Sunday, August 31, 2008

Blackberry Madness

Sure, the blackberries are late this year and yes, it's harder to find the big, plump, juicy ones but with a little persistence and knowledge of the geography of Discovery Park, D and I hit the "mother lode" of bushes yesterday morning. We walked out an hour later with a bucket of sweet blackberries, enough for a large cobbler and the rest for "juice". I ran the leftover berries through the juicer which is a miraculous way to get those pesky seeds out, leaving pure blackberry syrup which we use to make ice cream, sorbet, and to flavor those infamous summer mojitos. Love it.

The cobbler recipe has been a summer favorite for almost 15 years; I bought a recipe book shortly after we moved to Seattle called Wild and Free Blackberries which features drinks, desserts, and even soups and vinegars made from Northwest blackberries. The cobbler recipe developed by Shirley Patterson of Carnation, Washington is the best, especially with vanilla ice cream or whipped topping. This is the taste of summer to be sure. Most years it's early August and we're pulling these cobblers out of the oven; this year it's late August but, oh well.

Blackberry Cobbler.....

Combine 4-5 cups of clean berries with water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add sugar and cornstarch to thicken. Cook and stir mixture until thickened.

Pour mixture into a baking pan. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Add beaten egg and mix with a fork until crumbly. Spread over berries and drizzle with melted butter. Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Dish it out, serve with whipped cream and enjoy.
P.S. The recipe is available for the asking.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Mish Mash Mind

You know it's bad when sleep is disrupted by ideas for blog posts. If that isn't creepy enough, then consider waking up to a mind overflowing with multiple snippets of blog posts swirling around in a caffeine depleted mind only to become an overwhelming number of bigger ideas that don't gain good traction because they are just that: "small plates".

I've decided to post my Mish Mash Mind today in the form of photos (and words) that have been ping ponging around my heart and mind these last three days.

The weather, ever since the grand family/friends picnic in Discovery Park last Saturday, has been overcast, rainy, and unseasonably cool. Is summer gone, we ask? I've resisted starting up the furnace in the mornings but we have the down comforter back on the bed. The new bank of Leylands revels in the much needed natural moisture and I imagine their microscopic rootlets pushing out into the soil, exploring a new home. It feels like autumn in late August.

My Birthday came and went. It was bittersweet all around. Visiting Mom and Dad and posing with them while Catie snapped this picture (notice the extra clothing; it's chilly) reinforces the feeling that each day with them is precious. Time is running out but the energy and ideas and enthusiasm to make more of the time is a great challenge (see Rockbridge Times post).

Sharing a Birthday evening out for dinner with D and the kids was a romp through calorie overload but still delicious. The blackberry shake that accompanied this burger was over the top and by the time we got to cake later in the evening, I wondered why we were continuing to eat. Thanks to Denny who baked the cake. We didn't have the proper candle numbers so figured the number 5 was just fine. The porcelain "August Angel" figurine on the left stands by all August birthday cakes if we remember.

One of my birthday requests was to watch a movie at home, just the 4 of us. D and I introduced Animal House with John Belushi, one of our favorites from ancient days, to the uninitiated. I think they enjoyed it; we did anyway. Some of the lines in that movie are priceless; D and I quote them frequently. Thanks to Laura for the dozen red roses. Very sweet. I'm looking at them now from my bed as I write this post.

The view of these lovely roses segues into the fact that you, Ms. L are leaving very, very soon for an eight month trip to Europe and studies abroad. I'm so excited for you but at the same time coming to grips with emotions so powerful that I can barely write about them. The feelings manifest in our push-pull dance of preparation, packing, purchasing, and running through never ending lists of "to-do". Although the leave taking looms large, I see you infrequently, making our time time together burdened down with tension and anxiety. God grant me grace. I'm in such need.

Packing and organizing and hoping that things forgotten can be easily replaced and things unneeded are kept to a minimum. The bags can weigh no more than 50 pounds; we have a scale handy to confirm. There is so much she wants to take and no amount of wisdom from the packing gurus means much when "stuff" is so important.

Which brings me up to present day. Saturday. I don't have many plans but would like to fill a basket with blackberries and make a cobbler before the month of August passes. This year, the unseasonable chill and wet, has made berry picking a challenge. Unlike most years when cobblers, muffins, ice cream and mojitos garnished with blackberries abound, we've had none.

I'll go in search of ripe blackberries and try to clear out this tangled mish mash mind.

Friday, August 29, 2008


In June, I wrote and posted this poem entitled Safe. In my conscious mind, I was writing about my Mother although deep inside I knew the intensity of emotion bubbling up while writing was a signal that I was also writing about myself.

This morning, after a long night and an even longer day and night ahead, I know that all I want is embodied in the word Safe. With my tight and restrictive definition of that word, I won't get there because, like the word Perfect, safe does not exist.


All she ever wanted was to be safe.
An elusive place, found intermittently
when least expected, impossible to design,
Refractory to control.
The prized nugget, often the purpose to living.
Comfort and assurance.
Peace and restful sleep.
Living backwards, noting that what had passed was safe.
Rejoicing in retrospect that life was full; fun.
The moment of now uncertain, only perhaps safe.
Tormented by dread of future loss, unsafe territory looming.

What is safe? Depends.
So little of it comes from the interior landscape,
although she knows this is the only place where safe resides.
External factors and desire for control over a restless,
moving shoreline that defies comfort,
Even in the beauty of its unpredictability,
the breath of moments, one after another.
A consuming battle to the end of life, terminal.
Seeking the peace that passeth all understanding,
Yearning for the safe that resides everywhere and nowhere
A life, incomplete, paralyzed by anticipatory loss
until the precious arms of safe come to welcome her home.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Great Choice of Words, Bill

This is my first political post on Ahead of the Wave; I steer clear for a number of reasons.

I can't resist this one, however.

Last night I watched most of former President Clinton's speech at the DNC. He told the crowd,

"Everything I learned in my eight years as president, and in the work I have done since in America and across the globe, has convinced me that Barack Obama is the man for this job."

Notice carefully: He did not say person for this job, individual for this job, or candidate for this job. He said Obama was the man for the job. Great choice of words, Bill because we and you both know who the woman is for this job. Yes, we do.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Last Birthday Cake

The Last Birthday Cake

I wonder; what flavor was that cake?
What taste the icing
made by those most precious hands
baked in her own kitchen
on my birthday three years ago?
Racking my mind, wanting to remember with certainty
the small details, wanting to carry the crumbs
of memory close to my heart.

There were no more cakes to come,
the last one a precious symbol of her love.
I struggle to find details through the murky veil of memory.
Her hands and mind now unable to mix and stir
and pour and bake,
Unable to assess and assemble.
Today she may not know this day comes again.
If she does, she may feel sad for times past when the cake
stood as a sign of her love.
Homemade and from the heart.

Angel Food with added vanilla, moist and delicious.
Drizzled with bittersweet chocolate, hardening to hold in place
a ring of walnut halves. Perfect.
Waiting for the scoop of ice cream.
Was this the last cake?
I will never know for sure. No photographs as proof.
Only misty thoughts of a night out,
returning home for our dessert,
The cake she had prepared, left on my kitchen counter.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Random Thoughts on Work

Almost two years ago, on a Friday in mid September 2006, I made a rather sudden decision to take a leave of absence from my full time work as a Nephrologist. I left my practice and took two months off, using the time for many purposes, including hands-on care of parents whose health was in rapid decline. In the in-between moments, I racked my brain, pondering how (or if) I could possibly return to the work I had been doing for over twenty years. Knowing that fundamental changes were necessary to reclaim myself from punishing mental and physical exhaustion, the time off was critical. I learned that the analogy of a lobster placed in tepid water with the heat slowly rising is a relatively painless process until the bitter end of ultimate sacrifice when it's just too late. In my case, I had slowly ramped up the intensity of my work until I hit the wall running full speed, never realizing how burned up I'd become.

I'm musing today, some two years down the line as I consider how different my work life is these days. When I got back in the game after my two months off, I accepted that I had to change fundamentally the way I practiced medicine. Gone was the traditional model of working five days a week, in clinic and hospital, with one week in four "on call". I now work "mostly weekends" as I tell my family, friends and colleagues. Although I have a few clinic days a month, I no longer have a panel of patients. I no longer serve as a primary care doctor. I believe these days are over. My work continues to challenge me; it just comes in smaller doses although the intensity in the midst of the fray is unchanged.

Is this work schedule sustainable? I wonder constantly. For now there's a need and a niche for me, despite the unusual schedule. But, for the long haul? I don't know. I feel under pressure to figure out the next step, wanting to stay ahead of the wave (hmmmm) and prepared for the day when I'm told that the more traditional path is what's needed of me; take it or leave it. I'm ramping up my creativity, hoping to cull out what I do best and make it what's needed by patients and the institution that pays my salary. I need the healthier work-life balance as we all do. In the olden days (of medical careers), people didn't worry too much about work-life balance. Medicine was supposed to be your life. Thankfully, this dinosaur is dying off.

So much for random musings. I'm tired after my 4 day/night stint as the on-call doctor. It was a full, chaotic, challenging but rewarding romp through territory with unpredictable frustrations, wins and losses. Awakened every night multiple times, I'm weary and ready to sleep through the night. Glad for the next few days off, I'll recover in time for the next sprint.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Tick Tock; Tick Tock

The days and hours count down to the moment when we bid Miss Laura goodbye and send her on her way to Europe for the long anticipated year of "studies abroad" in Florence. She leaves in less than two weeks for the opening tour to Berlin, Krakow, and Prague. Then, it's on to Florence, life in a pensione and classes Monday to Thursday with three day weekends designed to explore all that Italy offers. A dream come true; I'd love to be in her shoes and am more than envious of what looks to be a trip of a lifetime.

She may elect to stay in Europe the entire eight months. The study abroad program offers a "Christmas Tour" each year and most students opt for that instead of the long, expensive trek home. This year the holiday tour is going to be chilly and dark (northern latitudes) but likely quite wonderful with travels to Denmark, Sweden, and St. Petersburg, Russia. Seattle hardly stands a chance unless homesickness prevails.

I feel under the gun to get an endless list of stuff accomplished (and that doesn't include the task of thoughtful packing which is by far the hugest challenge) by the time September 5th rolls around. But, it's not my stuff; it's hers. Trouble is I seem to be the only one getting tense. If I had the guts, I'd restrict myself to asking a single question around about September 4th, "What time do you want to leave for the airport?" and let the in-between details play out on her timetable. But, like I said, that takes guts and I have none.

Meantime, we are all up in each other's faces about said details and drama prevails. She knows I have her back and I know I'm up to my old tricks. A wise adviser suggested I back off (as usual) but do I listen? How likely is it that I can suddenly turn around habits of a lifetime even though I "get it" on an intellectual level? The annoying "tick tock, tick tock" of time passing is not only making me restless, it's making me miss her even though she's still in my house! As I try to avoid that most desperate and helpless feeling generated by a phone call from 7000 miles away about something that could have been done beforehand when time was ample and un-pressured, I'm fueling the fire with my own shit. Alas.

Chill out, meddlin' mama. Chill out. Where's the vitamin C?

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Today is my first "Blogoversary"; a term I hadn't heard until last month when I saw a widget on another blogger's website and thought I'd add my own count-down Blogoversary notation to the sidebar of Ahead of the Wave. A whole year into blogging and 271 posts down the line, I've learned volumes about blogs, their purposes, their power, and just how important blogging has become a part of my everyday living. I've barely scratched the surface of this blogging craze but find myself humbled, amazed, and quite honestly committed (aka addicted) to the plan to "keep on keepin' on". Adding a second blog last month at WordPress entitled Remembering You is just another sign that this stuff is sticking on me.

Where to begin? What do I say on this 24th day of August, the date marking one year of sharing myself via a personal blog with family, friends, acquaintances, interested or indifferent strangers, maybe even enemies?

1. First, it feels weird but also exhilarating to publish my thoughts and put them out there in cyberspace. I own these posts and the consequences. In the process, I've tried to be respectful with the information I've chosen to post but I know that I've probably "crossed the line" on occasion, maybe more than occasionally. I'm developing more defined boundaries on what I'm willing and unwilling to throw out there. The temptations are real, the realities are also important. I welcome feedback on whether I've said too much, overstepped or have been just plain out of line. And, if I have offended, I'm sorry and will try (if you'll send me feedback) to make adjustments.

2. I've learned many things about myself in the process of writing and posting. I've learned what I love and why I love it. I've learned what makes me crazy and gleaned insights into the "whys" there as well. Writing has also brought comfort and healing to thorny issues in my life. Working with words helps me work out some kinks. All good.

3. I've read some wonderful blog posts written by others; stories that make me cry, laugh out loud, think, ponder, and ask more questions of myself. My Google Reader has me following almost 100 different blogs. Keeping up is a huge commitment of time; many days I skim and cull out what I can. I'm absolutely amazed at the quality of the content on personal blogs. People--You Can Write!

4. I've "met" some interesting people on line and hope that these connections will deepen over time. Some are virtual friends and others I met in person at the BlogHer Conference in July. Leaving comments on other blog sites sparks these connections. For all of you who hold back from commenting, I'd really encourage you to do so. For all who've considered starting a blog, I'd say a resounding, "Go for it!"

4. I've learned wonderful things about my family from reading blogs authored by my sister and nieces. Blogging is a great forum for sharing. When lives are busy and chit chat time is limited, catching up via blog posts is a privilege. These women are amazing.

5. I'm learning how to improve my writing skills through blogging. The near daily discipline is good practice for the next something in my life. What that something is involves words on paper but the form is murky right now. That excites me.

6. Finally, blogging is so huge that the challenge is to move with the flow, to learn, and to keep up with an ever changing art form. I'm fairly certain I'll celebrate another Blogoversary in August 2009. The year ahead calls. Where I'm going will unfold with time.

To all who've been reading, commenting, and supporting me in the world of blogging, a big thank you! You're the best.

Labyrinth photographs from Grace Cathedral, San Francisco

Saturday, August 23, 2008


The days (and nights) are full; rich with beauty, healing, and connection with those we love. There is so much, more than can be fathomed, as I consider the many blessings experienced over these last few late August days.

Imagine collecting buckets of fresh oysters on tidal flats along the Hood Canal with family, a first time experience for Denny, Mary Margaret, and me.

Imagine the wind welcoming this new expanse of Leyland cypress in our back yard. Healing trees, bringing the promise of shelter, shade, and green.

Imagine the dramatic unfolding of a night blooming cereus last evening, a show all the more precious for sharing the experience with my sister, her first time to witness this beauty. We sat together, mesmerized by images words cannot begin to describe.

Imagine a picnic in Discovery Park on a late summer afternoon attended by 4 generations of family and friends.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Healing Trees

When the truck bearing eight gorgeous Leyland cypress trees pulled up in front of the house this morning, I could feel the sorrowful weight of the last several years starting to lift. We've waited two years to replace the trees cut down by empowered and shortsighted neighbors. That we waited this long is a complex tale and one probably not important to today's post. This is one happy day around here as we welcome these young, vibrant trees to their new, and hopefully long lived home on the south side of our backyard.

These men were professional, hardworking, and knew their stuff. They worked for three plus hours, digging and planting, watering, and cleaning up. No sounds of chain saws ravaging the land; only the sweet sound of earth against shovel, dirt moving into spaces around roots, and water from a hose nourishing the ground beneath. Love returns and the healing begins.

We'll toast the trees this evening when the sun casts long shadows across the backyard. And each new day, as the trees push up and out, I'll know we waited for a reason. Time's passage is part of healing. But now, the sight of these trees will bring me joy, everyday.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

What I Know about 20 is Worth 20 Cents

The summer I turned 20 years old, between sophomore and junior years of college, I took two summer school classes at Indiana University. Biochemistry and Microbiology. I lived with my Aunt and Uncle and rode a bicycle to class every morning, pedaled home in the afternoon and then got to work studying. I worked hard and got 6 credit hours with a 4.0 GPA for my efforts.

I don't recall any social life; the few students I met in class weren't really friends, just acquaintances. I entertained myself by watching the opera students rehearse for the summer production of Gilbert and Sullivan's, The Gondoliers during the evening hours with my uncle. As Dean of the School of Music at I.U., music was his life and opera in particular. I remember sitting in on so many rehearsals that the musical score burned itself into my brain by the time dress rehearsal rolled around. And then, entertainment was continuing to watch the fully costumed performances at the Opera Hall for many more nights. Why did I do this? Perhaps because there was little else besides the Gondoliers and studying.

I don't remember going out at night for purposes other than the opera. I watched a lot of TV, saw a few movies (maybe) and looked forward to my parents visiting. It was an odd summer living with people ten years older than my parents, being respectful of my role as a house guest, and studying instead of "studying/playing". I listened to dozens of "talking" clocks in their home; from grandfather to wall from small to large sitting on all surfaces. Most of them chimed the hour or worse, the quarter hour, 24/7. I took all this eccentricity in stride and don't recall giving it a second thought.

I was the proverbial Good Girl. I didn't fight against it or wish I was elsewhere. I had lived through two years of college, replete with the typical craziness of being free of parental supervision, on my own, making my choices, and atoning for stuff I thought was all my fault. I had worked through a lot of the madness and playing around endlessly didn't appeal. On the bell curve of idiocy, I was somewhere to the left of mid line; some semblance of maturity blooming (perhaps).

My personal experiences at age 20 count for little right now. The times are different. The wiring is different. I am flummoxed. I feel that what I say matters greatly but that whatever comes out of my mouth will be the wrong thing; words ignored, advice given but not appreciated or worse yet, words that hurt and remembered forever. I could elect to "put a sock in it". I could take the tact of screaming and yelling but I've already been advised that this "doesn't do any good". I can pray for grace; this seems to be the only path that makes sense. Whether or not any words will come, I know not. Bone weary and terminally confused, I'm doing the best I know how.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

An Ecstasy of Fumbling

"An ecstasy of fumbling....."

I've been looking for the perfect photograph to illustrate this most favorite of phrases. Although I'd long attributed "an ecstasy of fumbling" to my high school English teacher as his original creation, I've learned that the phrase actually derives from an old World War I poem, Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owens. But, please.....never mind that distraction; I'm only giving credit where credit is due.

My English teacher once described what it might feel like to be roused out of a dead sleep by the sound of loud banging at the front door, jumping out of bed only to discover nakedness. The urgency to find something, anything to use as cover, the moments ticking by, punctuated by the steady insistence of the front door made for what he described as "an ecstasy of fumbling". Indeed.

Have I lost my mind, you ask? Where is this going?

What make me smile inside is finding a photograph that captures the wildly chaotic scene perfectly. This sea of pink swimming caps shot on a Sunday morning in mid-August adorn the heads of women entering the chilly waters of Lake Washington on the first leg of the Danskin Triathlon. As these caps lurch forward to the sound of "GO", shouted out by Sally Edwards, disorganized swells of arms, legs, hearts, and minds of purpose driven women give it their best in an all out "ecstasy of fumbling" until they find their stride and place in the open water.

I've been there; I know.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Put a Sock in It

My mouth is getting me into trouble these days. Sometimes the words are out before I can think, before the thoughts even register in my brain. Dangerous. Other times the words register but I think, "what the hell; I'll just say it anyway". I've opened my big mouth so many times in the last weeks only to wish I hadn't.

Words are impossible to take back and I just have to hope that perhaps some of them were not really heard, or understood, or taken "that way". I have to hope that forgiveness exists and that giving each other some slack is a two way street, a shared understanding that when things are rough we lash out verbally as if it's the only way to validate our existence. I'm feeling Lost again.

I anguish about my lack of control.

What do we do with words that want to be spoken? I guess one solution is to write them and then burn them up, tear them up, or file them away. How might my experience of these days be different, or better, or calmer if I could just SHUT UP?

I may give it a try. Tomorrow.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Dad Made it to Hawaii

I toyed with many titles for this post and realized that how I chose to write about the mid-day Luau at the Adult Family Home yesterday would self select the title. I gave thought to the following teaser titles:

1. Spiked Punch: a Luau Necessity (or somewhat related: Sleeping Off the Mid-day Luau)

2. Converting to Vegetarian(ism) Sorry, but the whole pig that Anna decapitated in the kitchen plus the knowledge that said pig was running free some 36 hours ago, made me swear off meat. My issue,totally: I get that, all you rustic carnivores in my life!

3. Calories at Mid-Day, or

4. Dad Made it to Hawaii.

I settled on the last title because although it's not the catchiest or funniest, it stands out as the most touching and honors the take-away memory with the greatest "sticking power".

Talk of this Luau, planned for Sunday the 17th at the ADH my parents and four other residents call home, has been the hot topic for days. Every visit this past week highlighted the big preparations underway; hanging lanterns, sun catchers in the dining room window, hand decorated visors with island motif, and colorful leis. This was to be the bash of the season with neighbors, family and friends, plus all shifts of caregivers invited to share in a Luau feast designed to bring generations together in a tropical island fantasy far removed from Hawaii but as close as possible for a Seattle venue on a warm summer day.

There were lots of folks ranging in age from three to 90 in attendance, all enjoying fabulous food and shared moments with hula hoops, music, laughs and the grand finale: a live mother-son Hawaiian duo performing a singing and dancing routine center stage with residents and guests surrounding and swaying to the unmistakable Luau beat. Anna and her staff went all out. Not only was the food authentic, down to the whole Kalua pig (no backyard pit but Anna allowed that next year this was "gonna happen"). Luau making, this being the "first annual", follows a learning curve. The opening bash was quite impressive, tasty, creative, and just plain fun. The Mai Tai punch helped smooth out any rough edges.

Dad, who'd been taking a brief rest in the back room, eating his lunch and sipping on a Heineken ventured out to join the party when he learned the singing and dancing show was about to start. For his own reasons, and never completely understood by any of us, Dad has always dreamed of a trip (or a cruise) to Hawaii. He's talked about this frequently over the last decade lived in Seattle. After all, the west coast is the perfect launch off point for the Islands. Dad, already experienced with island life Caribbean style, may have found in Hawaii a unique draw. I'm just guessing here but perhaps the Pacific Islands carry the authentic tropical green island feel for him. Or maybe it's the music, dancing ladies and the sounds of aloha and mahalo. Maybe it's Pearl Harbor and memories of a time when as a young man he might be called to serve his country. Whatever his reasons, what remains is his dream: to see Hawaii.

I stood watching Dad as he focused on the the mother-son duo, dancing, singing and entertaining the gathered crowd. He clapped his hands and smiled lots; his mood suddenly more upbeat after some early-on grumblings about what he was doing sitting in the middle of a big "cocktail party", seemingly chaotic and excessive. At one point, tears in his eyes, he allowed that, "Wow, I finally made it to Hawaii today." He meant those words. I'm glad you enjoyed the show, Dad.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Replacing the Leylands

Yesterday was another great day. When we get out from under the daily grind of school (him) and the daily grind of care giving (me), we focus on things that bring us joy. Aside from all the little outings we made on just another warm and sunny Saturday in Seattle, we drove out to Nursery Trees in Snohomish and placed our order for a bank of Leyland cypress to replace the beauties we lost two years ago.

D and I have been eying the fence line in our backyard for the past week, resurrecting plans to replace the evergreen beauties that once graced the south side of our yard. Two years ago when our neighbors had their way with nature and mercilessly felled the decades old Leylands that created a living green border between our properties, we planned to replace them rather immediately. We consulted with Mike from Nursery Trees, got the estimate and were just about to say "GO" when all hell broke loose. That was September 2006 and plans got filed away.

We've been looking at the neighbor's fence way too long and despairing over the "hole" that just won't "green in" towards the back corner of the yard. We now have a plan and it's a real "GO" this time. Mike's crew will be on site within the next week to plant Leylands, smaller ones along the fence line and one big Mama in the far back corner. We know it'll take years before these young trees grow up and out to touch one another in a green embrace but the first step is exhilarating. We're happy to get moving on a project that has been on hold for a long time and one that will bring us considerable joy for the money spent. That's what we call value.

Make way for green and the sound of breeze whispering through branches.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Trek to REI

Laura leaves for a study-abroad year in Florence in several weeks. We've had the entire summer to prepare for the seemingly endless details of her trip but alas, we've left many of them to the last days when tensions are rising and leave taking looms large. None of us is surprised.

Yesterday she and I ventured to REI to look for a sizable backpack for her to use on the 10 day "Opening Tour" to Berlin, Krakow, and Prague. The main luggage for the year abroad gets loaded on to a truck in Berlin to make its way to Florence while the students, all 120 of them, live out of a backpacks; "nothing bigger" for the opening tour. Hmmmmm.

REI seemed like a good place to start but the choices were overwhelming. Laura, focusing in on all the stuff she'd need to take, opted for the largest pack on the rack and was willing to make a purchase without even trying it on for size and suitability. Hey, slow down. This ain't happening when I'm paying the bill. This and other frustrations, like shortage of staff help and just too many choices (including packs designed to carry ice axes and crampons for a trek to the summit of Mt. Rainier) led to some interesting mother-daughter insanities that probably drew some attention from patrons who bothered to listen. Our voices, especially mine, were louder than the average prim and proper Seattleite.

Frustrated and cranky, I snapped and L and I found ourselves halfway out the door of REI with me saying, "We can come back; let's just research this a bit more and THINK ABOUT IT." She countered with, "No, Mom; we don't have time to waste; I don't want to come back here again." Around this time we finally understood why D declined the opportunity (aka hell) to accompany us on this outing. We could have used his expertise but he was smart and self protective. He knows.

Before I knew what was happening, she led me to an area of REI where there are computer terminals for customers to log on to the store website and look for product information, an open area without inventory and a high ceiling. Neutral zone. She said to me, "Mom, we are taking a time out."

L absolutely owned the process and for that I'm grateful as I usually storm out with her in tow like a ten year old. This time she turned the tables on me and all for the good. I was ready to be knocked down a peg.

"Mom, just breathe. Take a deep breath and calm down. No, not like that; a deeeeeper breath, all the way in and all the way out. You'll feel much better, I promise." She demonstrated the breathe she wanted me to take and pointed out that my feeble attempt was too shallow and wouldn't get me to the place of calm. "Again, Mom; deep breath, like this...."

We burst out laughing. That's the blessing. Laura turned the mood around. Completely. I felt much like the kids she nannies. I'd been reigned in, corralled, and deflected back onto a healthier path by the master. Good work. Bless you, Miss Laura.

We launched ourselves into backpack hunting once again, the tension broken.

We found a "nice man", older, experienced and wise who led us to backpacks designed for women taking trips overseas, women with no intention of climbing mountains or roughing it in the brush. Laura was quick to tell him the requirements; "I'm a girl, I have lots of stuff." He nodded knowingly and gave us some great options, one that ended up the irresistible, perfect choice. We thanked him profusely and allowed that he had saved us from killing each other. "We wouldn't want that", he admonished, "it wouldn't reflect well on REI." Smile. He got it.

With awesome backpack in hand as well as a few other must haves for the trip, we headed to the cashier where a conversation about blog posting started.

"Are you gonna blog about this?"

"I'd like to; is that OK?"

"Yeah, but try to put me in a good light for once."

Hmmmmm, I thought. Lengthy discussion ensued. The lady in front of us probably saying to herself, "Huh? WTF?". Or maybe not.

"OK, I will write about how you saved me from a melt-down in the middle of REI; how's that?"

"Sounds good; go for it Mom."

"I'll take pictures of you and your gear when we get home for the post, OK?"

"Yes, Mom. OK, Mom."

Finally, out to the parking garage, the gear stowed in the trunk we made our way to the cashier with our stub for one free hour of parking at REI.

"That's three dollars, ma'am", said the young man at the booth.

"Huh? I just spent big bucks in the store. How much over an hour were we?" (Time really passes when you're deep breathing.)

"An hour and ten minutes, ma'am."

"Awhhh, come on. That bites."

"Ma'am, I hear that all the time. I'm sorry. It'll be three dollars."

Enter Miss Laura as only she can do.....

"Awhhh, come on. It's only a little bit over an hour and we spent a ton of money in there. Plus, it would really make our day." Big smile.

You already know the outcome. It sure wasn't me that had any influence. She saved me the price of my next Americano. You go girl.

This backpack is the bomb. It'll serve her well on opening tour and all those weekend side trips in Italy and beyond. I'm envious that I'm not twenty again and headed to Europe on the trip of a lifetime. But, I couldn't be happier for her. She'll come away with an experience that will change her life. She knows that too.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Each Day Unique

Yesterday (Thursday) was a gem of a day. D and I spent the hours together (when was the last time that happened, short of leaving town?). We had three meals together, walked Green Lake in the morning, and took the bus downtown to check out Pike Place Market in the afternoon. I must say, it feels weird to have him home on my days off, freed of the dreaded Law Books, and excited about doing things, even the "handyman stuff" around the house. Say what?

What the future holds in terms of employment for us both still looms as the big unknown. We have no idea what our professional lives will look like this time next year. Will I be working? If so, part-time, full-time? What will he be doing? Neither of us ever anticipated we'd be asking these questions when we finished our medical training and launched careers in Nephrology and Hand Surgery. All I can say is: things change. What seemed like the career(s) of a lifetime short circuited in mid-life and we now stand in the (privileged?) position to ask, "what's next?"

But all of these questions stayed on a back burner yesterday as we ate great, fresh food, enjoyed the outdoors, and raised a glass in toast at the ending of our perfect day. As we walked the three mile loop around the lake, I remembered back to the last time we had walked that route together some two years ago. The same path but a totally different terrain. We were wordless on that day and yesterday we were bursting forth with shared commentary, ideas and thoughts on everything. We learn, again, that joy comes in chunks of time, often unplanned and spontaneous, where good things just sort of happen. We don't question. We drink them down with gratitude.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

BIB # 710


That's my race number for the Seattle Danskin Triathlon this Sunday the 17th. The last minute informational emails have been flying into my in-box all this week and they've been ignored (but not deleted), except for the one with the bib number. I had to check the link to find my number for the race, the race that I'm not entering.

Damnation, (other words are better) but I'm a mess of emotion about this. I talked (by email of course) to a friend yesterday who I cajoled into signing up with me, way last February. We were going to train some together and I planned to impart my newbie wisdom from last year to someone who was just beginning the process. She elected months ago to back out; her own good reasons and I don't think she's looked back once (at least not from the tone of her email). Her life is full, the chlorine from pool water a non-issue, perhaps a few extra pounds for the lack of a more intense exercise routine but hey, "no big deal". I wish this were the case with me.

I've been advised to "let it go" more than once. That's like telling me to back away from the morning cup of coffee, the chocolate cake, or my night time dose of vitamin C (separate post). It ain't happenin' folks; I'm going to have to live through this weekend and beat myself up a bit more. I could have done this race; it probably would have diverted my attention in a healthy direction, away from the things that are not fixable and on to building up the body and soul of someone who needs to pay more attention to herself. I interpreted my frustration and exhaustion at the critical time when training needed to ramp up as a signal to back off, to allow myself space from a punishing work-family-training schedule. I elected to eliminate the thing in my life that seemed at the time to be causing me angst. Hindsight they say is 20:20.

If there is one ray of positivity in all this mess, it's the knowledge that my good friend MBJ; my cross country, email only, nearest and dearest college friend, wedding party member (both ways: hers and mine), was motivated by my Triathlon experience last year and whooped some ass at the New England Danskin event in late July 2008. I'm awed by the knowledge that she went from couch to star through sheer grit and determination; swimming, pedaling, and running her way across that finish line in a time that mid-life participants only dream of accomplishing. I've told her already but I don't know that she really understands how proud I am of what she accomplished, not just on race day but on all those other days when training seemed an exercise in futility, exhaustion, and frustration. Pay off is sweet.

We all know deep down that it's not about the race times, it's about the race; the collective mass of women of all abilities, the myriad reasons why they choose to participate, the energy of the crowd, and the sweetness of belonging intimately to a larger whole. But, being the humans that we are, completing the race with amazing grace (sorry about that little rhyme) and a fantastic time to boot is nectar to the soul. I love that MBJ did this race! She may not realize this; but although BIB #710 may be disappointed mightily that she isn't out there this weekend to swim, bike, and run with other amazing women, she knows deep inside that what MBJ did for herself that Sunday in July, she also did for me. High Five, you kick ass woman! I love you mightily.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008



Instincts valueless
Experience insufficient
I wander
Living questions
Seeking answers
Nothing comes to the doorway of my mind
but cluttered thoughts,
anger, sadness
helplessness, frustration
To have breathed life for half a century
and not know how to navigate
is strange tonic that
burns my throat and mutes my screams
against a turbulent sea
My mood so labile that at once
I want to embrace with a love that knows no end
and in turn lash out with savage rage
I am lost in this place
No map, no horizon
Only a raw and bleeding edge

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Navigating the Now

When dreams and terrors of the night infiltrate the light of day, navigating life becomes much like The Garden of Earthly Delights. At once insane, raucous, outlandish, and bizarrely familiar; the line between truth and fantasy blurs and we live in a world where demons lurk inside every breath.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sweet Memories

Family gatherings are alive with mystery and magic. This past weekend, now come and gone, was packed with small moments of the unexpected, the snippets of joy, the challenge of coordination, and the overwhelming, but comforting feeling that we belong to a bigger whole. I always wonder if what we just experienced will be the last of its kind. How can we not ask the inevitable question as time marches by, changing us all in small and large ways? Who will be ready to gather for the next big family event? Who will be the newest members and who will move on to become the senior most members? Such is the nature of families and living.

As I continue to feast on (slightly dry) but delicious cupcakes left over from the 91st Birthday Party, I relive some of the special moments. My camera took plenty of still (and blurry) photos but the video clip of the "Happy Birthday" song, the candles, and the comments that Dad struggled to say to his wife of 67 years will remain in my memory. The video option on my camera didn't cooperate and there was nothing there when I went to review the captured images. Those were precious moments as all (maybe not the babies) shared the collective knowledge that this might well be the last time. I don't think of this as morbid; it's a fact. We are blessed to have whatever we have and cherish it, we must.

We are back to a less hectic pace for a bit. But, we'll be on to the next thing soon. Life never sleeps for long. Would we have it any other way?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Light in August

Sometime between 11 AM and 2 PM on an early to mid August day when sunshine illuminates a brilliant blue sky or skirts around scattered clouds, the change is suddenly irrefutable. Although I acknowledge, "The light has changed", I don't have words to describe what this means, it simply is. Today was that day; August 10, punctuated by bright sky and plenty of warmth from a summer sun. I walked from the hospital to my car in early afternoon and recognized the return of a familiar light, a light that despite its brilliance beckons the coming of autumn days, whipping winds, low hanging grey clouds and chill.

There's something about the shadows that change as well. This is not a high noon, peak- of- summer light. Softer? Blurred a bit? Cooler? Smudgy? I can't quite get there with my words but accept that muteness comes when nature reminds us once again that we are mere observers of this mystery and magic.

Is this experience an Ars Poetica in another "light"?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Birthday Weekend

The out of town family from Houston and Portland joined up with the Seattle family this weekend to celebrate, among other things, 2 special birthdays. Tomorrow, Mom turns 91 and Kelan, her great grandson turns 4 . If we had tried to organize an event to include all the blood relatives and extended family, it would never have happened. But, without much planning, the weekend festivities grew into something simple but BIG, big in the sense of once in a lifetime for this particular group. Today was meant to be. The proof is in all the photographs shot at great haste at the Birthday Party held this afternoon at the Arapahoe house. Gathered all, we enjoyed cake, ice cream chaos and mayhem in the living room and dining rooms of Mom and Dad's former home. Four generations mingled and made merry for several hours amidst the chilly drizzle of a Seattle summer afternoon. (is this really August we wonder?).

There were 21 of us present today, 15 of us linked by blood and indelibly bound to the two revered elders, Dean and Doris whose legacy lives on through us. "The world just keeps moving forward" my brother remarks as he holds his first grandchild of 3 months and looks out on the gathered clan. He's right. And so the multiple generations of D/D's family: three children, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren plus significant others and two dear friends who agreed to take pictures of our party (thanks Heike and C.P) enjoyed the preciousness of unfolding moments in a place and time that will never be again.

My favorite shot shows Mom and Dad with their "six granddaughters and one grandson". I don't believe we have ever had a photograph of them all together. They look wonderful: Tanner, Jeanne, Carrie, Chris, Laura, Mary, and Caroline. Plus, if you look carefully you'll see Miss Lorden peaking out from behind Bama's chair. Dad, the mathematician notes that the eldest and youngest of his grandchildren span an almost perfect 20 years. Consider the blessing of sharing the room with all of them as young adults, 3 with their own children in tow. It begins to sink in: reunions like these reinforce the ties that bind us together.

And then, of course we have the "committee of five", whose younger three are fast becoming the elders to be. No rhyme intended!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Seeking Wisdom Revisted

If my question went unanswered yesterday, I've found the answer today. I need to stop and listen. Carefully.

When Death Comes
by Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measles-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.