Sunday, January 27, 2008

Family Reunion

My family held a weeklong reunion back in August to celebrate my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. Except for Nan, who couldn't leave work, we all agreed to meet at my sister Jane's family's weekend house on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle. I figured my family would want to see Charlie, too, since he is part of the family, so he and I made a roadtrip of it, staying overnight in Sun Valley, Idaho on the way out and back.

The usually depressing weather in the Pacific Northwest cooperated for the most part, so we were able to get outside for a few days to see the island's sights. Toward the end of the week, we spent a few more days in Seattle at Jane's family's house just south of Green Lake, taking in the culture and celebrating Jane and Josh's twin sons Max and Ben's birthdays. On one of the Seattle days, Charlie and I bombed around downtown Seattle with a friend from high school, Paul Snyder, who lives in nearby Bellevue.

Before Charlie and I headed home, I promised to get pictures to everybody but I haven't yet. In the last few weeks, since we discovered Charlie's illness, I have been reviewing digital pictures of him on my computer. Many of them are from the family reunion, which reminded me of my promise, so family, I hope you're OK with this blog version of the pictures (click to see full-size views):

The Lichty Kriesberg residence on Whidbey IslandThe Lichty Kriesberg residence on Whidbey Island. Note the foggy weather and the moss growing on the roof. Puget Sound is visible from the house (on a clear day), across the street and down the hill. Brother Stuart, Charlie and I bunked in the little cabin out back.

The back of the Lichty Kriesberg residence on Whidbey IslandThe back of the house, showing the nautical flair of the previous owner, a talented carpenter. Morning fog still hangs in the air. Weather permitting, cocktail hours were spent on the patio.

Flying kites at Fort Casey State ParkFlying kites at Fort Casey State Park. Fort Casey is an abandoned World War II post intended to protect Puget Sound from naval invasion. Left to right are Dad, Jane (in the distance), sister Susan and John's son Peter, and Max.

One of the massive guns at Fort Casey Visitors are allowed to climb around on the old fort, which still has some of its massive guns in place. This one looks capable of hitting Port Townsend, about three miles away across the Sound.

Susan, Charlie and me on top of the Fort Casey rampartsSusan, Charlie and me on top of the Fort Casey ramparts, with Puget Sound in the background.

Mom, Kirsten, Susan, Jane and Charlie on top of the Fort Casey rampartsThe ladies, plus Charlie, on top of the Fort Casey ramparts: Mom, Susan's daughter Kirsten, Susan and Jane. The land across the Sound is Port Townsend. That's Ben in mid-stride.

Walking toward the stairs to the beach at Fort CaseyWalking toward the stairs to the beach: Dad, Mom, Ben, Kirsten with Charlie, and Josh.

Kirsten and Charlie at water's edge Kirsten trying to keep Charlie from dragging her into the water. Note the hazy view of the Cascade Mountains in the distance.

Charlie's first experience with sea waterCharlie experiences sea water for the first time. Of course, he thinks all water is drinkable so he drank enough that he puked it all up later in the back of Jane's van.

Josh sitting on a driftwood log on the beach at Fort Casey Josh sitting on a driftwood log on the beach, which is covered in so much driftwood that Peter sees if he can walk without touching the ground.

John and Susan at Coupeville WharfThe next day, most of us, including John and Susan, went to the Coupeville Wharf to see the classic square-rigger ships, The Lady Washington and The Hawaiian Chieftain, which were on display there for a short while. The Lady Washington was used in all three Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Max walking the rail down the center of the Coupeville WharfMax walking the rail down the center of the wharf toward the ships just visible over the building at the end. To the right is a good view of the public dock and Penn Cove.

The Hawaiian Chieftain and The Lady Washington at Coupeville WharfView of The Hawaiian Chieftain and The Lady Washington from the end of the public dock.

Susan and Kirsten aboard The Lady Washington at Coupeville WharfSusan and Kirsten aboard The Lady Washington.

MacGregor 26X sailboat at Coupeville WharfAs seen from The Lady Washington, a MacGregor 26X approaches the public dock. (They're everywhere! They're everywhere!)

On the poop deck of The Lady Washington at Coupeville Wharf Kirsten and me on the poop deck of The Lady Washington.

John on the wharf in front of the Hawaiian ChieftainJohn on the wharf in front of the Hawaiian Chieftain.

Smugglers Cove beach at the north end of South Whidbey Island State Park The next day, at the Smugglers Cove beach at the north end of South Whidbey Island State Park. Dad tries to talk Charlie out of his tennis ball while Mom, Stuart and John enjoy the view.

North end of the Smugglers Cove beachMom, Kirsten and Jane at the north end of the Smugglers Cove beach.

Me, Dad, Stuart and Charlie at Smugglers Cove beach The Lichty men: me, Dad, Stuart and Charlie.

Mom and Dad on the Smugglers Cove beachMom and Dad on the beach.

John talking with a German couple at Smugglers Cove beachA very relaxed John has a conversation in German with a German couple he met at the Smugglers Cove beach while the rest of the group, in the background, examines a driftwood fort built by Peter, Max and Ben.

50th anniversary celebration at the Edgecliff Bar and Grill in LangleyThe 50th anniversary celebration at the Edgecliff Bar & Grill in Langley, down the road from the Lichty-Kriesberg home on Whidbey Island.

Group photo at the 50th anniversary celebration at the Edgecliff Bar and Grill in LangleyThe whole group, roughly left to right: me, Susan, Peter, John, Max, Dad, Mom, Ben, Stuart, Kirsten, Jane and Josh.

Seattle Art MuseumAt the entrance to the Seattle Art Museum, before part of the group opted for the Seattle Aquarium instead.

Paul Snyder posing in front of a Catalina 320My high school buddy Paul Snyder at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks that connect Lake Union with Puget Sound on the west side of Seattle. Nice Catalina 320 behind him.

Sculpture Park near Myrtle Edwards ParkCharlie and me at the Sculpture Park near Myrtle Edwards Park.

Charlie drinking from the fountain at the Sculpture ParkCharlie wanting to cool off in the fountain at the Sculpture Park. He had to settle for a drink.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Charlie's diagnosis

Charlie at the Lincoln Park pool in Grand Junction for Dog Daze in September 2007 Our worst fears were realized on Thursday evening when we received a call from Dr. Dernell. The results of Charlie's biopsy came back positive for osteosarcoma. Nan and I both took the news badly. It meant that there was no cure; the disease was going to kill him, probably within a matter of months. The traumatic surgery we had hoped would remove all traces of the tumor now seemed cruel if it was only going to gain him a few months, so we have opted not to put him through it. Instead we are going to begin a cycle of chemotherapy as soon as possible and hope for the best. If it slows the growth of the tumor and its metastasis, Charlie could survive as long as eight months.

We met with Dr. Dernell and Erin yesterday at the Animal Cancer Center in Fort Collins to discuss Charlie's future before driving home. They cautioned us that while he may be his normal self right now except for the tumor and the bad breath, he would soon start to experience persistent pain and associated changes in behavior. We agreed to enlist whatever palliative measures we could to keep him comfortable. They said we would see a gradual change in his attitude about life, that his focus would shift from the joys of eating, sleeping, chasing tennis balls and going for walks to a fixation on his condition and a loss of interest in everything else. At that point, he would begin the process of dying and we would need to consider ending his suffering instead of prolonging his life.

I can't even write these sentences without crying. I can't believe that just a month ago Charlie's life seemed to stretch out into the foreseeable future and now it will be over in less than a year. The best we can do is make the most of our remaining time together, giving him as much love and attention as possible, which is how we should all live our lives with each other no matter how much time we have.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Charlie update

This morning we met with Dr. Dernell from the Animal Cancer Center at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. After looking over the x-rays, CT scans and lab reports we brought with us and examining Charlie in person, he told us the cancer in Charlie's mouth could be one of four types, from the least severe to the most severe: fibrosarcoma, squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma or osteosarcoma. The first two would probably be benign and could be cured surgically. Melanoma would be malignant and might require radiation therapy or chemotherapy in addition to surgery. And osteosarcoma, which metastasizes quickly through the bones, would probably mean he didn't have long to live regardless of treatment.

What I thought were biopsies that had been done by Charlie's regular veterinarian were really cytology studies, looking for cancer cells in the fluid from the tumor and a nearby lymph node. Today Charlie is having an actual biopsy of the tumor tissue. Erin, the veterinary student who is assisting Dr. Dernell, just called to say that they removed a significant piece of the tumor for study. We should have the results tomorrow, with surgery scheduled for Friday. The biopsy will give a good indication of how aggressive the surgery needs to be to excise all of the cancer. At this point, they are expecting to remove the four top molars on the left side, along with a significant portion of the maxilla, orbital and zygomatic arch above them. His left eye will not be affected, but his face will be flattened somewhat on that side and his eye will point slightly outward until scar tissue develops to pull it back forward. His depth perception should not be affected.

Charlie is such a handsome dog it saddens me to think that he will never look quite the same again, but if there is a possibility that this treatment will enable him to live another five or so happy and healthy years, then it is definitely worth it. More tomorrow...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

My dog Charlie

My dog Charlie My dog Charlie will turn 10 years old on March 29; I will turn 50 in June. Charlie was my birthday present from my wife Nan when I turned 40. In a way, Charlie was meant to take the place of Rollie, our first golden retriever, whom we were forced to give up in 1992 when he was still a puppy, but that is a story for another time. Charlie was a very different puppy from the calm and lovable Rollie, and it took us some time to adjust to the differences. The fact that Charlie's father's name was Tuff, or that the breeder told us, "That one? He's so willful," should have tipped us off, but he was so adorable that we accepted the challenge.

Charlie was the kind of puppy who, when you gave him a command, would cock his head and stare at you, like "You're kidding, right?" It was obvious that he understood what was being asked of him, he just couldn't decide if he wanted to do it. Treats were usually the key. He would do anything for food. After Charlie figured out that I was boss and that the treats depended on his obedience, we developed a strong positive bond.

Rollie was never much of a retriever. I used to say about him, "He's not a golden retriever; he's just a golden." Toss a tennis ball at him and it would bounce off his nose. I was determined that Charlie would be different. He had good "eye-to-mouth" coordination, developed from catching treats out of the air, and he was a natural retriever, rolling balls back to me when he was still too small to fit them in his mouth. A tennis ball soon became a necessary component of every walk.

A couple of years ago, Charlie was retrieving tennis balls in a park with a couple of younger dogs. As they were running at full speed, one of the dogs broadsided him, blowing out the ACL and tearing the meniscus of his left back leg. He was immediately lame, unable to put weight on the leg without it collapsing. We opted for an expensive Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy surgical procedure, and it was an amazing success. We figured that Charlie was a rough-and-tumble dog and it was unfair to him to not have the full use of his legs for the rest of his life. Two years later, you wouldn't know that he had ever had the surgery if you didn't feel the steel plate that is still screwed to his tibia bone.

Now we're facing a new health issue. On New Year's Eve afternoon, while I was teaching skiing up at Powderhorn, Nan took Charlie to the groomer and also requested a tooth brushing since his breath had been bad lately. When she got him home, he started bleeding from the mouth. She rushed him to an emergency pet clinic, where they discovered that he had a tumor in his mouth along the upper gum line by his back left molars. The brushing had aggravated it and caused it to bleed. The vets stopped the bleeding and told us we should get a full work-up to see if the tumor was malignant.

That was more than two weeks ago. Since then Charlie has had periodontal x-rays, tumor and lymph node biopsies, chest x-rays, a blood test, a urine test, and a CT scan. He has been to three different veterinary hospitals. The vets can't agree on what it is, whether it's amelanotic melanoma, fibrosarcoma or maybe squamous cell carcinoma, but they all agree that it will be difficult to remove. The CT scan revealed that the tumor has invaded the zygomatic arch and is dangerously close to the orbital, threatening the vision in Charlie's left eye. The foremost veterinary surgeon in the area summed up Charlie's prognosis as "guarded." He has recommended that we go to the veterinary college in Fort Collins for an assessment and possible surgery. We have an appointment next Wednesday.

Nan and I agree that we should do whatever is possible to help Charlie get better. He is our best friend and we love him dearly. Please think good thoughts for Charlie as he faces his uncertain future. I will let you know how it all goes.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Boat Quest, Part 6

Here is a short piece from "The O List" section of the October, 2001 issue of Outside magazine:

Aerodyne 47 sailboat
The Aerodyne 47 sailing off
Newport, Rhode Island
The Best Boat to Sail Around the World

A plucky Australian named Serge Testa once managed to get around the globe in a 12-footer, but if you prefer to go first class, the AERODYNE 47, a new passage-maker from innovative designer Rodger Martin, aspires to be the perfect ride. The 47-foot sloop thoroughly modernizes the art of cruising—it's strong enough to battle Cape Horn and light enough to reel off 250 miles on a good day. Oh, and it's easily handled by just two people. The secret is smart engineering (like a self-tacking jib) and maximum use of ultralight, ultrastrong composites such as Kevlar (the material of choice for bulletproof vests). And the performance pedigree does not come at the expense of serious cruising comfort. Any number of boats (like the venerable Valiant 40, which made its first circumnavigation in the 1970s) will take you around the world, but few will get you across the oceans as fast as the Aerodyne 47 while the off-watch does laundry, eats microwave popcorn, and freaks out to Dead Calm on the DVD. —Tim Zimmermann $430,000; 508-943-8776;

I found this version in Outside's website archives. The original printed version included additional photos that showed a pilothouse, a washing machine, a flat-screen TV and even a workshop. I read it as a subscriber when it was published in 2001, while I was working for the Aspen School District and moonlighting as an Internet developer. The "Dot Bomb" stock market crash was already history but I believed I could still make it big with a vacation rentals website featuring "virtual walkthroughs." Big enough to throw $3000 a month at a sailboat for 25 years? Probably not. But dreaming about the Aerodyne 47 got me past my infatuation with the MacGregor 26.

After reading the piece many, many times, I finally looked seriously at the parenthetical, "(like the venerable Valiant 40, which made its first circumnavigation in the 1970s)." I had never heard of the Valiant 40, but if it was "venerable" and capable of making circumnavigations, then maybe it was worth checking out. I did a quick Google search, which returned thousands of results. Near the top was Offshore Atlantic Yachts, Inc. (, a yacht brokerage website run by a couple of the original founders of Valiant Yachts, Sylvia and Stanley Dabney. I read every page and then looked at all the associated sales listings. What I learned was that the Valiant was designed by naval architect Robert Perry in 1973 as the first high performance cruising sailboat with a fiberglass hull. It featured a cutter rig, fin keel, skeg-hung keel and tumble-home stern. Well-used Valiants from the late 1970s could be purchased for less than $100K, with some as low as $75K.

I made a habit of checking the listings a few times a week hoping that as our personal fortunes improved, I might find the right Valiant 40 at the right time in the right place. At one point, there was one available in not-too-far-away Mexico that I followed until the listing disappeared. I emailed Stan Dabney to ask what had happened and he responded that he had tried to close a sale, but the difficulty of doing business in Mexico had caused the deal to fall apart so he was no longer representing the boat. That got me thinking that there must be more to buying a brokered boat than I had thought, so I started paying greater attention to the terms of sale as I continued to study the listings.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Boat Quest, Part 5

Dan Gold may have been a believer in the MacGregor 26 trailerable sailboat, but that didn't mean he wasn't interested in selling me the one he owned, a 1992 MacGregor 26D. Whenever I ran into him, he would play up the advantages of his boat over the MacGregor 26X that I was dreaming of at that time, back in 1999. He said the 26X was nothing but a powerboat with a set of sails tacked onto it and that it had way too much freeboard, which would make it sail poorly. Dan was equally forthcoming about his own boat, saying it had a significant weather helm problem and that the cabin was cramped and uncomfortable, but he would sell it to me anyway for just $10,000--$5000 less than a new 26X--and that made it an unbeatable deal in his opinion.

Dan kept his sailboat at the Aspen Yacht Club on Ruedi Reservoir, above the town of Basalt and just down the highway from Aspen. It took me until the summer of 2001 to finally make it up there to take a look at it, at Dan's request but without his presence. As coincidence would have it, Steve Parrott was visiting us at that time, so he and his girlfriend went with me. Steve was one of my shipmates from the American Sailing Association class in Bareboat Chartering that I took in October, 2000. (See my "Education" post for details.) And he also owned a MacGregor 26, a late-model 26X. The three of us located the boat on its trailer in the yacht club's yard above the lake and spent about an hour crawling around on it. Steve thought it looked pretty good but that I should offer $9000 to see if Dan would go for it. It turned out that he would, but we continued to negotiate good-naturedly for many more years anyway.

When I started working at Aspen Valley Hospital in 2003, where Dan was the director of the pharmacy and my wife Nan's boss, we would talk frequently about sailing. Dan was the person who told me about Larry and Lin Pardey's cruising seminar in Denver. (See my "Lin and Larry Pardey" post for details.) In return, I asked them to sign his copy of their book, The Self-Sufficient Sailor, for him.

It wasn't until the following April, when Dan and I were both laid off from the hospital during a financial crisis, that we finally got together to sail his boat and commiserate about our shared misfortune. Dan was right, the boat did have a significant weather helm problem, causing it to round up quickly into the wind at every gust. No amount of effort at the tiller would keep it on course. Dan said the problem could be solved with a larger rudder and that there were plans online for how to modify the existing one, but he hadn't gotten around to it.

Dan never did get around to fixing his rudder. He died of a heart attack while skiing with his wife Kathy at Snowmass on February 16, 2006. He was 61. Nan and I attended his funeral the same day that I was rehired at the hospital. As I write this, I am looking at the large toy schooner that sits on my desk behind my flat-screen monitor. It was a recent gift from Kathy, who thought Dan would want me to have it. We never did complete a deal on his MacGregor, but in a smaller way I feel that I finally have Dan's boat. We miss you, Dan.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


In keeping with the season, here are the first two paragraphs of a fictional story I started writing a few years ago:

     Peabody awoke to the sharp slap of the bartender's hand on the bar top. "Time to go!" the bartender shouted as Peabody lifted his muzzy head to regain his senses. It was closing time, and he had no idea how long he had been passed out. He slid off his stool but reached for the rail as his wobbly legs failed to support him. Images whirling in his vision coalesced into an exit sign above the bar’s door. He stumbled toward it and reached for the door to regain his balance, but the door swung open and he fell face-first into the slush covering the sidewalk outside. Peabody rolled onto his back and stared up into the flurry of snowflakes falling from the yellow sky. Winter, he thought, and exhaled a cloud of beer-soaked steam into the chill night air. More accurately, New Year's Eve, he remembered. Where are all the merrymakers, he wondered, turning his head from side to side to confirm that he was very much alone. He waved his wrist in front of his face to check his watch. It was two o'clock. Rolling back over and struggling to his feet, he brushed the snow off his clothes and staggered off into the night.
     Peabody hadn't always been like this, a drunk alone for the holidays. In better times, he had been something of a success. He had always been bright, which is how he had earned the nickname "Peabody," after the smarter half of Peabody and Sherman, the cartoon duo from the old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. The original Peabody was the talking dog who wore glasses and was always a step ahead of his boy sidekick Sherman in solving that episode’s mystery. The intelligence came with a price though, and Peabody didn't realize it until he had already graduated from college in the early 1980s.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


Somewhere along the way, we have lost our sense of community. This may be a natural product of our modern impersonal world, but I believe there's more to it than that.

This morning Nan and Charlie and I took what is becoming our traditional New Year's desert hike in the Tabeguache area near our home. As we were nearing the end of our loop, we passed three people and a dog in a narrow section going the other way. The woman in front was concerned about their dog interacting with our dog Charlie, so she leaned over to grab his collar and passed without acknowledgement. I gave the young teenage girl who was next a big "Happy New Year," but she didn't reply and didn't make eye contact, so I repeated myself to the man behind her, who mumbled "Happy New Year" in reply as he glanced our way in passing.

When I'm out walking Charlie, I make a habit of saying hello to everybody we pass who bothers to make eye contact. I figure we're all out enjoying the same activity, so we might as well be friendly--maybe not as friendly as our butt-sniffing dogs, but at least cordial. My observation is that many people, especially younger people, do not share this feeling at all. They don't return the greeting or they don't make eye contact in the first place. It seems they lack the self-confidence to address strangers, or they are emotionally indifferent to people they don't know. Either way, it results in treating strangers as objects or obstacles.

You see this everywhere these days. Walking in the mall, you need to swerve to avoid people who would otherwise walk right into you. Driving on the highway, you need to go faster than the speed limit just to avoid being rear-ended. Waiting in a line, you need to look out for people cutting in front of you. "Please" and "thank you" have been replaced by "gimme." "Excuse me" no longer exists. The thought of holding a door or letting someone else go first doesn't even enter the mind.

And that's where it starts. With the mind. If your mind is so small that you can't think beyond yourself and your own selfish needs, if you've totally lost touch with the reality that we are all in this life together, if you don't realize that the best any of us can hope for is a little common decency from one another, then you are on your own. You don't belong to the community because you don't even know it exists. Open your eyes. See those strangers. Open your mind. Think about your place in this world.

Happy New Year, everybody.