Friday, October 16, 2009

Papa's Gone, I'm on my way

On the West Side of the Pond, Two Weeks
Dear Family and Friends:

Modern Technology is a wonderful thing. My father's last hours were spent with his family, all his family because, while I packed to leave, I was connected by webcam to his room and the family who visited. I heard my sisters and mum singing, I head my nephew and brothers-in-law reading the Bible, I head his grandchildren's voices, the sweet baby voice of one of his great grans, nurses, hospice workers and even Raul, his roommate who has dentures that keep falling down so that you're never quite sure what he's saying.  It also helps, in his case, to know Spanish because these days, he can't seem to stay consistently in one language.

My family tells me that 15 minutes after I told him good-bye to close the computer and leave for the bus to Riga, about 2:50 am, my father passed. It was very peaceful, according to my sister.  I found this out upon arrival in Minneapolis, where I am right now.  A nice layover before I see Joy and Brant is a very good thing.  It might allow me to catch up with myself.  I have not been to bed since Wednesday night, Lithuanian time, 10 pm CST so sitting quietly in the cafe, catching up on emails, and generally taking care of things that would otherwise keep me up when I finally get to Nebraska.

FYI: I will be at Mitchell's, (308) 384-1024, though I expect to be in Kearney some of the time over the next 2 weeks.

Thank you all for your concern and prayers. I have really appreciated hearing from all of you.

Love, hugs,


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Papa is leaving; I am coming

Flying to Nebraska

Dear Family and Friends:

In a few hours I will be on the 3:20 am bus that goes directly to the Riga airport in Latvia where I will begin the second part of the trip home.  I will arrive in Lincoln on Friday night 11:30 pm but, as things stand now, I do not think I will get home before Papa makes his last trip.  The important thing is that I will be with my family and friends during this difficult time.

As always, trips of this kind are very rushed and there is so much to do and to think about.  Fortunately, my classes are all very well trained to pick up announcements, assignments and participate in discussions online.   There will be little break in their work though they may not be too excited by that news.  The week after next is fall break and I will stay in the States most of that week as well.  I suppose, when one thinks about it, this even has happened at one of the best possible times, if it had to be before Christmas.

It will be good to know that Papa will be finally comfortable and at peace at last.  I am not sure he's had much of that in his life.

Love and hugs to all,


Wednesday, October 14, 2009


LL 23

Hospice for Papa

On Monday of this week, my sisters, mum, and brother-in-law ran Skype from my father's nursing home in Kearney, Nebraska so we could listen to the presentations of two hospice providers.  The long and short of it is that these are Papa's last days.  Various physical functions are shutting down, more and more frequently and in greater degree.  I was impressed by the presentations of the providers and am feeling assured that these providers will improve the quality of Papa's life, making his final days easier and more comfortable.  Naturally, I wish I could be with my family during this period but I am also impressed by the skills my family is demonstrating in the ways they are dealing with  this tough situation as calmly and rationally as they are at this time.  

Currently, my plan is to return for Papa's funeral.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Turning on the Heat

LL 22.5

The City and The Heat
I keep hearing rumors that the heat has been turned on in one place or another around Klaipėda but there is absolutely no evidence of that in my apartment.  This morning it was 62 F and with the two little space heaters I have running almost constantly while I'm home, the temperature sometimes gets as high as 68.  The school has been cold too and my office, terribly, horribly hot in the summer, feels now like an icebox with all the windows exposed to the cold.  Nevertheless, I have more than the usual traffic because the little space heater can make it feel quite cozy and I have to be very quiet about such things because, in an unguarded moment, a space heater can just simply disappear without a word or a trace.  Community living, sharing is one thing BUT I must draw the line when it comes to my space heater!  I am careful too about how I acknowledge people's compliments on the comfort of my office--I do so quietly, with more reserve than you might think I can exercise.

To give the city its due, I heard that yesterday, in the hospitals and kindergartens the heat was turned on.  It's coming.....

In the meantime, this Pillsbury Dough Girl is layered until she is twice her size, which is saying something and while folks poke fun, I'm never cold, really cold, like they are.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Wedding Bridge

LL 22

Wedding Bridge

There is definitely a chill in the air and when I crossed the bridge over the Danė river on Tiltu gatvė, I was reminded of all the summer Saturdays when crossing the bridge on any afternoon meant trying to sneak through several wedding parties, brides, grooms, bridesmaids, groomsmen having their pictures taken on the bridge.  It is nearly impossible to be inconspicuous on a bridge.  You're either on the bridge or in the river.  I looked around and no one else was "sneaking."  Everyone else was "strolling" as if it was the most natural thing in the world to walk through the middle of someone's wedding pictures--someone you didn't even know!  By this time of year there is hardly one iron post or section of grill work without a wedding lock, part of the wedding tradition here.  Another tradition is that a groom must carry his bride over the bridge and together, they place a padlock, inscribed with their names and the date, on the bridge.  No one's ever told me what good this does.  Does it ensure good luck?  Long-lasting unions?  Happiness?  Long life? Lots of children?  Wealth?  or all of it?  At the end of the year all the padlocks disappear,  taken down by the couples or by the city.

What I found really odd at first about the way they are attired was that bridesmaids choose whatever they want to wear.  Some of the outfits are really outlandish, bright colors--red's a favorite, for example.  And the styles are often very revealing or, at best, unflattering but outlandish styles, crazy colors and unflattering styles describe lots of bridesmaid's dresses in my experience.  As wild as some of the wedding fashions seem to be, it makes sense that if they're paying for their own dresses they could choose something they might wear again...maybe.

Financial Status of Moms, Elderly (and Professors, some of whom are also elderly!)

Up until now and until June, when the government may change their minds about this, Lithuania's had very generous maternity leaves.  The first year the mother is on the salary she made the final 6 mos of her employment and the second year she is given 80% of that.  The result is that we have to keep positions open for the moms, filling them with temporary people in the meantime.  The mom's receive their salaries from the government so employers can afford to hire the temporary help but in the English department, we've had moms who've married Americans, received their green cards, and taken all or part of their maternity leaves in the States.  The chance that they'll return is slim, to none, but no one can legally be hired full-time to replace them.  The whole idea was that Lithuania was experiencing a declining birthrate and this would help.  From all the prams, pregnant moms, and young children I see and from all the missing moms in our university it must be helping.  The new regulations, if they are changed, will come about because of the dreadful downturn.  Now Lithuania is ranked among the bottom in financial health in the EU.

What has already happened is terrible!  Pensioners, retirees have taken a huge cut in their government retirement checks.  I really don't know how they will live.  No one could pay rent, utilities and buy food on what they were given before the cuts.  What now?  It doesn't bear thinking about, it's so sad.  Of course, the drop in the dollar is squeezing expats too.  It's like taking a huge cut in pay/stipend or whatever you call our allowance here.  I can always tell dollar strength by the amount I'm allowed to withdraw from the ATMs to pay my bills.  I hit the daily limit with fewer and fewer litas.  Ouch!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

LL 21.5

The Sun
It is so rare to see the sun once winter comes here.  Some folks even keep track--so many days without the sun, and so on--but I find that depressing.  In the thick of it, the winter seems endless but never so endless as when someone reminds you.  Plodding through the grey days is easier I think.  It's the one-day-at-a-time AA philosophy, that actually works!

But today, glorious day, the sun is out, making clear, distinct shadows across the buildings in Senamiestas (Old Town) and streaming into windows as if it could make up for the endless cloudy days behind us and before us.  And the rolling thunder that was the background noise of so many days has ceased and so has the wind, come to think of it.  Mother Nature is allowing her children respite from her roars today and we are grateful.  As a matter of fact, you don't realize how noisy it's been 'til you rediscover the quiet.  I'll bet even the Baltic is smooth right now.  If I had the time, I'd run down there and check.  But I don't. 

Today, a no-class, no-meeting day at home, is meant for getting things done that cannot be done in my office at school, which sometimes feels as though it's open house, all day, all the time.  So, I will plan a little excursion to the grocery store a little later and hope the weather holds.  In the meantime, I'll sit and work, editing a dissertation for a German student, "marking" electronic submissions, answering email, writing references and looking out the window sometimes.  Sigh.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

LL 21

October 4, 2009, LL 21

Winter in Lithuania
Distant thunder, cloudy skies, Baltic Sea wind, rainbows, Sun and rain--winter has arrived in Klaipėda, Lithuania! No one was ready, everyone dreaded it, and now, it's here. At first, it feels like a reason to hibernate, stay home, stay warm and dry. After several days I realize I simply cannot live this way! There's a real sense of unreality in hours and hours of solitude, no human contact. I and the voices in my head become a chorus of negativity and doom. Enough!

Drama in the English Department
Dr. Rebecca Briley, a wonderfully experienced professor of literature and drama, is directing Miller's The Crucible. From what I've seen rehearsals are going quite well. Some folks are already off book and her production team is strong and resourceful. They have to be resourceful and creative with our limited budget. Is it any surprise to anyone that I've been asked to do the role of Tituba, the Barbadian slave? I will probably the first white Barbadian slave anyone's seen around here. I know there were "white" slaves in Jamaica with the vagaries of recessive genes, the genetic roulette that creates multi-coloured families in Jamaica to this day! Of course, I'm using Jamaican dialect and accent. For the life of me, I cannot remember the specifics of the Barbadian version and no one around here will know the difference. It sounds authentic...something! Because I'm only in 2 scenes this is not a difficult or time-consuming role to take on and this semester is an easier one, overall than the past 2 last year or even the coming Spring semester promises to be. I am learning my lines but with only 58 total lines and only 2 speeches of any length, even this is not taking time. Becky and I made a recording I can listen to on my IPod and computer.

Since I've arrived the English department has managed to have professors who'll take this on in addition to their teaching loads. Dr. Ervin Beck directed The Tempest and Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Skin of Our Teeth last fall. In between, I did a reader's theater version of The Importance of Being Earnest. We have been very fortunate because students really enjoy these opportunities, both to perform and to attend. The house is packed and this year will run for 3 performances to accommodate the high interest these productions generate.

Lithuanian News
On August 23rd there was another major celebration around here, the 20th anniversary of the Hands Across the Baltic when the longest human chain was created across the Baltic States, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, to show solidarity for independence from the Soviet Union. The commemorative events were very moving and a good reminder to those of us who were not here what that meant to folks my age who were here. Approximately 2 million people joined hands from Talinn, Estonia through Riga, Latvia to Vilnius, Lithuania and stood in silence for 15 minutes at 7 pm. That event is credited with the beginning of movement toward independence in the Baltics.
It was specifically planned to mark a painful date in Baltic history. On the same day in 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was signed between Stalin's Soviet Union and Hitler's Germany, essentially agreeing to divide Eastern Europe into spheres of influence and clearing the way for the Soviet Union to annex the Baltic states in 1940. That memory adds yet another bittersweet tinge as the Baltic states organize numerous events - including exhibits, conferences and meetings of government officials - to mark the 20th anniversary of the Baltic Way.,the-day-the-balts-stood-still-20-years-of-the.html
One of my Lithuanian friends, Radvyda, told me this Post-Independence story: An information officer ran into the President's office yelling, "The Russians are coming! Help! Help!" The president replied, "Send the tanks to the border, immediately!.... Both of them!" :-)

Notes from my kitchen--yes, just notes.
This section is for my gourmet cooking friends, especially Toni, CharlAnn, Anita, and now Joy: I finally found cilantro, kalendra, and started growing it my kitchen. It has done well but in my efforts not to waste any of it, everything I cook or make tastes of cilantro--scrambled eggs, pizza, spaghetti, bruschetta, and every salad. I like it and fortunately it is not more than once a week that anyone else eats my cooking so, for everyone else, it's fairly exotic. I wonder if it makes my breath smell like cilantro? I guess there are worse things but I also use a lot of garlic. If old wives tales have any truth, I simply will not fall prey to the 'flu' like everyone else around me. Besides, my chicken soup is believed to have healing properties (yes Anita, your mom must have been right on this one) and also be some of the best soup these folks have ever tasted. So, I've been cooking it by the gallon. Oh my!

That reminds me, I organized a ladies' night out and 13 of us went to see Julie and Julia. What fun! Not only were the tickets 1/2 price that night but it was the premerija which means that each theatre seat had little gifts and samples. Before the movie began, an emcee called up every woman who had participated in the bake-off. They all came on stage wearing aprons and carrying pyragas, or cakes. 3 were awarded a top prize of some sort and every woman was given a lovely bag of cosmetics. All the cakes were displayed on a table so that as we left we could try them. The fact that the stories of Julie and Julia were true stories made the movie that much more charming.

I am a fan of Streep's in any case so the story didn't matter so much but, as you see, I've resurrected my ancient blog because I was reminded, while watching, how much easier this is than attaching a word document to each email. Furthermore, my plan is to make it more personal by posting notes more often. Every so often I will collect them and send them to all those who don't follow blogs or prefer to print them and read them over coffee.

LCC International University, The English Department

This week I was made aware of the need for nailing down our course offerings for Spring. That was depressing. We will lose Dr. Briley and be operating with a skeleton crew for Spring...again. We will only be offering core curriculum courses, the necessary courses the English department supplies to the university core curriculum and all students but for the English majors? Hardly anything at all.  Thank goodness for the cross-listed courses available in the other departments.  Furthermore, even to accomplish this much, I will have to teach another overload and an all-freshmen load again. I must say, I've enjoyed this semester very much, so far.

I've been teaching and creating "Children's and Adolescent Literature" to juniors and seniors. What a pleasure that has been! Our discussions about archetypal images, gendered stereotypes, the history of stories, the need for legends, and so on has been an education for me. My experience from last year's all-freshmen-all-the-time, brought home the fact that freshmen require a great deal of energy, especially this first semester. One class of them, "Rhetoric and Communication" is plenty. It is difficult for them to get in the groove and some never do. Concerned relatives have already been calling the registrar for information and, of course, operating on North American standards, we cannot release student information when they've requested that it not be released. The registrar doesn't even understand this and keeps telling me that we have to say something to the people who are paying the bills. Yes, well, one would think, when you put it that way.

Of course, we're still looking for a linguistics professor and so, I gather, are 50% of the other universities of the world. Some very necessary courses are not being offered and I want to run and hide--or remain in hibernation 'til someone else figures it out.

I will post again, soon.

Best to all of you! Thanks so much for your support, notes, prayers, all of it.   By the way--see the easy way you can drop me a comment here? Hearing from you would be wonderful!

Hugs and Love!