Connie and Ira relaxing on the settee

Caption: "Grief you can endure alone if necessary
but it takes two to feel joy."

Ira lying on the floor

My lovely Guide Dog Ira

When I was 24 years old, I got my first guide dog, Nick, and he opened a wonderful new world for me. For nearly ten years Nick brought joy and fun into my life. When he died, I got a new guide dog, Ira, a yellow labrador. For 11 years I lived with my lovely Ira, who - for as long as she was able to - did what she could to make my days bright and easy. Ira died on February 24th, 2000, after long, loyal, and loving service. Her wagging tail and loving heart never left me in any doubt that I was in very high favor - at least with her. Without Ira and her sweet way of bringing comfort to me, whenever life and things became too hard to handle, I would have been a very lonesome girl.

If you would like to know more about my beautiful Ira and me and how we would tackle the small worries and joys of everyday life, you can read about it in the articles which were printed in the weekly magazine "Soendag," where Ira and I had our weekly two columns a couple of years ago.

Articles about Ira
(From the weekly magazine "Soendag" (Sunday))

Top of Articles Keeping Late Hours
Pancakes and Rubber Bands
To the Left of the Right
The Day goes with Rapid Steps
In the Shade of the Palm Trees
The Seven Plagues
Chinese Food and Diets
A Little Bit about Photographers
Modern Times
The Porcelain Dog
Bus Ride with Ira
The Little Gentleman
A Rare Christmas Present
Christmas Preparations
Home, Sweet Home
December Greetings

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Keeping Late Hours

How do you prefer to be awakened? By the sound of a noisy alarm clock, by sweet music from the radio, or by a gentle kiss on your cheek? I think I prefer the last method, though most often it comes from a wet dog's nose. But I am afraid that is not always the method Ira values the most. Oh no, she prefers to kick up a row - above all when you are in your sweetest and deepest sleep dreaming about silent night, holy night, and the starry blue sky. That is exactly what happened at about three o'clock this morning.

I was awakened by a thud coming from the living room. It was Ira who threw herself on the floor; she was rolling around while alternately grunting like a pig and mooing like a cow - an art she has come to master almost to perfection. Then she jumped up, shook herself violently for a long time, and then she repeated the whole scene just to make sure I had noticed. Now, there was no danger of that escaping my attention, but I felt absolutely no desire to get out of bed and entertain her at that hour, so I pretended I was asleep.

Shortly after, she came sneaking into the bedroom and went behind the door, which she carefully pushed open, and then she laboriously managed to squeeze her way out again. "What on earth is she up to now?" I thought. I soon got the answer in the form of a deafening crash when Ira sent the door slamming into the wall with a quick move of her shoulder. I was almost about to rush out of bed, but I knew from experience that I would get no more sleep that night then, so I stayed where I was at.

The noise must have taken her by surprise, for there was long silence - complete silence - for so long that I dozed off again. Then suddenly there was an annoying rhythmic creaking coming from the threshold. It was Ira who had placed her forepaws on it - not in the middle, which would have been the most obvious thing to do; no, she must have planted one paw at the very end, and now she was shifting her weight from one paw to the other. It was nerve-racking. "Now, stop it!" I snapped. "I'll do as I please," she answered and continued. I sat halfway up, and the creaking stopped immediately.

Then I lay down again and fell asleep shortly after - only to wake with a start when Ira deliberately barged against the bedside table so that the radio fell over and the phone fell on the floor. "Now, that's enough!" I hissed, jumped out of bed, and rushed into the living room; but Ira was already in her bed pretending to be asleep, with one paw placed sweetly under her head and the other covering her nose. The latter she probably did to hide that she was smiling and was very content with herself. I swear that is what she did.

I stood there pondering for at while, and then I went back to bed. Well, you do not kick a sleeping dog, do you? "Good night, you little partisan," I said. She laughed. Really, she did.

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Pancakes and Rubber Bands

I am baking a lemon butter cake. It is the only cake that I am one hundred percent sure that I can keep for myself no matter how it turns out. Bent, my big brother, hates the taste of citrus fruits in cakes and is able to detect it even under a three centimeters thick layer of frosting.

Last week, I baked the most delicious loaf of white bread, which tasted so good that it was gone the very same evening; and the recipe even said that it could easily last for ten days. I also tried to bake an almond cake in my food warmer, but to be honest it was not a success, on the contrary I would say.

And then there are the pancakes. I love pancakes. It is just that I never seem to be able to flip them. I tried rolling them carefully with a spatula, but they fall to pieces, or they roll too far and end up on the stove next to the frying pan. I also tried to flip them elegantly in the air - to Ira's great delight. Ever since, she has been lying glued up against the stove every time I just go near the kitchen. Finally, I tried the microwave oven, but that is just not possible. Absolutely not. It is good for heating food, water, and milk, and for defrosting bread, though. You just have to remember to use the right utensils. Plastic-covered paper plates are not recommendable for high temperatures, particularly not if you need to open your windows using a hammer, which you do not have.

I have begun to think economically, having been taught so by my mother who only buys things on special offer: Three for something, though she only needs one. So now I am in possession of 700 rubber bands, though I only wanted a few. But that was not at good deal, my mother said. And who knows? Even though I find them completely useless today, partly because of their small size (1.5 centimeters in diameter) and partly because they break for a mere nothing, then the day may come when I just might need 700 unelastic rubber bands, and then they will come in handy.

And it sure would be nice if instructions for various kinds of do-it-yourself kits for cupboards and bookcases were more adequate. Not that it makes that much of a difference. Bent and my mother have a real aversion to such phenomena. They consider them written for idiots - written by idiots - which is not entirely unthinkable. My mother was in a sweat for an entire evening because of a remaining plastic gadget from a pot lid, only to learn the following day that it had no use. Imagine that! An entire evening without the Wheel of Fortune and the weatherman for no reason at all!

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To the Left of the Right

It is Monday - Ira's self-assigned day of relaxation, which means my do-take-care-of-yourself-day. On Mondays, Ira does not understand what is going on at all. Everything goes in at one ear and completely unnoticed out at the other. On the other six days of the week, she tears along causing numerous unpleasant and painful collisions with unsuspecting people, who are walking in front of us, completely unprepared for the ambush, which is in store for them. But on Mondays, everything goes on in slow motion, and I am almost always sure to be late for work no matter how early we leave.

She wanders ever so cheerfully across all the curbs, though she knows very well that she must stop, and she is deeply offended in her innermost little dog feelings when I give her a severe and richly deserved reprimand. She walks in all the puddles that she can get near and gets me all dirty. And she is the one who normally hates getting her paws wet! Also, she turns right when asked to turn left, vice versa - and she could not care less about the consequences.

Besides, left and right can be hard to figure out for us two-legged beings, too. Often, I almost sit on somebody's lap on the bus because some kind and helpful soul is confusing left with right and says there is a vacant seat to my left, meaning the right.

Once, I nearly torpedoed a tree because of similar misleading information from my big brother, who was teaching me how to drive - not in his car, of course; he was much too fond of his silver-blue Ford for that. And ten years ago or so when we, as usual, were on vacation at Havrebjerg visiting my aunt and uncle, I nearly drowned my aunt in the village pond for the very same reason.

My uncle had an old wheelchair, and one afternoon my sprightly aunt just got into her head that I needed "some fresh air." So I was seated in the chair and maneuvered out of the house and onto the lawn from where we continued at a gallop down the farmer's lane with my mother, two dogs, nine cats, Peter the rooster, and Olsen the pig in full pursuit.

Afterwards, it was my aunt who sat in the chair, and I was pushing it. We dashed down the lane, while she was bawling and yelling, "Stop, damn it! Stop! We'll end up in the village pond! Turn right! No!!! I mean left!" And so I did. In both directions.

In Pythagoras' theory of numbers, the figure one stands for masculinity and is associated with e.g. the right hand, while the figure two, femininity, is associated with the left. Maybe that is why men's shirts are still buttoned to the right and ladies' blouses to the left, and maybe she, my little Ira, has a valid excuse when she turns left to the right. Besides, who said that people must hold a patent for all blunders, the right to have a bad day, and the desire to just let things drift and just not care at all? Maybe during this sweet Christmastide we should think a bit more about everybody's right to be here, with or without their faults.

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The Day goes with Rapid Steps

That dog is beginning to give me an inferiority complex and increasing my doubts as to my musical talents. Each time I sit by the organ to relax a little while playing our old Christmas carols, she comes darting, drills her head under my arm, and brutally removes it from the keys. It is obvious to anyone that she just cannot stand my playing.

In the beginning, I tried to ignore her and ordered her to go lie on the blanket. But it does not exactly promote your eagerness to play knowing that your four-legged friend is lying there covering her ears. I cannot figure out what it is - whether it is she or me who is completely unmusical - though, of course, I prefer to believe that the former is the case. It is just that my first dog, Nick, who resembled Ira through and through, acted the exact same offensive way. I still remember his first (and only) appearance in the chapel where I used to play many years ago by now.

Everybody had been informed about the new member of the congregation and that this new creature had been specially broken in and trained and thus would not cause any disturbance whatsoever with his presence. And he did not - for the first couple of minutes.

We sat down at the organ, which was placed up front on a platform, so that everybody could see what was going on. There I tied Nick to the organ bench to make sure he would not run away, and I had my little sister sit nearby in case the nice words from earlier on would turn out not to hold good. Then I discretely kicked off my sandals to be better able to feel the pedal board and began playing the prelude.

It was summer; the sun was shining through the tall windows and warming my neck. "Put Your Hand on the Plow, and Look not Back," they sang. I tried not to, then. It was hard, though, for the lively grunting from behind me indicated with the utmost undesirable plainness that my dog was standing on his head and turning somersaults at the great amusement of himself. "Christ the Lord is Risen Today," the choir sang, while Nick with planted his hind legs firmly on two bass pedals on the pedal board, rose with a quick jerk, and broke his leash. "Out!" I whispered to my sister, and out they went. Nick dashed down the aisle with my sister close upon his heals in her long dress and high-heeled shoes. I just had time to think, "Make the door tall, make the gate wide!" before the church door crashed open, and both of them disappeared while the congregation very suitably was singing, "The Day Goes by with Rapid Steps." And it sure did.

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In the Shade of the Palm Trees

Is there anything more exotic to think of in a cold December month than swaying green palm trees on sunny white beaches under distant sapphirine skies? There isn't, is there? But if you leave out the distant part and forget about the exotic part, which we Danes are fairly good at, then by and large it is possible to rejoice over the sky in this country, though it is not always quite as blue as the sky in the tourist brochures. And we have lots of beaches, though they are not always all that inviting; but we can still visit them for free. All that is missing in the idyllic surroundings is the palm trees. They do not really thrive in our cool climate, but if you are content with indoor specimens there are numerous possibilities - and problems, too, now and then - that is, if you do what we did.

You see, we have an enfant terrible in our family: an exceptionally unattractive, prickly, and mean specimen of a yucca palm, also called a yucca elephantipes regel. When I say "we" I mean we, for it has been tyrannizing its surroundings for ten years, the whole family having taken it on by turns. My sister and brother-in-law got it from a good friend when it was small, so they figured they could not in decency part with it again. So, for about a year this pretty little palm lived securely and thrived. "First you are little, and then you grow big," Buster Larsen sings, and so it did; so big that they thought it was time to find another home for it. When it very conveniently happened to be my mother's birthday, then what was more natural than giving her this beautiful palm as a loving gesture from her children? No sooner thought than done.

Consequently, my mother was forced to house the uninvited guest, and because her children gave it to her, she figured she could not part with it. So there it was, growing and growing.

Eventually, she planted it in the allotment garden to get rid of it in a nice way and "forgot" to dig it up when winter set in. All through January, it led a miserable life in snow and frost and was close to dying when my big brother took pity on it and brought it into his warm home. So now it was his turn to house it, and he did it so well that it recovered and started growing again with lightning speed. Today, it is several meters tall and grows along the ceiling. It is beginning to be quite a nuisance to visit his home: Just as you sit there, you get stabbed in the back by a razor sharp palm leaf, and when you get up unsuspectingly you utter a frightened gasp when you get your skull pierced by sharply pointed daggers.

Poor brother Bent who has to sit there like another Jonah in his booth, hoping that just like back then the Lord would work a tiny little miracle in the shape of a tiny worm which would bite the palm so that it would wither in a day. Even though he knows that trees do not grow into the heavens, he is beginning to have his doubts. So, if you happen to have an officious neighbor or some annoying acquaintances, or if you simply happen to be one of the ill-starred poor creatures who always gets the wrong Christmas presents - or if you are just downright spiteful - then this little palm might be a brilliant idea for a Christmas present.

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The Seven Plagues

It has been one of those days when everything goes wrong. You know what I mean? You get up in the morning only to realize that there is a run in your tights, and you cannot find the new pair you bought last week. In the kitchen, you knock over the cup of freshly made tea, wipe it up, and start all over. You drop the freshly made toast down into the dog's jaws; she is delighted and disappears into the living room crunching on her prey. You step in her water bowl, wipe it up, and start all over.

You are late for work. You left the key at home and have to run through the whole building to find someone who can let you in at the office.

When I got home this afternoon, I went downtown with my mother to look at a coat that I had called the shop about; a black single-breasted coat with raglan sleeves, size XS. When we entered the store, the clerk started unbuttoning my coat right away. I really did not like that, so I stepped back a bit and asked politely if it was possible to have a look at the coat in question at first. "By all means," she replied, got the coat, and hung it on a rack so that I could "look at" it. "It seems rather big," I answered the lady. "Is it really size XS?" "Oh no, but it is a very small size, and I'm sure it fits. This is a loose model," the lady replied. "It's size Medium," my mother said dryly. "But it's double-breasted, and it's got set-in sleeves," I said. "That's the in thing this year," said the clerk. "It's brown," my mother added casually. "Tell me," I asked confused, "is this the right coat you are showing me?" "Well, of course. We do not have it in black; and brown is so much more practical, now that your daughter cannot see. It's easier to keep nice and clean then," the kind lady explained, disregarding me. My mother nearly exploded; I knew that from previous experiences. We left the store without further comments.

And now I sit fondling Ira's ear. It is time for bed. One of my friends just called, and I told him the story. He laughed at it. "She really ought to have apologized," he said. "I know I would have if I had been so rude, which is unthinkable." "You would?" I asked surprised and reminded him of his first visit to my home.

It was summer. I had just bought five flowerpots with marguerites, which I had hung on the wall of my balcony. As we were sitting at the table in the living room chatting, I asked him how he liked my marguerites. "They're nice," he said, "but they are asters." "Asters!" I said. "They certainly are not asters." "I'll be damned," he said annoyed by my stubbornness, jumped to his feet, and went out on the balcony, and I followed him. Deep silence. "Well," I said. "See?" "But they are marguerites! Then why the devil do you say they are asters?" You know the type?

He laughed at the memory. The seven plagues of the day were forgotten.

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Chinese Food and Diets

I am getting sick and tired of diets and various commercials and advertisements on the subject. Not that they do not work - and that is too bad, of course - but because they always appeal to everyone else but me. Why do they not once in a while advertise a small fattening diet?

For more than twenty years, I have been fighting a valiant battle with all those pounds that I do not have. I have eaten fat and liver pts, cakes, and chocolate until it almost has come out of my ears, and I have almost drowned myself in cloying cocoa and butter milk mixed with double cream - without gaining one bit.

The other members of my family, however, are among those lucky creatures, who immediately gain three kilos just by looking at a cookie. And still, believe it or not, at every birthday they sit there staring enviously at the one who is laboriously struggling her way through one quarter of a layer cake without gaining anything but nausea and a constant wonder at the odd fact that what at first was absolutely delicious suddenly begins to taste just horribly after an astoundingly short time. You gain nothing, absolutely nothing, from all your efforts. All that happens is that nothing happens, and that might be said to be very little.

However, something did happen last Saturday. We went downtown to enjoy the Christmas season and have some Chinese food. We found a cozy restaurant, which was painted in red and gold colors and full of dragons on the walls. We slumped down at a table, all exhausted. My mother and brother, Bent, ordered the four course dish of the day, while I, unfortunately not being able to gulp down such quantities, chose to have deep-fried king prawns in sweet-and-sour sauce. They came with the soup for the others and almost looked like they were meant for at least ten persons. I ate as many as I possibly could, for they were delicious, but still I had to leave more than half of them. My mother and Bent took care of them between their second and third courses - all but one, which got to remain because my mother suddenly realized that the waiter was staring at her. "I bet he thinks that we begrudge Connie her food," Bent said embarrassed. I laughed.

"Now, are you absolutely sure you don't want just one pancake?" my mother asked for the umpteenth time when the waiter served theirs. "Quite sure," I answered. "Girl no have?" asked the waiter. "No, thank you," my mother smiled. He disappeared - only soon to return with three pancakes, which he placed in front of me. "Eat! No pay! Free!" he said and stayed to make sure my mother did not steal them from me. "Oh, boy!" I thought, but I did manage to eat them.

Alas yes! Some have too little, others too much; I had enough. Tomorrow that weight will have to go.

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A Little Bit about Photographers

A couple of summers ago, when we were on the train on our way to Slagelse, my mother read a short article to me from a magazine that somebody had left in the compartment. An 87-year old lady told what it is like to grow old and be forgotten. For ten years, she had not been outside because she was in a wheelchair, lived on the fifth floor, and had no elevator. Her greatest wish was to see a new-leaved beech forest once more before she died. In the photo, she was wearing a nice dress and sitting at a well-provided table with coffee and cakes, and she had a slight sad smile on her lips. A good photo and a good story were sure to make the readers shed a few tears.

But the whole story made me furious, because it was so inane and heartless. Why on earth did the two he-men, the reporter and the photographer, who had been drinking her coffee - which was obvious from the photo - not wrap the lady in a couple of blankets, carry her to their car and drive her out to the forest and the beech trees? It would not have taken more time than they spent in her small living room; it would have given her one last pleasant experience - and it would have given them and the magazine the loveliest photo in the world.

In the past months, I myself have had several visits from photographers because a magazine wanted to bring a picture of Ira and me in loving company. Tte--tte, literally. And believe me, it is quite a task for the photographer and for me. For just like me, Ira is suffering from an enormous and still growing aversion to all that just resembles photographers. It brings us out in spots. The first six rolls of film they shot were not fit for use. Either Ira looked silly or I did. Or I did not smile or did it wrong. The nice editor suggested that they send a lady with a few blouses for me so that I would look more fashionable. I objected, the photographer showed up again with no lady, and the whole thing started all over.

Get Ira. Sit properly! Bring your feet together! Chin up! Open your eyes! Close your mouth! Over and over again. At last she did not want to anymore and slumped like a toy dog. I had to apply all my strength in order to hold her up, and I almost strangled her while trying in vain to smile in a natural and relaxed way. Try standing in front of a mirror with your eyes closed and smile naturally - for an entire half hour - and I guarantee that you will feel like a complete idiot.

It all reminds me of the way you program your TV to receive your TV-channels. "Now; that's good. Now it's better. Now it's bad," exactly like at my mother's optician. "Was that good, or is it better like this? Is it good like this, or was it better like that? Is it good like this, or did it get better like that?" One roll of film after the other. Poor photographer.

And now he just left for the third time. If he will be back for the fourth time, I almost think I will suggest that he go for a ride in the forest in a sleigh with sleigh bells on it.

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Modern Times

Getting on in your own kitchen has almost turned into an art form. The more modern appliances you acquire, the more you need. Or you suddenly realize that you had it all along without even knowing. It is just called something entirely different than you thought.

Yesterday, for instance, I decided to make a delicious Christmas pt because the kinds of pt you can buy at the supermarkets are all sticky and greasy, and they taste exactly the same no matter what the tables of contents say. So I got out all my recipes, and there I sat on the floor surrounded by 87 recipes, and rooted, searched, and looked.

In the end, I had three recipes in my hand: One for a turkey pt, one for a deluxe pt, and one for a spicy pt. Out with all the others, off to the kitchen, and get on with it. Then what do you realize? That you cannot use any of the recipes. For one I need a blender, which I do not have; for the second one a food processor, which I do not have either; and for the third one a tofu, which I have not got a clue what is. So I do not know if I have it, for maybe it is called something else, that I am not aware of at all. Actually, I never figured out what the difference is between a blender, a food processor, and a mincer. Maybe there is no difference. Well, but what do you do when you spent two hours figuring out what to cook, and now you cannot figure out how to cook it? You are annoyed for ten minutes, you realize that this is too ridiculous, and then you think of something else: Finnish cookies. Those I am good at. It is just that the chopped unblanched almonds are always a problem, as you can only buy chopped blanched almonds in the stores or non-chopped unblanched almonds. Consequently, you have to chop them yourself, and it takes forever. But suchlike trifles do not bother an experienced kitchenmaid. I am afraid that in the heat of things a few varnished pink nails get chopped in there as well, and that can be rather annoying.

So I called a couple of department stores in order to solve the problem. "Buy an electric almond grinder, but watch your fingers, it's fast," said one. "Buy an ordinary old-fashioned cradle," said another and slammed down the receiver. "True enough," said my mother. "Oh, really?" I thought, and in my mind I saw my almonds spread out under a great big cradle with a great big heavy baby in it.

That made me think of the nice farmer I was sitting next to at a wedding last summer. When the first course was served, he said cheerfully, "Well, what do you know! Nice, hot soup!" He had no idea that the soup was a Spanish specialty, which is always served iced. Then he picked up his spoon, blew on it like he always did, and swallowed. Then he stared incredulously at the spoon and exclaimed in surprise, "One heck of a blow one has got!"

No, getting on in these modern times certainly is not always easy.

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The Porcelain Dog

It has been raining all day - the kind of rain that calls forth sad thoughts. In order to get rid of them, I sat down once and for all this afternoon to tidy up my glass-door cabinet and to eliminate all unwanted elements from it with a stern hand.

It ought to be easy, as many of them are damaged; and what do you need three cracked vases for? Or, thirteen gray dismembered porcelain cats? Or, ten white Japanese waltzing mice with broken tails? Or two lovely shepherdesses with bouquets in their long since amputated little arms? It sure looks horrible.

It is just that there were memories attached to all of them, and such you do not just throw in the wastebasket, do you? I picked up a three-legged porcelain dog - a small, brown, and ugly one; one of those you are sure to win at Tivoli or Bakken amusement parks after having spent a fortune. And I recollected the woman, who gave it to me many years ago.

To her, it was a prized possession. The only one she owned. And because she was fond of me, she wanted me to have it. And because she was more fond of me than I was of her, it always gave me a bad conscience. She resembled it; she was short and insignificant, unintelligent, and unemployable, and she knew it. The happiest days in her life were those she spent in the hospital. Among those who were closest to her heart was a doctor, who time and again had done surgery on her brain, and a little monkey who was one of the experimental animals. She had the most loving heart in the whole world. It was just that there were so few to give her love to, and those few did not want it. She died just as quietly and unnoticed as she had gone through life.
The only visible memory she left me is an ugly little porcelain dog and the memory of an always smiling lonely person.

I put the dog back in the glass-door cabinet with all the other stuff. What on earth do we do with all the people who go astray for one reason or the other; who are lost? Maybe all that many of them need is time. Not their time, for they have far too much of it, but a little bit of your time and my time. As one of our authors wrote, we Danes are so good at first aid, but aid for others - the more time-consuming kind - is scarce. "Christmas is a feast for children and a celebration of love," they sing on the radio. Imagine if it just for once could be a celebration for the many single and lonely people, who sit at home, alone and forgotten.

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Bus Ride with Ira

My dog is suffering from a swelled head, and she has become the laughing-stock of the whole park. She is a very small Labrador, which is why she was rejected as a guide dog in Norway, but such things do not bother great spirits and thus not Ira either. She plunges headlong into fierce rows and fights with enormous German Shepherds and St. Bernards, apparently utterly ignorant of the fact that any one of those dogs could easily break her neck - that is, if they did not consider it beneath their dignity to occupy themselves with such a ridiculous and small creature.

She is game for anything. Nothing is too big for Ira, not even fallen branches which she loves to drag along. It has got to be the largest specimen possible, of course, preferably a whole tree, which I learned just the other morning.

It was pouring down, and when the bus finally arrived it was jammed to the bursting point with busy people. Ira undauntedly pressed forward to get inside the warm and dry bus - but in vain. It was just impossible to get in. Not because of lack of space, but Ira simply got stuck in the door. I just did not get it. Had my dog suddenly gained 80 kilos over night, or had the doors on the busses suddenly become narrower?

"Maybe it would be easier if she didn't have to carry that whole apple tree inside," the driver said politely, and I realized that Ira was carrying a half-meter long branch as thick as an arm in her mouth. "Are you crazy?" I asked. "Let go of that branch!" "No, I won't," Ira answered and held on to it stubbornly. Without hesitation, I took the branch and threw it in the gutter, but I never should have done that. Instantly, the whole bus was down on me, and it really gave me a very heavy feeling. Eventually we managed to press ourselves onto the bus, though, and off we drove.

Do you know the quickest way to get a seat on a crowded bus on a sopping wet and rainy day? If not, let me just tell you. You take one wet dog, place it in the crowd near the seat where you would prefer to sit, and wait for 10 seconds - till the dog finished shaking off the rain. Then suddenly you miraculously have as many as four seats to choose from. Clever, huh? At least it works, and it never fails. Unfortunately, it is also embarrassing - for me, that is. I cannot help wondering if my fellow passengers think that it is something that I actually taught my dog. "I didn't think guide dogs were supposed to do that," said an elderly sulky lady behind me. "How are you supposed to teach it to do that?" an adolescent lad asked annoyed. "Well, you could just tell them to; they are so intelligent," she replied ill-tempered.

Then the driver broke in on the conversation. "The dog is deaf!" "Sorry!" the lady said, and the rest of the ride continued without further comments, while Ira was wagging her tail like crazy out of sheer rapture over the compassionate comments flowing over her head.

The Little Gentleman

Children are so delightful! Today, I rode the bus home with a little boy and his grandmother. They were seated diagonally across from me and were talking about the Zoo, where they apparently were headed. "Do you think the girl and the blind-dog are going there, too?" asked the boy suddenly. "I don't think so," the grandmother replied. "They are probably going somewhere else," and she tried to divert his attention from Ira and me by telling him about all the funny animals they were going to see, but he could not be diverted that easily. On the contrary, he tried to convince her of how happy we probably would be, if they brought us along.

It was becoming more and more difficult for her to find the right words. She did not want to hurt my feelings, of course, and people were beginning to listen. Finally, she found an explanation that was palpable to a little boy. "You see, dogs are not allowed near all the big dangerous animals." That brought him to silence, but not for long. Then he said, beaming with joy, "But grandma, why don't I just stay outside with the dog? Then you can show the girl all the animals." That brought her to silence.

Then I had to get off, and when I got up I smiled and said, "I'd like to come some other time," hoping that I could save the situation.

This makes me think of all the wonderful hours I spent with the children in the Sunday School, where I used to play the piano many years ago. It also made me think of Gert, who once finished his prayer asking the Lord to see to it that his grandmother "for once" had cooked some decent food; and of Frank who one morning agitatedly told me that another car nearly had collided with them. "What did your Dad do, then?" asked my mother, who was teaching. "He rolled down the window and yelled, 'Idiot!'" "Really...?" little Per burst out. "My Dad meets him all the time, too."

And then there was Brent, a short red-haired boy who spoke with a charming American accent. Brent was in love. Not with a sweet little girl, but with me - or rather, my Braille watch and my long blond hair, which he would stroke gently with his little hands over and over again, while in his broken Danish he would confide to me that I looked like a real fairy princess. I have not had so sweet and so sincere compliments ever since. When he had to go back to Australia, he was miserable. "Will you marry me when I grow up?" he asked, weeping. "But Brent, I'm 21, and you're only 10." But such foolish grown-up reasoning did not discourage him. He stood musing for a while. Then he said with relief, "In 11 years, I'll be 21, too; then we'll be the same age. Now will you wait?" "Yes," I promised, and ever since that day I have been looking for my little charming gentleman.

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A Rare Christmas Present

This morning, when I was walking Ira in the rain, she suddenly stopped by a bench where an elderly man was sitting. He offered me a beer - his last one - but I declined and said I had to be off to work.

"I've been sitting here all night waiting," he said. "Waiting for what?" I asked and noticed how the raindrops made their way under my scarf and down my neck. "Nothing in particular. Just waiting. All human wisdom - until the day God sees fit to reveal everything to mankind - is to wait and hope," he said in a toneless voice. "My wife died 18 years ago, but death cannot separate two people. For as long as my thoughts are alive, she is alive, too."

I did not know what to say. I just thought, "Poor man." "Poor child," he said, lifted his cold hand, and stroked my hair gently. "You certainly have had a rough start in life. The Lord is not always all that particular with those things, but don't cry. You are never alone. The stars will guide you, even though you cannot see them." He paused. "It is just the rain. I'm fine."

For a short moment, I wanted to reach out and stroke his cheek, but I did not do it, of course. You do not do a thing like that. On the streets, we caress and pet strange dogs, who never asked for our attention, while we just pass by strangers who without words beg for a little kindness, a little warmth, or a tiny caress.

The rain got worse, the man got up, and when he passed me, he tucked a small cold coin into my hand and said kindly to me, "Buy yourself a little Christmas present." Then he disappeared in the rain.

There I was with a strange feeling of emptiness and bewilderment. I wanted so much to give him something, but instead it was he who had given me something. I am equally surprised every time a thing like this happens to me. How can a person give away that which he is searching for himself? How can a person, who apparently receives no love or care, give love and care? They just stand there with empty hands and pour it out. It is unbelievable. But is it true that "if someone just made half an hour better for someone else, he did not live in vain", then noone will ever live in vain!

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Christmas Preparations

Soon it is Christmas again. It is the season when everybody is nice to one another, no matter the cost - and it does cost.

I went downtown to buy Christmas presents for my family: Books for my brother, Bent, which he ordered himself; a ghastly sack-like dress for my little sister, Alice, which she ordered herself as well; and a lovely pink bathrobe for my mother, which she absolutely did not order herself, and which I guarantee will have to be returned, even though she could do with a new one to replace the thirty year old specimen she has got now.

I persuaded Kirsten - an old friend of the family - to go with me to the department stores. Though it was torture to both of us, it was fun. When you are not used to it, it can be extremely problematic to maneuver a blind person through narrow passages with displayed articles on both sides and to prevent them and me from colliding. And it is virtually impossible to avoid treading on somebody's heels in the midst of the throng, but most take it very well. They even apologize as if it were their fault they are not equipped with eyes at the back of their heads.

That reminds me of the story of the blind man who is in a department store to buy a shirt for Christmas. He takes the elevator upstairs with his guide dog that, as is well known, is the eyes of the blind person. When he steps out on the right floor, the bystanders see to their big surprise - and indignation - that he lifts the dog by its hind legs and begins to swing it round slowly, round and round. Eventually, one of the clerks has seen enough; she unhesitatingly goes to the man and asks if there is anything that she can do for him. "No, thank you," the man replies. "We're just having a look around." My mother's only comment to that story was, "Why didn't he take the escalator? Then he'd have come straight to the shirts!"

I also finished writing all my Christmas cards. Even to my telephone friend, Hans Jrgen. "I usually write 69 Christmas cards every year," he explained last Christmas. "But I'm not sending you one." "Thank you very much," I said politely. "Would you like to have one?" he asked in surprise. "Of course." "But you can't read it, damn it." "So what?" I said. "And I cannot see the sky, or the stars, or the grass, or the wild roses in the forest, or the grain in the fields; nor can I see the white foam of the waves on a warm summer's day, or all the beautiful Christmas decorations in the windows now, or the spruce festoons, or the candles on the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. And yet it gives me incredible joy to know that those things are there and to hear people talk about them.

I got my Christmas card.

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Home, Sweet Home

"I wanna get out, I wanna get away, I wanna get out of here," they sing on the radio, and that is exactly what I want. Just imagine celebrating Christmas in bright sunlight and 24C! So last night, my mother got out the holiday catalogues.

"How about Austria?" she asked. "We've been there," I objected. My mother kept looking through the catalogue. "How about Morocco?" "No," I said. "All you can do there is to wash red sand out of your hair." "Well, that's where we bought those fancy Moroccan footstools," my mother said. "Yes, it's also where I tried to persuade you that 'idiot!' is not just a Danish phenomenon, but that they actually do understand that word in other places," I answered. My mother laughed. "That's also where we saw all those flamingos." "No, Mom. That's where we did not see all those flamingos."

With the sole purpose of seeing flamingos, we had taken a local bus far into the countryside to a remote lake; the driver smiled and promised to tell us when we were there. When we reached the terminus, the same kind gentleman, who apparently was also the official minion of the law, gave us a fine for having gone much further than the tickets allowed. He knew nothing of flamingos.

A short fat Moroccan explained with a big smile and even bigger gesticulations that "flamingos kaput." "What does he mean?" my mother asked. "I guess they died," I replied. "Kaput like this?" my mother asked trying to play dead with her eyes closed. "Oui, oui," the man laughed. "That's odd," my mother said. "He's a born liar," I laughed. Then we returned without having seen one single exotic bird.

"How about Israel?" I suggested. "We've been there eleven times, and then there are all those bombs," my mother sighed. "And there are all those oranges that you can pick from the trees, and the scent of spices in the old part of Jerusalem, and the camels," I said casually very well aware that I had hit a few tender spots.

My mother recollected our very first evening in the old part of Jerusalem. A waiter suddenly rushed into the restaurant where we were eating, pulled me out of my chair and clear across the room with my mother, several guests, and the chef in full pursuit - the chef came running with a bucket because he thought I was sick. All this just to show the blind Danish girl a real camel.

"Then there's also Tunisia and Samos," my mother said tired. But there were too many stray dogs, and how do you explain to a little three-legged dog who has to sit and rest all the time and who is running happily by your side that you are just a tourist and cannot be relied on? No, then I'd rather stay at home. Home, sweet home...

By the way, did you know that happiness can also be a dirty dog paw on a freshly laundered white skirt?

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December Greetings

It is night. Through the open balcony door, I hear the faint cheeping of a lonely little sparrow, and the cool night air revives the memory of roses and honeysuckle - scents which I enjoyed all summer.

Ira is lying in her bed with her legs in the air and her belly full of expensive imported strawberries, which were certainly not meant for her. But inasmuch as she is not a mind reader I guess she has a valid excuse - once again - when she now and then has a hard time telling what is hers and what is mine. I just went over to say goodnight to her, but she waved me off with one of her paws - a gesture which I guess is supposed to mean, "Go do something on your own, huh! I don't want to pet you right now." So here I am, sitting at my desk trying to entertain you and myself.

I just lit the small crystal chandeliers on the windowsill. Their rose-pink glass sheds a warm soft glow on my 80 centimeters tall beautiful alabaster ballerina standing easily and elegantly on one tiptoe in her light drapery with a garland wrapped around her arm, making everything seem so easy and simple. I enjoy having her there. It is nice to touch and nice to look at the subdued light. I cannot see it myself, of course, but just the thought is nice.

And most people whose acquaintance I have made on busses, in shops, on the streets, and in parks in the course of the year have been nice. For a short moment, they all made it nice to be me. Part of what I miss the most in everyday life is eye contact with people. You are never quite sure what people really think and how they feel about you, for the mouth often says something different from the eyes. That is why you just as often interpret kind interest and sincere affection as mere casual curiosity, which is no good to me at all.

In the course of one single day, sighted people are making countless small acquaintances in the form of a glance or a quick smile from passers-by. They make tiny little mini-friendships, which may last but a few seconds and which you do not notice at all, but you would still miss them if some day they suddenly were not there. As a blind person, you never see that kind of thing. But during the past months I got a slight sense of how nice it makes you feel. So Ira and I want to say thank you for all the sweet words, the kind pats, and we both wish you all a safe and sunny future, for "why curse darkness when you can light a small light?"

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