Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Halloween is a big deal. Each year there is more and more acknowledgement of this day of "tricks and treats" with seasonal decorations and very creative pumpkin carving. I love this day, always have and probably always will. I remember when the kids were younger, they'd get dressed in costume and Denny and I took them to Magnolia village in the late afternoon on October 31 for the annual door to door trick or treat festival. The Magnolia merchants pass out candy to the hundreds of kids in costume swirling through the village. There is something magical about watching that amazing scene once a year. I may just walk down to enjoy the show today as an observer and remember back when....

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Unrequited Love

Ursula Hegi, is a wonderful contemporary author. Her short story "Freitod" from the collection Hotel of the Saints is one of my favorites. This is a touching story of a mother of two adult children who hides her diagnosis of terminal cancer from her children (she is also a widow). While spending her last vacation along Mexico's Baja peninsula, she elects to take her life by walking into the stiff currents along the coast in a well planned "accidental" death. This is a decision she has made thoughtfully considering the incurable disease she suffers and it is really about how she choose to live her life and how she chooses to die. She wants to protect her children from the truth of what she faces and the significance of her death. The German word "freitod" translates to "free death" as opposed to "selbstmord" which translates to suicide. This woman makes a distinction between the two, preferring to interpret her plan in a more favorable light (freitod) although the reader is allowed to pass judgment on this independently.

You're right; this is a sad tale. Why would I be blogging about this? Actually, what I love most in this story is a passage describing this woman's take on the depth of the love she has for her children. She says, " You love your children far more than you ever loved your parents , and--in that love, and in the recognition that your own children cannot fathom the depth of your love--you come to understand the tragic, unrequited love of your own parents." This one sentence resonates deeply with me and is the entire point of this story in my humble opinion.

Why am I writing about this now? It's because I am dancing between my elderly parents and my young adult children and asking the questions about love and loss and life and death. I agree with Ms. Hegi that a parent's love is truly unrequited. I find it in my parent's love for me and in my love for my children. How many times have I heard my mother tell me that she loves me and would lay her life down for me? How many times have I heard her tell me that until I had my own [children], I would never understand the depth of her love for me? Countless times. I believe her. I get it.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Stir and Make a Wish

More Christmas Pudding buzz... (see post from yesterday)

Yesterday, MM toted the pudding around town for family to stir and make a wish. This is tradition with the pudding but this year was extra special because four generations participated and others outside the family joined in as well. The pudding made it up to the hospital rehab unit where Mom inspected our work and pronounced it "well done". She remarked on the wonderful smell; just like Christmas with all the spices and the richness of the ingredients, including the rum.

During a common group session on the rehab unit, the pudding was part of the gathering, amazing as that sounds. Mom was asked to explain the significance of the tradition and then everyone passed the pot around, took a stir, and made a wish. The collective hopeful energy of all who participated makes this a very special pudding indeed.

All this buzz about the Christmas Pudding may have launched Mom into a new place; she seems more determined to get past the physical setback of a fractured hip. And, sharing the enthusiasm with her co-patients on the rehab unit probably helped all of them as well. Surely it is comforting to realize that one is not alone with the miseries of a physical challenge. I suspect that sometimes the best support for the journey comes from others also in the process of healing and recovery.

And now, the pudding in its red metal pot, is at my house in the refrigerator waiting for another application of rum and the finishing touch of the steam bath planned for later this week. Denny and Chris took a stir and a made wish and I stirred the pot again too. There is no such thing as too many wishes, is there?

Oh, and check out the luminous glow emanating from Mom's heart as she stirs; I believe the camera can catch what we often miss. This is energy, light, and passion all in one.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Christmas Pudding

My sister's post on her blogsite Rockbridge Times about the preparation of the 2007 Christmas Pudding is wonderful. Here is my take on this joyous and fun event.

For weeks Mom has talked about making the Christmas Pudding as we gathered the main ingredients and reviewed the recipe. The plan was to assemble the family at the house on Arapahoe this weekend and under her watchful eye and tutelage, we would incorporate the remains of the pudding from years past into the new batch. All would take a stir of the mix and make a wish as we prepared the pudding for either immediate steaming or marinating in rum for a few more days. Sadly, a week ago Mom fell, broke her hip, and has been hospitalized as she slowly recovers from a significant physical and emotional setback. Mom didn't have a problem with us going ahead with our plans and although she probably would have liked to be there, she felt we were well prepared to go it alone. She was right.

We had a great time; Mary Margaret, Mary, Queta and myself as dusk turned into early evening at the Arapahoe house yesterday. We enjoyed several blackberry mojitos to get us in the mood and then set to work at assembling the wild and wonderful ingredients that go into this pudding. Queta chopped the nuts, MM and I combined the wet and dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl (including the suet which Denny so patiently ran through the old metal meat grinder the day prior), and Mary recorded the event with photographs. We incorporated the bits of old pudding (blackened by years of steaming and time) and by the time we were finished, it smelled divine. There were lots of laughs and jokes along the way.

This pudding will not go into the steamer until all in the Seattle family have a chance to stir the mixture and make a wish. We will follow tradition and include four generations when we recruit both Mom and Dad and the little ones (Charlie, Kelan, Lauren, and maybe even tiny Lucy with some help) to stir the pot. My grandmother Della Bain would be proud to see her family keep the magic alive. I truly believe that this is how we honor our ancestors as we live out traditions and remember through stories the details of their lives.

A bit of research on the history of Christmas pudding intrigued me. According to good sources, this seasonal dessert originated in England with most recipes passed down through the generations. The pudding is steamed after it is prepared, laden with dried fruit, nuts and yes, suet. The pudding develops a very dark color owing to the brown sugar and long cooking (steaming) time. The mixture can be flavored with dark beer, brandy or as in our family, dark rum. I learned that traditionally these puddings were made four to five weeks before Christmas, on a Sunday known as "Stir-up Sunday". In fact, in the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, a passage reads: "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen".

In our family, after the pudding is packed into decorative metal molds and steamed for 6-8 hours, it is stored in the freezer until Christmas when it is re-steamed, unmolded, placed on a holiday plate, and ignited with rum 151 and a match. The flaming pudding is brought to the table with lights dimmed and we are once again, delighted by what I like to call the "mystery and magic" of the season. The foamy yellow sauce is poured over individual servings of the pudding and for many, the sauce is the only part of the dessert they enjoy. Christmas pudding is definitely an acquired taste but one that has had me hooked from my mid twenties on. There is nothing quite like the taste of Mother's Bain's excellent "Plum Pudding", even though there are no plums in the recipe!

I hope that the younger generations will carry on this wonderful tradition long into the future. Cheers!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Dancing between 19 and 90

I am standing somewhere between 19 and 90, roughly halfway between my young adult daughter and my elderly mother. This trio of women, bound by blood, mysteriously possessed of interconnectedness, dependence and independence, is engaged in a dance as unique as any. We move towards and away from one another unpredictably, our thoughts often private, our actions sometimes subtle and sometime bold. I, of course, experience this dance from my own perspective and wonder if either of the other two even think about things like this. Probably not; they are too busy with more pressing concerns. For whatever reason I am steeped in thoughts of what is means to be a daughter and the mother of a daughter simultaneously. Perhaps it is because this privileged position is temporary and limited as I watch my elderly mother's health continue a downward spiral. I also see my daughter becoming more independent and making her own decisions about important issues. Change always make me restless; after so many years of things being status quo, to experience an escalating rate of change in both of my mother and my daughter (and in myself) has me spinning.

Both of these women need me. Lots of me. Although their needs are vastly different there are some commonalities. They need me to be calm and collected, thoughtful and insightful, supportive and nurturing. They need advice about the big and the little things; advice that I don't always have and find myself half inventing. They both struggle with the challenge of human connection. Both are hard on themselves and have high expectations. Both are in the midst of major life changes; maturation on the one hand and physical and mental deterioration on the other.

The contrasts are significant as well. One demands my physical presence the other less so. One seeks my approval, the other less so. One cares deeply where I am at any given time, the other is unconcerned. One is loosening (not severing) ties, the other is strengthening ties. And I stand between the two, indelibly linked by my unconditional love for them both, my respect for the wonderful people they are, and a concern for their well being in challenging times. I feel priveleged to dance with them although I don't know all the steps and the tempo keeps changing.

I have to admit, that I need them as much as they need me; in different ways for sure but need them, I do.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Apophenia and Pareidolia

I've learned two new words today and they apply to this image, a view from my bed looking south out the glass door to the deck. This evergreen stands on the neighbor's property and used to be heavily pruned by the former owner. For the last several years it has grown tall and gangly but lovely nonetheless, covering the view of their rooftop. I spend a fair amount of time looking at this tree and several weeks ago I saw a face in the branching, tender limbs. The face is always there; sometimes alive with the movement of the wind but often mask like and frozen.

Apophenia is the identification of patterns in seemingly unrelated data. A subtype of apophenia is pareidolia, the finding of specific images within random stimuli. I am pleased but not surprised to learn that there are words to describe what I am experiencing.

This face is familiar; it is a face in repose, perhaps sleeping. Whose face? I have discovered that the face is one of three women, morphing one into the next. I see myself, my daughter, and my mother in these random branches. There are features of all three of us in this image depending on the thoughts in my head. As I write this piece, I am in bed looking out on the early morning light and the face of this three-in-one woman. Her expression is timeless; she in not really sleeping at all. She has thoughts that expand to touch the edges of the universe.

Ok, call me nuts; that's fine. I wonder if anyone else can see this face or is this experience mine alone?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


I don't feel optimistic about things.

Mom remains hospitalized and had a terrible night with confusion, irritability ("I want to get out of here"), and pain. By morning she was in so much misery that she needed IV pain medications. The good news is that she had relief of the pain but the bad news is that she remained lethargic all day, barely ate, and intermittently (between long naps) woke up to tell stories about people that weren't there. "This kid with the blonde curly hair" was a key player. I suppose dreams and reality blend together in her mind. Unfortunately all this "delirium" made postoperative day 3 a relative waste; there was no meaningful work done on the enormous task of "getting mobilized". Impatient members of the team are now talking about transfer to a skilled nursing facility because she is not strong enough to participate in the rigorous work required on the inpatient rehabilitation unit at the hospital. I call them impatient because I am on the opposite end of their decisions and wish that they could just give her more time to prove herself.

My mind is taking me everywhere. I know too much. I have seen too much. My experience is a negative factor at times like this. Or, is it really a positive factor in disguise? I can barely force myself to plan, to think ahead, or to envision where we will be next week. All I want to do is distract myself with the television, the internet and emails, the newspaper, caffeine, sugar and my bed. I am clearly taking one day at a time and allowing some component of benign neglect to run free. Perhaps that is too harsh an assessment; there is so little that I can do except to translate the language of medicine to my family and offer a few insights here and there. I cannot affect the outcome in any major way. I participate but I don't direct. Surrender.

Surrender again.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Surrender to the Day

Early Sunday morning Mom fell in her bedroom and broke her right hip. By mid afternoon of the same day she was out of surgery, the hip pinned successfully. The long road to recovery looms ahead. A fractured hip is an all too common complication of falls at her age and considering all the tumbles she's taken over the years, that it hadn't happened sooner is somewhat amazing. But still, this is a real setback for her. Recovery can be slow, frustrating, and incomplete. I only hope she has the will to push forward and the strength to hold up under adversity. We shall see. At least today she is interested in food, and although still in considerable pain, seems more alert and engaged in what is going on around her.

Dad had his dental extractions last Friday and an appointment with his dentist today for the preliminary fitting of his new partial plate. After three weeks of looking like a Halloween pumpkin whenever he smiled, he now has a full set of teeth again. He too is frail and fell on Saturday but fortunately suffered no injuries. I watched him today navigate with his walker from his bedroom to the living room and it is slow going, plodding and deliberate. He drank two Ensure chocolate shakes while I was there with him and we watched Dr. Phil and part of Judge Judy, the typical afternoon pattern. I'm grateful that MM is staying with him at night while Mom is in the hospital.

Right now life unfolds one day at a time. I can't think about next week; I don't know where Mom will be and I don't know how Dad's needs will be met. It's hard to get invested in any specific plan when things could change so quickly. Predictably unpredictable. Irregularly irregular. So for now I will try not to ask the big questions because there will be no answers. This will be an unfolding of events that we will experience as the moments occur.

Monday, October 22, 2007


On Sunday morning in Spokane I attended mass at St. Aloysius church largely because I wanted to hear the President of GU, Father Robert Spitzer, deliver the sermon. His powerful address to the parents of freshmen in August 2006 convinced even the most reluctant among us that a GU education would serve our children well. I remember being inspired and excited for my daughter. While GU impressed me from the first campus tour two years ago, the more time I spend on site the more I feel the Jesuit call to academic excellence and the importance of the big (and small) questions. Ask, learn and ask again.

Listening to Father Spitzer speak from the pulpit in a different context was equally inspiring. He focused on the obstacles of everyday living, the small and the life changing, the annoying and the tragic. How do we reconcile life's difficult blows with the notion that God listens to prayer and provides? Why does positive change come so slowly at times? How do we prosper in the midst of pain, uncertainty, and loss? Just as he delivered his address to parents last year, he fashioned his response as a series of points; "One, two, and three..." and developed those points with personal stories from his own life.

Stop the cycle of whining and complaining long enough to listen. It is only when our minds are quiet that we can truly listen and receive divine inspiration. Look for opportunities; with eyes open, we will see what is there already and what can be created from the raw materials at hand. Cultivate gratitude.

And finally, pray. Dr. Spitzer spoke of two prayers that have helped him through troubled times. One, "I surrender, God. I give up and turn over this tangled mess to you to fix" and secondly, "Thy will be done". We are not in control, never have been and never will be but through us the Divine will work miracles large and small in our lives.

I was struck by the simplicity and the familiarity of his words. How sensible. How obvious. I've heard the same concept spoken by Buddhist teachers of insight meditation, from yogis and from the popular, contemporary press providing advice on harmonious living. At the core, aren't we talking about the same things? The commonalities are larger than the differences.

I found a few photographs taken this weekend in Spokane that speak to me on each of these issues; stop to listen, look with passion and gratitude for the opportunities and surrender to a higher power through prayer.

Shortly after listening to his sermon I learned that Mom had taken a serious fall in her apartment and suffered a fractured hip. I felt like this patch of once lovely greenery, turned inward in surrender. I realized that I can do nothing more than breathe through the moments with grace and humility for all the gifts that are present now, at this moment. I must stop the inner chatter and resistance. Stop; open my eyes and ears for the opportunities to heal others and in turn be healed.

Sanskrit term for "Child's Pose" in Yoga

Friday, October 19, 2007

Fall Family Weekend

Laura and I are enjoying each other's company this weekend. The weather is blustery and cool but the sun peeks out intermittently lighting up those phenomenal autumn leaves. I'm absolutely in love with the colors this time of year.

On parent's weekend many of GU's Friday classes are open; I enjoyed an Art History lecture (Michelangelo's frescoes in the Sistine Chapel) and a lecture on the witch hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries. I love thinking about subjects that have lain dormant for so long; makes me feel young again. Tonight we'll attend a reception in the new library and after that, I'll take Laura and a few of her friends out for dinner downtown. It's all good and I'm glad to be here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

" wild and precious life?"

The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Last night at our semimonthly covenant group meeting at Eileen's apartment, we closed with this poem by Mary Oliver. Eileen who is in her 90th year, nearly blind and very hard of hearing recited the poem from memory and she got as far as the grasshopper flinging itself out of the grass when the tears began to flow out of me; one of those moments of uncontrollable emotion. The tears came from a place I could not identify. I was surprised and caught off guard. I love this poem but it has never made me cry. Was it the way Eileen so beautifully recited the poem, enunciating every word? Was it the question about our "one wild and precious life"? Was it because the entire meeting had me on edge, thinking about what is ahead of me?

I left the meeting quickly, embarrassed by the tears and cried the whole way home in the car. It's rare that I can't identify the source of my tears. Curiously, I didn't feel overwhelming sad and these weren't tears of joy either. I'll continue to ponder this.

Enjoy this most moving of poems by one of the greatest poets of our time.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Tea, Jewelry, and Fall Leaves

Mom is so lonely but acknowledges that she is by nature reclusive and chooses not to participate in social gatherings at Merrill Gardens. She takes ownership of the problem to a large degree but hearing her talk about how isolated she feels makes me sad (and guilty). My time spent with Mom and Dad focuses on the essential needs; purchasing groceries and supplies, taking them to doctor and dentist appointments, hair appointments and the like. It feels like a part-time job much of the time and isn't very rewarding except in realizing that basic services are provided in a caring and loving manner. My energy and creativity can evaporate when I consider planning something "fun" outside of Merrill Gardens. If it isn't essential, I overlook the opportunity until I have a conversation like the one I had with Mom last night.

She remarked that she was lonely which is no surprise. I asked her, "What would you like to do, what would you really enjoy?" I've asked her this before but usually she avoids the question or just says she doesn't know. I was glad she had an answer for me and one that was so simple.

"Just to get out and see something would be nice.", she responded tentatively.

And so today, I thought of a tea and jewelry party here at home. After lunch Mom and I drove to Magnolia, remarking on the fall colors and the blustery weather. The hardest part was helping her up the twelve steps to our house but once inside we had a lovely time. I made a pot of tea and we had pumpkin cake with whipped cream. Sitting in the living room we were treated to a bit of sunshine flickering through the fall leaves outside and casting rays of light on the carpet. The cat ladled attention on Mom and she enjoyed his company remarking, "I've always loved a cat". How true.

We went through my jewelry box; I wanted her to see all the special pieces she has given me through the years. I had questions for her about the history of the various rings, bracelets and necklaces; lovely and cherished pieces that I am proud to own and will pass along eventually. She shared the stories again and filled in details I had forgotten. I'm now wearing an emerald ring that she gave me years ago which has been cooped up in that jewelry box for way too long. Mom reminded me that Dad had purchased a loose emerald when they lived in Aruba but never had it set until 1980. Mom says he surprised her with the emerald ring when she returned from her trip to China. "He must have really missed me while I was gone", she mused. The ring is set in gold, very delicate, and flanked by two tiny diamonds. I will wear it for awhile. I know she will enjoy seeing the ring on my finger.

After tea and jewelry talk we drove through Discovery Park. The military cemetery in the park is a special place for Mom; she used to walk there from her former Magnolia home and always enjoys the peaceful ambiance, especially in autumn when the large yellow maple leaves collect on the fertile earth and between the grave markers. Today was no exception. I enjoyed our afternoon and let go of worrying about prescription refills, flu shots, bills to pay, and scheduling appointments. Mom and I ignored all of that and spent very special time together, time that reminds me that my mother is still here; I just need to try a little harder to find her.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Having Fun on I-5

Laura is home for a three day weekend and she and boyfriend Jesse have been around a lot. I'm glad of this because sometimes when she is "home" she really isn't and we never see her. This trip has been different. Friday night we had a nice meal together and Saturday morning another great breakfast with Chris at Bay Cafe. Today she, Jesse and I went to visit Mom and Dad at MG, brought them a Brita filter water pitcher (which will cut down on all the plastic water bottles that Mom goes through because the "MG water is terrible.") and spent some time chatting. Just before we left, I asked Laura what she had planned for the rest of the afternoon and she said, "Oh, Jesse and I are driving up to the outlet mall in Marysville." to which I responded, "Wow, I'm jealous, I'd really like to go the outlet mall." to which she and Jesse both added, " Let's all go; it'll be fun".

And, it was fun. It was great fun. Mind you, I don't like freeways, especially I-5 which I've named the highway of death (morbid me). Much less, I don't like driving with young drivers (still won't drive with Laura although I've got to get over that), especially if I don't know how they operate weapons of mass destruction like vehicles barreling up I-5 north at 5 miles above the speed limit for thirty five miles. The stretch of highway between Northgate and south Everett is merciless but I figured it was time to let go and experience something new, especially when the destination held such pull.

Jesse's souped up car is an experience. Although I was offered the front seat ("wanna ride shotgun, Mom?") I declined and enjoyed the view from the back seat whizzing by at 70 miles an hour from the far left express lane of the freeway. The noise factor surprised me; much like sitting in the rear of an MD-80 jet right by the engine. No way to talk, hear, or be heard so we listened to CDs spewing all manner of hip-hop, rap, country, pop, rock at decibels that managed to overpower the jet engine. Ahhhhh. I let go and allowed Jesse's youthful confidence to prevail; with one hand on the wheel and the other on my daughter's hand he roared us down the highway to and from the outlet mall. I must say, he IS a good driver and I am a most discerning critic. He reminded me of JT, another very good driver.

As for the mall, it provided and we partook although we did split up as our interests were vastly different. I shopped for myself and Denny while Laura spent her available cash on a much coveted Coach purse (I'll never get to own one I feel certain...perhaps I'll get a hand-me-down). I'm so practical that the same amount of my cash bought four tops and a jacket for me and two sweaters and a T shirt for Denny. Ahhhhh, the choices we make. It's all good.

And now we are home. I will settle back into my usual routine but certainly will enjoy those new clothes I purchased today. Tomorrow Laura heads back to school and our brief time together will be over. It has been nice. Sweet. And, fun.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Today has been a spectacular celebration of fall foliage. We awoke to heavy fog this morning and driving to breakfast at the Bay Cafe felt like traveling through a cloud. By noon there were patches of blue sky but the ground was enveloped in mist that rolled across the road in wisps. And now, as daylight dwindles, the brilliant blue offsets the reds, golds, oranges, and dusty greens most beautifully.

I walked the Loop Trail in Discovery Park this afternoon and took photographs along the way. For a change I took my time and was gone over an hour simply enjoying the sights and sounds of this magnificent jewel of a park. After months of "running the park" and watching the clock, pushing myself up hills and sweating, it felt very different to wear walking shoes, jeans and a sweater and to have unlimited time to just notice.

The ground beneath my feet held special interest; the old roads covered in fallen leaves, the soft paths through the woods and the ups and downs, twists and turns of the trail. The light seemed to intensify the contrasts.
After so many overcast and rainy October days, today was a treat. The light is fading fast on this Saturday evening but I managed to capture the sun just slipping out of sight over the Olympics. It will be dark very soon.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The best part of yesterday....

Elizabeth Gilbert's book Eat, Pray, Love is a wonderful read. I highly recommend her words to anyone on a spiritual journey or craving insight into healing. Even if you are not, her memoir is fascinating; haven't you ever wondered what it would be like to spend time in an ashram in India? Her hour long interview on the Oprah show last week was equally fabulous.

Elizabeth offers three recommendations for those of us who want to follow a similar path but can't exactly travel to Italy to eat, an ashram in India to pray, or to Bali to find love. She points out that the journey is personal and is just as likely to happen in such mundane places as "home", wherever that may be. She advises what many others have said in other venues; these are not new secrets or revelations but are stated in a fresh, convincing way. Firstly: cultivate gratitude and acknowledge this in writing. Her suggestion is to identify that one thing that was "the best part of the day" in question. It's clear that "the best" could be a very self-indulgent pleasure and that is OK (yeah!). Secondly: continue to write down what you "really, really, really want" (said three times to make it true she says with a smile) in your life. Thirdly: re-examine your mantra; if we constantly tell ourselves we are this, that or the other (negatives), this becomes our mantra. The mantra may need revision frequently to keep us on course with our dreams and goals.

I've intermittently written a gratitude journal and know that it is a solid tool to keep me grounded on all that is right with my life. But, it has been, I've begun again. As for yesterday, the best part of my day was the hour I spent at Qtini in Magnolia Village getting a pedicure. I love to go there because there is nothing I need to do but sit quietly and think or read a magazine while someone fusses over my feet. The ladies chatter away and watch Vietnamese soaps on the television and I drift away listening to a language I cannot understand; how wonderful to not understand but to simply hear the sounds and wonder.

Until the last year, I had never (ever!) had a pedicure. I considered them self-indulgent and frivolous. But not anymore. I am grateful to give myself a small gift, to support a local business in Magnolia, and to let go of the notion that I must constantly give but not receive.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Magnolia's Angel

For years as I drive to work through the village and onto the Magnolia Bridge, I pass an older man walking the sidewalk on the same route. Depending on my timing I see him at various locations but most commonly on or near the bridge. I see him on weekday mornings only; never once have I caught a glimpse of him anywhere else in Magnolia nor have I seen him walking any other route. He looks to be in his seventies with a balding head, sharp nose and a slight stoop to his shoulders. His face is kindly and he is always nicely dressed in a suit coat and tie. He is out there regardless of the season or the weather, sometimes wearing an overcoat or carrying an umbrella. No one ever seems to stop to offer him a ride. He walks with confidence, not particularly fast but with an ease that probably keeps many from slowing to offer him a lift.

I've often wondered about this man. Is he walking to work? Does he own a business? How does he get home? Does he ride the bus uphill back to Magnolia at the end of his day? I've never heard anyone talk about him and perhaps he is only a fleeting visual to others as they drive by him day in and day out. Something about him always catches my attention but I am not entirely certain why. Lately if one of my family is in the car with me at the time I point him out and say, "Look, there's the angel."

This man carries some sort of stick with a pointed end and a plastic bag. I see him picking up trash: cigarette butts, bits of paper, aluminum cans crushed flat by passing vehicles, whatever happens to be out there on the sidewalk or along curb. If he is not actively poking that stick into trash and storing it in the bag he is walking with intention, scouring the path ahead for more of the same. This man is making our world a more beautiful place with quiet determination, one bit of trash at a time. For his tireless energy and gifts, I am grateful.

Sometimes I imagine that he is a mirage, that he isn't really there or that perhaps I am the only one who can see him. I suppose this comes from the disparity between the regularity with which I spot him and how little I know about him. His mystery generates in me a creative wonder. I prefer to think of him as an angel doing his work with quiet poise and passion while the rest of the world whizzes along oblivious and self absorbed. I also imagine that were I to snap his picture with my digital camera, the display screen would show a sidewalk, trees and sky but no sign of his person because, well; angels can't be photographed. Their good deeds are all that we see.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Autumn Days

None of us should be surprised that summer is over; after all we are starting into the second week of October. The signs of autumn are everywhere; the low hanging, wet clouds, gusts of wind, and the brilliant reds, golds, and yellows emerging from trees that were once decked in green.

It's just that we transitioned so fast this year; by mid September the chill was in the air, earlier than I ever remember. My favorite stand of red trees described in a post dated 18 September, is now losing leaves with the slightest breeze. The bare branches will come next. There will be plenty of other gorgeous trees to watch over the coming weeks. The mystery unfolds slowly and this year I am determined to savor the beauty.

Friday, October 5, 2007


She is nineteen and posing for the camera in Discovery Park.

She is also nineteen and posing for the camera on the beach in Aruba.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Real Time Communication

Yesterday I did not speak with my daughter in the conventional sense, nor did I see her as she is 300 miles away at college. But, I heard from her throughout the day, in "real time" by text message on my cell phone. This is the standard way she and I communicate these days. If there is more to be said than a text can manage, we'll chat on the phone but this is less common.

By text message I learned that she found her North Face fleece jacket which had been lost for nearly a week; a critical element of her wardrobe and one that would surely need replacement to the tune of $150.00 as "it's really cold here, Mom". No other outer apparel is quite the same as that North Face. She phoned last weekend upset that someone had "ripped it off" from the laundry room in the dorm and I advised that she post a non-inflammatory note on the wall of the laundry room stating something to the effect that "Someone mistakenly picked up my black North Face jacket and I'd love to get it back". It's all irrelevant now because she found the jacket "under my bed. LOL" My one word response by text was "Oy", to which she responded, "I know". I was relieved by the happy ending to the story but frustrated by all the energy both of us spent on this non-issue. I also learned how she did on her accounting test and how challenging the class is for her especially with all her other killer classes this semester.

I texted her the news that I had sent a package in the mail with items she requested last week and also her Victoria Secret credit card (another oy) in a separate envelope. She responded, "Oh sweet, you're the best" to which I answered back in my confident manner, "I know". And so on and so on.....all of these little snippets of text are recorded on my phone and easy to review.

Things are so different now-a-days. I remember back to my college years when my parents were 3000 miles away in Aruba and I was in Ithaca, New York. I wrote letters home several times a week and Mom faithfully wrote me Sunday to Thursday nights on her typewriter, a one page letter that Dad took to the post office the following morning on his way to work. Letters never arrived in a predictable way either coming from or going to Aruba. Some days I would receive three letters at once, out of sequence and then would go many days without any letters. The same was true for Mom and Dad in Aruba. Occasionally letters would make the journey in a miraculous 3-4 days and other times it would be 10 days or more.

Living overseas, we rarely used the telephone. Early on it was a major deal to connect with an overseas operator who would place a call and then the echoes and static made the conversation less than ideal. The telephone was reserved for emergencies, usually when someone was very sick or worse, dead. In fact, receiving an overseas call in Aruba typically made everyone's heart turn to ice in anticipation of the inevitable bad news. As technology improved, I used to call Mom and Dad to let them know I had arrived back in the states safely after a day long journey from Aruba but this wasn't until the mid 1970's. Even then, our conversations were brief; just to let them know that I was in one piece and then, goodbye. Prior to that era, Mom would wait for the first letter to confirm that loved ones had arrived stateside. She has always mused that the waiting seemed endless. Can we even imagine this today in the era of cell phones, clear land lines, email, and text messaging?

When Chris was in Slovakia this past summer for 7 weeks, I routinely heard from him by telephone and the connection was so crisp it sounded like he was across the street. Hearing his voice was a great comfort (one of Mom's favorite words). I am addicted to "real time". I am not proud of it, it just is. And, I really admire my parents who lived through an era where they had to rely on the "no news is good news" mentality until the first communication came through. But then, they didn't know any different and everyone else was in the same boat.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Pay it Forward

I like the expression "pay it forward"; after all, isn't this what we all should be doing while we are able? In part it is the right thing to do and as an added benefit, perhaps it gives us an insurance policy that when we are in need, there will be someone there who can provide. I certainly hope this will be the case.

Today I am paying it forward. Although I overslept today and had to rush to make it out the door to pick up Dad for his dental appointment, we learned precisely what happened to Dad's teeth (see post entitled Inhaling Teeth). The group of 4 teeth that he aspirated into his right lung were not a part of his partial plate after all; they were a "permanent bridge" on his right upper jaw consisting of two artificial teeth flanked by two real teeth with crowns. The entire group of 4 broke off at some point; Dad now recalls biting down hard on something and having severe pain (I'll bet!) but he can't say when that was or what happened next. This was the moment, however, when the teeth, dislodged, and were aspirated. We learned today that he will need to have the two permanent teeth that got sawed off at the gum line (ouch) extracted and he needs to see an oral surgeon for this. At his age and with his medical issues, this is not a routine dental extraction by any means. We have an appointment for a consultation with the oral surgeon on Friday at 7:50 AM. We will all be up early on that day to make this happen. The surgery will be scheduled on another date, likely sometime next week. Working around my schedule and the surgeon's schedule is the tougher task; Dad's schedule is the easiest of the three.

Later today, Mom goes to Trina's for her weekly wash and set. Dad will be seen by a home health nurse later this afternoon as part of his followup care from the recent hospital stay. He won't like it one bit; he resists and finds the endless questions annoying and unnecessary. I can't blame him; but at least someone is providing him one on one attention which is a good thing. Tomorrow, both Mom and Dad have appointments for foot care with "Betty"; that particular outing typically takes 3 1/2 hours between transportation to and from and the 45 minute appointments for each person. Lastly, Dad will have a visit from an occupational therapist after we return from Betty's; again something he doesn't relish but needs nonetheless. Meanwhile, Mom has had visits this week from her physical therapist and a speech therapist who is helping her with memory issues. Their schedule is full; so full that none of the written reminders fit on the wall calendar anymore. We need a dry erase board the size of a large poster with the date and days of the week in large font to keep everything organized.

I am not complaining. Truly. I am stating the obvious: there is a lot of stuff that people need in their lives and when they can no longer arrange it, remember that they have it, and can no longer get themselves to and from, someone needs to take the reigns and provide the help. I can only hope that when my time comes, there are people that love and care about me who will step up and make it happen.

Thanks to my brother and sister who despite the distance acknowledge how hard this is and jump in to help out at a frequency that truly amazes me. They "get it" big time and they are also paying it forward.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Trying to let go and let be....

The autumn equinox is past; equal parts of day and night. As I lie in bed writing this post, I hear the wind blow through the trees at the south end of the deck and see the sky, a milky white wet color, struggling to become daylight. We are entering into the dark days of fall and winter. I wore a turtleneck sweater to work yesterday and felt comfortable. It is October 2 already.

I must remind myself that I enjoy the fall. Right now it seems dreary and sleepy, like I could spend the rest of the morning in bed and feel OK about not doing anything with purpose. Hibernation mode, perhaps? Getting out there seems like a big deal to me today.

Dad came home from the hospital yesterday, weak and fragile. Will he rally? How much more assault on his body can he take? Mom's lack of short term memory creates a new level of anxiety for her and a frustration for those of us around her as we go over again and again what we wish she could remember. As I left their apartment yesterday, I felt the energy and life literally sucked out of my body. There is sadness, fear and trepidation for that which is inevitable but has no pattern or predictability. Things just happen and I am part of the unfolding, a receiver without ability to change the trajectory of the ball I'm trying so desperately to catch.

This is an example of my internal drama and is a new type of post for me. Good morning one and all. I'm off to the races.