My Best Friend’s Wedding

Three years ago I got off a tiny plane in Aspen to go to a wedding of my friend M and some guy I didn’t really know. Our mutual friend Megaspeed, who had offered me her couch, picked me up and we drove through the snow wonderland of Aspen, quite a change from warm and sunny Las Vegas. We spent the next day doing crazy pre-wedding things, like riding the lift to the top of a ski run and taking photos of the bride in a white dress and black furry Uggs and drinking not sure what and doing nails in the middle of the night.Masha i Ljosha wedding

The wedding was supposed to be an intimate gathering of friends in a condo overlooking the slopes. As we were curling hair in the bathroom two hours before, I got a text message from M, who said, “Shef, (which is my nickname from high school), do you think you think you can officiate?”

Do I think I can officiate? As in pronounce them husband and wife? Wasn’t there supposed to be a specially trained person for that purposed? Not someone how’s just got through ironing their shirt?

“In Colorado, as long as you got the marriage license, anyone can officiate,” said Megaspeed.

That was no relief. With less than two hours to go, we had to come up with a speech or some kind of scenario of what people usually say at weddings. There had to be a template, right? Or was I supposed to come up with my own, a more personal version? But I’d only met the groom once, and all I knew about him that he had a well-groomed beard?

My curls were going flat as I got on the internet to try to come up with the right words so that I didn’t ruin my friends’ married life forever. Together with Megaspeed, who now had the mirror all to herself and was doing a great job with her eyelashes we came up with a paragraph that we practiced on each other until it was time to leave.

At the condo, everything was about joyful anticipation. My hands were going damp as I pictured the guests’ profound disappointment with my performance. My only hope was the shots that they were welcomed with at the door and most didn’t refuse.

I don’t remember how the speech went and don’t remember what I said. It’s OK – my dad doesn’t remember their entire wedding. But at some point I got to the most important part and …. couldn’t remember what it was.

“And now we pronounce you husband and wife,” Megaspeed exclaimed. And the newlyweds kissed and the Champaign went off and I could exhale.

The next morning, or rather early afternoon, Megaspeed and I sat down for coffee in her apartment.

“You know how you went home last night and we went sledding down the ski slope?” she asked.

“Yes, the one that ended with a heated concrete pavement and a bunch of street lights?” I asked.

“It was lots of fun,” she said and demonstrated her blue knee and two fingers what now bent backwards.

Happy Anniversary guys!



I’m dreaming of a … Penguin Christmas

Some people are dreaming of a white Christmas, and I’m dreaming of penguins. Two years ago right around now we were setting off for Antarctica and the ultimate Penguinland. What impressed me the most about penguins? It’s that they have no problem diving off a cliff into the freezing ocean, that they can propel themselves back out like little torpedoes and that a friendly slap with a flipper is reciprocated with a similar friendly slap and there’re no hard feelings. (And of course, how they manage to find their nest in the penguin megapolis of South Georgia, how they give beak kisses to their spouses and steal pebbles from their neighbor is a whole different story.)

Anna Bob St Andrew's Bay








Apparently I’m not the only person in awe of these fascinating animals. UK-based John Lewis department story has scored over 20 million views of their 2014 Christmas ad featuring penguin love.


Here’re penguins heralding in Christmas in South Korea.


And this is what it looks down there in South Georgia right around now… where it’s almost Penguin Christmas time.

B’s New Girlfriend

nerdsB’s new girlfriend came in a box. I was busy and didn’t pay attention until he casually mentioned that she’s going to move into the bedroom with us and wake him up every morning from now on.

It turned out her name is Alexa, and she’s an intelligent voice control system and speaker Echo by Amazon. In other words, she looks like tube that periodically lights up and talks to you, plays music and tells you the value of your stocks. You can ask her questions and she tells you the answer if it’s something simple, like is Barack Obama Muslim. If it’s something complicated, like how to make a martini, she sends a link to your mobile device that has an Echo app. She’s pretty fast, faster than I’m on Google.

Whether she’s streaming music or news from NPR or just being quiet, you get her attention by saying her name. Her top lights up (ok, that didn’t come out right) and she’s all ears. Add milk to the to-do list? You got it.

B. was nice and started quizzing her about the weather. I wasn’t so nice.

echo tube fast companyMe: Alexa, what is your favorite color?

A: I don’t have a favorite, if I’d choose orange.

Me: Alexa, are you skinny?

A: I weigh a little over two lbs.

Me: Are you single?

A: I don’t have relationships like that.

This made me sad, so I decided to switch gears.

Me: Alexa, what does B. want for Christmas?

A: Hmm. I don’t know the answer to that question.

Me neither, I thought…

Me: Alexa, is Santa real?

A: I’ve never met him but heard lots of good things about him. If I ever meet him I’ll tell you.

At this point, I caught myself saying, “Awesome! Thanks!”

PS. Alexa is great in the bedroom. You can ask her what time it is without opening your eyes.

Koala Cuddles

All the news I need to know I learn from Facebook…. This morning I came across a photo of Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin holding koalas before the start of the G20 summit in Australia.

It turns out that the Australians specially trained koalas to give gentle and loving hugs to the world leaders (probably in hopes of promoting love and not war).

Apparently koalas spend 10 minutes a day learning to hug and get a day off every three days.

The biggest tip when holding a koala is to pretend you’re a tree…


Judging by this photo, Putin’s koala is thinking, “Get away from me! I’m an endangered species!”

If You Feel Like a Sloth…

You’re not alone! At any given time, thousands of people find themselves in a similar situation and they fall into two categories: those reject their inner sloth and those who embrace it.sloths

The first group tears away sloth’s long nails that are trying to keep them pinned to a warm and soft pillow. They look at themselves in the mirror and say, “I don’t know this person, but I’ll comb your hair.” They pour themselves a cup of coffee even though every neuron in the brain is screaming, “One more cup and I’m moving to the South Pole.”  At work, they work so hard on focusing that switching to Facebook feels like taking a drag.

The second group nuzzles their pillow as if it were soft fur of a sloth who’d come to tuck them in. They let the blanket envelope them with the warmth of a tropical forest (but try to keep from wetting your bed for extra moisture). Instead of reading emails on their phone, they gently rock their heads to see if their brain had turned into Jello and oh yes! Look it wiggles. Then they close their big dark eyes and imagine themselves Alice in Wonderland, falling down the rabbit’s hole and thinking “Curiouser and curioser.”

The good news is that sloths are not extinct, which means that somehow they are useful. That’s my comforting thought when I feel like a sloth.

Lioness and Leopard

“Allen, don’t make any sudden moves,” B. said, looking up into the tree above us. Africa is that way. Most of the time you have no idea what’s watching you. And what it’s going to do next.

On that morning in Maasai Mara Reserve in Kenya, our driver got a message that a lioness and her cub were working on a fresh kill. That’s the kind of thing you’re dying to see, of course – a mama lioness, her face and whiskers pink with blood, teaching her kid about the juiciest parts of a wildebeest. Wanna suck on a sugar bone? Go right ahead, it’s all yours, she says…

Our jeep with its slightly deflated tires turned off the dirt road and slowly made its way across a rocky stretch towards a grove where the lioness was supposed to be. Judging by the fact that there was already a jeep there ahead of us, she was still there. Allen got his two cameras ready and moved his sunglasses to the top of his head. The first jeep pulled away, its passengers looking at us like they’ve won the World Cup and second place is only second made hushing noises.

It was the kind of place where you’d expect for a mom and baby to hide in the middle of savannah, but then again, with waste-high grass, they are safe pretty much anywhere. Hidden by the trees, a cub with furry ears and eyeliner eyes was gnawing on what used to be a hoppity-hop animal a few hours later. When it went for a particularly sumptuous but hard-to-reach part, its snout turned all wrinkles with a wet black nose in the middle. Mom tore a piece off here and there but mostly watched and helped and cleaned him with her rough pink tongue.

As we stood there mesmerized, B. turned around to look at Allen and saw something in a tree above us. As in three meters above our heads.

“Allen, don’t move,” he said, still looking. “There’s a leopard right above you.”

All color left Allen’s face. The leopard, a young one or a cub, was stretched out on a branch, obscured by the greenery, and surveying the kill situation just like we were. Except for it had different feelings about it.

“Oh, so that’s what happened,” said our guide. “It was the leopard who killed the wildebeest and the lioness decided that she wanted it more. So the leopard just walked away. He always likes higher ground.”

Why is the picture of the leopard blurry? Because the lens couldn’t focus that close…

Photo by Allen Widdison

Photo by Allen Widdison


Photo by Allen Widdison

Photo by Allen Widdison

How to Piss Off a Hawk

hawk in las vegas

Photo by B.

Last night, as we headed out on our evening walk with Kolja, I just about tripped over a dark mass on a concrete paver in our back yard. On closer examination, I realized I was looking at feathers and feet and what would have been guts.

It was examine it further and puke or let it be and send B.  I opted for the latter.

B. got a flashlight, inspected the mess and suggested I got a shovel and a trash bag, because this was going to be a “two-people job.” Or we could wait for the gardener to take care of it, which sounded like a much better idea.

As I was finishing The Goldfinch this afternoon, I noticed something gliding by our window into our garden (don’t ask why I notice things like that while reading…). The wings seemed too big for our regular pigeons and robins. And there it was, on the branch of a pine. A hawk. In the middle of Las Vegas.

It ruffled its feathers and scratched an itch on his back with a mean beak. Then it took a launching position and torpedoed down to our iron fence next to where the feathered mass had been. He turned his head one way and then the other, and did a little sidestep dance with his yellow claws.

His prey was gone. Only a few dried up guts, that looked like worms, left.

He changed a vantage point one more time. Still nothing. He came down to the cement, looking for the decomposing flesh tenderized by a warm fall day.

B. said, “No dessert, huh?’

The hawk turned his head 180 degrees, gave us an evil eye and took off.