The 1/2 Way Mark


St. Paddy's Day

St. Paddy’s Day

Life isn’t fair. If you grew up in my family and didn’t know this by the time you were 4 or 5, you weren’t paying attention. It was my dad’s favorite line. Complain about pretty much anything and you could expect, “Well, kid, life isn’t fair. Get used to it.”

Death isn’t fair either. 23 years ago, when I was 23, my dad died of lung cancer. He was 56.

I’ve been dreading this day, the symbolic halfway point of my life, since his death. In the year after my dad died, I took comfort in the fact that only one year ago, he was still alive. But as that horrible year after his death passed, I couldn’t think “last year he” or “last year we.” The last year was already gone.

Andy's Baptism, Last Family Photo

Andy’s Baptism, Last Family Photo

The immediate pain of death recedes. That’s true. But the loss remains. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my dad. Not. One. Day. 23 years is a long time to miss someone.

And there is a lot to miss. My dad was not perfect, but boy, he was fun, the life of many parties. He would accept any last minute invitation and leave the chores for later. He taught me to swim, fish, ski, golf, shoot a basket (I never really learned that one), swing a bat, and ride a bike. There were family ski trips with the Arpins and, once, an infamous canoe trip with my uncle and cousin. He taught me to play cribbage and gin rummy and that there always needed to be some stakes (1/10 of a penny a point when I was really little) to “keep the game interesting.” He did not let me win. Ever. He taught me Irish songs, many violent or morbid, and was the one to explain to my kindergarten teacher why I sang a song about “sticking a knife in the baby’s head” for show-and-tell. (His excuse was that I spoke [and sang] so quickly he didn’t think anyone would understand me.) He fostered my love for demented Christmas trees  because he and Pat Arpin would bar hop until they finally cut down the trees, leading to some interesting specimens that eventually became a family tradition. He hand wrote letters to me while I lived in Italy, which usually consisted of sports updates of the Brewers, Bucks, Green Bay Packers and the Wisconsin Badgers and a few tidbits of family news. The year between college and law school when I lived at home and waitressed, he would often wait for me to get home from my weekend shifts and have a drink with me while I unwound. When I was in law school, he always took me to the airport when I left and picked me up when I came home.

He loved me and I never doubted that love. I never had an absent or disinterested father. I was his “favorite youngest daughter.”



And now, it’s the 1/2 way mark. After today, I will live more of my life without my dad than I got to live with him. It’s not fair.

Except not really. I did the math: the halfway point is really in another 336 days. So for another 336 days I can take comfort in knowing that I got to enjoy life with my dad longer than I have enjoyed life without him. And after that, I will just have to enjoy life: it’s the only way to honor the memory of someone who loved life like he did.

Adventures in Cooking

I love to cook. Actually, I love to bake because I have a huge sweet tooth, but I enjoy cooking as well.

I told my sister how I was always cooking the same thing here due to fairly limited ingredients – chicken, fish or shrimp with a veggie side dish and the occasional hamburger. When Mick mentioned a chicken and artichoke dish our friend Chris made for her, I was excited because I had seen canned artichokes in the store. Mick passed along along Chris’ recipe that included Chris’ notes on how to improve the recipe: the type of artichokes to buy, additional mushrooms etc. As I made the dish, I thought that my Galapagos recipe notes would look a bit different. Here they are:
1. Take chicken that you had to skin and debone yourself out of the freezer to defrost. Place in microwave so the geckos and microscopic spiders that live in your kitchen don’t taint it. Write a note so you remember you have chicken defrosting in the microwave.
2.  See the note about 5 hours later, place the still-cool chicken in the fridge and pull out the recipe. Note you only have 1 can of artichokes and that you have only seen fresh mushrooms on the island 3 times in 6 months. Take out home-made chicken broth (added benefit of always having to buy bone-in chicken) from freezer to defrost.
3. Walk 3/4 mile to store in search of artichokes and fresh mushrooms. No fresh mushrooms at the store, but you are happy to find a can of artichokes. Snob (pronounced by native Spanish speakers as eh-snōb) brand because it is the only one. Debate over $4.65 can of eh-Snob mushrooms. Pass on it and then go back to get it rationalizing that you ate canned mushrooms on steak until you were about 16 and Mom started buying fresh ones.
4. Walk home 3/4 mile.
5. Start cooking and scream at the gecko you find licking the side of your chicken broth. Chase it around with the dedicated plastic cup and laminated award Matt’s friend gave him for his 2nd place fantasy football win that is now used to catch and “relocate” house geckos. Fail as it executes some incredible last minute leaps and you have been on vacation for a week and your trapping skills have suffered. Kick yourself for not defrosting the broth in the microwave but shrug and wipe down the side of the container.
6. Get out your pyrex from its carrying case. Note that the carrying case now has mold growing on it. Just like your purses, shoes, Matt’s suit jackets and half of the rest of the stuff in your house.
7. Wash the pyrex because even though it had a lid on it and was in its zippered case, what appears to be gecko poop is in it.
8. Turn on oven but look up the damn celsius to fahrenheit conversion that you can never remember.
9. Turn on burner but note that it is flaming oddly. Watch for rogue gecko as singed ones have run out of your burner in the past. No gecko appears. Carry on.
10. Continue cooking, smooshing any microscopic spiders you see because it is a lost cause and you have given up trying to eradicate them.
11. Keep cup and award handy for rogue gecko, but the little shit knows to stay away.
12. Hope that the cake flour, the only type you have been able to find on the island, means you will finally be able to whisk flour into broth without getting lumps. Fail yet again. Blame cake flour.
13. No sherry in town. Find some old white wine in the fridge that was too crappy to drink and kept for cooking. Smell it and add to lumpy sauce.


Cruising the Galapagos

Kicker Rock

Kicker Rock

Last week Matt and I were lucky to be on board the Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic Endeavour for a week-long cruise around the eastern Galapagos Islands. We found out late Thursday that we were approved for the trip and set off early Saturday morning to San Cristobal to meet up with the ship. The 2 1/2 boat ride was rough and despite dramamine and my handy pressure point wristbands,  I learned a new meaning for walk of shame – walking off the boat with a puke bag in hand. Thankfully, I had prescription scopolamine patches left behind by some friends and slapped one on as soon as we got on board. We were ready to cruise!

We had only been on one cruise before – Alaska’s inside passage on a ginormous ship – and to say it was not my favorite vacation is an understatement. In addition to getting seasick, I did not enjoy the canned feeling of a sedentary voyage that catered to middle America tastes. What a difference this experience was! The fact that it was not a cruise but an “expedition” set the tone. Our schedule was packed with hikes, snorkeling trips, kayak outings and the like and led by naturalists who had a passion for the wildlife and setting. The passengers were primarily adventurous, active folks who were eager to learn about the Galapagos and see as much as possible. That said, we still had ample meals and time to relax. Sunset at the equator is 6 pm, so we were always back on board relatively early, particularly given that the ship doesn’t dock anywhere but instead uses zodiacs (hard bottomed rubber boats) to transport us between the ship and shore (or kayak or snorkeling spot). Getting between the ship and the zodiac is not always an easy feat in choppy waters. On the pier in San Cristobal some of our fellow passengers quickly set up a pool – $20 per person with the pot going to the first person unintentionally to go overboard during the transfer. Never one to pass up a gambling opportunity, we were in. Surprisingly, while there were some close calls, no one went overboard.

The magic of the Galapagos is its wildlife. While neither Matt nor I are birders, the birds proved to be fascinating on this trip. The first treat was seeing the waved albatross engaged in their mating dance on Española Island. This is not the normal mating season, and we saw some unusual animal activity on the trip, which our guides attributed to El Niño.

Albatross mate for life and each season lay one egg on open ground. Both partners incubate the egg and caring for it includes rolling it around. We didn’t see that spectacle, though I was hoping.



Next up were the Nazca Boobies. These are the largest of the 3 booby species found on the islands. The juveniles spend considerable time practicing to fly before they learn. They also are heavier than the adults (typical teens) and have to slim down before they can get airborn.

It is a bit hard to tell mating behavior versus fighting, but these two were having a turf war, much to the interest of their neighbors.

Not to be outdone, the Red Footed Boobies are pretty spectacular and should be called the Multicolored Beak – Red Footed Boobies.

Of course, the ubiquitous Blue Footed Boobies were also spotted.

We didn’t just bird watch. Matt’s favorite part of any trip is the snorkeling and we went on all 6 of the snorkeling excursions offered.

Unfortunately, on our second outing we got water in the camera. After trying to dry it out for a day we plugged it in to charge the battery and returned to our cabin a couple of hours later to find the cord melted into the camera. We were relieved we didn’t burn down the ship. We especially wished we had the camera for our snorkeling outing to Bartolomé. Often cited as the best of the islands, it did not disappoint. We saw just about every type of fish, coral, and sea creature (with the exception of sea turtles, penguins or sharks) that we have ever seen in the Galapagos and the structure around which we swam was fantastic. In the picture below, we snorkeled from the beach on the right to the end of the point with the peak.

Bartolomé Vista

Bartolomé Vista

We had a human-focused excursion to Post Office Bay on the island of Floreana where we continued a mail swapping tradition that dates back at least to 1793. The guides open the mail barrel and read out the addresses on the postcards inside. If one is close to your home, you take the postcard and deliver it in person. We took a few from the Milwaukee area although the recipients will have to wait until next year for their special delivery.

Back on the zodiac, a naturalist spotted some penguins so we zipped over to take a closer look.

Other adventures included searching for elusive land iguanas on Cerro Dragon on Santa Cruz (our home island – Matt actually went to school to give the tour for the passengers and I went home and did a load of laundry the first day we were there).

We saw the cruel side of nature: the kleptoparasitic frigatebirds that steal food from other birds by attacking them and shaking them by the tail and starving sea lion babies whose mothers likely were eaten by sharks.



Cruel Side of Nature


We learned to look past natural camouflage.

And to enjoy the flamboyant.

Flamingo Bay

Flamingo Bay

There was something great to see every time we looked.

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A trip to remember and a new appreciation for cruises!