Wednesday, April 30, 2008


She has said to me within the last month.....

" Where is my typewriter? I need to "clip off" some letters to people."

" I'd love to get back in the classroom again to teach."

" I'm thinking of asking [them] if I can put together a Christmas choir but wouldn't want to start something I couldn't finish."

"I know you've had such a rough day at work; could I fix you a nice meal tomorrow?"

I don't say much, just listen and acknowledge. In some ways, it may be healthy that we never give up our dreams for if we do, there is nothing.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Irregularly Irregular

The "irregularly irregular" rhythm of atrial fibrillation is one of the most common abnormal rhythms of the heart. Caused by the erratic firing of the cardiac conduction system and unpredictable patterns of capture, the heart rate and rhythm is disorganized and difficult (or next to impossible) to tame. The beat may be fast or slow but always characterized by its own whimsical pattern, totally indifferent to consistency. This particular heart rhythm stands as a metaphor for life in general and the practice of medicine in specific. Predictably unpredictable.

This has certainly exemplified my experience with Medicine and I'm routinely reminded whenever I live through another four day tour of duty as the on-call physician. Friday night and Saturday were a breeze with long times of quiet, work that flowed in an orderly sequence, and a clear sense of planning, purpose and outcome. Sunday was the polar opposite; hellish, disorganized and punctuated by three separate trips back into the hospital. There appears to be no pattern and no way to predict much like this "irregularly irregular" heart rhythm. This weekend might have been insanely busy from start to finish or could have been the reverse, or some combination of the two. The day of the week, the time of the day, the month of the year matter little. There simply is no predicting although some people attribute the variability to cycles of the moon. I do not agree. Cyclical oscillations would impose a pattern on this energetic giant and that's simply not the case.

Recovering today from my four days and nights "on", I'm emotionally tired, cranky, and frustrated by the reoccurring realization that when things go smoothly in medicine, that's the miracle. It does happen. Sometimes. The norm is so much less glitzy than a scene from "ER" or "Grey's Anatomy". A TV show depicting the plodding struggle of a large land turtle making its way through wet sand (or jello) would be a more accurate depiction of what it feels like to function in the trenches. No one would want to watch this sort of medical drama and who could blame them? There is often little that is really exciting. Usually it is the hum drum punctuated by moments of adrenalin rush and extreme sadness as we struggle to understand, intervene, perhaps fix things before they go seriously awry. This is likely NOT a comforting thought to readers and I must emphasize that these are my feelings, honed by 30 years in the profession.

The amusing part of life in Medicine (suspect it is true for all professions but would love to know) is that just when you think you've seen or heard it all, every possible combination of insanities, you have not. Hear me again: have not. Another scenario breaks on to the scene carrying a new twist unlike anything experienced before. I have several examples from this past weekend alone. I will never get to the end of SNAFU and FUBAR. I suppose the beauty of this "irregularly irregular" pattern of permutations and combinations is in warding off boredom and a sense of complacency. The undertow lurks just beneath the surface ripple.

Attempting to tame the beast who will not be tamed, I become evermore frustrated. Ironically, the patience for the irregularly irregular beat shrinks with each passing year. I truly believe that the new, younger generation of doctors are better equipped to accept the constant chaos. I used to go with the flow and ride that wave with more grace and agility once upon a time. Where the youthful frenzy and enthusiasm for the ride went, I know not. I am no longer willing or able (as we often say in this field) to "bend over and spread 'em."

I'm drawn in by The Great Gatsby quote, the final line of the book when Fitzgerald writes; "so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past". This desperate attempt to control that which cannot be controlled, a super heroic effort to fight the undertow beneath the wave is an exercise in futility. I realize from a deep place of knowing that my time and efforts in this most noble of professions draw to a close.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Cour d? Lane

My daughter is off on an overnight camping trip with friends from school; "somewhere in Idaho, Mom". She's driving herself and three others from Spokane with tents and sleeping bags and they plan to meet up with several dozen other students from her "Business Fraternity" for their annual camping event.

She knows by now that a retort like that about "somewhere in Idaho" will be followed by a merciless list of questions on my part, especially when I learn that she can't let me know when she arrives "cuz it's out in the middle of no where". Admonishments by text message stating, "don't drink" were followed by responses like, "don't drink where?" which translates to an agreement not to drive while under the influence but leaves open the possibility of drinking at said campsite. Ahhhh. Deep breath in; deep breath out. Then, my mind drifts to the next adrenalin fix as I consider the typical association between camping sites and bodies of water (and drinking); another ominous mix. So, I texted her again with a second admonition, "promise me you won't do anything involving water; water and drinks are as bad as DUI" to which she responded, "Yea, I won't go in water."

The best part was her text to me: "check ur email". She had promised to forward me the driving directions she'd be using to navigate to the campsite so that I'd have some idea in what general area of the great state of Idaho she might be pitching her tent for the night. I've learned that it is northeast of the delightful township of "Cour d? lane". Looks like the apostrophe key morphed into the question mark key on this keyboard and the proud city of Coeur d'Alene has a new American cousin. Gotta love it!

Directions to the campsite
1. Take East I-90 towards Cour d? lane
2. Keep going past the city towards Kellogg
3. Take exit #43, Kingston/Thomson pass (if you make it to Kellogg you went about 10 miles to far)
4.-6....etc etc.... (I omitted the boring in between details)You will see signs that say campground, DO NOT FOLLOW THEM)
7. Pavement will end. Drive slowly and watch for potholes (they?re really hard to see).
8. Its 5.2 miles in on the left from the left hand turn. I will post a sign for you all to see. If your car is low to the ground you may want to leave it on the road. Good Luck!!!!


Friday, April 25, 2008

Preparing for BlogHer

Designing, ordering and anticipating the distribution of these blogging "business cards" are signals to me that this blogging stuff is more than a trivial interest of mine. This post today is # 170; I never considered that there would be fodder for more than a dozen posts back in August 2007 when I launched with thoughts about my Triathlon experience. That I'm also signed up for a three day weekend trip to San Francisco in July 2008 for the BlogHer Conference is another tip off that this might be something serious. Mary Margaret attended the BlogHer conference last year in Chicago and shared with me the importance of having cards to pass out. That would make sense; what a great way to get the word out there. MM didn't have cards to hand out last year but she does this time around so we're both prepared and, I might add, very excited about attending the conference together this summer.

Blogging my random thoughts on Ahead of the Wave has always felt like practice for something else but for exactly what purpose remains a mysterious, undefined entity right now. This feels exciting. The new title, Ahead of the Wave, energizes me. At once a metaphor for my life, I also appreciate that the title offers so many possible interpretations. Some days staying ahead of the wave is easy and the energy harnessed from the powerful force exhilarating. Other days, steering the course is exhausting and scary. The ominous and ever present feeling that I must look over my shoulder to keep my eye on the wave represents another facet. But, to balance that dark interpretation is the knowledge that the wave is eternal and infinite energy, a force so powerful that it emanates from the Source.

My thoughts carry me in many directions today with imagery of the wave. Waves come in many forms. In Aruba, the gentle roll of waves pressing towards the shore at Baby Beach contrast with the roiling foam of sheer force that pounds the northeast coast. From ripples to thunderous momentum; they are all waves.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Feather

This post makes me very sad; I'm not quite certain I should be writing about these thoughts but have decided to push the boundaries a bit. An issue that never strays far from my awareness; these thoughts are always close at hand.

Let's start with feathers. I don't often see feathers on the ground when I'm out and about. Spotting one is surprisingly rare, even when I walk in the park, perhaps because my gaze is higher and not so close to the ground. When I do happen upon a lone feather, I startle inside and think, "Oh no, not yet, not now, not this feather.....". My thoughts immediately go to my Mother.

Why? Because, once upon a time several years ago Mom told me in a flight of fancy that when she was "gone" she would send me a message from the beyond to let me know that all was well, that her journey was fine, and that she was OK. This is so like Mom, always concerned about letting family know that the destination has been reached safely. Her communication, she explained, would take the form of a feather. There were no other details, just a feather. I doubt that she would even remember this conversation were we to discuss it again. And yet, I'm so tempted to confirm, to seal the deal, to re-establish that promise between us.

These days the mere sighting of a feather invokes a burst of adrenalin; I wonder where Mom is and if she's just sent me her message. I experience an overpowering urge to call her on the phone to find out if she is OK.

I'm trying very hard to explore and embrace the concept that all of life is energy, at one with the the Divine. When we change from the form to the formless, our consciousness lives on. The opposite of death is birth. Life has no opposite because it is infinite and limitless.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Postmortem on Ivanhoe

Last night was great; I was able to WALK to my book club meeting although the gusty, cold wind and raindrops had me wishing that this crazy weather would take a hike. I was determined not to default to the car and made tracks on foot in record time getting there about ten minutes early. The evening was fun; eight of us met to enjoy wine, dinner, dessert and good conversation about books in general and Ivanhoe in particular. I didn't feel too bad that I hadn't finished the book; only three had read it cover to cover but those three gave it a great review. Apparently there is a break point where one gets into the flow of the story and cannot help but finish. That point must be somewhere after page 89. A compelling romance, an adventure tale, a view of medieval 12th century England all in one. Maybe I'll re-tackle those pages and see for myself. The pointers on Ivanhoe (see Ssshhh), paid off. No one else had used this site but had logged on to Wikipedia instead for their overview.

Sir Walter Scott wrote Ivanhoe in 1819 and has been described by some as "the father of historical fiction". He was a prolific writer, penning some thirty books during his lifetime. Ivanhoe is his most famous and remembered book. If literary types (Gillen D'Arcy Wood) state that " [Ivanhoe] had a tremendous impact on the revival of Victorian interest in the Middle Ages, and this fascination with the age of knights and chivalry has lasted into the third millennium", I had best pay attention.

I'm tempted by Ivanhoe, the movie, from 1952 starring Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Fontaine, and Robert Taylor. The BBC has a more contemporary made-for-television version which sounds interesting too. Maybe I'll soak up Ivanhoe passively and save my reading eyes for this growing pile of books on my nightstand.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Teenager No More

As Laura celebrates her 20th Birthday today, I had a (brief) twinge of sadness musing that the teenage years, that triumphant (?) rite of passage speckled with intense highs and lowly depths and a whole lot of just plain living, growing, maturing, and the acquiring of savvy, have drawn to a close. Chris passed over to the other side (of being a teen) several years ago but the event never hit home until my last child was in the same position. I am now the parent of "twenty-somethings". That must make me old. Face it.

Thursday April 21, 1988, a date burned into my soul, is the day Laura Ann arrived on the scene, ready to fill our hearts with the joy of her energetic spirit. I knew this gal meant business early on. Striving to be out in the real world long before she was ready to draw breath, she pursues life with an energetic fervor that leaves most of us in the dust. She never ceases to amaze me with her fortitude and tenacity for personal goals, her quirky sense of wit, and her passion for living each day to the fullest.

Laura, I remember when you were but a wee one strapped into an infant seat. I thought at that tender age, I could leave you on the floor in that silly seat while I turned my back to tend to something else. So eager to be free of physical barriers, you quickly figured out that core muscles were your key to freedom, of sorts. It wasn't long before you were able to twist those lats and and flip yourself and that pesky seat 180 degrees. Once you found yourself on the floor, face down with a plastic infant seat strapped to your back (the turtle image is burned in my memory) you weren't quite ready to crawl but you were able to let me know of your displeasure with being "held back" by that dumb seat. It was your time; to be held, to be fed, to play but never time to just sit and watch the world go by. Some things never change my love.

Hoping you have a wonderful 20th Birthday!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Signs of Spring

Never mind that Friday night we drove home in a snow and hail storm after a dinner out. This type of downpour so late in April broke a record for Seattle. By today the snow had melted although there were still several inches on the ground in Shoreline when I spoke with Mom this morning. Spring is trying very hard to show its face despite the unseasonable weather.

Walking in Discovery Park today was a treat but the real beauty struck me along the route to and from the park where signs of new growth were abundant. The young green on trees and shrubs, tulips, and small patches of color nestled in the earth near sidewalks caught my attention. There are fewer and fewer totally bare trees but enough to emphasize the slow unfolding of spring.

Here is some of what I witnessed today. Enjoy.

Friday, April 18, 2008

LunchBox Laboratory

Chris raves about the new restaurant that opened up on 15th Ave NW in Ballard, adjacent to the house he rents with buddies from SPU. The Lunchbox Laboratory has been open for a couple of months and Chris knows Scott, the owner, and the staff quite well by now. Although their website is under construction and I could only find the mission statement, that was enough to give me an idea. Comfort food; sometimes healthy, always delicious and made with the freshest ingredients. The rest just has to be experienced. OMG.

Earlier this evening, amidst a record breaking Seattle day for weather (pelting hail, thunder and lightening, and snow) Denny and I joined Chris and Heather for dinner at the Lunchbox Laboratory. The specialty is burgers but these aren't just any burgers. Made to order, interesting combinations, different types of meat, unique cooking styles and bottom line: the best burger I've ever had, inhaled in minutes. This should mean something because burgers aren't at the top of my list most days. The fried stuff is great too (traditional skinny fries, sweet potato fries, onion straws) and to top it off Scott made us two of his unique shakes served up in 400 cc laboratory beakers (no surprise...this is a laboratory). The one D and I shared was Boston Cream Pie (unforgettable). Where all those calories went in such a short time is unspeakable but it was such fun and oh so tasty! When you want a superior burger, fries and shake get thee to Lunchbox Laboratory.

Scott's restaurant is getting some fantastic reviews from Seattle-ites restless with the typical burger scene. I couldn't agree more. Check out this review from Geoff Carter in NW Source.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Can't Help It

What about these other esteemed members of this family?

and Shit?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Next Monday is our book club gathering and I must confess that I have not (nor will I) read our selection in time for the meeting. Only 88 pages into the total of 464 pages of agony in Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, I have thrown in the towel, defeated. Actually, a healthier description is to say that I choose not to finish the book because my time is better spent in other endeavors (like sleeping, dreaming, or exercising).

The classics from centuries past are just not my thing. The verbosity, long paragraphs, and the unfamiliar language of the day sets my brain on edge. I remember several years ago Laura and I read Wuthering Heights together, an adventure in literary torture. I read the entire book to her aloud because she was struggling with the old English language and comprehension of plot line. Struggle we did through all those hundreds of pages. I'm ashamed to admit it, but these books, although pure beauty to many, are drudgery to me.

Ivanhoe, that bitter pill, will not get read the "natural way". I must confess that I've logged into (a site Chris and Laura introduced me to and which they used frequently; apparently quite popular with the high school and college crowd). Akin to well known Cliff Notes, this site will break it all down in language I can understand and in a fraction of the time it would take to plod through 44 chapters. I won't walk into book club cold; at least I'll be able to listen to the conversation and perhaps learn why this book is so beloved by those with passion and verve for the classics.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

More Memories

Thanks to Mary Hansen for sending me these two photographs of Mom and Dad, the first taken on their wedding day standing on the front steps of the church on April 12, 1941. My grandfather, Rev. James A. Bain stands behind the newly married couple. The second is a photograph taken in July 1998 when Mom, Dad, Mary Margaret, Mary, Laura and I toured upstate New York and parts of Ontario for a week. We drove through the industrial town of Cornwall, Ontario where they were married, found what used to be the church, and had them pose for another photograph. The structure had since been converted into a martial arts studio; who knows what it might be in 2008!

We shared a great trip together in 1998. Mom and Dad mention it frequently, in part because it was their last trip to New York state and Canada, back to their true roots. That particular week in July was selected because of their 60th reunion at Houghton College, the place where they met and courted. After several days attending festivities related to the reunion, we were on the road in our rented mini-van that held the six of us plus luggage and snacks (beer for Dad) quite nicely. The rest of the trip was all about driving through small and medium sized towns where Mom and/or Dad had lived decades past (Olean, Filmore, Huevelton, Clayton, Watertown, Cattaragus, Lisbon), visiting relatives (Dad's cousins and extended family), walking through the old family cemetery in Newington, Ontario where Della and Jim Bain were buried, and enjoying the many wonderful stories recounted along the way. Mary recorded a lot of the history on tape and created a wonderful album of memories of that special time we shared together.

On the final day of the trip we were in Buffalo, NY and had another mini-reunion, this time with relatives on Mom's side of the family (two of my first cousins and their wives). Later that day, Mom re-connected with a childhood best girlfriend who she had not seen for almost seventy years. "Maribelle" was someone I had known about from stories Mom told of her early life in Cattaraugus, NY when as children she and Maribelle were inseparable in their small town adventures. Mom and Maribelle had lost touch during their teenage years but by some miracle, reestablished contact by letter in the mid 1990's. I will never forget the image of Mom and Maribelle sitting in the hotel room, drinking tea and reminiscing, their older faces smiling and reflecting back on the times when their youthful energies and innocence fueled a friendship that withstood time and distance. They have kept up their connection by phone since then. Amazing.

That trip to upstate New York and Ontario was much bigger than just a week on the road with family. The experiences and memories are the glue that bind us, one to another.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

67th Wedding Anniversary

Mom and Dad were married at "high noon" on Saturday, April 12, 1941 in Cornwall, Ontario 67 years ago today. Mom says after the ceremony which her father, Rev. James A. Bain performed, the wedding party, family and guests celebrated with a luncheon at the Cornwallis Hotel. Mom's mother, Della, was very concerned that the hotel chef would not cook the chicken properly and she went over to "check out the food" before the guests arrived and "poked at the chicken". She also made the wedding cake. The bottom layer was fruitcake as was the tradition and the other layers were white cake with white icing. After the luncheon, Mom and Dad went back to the family home, opened some wedding gifts and later in the afternoon set out in their car for the 200 mile drive to New York City for their honeymoon. They stayed at the Paramount Hotel in Manhattan.

Today I visited Mom and Dad to wish them a happy day and take them a box of See's candy. The day has been gorgeous, 70 degrees and clear. Mom and I took a walk outside and sat on a bench with a view of the lawn in front of King's High School. There were a few crows around and some people walked by with their dogs. I'm reminded again and again how much Mom loves animals. As we sat on the bench enjoying the cool breezes of a grand spring day, I asked her questions about that day 67 years ago. I've heard her tell about the wedding day before but today I wanted more details so that I could put the memories down on paper (blog paper). She had good recall of details and I now think of other questions I could have asked but didn't.

Thanks to Jeanne for ordering a gorgeous bouquet of flowers to be delivered; "from the family", complete with an attached card with twenty names (3 children, 7 grandchildren, 4 great grandchildren and 6 significant others). Very, very nice. Dad asked me to put the roses and tulip arrangement on the small table outside their room so that others could enjoy them and they kept their door open all afternoon. Several residents commented on the "beautiful flowers" and the helium balloon close by that said "Celebrate".

I hope Mom and Dad have a good day today. They must know that they are loved and treasured by their family. Some 15 (baby Paige included) of us would not be here, in the specific form we take in this world if it weren't for their marriage. We owe all our elders and those that came before them, and before them, and before them a debt of gratitude.

To Doris Evelyn Bain Thompson and Dean Vincent Thompson: Congratulations on 67 years together!

And always remember what it (now) says on the door of your new space....

Friday, April 11, 2008

Toilet Seats

Today I'm on to lighter topics and out of Sorrow's Kitchen for awhile. There's a great question I've been asking (certain) people lately. If I haven't gotten around to you yet, dear reader, it's probably because I haven't summoned the courage. You might say it's none of my business; that's why I've only asked about half a dozen people so far. The question concerns those flimsy, little toilet seat covers found in public restrooms.

Do you use them?
Always? Never? It depends?
I find the answer to this question fascinating and equally the discussion that typically follows. Perhaps a selection bias exists but everyone so far has been glad "to share".

As a young girl I was taught to cover the toilet seat with torn lengths of toilet paper and then sit down. This was before pre-fab covers were available. Despite my typical style of latching on to any and all potential threats, concern about catching diseases from toilet seats was never up on the top ten list of worries for me. I'm a meticulous hand washer (have to be in my line of work) but as for toilet seats? No biggie. A visual inspection perhaps but little else needed for me.

I do not use these silly little seat covers. I find them annoying, time consuming, and useless. I'm not afraid to "just sit down" and if I am, then I find a different looking toilet seat or give my quads a good workout and squat. I am not concerned with toilet cooties! The telephone receiver or the door to the toilet stall is a far more likely place to encounter these pesky critters. There are actually studies that prove this!

Too much information for you (about me) and none of my business (about you)? Perhaps. But, I've been gratified that most people I ask respond with a laugh and a big "no I don't use them". Others have said they sometimes use them but are conflicted (fancy that), wondering if they really serve a purpose. These folks typically decide to give it up and leave the sheets in the wall receptacle where they belong. And almost universally, people are interested to know what others are doing or not doing with this public restroom invention.

Denny says that in five plus decades of living, he has used a toilet cover only once (and for good cause apparently) . But he also says he hears some guys pulling them off the dispenser with regularity. I don't believe it is a gender issue per se. My sense is that the majority of people (men and women) don't use them but again, quien sabe? Maybe you all will share with a comment!

The coolest toilet seat cover system I've encountered in a public restroom is at Chicago's O'hare Airport. I've never seen these gizmos anywhere else. This is a pretty decent idea for those who like to have a clean place to sit. Check it out. Someone else thought it was pretty neat too and took this video. I only hope that it isn't the same piece of plastic wrap going round and round the toilet after each flush!

By the way, these electronic "automatic flush" systems are another rant for me. I can never get them to work and stand there like this person, waving my hand in front of the sensor to no avail and oft times, just leave the stall, frustrated and disgusted that all these fancy bells and whistles don't save time and don't get the job done! What am I doing wrong? Why can't we just FLUSH like we do at home and go out to wash up?

Ok, I'm done now.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sorrow's Kitchen

When Oprah announced her most recent book club selection, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle, I was ready. I loved his earlier book, The Power of Now; the concept of surrendering to the present moment resonated with me. However, as is typical, the inner revolution never quite gets off the ground. Or, if it does, the next time I'm conscious I find myself back at the beginning, seemingly oblivious to all the lessons I thought I'd learned. The good advice, the new ways of "seeing" and behaving make sense to me in the moment but as I try to live the words on a consistent (even semi-consistent) basis, it's a no-go. This is extremely frustrating, especially now when I am in such need of surrender and a healthy dose of conscious living. What I've discovered is that the real work (duh) is not the fact that the concepts resonate with me or that I begin to see things differently. The real work is the constant recognition that falling back into old patterns is predictable and ok, that forgiving oneself and getting back on the path is the only way to move ahead. Again. Again. And, again.

These last two days I've done everything BUT live in the moment. I feel like one of my favorite book titles (never have read the book, just love the title) : I've Been in Sorrow's Kitchen and Licked out all the Pots. How great is that? The title would imply stewing over the past but I've not really been doing that; I'm stewing over the future and the "what is" of my present. These kitchen pots are a mess. Eckhart Tolle would say that I'm living an ego-driven life and am destined to live out my "pain body" unless I can shift my consciousness into the state where I can accept that all these negative thoughts are NOT WHO I AM.

Right now I want to plop right down in "Sorrow's Kitchen" and examine all those grungy pots. It's a comfortable and familiar place. So there, Mr. Tolle. But, I'll come back into the fold a bit later because from a very deep place of knowing, I believe that you are correct.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Mating Rituals

Several weeks ago when we spent a few relaxing days on the east coast of Whidbey Island, I watched mesmerized as pairs of pigeons performed mating rituals on the deck outside our room. According to the article, "Pigeons: Masters of Pomp and Circumstance" in the publication Zoo-goer (Smithsonian National Park), Howard Youth observes...

"Spend a few minutes watching pigeons, and you'll likely witness the behavior leading to copulation. Sexually active birds, usually males, frequently clap their wings together in a sort of advertising flight, and may combine the claps with an ostentatious glide, with wings held in a "V" and tails spread. On the ground, a male "drives," or chases, his mate away from other prospective suitors. A male then struts around his mate, eventually standing up, spreading his tail, and bowing to coo at her. Other intimate pigeon behavior includes billing, often a prelude to mating, when the female sticks her bill down the male's throat and takes an offering of regurgitated food, and allo-preening, when pairs lightly preen each other's heads. Once paired, pigeons may mate for life."

We witnessed this billing behavior regularly between female and male pigeons as well as preening of heads. As we observed quietly from behind the glass door, they remained oblivous to our interest.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Surfing the Blogosphere

Casting the net further and further out there into the blogging world, I see that it would be very easy to spend every waking hour reading blogs, getting inspired, and responding to posts. MM turned me on to Senior Memoirs and I'm savoring the entries slowly, like a box of Godiva chocolates. Marlys Marshall Stynes's entry from 4/6/08 sounded fun so I'm going to participate right here and now in the "One Word Challenge" (she changed it to one word or phrase) to a series of common questions.

I believe our answers "tell" as my freshman English professor at Cornell, Scott Elledge, always said. Of course, he received his enlightenment from none other than E.B. White who wrote The Elements of Style and preached the following wonderful advice.....

"17. Omit needless words.

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell."

(from The Elements of Style by Strunk and White)

The Writing Challenge requests answers to the following prompts:
And here are mine.....

You're feeling: uncertain

On your mind: my parents

What you ate last night: penne with spicy sausage (delicious)

You Sometimes Find it Hard To: gain perspective

The Weather: cloudy and cool.

Something You Have a Collection of: miniature tea sets

A Smell that Cheers You Up: hot-from-the-oven cookies

A Smell that Can Ruin Your Mood: cat shit

How Long Since You Last Shaved: none of ur business (face or legs?)

Your Hair Right Now: like Don King's

The Largest Item on Your Work Space Right Now (besides computer): bowl of Easter candy

Your Skill with Chopsticks: sux

Which Section You Head to First in the Bookstore: new paperback fiction

After That?: spirituality

Something You're Craving: an end to insomnia

Your General Thoughts on the Presidential Race: scary, exciting

How Many Times you've been hospitalized this year: none (day surgery doesn't count)

A Favorite Place to Go for a Quiet Time: Tully's in Magnolia

You've Always Secretly Thought You'd be a Good: urologist

Something that Freaks You Out a Little: (a little is what's getting me) gas fireplace

Something You've Eaten too Much of Lately: cookies

You Have Never: been to India

Never Want To: skydive

To all; have a good day and if you have a chance, surf the blogosphere and stay ahead of that pesky wave.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Guest House

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

~ Rumi ~

13th Century Persian poet

I dedicate this poem today to my beloved daughter; read this and remember. I love you always.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Gramma Della

We knew her as "Gramma Della". My Mother's mother, born in the early 1890's died in the mid 1960's. She was widowed in 1951 before I was born. What I remember about my grandmother is sketchy and interestingly, coming back into my consciousness now in the form of flashbacks; largely as images and conversations overheard between my parents as they witnessed her mental deterioration. I suspect these flashbacks are the work of my brain, linking up commonalities between past memories and what is happening now with my Mother.

That these snippets of remembrance reassure me may seem odd. What I see in my Mother, I have seen before. Do mothers and daughters follow a similar path as they age? I have to wonder. What will this be like for my sister and me should we breathe into our ninth and tenth decades of life? Are there things we might do now to stay clearer mentally or is the genetic component moving ahead silently?

We visited my Gramma Della in Cornwall, Ontario where she lived in a small first floor "apartment" of an older house. She also spent a number of months in Aruba when I was a young girl. My memories draw from these two very different scenes. I was between 8 and 11 years old and impressionable.

Della was a deeply religious woman; I watched her read from an old, frayed, black leather bound Bible regularly. She quoted scripture to me although I don't remember what I thought about this except that it was over my head and I must be polite. She often wrote in her Bible. When she died, my Mother gifted Della's Bible to Nora. I believe Nora kept it until she died in 2001 but what happened to this piece of history after this is unknown to me.

Whenever we visited Cornwall, the day of departure was heavy with a sober sadness. There were tears when time came for us to pull out of the driveway. Della dreaded saying goodbye as if any goodbye might be the last one. Separation from loved ones living overseas with a long journey ahead and many months or years before the next gathering were the norm. There was always a lengthy prayer on those days, on our knees in front of the old upholstered, musty smelling furniture. Because we never prayed like this at home, I took this posture with some reluctance and bewilderment. It felt a bit scary and I was thankful when we were finished and could leave. Della would ask for the Lord's blessing upon us as we traveled and that we might all meet again. In my youthful mind, I could not imagine why we must feel so vulnerable.

I also remember searching for the coveted "four leaf clover" at the side of her house in Cornwall; Della made this a hobby and Mom, to this day, finds it hard to resist at least a look for a four leaf clover whenever we walk past grassy spots. Searching for the earth's promise of good luck was sport when television, games, and the like were out of the question. Visiting Della's home was about prayer and living a "God-ly" life but speckled with the partaking of good food, some laughs and the quest for the clover sporting a fourth leaf.

When Della lived with us in Aruba, she spent her days in a rocking chair on the enclosed front porch of Bungalow 553, facing the open coral rock and glistening sea. She ate an orange and apple with a slice of cheese for breakfast most days. She read the Bible. She enjoyed our pets, several dogs and a cat or two. She cast a quiet exterior towards me as a youngster. I never remember any meaningful conversations with her. She rarely left the house, a reluctance to "go and do" that may have been her ingrained style as she aged. I suspect she was quite bored and recall that Mom used to encourage her to take up her past interests in tatting and other needlework. She refused.

Della's forgetfulness worsened over time. Days blended one into the next and she never knew for sure of the date, time, or what was happening. She often asked me the same question multiple times during the day; things like my age and where she might find this or that, something misplaced. My parents discussed her situation constantly; in front of me and sometimes overheard. I guess that was fine; it was all truthful. They were as conflicted about how to deal with the faltering memory of a loved one as I am now. Constant cuing, visual reminders, and reinforcement takes you only so far. A mind overcome by significant cognitive impairment is a sad state of affairs; what more can be said?

Della's "addiction" was to the cathartic in castor oil. She would overdose herself because she could never remember if she had taken it or not. When she took too much she would pay the price. My parents, in exasperation, resorted to having her "sign" for each tablespoon after she took a dose. The bottle was in the kitchen and the page with her signatures, date and time were close by. This worked for awhile but then she denied that the signature from an hour prior was hers, insisting that someone had maliciously written her name and she was being denied access to a medication she needed. I heard frustration and pain in my parents' conversations. "Poor Mama", "This is so difficult" and "Della's mind is gone" were commonplace. Her personality turning suspicious allowed the usual placid exterior to gave way to critical, defiant, and occasionally hurtful comments directed at my parents.

Once I remember Mom sharing with me that Della's mind had "come back" briefly; that Della could see what was happening, was embarrassed and ashamed of her behavior, and broke down into tears. My Mother wrapped her arms around her and they cried together. I filed this bit of information away and never bothered to wonder how it might be possible for someone to snap out of confusion and become aware only to slip back into old patterns. I know now that this is common.

Della Mary Hawn was her maiden name, stunningly beautiful. She married James Bain, a Weslayan Methodist preacher and bore four children; my mother, the only girl was the youngest and born in 1917. Jim Bain died of a massive stroke in 1951, leaving her a widow for the next fifteen years. Della was of short stature (barely 5 feet tall), plump in later years, and always wore her hair pinned up. She dressed plainly and I remember her wearing an apron, even when she wasn't cooking. The return address on her letters always read "Mrs. Jas A. Bain". These memories pick an interesting, perhaps predictable time to creep up from the depths of my mind.

Mom calls out for Della at night in her dreams. "Mama! Mama! Mama!", she will say. I don't disturb her when I hear this; perhaps she is connecting to Della as I hope I can do when my Mother is gone from this realm. I once asked Mom, through blinding tears, what it was like to lose a parent. I was feeling very vulnerable back in 1991 when I left Houston to move to Seattle and even then, fearful that I might not see my Mother again, despite her young age of 74. I wish I could remember exactly her response; something about it being "hard" but getting through. Is that all there is to know I wonder?

Friday, April 4, 2008


I found this poem today. The words struck a chord with me; to cultivate a quiet mind, open to receive the gifts of nature and be found. Gorgeous. Enjoy.


Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here.
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to the Raven.
No two branches are the same to the Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

From Traveling Light Collected and New Poems
by David Wagoner

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Budding Out

This is my favorite "kidney tree", coming into leaf in early April. I look at these tightly wrapped, unfolding new leaves as the glomerular tufts (detail below) of the kidney. We won't witness this image for long as the green will erupt and cover the branches that nourish them. We will first enjoy the young green and watch as it matures into the deeper shade of summer green, casting shadows on the earth below. The reniform shape, still apparent in full leaf, continues to mesmerize me. I never cross the Magnolia Bridge without acknowledging this beauty; a reminder that everything is connected.

This is an electron micrograph of the glomerulus, an up close view of the "bud", the filtering unit of the kidney. Each kidney contains roughtly 1 million of these structures. I see them in the tight buds of trees in early spring.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Books and Book Clubs

I belong to two book clubs; one rather new as of December 2007 and one that I've attended, though erratically for the last few years but joined way back in 2001. I fully expect to be "kicked off" my original book club for shoddy attendance but am thinking I may try to get involved again. The last meeting I attended was just a year ago when the book selection was my good friend's memoir, Secret Girl, by Molly Bruce Jacobs. As for the new book club, I've attended two meetings (they are bimonthly which I've confirmed means every other month as opposed to semimonthly which is twice a month....I didn't know that for sure until just now) and am still getting accustomed to being the "newbie" in that group.

Book club #1 (my original group) is reading Tracy Kidder's book Mountains Beyond Mountains, a nonfiction selection which looks interesting. I've got 17 days to read that if I decide to attend. This group meets monthly and serves what we call "treats" (dessert) after we finish the discussion.

Book club #2 is reading Sir Walter Scott's, Ivanhoe. Oh my. Classic fiction is not my favorite and this one, published in 1819 is 450 some pages. I haven't turned a single one and have 21 days to finish it before the meeting. Book club #2 typically picks all six selections for the year in advance. I could have gotten ahead by starting early on this tome, but didn't. Throwing in a classic is their tradition. The group meets for an evening which includes munchies and wine before a full sit down meal. And, the book is discussed around the dinner table. Very nice.

I need to finish up what I'm currently reading so that I can start on these two. Wrapping up Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See and In the Tennessee Country by Peter Taylor (kind of a groaner) is the first order of business. Lisa See's novel about women's lives in 19th century China is riveting; especially enlightening with regard to binding of female children's feet at ages 6-7. I had never really understood how this was done and it is quite brutal; many children died of septic complications as a result of infected feet as their broken bones broke through the skin (outrageous). That the author takes a dispassionate view of the process is intentional; she aims to portray the practice as it was viewed in those days; a necessity if a young girl was to be married into a good family. Female children were worthless otherwise. The only hope was to marry them off and pray that they produced male offspring and were obedient servants to their husbands and mothers-in-law. The bound feet, even when "healed" could be a constant source of pain and obvious disability for mature women but were considered sexually erotic by their husbands. The smaller the feet, the better. Amazing.

One advantage of reading these hundreds of pages this month is that doing so will keep me off my knee and allow it to rest. I cannot read while bearing weight or moving so that's a positive. I will consider this as part of my rehabilitation exercises.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

March is History

March 2008 is gone. Adios. I've not been this happy to see a month exit and another one begin in a long while. March 2008 was a month jammed packed with good, bad, bittersweet, exhaustion, physical pain, exhilaration (sort of), but mostly just way too much stuff crammed into its 31 days. The month went out like a lion with freezing rain, hail, thunder, lightening, and chill in the air as I drove home from work yesterday. This weather is amazing for the time of year. Today dawned brilliant blue with ice adhering to the windshield of my car. What's going on here as the trees try to bud out and the bulbs push up through the earth? The weather wants to play games with us.

March was so frenetic that although I caught blooms, buds, and the magnificence of the cherry trees out of the corner of my eye, I never allowed myself to acknowledge their beauty. I kept thinking, "please let the landscape be winterized just a bit longer because I don't have time to enjoy this beauty right now..." And I would press on, my narrowly focused view blocking out all this change that comes as one season rolls into the next. Perhaps now I can take the time to revel in the beauty like I did last fall with the yellows, reds, and bronze tones of the wind swept deciduous trees.

April will be a busy month as well although there won't be out of town trips thrown in and perhaps more time to take a deep breath and not struggle so much to get it all done. I'm hopeful that this is my month to start the Triathlon training, first in the pool and then with biking/walking-running. The knee, two weeks out from arthroscopic surgery, is progressing nicely but any over-exertion reminds me that it remains fragile and unready for repetitive stress. Supposedly by April 11 or so, I should be ready to "tri".