Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Goodbye 2008

This is my last post on Ahead of the Wave in 2008.

This hasn't been the easiest year for me but I know I'm not alone. Sometimes it seems that the years get tougher all the time despite the accumulation of life experience and (hopefully) wisdom. But, having weathered the rough patches, I'm looking forward to starting anew in 2009. I have gratitude in my heart for life's blessings first and foremost. But, as long as I acknowledge the good, I will allow myself to admit that this was still one "kick butt" year. I'm glad to bid farewell to 2008 even though I welcomed its start with open arms one year ago tonight in my post entitled Goodbye 2007. Ahhhhhh.

Memories of January-November are beginning to fade, especially the not-so-good memories. The good stuff that happened lingers longer and for that I'm grateful. I remember with fondness our trip to Florence, the summer picnic in Discovery Park, Chris and Denny's graduations, Denny's passing the Washington State Bar exam, wonderful meals with family, and most recently favorable jobs for both D and myself, starting January 2009. Yeah!

December 2008, freshest on my mind was a doozie, however. All I can say is, "What a strange month.....Christmas especially."

We have so many family traditions associated with this holiday and many of them just never happened this year. A combination of the weather (snow bound conditions that went on for over a week in Seattle), Mom's admission to the hospital December 23rd, my on-call duties at the hospital, and the fact that Laura was in Scandinavia instead of Seattle during this time made for the oddest Christmas holiday I've ever experienced. Although we had our Christmas meal(s), made holiday treats, trimmed a tree and decked it out with balloons (a Christmas Eve tradition), we weren't able to pull off the gathering of the clan so to speak. No Christmas pudding, lit with 151 proof rum and dressed with foamy sauce, made it to the communal table this year. There was never an opportunity with all of us spread out across the city, fighting weather and other obstacles. We'll just have to save this for next year. I'm glad that many of us were able to gather at Jeanne and Dan's home on the 28th for Texas tamales, Aruban pastechies, homemade bean soup, pecan pie and Carrie's infamous "cake-tops" with vanilla ice cream.

Tonight as the year draws to a close, Denny and I will open a bottle of champagne in a quiet house. Both of our children are miles and miles away tonight; one in St. Petersburg, Russia and the other in Walnut Creek, California. I'm hoping my sister comes over to share the bottle with us; she won't be in town too much longer and I'd like to spend more time in my living room talking with her and admiring our Christmas tree. The season is soon to end.

Let's chill out and enjoy the unfolding moments by living more in the present as our cat, Boo does perched under the tree taking in the last of this holiday season.

Wishing everyone a great start to 2009!
And, no more snow!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Mind's Eye

Sometimes there's no photograph to document the moment but the memory remains so brilliant that it burns into the mind's eye forever. That's what happened to me on Christmas Day when I hiked "through the woods" to get to the snowed in Pearly Jones family home to see Dad in the late afternoon.

He had said over the phone, "Don't worry about me; I'm fine right where I am and all is well. I'll see you when the weather is better. Don't risk getting over here."

But, see him I did and am glad of it. I so wish I'd had my camera but in some ways remembering is all the more sweet for lack of a visual reminder archived away in my photo collection or shown on this blog post.

My 91 year old father was sitting in the family room next to "John", one of his housemates. They were watching TV while the others were gathered around the kitchen table drinking tea and eating cookies. He wasn't expecting me to show up and in the waning light of a snowy, chilly day his face lit up when he saw me walk through the door; it was almost like he didn't recognize me at first. But then...., he did. He was dressed in a button down white shirt and his red vest looking dapper and festive and decidedly well. I'll never, ever forget that image, his smile and the joy on his face.

"Merry Christmas, Dad", I said.
"Oh my", he said. "It's Kitty Kat."

And we went on from there. The moments were magic. Treasured. His and mine. Together.

This may have been the sweetest moment of the most unusual Christmas Day I've ever lived.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Day Before Christmas

I am blessed. This Christmas I simply have to look a bit deeper to know that love abounds despite the struggles, hurdles, and challenges that are life right now. "It is what it is..." seems the appropriate descriptor for this week in late December 2008.

Early this morning as snow was falling (again), I looked out in the backyard and saw several birds hopping from branch to branch in the apple tree, pecking ravenously at the few withered apples hanging on limbs covered with a dusting of snow. The scene reminded me that life and living go on. It's all there for the taking if we only stop to listen and see.

I'm grateful today for Christmas and the gathering of family even though our celebrations will be very different this year. Chris is home and we'll enjoy a traditional Christmas Eve dinner tonight; just the three of us as Laura is abroad on a holiday tour of Scandinavia. She called today, the connection clear and her voice comforting. We will miss her presence. Our thoughts and prayers are also with Mom who was readmitted to the hospital yesterday. Adding to the challenge is this crazy cold snap bringing snow and ice. Clearly we'll be celebrating bits of Christmas for days as we do the best we can to coordinate the comings and goings of family amidst inclement weather conditions. This is not what we had planned but a gentle reminder that despite what rolls our way, we can adjust and make the best of the situation. The joy comes in seeing what's right and accepting the things that cannot be changed.

And so, unlike yesterday, I'm now listening to my Christmas music as I sit in the living room by the decorated tree. There are four stockings hanging by the fireplace; even though you aren't here Laura, we have your stocking in its rightful place and we hold you closely in our hearts.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a Good Night!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Day Before the Day Before

Today's the day before the day before Christmas. The tree is decorated, the miniature porcelain winter village lines the buffet, the holiday cards are taped to the fireplace, the Santa photos of the kids from years past line the mantel and there's lots of snow outside. Lots. Since housebound by the weather, I've made holiday cookies, candy, and yesterday prepared the dough for the sweet rolls that we always eat for breakfast on Christmas morning. The Christmas pudding is thawing ready to be "re-molded" and steamed for our (tentative) family gathering on the 25th at the Arapahoe house. Sounds like things are status quo, no? Not.

This year is different; I'm not playing any Christmas music. Handel's Messiah CD sits in its case alongside all the other Christmas CDs because I just can't go there; the sounds of the season make me want to cry. Music carries great power at this time of year, always full of emotion but this year so raw edged that I can't listen to any of the traditional carols without remembering Mom. Her incredible talent as a choral conductor, especially at Christmas, is such a bittersweet memory for me right now. Instead of remembering the superlative musician she was, I feel a deep sadness for all the pain in her life right now. The music of the season brings all the emotion right out there.

We remain (relatively) snowed in. The Seattle paper today had a front page story about the insane way our fair city deals with snow and ice. They refuse to use salt on the roads; instead they spread a light dusting of sand and "plough" with a rubber blades to compress the snow rather than scrape it off to the side. How nuts is that? The snow is so laden with moisture here that overnight it freezes into a sheet of ice. Couple that with lots of hills and residential areas that never see a city snow plough and you've got miserable driving conditions. We managed to get out yesterday, sweeping a foot of snow of my car and driving ever so slowly into the village to buy food. The grocery store was packed with people doing the same. I haven't ventured out yet today but really need to get over to see Mom and Dad. They live on a hill also. I may have to park at the base and walk up. No sign of a real thaw for several more days say the forecasters.

My sister arrives from Houston shortly; where she'll spend the night is up in the air right now. The weather will dictate her choice. We need to make some tough decisions today. We are children of elderly parents, one of whom is struggling with issues that have no good answers, particularly at holiday time. Yet, make decisions we must.

I've spent the morning distracting myself with these sweet rolls which have turned out quite well. This is only my second year making them; Mom has always been the sweet roll lady but the baton has now passed to me. I did ask for her advice this morning by phone and she was able to rally. They are now iced and ready to go but we'll save them for Christmas morning. I'll try to deliver a pan to Mom and Dad as they may enjoy them too.

The day before the day before Christmas is here whether I want it to be or not.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Feeling like it's my time to whine, I'll take advantage right now. It's my blog, right?

Four days till Christmas. It'll be a strange one this year with Laura abroad, my Mom in the hospital (she might be out by then, weather permitting), and minimal shopping done as we decided we'd go very light on gifts this year. And then there's the snow, more than I've ever witnessed in Seattle in my 17 years here. Granted we'll have a White Christmas which might be quaint but getting out in this weather is pure treachery. I'm worried about the pipes freezing at my parent's former home and will make my way over there on foot today to check it out.

My daughter leaves on her Christmas tour of Scandinavia and Russia tomorrow, hasn't packed yet and is entrenched in the natural anxieties of being so far from home at a time of year when families are supposed to be together. We "talked" for an hour this morning on Skype instant message. Angst.

My Mom is in the hospital again. Even if she were ready for discharge, there's no way to get her back home owing to the weather conditions. Do you pay an ambulance to take someone home? Who knows? I've never been in this situation before.

I have to work tomorrow but suspect that all the scheduled patients but one will cancel out. So I will make my way in on the bus because I'm supposed to be there. I'm on call on Christmas Day and the day after but by then the weather should be better. Hoping.

I don't feel in any kind of holly jolly Holiday Season mood.

Bookended. That's my favorite word right now. A homesick daughter and a mother who is seeing birds flying in circles out her hospital window. Maybe if I look harder, I'll see them too. I want so much to be free as they are, to fly.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Snow Bound

Hunkered down in the midst of a series of very atypical Seattle storms that hit one after the other, we remain snow bound inside the house for the third day. In 17 years I've never seen anything like this in our usually rainy, balmy city. If it snows, the melt off comes quickly and we are back to the usual overcast and cold drizzle with occasional sun breaks. Our thermometer read 17.6 degrees outside this morning, 62.8 inside (we are dressing warm).

Yesterday there was a near miss downtown as two buses spun out near the freeway. Fortunately, all the passengers got off the buses with only scrapes and bruises. I can only imagine the tragedy that was avoided had the buses gone over the edge onto traffic. Quite a scary scene to be sure. Chris described mayhem in his hilly neighborhood last night as a Suburban attempted to make it up a steep hill, spun out, and hit two cars parked curbside. Making it worse was the driver who just kept going. Chris and his buddy got the plate number and called the police. Then, when the police car arrived, another car headed up the same hill, spun out and hit the cop car! At that point, they closed the road.

So, as you can see, I'm not eager to get out on the roads today (even in a bus!). The roads are a disaster. Seattle is never prepared and neighborhood roads are forgotten. I tried to take the bus yesterday, stood at the stop around the corner from our house for 20 minutes and finally gave up. The sidewalks and roadways are like sheets of ice. The forecasters warn that sometime tonight another arctic blast plus high winds will hit and dump another load of snow on the Puget Sound area. Dang it!

Thankfully we have enough food, a warm fire, and a cat to keep us company. He's (of course) glued to Denny's chest although he occasionally ventures outside as evidenced by his little prints in the snow.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Let it Snow

Oh my....we are in the midst of a blizzard, Seattle style. Yesterday it snowed to our north and to our south but the Seattle metro area was spared. We mocked the forecasters who had us all hyped up about the weather but's a different story. Around 4 AM it started to snow in Seattle and it hasn't quit. From our front door it looks like 4-6 inches so far. We are home bound and watching the news on TV. I had to cancel my two scheduled outings today; one was a lunch date with a good friend. She lives 30 miles to the north and got hit hard yesterday and can't get out either. I'm nervous about my commute to work tomorrow. We're expecting sunshine but temperatures will not be above freezing and that means ICE. Guess I'll end up taking the bus into downtown and then will walk "up the hill".

Last night Chris was over for dinner and we decorated the Christmas tree. Thinking of Laura 5000 miles to the east in Florence while we trimmed the tree was tough. This is the first time she's been away for the holidays. I hung a lot of her favorite ornaments, some with her name on them and put her stocking by the fireplace. We really miss you, Laura! (but we know that you have a magnificent winter trip to Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Russia coming up). As you can see, Chris and Denny got rather silly as the evening wore on but all in good fun.

Glad that Mom and Dad both made it to their doctor's appointments yesterday while the weather was decent. They're now keeping warm and watching the snow fall from their great view to the southeast looking over downtown, the Space Needle and the white out that is Mt. Rainier.

We'll stay put today. I'm determined to make some Christmas cookies; we don't have anything sweet to snack on. Pecan balls and spice cookies tempt me. To all in the Pacific NW, be safe out there if you venture out! Season's Greetings!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

R & A

I am "R and A" today, my little abbreviation for RESTLESS and AGITATED. I'm looking out on the day and wondering if I'll be able to get my parents down to the clinic for their much needed doctor's appointments. One is at 10:45 AM and the other 2 PM. Two trips and snow is in the forecast although right now all we have is overcast skies.

I remember when snow was just that....snow. When I lived in upstate New York during college I had a car my senior year. Unless we had blizzard like conditions, people were out on the road driving, doing errands and moving forward with their day. It's nothing like that here where we have lots of hills and snow loves to turn into ice quickly. Add to that the fact that the city of Seattle behaves in a reactive rather than proactive manner; they never sand or salt the streets in our neighborhood ever and get out there on the more traveled roads only when there's trouble. Sigh. Paralysis reigns when we get any accumulation of snow/ice. Schools are closed today for example.

I don't have snow tires but I do have a sturdy, heavy, road hugging Honda CRV. Should I venture out today for those appointments? Guess I'll decide at the last minute. I know both Mom and Dad want to get out of the house; they are so stir-crazy sitting in that small room for days on end with the dark descending at 4:30 PM and not lifting until after 8 AM. There's nothing for them to do and a trip "out" is mollifying to say the least. However, I don't want to get stranded somewhere or spin out on the ice. Dang it.

So, I sit restless and agitated and stew. I'm convinced I have an ulcer brewing by the burn in my stomach right now. Of course two cups of coffee didn't help that much. Where's the prilosec?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Question of the Day

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."
-- Pablo Picasso

This is the quest for me. I want to reclaim that childhood artist, that playful and carefree soul that could lose herself in the unfolding moments, creating castles in her mind and all manner of magical experiences without the seasoned internal voice rushing to blow out those gentle embers.

I've heard and read that people find their greatest productivity and joy in doing the things they love. So what are those for me? What kind of an artist am I? And why am I asking this question in my 50's? Better now than never, I presume.

If I figure this out, I'm sure to write about it. Until then, I'll need to ponder, just ponder.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Un-Christmas Letter

Yesterday I wrote about the Christmas Letter, acknowledging the many ways these seasonal greetings are written, common themes and styles, and then I went into a frenzy about wanting to write my own version of a Christmas Letter that allowed it all to hang out, miseries and all. Let's be clear. I have gratitude. I'm blessed by many riches in my life and live in a world of plenty. Whatever my worries may be, there are those who suffer orders of magnitude more than I and for whom compassion and love are deserved any time of year. I. Get. It.

However, to soothe my soul, I'm going to post my version of let's call it the
Un-Christmas Letter, a small spoof on the typical holly, jolly renderings of what's-wonderful-in-my-life-right-now letter.

Dear Friends and Family:

As 2008 draws to a close, I wish one and all a wonderful Holiday Season Christmas and a damn good start to 2009.

As for me, I'm hoping Santa will bring me a new pair of glasses with lenses that allow me to focus on what's going well instead of what's not. You see, my 2008 glasses have this indelibly thick layer of grime encrusted so tenaciously to the lenses that whatever is going on "out there" tends to look not-so-good. So, what I'm really hoping for underneath the tree is a new pair that have been gently marinated in
Prozac and Valium and then simmered on low heat in a cozy crock pot for days. These are bound to affect my take on the New Year in a positive way and allow the crummy memories of 2008 to wither into the crevasses of my brain and the random highlights of the past year to flourish.

Until those new glasses arrive, I've got to be honest. 2008 has been a rough walk. For those of you who know Aruba, I've been traipsing barefoot through the
stickleburs and seven-day itch, not to mention rotting cactus, hiding in the underbrush, thorns still sharp and waiting for my foot. For those of you who don't know Aruba, I've been traipsing barefoot on the Northwest equivalent but I can't come up with such colorful analogies unless its a combination of poison ivy, blackberry thorns, and nettles.

Here goes; on the good side (I wiped off the lenses with a bit of Windex), all of us who were here this time last year are still here, some a bit worse for wear, but here nonetheless and hoping to enjoy the flaming Christmas Pudding with foamy sauce on December 25
th. My dear husband graduated from U.W. Law School in June and passed the Washington State Bar Exam. My son graduated from S.P.U. and has a good job and a lovely girlfriend. My daughter is privileged to study abroad in Florence and travel the European continent this academic year. I have supportive siblings and extended family.

Hey! This doesn't sound like an
un-Christmas letter! Throw out the Windex and get down to business here. 2008 has been a tough year, really tough. Here goes.

Yours truly is overwhelmed by the care needs of aging parents. There were two moves this year, the first from their retirement apartment in Queen Anne to an assisted living in Shoreline and then from there to an adult family home in Magnolia. Moving is pure upheaval. The physical part is one piece but the behind-the-scenes work is enormous, frustrating, and seemingly endless. Both of my beloved parents have suffered more than is fair (in my opinion) with health issues that pick away at the vibrant persons they once were. Falls, broken bones,
TIAs, pneumonias, ER visits and hospital stays. There is always something going on that is not-so-good. Exhausting for them; exhausting for family as we try to meet their needs and love them into the next stage of life. As the doc and the local daughter, I get the brunt and everyone knows it so that's nothing shockingly new. Everytime the phone rings, I jump; it's often bad news. Getting old sucks. Loosing your parents by slow deterioraton of mind and body is not for sissies. I fear for my own aging; this is an eye-opener.

Economic times stink. When stock market investments evaporate before our eyes and the knowledge that we are "too young" to retire or cut back hits home, the focus turns to money, the dreaded cash flow issue. The big and little luxuries we've taken for granted for years dried up overnight. The reality of having to work more to stay afloat right about the time when I want to explore other interests in my life bites. My job is wearing me out even though it's only part-time. After 25 years of carrying a pager and serving the world when 'on call', I've just about had it. But slog away I must. Come January, I'll be
ramping it up on the work front. Denny finally has a good lead on a job but it's been discouraging for him (and me) as a new graduate with two advanced degrees and unable to find work. What the hell is going on with that? Whether we choose to believe this or not, there is age discrimination out there in the job market. Fresh young blood trumps experience and wisdom. Go figure. And while everyone thinks that a doctor-lawyer combo is a shoe-in for a great job, they are dead wrong, especially in 2008. Reality is the great equilizer.

So, goodbye
Netflix and pedicures, 45 dollar haircuts for my short bob, frequent dinners out and the occasional trip to Olympus Spa. We saved our coins for a trip to Florence this past November so now the pendulum must swing in the other direction for awhile. My laptop computer is on its last legs at the advanced age of 5 years and I struggle daily to keep on-line and engaged with the world. The sting of annoyances escalates when from my front window I witness a younger couple pay top dollar for the house directly across the street from us, elect to knock it down, and begin the plans for a dream home that will take out the last of our view. Rub salt into the wound while you're at it. Oh well. I'll sit here with my ancient computer, my hairdo looking like Don King, my back in a knot, and stew over the state of my toes.

Yours truly still worries about the safety of her children, now aged 20 and 22, far more than is normal. I get it, I get it, I get it. But getting it doesn't translate into meaningful change unless those much desired lenses that I'm getting for Christmas put a healthier spin on my motherly angst. A daughter 5000 miles away until May 2009 is something I can't think about much or I'll run around the house, wailing like a banshee. Receiving scary as hell plaintive phone calls from abroad when there is nothing I can do but listen to crackling echoes is rotten stuff.

Piss and moan, piss and moan. On the health front, wallowing has its advantages. I can eat whatever I want because crying, getting mad, and stomping around in a panic burns calories like none other and tends to take away the appetite. I figure that comes from my Dad's side of the family. Plus, when you're looking for a natural high, disregarding hunger and toughing it out boosts those endorphins ever so slightly. I'll take it. And no, I'm NOT anorexic.

Having shot my mouth off in this Yuletide greeting, I'll end with the following. Life is what you make of it; the good, the bad, and the ugly. I really am going to trust that the new glasses I get for Christmas clear out the cobwebs and allow me to create a more peaceful 2009 amidst the storm. I'm trying to stay ahead of the wave, remember? As my blog title descriptor says, "It's as much about surrender as it is steering."

Wishing all my friends and family either a good shot of Windex for your glasses or a brand new pair! If you've got just the pair you need and want right now, God love ya.

Hugs to all,


The Christmas Letter

'Tis the Season and I've once again been pondering the Christmas Letter, the typical typewritten one pager, copied and sent out with or without a card to friends and family in December. I have an ambivalent, or better said complicated relationship with the entire idea of a Christmas Letter. In my time, I've read many and they vary greatly in style and content.

Some letters offer a recitation of month by month activities and a heartfelt wish for a great New Year. The tone is upbeat and even the not-so-good stuff that has happened is wrapped up with an overall positive spin and a hope for better times to come. Many focus on the younger generations of the family describing all the accomplishments of the offspring in the past year. Others wax philosophic, focusing on the spirit of the season and how nice it would be if humankind could extend the blessings of the season by permanently levering the joy to bring about a better world for all. What I've never received is one that just laid it all out there, the unedited truth of the writer, warts and all. Maybe I'd call this a "I had a pretty shitty rough year" Christmas Letter. It might be refreshing to receive one of these every now and then, one that wasn't drowning in self pity but focused on the grit of real living.

I'm tempted at least once in my life to write a down and dirty letter like this during the holiday season. I'm not sure anyone would want to read it but it might be a useful writing exercise; something to get it all out there and then drop in the fire pit to watch the tendrils of smoke carry off all the evil humors into the atmosphere. By now, I'm sure I must seem depraved, disrespectful of the season, and wallowing in the morose. Maybe I am. Of course I'm proud of my children, happy to be alive, looking forward to enjoying a flaming Christmas pudding on December 25th and optimistic (I think) about 2009. But, I just might pen my own rendering of what January - December 2008 was like for me as a counterweight to the traditional letter, if for no other reason than to satisfy my insatiable desire to try.

Cheers one and all!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Best Laid Plans

Ahhhh, well.

Shortly after I posted about dinner out and a bottle of old red wine for our Wedding Anniversary celebration, the phone rang and plans changed. But, it was O.K. because lately all plans have built in flexibility due to the uncertainties inherent in being the local daughter to parents who are both in their 92nd year. Unless I'm out of town or one of my siblings is visting, I'm "on-call".

Poor Mom. She had just returned from a lovely outing with Catie late yesterday afternoon, made it into her bedroom using the walker and as Catie left to retrieve the purchased items from the car, Mom apparently started looking through the mail. Her walker was several feet away, she suddenly got very dizzy, and down she went. We think she probably landed full force on her left elbow and long story short, she fractured her left humerus up near the shoulder. By the time I arrived the staff had her up in a chair but the pain and swelling in the left arm were obvious. We called the ambulance and spent the early evening in the E.R. She's been admitted to the hospital for pain control and further evaluation (no surgery for these fractures; a strong sling, time and slow healing is the plan). Hopefully she'll be able to return home to be with Dad rather than spend the next weeks in a skilled nursing facility. The adult family home really wants to have her back and feels they can handle the added care needs. Good news on that front, at least. That and the fact that she broke her left (non-dominant) arm, not the right.

But, here's another painful hurdle for this woman. She certainly doesn't deserve or need any more angst, either physical or emotional. Advancing age is slowly whittling away at her quality of life. She's naturally angry, in real pain, and has a long road ahead to heal, if she can muster forces to do so. How much can one person take? For so many elderly people, it's one bit of drama after another with health related issues. The so called "slippery slope" is a very real phenomenon for many. I've worried about her taking a fall frequently of late; she forgets to use her walker, steps away from it and hobbles along. One dizzy spell andany sense of balance is lost. Down she will go. Unless someone is with her 24/7 (literally) to cue her to the walker, it won't happen and she's at risk.

Today I'll visit her, touch base with the doctor, the social worker and the adult family home to see if/when she can return to be with Dad and receive in-home physical and occupational therapy. This is definitely a set back. Will she rally? We'll see.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

31 Years

Last year on this day, D and I celebrated our 30th Wedding Anniversary. Here we are a year later at 31 years. Today when I arrived home from work, the roses were on the dining room table. I wrote about this tradition regarding roses last year. Each year there's a new configuration; this time one white rose and six reds (the white rose symbolizes 25 years and red counts as one year).

We're going out to dinner tonight and when we get home, we'll open a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon we've had tucked away since the early 1980's. We have a few really old bottles like this hanging around. I'm always a bit reluctant to open them wondering if the quality will hold up after all these years; in this case 27 years! We shall see. We haven't been disappointed in the past with these oldies but eventually I think we'll find one that has gone beyond its time. I remember buying this Robert Mondavi in Houston at a wine store and thought I'd put it away for a "few years" to mature. It cost me $10.50 back then; wonder what it would be worth now.

On the left is a photo of a photo I shot today with my digital camera. I'm modeling my wedding dress which was featured on the cover of Bride's Magazine in the fall of 1977. I remember saying, "I want that dress; it's the one". I didn't try on many dresses; this one spoke to me early on. As for the gown, it went to the cleaners right after the wedding and has been sitting in a sealed box on my closet shelf all this time. I'm a bit reluctant to open it as well (like the old wine) wondering if time has turned it into tatters or if it has weathered all these years unscathed.

I've decided to test the wine tonight but shan't bother with the gown this year.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Blogging Live and Learn

Several weeks ago I changed the URL on my blog to match the name of the blog, Ahead of the Wave. Well, live and learn. I knew something was wrong when my posts never appeared on my Google Reader and when comments dried up as if no one was getting the feeds. Mess Up! I figured out the problem and I hope it's now fixed. I couldn't begin to explain what happened but after an hour or so of trying this and that with Feedburner, I believe it's gonna be OK.

Hope ya'll (my Texas roots) will keep reading!

Enjoy the photo of a bed of absolutely lovely cool weather ground cover that does very well in soggy, cool Seattle in the winter. Beautiful colors.

The New Neighbors Respond

In my last post, I had just dropped my letter to the new neighbors in the mailbox. This was my way of expressing in writing how their decisions to level a house and build a 3 story home in its place affected me. I wanted this couple to "get it", to understand that others are affected in not so trivial ways by these gargantuan changes to the landscape of the neighborhood and that things don't occur in a vacuum. Did my letter accomplish this goal?

Two days after the letter left my hands, there was a note and a small loaf of homemade gingerbread on our front doorstep. The note said,

"Dear Kate,
We are sorry for not communicating with you. We wish to be good neighbors and coexist peacefully. We apologize for the noise and the inconvenience construction will cause. We hope to have a positive relationship, moving forward. Happy Holidays to you and your family.

Then later that day, while I was at work, Mr. stopped by and spoke with Denny for a few minutes. He wanted to acknowledge receipt of the letter and talk with me personally. Denny gave him the home phone number. Twenty four hours passed and then Mr. called me on the phone. We had a four minute conversation. He spoke. I listened. I spoke. He listened. There was acknowledgment that communication could have been better (on their end) but the emphasis was on the hope that they could be "good neighbors" and that their home would be a nice addition to the block. "We'll do everything we can to be good neighbors and keep our lawn and yard up". He talked about his wife and three children and how excited they were to join such a neighborhood. I thanked him for the call. He offered to come by in person to talk. I told him no need and that we'd meet up at some point during construction.

I was left feeling on the one hand that I had written a good letter and received a prompt response. Good for them. Score one. I was also left with the feeling that the full impact of Mr. and Mrs.'s decisions to level and rebuild said property did not sink in. But, I've done what I could to openly communicate directly to the source of my pain just what it feels like to be on the receiving end. For that, I feel strong and proud. It is what it is and we move forward from here. I am keeping a keen eye out for the huge trucks that move in and out as they have bounced along the grass alongside our house more than once (see picture) and have come close to sprinkler heads not to mention the back end of my Honda parked in the driveway. The construction crew asked me to move it from the street to the driveway this morning. It's a small request but I wish Mr. and Mrs. knew that I was still in P.J.'s drinking my coffee on my day off when they asked.

As I moved my car I noticed the two neighbors who live on either side of the destruction were out front talking to the contractors in the chill and drizzle of this December morning in Seattle. They are very concerned about possible damage to their properties as they should be....the excavation may impact their fences and plantings as well as the stability of the ground. With any extra rain, there could easily be the equivalent of a mini-mudslide into the cavern left by the back hoe's work over the last days. They are also more than a little annoyed by the seeming lack of concern from Mr. and Mrs. and the poor communication. I encouraged them to write them a letter as I did. Wouldn't it be nice if Mr. and Mrs. received several letters?

Mr. and Mrs. have a lot to do in the way of damage control. I hope they have learned something about civility. I really, really do.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Giving Voice to Anger and Pain

I decided to pen a letter to the new owners of the house across the street; the house that as I write this post is being demolished. There are so many ways the letter could be written and some I probably should write and then burn as a form of therapy. But, I decided to write one that emphasized how their plans impacted me as the neighbor directly across the street. I acknowledged that they had all the right in the world to do as exactly as they did (which was to give no "heads up" and no verbalized appreciation for the fact that construction is a visual and auditory assault that goes on for months) My goal was to suggest that neighbors communicate and that there was a breach of the more subtle laws of civility going on here.

The letter goes out in the mail today. I signed it and gave my address. I own this letter and I stand behind it whether it backfires in my face or not. I feel very strongly that someone (that would be me and maybe there will be others) needs to tell these two grown people that their choices do impact others. They may not care. They may get angry. Or not. But something will happen. Something.

I have to remember what Mom has always said when I go whining about injustices inflicted on me by others.....she always reminds me that "It's a long road that doesn't have a turn.". I interpret that to be some law about karma and people eventually having to own up to the shitty choices they've made, especially ones that hurt other people. Yikes!

Here's what I said in my letter:


This is a difficult letter for me to write. I want to welcome you to the neighborhood on ...Avenue West. Yet I feel the need to honestly share with you how it feels to be on the receiving end of the plans for your new home. I’m reminded again that whatever we do in life impacts others, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in larger ways. It’s so easy to forget this fact when we’re busy. It’s something I’ve tried to remind myself to remember frequently.

I’m writing from my perspective only, as your neighbor directly across the street at .... We have lived on this block for over seventeen years with a view of the Matter’s house from our front windows. I know that times move on, ownership changes hands, and people join the neighborhood with new plans for their property. While it makes me sad to lose the last bit of sound and mountain views we have from our upstairs windows, I have to accept that things like this happen all the time. It is what it is and we’ll adjust.

We’ll also have to adjust to the disruptions inherent in a project like this; congested traffic flow, the added noise of construction, and the time factor that comes with the demolition followed by the rebuilding which will go on for many months. This does impact your neighbors. We will live it; you will move in when it’s finished.

I’m happy that you’ll have your dream home. I remember meeting you, Dan, shortly after you purchased the house. You were in the driveway and I came over, introduced myself and we talked about how my daughter Laura had done some babysitting for your family in the past. I asked when you were going to move in and what you told me was that you were still considering options and didn’t know what the plans would be. I made the unfortunate assumption that if you were planning on a tear down and a total re-build, we might be advised. Although you certainly don’t have an obligation to divulge your plans to anyone, it saddens me that you didn’t.

I wish that you had knocked on my door (the earlier the better; it helps psychologically to get prepared), sat me down and said, “Kate; these are our plans. Yes, I get it that there will be noise, and construction, and hassle and the like but, that’s the way it’s going to be.” I might not have been happy about it inside but your honesty and your willingness to acknowledge that your decisions affect other people, and in this case your neighbors, very deeply would have gone a long way in easing the pain and disruption of this transition.

In my opinion, when all is said and done, it boils down to communication with those who are directly affected by our decisions and actions. That’s the starting point for enduring relationships and what I would hope neighbors might enjoy.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Nothing to do but SUCK IT UP

.....the contractor, Mr. and Mrs.

Although I long to run outside, scream at the top of my lungs, fling my body on the wet grass, and make an enormous scene, I don't. And, I won't. That doesn't stop me from internal versions of the same scene however, lived out again and again.

Our new neighbors are not making a good first impression. Look at them here, all happy and excited about the first day of ground breaking on their new home. Mass destruction. Noise. Crowded street. And then once the destruction is finished, the laying of the new foundation for the dream home. Again, I ask; "Will this make you happy?". The answer (of course) is "NO".
What would I have had them do differently? Not build the home of their dreams? No. What I would have asked is that they knock on my door and tell me of their plans and acknowledge the disruption to the street, the hassle of a crummy scene of destruction, the noise factor that will go on for the next 9 months, and yes, the loss of our view.

A.C.K.N.O.W.L.E.D.G.E.M.E.N.T. Not even an "I'm sorry" necessarily. Just that they even sort of "get it", sort of understand the impact of their decisions.

Our decisions are not made in a vacuum. We may think so but they aren't. EVER.

I really agree with the person who said that we are all looking to be understood, just understood.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Nice'n Easy Natural Red Blonde

Even after 40 years, Clairol still makes Nice'n Easy Natural Red Blonde hair color. As a teenager, I was introduced to this product and used it off and on for much so that everyone thought my hair was naturally this color. In college I quite dying my hair and let the authentic color evolve. Gradually people forgot, or never knew, I had hair any color other than what it was.

In 1970, at age 16, I was in Europe (and Florence) with Mom and Dad and I was a natural red blonde as seen in these "butt photos" that Dad took of Mom and me. He was famous for taking pictures of us from the rear. I've always wondered about that. You get a good look at Miss Clairol at work however. My hair is much like Mom's color; maybe (but I can't remember) that's what I was trying to achieve. Attempting to minimize the natural frizz in my hair, I took elaborate, somewhat byzantine steps to straighten the look. There were no plug in hair straighteners around in those days. If I was happy with the color, the curl was definitely not my thing and something in demand of daily attention. Some days were easier than others.

In case you can't find us in this butt photo taken between the Duomo and the Baptistery in Florence, look to the lower right in the photo. You'll spot my mother in a green dress and me by her side in a mini-skirt and white top.

What I think about here, in addition to the red-blonde hair, is that little child wearing a hat who stands midway along the bottom half of the photo. That little one is now 40 years old. Many of the other people are long gone. Those that aren't, are much, much older. The natural red blonde gal now has grey in her hair and hasn't sprung for highlights in over a year.

Time passes but Miss Clairol stays much the same.

Brother and Sister

He has ideas
and plans.
He loves them as they
need to be loved
in these dark hours.
He's game for a sprint,
as we all are in this
long journey.
Piece by piece, with time away
to collect one's soul back from the fray.
At it again with a resigned, if not joyful style.
If there is ambivalence or pain,
it does not show.

For me, the exhaustion never quits.
The guilt over succumbing to exhaustion even worse.
I've always said, I'm up for a sprint, not a marathon.
Because, because....
Even with bits of time away, the rejuvenation never comes
and I feel older by the second.
My face muddy,
my heart stony and hard.
Aching to make the most of a whisper of time
but not knowing how, with my
soul slowly burning, evaporating into mist,
dying to today's promise
with the closing of a door.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Gratitude Amidst the Noise

Today has been quiet until the fire truck pulled up across the street (again) to chainsaw holes in Mr. Matter's rooftop this afternoon. On a Saturday? C'mon. Give it a break, can't you? See those guys on the left? They're busting through shingles with intention, learning how to break through a roof in a real emergency. After all, this house is a "tear down" (see post from 11/25/08). Sigh.

Oh wait, I think they're leaving now; they never stay long. Just enough time to bust a few new openings in the roof and then they're off leaving the street quiet again. Blessed. I can now hear my Mozart CD playing, the Grandfather clock marking the seconds passing, and the soft, nearly imperceptible breath of the cat who lies next to me on the living room couch. This is such the typical late November afternoon in Seattle, complete with overcast skies hanging so low you can all but reach out and pull the mist into the front door. No rain, just air that's heavy with stored moisture. Waiting.

I'm remembering 48 hours ago when we gathered for Thanksgiving Dinner at the Arapahoe House; the 5 of us: Mom, Dad, Denny (the cook; all except for the pumpkin pie and the corn pudding), Chris, and me. We were a small group this year but privileged to celebrate at the Arapahoe house which has until now, never been the gathering spot for a Thanksgiving meal in our family. Nice. I have gratitude for the gifts of family and food shared around a table that has hosted thousands of meals in Aruba, Houston, and now in Seattle. Here we are....

Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday

Today, Black Friday, is the day retailers hope to make up for lagging sales and launch the official Holiday Season of buy, buy, buy. This is the first Black Friday in recent memory that Laura and I will not be hitting the road (we never start before 9 AM and therefore are not the hard-core shoppers) to check out Target, Northgate mall, Fred Meyer, and a few other choice places with lunch at Taco Time. This holiday weekend she's with classmates traveling through Bosnia and Croatia.

I don't intend to shop today. Maybe I would if Laura were home. Nonetheless I can't help but wonder....if things don't make for happiness, why are all these people out there buying things?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wallowing in Misery

Historically, the day before Thanksgiving is either the most favorite day of the year for me or if not, way up there with the top five. Last year on this day, I blogged about my love for this day. But today is anything but joyful for me. I feel overwhelmed by duties, a messy house, the pressure to cultivate gratitude, by ailing and unhappy parents, the fact I won't see my daughter for the first time on Turkey Day and on it goes. I just wish the holiday was over, that I could close my eyes and sleep through it all, awakening sometime next week. Sure, my life will still be the same, more or less, but I'll have had some time with dreams, restless as they may be, and be lying horizontal instead of pushing through vertically oriented tasks.

Yesterday came the assault of chain saws across the street and a fire truck in front of Mr. Matter's former house. When he died last year, his family sold the house to a couple with young children sometime last spring. We waited for the family to move in but nothing ever happened. We knew this likely meant they were planning to "build up" to get their so called "sweeping sound and mountain views". Not quite; it's worse. With all the commotion going on at the property yesterday we learned that the house is now a "practice palace" for in-training firefighters. The house is a "tear down" we learned so the fledgling firefighters are using ladders to access the roof and chain saws to cut gaping holes in said roof. Good for them I suppose. They need experience.

For me, I witness the slow destruction of a house that has been my front window view for the last eighteen years. I can only imagine the monstrosity (aka new construction) that will come in its place. The bit of blue and mountains we see from our bedroom window will be no more, turned into the brick facade of another family's home.

I wonder if they'll be happy. Do things like this bring happiness? I asked Denny this question today. He just shook his head and said, "I don't think about things like that." I wonder why I do. Questions like this chew at my soul sometimes.

On a day when I should be savoring the sunshine and the opportunity to celebrate a glorious meal tomorrow with my 91 year old parents, my husband and son, I'm ploughing around in the underbrush of sadness. I certainly wish one and all a Happy Thanksgiving. It's the best holiday of them all in my opinion. I'm just not in the mood for it this year. Is there the equivalent of "Bah Humbug" for Turkey Day?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Florence 1970: Florence 2008

The years pass; 38 to be exact. For the city of Florence, steeped in history, a few decades is nothing. Not quite the same for people who change quite a bit in the same span of time. On our recent trip to Florence, I wanted to get a photograph of Laura and me standing where Mom and I stood so many years ago, my only other time in Europe, during the summer of 1970.

Dad took this picture of Mom and me in front of Ghiberti's famous Baptistry Doors from the Florentine Renaissance. It was July 1970, warm and sunny. I was 16 years old and my Mom was the age I am now. And below, on a breezy, cool November day in 2008, I stood with my daughter, age 20 in front of those same doors in Florence. Time passes. The building doesn't change much if at all.
How do we ever know when we'll "be back" to visit again, or if we'll never be back? I don't suppose I gave this much thought way back then but I do now. Maybe some day, Laura will pose with her daughter or son in front of these doors which Michelangelo called, "the gates of Paradise". Or, maybe not. Only time, most mysterious and elusive, will tell.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Changing my URL

Well, I finally figured out how to change the URL for Ahead of the Wave. This transition has been in the (mental) works for ages but I couldn't quite figure out how to make it happen. The "arubagirl" thing just wasn't me for the long haul in blogging. I'm happy that the title of my blog and my URL now match (internal consistency always does wonders for me).

I'm hoping that I don't lose anyone in the transition; that part still worries me a bit but hopefully you'll leave a little message here that you've found me.

I'm running to keep ahead of that pesky wave and feeling some better in the last few days.

I'll likely start posting 'real stuff' soon.

Till then....remember, it's always best to be on the downslope of that wave, moving forward, slicing through the water with precision and grace. Oh well, we can always hope....

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Another Hiatus

Whether it be prolonged jet lag, the gloomy chill and wet of Seattle in November, the state of uncertainty in so many aspects of my personal and professional life, or some combination I just don't know. I've decided to let go of what's becoming the "push to blog" and to blog "well". Blogging should be fun, something that relieves stress and helps me distinguish important from non-important, something that gives me a sense of satisfaction when I push "publish". I'm not getting that just now. Creative energies are at a low point.

So, dear ones, another hiatus is at hand.

I'll keep reading though.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Arrivederci Firenze

Goodbye Florence. This is our last evening in the city and the bags are just about packed for the long journey home. We will awaken early tomorrow morning to catch a taxi to the airport, a flight to Amsterdam and then on to Seattle. Leaving is turning out to be one of the more difficult things I've had to do in a long while. While I'm totally ready to get back to more familiar surroundings and sleep in my own bed, bidding goodbye to Laura seems tougher by the minute. When she left in early September, I knew that a trip fairly soon was in our future. Now the time looms long as I think about the next five plus months apart. I may have to come back!

The last few days have been busy. Friday we spent in Florence; exploring the area south of the Arno River, near the Pitti Palace and through the Boboli Gardens. In the afternoon, Laura and I scoured the stores for brown boots. There were lots of options; she finally found just the right pair; my treat. All the women are wearing stylish boots over jeans and the Pashmina scarves are everywhere now that the weather has turned cool.

Saturday we took a train to the small, quaint walled city of Lucca west of Florence. We rented bicycles and "rode the wall" which is a popular way to see the city. After a glass or two of wine with lunch, biking felt a bit odd but was great nonetheless. The quiet of lovely Lucca, compared to Florence, was as calming as a yoga class. No vespas! And as pedestrians and bikers, we were treated well. I could spend some quality time in Lucca; highly recommended.

Today, our last day, was a bit frenetic as we tried to figure out how to navigate through a stressful period of time. The anticipation of saying goodbye and making the most of the "last moments" together was a blend of the bitter and the sweet. The day was crystal clear,beautifully accentuating the stucco colors against a brilliant backdrop. Today was about shopping; in the upscale stores (Laura) and through the endless stalls of the San Lorenzo Market (me). We enjoyed an early dinner as the midnight blue of evening descended, the moon and Venus high above. I thought about the "day blind" stars (and moon) over Seattle today as dusk caught us up in her magic.
Goodbye Florence. A wonderful 10 days spent with our youngest. Thanks to all back home who kept up with the pace of life.