Young Love

Young Love

Next week on the 16th of June, Cath and I will celebrate our 43d wedding anniversary. In an interesting twist, the 15th of June is the 49th anniversary of our first date in 1972. Cathy was all of 16 years old, and I was the older man at 17. To tell the whole story though, you need to go a couple months before then, when I turned her down for a Sadie Hawkins dance at our high school.

Every year in the spring, Ottawa Township High School (OTHS) held a Spring Formal which was also a Sadie Hawkins Dance. That is, the girl asks the boy to the event. (Do they still have those? Maybe it doesn’t matter anymore. For that matter, does anyone remember Li’l Abner or Dogpatch, where Sadie Hawkins Day* originated? ). In 1972, I was a junior and Cathy Snow was a sophomore. We knew each other a bit from Student Council. Well, one evening in March, I received a call at home. The young Miss Snow was on the line, and after a bit of small talk, asked me if I would go to the Spring Formal with her. Alas, I had to turn her down, as two days before, I’d been asked by a girl in my class named Gail. The call ended pretty quickly after that.

Cathy Snow at 16…

Fast forward two months. My friend Howard and I were at Pitsticks, a local swimming place with a beach, and ran into Cathy and our mutual friend, Lori Lyle. We made small talk back and forth and at some point Cathy asked if I wanted to swim out to the diving platform and off we went. Of course I had to exhibit my prowess as a swimmer and did a one and a half off the high dive. (I wasn’t going to waste the opportunity to try and impress a prospective date.) Cathy played her part and said to me “Great Dive! You looked like a knife going through soft butter when you entered the water!” My strategy appeared to be working… ;-). In later conversations, she mentioned she and Lori might be out and about riding their bikes that night. I answered back that I’d thought about going for a bike ride that night as well, and maybe I’d run into them. With that, we said our goodbyes and went back to our respective spots on the beach.

That evening after dinner, I grabbed my bike and started riding around the south side of town looking for Cathy and Lori, but didn’t see them anywhere. Eventually I stopped at a store and went inside to buy a pop. While inside, Cathy and Lori rode by, saw my bike outside the store, stopped and came inside.

Everyone seemed pretty happy to connect. We talked a bit and then went back outside and the three of us rode around town together. Eventually, we ended up back at Cathy’s house at 305 Houston Street and had some ice tea on the back porch.

305 Houston Street. The back porch is on the left side of the house.

Unbeknownst to me, Cath and Lori weren’t sure which of the two of them I might be interested in. Cath had asked me to the dance, however, Lori and I had known each other from church for quite a while. They had a plan. After a bit of time, Lori would say she had to head home. They figured if I said I had to leave as well and rode off with Lori, I was interested in her. If I stayed there when she left, I was interested in Cathy.

Dusk arrived and Lori said she was going to ride home. I wished her a good night and stayed at Cathy’s… 😉

As it grew dark, we talked, and then talked some more. Finally, around 1030PM or so, I said I ought to go home. We walked to the steps leading off the porch, and while I was trying to work up the courage to kiss her goodnight, proceeded to talk another half hour or so. Suddenly, about 11PM, her mom, Faye, appeared at the inside door to the porch in a black nightgown and said “Ina Catherine, I think it’s time to come to bed.” Family history reports I was on my bike and riding away before she finished the sentence (in retrospect, we should have found a more private place to say our goodbyes. Her parent’s bedroom was directly above the porch.)

Two nights later, on June 15th, we had our first official date. I picked Cath up with my folk’s car and we went to the Perky Putt golf course (miniature golf) on the north side of town. While I have no clear recollection of the results, Cathy remembers soundly beating me. Afterwards, we went to a small drive-in restaurant on the Illinois River called the Sanicula Marina. We both ordered Black Cows and proceeded to walk along the river. I did kiss her goodnight that evening, but it was on the front porch, not the side porch under her parent’s windows…

Miniature Golf at Perky Putt and Black Cows at Sanicula Marina – it doesn’t get much more romantic… 😉

As they say, the rest is history. We dated all summer, and then into the school year. And the next spring when she asked me to the Sadie Hawkins dance again? I quickly said yes that time around.

Spring Formal (The Sadie Hawkins Dance) in 1973 – I said yes, the second time around.

We have almost five decades together as a couple now, and it’s definitely true – Time flies when you’re having fun.


  • * From Wikipedia – “Sadie Hawkins Day is an American folk event and pseudo-holiday originated by Al Capp’s classic hillbilly comic strip Li’l Abner (1934–1978). This inspired real-world Sadie Hawkins events, the premise of which is that women ask men for a date or dancing. “Sadie Hawkins Day” was introduced in the comic strip on November 15, 1937.”
  • Thanks to my lovely wife, Cathy for her contributions to this blog. In particular, her memories of the day at Pitsticks are more specific than mine, including the comment that my dive “looked like a knife cutting through soft butter”.
  • Thanks to Debi Hillyer for the photo of Sanicula and Curtis Wasilewski for the picture of the Perky Putt score card. A special thanks to Mike Peabody for the photo of Cathy’s old home at 305 Houston Street. In a strange twist of fate, Cathy babysat Mike and his sister Michelle when they were young children living across the street. Mike moved out of Illinois for years and only recently returned to Ottawa. When the home became available, he and his wife bought it.

Africa in our Blood

Africa in our Blood

Three years ago, Cathy and I went to Africa. It was literally the trip of a lifetime. We thought it would be our one and only visit there and we’d never return. We were wrong. We’re going back this fall to experience the magic one more time. Our friend Marty says some people get Africa in their blood and can’t get it out. I think we are two of those people.

On our last trip, we spent nearly five weeks in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana. This trip will be shorter, but with more time spent in safari camps, again in Zim and Botswana. The animals are drawing us back – the elephants, big cats, zebras, hippos, giraffes, wildebeests, cape buffaloes, impalas and so many others.

The Animals are Drawing us Back to Africa

Even now, I recall countless scenes and see them in my dreams the two young lion brothers asleep in the shade of a tree four giraffes standing with their legs askew as they drank at a watering hole a young jackal fending off a pack of wild dogs at the site of a kill the chase we gave in our four wheel drive vehicle to arrive at the sighting of a cheetah and her two young daughters elephants throwing dirt on each other after emerging from a watering hole watching a pride of female lions waken and start to stir in the late afternoon massive herds of elephants a small herd of sable, emerging from a tree line and taking twenty minutes to approach a watering hole with caution hippos in a lake with only their ears and noses above the water line … zebras racing across the plain the progression of different animals to a watering hole, each species seemingly taking it’s turn in arriving a single giraffe in the distance during a gorgeous sunset the astonishing sunsets, every single evening

Magical Times in Africa – The Ever Changing Beauty of the Scenery and the Animals

Ah, the sunsets. I look forward to watching the setting sun, while drinking sundowners once more. I know the term “ sundowners” is not unique to Africa, but I think I needed to go to Africa to really understand what it meant. Picture your vehicle stopping near a watering hole. The guide makes drinks for all and passes them around. You watch the elephants, or zebras, or giraffes, or whatever animals making their way to the water. The sun slowly disappears over the horizon in the distance, turning everything shades of orange and gold you didn’t even know existed. It’s an African memory I want to bring back to life.

I want to experience the magic of Africa again. I need to see it as more than just a painting in my mind’s eye. Yes, I have Africa in my blood, and I already know this upcoming visit won’t be our last.

I Still see the Elephants in my Dreams


If you want to learn a bit about our time in the safari camps on our last trip to Africa, you can read more here:

⁃ First Safari Camp, at The Hide (Fourth blog about the trip)

⁃ He was Young and Made a Mistake (Sixth blog about the trip)

⁃ Rra Dinare Safari Camp (seventh blog about the trip)


** We are again using Karen Dewhurst, of Sikeleli African Safaris, as our travel consultant. For our last trip, She did all of the work to coordinate our trips to: The Hide Safari Camp and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, and Sable Alley and Rra Dinare Safari Camps in Botswana. All accommodations were amazing, the food and wine excellent, and the animal viewing exceeded all expectations. When we decide to return again, there was no question – we would go back to Karen to help coordinate this trip. If you are coming to this part of the world, I highly recommend her and them. You can reach Karen, and Sikeleli African Safaris at: | (+27) 81 067 1094 (South Africa)

Sikeleli Africa Safaris Ltd.
(+1) 604 281 3274 / Toll Free: 1-844-972-3274(North America)


As a side note, Jane Goodall wrote a book titled “Africa in my Blood”. It tells her story and how she went from living in England as a young girl, to becoming one of the most renowned scientists of our time.

Visiting Home

Visiting Home

It had been a long time. Too long, to be honest. Life, “stuff” and Covid all managed to intervene. Finally, after a couple of years away, we were making a trip back to Illinois to see family and friends. The feelings of anticipation were palpable.

We started with visits to old friends – dinner out one night, ribs on the grill another; laughter and tears; telling old stories and making new memories. From there, it was lunch, beer and tenderloin sandwiches with another old buddy. Finally, it was on to family time and staying with each of my sisters, Tanya and Roberta. Again, more laughter, tears, dinners out, favorite foods* and stories from our youth.

Old Friends…

Everything led up to the last day, and a family picnic at my sister Roberta’s home. Counting my Uncle Don, mom’s last surviving brother, we were four generations strong – Uncle Don and his friend Diane; Roberta, Tanya and I and our husbands and wives; our nieces and nephews and their spouses; and of course their children. The oldest person was 80, the youngest about 14 months old. There were perhaps 30 or 35 of us.

As folks arrived, we greeted each other with smiles and hugs. We hadn’t seen some of our nieces and nephews in four years. There were also great nieces and nephews we’d never before met. There was much laughter and love with each new greeting.

It was a great day – we were talking with everyone, telling stories and catching up… There was a huge potluck lunch, and I ate way too much. Our niece Diane is the curator of mom’s potato salad recipe, so I had to have two helpings of that. After lunch, we followed the kids to the creek and had water balloon fights. Then, it was on to the raft at the pond, where swimming, sliding down a slide, jumping in and diving off the raft all ensued. I managed a backflip off the dock, and to laughter from the grand nieces and nephews, only slightly smacked my face on the water. It was a fun and wet afternoon… 😉

Clockwise from upper left: Uncle Don, Laying out the picnic, At the Creek, In the Pond, and Cathy about to be hit with a water balloon…

We all know all good things come to an end, and people eventually loaded their cars back up with kids, coolers and leftovers. Another set of hugs and kisses, and promises to try and see each other more often. Eventually, the only ones left were Berta and her husband Jack, along with Cathy and I. We finished cleaning up and bringing things into the house. We were, perhaps, a bit quieter than we’d been just an hour or two before. Jack had to go to work early in the morning, so we said our goodbyes to him that night.

The next morning, after coffee, Cath and I hugged Roberta goodbye and departed. I’m not one for long goodbyes, so we left a bit earlier than planned. After a quick stop to briefly visit our parent’s graves, it was on to O’Hare Airport and home.

One of the prices Cath and I paid by joining the Army and moving away all those years ago, is we have missed so much of our friends’ and families’ lives back home. That is a part of what makes these trips precious. We didn’t really get to see our nieces and nephew grow up, except for scattered visits, and history is of course repeating with the grand nieces and nephews. This is true for Cathy’s side of the family as well. We love our lives and have no regrets about the choices we’ve made over the past 40 plus years, and yet…

As I’ve become older, I often have a certain sense of bitter-sweetness about these get togethers with friends and family. The time goes by so quickly, the highs of the greetings and the lows of the departures blend together in a strange set of feelings that don’t easily mesh. There are shades of love, along with the happiness and sadness that accompany love. The passage of time in our lives continues to speed up.

I know (and pray) we will have many more wonderful times together in the years ahead. For me, along with the joy, there will also always be a bit of wistfulness.

Good times … Tanya, me, and Roberta…


* Favorite foods are always an interesting topic. A couple of the things that remind me of home are Tenderloin sandwiches and Sam’s Pizza. You can’t find the sandwiches outside of Iowa, Indiana or Illinois and they are killer good. And Sam’s? Well, it’s Sam’s. GREAT pizzas there…. both make me (and many others) nostalgic for our home town of Ottawa.

Comfort food for sure….

– Thanks to my niece Diane Schott, along with sisters Roberta Gourley and Tanya McCambridge for supplying several of the photographs included here!

Cathy and Elvis

Cathy and Elvis

Forty-four years ago in 1977, my wife, Cathy, was living in DC. On May 22d, Elvis played the Cap Center. Cath checked off a bucket list item and was one of the fans there for the sellout concert. Three months later, on August 16th, Elvis would die at Graceland.

Cath is a lifelong Elvis fan. She has had 45s, LPs, Cassette tapes, CDs and now digital versions of his music. As a child, she remembers her parents taking her to the drive-in theatre to see some of his movies.

When the opportunity presented itself to see him in concert in ‘77, the idea became a “must do” for her. This was Elvis! The Elvis! Not an impersonator, not a tribute band, but the man himself. The guy who sold over 500 million records, and performed in 33 movies. Sure, he was a bit older, but the man was a living icon.

I have to admit, it took me many years to gain an appreciation for Elvis equal to what Cathy already had in 1977. If my memory is correct, I gave her grief about going to the concert. First, that she was going to see Elvis, and second, she was going to see “Fat Elvis” (my words). It wasn’t one of my finer moments. I also feel a bit foolish, looking in retrospect, at the missed opportunity to see him. Having said that, I recently learned I wasn’t really invited to the concert. Since I wasn’t a true believer, and something of a skeptic, in Cathy’s eyes, I wasn’t worthy of going to the performance with her.

Cath was able to buy tickets and she and her friend Ann made it to the concert. It was at the Cap Center, then in Largo Maryland. It was only the third time he’d played in DC (previously, in ‘56 and ‘74). There were over 20,000 fans were in attendance. The sitting capacity at the arena was 19,035, so it was a sell-out with standing room only. He played for about an hour, and his fans, including Cathy, loved it.

Although her recollections of the concert are now a bit fuzzy, a few things still stand out. Their tickets were OK – not nosebleed seats, but also not on the floor. She thought his voice was great. While she maintains that she and her friend Ann weren’t screaming, she definitely recalls that many were. The women in the pit in front of the stage were particularly loud. Periodically, Elvis would take off a scarf he was wearing, wipe his brow and neck with it, and hand it to an adoring fan (Cath admits to being a bit grossed out by that part). She remembers him playing Hound Dog, but none of the other songs from the set list.

Her best memory of the concert? Elvis’s smile. She loved the crooked, lopsided way he grinned. It felt like “it was directed just at her”. Combined with his eyes, it was just too much.

A Bootleg CD of the Concert. The Set List Included Some of his Classics, as Well as a Few Alternate Choices

While many of the reviews for the shows on his final concert tour were less than charitable, the reviews of that night in Largo were reasonable. From Cath’s perspective, it really didn’t matter what the reviews said, it was the best concert she had ever attended.

It was the raw sexuality and novelty of his moves that captured the women’s, and Cathy’s, devotion. While other performers of the day were biting the heads off chickens to make their names and gather fans, Elvis devout fans were already legion. His performance might have been flawed according to the critics, but Cathy says it was vintage.

One reviewer, in closing, said this about his performance – “The pace of Presley’s performance was an indicator that he will be around for some time to come. He takes care of himself, and he’s at the age where he must think of these things. He’s growing old gracefully with all of his old friends across the country, including Prince George County last night.

His last concert was one month later in Indianapolis on June 26th. Two months later, on August 16th, he died of heart failure at Graceland. He was 42 years old.

The King of Rock and Roll has now been gone for more years than he was alive. I believe it’s probably a fair guess there are more Elvis impersonators than tribute bands for all other bands and singers combined. Friends of ours, Howard and Laurie, were married in Las Vegas and had an Elvis Impersonator at their reception and it was perfect. My sister Roberta and her husband Jack had a Korean Elvis appear at a party at their farm a few years ago and the crowd went crazy. We all have either seen an Elvis impersonator, or know someone who has. In 1977, Cathy saw the King himself. Older, but the King nonetheless.

The King is gone… Long live the King.


• I’ve tried to think of other artists who have the iconic status of Elvis, but I believe it’s a pretty short list. The Beatles? Sure. Sinatra? Probably. Louis Armstrong? Maybe. Anyone else? There are lots of good singers and bands out there, but no one else pops to mind that crossed generations, cultures and time the way Elvis did, and continues to do so.

• You can find different memorabilia of the Largo concert online, to include music CDs, ticket stubs, and a couple of videos. I’ve attached a link to one of the videos here. I’ve scanned the video looking for Cath’s young face, but haven’t found it. You can see it at:

Very Fine People on Both Sides

Very Fine People on Both Sides

There are very fine people on both sides, unless you are the Republican Party and Liz Cheney is on one of those sides. Evidently there’s no room for Liz in today’s Republican Party. We all know her crime – acknowledging Trump lost the election, and calling out “The Big Lie” propagated by Trump and his sycophants.

After Trump’s election loss last November, and the events of January 6th, many of us were watching to see which way the Republican Party would turn, post-Trump.  Would they return to the Republican Party of old? Or stay in the thrall of Trump?

It’s sad to say, but we can all see what is happening.  The party of Dirksen and Percy, McCain and Romney, Reagan and Bush, even the party of W, is no more.  They should change the name from the Republican Party to the Trumplican Party, or The Party of Trump.  There is no room for dissent within the Grand Old Party. And it’s not just with Cheney.

In Utah at a Republican meeting, the crowd loudly booed Romney. They almost voted to Censure him. In Arizona, the GOP DID vote to censure Cindy McCain, widow of John McCain. In Arizona, they also continue to challenge last November’s election results, despite the fact their own Republican elected officials certified the election results multiple times. McCarthy, Hawley, Cruz, DeSantis, Rubio and other hopefuls all continue to make their pilgrimages to Mar-a-Lago. It has become the Republican Mecca.

Until 2017, I was a lifelong Independent voter. Over the course of my life, I voted for Republicans, Democrats and Independents in elections from the local level, all the way to presidential. In 2017, after Charlottesville, Donald Trump pushed me to the Democratic Party.

I have pondered whether I would return to my roots as an Independent Voter after Trump was gone from office. The Republican Party’s actions of the last week, and the last four months indicate that is not likely to happen anytime soon.

Feel free to share this blog.


Here’s what Representative Cheney herself had to say last week:

Thanks as always to my friend, Colleen Conroy for editing assistance!

Living with AFIB

Living with AFIB

I’ve had Atrial Fibrillation (AFIB) since the summer of 2012, when I was bitten by a copperhead snake. Normally, it’s not a problem, but in February of this year, I had an incident that sent me to the Emergency Room and on a two month journey of heart tests. The result? Well….

It happened on Valentine’s Day (insert bad joke about broken heart here). Actually, it started around the 10th of February, when I stood up from the couch and walked into the kitchen and almost fainted. I just figured I’d risen to quickly and didn’t think much more about it. Then, on the 13th, I felt dizzy just while sitting, although the feeling went away relatively quickly. However, as the day went on, I felt worse, in an undefined sort of way. The next day, the 14th, I wasn’t any better. I checked my pulse and blood pressure several times, and they were, um, wildly variable is probably a good way to say it. Finally, in the afternoon, I called our friend Janet, a most excellent nurse. She listened to what I had to say, was concerned about a couple of the numbers, and advised me to go to the ER to be on the safe side.

Cathy and I talked, and I decided to drive myself to the ER (perhaps not the smartest thing to do) at Fauquier Health in Warrenton, and arrived without incident. When I described at checkin what was going on, they moved me to a room within five minutes, tops. The ER doctor and nurse were both outstanding. In a matter of minutes, they administered the first three, of what would ultimately be ten heart related tests over the next two months.

In the ER, they gave me an EKG, a blood test and a chest X-ray. The blood test and X-ray were both normal. The EKG showed AFIB and nothing else – no stroke and no heart attack. In the meantime, I was feeling more normal – whatever it was, had passed.

The ER doctor talked to the on-call cardiologist from my regular cardiologist’s office and they took me off of one drug (Metoprolol, a beta blocker, which reduces your heart rate), thinking that may have caused the dizziness. He then discharged me and told me not to drive until I could see my cardiologist. I explained I drove myself to the ER, and he looked at me and said “I didn’t hear that”.

I didn’t drive for the next week, but having no subsequent incidents, did drive to the appointment with my cardiologist, Doctor Shah. We reviewed what happened, and then he scheduled a number of tests.

First up? Wearing a Mobile Cardiac Telemetry Monitor for five days. The monitor is a sort of portable EKG type device which continually monitored my heart 24 hours a day for five days. The result? Nothing apparent, other than my normal AFIB.

Next up? Tests five, six and seven – an Abdominal Aorta Ultrasound, a Renal Artery Ultrasound and a Leg Blood Flow Ultrasound and Study. The results? No ballooning, blockages, closures, or reductions in any of the major arteries leaving the heart and subsequently going to the kidneys and legs. In other words, the major arteries all looked normal.

Let’s keep things moving along….

Test eight was a CT Cardiac Calcium Scoring Scan. This is a scan of the heart that looks for deposits of calcium in and around the heart. Calcium leads to blockages, and this isn’t good. The results? Uh oh. There’s some calcium found. BUT, it turns out just about all people my age have some calcium. The test results go on to say “the total calcium score of 29 is between the 0 and 25 percentile for males between the ages of 65 and 69. This means 0 percent of people this age and gender had less calcium than was detected in this study.” —whew

Test nine – back to the hospital for a Heart Stress Test. This is essentially a type of EKG while walking or running on an inclined treadmill for a period of time. With all the walking I do on the hills near the farm, this should be a no brainer. Except it isn’t. Something trips about 7 minutes into the test, indicating there may be an issue and I may have a constriction somewhere blocking blood flow around the heart. After they stop the treadmill, they continue to monitor my heart, which returns to normal quickly. Hmmmm. The doctor thinks this may have just been a false positive, particularly since I was wearing a mask during the test (this was in the time of Covid after all).

The test result goes to DR Shah, and he and I have a conference call. Looking at the result, he thinks it might be a false positive as well. He suggests one more test, so we can verify one way or another.

And so, it’s on to test ten – A CT Angio Coronary Test Without Calcium Scoring. For this test, I go to another hospital, a bit farther away. I can have nothing to eat or drink prior to the test. They inject me with iodine and take a series of CT scans of the heart.

Two days go by, and then the results arrive. “No significant stenosis identified. Small area of calcification noted in the left anterior descending which also did not have a corresponding area of narrowing within the artery.” For us lay people, stenosis is the narrowing of an artery or heart valve. We already knew there was a bit of calcification from the Calcium Scoring Scan, so nothing new there. The good news is there is “no significant stenosis”. The doctor is happy with the results, and pronounces my heart to be OK. We talk about diet*, as we always do, and schedule my next appointment, several months from now.

The ol’ Ticker is Looking OK…..

One of the phrases I never pictured using in my life is “My cardiologist said….”. And yet, here we are.

Did the Metoprolol cause the fainting/dizziness? The doctor isn’t sure, but we are keeping me off the Metoprolol for now. My heartbeat has stayed in the normal range without the drug, even though the actual rate varies continually.

So, here I sit over two and a half months later, pondering this recent journey. Part of me is thinking – “What the hell, ten tests!? That’s crazy!” And part of me is thinking “Ten tests, and we still don’t really know what happened.” And part of me is thinking “Ten tests, and they all pretty much show my heart (other than the AFIB) and arteries are in good health. I should be thankful.” The engineer in me says “ten tests and now we have a good baseline for all of these areas.”

All things considered, I am thankful. There’s a history of heart problems in my family – my dad and one of my sisters both had strokes and an uncle and two cousins died of strokes. From my perspective, any good news on heart stuff, is just plain good news and I’ll take it.

I’ve felt fine since the Valentine’s Day visit to the ER, so maybe it was the Metoprolol. Or, maybe it’s something else lurking around, waiting for another opportunity to complicate things, but I’m not worrying about that right now. I have too much living to do, to let this slow me down.

Oh, and one other thing. I did learn a new word. “Syncope.” Syncope is the medical term for fainting or “passing out.” It’s the temporary loss of consciousness, usually related to insufficient blood flow to the brain. So, while I thought this all started with a near fainting episode, it was actually a syncope issue…. ;-).


If you want to read about my encounter with the Copperhead, you can find it here:

*Diet – My cardiologist would prefer that I was a vegetarian. I don’t see that happening any time soon. Having said that, Cathy and I both eat healthily – lots of salads, vegetables and fruits. Not much beef or pork. A bit more chicken, and a fair amount of seafood. We’ve greatly reduced dairy – I don’t drink milk, and now eat cheese only on special occasions. We’ve also reduced carbs significantly. Bread and pasta have become a rarity. When we have rice, it’s usually brown rice. Potatoes? We have them at one restaurant we go to, where I apparently can’t resist them, and maybe once a month at home. Neither of us have ever been dessert fans. As my cooking has expanded, I find myself gravitating to Indian, Korean and stir fry dishes – much of it, but not all, vegetarian. My diet isn’t perfect, but I believe it’s healthier than about 90% of America. I realize that’s not a particularly high bar.

The Stone House in the Woods

The Stone House in the Woods

There is an old house/cabin in the woods about a half mile from where we live. It was never in great shape, but the owner, Bill Harben, passed away a few years ago, and now the house is slowly sliding back to nature. He built the mostly stone house by hand when he was in the States and not stationed overseas.

It remained a work in progress until the year he died.

Both Bill, and the house, have an interesting history. Bill worked for the State Department as a Foreign Service Officer from the 50s through the 70s. He started on the house during the 60s, between overseas assignments. After he retired in the seventies, he moved permanently to the DC area, and then worked on the place on weekends or other off times. It was slow going, and to be honest, I think he thought of the project mostly as mental therapy. He wasn’t in any particular hurry to finish it and wasn’t ever going to live there. It was merely a getaway.

The First View of the Cabin When Approaching Through the Woods

We first met Bill around 2001. I’d see him driving down the gravel road past our place, or run across him while hiking in the woods. He was probably in his late seventies at the time and still adding stone work to the house.

We became friends of sorts and had him to our home for a few dinners or parties, and were guests at his cabin several times during the summer months. He would have friends (usually ladies) out from “the city” for a cookout. He was an incredibly charming and urbane man, and I think he enjoyed the shock his guests almost always showed on first seeing the roughness of his retreat.

The Front Door

The house was unique, with no apparent master plan. Bill did all of the work entirely by hand. There was no access to the property except for a narrow dirt and grass road and then a trail. It was impossible for big equipment to access and help with the construction. The stonewalls? All the stones were from the property and Bill moved them with a wheelbarrow to the house location. He then put them in place by hand, slowly building the walls up. The floor was made from stone on the property as well. The timbered parts of the home? The logs were from the surrounding woods – Bill cut the trees, and hand hewed them to fit together.

it was a rough house, with no electricity. His water came from a small spring on the property. He did have an indoor toilet, and there was actually a small septic field. A huge stone fireplace heated the “great room”, but nothing else. Light was by candle or lantern.

Bill added many artifacts and mementos to the house from his time overseas. Some were classic, others just odd. There were statues, tiles, old lamps, even a huge antique German Bible. He also imbedded some of the items in the walls. It was quite the eclectic place.

A Few of the Items at the House or Mounted in the Walls

When having cookouts at his place, stories would inevitably come out from his time overseas, and as with many storytellers, they were usually about some funny incident with a twist. With postings in Germany, Austria, Cambodia, Russia, Rawanda and Mexico he had plenty of good source material.

I remember two stories he treated a bit more seriously. He spoke about the time he escorted “Mrs Kennedy” (that would be Jacqueline Kennedy) around Mexico when she visited the country. He didn’t share details, and instead spoke about what a wonderful lady she was. The other story involved how and why his career in the Foreign Service derailed. In the early ‘70s, he and Henry Kissinger had “a falling out” over the conduct of the war in Indochina. Bill was head of the Embassy’s Political Section in Cambodia at the time and Kissinger was Secretary of State under Nixon. Bill ended up on the short end of the stick for that one.

Once when we were visiting, I asked if I could use the bathroom. You needed to walk through his “bedroom” to reach the bathroom. There was a really strange mural in the room, and I also noticed a small painting of Confederate General Robert E. Lee hanging over the bed. It struck me as odd at the time, so when I rejoined Bill and his guests out by the grill, I said “Bill, I have to ask. What’s with the picture of Lee over the bed? You never struck me as a “Lost Cause” type of guy.”

Bill chuckled, and then explained “Years ago, when I was first building the cabin, I would sometimes be gone for months or years in between visits. At the time, there weren’t many homes in this area, it was all woods and fields. Some “good ol’ boys” would be out hunting, and come across the cabin. Inevitably, they’d break in, drink beer and trash the place. I thought about it for awhile, and then decided to hang up the picture of Lee. I knew they’d probably still break in, but once they saw the picture of “Bobby Lee” they’d be more respectful and wouldn’t destroy the place.” He laughed, and then said “It turned out I was right….”

The Mural Still Hangs in the Bedroom, but the Picture of “Bobby Lee” has Disappeared.

Bill passed away a few years ago. He was in his late 80s or early 90s at the time. We probably hadn’t seen him for a couple of years, and I knew he had health issues. I heard later that he moved from his condo in Crystal City to assisted living somewhere else.

My wife, Cathy, talks about how every time an older person dies, it’s like a library burning down. All the knowledge and stories are just gone. I’m glad I was able to spend some time with the Harben Branch Library before it disappeared.


If you want to read an oral version of Bill Harben’s career, you can find it at the link here. It’s a pretty interesting read of one man’s upfront view as a Foreign Service Officer during the Cold War:,%20William%20N.toc.pdf

The Last Lonely Singing Cicada

The Last Lonely Singing Cicada

Get ready. They are coming. You may have heard the seventeen year cicadas are due in our area in another month or so. From mid May to mid June we will have literally billions of singing cicadas. The goal of all that singing? Sex. That’s right, sex. After seventeen years underground, they emerge, eat a bit, the males sing in a chorus, they all have sex, the females lay eggs and everyone dies off. That’s it.

The last time they were here? 2004. I have three lasting memories of that visit, but first a bit of background.

For approximately five to six weeks, starting in mid May, the cicadas will overrun us. These particular Cicadas arrive in seventeen year cycles and each of these cycles are called “Broods”. The Broods are numbered in Roman Numerals, and Brood X (10) is about to grace us. This is one of the largest and most widespread, and encompasses Virginia, Maryland, DC, Delaware, West Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and parts of Michigan and New York.

Given this is the time of Covid, you might be forgiven for thinking in terms of biblical plagues and that cicadas are locusts, but they aren’t. Locusts are actually a type of grasshopper, so we are OK in that regard. The cicadas are relatively safe and do no harm, except for possibly small, young trees. We, and our gardens, are safe. In fact, the cicadas are a boon for the rest of nature. Birds and animals feast on them when they first arrive. Eventually, they’ve eaten so many, they go into the animal version of a food coma after Thanksgiving Dinner and stop munching. The cicadas however, continue to arrive.

After emerging, the male cicadas join together singing in a “chorus” to attract the females of the species. Their singing becomes incredibly loud. Scientists who study these things say the choruses can reach 100-120 decibels, the same as a rock concert. The difference? The cicadas can go on for days. That’s right. We’ll be sitting in the equivalent of about row thirty at Woodstock or Lollapalooza. The only difference is that this will go on for quite a bit more than the three or four days of those rock concerts. if you live in our area, they will be impossible to ignore.

Inevitably, you also hear about eating cicadas. DC based Naturalist, Alonso Abugattas, had this to say: “Cicadas are gluten free, low in fat, low carb, rich in protein (the same pound for pound as beef). They’ve been grilled, skewered, steamed, barbecued, blanched, boiled, and used in cocktails. My old boss would fill the empty skins with Cheez Whiz and serve them as appetizers”. Hmmmm….

I have three memories from the last time they visited us in 2004. The first is that they were loud. I don’t remember rock-concert loud, but they were loud enough you couldn’t hear anything else – no other insects, birds, or even small children at the neighbors.

The second memory involved eating them. No, it wasn’t me eating them. It was our dog, Holly. She loved eating them. Hundreds or thousands of them were in our front garden. Most were on plants at dog-eye level. Holly, God bless her, walked at a slow pace from plant to plant eating cicadas off the tops of the plants as she went. Night came and we called, but she didn’t come in. Bedtime came, we called again and she still refused to come. We decided the hell with it, and left her outside (she was on an underground fence and couldn’t leave the property). Morning came and we went out the back door and found Holly laying there. We opened the door and she slowly came in the house, looking a bit how a dog would look with a hangover, if there was such a thing as a dog hangover. We filled her bowl with food. She took one look at it, walked passed it and headed to bed, where she proceeded to sleep the rest of the day. She had gorged on so many cicadas, she wasn’t hungry for breakfast. I had never seen her ignore a meal before, or for that matter, afterwards.

The final memory is a bit sadder. Eventually the noise of the cicadas started dying down. It went from a roar, to a rumble, to a pleasant buzz, to silence. Total silence. Just like that, they were gone. The great 2004 cicada orgy of sex and sound was over. Except it wasn’t.

About a week later, we heard the unmistakeable sound of a single singing cicada coming from the woods by our house. While not particularly loud, you could definitely hear him. A single lonely cicada singing in the night, looking for a partner. Any partner. It might have gone on for an evening or two, and then it too was silent.

A Cidada from Brood X in 2004

I’ve thought about that cicada off and on over the years. I think about the cruelty of it. You’ve spent seventeen years approximately eight inches underground. A lot has gone on. Finally, it’s your day in the sun, but Mother Nature plays a cruel trick on you. Maybe you had to dig around a rock to get above ground. Maybe you were a little deeper than eight inches under ground. Or, maybe you were having a great dream, and decided to sleep in a couple of extra days. In any case, you finally emerge, ready to join the chorus and have a little sex on the side, and… nothing… nada… nobody. It’s as if you make the trip to Spring Break to party, arrive, and find nobody else is there. Spring Break ended a week before and you never got the word. Now, it’s just you, all alone on the sand with scattered empty beer bottles littering the beach. A day later, you die and don’t even make the trip back home.

OK, OK, I know I went a bit over the top, but I did feel a bit sorry for the guy. Sure lots of other cicadas were eaten by animals (including Holly) when they first emerged. At least they saw and heard some from the Brood. The last guy? All alone in this cruel world.

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human traits or emotions to non-human entities. We all do it at one time or another, particularly with our pets. I doubt seriously the little guy felt alone, realized he was about to die, or missed out on the sex part. Still, he had to know he was singing for some reason, so maybe he did realize he was missing out on sex with some last gorgeous female cicada. Hell, for all I know, maybe there was one last female in the woods, he found her, they had sex, she laid her eggs, and they both died. I’d like to believe they died happy.

Did he ever find a mate? We’ll never know…


Special thanks to my Sister-in-law, Bonnie Harris. She came up with the great line “all alone on the sand with scattered empty beer bottles littering the beach”…. 😉

Want to learn about cooking cicadas? Here’s an interesting article from Bon Appétit Magazine:

If you want to check out more about the cicadas themselves, here are a couple of interesting reads:

– This blog is from Alonso Abugattas, a DC area Naturalist:

– Here is a a great read From the Washington Post:

Who’saGoodDog, Carmen!?!

Who’saGoodDog, Carmen!?!

My name is Carmen. I’m about 44 years old now, and in my prime. I’m in a small Pack with a total of three members and it is the only life I’ve ever known.

My early memories of the pack included another member called Miles. He left us in my first year or two. Since then, it’s just the three of us, and I have to say, we are a tight little group, and do almost everything together. It’s a bit odd because there are two Leaders of the Pack and I’m the only junior member, but it works out pretty well. The Pack Leaders, Max and Cathy, sometimes argue about who is in charge of the Pack, but not often.

Carmen, also known as The Carmenator, Carmenita and Tammy Faye….

The Pack also has some minor associates, who don’t live in the house with us. They live in the barn. This includes the two cats, Stan and Ollie, who I tolerate. For cats, they are OK. Stan rubs up against my legs sometimes and I let him. I mean, it doesn’t make me a cat or anything. Ollie, on the other hand, always seems a bit cautious around me and keeps an eye on me. For fun, I occasionally chase him. I suppose it doesn’t improve our relationship, but I think it’s a cool thing to do. And, I don’t do it all the time. Just often enough to keep him on his toes.

The other two associate members of our pack are these big things called horses. One is Stella and the other is Katie. Generally, I don’t bother them, and they don’t bother me. Pack Leader Cathy yelled at me a couple of times for chasing the horses, so I don’t usually do it. I’m glad she doesn’t really yell at me for occasionally chasing Ollie.

Sometimes there are interlopers in the barn. I hate the interlopers, and I think part of my job is to keep them away. If I ever see the fat cat Cathy calls “Mama Cat”, or the black cat with no name, I bark and jump around, and let them know if I could get close to them, I’d rip ‘em a new one. So far, they are tricky enough to only sit in the rafters or on the hay where I can’t reach them. I check every morning and every night to see if they are sneaking around the barn. One of these days…

I don’t know many other dogs around the farm. There was a dog down the road named Jake and I loved ol’ Jakey. It’s almost like he was my boyfriend. When Pack Leader Max and I would go for a walk, Jake was always in his yard and I would run up and bark “Hi”. We had plenty of fun playing together. I think he left us a few months ago, as I haven’t seen him lately. His sister Jill is still around, but she doesn’t say hi very often.


When we go for a walk, we also often stop at a house where the little boy, Jameson, lives. Jameson is only a bit taller than I am, and he owns a frisbee. When I come by, if he is in the yard, we play frisbee together. He’s a pretty good frisbee thrower, and I’m a pretty good catcher, if I do say so myself. Sometimes when we walk by, Jameson isn’t outside, but I know where he keeps the frisbee on his porch. I run up on the porch and grab it and then race around the yard to see if Jameson will come out and play.

Every once in a while, we go on vacation to this place the Leaders call “The Bayhouse”. I love the Bayhouse because I have lots of dog buddies there to play with. I see Nike every day in his yard, and usually see Angus too. When Max and I go for a walk, I also visit with Fred and Gus. It’s fun running around playing with each of them, but by the time I do that AND go for a walk, I’m dog-tired and it’s time for a nap.

Clockwise, from upper left: Nike, Angus, Gus and Fred.

The other great thing at the Bay is the people all like dogs. A man named Vinnie lives in the house next door to us. When I see Vinnie, I immediately race up to him, and he pets me and rubs my back, all the while saying “Who’saGoodDog?! Who’saGoodDog?! Who’saGoodDog Carmen!?!” I of course squiggle all over and say “Me! Me! Me!” Then he goes in his house and brings out a treat. Another man down the street, Kirk, does the same thing. I even know where the treats are in Kirk’s house and if he leaves the door open when he goes inside to get me one, I run in with him to show him where the treat jar is, just in case he forgets.

I have to confess: most times when I return to the farm from the Bayhouse, I have a bit of a Play-Hangover and it takes me a day to recover. My Leaders don’t seem to mind. In the winter, it’s particularly good. When we arrive home from the Bay, the Leaders light a fire in the wood stove, and we all just hang out and doze. Let me tell you, that’s a great life for a dog, lying by the fire, while your Leader snoozes on the couch.

Nike and Carmen after tiring each other out

At the Bay, other than barking at strange dogs walking by, I don’t have many jobs. Back home on the Farm, I have several. My main job is the Security of the farm. I’ve already mentioned about keeping the barn free of interlopers. Also, if somebody drives a car down the driveway, I immediately start barking so the leaders know they are outside. They are usually good people, but you never know when you first hear them coming.

Every afternoon, I supervise Pack Leader Cathy taking the horse manure to the back field. She drives the Gator and I ride shotgun. After she dumps the manure, she drives around the back field and I chase her. She calls it exercise for me, but I know we are really checking for Geese in the back field. They are always strutting around, honking and pooping everywhere. If I see any of those varmints, I immediately chase them like a bat-out-of-hell, until they fly off the property. Sometimes I roll in their poop, thinking it will help disguise me. It never works.

Late at night, when it’s dark and Pack Leader Max takes me out for my last potty, the first thing I do is race to the barn, barking with my big girl voice the whole time. There are lots of sneaky animals who might try and attack us, so I want all of them to know I’m on guard. When I use my big girl bark, I sound quite ferocious, and even bigger than I actually am. I’m pretty proud of my bark.

I also keep deer and geese away from the paddock nearest the house. Did I mention I particularly hate geese? They are quite a nuisance.

I have one or two other small jobs, although the Leaders don’t seem to appreciate them quite as much. First off, when we drive to town in winter, and a Pack Leader goes into a store, I always jump in their seat to keep it warm. When the Leader comes out of the store, you’d think they would reward me for this. Instead, they just tell me to go to the back of the car, as if I really hadn’t done anything special for them. My other job is in the morning. Sometimes Leader Max tries to sleep in, rather than go to the barn and feed the horses. If it starts to get too late, I whine by the bed so he knows it’s time to feed the horses. He may think it’s because I want to go out, and he grumbles at me, but it’s really to make sure he takes care of the horses on time. Also, Pack Leader Max doesn’t feed me until after he feeds the horses. The horses get fed. Then, the cats get fed. Then I get fed. You can see my predicament.

That mostly sums up my life. I’m about 44 years old now, and in my prime. I think I have it pretty good and am happy to be a member of this Pack. Way back in the year 1609, some guy named Shakespeare said every “dog will have his day.” I think every day is my day, and I try to live them all to the fullest.


• Both Miles and Jake have crossed the Rainbow bridge.

• The actual quote from Shakespeare is near the end of Act 5 in “Hamlet”. It is: “Hear you, sir; What is the reason that you use me thus? I lov’d you ever: but it is no matter; Let Hercules himself do what he may, The cat will mew, and dog will have his day.”

• Special thanks to Janet Ferri, Veronica Lindemon, Susan Crawford, Christine Brennan and Trish Hanzsche for pictures of their wonderful dogs!

Opening Day

Opening Day

Opening Day didn’t happen. Not in Washington DC. Not for the Nats. I should be freezing my bum off right now, while Mad Max is getting ready to throw out the first pitch. We would have just seen them raise the 2019 World Series Banner, and then settled in for live baseball. The last live Game I saw? Seventeen months ago – it was Game 3 of the World Series.

And now? Three Nats have tested positive for Covid, and the same may be true for a fourth. Opening Day, today, was cancelled. “Out of an abundance of caution”, we also already know that the game will not be played tomorrow, on a day that is traditionally kept open for Opening Day weather mishaps.

Will it be Saturday? Sunday? We don’t know. And, since tickets for those games are already sold to others, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to go. With only 5,000 tickets per game right now, things are tight.

Postponing the game was the right thing to do. Covid is still with us and we all need to practice caution. It’s important to keep a long view.

I am interested in finding out who on the Nats first tested positive for Covid this go round. Was it just something unlucky happening to him, or did he do something risky or stupid?

Baseball has opened elsewhere. They are playing across the country. Hell, the Cubs have already lost their opening game to the Pirates 5-3. Miguel Cabrera has already hit a Home Run and it was in a snowstorm in Detroit! Baseball in front of live fans is back.

The Nats season will happen, as will games with fans in the stands. I’ll be at the Park soon, one way or another and that’s good. I also know that in the big scheme of things, this is small potatoes. Having said that, for tonight, I admit I’m a bit disappointed.