Adventures at home, abroad, and online

Tag: Family Page 2 of 3

People with whom I share some DNA. Those Levinger genes are strong.

Laika, the first dog in space

Laika was a good dog: smart and sweet and loyal. I got her when I was just a kid, 12 years old in the summer of 1997. She and I grew up together.

Going on walks in the woods that were further than her short legs could handle, she would eventually stop and wait for me to pick her up and carry her the rest of the way. She was adventurous, staying outside long after dark, coming home not exactly when called, but a little after. I never did figure out how to whistle properly, so a falsetto yell was our rallying cry.

After a bath, she’d hate her clean new scent and rub her face on the couch until she smelled like herself again. One walk back from the groomer, she found a mud puddle and submerged herself up to the neck in it. Once she was nice and dirty again, she emerged entirely pleased with herself.

She was a good traveler, going back and forth between VT and southern NH on alternate weekends. When I got her I told her she’d have to learn to like the car, and that she did. She’d fall asleep with her head cocked upwards against the seatback, which looked awkward but must have been comfortable. She’d know when we got to Old Ridge Rd, and would perk up to survey her other territory.

When I left for college, Laika went to live with Janet and Lou, but she was still my dog. Coming home for weekends, she’d meet me at the door with a squeal and demand belly rubs for at ten uninterrupted minutes. The whole weekend, she’d be glued to my side. I think it slightly irked Janet and Lou, because what are they chopped liver? But it was always clear she was my dog, and I was her boy.

After moving out of the dorm, I brought Laika down to Boston. I wasn’t quite as conscientious a care-taker as the adults were, but Laika adjusted well to her new surroundings and a smaller backyard. She got new friends in my roommates, snacks whenever we grilled out back, and a spot on the front porch from which she could bark up and down the street. It was a perfect vantage point for keeping watch over the neighborhood.

She knew nothing about cars, and moving from the country to the city was an adjustment for us both. I now had to walk her on a leash and pick up poop with my hand covered in a plastic bag. She had to learn to wait at crosswalks, or at least not go until I let her. She always loved the snow, maybe some of that Tibetan heritage. She would leap through drifts far taller than you’d think a small dog would be able to manage. There was joy in her step, romping through the park.

She was cute; maybe cuter than a young man deserved. I always thought she’d come in handy picking up girls, but walking on the Somerville community path it was always the old ladies who would stop and ask to pet her. She did work on one young woman, though. Ruth knew that the way to me was through Laika, and did her best to ingratiate herself into our relationship. Laika learned to move over in bed, and the three of us became a family.

When I moved to California, Laika came with me. Not at first, but once I found an apartment that allowed dogs, I was on the next plane back east to get her. She did well on the plane, quietly sleeping underneath the seat in front of me. Until I too fell asleep, and she wandered toward the cockpit. The stewardess scolded me with annoyance, but I knew Laika just wanted to go exploring.

California had new smells, new dog friends in our building, and a new routine. I left for work after our morning walks, and she would be waiting for me by the door for my return in the evening. She wasn’t always able to wait to pee for that long, so we got her an absorbent pad and a little piece of fake grass to put in the bathroom. The smell didn’t bother me too much, and Ruth not at all, so it was a workable solution.

Recently, Laika started to lose energy and eat less. I reminded myself that she’s an old lady, just turned 14 in June, and almost 100 in dog-years. I could tell she wasn’t feeling well when she would no longer eat her pill-concealing treats, or even drink milk out of a bowl. She used to bark at me as I ate breakfast, demanding her turn at the sugary milk. That’s when I knew it was time.

Today, I took Laika to the vet for the last time. I carried her in my arms, as she’s gotten used to getting rides down the hall. She peed on me a little in the car, perhaps a parting shot, or a sign that she hadn’t eaten her medication in over a week. She didn’t mind the vet, just closed her eyes and fell asleep. I cried, which I don’t often do, but felt right today.

I don’t think much of heaven, but I know that Laika’s spirit is too strong to disappear immediately. I’d like to think that she joined her namesake and is barking at the stars.

Grandpa Eddie

After getting back to San Francisco, I napped for a few hours and then got on a flight to Pittsburgh for Grandpa Eddie’s funeral. His health had been failing for the last few months, and Janet and I had discussed what would happen if he passed while I was out of the country. I was glad to be able to hustle home and make it there for the service and shiva.

The service was touching, and each of his children spoke about the depths of his kindness. I was a pall bearer, and while wearing the overcoat of my great uncle Jerry, found leather gloves that were quite useful when lowering the casket, as well as two pink yarmulkes. Thanks Uncle Jerry!

Grandpa was always interested in technology; he switched from PC to Mac a few years ago, and was always keeping up with the latest thing. As a retired Chevy dealer, he was excited to see the release of the Volt. I spent the afternoon cleaning up his iMac to give to the family of his caretaker, and was proud to find printouts of some of the websites I had built recently. He once told Janet that he thought I had spent more time on this blog than in school. But I know he read every entry, and was pleased to see me travel to Israel, even if our politics didn’t entirely align. So here’s to you Grandpa Eddie; may you play ping-pong once more with the shah.

Grandpa Eddie and the Sable clan at his 90th birthday

La Dolce Vita

Our voyage begins in Dublin, with an Aer Lingus flight full of hot Irish stewardesses, and a morning feast of blood sausage and runny eggs. Passing by a bar, where tourists and locals alike were drinking at 8 am local time, we flew to Rome. A short train ride to Firenze, and the adventure really began. Due to some logistical foul ups, we didn’t have lodging arranged. We wandered around the city until 2; taking in the Duomo without the hordes of tourists, and then hunkered down in the grass by the train station. It was sort of like camping, but without less wildlife and more drunks and homeless folks. I actually didn’t really sleep, preferring to stay awake and watch passersby. And they say chivalry is dead…

The next day we got a bus to Panzano, and met Janet and Lou to take us to the Villa Bracciano. It’s an incredible 500 year old castle, with a pool, stocked wine cellar and stunning hillside views. This is travel Sable-style, and we made to sure to enjoy it while it lasts. We toured charming hilltop towns, ate hearty meals and drank wine until we could drink no more. Then the next day, we did it all again. My favorite meal was at a restaurant in Panzano called The Butcher’s. He is a friend of Jamie Oliver, and it’s apparently frequented by Jack Nicholson. There is no menu, just wave after wave of meat dishes. I had more wine than normal, and ate myself silly on rare lamb balls. Our last night we dined on our patio under the moon, and finished the evening with drinking games and Hannah Montana style Uno (apparently she’s kind of a big deal). Ali dubbed the trip Sable Crunkfest 2008, and I have to agree. Next year in the Greek Isles!

With teary goodbyes, and firm warning to come home alive, we departed this morning and continued to Lucca and Rome.

The conquering heroes
Our sweet pool
A long night in Firenze
Wine tasting at Cennotoio
Lou can hold her own
Crunkfest 2008

A Flight to Remember

Went to Dana and Eric’s fabulous wedding in the mountains of North Carolina. It was a gorgeous day, and both the bride and groom looked stunning, and their exit to the opening riffs of Kashmir was eminently appropriate. The party involved pulled pork, a meal expertly prepared by Ashton, moonshine drinking on a verandah, and interesting mix of Princeton graduates, Atlanta residents and a few yankees. It was a real cultural experience.

While the events were perfect, the transportation there and back was not. Our flight into Greensboro was on the heels of a category 2 tornado with winds of approximately 130 mph. Two FedEx planes were damaged, pushed into a fence and ditch. We landed safely, but saw some sweet lightning and experienced some pretty strong cross winds.

You’d think that this would be the extent of the travel related incidents, but our flight back was even more exciting. The flight on Sunday night was cancelled due to crew worktime issues, so we were rebooked to Monday morning. Janet scored us a free night at the airport Marriott thanks to her impeccable negotiating tactics. The morning flight to Laguardia was fine until the approach, just after we passed over Lady Liberty. At that point, the pilot came on the intercom and informed us we were having “mechanical trouble” and were diverting to Philadelphia. It turns out that the flaps were malfunctioning, so a higher landing speed would be necessary to avoid stall, requiring a longer runway than Laguardia has. A perfectly reasonable explanation, but not the one that was offered at the time, so there were some ripples of passenger nervousness. Lou popped a Xanax and Janet tightened her seatbelt.

Philly was also experiencing strong crosswinds, so our first approach got down to perhaps 50 feet before the pilot gunned the engine and went around for another try. Again, not out of the ordinary, but when mixed with the previous circumstances, people started to get freaked out. The second landing was trailed by emergency vehicles, and I managed a quick snap of one just off the wing.

emergency landing
tornado airplane

Hiking in Sierras

Hiked to beautiful Dardanelles Lake with John and Jennifer. It was wonderful to spend time with them, and to be in the high country again. Living in California looks better every day.

Lake Dardanelles
Hike out
Big Meadow

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