Viking Finger, DNA and a ‘meh’ compliment

Now, this is my kind of Viking! Grrrrr…

I hope the title of this post intrigues you to read to the end.  The story is all over the place but linked by DNA.  Teddy, my husband, and I have always been competitive about our various ailments/oddities.  That is why we are soul-mates…  Recently, Ted had been complaining about a little growth on his pinkie finger.  Long story short, the Italian American surgeon operated and came out to tell me what the prognosis was after the surgery.  Unexpectedly, he told me it was a benign tumor and he had never seen anything like it.  It seemed to be wrapped around the tendon.  Then he told me that he had his DNA test and discovered (to his obvious Braveheart excitement) that he had a significant percentage of Scottish DNA.  This was a red letter day for him – an unusual surgery on his Scottish compatriot.  I had to gently let him know that the Scottish wife was really an Irish Hispanic mix.  Hilariously, to me, he could not have looked more Italian but perhaps in his heart he was wearing blue Woad and tartan.

The growth went to pathology and a week later Teddy met with the Italian/Scots surgeon who excitedly told him that it was Dupruyen’s Contracture, a thickening of tendons in the hand that most commonly occurs in men around age 60 from Northern Europe.  In Teddy’s case the thickening was on the upside of the finger when it is usually the other way around.  When he came home we Googled it to find out that it is sometimes called Viking Finger.  Can you imagine the fun I had with vulgar comments about my Viking’s Finger and where he could put it??  I have to admit that this month he has beat my giant cyst, Pumpkin, and the atrophied hoo-ha.

This led on to thinking what our DNA tests have done to us.  Despite being 60% Irish, I cling defensively to my Conquistador heritage with a dash of Native American.  I am deeply unhappy that Teddy has 4% more Iberian DNA than me.  He is unhappy that he has no Native American ancestry despite having no American relatives.  On many an occasion, a flirtatious Hispanic man has been so disappointed that my maiden name was Ortega. “But you look Scandinavian or Irish!” Our family was convinced that we were secretly Jewish but my DNA indicates otherwise…

So, I am at the airport this weekend and yet another Arabic man flirts with me (or is the other way around)?  I would have guessed that he was a little older than me.  First, he tells me I am beautiful.  That elicited a smile and thank you.  Then he asked me what age I was.  I was surprised at the query but answered honestly that I will be 57 in a month.  He looked me over and said, “I would have taken you for 51, maybe 52.” WTF!!!!  Surely he could have told a little white lie and suggested 45?  I will take any compliment but that was a bit ‘meh’.  Then he asked me where I was from and I told him the usual spiel. You could see the disappointment on his face when I told him I had North African and Middle Eastern ancestry. “But you look Scandinavian”.  I sighed and agreed that I had 1% Scandinavian ancestry.  Now he was happy that he had flirted with one of ABBA’s kin.

I am beginning to come to terms that I am as Irish as a Mullingar heifer no matter how varied my DNA is. I sound Celtic, I look Irish and in America that is way more fascinating than all that Conquistador stuff.  Isn’t it funny how life changes?  At one time being Irish in America was as welcome as a Mexican immigrant.  Well, I have both Irish and Mexican immigrant ancestors so to all the haters out there; I am raising one Viking Finger!

Mexico – take two…

A pod of pelicans

Just after Thanksgiving last year, Teddy and I went on a lovely trip to Puerto Vallarta…except it wasn’t. What I didn’t reveal is what really transpired. We have been seriously considering a retirement move to Mexico because of the cost of health care in the US. Our first trip was to Baja – wonderful but some current cartel problems in the state. Puerto Vallarta always seemed like a low possibility because it is a tourism town but it also has very good medical facilities and is safe. Nonetheless we were looking forward to a vacation. The first problem was at customs where the officers wanted to look inside the Pelican case containing photography equipment. Silly Teddy had locked it but didn’t tell Bunny the combination… One was a little brusque but generally they were just doing their job. When we left Customs the timeshare people attacked… sigh.

Art at the beach

Our driver from the hotel was waiting for us (wondering why there was a delay) and things got much better. We arrived at the Hacienda which was utterly beautiful in the heart of the old town. It was surprisingly ‘real’, busy with buses taking workers in and out of the city. The cobbled streets amplified the noise of the traffic, open market and other businesses. It was a short walk to a beautiful beach and we had a lovely lunch with perhaps too many margaritas. There was a water feature running into the pool next to our room (the noise was making me anxious) and something just clicked in my brain. A panic attack was starting and Teddy had gone off for a couple of hours. By the time he came back it was fully fledged panic attack and I HAD TO GO HOME! This happened once before in Scotland and I seem to have no control over it.

Balloon

After much reflection, I think there was just too much riding on this trip and I would really prefer to stay at our home in Texas if we can afford it (and we likely can). In February I had the opportunity to visit Puerto Vallarta on a solo trip and this time it was so much better – Mexico, take two. I could even envision a partial retirement there, if needs must. I stayed at the same Hacienda where I made some new friends and got to know my host a little better. They have many repeat guests who enjoy the familiarity of a real home from home. Within moments of entering my guest room, I tripped and twisted my ankle. WTF? Are the Gods out to get me??? Fortunately, I had been practicing my Farmacia Spanish and I strapped it up. More posts to come with some wonderful photographs.

Zhenny – our crazy cat, RIP.

ZnK_Sept1
I had such a sad day yesterday. Our beautiful Zhenny’s heart stopped during a routine dental procedure and she is now buried in the garden with Mrs. Stripe who died earlier in the year. She was geriatric and had some cognitive difficulties but it was an unexpected death. Teddy and I are distraught despite knowing that she didn’t have much longer. She was so funny, loving and crazy, RIP our special girl. This is my original post about her.

I know – she is utterly beautiful. Her eyes are exquisite and she looks like a cat on a pyramid. That’s the problem… I first encountered her at the cat shelter where my husband and I volunteered in Cairo, Egypt. Her owner was moving from an American military base in Cairo to another in Korea and couldn’t take her fur baby. I can only imagine how her owner felt but Zhenny was distraught. She wouldn’t eat anything, despite our endless treats and pleading. The veterinarian put an IV drip in but she thought she was being tortured. We already had Mrs. Stripe and her daughter, Toffee, our garden cats, so we certainly didn’t want another one. We thought that Stripe would attack her anyway as she is so territorial. Then one day it was obvious that Zhenny was dying and I just put her in a crate, took her home so that she could die somewhere nice.

She was so skinny that we bought her a little cat nest with a hood so that she could feel safe and comfortable in her final days. To my surprise, when I introduced Stripe and Toffee to her, I could see them saying, ‘Poor little soul’ and thus she was accepted. The fight for her life went on for about a week with me forcing baby food into her mouth. In desperation I bought some minced beef and cooked it for her. For the first time, she seemed to have an appetite and started eating properly. By that time we were all bonded or used to each other’s scents and it was too late… That was 12 years ago and she was 18 months old. She is still alive but I have saved her life on another occasion when the veterinarian hospital could not look after her. We believe she may have sent someone to ER…

Stripe and Toffee are likely half Mau but completely feral. Zhenny looks like a tabby oriental but may as well be from Planet Zed. Even the vet said that she is just loco. I have looked after many cats but this one is an enigma. Only I can lift her, and only in special circumstances. Her Dad may only kiss her but not stroke her. He is also the only one who is allowed to play with her in a precise OCD way. Mum is just for cuddles and care-giving. The other two cats were utterly silent for years, as feral cats can be, but Zhenny is astonishingly vocal. I will be on the phone with my aunt in Ireland, Zhenny will be three rooms away and she can hear her screaming. After all these years we can tell the difference between her distress and laughter. The vet suggested that we give her Xanax – I looked at him and said, “How precisely should I do that, with a blow-dart, perhaps?”

She can be hysterically funny or drive us to tears. If she is upset she creeps along the floor, sobbing. Have you ever heard a cat sob? All treats have to be thrown like live prey and yet she is not a hunter. We discovered much later that she had kittens before we took her in but still hadn’t been neutered. Shortly after I saved her life in Cairo, she went into heat. Our villa was three houses from the baker’s shop at the end of the street and I could hear her howling inside our house. No wonder our neighbors had some issues with us… One time she was halfway up the stairs, with her head peeping through the balustrade and started ‘in heat howling’. Even she looked astonished at the guttural sound that came out of her mouth and we burst out laughing.

She should not have lived this long but Mummy is just so good at saving her life. Sigh. Our vet looks at me in horror when I say very firmly DO NOT RESUSCITATE! She is so difficult to handle that we know that she would not be able to cope with a chronic illness or disability so it would be a kindness. She has the early stages of kidney dysfunction but I suspect she has at least another year in her. Oh we will miss these beautiful green blue eyes and her funny vocalizations.

Zhenny at 2 years old in Cairo

Zhenny at 2 years old in Cairo

Wednesday’s child is full of woe…

Spicebush Swallowtail

Spicebush Swallowtail

This photograph is for Victor Rakmil. His has a fantastic photographic blog on WordPress. His photos inspire me to do better and learn techniques. That said, I took this butterfly with an inexpensive camera, shaky hands, peripheral neuropathy and NO patience!

The title of the blog refers to my birthday which is today! I was born on a Wednesday in San Francisco, many, many years ago. No matter how I approach my birthday each year, it is not usually a happy day. I have spent many birthdays on vacation as our wedding anniversary is the day before and sometimes that helps. Although I am often smiling, it is a social mask to make me and everyone around me feel better.

I am surrounded by people who love me and still receive a handful of cards from relatives and friends. Presents make me anxious – why? Who knows, not me. My mother frequently quoted that line of the nursery rhyme – “Wednesday’s child is full of woe” – and perhaps it is just imprinted on my personality that I cried on special occasions. I still get very excited about events then get anxious and finally sad.

The truth is that I have chronic depression and anxiety. It was first noted when I was 7 and now that I am aged 56 I guess I will die with it. Someone recently mentioned to me that many people in the third world I have no idea of their birth date or exact age. Maybe that would work for me? In which case I would like to be born in August about 20 years later than I was… 🙂

This year, I am grateful that my husband has a job, after 6 months of unemployment. I seem to have chronic fatigue but it could be much worse. Currents global events are making me weary and sad. I volunteered yesterday and someone from Latin America told me in broken English that I was a very nice person.

Anyway, happy birthday to me, Crabby Kerry!

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Valentina

Valentina

Can you see Valentina sitting on our fence beside the crape blossom? She is a young American black vulture who was investigating our back yard. I don’t really know that she is female or called Valentina but she has an exotic black cloak on and mysterious brown eyes. We live in a forest in near Houston, Texas and regularly see all kinds of critters including Black and Turkey Vultures. In some areas Black Vultures, which are a protected species, are becoming very common but we have plenty of carrion for them to eat given the lack of driving skills…

vulture on fence

You can get a really good look at her in the shot above. They are large birds and I guess she was about 3 feet tall with very big white feet. They are a successful species because they eat live prey alongside carrion. When Mrs. Stripe used to laze about on the deck, I would tease her that the circling vultures would eat her if she didn’t move. I don’t really understand why people think they are ugly – I thought she was rather beautiful in an Addams family way. She was quite curious about us but tentative.

vulture on deck

The beauty of darkness

Mangroves as light falls, Old Tampa Bay

Looking through the mangroves as light falls, Old Tampa Bay

I rarely see the dark. Off to bed while there is still light in the sky and awake into sunshine. We arrived in Tampa in the afternoon and by the time we toured the hotel and had dinner, suddenly it was dusk and then darkness. It was so exciting walking through the mangroves, wondering what eyes were looking at us and hearing the chirrup of many insects and night birds.

Doesn’t this look like a giant tarantula, below? It is really a spider crab and once I had my eyes focused they were everywhere. Wouldn’t it be fun to go there at Halloween?

Is it a tarantula hiding in the mangroves?

Is it a tarantula?

At one point the darkening sky turned green. It was eerily beautiful.
green light

It contrasted so beautifully with the pink sunset just before.

pink sunset

More wonderful photos and stories from Tampa to come.

St. Mary’s of the Annunciation, Charleston

stained glass

This is a beautiful stained glass window in St. Mary of the Annunciation’s Catholic Church, the first Catholic Church in South Carolina. The original building was founded in 1789 but this is the third church on the same site. It is quite an unusual architectural design for a Catholic church and I don’t think I have ever seen one quite like this.

St. Mary's of the Annunciation, Charleston, SC

St. Mary’s of the Annunciation, Charleston, SC

I went early to visit and to my delight was the only person there. Old churches and mosques can be so busy with tourists that you miss the reverential feel of an ancient place of worship. I went straight to light a candle and this time I prayed for everyone. The church was relatively small but so beautiful, especially inside. Just as I left, I remembered to bless myself from the font and be grateful for all that I have.

St. Mary's Nave

St. Mary’s Nave

Behind the church was a lovely little graveyard but these were the saddest little gravestones I have ever seen. They must have been for stillborn children because there was no name, just a single date. So sad, and yet touching that they had been remembered in this way.

stillborn graves
My maternal family name is McHugh, it is an Irish name and not that common with that spelling. So, at least one of my namesakes had money because this is a fancy memorial.

Rich ancestors?

Rich ancestors?

This is the first time I have ever seen a McHugh stone in a graveyard, except for my own family. Recently we discovered McHugh’s in America who had emigrated generations back and we even have a mysterious photograph of my great-grandmother taken in Boston when we thought she had never left the farm in Sligo? One American McHugh I spoke to was very disappointed that my pure Irish heritage was tainted in so many ways. The dropped me like a hot potato – get it? Potato? Irish? I am pretty sure that my snobby Conquistador ancestors would feel much the same way. 🙂
Charleston is full of churches of every denomination and I tried to visit as many as possible, including their fascinating graveyards. More in the next post.