Friday, August 31, 2007

The best of times, the worst of times.....

August is winding down to a close.

The month has been full; a mix of incredible highs, new experiences, bittersweet moments, and times of deep sadness. These weeks convince me that the richness of life springs from this curious balance between "the best of times and the worst of times". I am looking forward to September, the month when the days are typically sunny but the longer nights and cooler weather signal the coming of fall, a time of reflection blessed (hopefully) by a slower pace and fewer obligations.

August was a month of joyous events: Mom's 90th Birthday, my first Triathlon, and large family gatherings for fabulous meals shared at our home and at Arapahoe Place.

August was a month of reunions and goodbyes: Chris returned from 7 weeks of mission work in Slovakia; embracing him at the airport after his journeys abroad was heaven. Bidding goodbye to Laura in her tiny college dorm room after two days of packing and creative unpacking, left us all weary and cranky but excited about her fall semester. And then there were the comings and goings of family from Houston and Portland with the Arapahoe house in the center of the action.

August was a month of sobering realities witnessing the fragility of my 90 year old parents who struggle daily with the tasks of living. Dad was hospitalized the evening of Mom's birthday for pneumonia and Mom is currently hospitalized with a probable new stroke after several days of worsening confusion and generalized weakness. Accepting that we are doing the best we can on their behalf is difficult; one always wants to question the decisions and the strategies we have taken in the care of our much loved elders.

August is winding down to a close. I will not ask, nor predict what September will bring.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Just Breathe....

This morning I am at my parent's apartment watching both Mom and Dad asleep in their chairs, trying to decide what to do about my Mom's changing neurologic status. I have a phone call in to her physician but as a physician myself, I'm analyzing and going over the pros and cons of each possible action. What do I do? What is best for Mom? Are any of these changes reversible or are they signs of natural and inevitable deterioration that come with being age 90 and having had multiple mini-strokes that affect cognitive function? I am trying not to "play doctor". The phone just rang and I spoke to Mom's doctor; "take her into the Emergency Room" is the bottom line. I will do so. This will be our fourth such trip in the last year.

I am reminded of the song by Anna Nalick entitled BREATHE.

we're like cars on a cable
And life's like an hourglass, glued to the table
No one can find the rewind button girl,
So cradle your head in your hands
And breathe, just breathe,
Woah breathe, just breathe

And so I will; breathe, just breathe. It is all I can do for right now.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

A Birthday Balloon at Age 90

I never knew this until she told me but the balloon I gave to Mom for her 90th Birthday earlier this month was the first birthday balloon she had ever received. I bought it on impulse, the morning of her birthday wanting something big and bold for her to hang in the doorway of apartment 233 at Merrill Gardens. I wanted something visual to attract attention to the fact that today was a big day in her life, a milestone, a blessing to have come this far and to still be able to celebrate an event like this surrounded by family. The helium balloon was the largest they had; I intentionally went for BIG and truth be known, it really was rather gauche. But, Mom was touched and it graced the exterior doorway for at least all of that day and then moved inside behind her chair in the living room.

The balloon gradually lost air and sank to the floor. Earlier this week I said to Mom, “Let me take care of the balloon for you.” (note: I didn’t say get rid of as our Mother hangs on to everything, often out of sentimentality, often just because it cost money and might be good for another use at another time). She lived through the Great Depression; we have always concluded that this has made her save everything (although our Father who lived through the same era wants to purge everything out and live off the bare minimum). Mom’s response was “Oh no, I want to keep it. I like to look at it. I’ve never had a birthday balloon before.” And so I respected her wishes, said, “Ok, Mom” and just let it go hoping that eventually the balloon would be surrendered to the usual balloon fate.

Surprisingly, the very next day when I was visiting and just ready to leave apartment 233, Mom said to me, “Go ahead and take the balloon; I’m sure you can use it again for someone else’s birthday.” Without missing a beat, I said, “Sure Mom, good idea, I’ll take it.” And, out the door I went with the wilted Happy Birthday Balloon. I think both she and I knew that the surrender of that balloon acknowledged an acceptance of its true fate. She, however, unable to accept that she was “throwing away” a gift that two weeks ago delighted her, rationalized that I could recycle it. But, in her heart, she KNEW.

I kept the balloon in my car for a few days, too busy to haul it up the steps into the house with all my other things. And now it sits on my living room floor with the faintest bit of helium keeping it upright. I will live with it awhile and then release it to the universe where all spent balloons go but not yet because somewhere deep inside, I hate to give it up as well.

Discovery Park Blackberry Mojito

Several evenings ago MM (my sister) and I picked fresh, ripe blackberries in the open field at Discovery Park. She had found a bank of bushes heavy with berries earlier in the day and was eager to pick more to make blackberry vinegar. I joined her to pick berries which I could run through the “juicer” to extract the seeds; using the thick puree as the base for wonderful summer ice cream and sorbet.

It was dusky, around 7:30 PM and the sun, low on the horizon cast a light that made berry picking a bit challenging as we faced into the western sky. But that didn’t dampen our spirits; there was a light breeze and the bushes were loaded with berries, some so high and back in the brush that they will certainly never be touched by human hands. I hope the wildlife can enjoy those that we cannot reach. We picked for about 30 minutes and our fingertips were purple from the ripe juice. The berries were gorgeous.

Earlier in the day I had gathered the ingredients to make Mojitos; the white rum, fresh lime, and mint leaves. My plan was to celebrate day’s end with a cocktail. I have never made a mojito but something about drinking one appealed. I realized quickly that without mortar and pestle the crushing of the mint, lime and sugar slush requires some improvising. MM suggested adding a few blackberries for “garnish” but we ended up going beyond this by adding a teaspoon of pure, fresh and seedless blackberry puree to the drinks. Beyond amazing….this variation on the classic mojito clearly warrants a name all its own. The Discovery Park Blackberry Mojito is divine; perfect for sipping on late summer evenings; two really hit the spot.

Recipe for Discovery Park Blackberry Mojito (single serving)

12 mint leaves
1 teaspoon sugar
Juice of ¼ to ½ fresh lime (to taste)
Crush together (pestle desirable but anything firm will do the job)

Add 1-2 shots of white rum
Then, add cold club soda (1/4 to 1/3 cup)
1 teaspoon blackberry juice

Mix well and pour over ice, garnish with a few fresh blackberries.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Triathlon Buzz

The hard work paid off! After months of walking/running, biking and swimming in pools and lake, reading books, watching videos on how to set up an organized transition zone, taking swimming lessons, attending coached sessions on all aspects, joining monthly potlucks with motivational speakers, and soaking up the constant encouragement of my friends and family I finished my first sprint triathlon last weekend. My personal goal was to finish in under 2 hours, an achievable time for a novice but most importantly to enjoy the event and to do my best. The memories are almost dreamlike several days later. I have to ask: did I really do all that? Did I actually string those events together when I had never been able to do so in training? Did I really breathe in the raindrops on that cloudy, wet morning and fuel my body with the collective energy of the 3800 women who shared the water and road with me? Each one had prepared in her own way for the Tri, had her own reasons for participating, and made the journey with courage, grace, and perseverance. It was an overwhelming feeling to sprint through the finish line, energized by the crowd and pleased to the core that what had been a shaky goal for me in February was now a successful reality.

The Danskin Triathlon is a women's sprint distance event composed of a 1 K swim, 20 K bike, and 5 K run held in multiple cities throughout the US each year. It is the largest sprint distance Tri in the world and the money raised goes towards breast cancer research and support of breast cancer survivors. The Seattle Danskin Triathlon was held on Sunday, August 19, 2007.

Sally Edwards, an ironman triathlete, is the spokeswoman for the event and I was fortunate to hear her speak in June. She is able to inspire the most uncertain of us to be the best we can, to take a chance and to believe in ourselves. She knows what many of us do not; that we are far stronger and more able that we know. She also knows that success is the quality of the journey and that "having fun out there" is critical. She is right; I am strong and I had the time of my life showing myself just how glorious it feels to prove it!

At 52, taking on even a sprint distance triathlon was a big deal for me. Nonathletic all my life, I never enjoyed running, making it perhaps a quarter mile before becoming totally winded and discouraged. Biking was never my thing either although once in college I rode a 10 mile flat route with a girlfriend and thought that was huge. As for swimming, I knew how not to drown but found early on that one length of the pool in freestyle had me hanging onto the pool's edge gasping for breath. I had to start from scratch on this one and struggled with how long it seemed to take to make any progress on endurance and technique in all three disciplines. Humbled, I nearly gave up several times but something kept pulling me back into the training routine. It wasn't until mid July that things started to improve but even days before the event I worried about how I could ever pull off what I had not even achieved in practice. I learned that it didn't matter; the rest came from the energy of the women in front of and behind me, the spectators, and the confidence that doing my best would propel me forward with grace and beauty.

It was a perfect day and I lived each moment, breath by breath. When is the next Danskin Tri? I'll be there, ready and able.