable behavior of Bourbon Street was something that locals STAY AWAY FROM. In fact, if you're a local, you're kind of embarassed to be on Bourbon Street. Filled with everything that appeals to tourists shedding their normal lives for a brief time, such as T-shirt shops, strip clubs, bars that serve "Huge-Ass Beers" or "Hand Grenades," Bourbon is often jammed with visitors, not people who live in the city. And during Carnival, this is doubly true.

What I discovered was that the true Carnival, away from Bourbon Street, consists of many different traditions and cultures, all of which provide reasons for and strengthen family bonding, and bind average New Orleanians to their city. Over the four years I lived there, I took in parades uptown with local families, their children excitedly waving from step ladders along the sidewalks and neutral grounds, watching contendedly the beautifully ornate floats gliding by, catching beads without having to give up anything in return (and sometimes the beads were quite creative and beautiful). I attended balls, including some with some licentiousness, but all in good fun (like the MOMS ball, where you show up in a costume fitting the theme and hope that it is judged adequate, or you show up naked, to get in). I listened to the music, and became amazed at the breadth and life of the city's musical scene. Like Christmas, which has a canon of traditional and modern carols, hymns and songs, Mardi Gras has inspired a whole canon of its own music, which is played almost non-stop in the week leading up to Mardi Gras.

So it was with only slight hesitations that we made plans to go to this, the first Mardi Gras after Katrina. Many in the rest of the country may have wondered why New Orleans would throw a party so soon after so many died and so many others lost everything. Why would a city, bankrupted by nature and the folly and neglect of governments from the federal on down to the local, spend money it didn't have to provide this bacchanalian orgy? To us, it was perfectly clear. Without Carnival, without Mardi Gras, the city would lose its soul, not to mention an economic shot in the arm from tourists. And so we went.

And it was a PERFECT Mardi Gras. The parades, smaller than in years past because most of the high school bands that participated were absent because the children still have not returned to the city and their high schools, still had us enthralled, hoping to catch the eye of a woman or man on a float and get a good set of beads. Fat Tuesday itself was warm and sunny, and the Zulu parade, the biggest predominantly black parade, actually had real Zulus from South Africa marching with them! The French Quarter, away from Bourbon Street, was filled with locals in costume (as we were) walking around and mingling, dancing to real and imagined music filling the air. The Jesus freaks who come down to harangue Mardi Gras revelers and denounce New Orleans as both Sodom and Gomorrah combined held their tongues and demonstrated quietly in Jackson Square. Just off the French Quarter, on Frenchmen Street, a crowd of costumed locals danced to latin salsa outside Cafe Brazil.

The city is not back to itself. One need only go to the destruction of the Ninth Ward, where right next to the levee breach the blocks for at least a half mile around look as if a nuclear bomb were dropped, to know that New Orleans will never be the same. One need only go to the eerie quiet streets and houses of Lakeview, by the other levee breach, to know that the city is not the same. In fact, these areas feel like graveyards, and probably should be treated as such (unlike the idiots who we saw open a strong box sitting by the side of a Ninth ward street and take out watches that were in it). But, the culture is alive. Mardi Gras Indian tribes, those groups of black families who mask and costume in amazing plumage and beads and meet in the streets to boast and parade, were still roaming the avenues and byways of New Orleans, even in the Ninth ward, on Mardi Gras. These people were forced from their homes, and in many cases still have not returned permanently, nor do they know if they ever will, but they came back to continue the tradition. Brass bands, those unique New Orleans amalgamations of marching band and hip hop performers, many trying to make it in other various venues around the country, came back to perform in nightclubs and march in the parades.

But for me, the true spirit of Mardi Gras came at the end of a long day. Megan and I, and our friend Elizabeth, on the way to our costumed wanderings in the French Quarter, stopped to get some red beans and rice in the Treme, the neighborhood just to the west of the French Quarter. As we rounded the corner, our red beans and rice in hand, we happened upon another little kitchen set up at a private home. They were serving ribs and chicken and corn on the cob, and Elizabeth was tempted. She ate some and loved it. On the way back, some five hours later, tired from walking and maybe a little tipsy from alcohol, we stopped again on the way back to our car. The owner, a man who neighbors called Peanut, and his wife Sharon served us up a plate of ribs, dirty rice, crab-boiled chicken, and some cold wine for $7.00 apiece. They were happy we came back, and Peanut explained that every day they cooked these plates for crews that were helping rebuild New Orleans. He told us that if there was food left, he took it around to neighborhoods and gave it away. He said that God was good to them, and they wanted to share his goodness with others. With a hug and a God-bless you, he sent us on our way, full and contented.

I would ask you, please remember New Orleans, and most of all, remember the Mardi Gras spirit and culture it possesses. It may seem foreign to you, and you may want to judge it. But if you spend some time there, you'll be surprised at just how deep and important it is to the city and its people, and how unique it is to America. If New Orleans is to ever come back, it needs Mardi Gras.