26 December 2008

Let it snow, redux

Well, the snow did eventually come, and come, and come. Buckets of it! It just won't stop. As of Wednesday morning, we'd had 62 centimeters (about 2 feet) of accumulated snow since all of this began. And probably about 10-15 cm more has fallen since. Closing in on an all-time record snow fall for Vancouver for the month of December. We did have the record accumulated snow on the ground by Dec 25, so it was the whitest Christmas ever for our fair city. Here are some photos:

A tree in my yard.

Icicles on my house.

The view out my front door.

After I shoveled my walk.

Someone's car. Yes, I think that's a car!

13 December 2008

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

We were supposed to get a snow storm tonight, but we didn't. So I've put some digital snow in my blog instead. Enjoy!

(Note: You can't see it from a feed reader, you've got to actually go to my blog site. And for the technically inclined, here's where I got the code.)

11 December 2008

The First Noël without Cricket

I'm tired of having a dark and gloomy house for Christmas when all my neighbors have lights up and/or trees showing through the window. I want to be part of the Christmas cheer. So I caved in this year and bought an artificial Christmas tree. I like real trees better. They smell nice, they are more environmentally friendly, and they were part of all my Christmases growing up, so they bring back fond memories. But they are such a hassle (they're hard to get home, they drop needles all over the place, and then you've got to find a way to recycle them afterwards), that I rarely get one. I've actually only had a real tree once, when I had a housemate with a truck who helped me pick it up. (The year that I used the trimming off the top of a friend's tall hedge as a "tree" doesn't count.) So I figured if I'm not even going to enjoy a real tree, why keep hanging onto the somewhat irrelevant sentimental notion that they are nicer? So I finally took the plunge. I went out and bought myself a Noma 6-1/2' Pre-Lit Self-Shaping Pine Tree, with little white lights. Here it is, pre-ornaments. As my Dad used to say every Christmas, I think it's the nicest tree I've ever had! I've already had one compliment from a neighbor about it. It has already enhanced my Christmas mood, and I got out my trumpet and have been playing Advent hymns and Christmas carols every day since. Yay! I love this season of the year.

But someone is missing from it all. Here's a photo from Christmas 2005 with Cricket. This is my first Christmas without her, and I still miss her a lot. I doubt she ever knew that there was anything special about the Christmas seaon. She actually looks kind of bewildered about the Christmas tree in this photo; it's the only time she ever saw one. But she loyally kept me company no matter what incomprehensible things I did. She just wanted to be wherever I was in the house, and she got used to being posed for photographs. She was usually pretty good at it, though in this one she does have that look of, "Come on, Rosie, haven't you got a good shot yet?" (I took six.)

05 December 2008


I have much to be thankful for this season. I'm still in the Thanksgiving mood, even more than a week later. I continue to be impressed with the way President-elect Obama is thoughtfully putting together his team, fostering transparency in government, and soliciting input from the people. I love the way he's using a YouTube channel to keep people informed, and we can "join the discussion" and give our suggestions (which they take seriously) at Change.gov. Very interesting "Inside the Transition: Health Care" video, for example.

Well, enough politics. I'm also very thankful for the great time I had with my cousins over an extended Thanksgiving weekend. We had our turkey meal at Point Roberts and went for a hike down to the beach. There we saw these interesting rock formations.

Here we are playing a game of "Bananagrams" (aka Speed Scrabble) at Arbutus Cottage on Galiano Island.

An arbutus tree.

There's an awesome view behind the fog on the hike up to Bodega Ridge, honest.

26 November 2008

Tunnel View, Yosemite, Election Day 2008

This is one of the most spectacular views in the entire world. Made famous by many photographers, including Ansel Adams. El Capitan on the left. Half Dome off in the distance. Bridal Veil Falls on the right. I stopped to see it on my way back out of Yosemite Valley earlier this month. I was awestruck. No other words are needed. Since I saw it on Election Day, perhaps it was a portent of clear skies ahead. I hope and pray so. You must click on it to see it full size (or at least as full a size as I was willing to post here).

11 November 2008

Segue to a Segway & Touring San Francisco's Architecture

I had a great time in San Francisco last week. One of the highlights of my trip was getting to ride a Segway for the first time. I've been wanting to try one ever since I first heard about Dean Kamen's invention back in 2001. So when I heard about the tours San Francisco run by the Electric Tour Company, I signed up right away! They give you a half hour lesson on riding the Segway safely and then take you gliding around in groups of six or so, following in single file behind the tour guide who tells you (over a walkie-talkie system) all about what you're seeing. The tour I went on was around Fishermen's Wharf and the North Beach neighborhood. You get to stop and take photos and just buzz around on your own at a few places. It was way cool!

Here's a video of me riding it (click on the image first to activate the control, then click the start button at the bottom left):

Another highlight was the Architectural Walking Tour of San Francisco, led by historian Rick Evans. It was outstanding! He gave all kinds of fascinating information about the quirky history of buildings, the privately-owned public open spaces (POPOS) which hardly anyone in San Francisco even knows exist, and future urban planning for the city which is already underway. Rick is very knowledgeable and a great communicator. He's been researching all of this for years out of personal interest and for a book he's writing, but has only been leading the tours for the past year. You'd think he'd been doing it for over a decade based on how good it is. I highly recommend this tour.

Rick Evans, tour guide extraordinare, showing us the POPOS atop the Galleria Park Hotel, 191 Sutter Street, where our tour began:

The Hallidie Building (1917) at 130 Sutter Street, designed by Willis Polk, is remarkable for containing the world's first glass curtain wall, even predating the Bauhaus movement. Rick says that in spite of how ugly it is, this is the most architecturally interesting building in San Francisco. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) have their offices here, so they must agree.

The Crocker Galleria (1983), a spiffy shopping center with virtually unmarked access to two of San Francisco's underutilized POPOS. If you go there, take the escalator to the top floor and look for nondescript doors hiding staircases up to roof gardens adorning the two adjacent buildings. You can't see these garden courtyards from anywhere below, and you'd miss them if you didn't know they were there. See COMMONSpace for more info on San Francisco's privately-owned public open spaces.

The Hobart Building (1914), 582 Market Street, designed by Willis Polk (same architect who did the Hallidie Building). Because the building next door was torn down for the construction of a BART station, and its "air rights" sold to another developer so the latter could build a higher skyscraper, that odd exposed wall will remain there forever. Rick hopes it is used someday for a mural, to prevent advertisers from taking it over and ruining the view. The tall building behind it in the first of these photos is the 44 Montgomery office tower.

111 Sutter Street (1926), the Hunter-Dulin Building, aka The "Sam Spade" Building (on left) next to 44 Montgomery (office tower). The former has an interesting mix of French Chateau and Romanesque ornamentation. The building was the site of Sam Spade's office in The Maltese Falcon. The author, Dashiell Hammett, lived in San Francisco while writing the novel, and the building appears in the movie.

In the elevator lobby is an amazing hand-painted ceiling with an eclectic mix of imagery (birds, Stars of David, heraldic shields, lions rampant, fleurs-de-lis). The ceiling had been hidden for years under a layer of cigarette smoke until restorations completed in 2001 revealed it and it was repainted to its former brilliance. (Rick told us that buildings never get face-lifts by their original owners; only when a new buyer takes over, as in this case, is anyone willing to spend the money to restore great architectural history.) The lobby also features Italian marble columns and floor. A neat tidbit: you can see a foot-sized impression in the floor that was made by elevator attendants pivoting from the same spot for 50 years to direct people to one of the six elevators. (Unfortunately I neglected to photograph it, but you can see it here.)

The Shell Building (1929), at 100 Bush Street, the last great Art Deco building built in San Francisco, reflected in the glass of the Crown Zellerbach Building (1959) across the street at 1 Bush Street. The latter, designed by George Kelham, is the first glass building built after WWII. This photo shows the irony of their juxtaposition. Because it took San Francisco a long time to recover from the Great Depression and WWII, there was nothing much built between 1929 and 1959. Incidentally, I learned an interesting fact about why most tall office buildings are built with glass walls nowadays. That way they can rent out all the square footage all the way up to the edge, whereas otherwise you lose some space due to the thicker walls.

Here is the lower portion of the Shell Building:

130 Bush Street (1910), one of the narrowest buildings, if not the narrowest, in San Francisco. Sandwiched between two taller skyscrapers, this Gothic Revival structure is 10 stories high and 80 feet deep, but only 20 feet wide. (It doesn't quite make the cut for narrowest commercial building in the world -- that's the Sam Kee Building in Vancouver, at 6 feet wide). The building was originally occupied by a garment manufacturing company that specialized in thin accessories: neckties, belts, and suspenders. (Hee hee!) Notice how the Shell Building to the right has matched the height of 130 Bush with its lower floors. Contrary to what you might think, the narrow building wasn't squeezed in to a narrow spot. It was built that way when nothing was to the right of it. The Shell Building came later.

Former Standard Oil Building (1922), 225 Bush Street. This was not a stop on our tour, but Rick did point it out from a distance as we walked by, and I've learned some more about it from the Web. It was the tallest building in San Francisco when it was built. Built in the Beaux Arts style, it was modeled after the old Federal Reserve Building in New York. It "has a Mediterranean crown--a loggia capped with a red tile roof supported by a heavy, corbeled cornice." The Renaissance ornamentation was derived from a Florentine palace. (Sources: Wikipedia, SkyScraperPage, Emporis, and Vernacular Language North)

All of this has gotten me excited about architecture, which I'd never really been that keen on before.

01 November 2008

Election time

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I've been obsessed with the U.S. election and haven't been paying attention to much else online for the past few weeks. In honor of this election which is sure to go down in the history books no matter who wins, here's a photo I took of the Oval Office. (Actually, it's a replica from the Jimmy Carter Library & Museum in Atlanta, which I visited in 2006.)

07 October 2008

After the rain

06 October 2008

Nitobe Memorial Garden - honoring a Japanese Christian

This is the classic view of the Nitobe Memorial Garden on the UBC campus. It's a quiet place of reflection amidst the busyness of a major university. It was built to honor Inazo Nitobe (1862-1933), a Japanese Quaker, philosopher and statesman, scholar and agriculturalist, who early in his life had expressed the desire to be a "bridge over the Pacific." "He devoted much of his life to promoting trust and understanding between the United States and Japan," and served for a time as Under-Secretary General of the League of Nations.

Most people who visit the garden don't realize Nitobe was a Christian. According to Wikipedia, "he was converted to Christianity under the strong legacy left by Dr. William S. Clark," the first Vice-Principal of Sapporo Agricultural College (now, Hokkaido University), where Nitobe was educated, though he and Clark never actually crossed paths. Nitobe and some friends of his who became converts to Christianity at the same time were baptized by an American Methodist Episcopal missionary, Bishop M.C. Harris. Nitobe helped found and was the first president of Tokyo Woman's Christian University.

Nitobe is perhaps most famous for his work Bushido: The Soul of Japan. He called for Christianity to be "grafted onto the trunk of Bushido." ("Bushido, meaning 'Way of the Warrior,' is a Japanese code of conduct and a way of the samurai life, loosely analogous to the concept of chivalry.") Nitobe believed that the Japanese concept of giri (duty) is "infinitely inferior to the Christian doctrine of love." He says that giri (literally "Right Reason") "should be the 'categorical imperative' for moral behavior" but that it had "degenerated into a vague sense of propriety" in an "artificial society." He draws parallels between the bushido ethic and the Christian West's "presumption against force, limiting the conditions when force can be applied, and conduct in war." That is the essence of just war theory, though he didn't use that term. As a Quaker, he leaned towards the avoidance of force altogether: "fighting in itself, be it offensive or defensive, is, as Quakers rightly testify, brutal and wrong."

In 1884 Nitobe traveled to the USA to study. There he met a young Quaker woman, Mary Patterson Elkington, and they were married (against the wishes of both their families) at the famed Arch Street Friends Meeting House, in Philadelphia.

As for his Quaker sentiments, Nitobe writes, "The starting point of Quaker teaching is the belief in the existence of the Inner Light...the presence of a Power not our own, the indwelling of a Personality, other than human, in each one of us." He points out that such an idea goes back to the most ancient forms of mysticism. The Buddhist mystics make reference to it, but "Quakerism stays within the family of Christianity....Unlike Orientals, George Fox and his followers conceived...of light as a person." Nitobe recognizes a superiority in "the revelation of Godhead in the person and life of Jesus Christ.... We read Lao-tze; we read Buddhist saints; I've stud[ied] Oriental mystics... [By them] we are brought very near to the idea of redemption, atonement, salvation...but we feel that we have not reached our finality....Yes, we see light, but not the one thing essential-perfect, living Personality."

Nitobe died in Victoria, B.C. while visiting Canada in 1933. The Nitobe Memorial Garden, which opened in 1960, was designed by Professor Kannosuke Mori of Chiba University, a distinguished Japanese Landscape Architect, at the recommendation of the government of Japan. He conceived it primarily in the Shinto tradition, but he gives reference to Nitobe's Christianity in the "remembering lantern" near the waiting pavilion. "This is a so-called Oribe lantern, first designed by the notable tea-master, warrior and designer Oribe Furuta (1544-1615). At the base of this lantern, partly covered by earth, the figure of a Madonna is visible. Christian icons hidden at the base of Oribe lanterns enabled Japanese Christians to worship covertly. The history of Christianity in Japan goes back to 1549 when the Jesuit priest Francis Xavier landed at Kageshima. At first, driven by a desire for Western firearms, numerous warlords converted. Subsequently however, the new religion was suppressed, at times brutally, hence the covert worship with Oribe lanterns."

Nitobe was honored in 1984 with a new Japanese 5,000 yen note bearing his image (superseded in 2004).

Sources: Wikipedia and NationMaster encyclopedias, Nitobe Garden's bio of Nitobe and other pages on their site; "A Japanese View of Quakers" by Inazo Nitobe; Prophets of Peace by Robert Kisala; A Portrait of Two Founders by Steven Elkinton (Friends Journal, October 2007); Nitobe Memorial Garden page on British Columbia Garden Tour site; and any other links above not repeated here.

04 October 2008

A view of Vancouver you don't often see

Sorry I haven't posted in a while again. This shot looking east over the Port of Vancouver, along the Burrard Inlet, was taken from the observation deck at the top of Harbour Centre. It isn't what you usually think of when you think of scenes of Vancouver. But even Vancouver's "ugly" bits (the commercial port area) are beautiful. There's an enormous bright yellow pile of something-or-other (sulfur, I suppose) across the inlet from downtown, which is quite cheery. In this photo, I like the colorful rows of containers and cranes, and how they form a pair of converging lines that draw your eye towards Burnaby Mountain off in the distance.

24 September 2008

Bodega Ridge

Here's another panorama, since people liked the last one so much. This is the view from Bodega Ridge, the second highest point on Galiano Island, looking southwest out over Trincomali Channel. The closest island you can see is Wallace Island. Beyond that is Salt Spring Island, and beyond that Vancouver Island.

I posted a Bodega Ridge panorama a while back, too, but this one is at sunset and you can see it all at once without scrolling.

19 September 2008

Remembering the dead

I still think of Cricket a lot and miss her and cry every now and then. But life has returned to normal for the most part, except I have more time now, and fewer expenses and worries. I still haven't gotten around to giving away or otherwise disposing of all the leftover dog food, medications, toys, bedding, etc. Some few special things I'm going to keep to remind me of her. But I don't need the stuff that takes up lots of room. That stroller only got two days of use, and I'm sure somebody would enjoy having it.

I am writing a book now, on anticipating and going through (growing through) the loss of a pet. These blog entries will form the core of it, but there's lots more to say. I am enjoying getting into the routine of writing a bit every day, but that means I've been neglecting the blog. However writing here is still a good way to try a few new ideas out. I don't want to give away the whole content of the book here, though. But expect a few snippets from time to time. And of course, life goes on, and there will be other things to photograph (or bring up from my archives) and blog about.

On Wednesday I picked up the art glass that was made by Memoria Vitria, encorporating some of Cricket's ashes. The colors I chose were cobalt (blue) and apple (green), the former because Cricket always wore a blue collar, and the latter because she loved apples -- she'd always ask for the core whenever I'd finished eating an apple. This will be a permanent memorial of her that I can take with me if I ever move away from Vancouver. It is beautiful in its own right, so it doesn't shout "urn!" I have friends who have kept the ashes of their loved ones for years and not known quite what to do with them once the desire to have them out on the mantelpiece has passed. At that point it's sort of anticlimactic to go scatter them somewhere, and yet it's disrespectful to put them in storage in the garage. I plan to sprinkle the remainder of Cricket's ashes to mark the one-year anniversary of her death. I also got a ceramic pawprint made before she was cremated. And I took a clipping of some of her fur before she died and saved it in a plastic bag for I don't know what yet (perhaps to be made into a necklace or something). And there are all the hundreds of photos and video footage. So many ways to remember Cricket!

I'm feeling less and less of a need for the physical reminders as time goes on. But weird as this might sound, I do like summoning the tears once in a while. Staring at Cricket's art glass and seeing the sparkles from her ashes brought the tears to my eyes again this evening. I don't think it's a sign that I'm not moving on well with my life. After all, actors, whenever they need to play a role in which they are crying, call to mind something real in their life that they were sad about. So I can choose to go there whenever I want, or not. I think there is something healing in tears. If I'm ever troubled about something completely unrelated (but not particularly sad), going back to remember Cricket and cry about missing her takes away the knot in my stomach. Never a need to go to a counsellor again. I have built-in therapy now!

27 August 2008

Enjoy the music

As part of my continued healing from the loss of Cricket, I am bringing music back into my home. It's not that I'd banned it (I listen in the car often), but I had not listened to it at home much in the years since I moved to Canada. (My good stereo is still down in Seattle.) The time has come to move forward into a new era.

As a symbol of this decision, I've added music to my blog. Scroll to the bottom to see what's currently playing on the playlist. If you don't like classical music, you can mute the player by clicking all the way to the left on the volume control.

I'm feeling a bit wistful about the fact that CBC is in its last week of the old format of mostly classical music (with some jazz). They are totally revamping their programming to reach a broader audience (i.e., younger listeners). Hmmmph! Who listens to a radio station that plays a whole smattering of lots of different styles? You end up going back to the stations that play your favorite kind of music.

I've been part of a grassroots effort to get them to change their mind, but I doubt it will make any difference. The new leadership doesn't understand the importance of classical music to a culture; doesn't realize that younger generations do listen to it. "Classical" is actually a very broad category that includes many different styles, including new music by contemporary Canadian composers, etc. They could meet their mandate to be Canada's national broadcasting station and still please the million or so long-time listeners who are going to abandon them and go elsewhere come September.

Some of us are starting to look into XM satellite radio, others are making do with iPods. Me? I'm exploring new online options like Playlist.com. But I'll miss discovering new music if I just listen to my existing collection of favorite works. There's always streaming audio from KING-FM in Seattle and other classical stations, or Shoutcast (free Internet radio from do-it-yourself DJs and broadcasters all over the world). But I can't pick up the Internet in my car. Not yet, anyway. (I'm sure it's coming...) And the quality of DIY broadcasters or the free tracks available through Playlist.com will never rival CBC's non-commercial classical programming (I'll miss Jurgen Gothe, Eric Friesen and the lot). So more classical music at home is the only solution to my need for it.

26 August 2008

Lake Dunmore panorama

Anonymous wants to be able to see the panorama shot all at once. You asked for it, you got it! Click on it to see a larger version.

Photo Software

I've been playing around with photo software again lately. I am very impressed by ACDSee Pro, and am using that now almost exclusively, instead of a combination of Windows Explorer, Picasa, and Adobe Bridge, for all my photo organizing tasks. The only thing I still need some other software for is occasionally being able to edit EXIF fields that are not editable in ACDSee Pro. For that, I use Opanda PowerExif.

I've also discovered the Panorado java applet that makes embedding interactive panoramas in a web page a cinch (for someone with HTML skills). It's a freebie giveaway to entice you to buy Panorado's stand-alone panorama viewer/browser.

Here's a panorama I stitched together using Serif Panorama Plus (which I've written about elsewhere in this blog), of photos taken from our dock at Lake Dunmore, after the floodwaters receded.

You can click on this image and drag the mouse around to explore up/down and left/right in the image. Or just watch it scroll itself like a movie, which it has probably finished doing by the time you read this far.

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Courtesy of:

19 August 2008

Confidential to frequent blog visitor from Connecticut

You are someone who probably knows me, as you visit my blog regularly (more than once a day) by Google searching my name. I'm curious to know who is out there that is so interested in my blog. I'm not aware of any friends in Stratford, Connecticut (which is where my stat counter says you're from, but that might just be your ISP's location; your ISP appears to be Optimum Online). Please identify yourself either by leaving a comment on this post (anonymous is OK as long as you give me enough info to figure out who you are if you're someone I know) or email me. You can find my contact info at my website.

New bird species: olive-backed forest robin

Meet the olive-backed forest robin, a new bird species recently discovered in Gabon, Africa. How wonderful to know that new species are still being discovered even as others are becoming extinct. This little creature is so beautiful! Isn't God's world just amazing? The variety and colorfulness never cease to delight me. [Note: though I do love photographing birds, this is not my photo. Source: Science Daily; photo by Brian Schmidt]

Heron on the dock!

A bit of a break from blogging about Cricket. (For those who are wondering how the grieving process is going, I'm doing well, and will write more later.)

I just got back from a week's vacation in Vermont at the family summer cottage. One morning I was awoken by my sister knocking quietly at my door to tell me there was a heron on our dock. I managed to snap a couple of photos of it (alas, through a screen window) before a motor boat went by and scared it away.

That bird was huge! As you can see, it's taller than the adirondack chair.

11 August 2008

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust

Yesterday was one of the hardest days of my life. I had to say a final farewell to Cricket. I know she was gone already, and only her lifeless body remained. But that was still a tangible connection to her. She was still beautiful even in death, and her fur was still soft and precious to touch. I'm glad I had those three extra days to ease into the absence of her physical presence. Even so, the waves of grief over letting go were intense. But I know I've given her back to God, and that helps soften the grief.

After much deliberating over the past few months, I had chosen to have her cremated. That will allow me to spread some of her ashes in a few special places that have been meaningful to us. I found out about a wonderful pet cremation service in North Vancouver called Until We Meet Again, run by Kevin Woronchak and his wife. They do a professional job of the cremation business, but their mission is primarily to care for the people who are going through loss of a pet, and they treat the animals with dignity. They have a beautiful meditation room for pet owners to sit in while the cremation is taking place. Kevin was so gentle and tender with Cricket, and made me feel really cared for. He allowed me to participate as much as I was comfortable in the cremation process. I ended up being brave and wanting to see what her bones looked like when the oven was opened, before they were ground down to ashes (see photo above left). It was a shock looking in and seeing how little of her remained. One amusing bit: I had chosen to have two of Cricket's favorite toys cremated with her (her whale and her elephant), because they were "dead" too: they no longer made their noises if you squeezed them, as their unchangeable batteries were dead. We found little bits of exploded battery and melted down circuit board in the cremains. Kevin removed them with a magnet, so that what's in Cricket's urn is pure Cricket. I chose to have him reserve some of the ashes to be made into a piece of memorial art glass, with swirls of color in it. The colors I chose were cobalt blue (because Cricket always wore a blue collar) and apple green (because apples were one of Cricket's favorite treats).

For now I have the urn set up on my hearth, with candles and flowers next to it. I could have straightened out the skewed photo, but I realized it is better that way, as it represents how my life is now out of kilter without Cricket in it. It will take me some time to find equilibrium again. When I'm ready, I plan to sprinkle all the ashes. Again, it will be hard to let go, but I know that Cricket is not really there in the urn. She's in my heart and will be forever. People I know who have hung onto the ashes of a pet or loved one until they figure out what they're going to do with them have ended up hanging onto them indefinitely and then feeling awkward about it. Do you keep them out visible forever, or put them in storage? Neither of those seems like a good alternative. I want to find freedom through releasing them all back into God's creation.

God has been really good in showing me his presence throughout these sad days, and sending friends to help me bear the grief. Never has Isaiah 53:4 ("Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.") meant more to me than now. Last night I went with a friend to hear the Vancouver Cantata Singers perform Brahms' Requiem - perfect timing! It was a very fitting closure to such a day. A requiem mass is the traditional mass sung for departed souls, only Brahms' Requiem is a bit unorthodox, as it is meant to comfort the living, not petition for the souls of the dead. The text was beautiful (as was the singing), in German with English translation in the program: "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted." "Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" (all from Scripture). This last photo of me was taken a couple of years ago by the young daughter of some friends of mine when we were playing around with guessing emotions from someone's facial expressions. I was putting on a sad face on purpose.

Ritual is very helpful in handling passages in life such as the death of a loved one. I have done several things intuitively which have turned out to be comforting. Lighting a candle each night of the "wake" when I kept her body in my house, and again the first night with the urn on my hearth. Crossing myself (even though I'm not Catholic, it seemed the right thing to do) as my friend and I prepared to lift her body into the car to take her to be cremated, and again when I said farewell to her body before the oven was closed.

I slept well last night.

08 August 2008

Rehearsals for death

This photo was taken by my photographer friend Chris Berrio in 2003. I was already by that time anticipating losing Cricket in the near future, as she'd been diagnosed with cancer. I invited Chris over to do a photo shoot so I'd have some good ones to keep her alive in my memory. I picked out this photo as my favorite -- the one I would use to send around a death notice card (another friend of mine had sent out death notice cards to family and friends when their dog died, and I liked the idea). Turns out it was a false diagnosis, and Cricket lived another five great years. She did get cancer in the end, and that is what ultimately took her away from me, but that wasn't what she had back then.

Anyway, that was the first of several "rehearsals" Cricket gave me for losing her. Each time, I was strengthened for the future work I'd have of caring for her and grieving for her. It's not that it was easy, by any means, when the time came, but I was as prepared as I could ever have been. I knew by the time we had the diagnosis of her terminal illness that I wanted to do hospice care for her at home until she died naturally. It was those false alarms that got me thinking about preparing myself for her death, whereas before, I was blithely going along in denial, pretending she would never die.

07 August 2008

It is finished

Cricket died early this afternoon. I was not present when she breathed her last. I'd gone out from 12:30 - 3:30, and she was dead when I returned. Though I wish I could have been with her (for my own curiosity as well as to comfort her), I'd already made peace with the possibility of missing her final moments. I know she was resting comfortably, and I'd given her a dose of her pain medication before I left, so she wasn't suffering. Her lights just went out.

Now comes the first task of the next few days: putting her body on ice to keep it here for the next day or so, kind of like a traditional wake for humans, so that I can come to grips with her death and begin the next phase of my grieving process.

Emails welcome at this time, but please don't call in the next 24 hours. I need the space to just be with her, deal with practicalities, and sleep. This has all been very exhausting. Thanks for all your understanding and prayers. I'll be writing more over the coming days.

Rainbow Bridge

No changes in Cricket. This post follows immediately after the previous one.

The following poem has been posted on many sites helping people deal with the loss of a pet. It made me cry, as it hits pretty close to what I believe about our animals and eternity. We will meet again. The thought comforts me as I say goodbye to Cricket (for now) ...

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together....

Author Unknown

[The photo was taken in Scotland in 2004. That's my uncle photographing the rainbow. Note the raindrops on the back of his coat. You might need to click to zoom in to see them.]

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me."

Cricket is still here, but just barely. She has stopped drinking and is just lying in bed now. Other bodily processes are shutting down. No more intake, so no more output. Her breathing is more rapid and shallow now. I debated whether to put this photo, taken last night, on the blog, thinking thoughts of respect for the dying, etc. But I want to share with people what the journey has been like, even up to the part where she doesn't look cute anymore. I did at least tidy up the towel (dirty from icky drool) in Photoshop. I felt kind of like a mortician beautifying a body. But I didn't touch up her body at all. She looks peaceful and dignified to me, if not altogether beautiful, in spite of how close she is to death.

I've spent most of the day, on and off, by her side, on a mat on the floor, reading, stroking her, dozing. I've taken breaks to sleep in my own bed, eat, do stuff on the computer. But I made sure to be with her for the transition past midnight. A silly little thing, but even if I miss her last breath while I'm asleep, I want to at least know what day she died. I'm learning through all of this, though, to give up trying to control anything. I cannot predict or control God's schedule.

As those who are dying prefer darkness, I've kept the lights off, using just a small clip-on reading light (aimed away from Cricket) after the sun went down. By its illumination, I'm continuing to read Johann Christoph Arnold's Be Not Afraid: Overcoming the Fear of Death. (Just to myself now. Cricket is sleeping or zoned out most of the time. The pain meds are keeping her comfortable.) I'm finding it very illuminating. Here are some good quotes from it:

"I have met people who say they'd rather die a quick death than undergo the drawn-out suffering of a slow one. Still, in three decades of counseling I've never met a dying person who wasn't grateful for the chance to prepare for death."

"There is something deadening about going through life cautiously -- testing the water, toeing the line. But there is nothing as exhilarating as living it to the ful. It requires rising to challenges that come your way, rather than evading them; sticking out your neck, instead of hiding in the crowd. It means daring to take false steps -- and leaps of faith. And the reward...is calmness in the face of death."

"Elisabeth Elliott points out that...there is a price to be paid 'every time we satisfy our need to rationalize such things as suffering. Once we think we have unlocked a mystery, we tend to close the books to further study. Unsolved, the problem captivated us with the challenge of discovery; shelved, it loses relevance and meaning.'"

Arnold quotes Solzhenitsyn (who, incidentally, just died a couple of days ago) as saying "the solution to suffering is this: that the meaning of earthly existence lies not, as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering, but in the development of the soul."

"[G]iven the number of people I know who have not only coped with enormous suffering in their lives, but come through it stronger than before, I have come to feel that maybe we ought to stop approaching pain as something purely negative. If we allow it, pain can be an occasion for redemption -- a crucible of sorts that may refine and renew us."

04 August 2008

Some recommended reading on dying

I'm continuing to hang in there with Cricket -- I clean her, change her bedding, carry her outside and back in when she needs to pee, feed her by hand when she feels like eating (which is not very often anymore), etc. She has alternating good days and bad days. She can sometimes still stand and walk (or crawl) on her own. I've found her at various places out of her bed when I didn't carry her there.

She hasn't yet communicated to me that she's fed up with living. Dogs seem to have a different view of suffering than we humans do. It's something to endure, unpleasant as it is. It's not excruciating for her. She's at peace actually, most of the time. She is alert, looks endearingly into my eyes and still wags on occasion. She still lies out on the lawn and enjoys the simple pleasures of breathing in the fresh air and watching people go by. She is teaching me the inestimable value of life in itself, just for the sake of being alive. I will cherish these days for as long as I live, no matter what happens at this point.

Although anticipation of death is crummy, the extended period of time of waiting has given me the opportunity to slow down, get all my ducks in a row as far as practical preparations, and also to do some profound reading which I might not have found time for at other stages in my life, for example Marva Dawn's Being Well When We're Ill: Wholeness and Hope in Spite of Infirmity, Henri Nouwen's Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring, Richard John Neuhaus's As I Lay Dying, and Ray Simpson's Before We Say Goodbye: Preparing for a Good Death. All excellent books. Still on the "to read" shelf: Gerald Sittser's A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss, and a reread of both C.S. Lewis's A Grief Observed and Walter Wangerin's Mourning into Dancing.

Tonight I started reading Johann Christoph Arnold's Be Not Afraid: Overcoming the Fear of Death aloud to Cricket, in the hopes that maybe it'll help her figure out that it's OK to let go. Not sure she gets it, but it can't hurt. She likes having me beside her anyway, and it's a way for us to spend some time together (I snuggle up close to her so I can hear and feel her breathing and heartbeat, and she mine). I've heard of children reading to dogs, and apparently they like it. So why not?

02 August 2008

Last bloom?

I keep thinking Cricket is finally at the end, but then she rallies again and shows a strong spirit and will to live. So there's been one "last bloom" after another. This morning I woke to find she wasn't in her bed. She had managed to get up and carry herself over to a chair which she was sleeping under. They say sometimes dogs, when they are getting close to death, will try to hide away. But today, she seemed more alive than she had for several days. She ate a bunch, she wagged at me for the first time in several days, and she was able to stand up on her own again (after yesterday being too weak). So we continue waiting, not knowing what each day will bring.

I took this photo of a sunflower today in Van Dusen Botanical Garden. I enhanced the contrast slightly in Photoshop, but the colors really were that brilliant.

31 July 2008


It's been altogether too serious around here lately. So now for something completely different. If you've got a webcam, you can take pictures of yourself, with all kinds of fun special effects, at Cameroid. Here's a silly one of me:

29 July 2008

The birdies and the bees

Bee on a blossom that looks like a badminton birdie. It's a Purple Coneflower, near the rose garden at Stanley Park.

28 July 2008

The early bird gets the worm

A friend is visiting from Paris, and today we went to see the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. We saw this robin bringing food back to her babies in the nest.

(Cricket is still hanging in there, but getting more and more droopy, for those who have been following her story.)

24 July 2008

New set of wheels!

Cricket is now traveling in style. We've retired the leash (she wouldn't be able to run away anyway) and joined the baby jogger crowd. I bought this stroller today at Toys 'R' Us. I lined it with a foam pad and put one of Cricket's beds in it, covered with an underpad in case of any leaks. And off we went to Pacific Spirit Park for a stroll. It's the first time we've been there in months, if not over a year. She hasn't been able to walk very far and I haven't had the desire to go for walks by myself there. But I need the exercise, and she is getting bored being cooped up inside all day. The front lawn is a lovely place to hang out and watch people go by, but I thought it would be nice, for whatever days she has left, to let her see a bit of the wider world once again. Even if this is her last day in this life, I feel we've already gotten our money's worth on the stroller. What a joy it was! We got all kinds of interesting looks and a few comments from people we passed. And Cricket LOVED it! She perked right up and was so engaged with everything she saw.


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