Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Needed in Florence

I agreed to bring things to Florence next month that she might need, things left behind, forgotten with the frenzy of packing for a year abroad. This list of must-haves comes directly from an email I received from her today. It makes me laugh and what's even better, she agreed to let me post the list right here, right on this blog! Thanks, Laura.

1. Almay oil free make-up removal pads

2. The sheet on my desk with ideas of places to go in Florence from Chris's friend

3. Denture cleaner (efferdent)

4. Fake nails (Real Life brand in pink)

5. Nail polish (the kind here sucks)

6. My Joes jeans (they are in the brown wardrobe)

7. Bare essentials powder in light (you can get this at Sephora for around 30 bucks--I can pay you back)

8. A few more T-shirts, going out shirts (it's the spaghetti strap shirts), long sleeve shirts and dresses.

Hah! Love it. I'll do my best. At least items 1-7 are smallish. The "few more" items of clothing is the unknown.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Blogging Bug

I believe my daughter has caught the blogging bug. Her post at Nove Mese in Italia today (our time) was written in the wee hours of Tuesday morning (her time) after she finished up a long day of classes, homework assignments, and a move to a new room at Pensione Il Palagio. I know she's hooked when she hasn't posted in three days, it's after midnight, and she writes, "I hate to admit it, but I have been having blogger withdrawals! I have constantly been thinking about all the things I want to blog about, but I have just been so busy..." She goes on to describe her weekend trip to Elba and other great (and everyday) things that are going on in her life. I'm thrilled for her and treasure all her posts, including the photographs.

I'm also taking some pleasure in "I told ya so". She used to laugh at me when she'd find me intently writing a blog post, uploading photographs or editing and re-editing my words. Now that she's maintaining her own blog, she's discovered that not only is blogging a tremendous way to communicate and chronicle her experiences as a student abroad but that this particular format is extremely satisfying and addictive. From choosing the title, to writing the post, and selecting the photographs all the way through the rush of clicking the publish tab, the magic is how quickly that hook gets embedded in our hide. It's a good hook, of course. I suspect most regular bloggers catch the bug early on and can relate to this feeling.

So, keep writing Laura and we'll keep reading!

Can't wait to hear about your adventures coming up this weekend on the coastal villages of Cinque Terre.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Conscience Assuaged

Yesterday when I visited Mom and Dad they seemed so bored and listless. We had little to talk about; I left feeling sad (and guilty) that I couldn't just do something, anything to brighten their day. Apparently just being there helps (or so says Mom) but I never quite feel like it's enough.

Today I offered to take them out for coffee and a drive around the neighborhood. Mom was ready to go but Dad declined. "He sleeps all the time.", Mom says. I think he's extremely bored; things he used to enjoy doing he can no longer manage. Fun to my Dad was puttering in the yard and getting in the car to do errands that involved several stops and a chance to socialize with clerks in the grocery and drug stores. Never a player of games and not much of a TV addict, he's held back by his physical limitations so much that sleeping has become the distraction of choice. I feel sorry for him but he's never one to complain much. He's stoic just like his Dad, my grandfather Lewell.

Mom and I left Dad to sit (and rest) while we visited Tully's for a jolt of caffeine and pumpkin nut bread followed by a drive around Magnolia. The bright sunshine, blue sky and the dusty foliage just beginning to show some color and other trees in the full swing of fall color entertained our eyes as we drove about. Mt. Rainier was a pulsating beauty from the small park on Magnolia Boulevard. I'm sure Seattle hit the high 60's if not 70 degrees today. Gorgeous.

Dad was where we left him when we returned; sitting in his chair watching TV. He looked good and allowed that his usual afternoon chocolate drink and can of beer kept him company while we were out. When Rachel said she was fixing dinner of "bagels with ham and cream cheese" I could tell neither Mom nor Dad were too excited. The second I suggested going out to get them a Subway sandwich Dad's eyes lit up. BINGO......this sub became the something I could get that might bring a bit of pleasure into his day.

Thirty minutes later I was back with the "Five Dollar Foot Long" cut in half with all the fixings just in time for "dinner at five". It's the little things that seem to go a long way. Food that hits the spot is always a good bet. Although I know that I'm not responsible for their mood(s) I feel compelled to try to improve the somber tone that marks so many of their days. It's hard to be old, frail, and bored.

Note to self: cultivate interests that don't require a strong, fit body because if/when that gives out, you've got to have something else that you can call a passion.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Florence On My Mind

D and I took the leap, booked our tickets to Florence, and have narrowed down the choice of hotel to two top choices. The trip is going to happen! Pushing enter as the final step to on-line reservations was a great feeling. We didn't try to analyze or over-think the trip; just checked out the options, picked some dates and said "Go".

I'm really excited about this adventure; my second trip to Italy. The first was 38 years ago (OMG but that's a long time ago). In July 1970, I traveled through Europe with Mom and Dad on a whirlwind blast through Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. We didn't stay in any one place longer than a few days; constantly on the move by train with our Eu rail passes. The only city we visited in Italy was Florence. I sure wish I could find those old slides of our trip and the name of the pensione where we stayed. The bed and breakfast was very close to the Basilica de Santa Maria del Fiore as shown here. I remember motorcycle noise all night long but that didn't detract from the magnificence of our experience. I'm thrilled to be returning. As a teenager, I never imagined I'd return decades later, parent to a daughter studying abroad in Florence for the year.

We plan to stay put in Florence for the ten days we're in Italy except for the possibility of some day trips to the wine country or Pisa. We want to explore Florence at a more leisurely pace and spend time with Laura when she's not in class. The weather in early November might not be the greatest but certainly won't be any worse than what we'd have in Seattle. I'm prepared. The food will taste just as wonderful even with overcast or rainy, chilly skies. Michelangelo's David and the Uffizi Gallery will be just as marvelous. There will be fewer tourists, shorter lines for the museums, and other perks unique to the season.

There's much to read in preparation for the trip (and for fun). I've always been tempted by Irving Stone's The Agony and the Ecstasy and Brunelleschi's Dome by Ross King. Sounds like this is the perfect opportunity. Going to read....more later!

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Isle of Elba

Elba is an island off the coast of northern Italy. About the size of Aruba, Elba is about a dozen miles from the mainland town of Piombino in Tuscany. Elba is the third largest island in Italy; tiny in comparison to Sicily and Sardinia. This speck in the ocean is a popular spot for tourists who enjoy the hiking, beaches, and the local wines. Ferries from the mainland transport visitors to and from. Sounds wonderful.

This weekend (Friday to Sunday) Miss Laura is enjoying the first of her travels outside of Florence with fellow students; destination Elba. I'm envious imagining the perfect fall weather, misty green mountains, seacoast, and fishing villages.

When I mentioned to Mom that Laura and her schoolmates would be spending this weekend on the isle of Elba, she remarked, "That's where Napoleon was exiled back in the 1800's." I didn't remember that factoid but she, the teacher of World History, certainly knew. I'm impressed. Napoleon spent some 300 days on Elba in 1814-15, performed some good deeds for the people of the island, but ultimately made an escape back to France to launch the battle of Waterloo. All these bits of history sound vaguely familiar but were it not for my immediate thoughts about Elba, would likely remain buried forever.

It's 3:00 AM in Elba right now, 6:00 PM where I sit looking out on the waning light of a lovely fall afternoon. All I know is that it's dark in Elba right now; beyond that everything else is mystery and magic. It'll be great to hear about your trip and see some photos, Miss Laura. So glad you've this opportunity to spread your wings and see for yourself what's "out there".

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I Love Skype

There's nothing quite like a leisurely conversation with someone 5000 miles away to ease the sting of being separated by 9 time zones. Skype will do that for you. I'm amazed and grateful for this easy technology and also love that it's FREE. Although Miss L has a cell phone with her, the calls she makes from the phone are always rushed because the clock is ticking; the cell phone ain't cheap but we wanted her to have something with her for emergencies. She's had to rely on the cell for routine calls for the last few weeks because she didn't have reliable Internet connection. Now that she does, it's Skype from now on! Yeah!

She and I had a 30 minute call yesterday; 11:30 AM in Seattle, 8:30 PM in Firenze. It was like she was next door, the connection was that good. Amazing. Since there's no fee for the connection, we were able to really catch up on things, much like a chat with laughs thrown in (when I asked her to quit spending all her money on drinks). There's nothing quite like hearing a familiar voice across the miles to brighten the day. Even though I generally run from the telephone, there's obviously a time and a place for everything. Let's keep "skyp-ing"!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Good Eats

Thanks to my dear husband for all these wonderful meals, prepared from scratch and served up so beautifully in the last few weeks. Your talents are impressive and I'm very grateful.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Wedding Rings

This photograph shows the left hands of two wonderful women. They wear identical wedding bands on their ring fingers. I found this image irresistible not only because of the touching story behind these identical rings but also because these two have been close friends for over fifty years. When I asked them last week if I could take a photograph of their hands together, they thought it a great idea. No hesitation at all; a quick chuckle and instantly ready to pose. The hand on the left belongs to my Mom and the hand on the right belongs to Dorothy.

Doris and Dorothy met in Aruba many years ago; Dorothy was hired by my Dad, the school principal to serve as the librarian in the American school. She and my parents formed a close friendship from that time forward. Despite time and distance (Dorothy moved to England when she married 37 years ago and eventually back stateside to Texas), the bonds between them were kept alive by letters, phone calls, and in person visits, especially when my parents were living in Houston. We were all touched when Dorothy and Gordon arrived in Seattle ten days ago to spend time with Mom and Dad in person, to honor a friendship that has meant so much to them for decades. Dorothy says that Doris has been the kind of close girlfriend that comes around once in a lifetime. They've apparently shared many things together; the good and the not so good; life.

Dorothy is younger than my Mom by perhaps twelve years; she's lively, witty, kind, and a masterful teller of stories. She always admired Mom's wedding ring, the wide gold band with endless overlapping etched circles that Dorothy says stand for "forever". When she married Gordon, Dorothy asked Mom if it would be "OK" if she asked Gordon to purchase her the same wedding ring. Mom had no issue with that idea and was probably touched deeply, the identical bands symbolic of the affection between the two. I'd heard this story before but until last week, never thought about taking a picture. Seeing the two jabbering away about this and that, obviously enjoying their time together made me jump to get my camera. That's what blogging does to you; everything of interest becomes the seed for a new post!

I had copies of these pictures made for Mom and Dorothy; something tangible to mark the recent visit. One never knows if this is the last in-person visit they'll have together. Every day is precious. For now, Mom's photograph of the two hands sits framed, on her bookshelf. People ask about it frequently and want to know "the story". It's the story of deep connection, devotion, mutual respect and love.

photo of Dorothy and Doris taken at Golden Gardens Park
September 14, 2008. Seattle

Monday, September 22, 2008


I'm writing this post on Sunday but will let it go live on Monday morning. I'm off to a busy work day and probably won't feel much like writing when I get home. Today (Sunday) has been stressful but could have been a lot worse. Dad could have wound up hospitalized with pneumonia and Mom could have fractured her hip. Neither of these untoward events happened and so I breathe a sigh of relief despite the fact that today was NO FUN.

The day started with a phone call from the caregiver; Dad was unable to swallow and complained of a severe sore throat. He's been under the weather all week anyway and I've been expecting things to turn bad at any moment. We journeyed into the E.R. to have things checked out and thankfully, there were no serious issues going on. We left with a couple of prescriptions and I think he is on the mend. He looked pretty chipper later in the day when I was summoned back to the home, this time to evaluate Mom.

The caregiver called late in the afternoon because Mom had taken a fall in her room. Dad was witness to the fall and says she stumbled, lost her balance, and landed between their two walkers. Oh my. This is the fourth fall in a year; one resulted in a fractured hip (last October) and the other three were "just" big shake-ups, including today. I checked her over; she's walking OK but has a sore back and I know she'll feel stiff tomorrow. When she falls she talks about the feeling of being out of control; knowing that she going down but unable to do anything about it. She's as much mentally bruised as physically bruised, I suspect. Two ibuprofen and a glass of water was about all I could suggest although Dad did ask me to spend the night there. I told him I didn't think it necessary (hope I'm right about that) since there are 24/7 caregivers on site.

For something significant to happen to each within the same day is a new twist. The odd thing is that all this happens on the day I've spent hours on the computer researching flights and hotel accommodations for an early November trip for two to Florence. Does the synchronicity of Mom and Dad experiencing medical issues today coupled with my nascent plans to leave them behind for 10 days and travel across the Atlantic mean anything? Am I tethered here just waiting for the other shoe to drop? Or, does it mean that shit just happens, unexpectedly and without pattern while we move ahead with the flow of our lives? I'd rather believe the latter. Mom and Dad would want me to go; Mom has said so half a dozen times since Laura left for Europe.

"Go. Go and see your dear daughter and make sure she is safe."

OK, I will.

Photos taken the day or two before Laura left for Europa.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

She's There, I'm Here

"OK, get used to it, Kate."

I don't need to hear it from others, I'm saying it to myself. Constantly. She's there and I'm here. I just need to let it go and quit stressing over every last detail. The phone rings and although I long to hear how wonderful Florence is treating her, I know there will be angst, the necessary rite of passage into a calmer, more settled state. I know she's handling the legitimate complaints she and her roommate have with their accommodations; leaky shower, inconsistent toilet (hate that one), doors off their hinges, lack of storage space and desks for study, no wireless Internet (promised but not delivered until University and pensione come to financial agreement) and probably more. She's savvy and tenacious about these things. But, I just wish she didn't have to deal with this stuff while she's getting settled into a new life, 5000 miles away from home. The advantage of struggle, I tell myself, is the learning and new found independence, the confidence in one's ability to deal that comes from the process. I have to sit back and trust that all this stuff will get worked out. Arghhhhhh!

Living without an industrial strength hair straightener because it fried itself in the outlet (even with a European 220 to 110 converter) yesterday and a suboptimal blow dryer that only works on the low and medium settings is a pain in the ass, I agree. But, where there's a will, there's a way and I'm sure she'll figure this out. Back in my day, I was rolling my hair in huge curlers the size of frozen juice cans on the top of my head and then strapping/wrapping the rest of my wet hair around my head secured with bobby pins every night hoping to awaken to straightened hair the next morning. This misery too shall pass.

I remember (groan) back in my day, launched from home, when hurdles and obstacles of all types came my way. I remind myself that somehow, I made my way and came out the other side. What was different in those days was the relative isolation of one's struggle. No email, no blog sites, and no phone calls (emergencies only and that meant dead or dying). Letters only and I recall editing those considerably, putting a positive spin on my woes so as not to upset. I knew Mom was a worrier and tried not to add to the anxiety by writing about my no-way out, boxed-in scenarios. I used my friends as sounding boards for the day to day miseries of life and for much needed in-the-moment advice. Note to Miss L if you're reading this: I still like to know; you don't need to edit! :)

Looking ahead, D and I are combing the calendar and the roster of our respective obligations to see if we can break free for ten days or so and visit Firenze and surrounding areas. I wish there were just one way to get there and not so many options for flights, routes, and costs (sigh). All the possibilities lead me to second guess everything. I need not over-think this adventure I keep telling myself; just DO IT. We're thinking about late October/early November. Weather wise it won't be the greatest time to visit Italy but the purpose of the visit is way more than experiencing rain, clouds and cool breeze which I anticipate to be a given. We'd have the same in Seattle so what's the difference?

In the meantime, I muse, and write, and read, and clean, and visit Mom and Dad, and eat. Occasionally I sleep. The phone is always close by and I keep adding nine hours to whatever time it is here and wonder what's up in Firenze. She's there and I'm here.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Of Poetry and a Red Dress

Where to start?

Book Club meets again in mid-October. The topic for this gathering is "poetry". At our last meeting we discussed the format for poetry night. Some in the group feel mystified and perhaps a bit intimidated by poetry; others welcome the shift away from discussing books. I'm quite excited about our plan to each bring several poems to read aloud to the group. I think it will be interesting to see what type of poetry resonates with people; the choices they make will "tell", much like a window into the soul. Perhaps I'm being overly dramatic but I think what we like in this genre speaks a lot about who we are.

My selections are coming together nicely. Reading Kim Addonizio's What do Women Want? is a given. Kim writes boldly about the passion behind a red dress and captures beautifully the reason(s) for my obsession with my own red dress. I've given some thought to reading one of my own poems at this meeting and perhaps will pen some verse about my red dress in the meantime. I'll look upon the jitters of sharing as a way of revealing more of who I am much like I encourage people to read my blog. The evening should be interesting; fodder for another post in October.

As some in my family know, my love affair with a certain red dress began when good friend M.C. and I ventured into BCBG MAXAZRIA two years ago. On a whim this very generous woman shelled out hundreds to float my fantasy after trying on a certain little red dress. I'll need to write more about this story and may well share the details with book group in October.

In the meantime, let me showcase these wonderful photos of my niece, Jeanne who tried on her red dress recently. She wore this drop dead gorgeous frock to a high school prom twenty years ago. Two decades later, both she and the dress look amazing. Suffice it to say, there's much to be said about this powerful topic. Poetry is a good place to start.

photographs used with permission and courtesy of Jeanne M.
Thank you.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ladders: Like Mother, Like Daughter

I'm talking about me, and my Mom in this post, not me and Miss Laura.

I remember my senior year of college living off campus in the top half of an older duplex on State Street in Ithaca, NY with four roommates. Wooden clapboard exterior, a front porch, and hardwood floors that creaked made the house our home for the year. My bedroom had a single window facing the side street of the corner lot, lots of grass and about a twenty foot drop to the ground. Ground? Who cared? My Mom cared.

Shortly after I moved in, a package arrived in the mail from some mail order place, courtesy of my Mom. Inside was a rope ladder complete with a way to latch said ladder onto a windowsill. She was thinking of the picture shown here; a fire and no way to get out except to jump from the second floor window. That would never do. She considered a ladder a necessary piece of survival equipment to store under the bed "just in case". I remember feeling a bit embarrassed about this package; a rope ladder? C'mon. Why not a real care package with good eats or clothes? My roommates thought it odd as well and we laughed (sort of) about my Mom and her worries. Fire never crossed my mind. I don't think I gave it a second thought the entire time I lived in that house. The rope ladder, never removed from its plastic wrapping, stayed in its box in my closet. When I moved out, I took the ladder with me. Eventually I gifted it back to Mom since she was living in a townhouse with a second floor and I was in a single level small house, newly married. I wonder what ever happened to that little investment in safety; probably got put in the garage sale when they left Houston to move to Seattle.

So here I am, mother to a daughter in college, one who's just moved into a rather run-down pensione in Florence for her academic year abroad. I haven't found out what floor she's on, if there is more than one exit, or (God forbid) only an ancient, creaky elevator between floors (surely not). My imagination is ripe, a trait inherited from the master. In the meantime, I'm remembering that rope ladder I owned once upon a time and thinking it might be a good idea if L had one too, tucked under her bed "just in case". I imagine she'd just roll her eyes and anoint me with the label "overly concerned, meddling, and off the deep end" Mother. OK, I accept that but on the other hand, what's the Scout's Motto? Sii preparato!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Laura in Firenze

Miss L arrived in Florence two days ago, classes started today and she's settling in to her accommodations at a pensione named Il Palagio (hah!) with roommate Lillian. The unsettling phone calls from yesterday centered around culture shock, a substandard room in said pensione, and miscellaneous other anxieties. I was getting bound up in all of it until I realized that all she needed was to vent a bit; doesn't it help to unload the angst onto someone else, especially someone who's so ready to take it on? If her blog post from today is any indication, the (relative) misery is turning humorous, as it should. She's in Florence and what's not to like even if the toilet sounds like a bomb going off?

Speaking of her blog, Nova Mesi in Italia, I'm so impressed. She was a bit ambivalent about starting a blog to chronicle her journeys in Europe but I think she's learning that posting can be addictive fun, especially when the positive feedback starts rolling in. Her voice comes through loud and clear; I can hear her speaking the words, syntax and all. This is Laura's blog for certain. Keep writing, Miss L; you're knocking my sox off!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Living with Uncertainty

The fifteen or so years between my mid thirties and my 50th birthday were times blessed by relative predictability. My children were changing constantly but that's a given; our children grow from babies to toddlers to pre-schoolers and grade-schoolers and into their teenage years. Although D left his career to care for home and family during this time, my professional life moved forward as a constant, becoming more challenging to be sure, but nonetheless a reassuring backdrop to my life. The health of my parents was good, their aging years marked by relative vigor and independence. From year to year it was easy for me to look ahead to the future and feel confident of where and what I'd be doing twelve months from any point on the path.

Not so now. Not so for the last two years. Mid-September 2006 marked the moment of significant upheaval in my life as I left my job rather suddenly for a several month leave of absence. Although I knew that the increasing needs of elderly parents were part of the need to take a break from work, the larger issue was an overwhelming sense of being buried by my work, reaching the point where I had hit the wall going a hundred miles and hour and was lying in broken pieces. A crisis whose roots were long and hidden underground, ignored until there was no more ability to ignore; much like the lobster put in tepid water on the stove with the heat rising slowly, ever so slowly until...this was what it felt like at the time.

Within several days of taking leave from work, all hell broke loose with Dad's health. He was hospitalized for three weeks and in a nursing facility for another six weeks, breaking free just after Thanksgiving 2006 to return to his life at the retirement community. Were it not for the excellent care he received including a focus on nutrition and physical rehabilitation, I think he would have succumbed to this most vicious illness. During those tough months of illness and recovery, supporting Mom through the upheaval was the focus. The family all rallied; this was not a one person job. Despite the distance, my siblings and extended family were engaged in the moment to moment issues.

Since then, Mom and Dad have moved twice, each event an upheaval in their lives and in ours. Both of them have been hospitalized multiple times in the past two years. Mom broke her hip a year ago. Home physical therapy and visiting nurses, outpatient doctor's appointments, lab work, X rays, and other needs have been regular aspects of their ongoing care needs. Their frailty makes them vulnerable in unpredictable patterns. Life is uncertain. Every day is new.

My professional life has changed, now governed by needs; those belonging to me and those of the Clinic. We negotiate our respective needs every six months and sign a piece of paper that indicates we'll be linked for the next half year. This isn't exactly job security although I know they'd take me back in a heartbeat if I agreed to be the doctor I was two years ago, slogging full time into the future of Medicine. But, I know from a very deep place, that opting for job security would surely roast that unsuspecting lobster that's sitting in the tepid pot of water. My professional life follows an evolving path; I've discovered much about my relationship to Medicine in the 21st century. This is not what I would have predicted 25 years ago, freshly out of training but such is the nature of change. Life is uncertain. Every day is new.

D's life is on hold (aside from his voracious appetite for reading and preparing unbelievable gourmet quality meals) as he waits for the Bar Exam results in mid October. Where will he be professionally this time next year? Life is uncertain. Every day is new.

My children are twenty-somethings. Their lives are rich and rewarding. I'm proud of them both. Of all the questions swirling about, the trajectories of their lives remain optimistic and full of promise. My worries center less on where they will be this time next year and more on the day to day safety issues (the Mom in me), particularly for Miss Laura who adventures in Florence for her year of "study abroad". We want to visit her so badly but how to pick the time when uncertainty will calm down a little (probably not to be) is the challenge. We don't know if she'll be home for Christmas. We know little. Life is uncertain. Every day is new.

As for me, what do I want to do with my writing? I'm frustrated by my lack of insight and seeming inaction. But, as someone commented yesterday, there may not be obvious signs of progress but behind the scenes, much is accomplished. Quiet and imperceptible. Trust is weathering the uncertainty with grace. I'm certainly getting a lot of practice.

The trees are turning; this is reassuringly predictable.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Book's Title

Last night was my Book Club meeting. Since I hadn't finished Dave Eggers What is the What (only made it 2/3 of the way through the 500 pages), I debated whether or not to go. The pull of Barbara's home with the gorgeous view of Puget Sound, the thought of a lovely dinner shared with interesting women, and the requisite glass or two of wine convinced me to go anyway. The hours spent were great. I would have regretted not going. There were nine of us last evening and the discussion of What is the What was lively and touching. I'm inspired to watch the documentary film The Lost Boys of Sudan to have a visual of this experience and more background.

I'm always intrigued (or on some occasions obsessed) by a the title of a book. However, in most Book Club gatherings, the title of our selection is rarely discussed as if it simply "comes with the book". I find this odd because for me, the author's selection of title tells so much about the intent of the book and can be a clue to the heart, the core, the root, the crux, the kernels of wisdom that spring from the pages (assuming you're reading something in the genre of books amenable to take away wisdom). As I read a book, I'm always looking for the connection to the title, especially if the title is unusual. Almost always, the threads are there somewhere in the text, shedding light on the author's choice of words. Although I rarely speak up about the title of our current selection at book club, I'm going to start. I want to be known as the analyzer of book titles. If I can't add a lot of meat (some people are just natural born talkers at book club and go on and on) to the discussion, I'll at least be able to wax about the title, my little passion.

What is the What is a great title. There isn't a question mark in the title even though there might be. Why not? The title comes from a Sudanese legend about the beginning of time when God created man. God gave man and woman the cow, a symbol of prosperity but offered a choice; either keep the cow or take the "what". The unknown "what"; the mystery and the risk. By legend, the Sudanese kept the cow and left the "what" as the proverbial unknown, prospering in their decision. Yet, the question of what is the "what" pervades the book, especially when times turn tragic. The constant quest to understand, to overcome the feelings of powerlessness, to control one's life and to know the "what" are rich undercurrents in this book.

Think of books you've read lately. The author selected that title with care and for a reason. One hopes the editors haven't had their way with title, indiscriminately for the sake of sales. I prefer to think not and that the titles are prized nuggets.

I'm thinking about this year's selections for our Book Club. Aside from Ivanhoe, they are all fascinating to me, the titles, that is.

The Razor's Edge by Somerset Maugham
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Dideon
What is the What by Dave Eggers
Persuasion by Jane Austen (the last one for 2008)

I'm already wondering who is persuading and who is the "persuade-ee" in Jane Austen's book. I'll find out and be ready to talk about it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

I Love Texas

This photo is courtesy of the Houston Chronicle website. With power still out in much of the Houston metropolitan area, people are hungry for some good grub in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. The story here is that power is ON along Kirby Drive and people are packed into Goode Company BBQ because it's "open today" and they're hungry. Forty eight hours after the devastation blew through the city, Jim Goode has the smokers going and the food ready. I love Texas.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Twitter 101

Check out this short video about Twitter. It's very cute and explains how Twitter offers yet another dimension to communication. Whenever anyone asks me about Twitter, I refer them to this short cartoon which does a much better job than I could at explaining..... "what" and "why".

Enjoy and keep twittering!

From Commoncraft.com

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Take a Hike, Ike

D and I were glued to the TV last night watching the wrath of Hurricane Ike making landfall along the Galveston coast and then pushing on into Houston. Earlier in the evening I spoke with MM who was preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. Turns out that my Houston family weathered the storm last night but the long night was rough and the work of assessing damage is just beginning. No one has power. It's hot and muggy. The water supply may be contaminated and the advice is to boil it but, how? Downed trees and limbs are everywhere.

Wow. This feels like Hurricane Alicia revisited, maybe worse. Only time will tell. For now, I'm thankful that my family is safe although the messy work of cleaning out lies ahead. My thoughts and prayers are with them.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hurricane Ike

Hurricane Ike is bearing down on the Gulf Coast, and Galveston/Houston in particular today; I've been following the reports closely since both my sister, brother, and many of my extended family live in Houston. My sister's report today is all about preparations for Ike; boarding up, gathering supplies, moving potted plants to safer ground, and surveying the trees and hoping they will withstand the wind. I don't envy what people in that part of the country will experience tonight as the storm comes ashore.

Reading her words and seeing the pictures of "the calm before the storm" is eerily reminiscent of my one and only experience of a major hurricane back in August 1983. Alicia, a category 3 hurricane, rather unexpectedly blasted through metropolitan Houston. The storm had been predicted to track further southwest of the city but at the last minute made a turn to the north, barreling up through Galveston with mighty force after dark. We knew it was coming but hadn't really prepared as we should; no windows boarded up or supplies put aside. We did have flashlights and batteries in the radio which was smart as power went out mid-evening.

Denny and I weathered that storm all night, huddled in the protected stairwell of our home, hearing the howling winds of Alicia pound our sense of security. Somewhere mid to late evening I remember Denny saying, "Well, there goes the fence." We had an eight foot perimeter privacy fence around our house which was no match for the eighty plus mile an hour winds bearing down in unpredictable gusts. Fortunately, the fence blew out into the street instead of back at the house and fell apart in sections. The next thing I heard from him was, "Now the cypress trees are down." I cried. The destruction was venturing closer and closer and for the first time, I worried for our safety inside the house. Although the rain was slashing at the window panes horizontally, there was no flooding, no leaks in the roof and no broken glass. I know we were very lucky.

Around 5 AM, the eye of Alicia passed over Houston and there was an eerie but all too brief quietness. The skies were still too dark to see the destruction and we were afraid to go outside knowing the winds would be kicking up again. It wasn't long before the storm rallied with the next assault of wind and rain. The back side of the storm was less intense and somehow, with the light of dawn emerging, the worst was over. As light crept into the sky we could see the palm tree at front of our house straining under the winds, fronds whipping to and fro. The fence and cypress trees, long felled created a scene of moving destruction in black and white. There were no colors, only shades of grey in the landscape.

Once the storm passed, we were on the phone to loved ones, checking in. Power was out but the phone lines still worked. I remember the late morning mugginess, the skies still grey but devoid of rain and wind, and D and I walking the streets just looking. We couldn't fathom the wrath this giant left behind as she pushed on through to the north, losing strength but dumping heavy rain on East Texas. The streets were littered in debris; downed tree limbs and large tree stumps. The clean-up took weeks and some people were without power for a week or more. We, the lucky ones, had our power on by day's end; a blessing in the heat of August in Texas.

These tropical storms are serious business. Our brush with Alicia was nothing compared to the destruction of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But, what amazes me is how much detail I remember from this storm 25 years later. My thoughts and prayers are with all in the path of Ike today.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

How Do We Communicate?

I must admit that my love of addiction to email/Internet/blogging, text messaging and the most recent passion, Twitter, has exploded to the point where an intervention may be in my future. Running from more traditional methods of communication such as face-to-face talk or land line/cell phone contact, I've learned that my non-work related personality fits best with these more impersonal "tech-y" means of staying in touch. This trait of mine is reinforced by my professional life which is all about face-to-face communication and the telephone. Skills in this arena are essential and I rise to the occasion. Thorough, thoughtful, direct, and kind are words I've heard used to describe my style of verbal communication. So, it's not a question of knowing how or being able. It's more about being flat out weary after talking and dictating notes all day. Off the job, when I have the desire or need to communicate, the telephone is my last choice. Can't I just email him? Could I leave a voice message or text message for her? Is this weird?

Despite my disdain for the land line or the cell phone, I almost always answer the ringing (or vibrating) BEAST even though I might turn right around and hang up on an annoying solicitor. A ring gets my attention, likely the consequence of years and years of signing my life over to the call of the beeper/phone day and night. I'll willingly use the phone when it's the best way to get something accomplished but I'm always hoping that the call will be short and sweet. When I'm routed to voice mail rather than connecting with a real live person, that's always usually good. I get to say my part and don't have to hear "the problem is..." or "oh by the way". Bad me.

Three cheers for texting and emails! I schedule Mom's hair appointments with Trina at the salon by text. And, all summer it was catch-up by text with Laura; very effective and less intrusive than a phone call. Same goes for emails when it comes to keeping up with close friends. Some of my friends are more on board with my quirkiness than others. My girlfriend MBJ and I have not spoken on the phone in over 20 years (gasp) yet we keep up with each other regularly. Email rocks and keeps our mutual phone-o-phobia alive and well. On the other hand, my dear girlfriend in Florida bemoans my reluctance to talk on the phone; our in-person visits are years apart and because of my phone avoidance quirk, we depend on emails and snail mail to keep in touch. I know she doesn't care for this but, thank you BP, for being so tolerant anyway.

Lest I come off as the total social retard, I do cherish face-to-face visits with friends and family. Truly.

As a post script to this rambling, I'm amused by the extreme culture shock Miss Laura is reporting from Europe where few none of her classmates have phones. Cell phones have been left at home and these 20-something, text messaging gurus are experiencing severe withdrawal as they negotiate unfamiliar terrain sans the tools of the trade. Couple that with lack of consistent Internet connection and subsequent Facebook-withdrawal-syndrome and you've got young folk re-inventing the wheel of old-time communication. Laura remarked yesterday that she and her friends were relying on stand-by, low-tech ways to keep in touch; things like knocking on hotel doors to network with friends, keeping eyes alert for everyone in their group (because, "once they're outta sight, they're gone, Mom"), and making verbal, in-person arrangements to meet up with people at specific places and times. Ahhhhh, a taste of the olden days of yore. She does admit that the lack of text messages interrupting every every conversation and thought has an upside in the form of "less distraction". I bet. Transitioning from receiving and sending as many as 150 text messages (I know, I know) on the average day back home to absolute silence has got to feel weird.

Culture shock? You bet. Laura seems to be handling things well, considering. I'd probably find myself reeling without my cell phone and Internet connection in Europe and/or at home. That's why before I head out for my eventual visit to Florence, I'm gonna need an intervention.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Can't Read Books

I can't seem to read; books that is.

An avid reader, often with more than one book going at a time, I've found myself in this weird place where I sit down to read and can't get past a page or two before my mind has pulled me into action somewhere else. I'm able to read blog posts on a computer screen but these are short sprints compared to the long haul marathon of a book.

Next week is our book club gathering and I need to read 532 pages of What is the What by Dave Eggers. I've barely started owing to lack of concentration. Showing up to the meeting not having read the book is OK but I'd really prefer not to do that. Maybe I'll just not attend this one meeting but since I'm a relatively new member and trying to make a good impression (sigh), an absence is not what I really want either. Besides, Barbara's house is too good to pass up with its gorgeous view of the Sound and Olympic Mountains from the living room. Plus, there will be food; dinner and wine makes for another pull.

The last book I read was Oxygen by Carol Cassella, a Seattle writer and anesthesiologist with two sets of twins and a very full life (where did she find the time to write a novel?). Her book was a great read, particularly from the perspective of a colleague in medicine. She writes (fiction) about an anesthesiologist who loses a young patient during surgery, the ensuing lawsuit, and the roller coaster emotional ride of that experience. Well done.

I'll try to get into my book club assignment today; perhaps if I can get past the first third or so I'll be hooked. I really want to get to this book club meeting (although I am "on call" that day so all plans could be foiled by work obligations) so will turn off the computer for awhile and try more traditional ways of reading. No more blogs today! (maybe)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Geography: Distance and Time Zones

Distance between New York, N.Y. and Santiago, Chile: 5136 miles
Time zones crossed: 0

Distance between Seattle, W.A. and Florence, Italy: 5527 miles
Time zones crossed: 9

Three days into her trip abroad, I've figured out that distance apart matters psychologically; 5000 plus miles is a lot. But, the complicating factor on top of distance is the time zone conundrum. Nine hours is huge. When I go to bed at night, she is just waking up to start the new day. When I'm having my afternoon slump and seeking out the caffeine fix, she's already in bed (hopefully). Somehow the time zone thing makes her seem much further away as we watch two very different clocks go tick, tock.

If , for example, I were in New York City and she in Santiago, Chile we'd be the same distance apart as Seattle to Florence, give or take. But, we'd share the same time zone. That would be nice but then I balance that flight of fancy with the whole equator effect. The north- south distance would pull in the contrast of seasons. While one was bundled up for winter, the other would be basking in the summer sun.

No matter how you slice it, 5000 miles apart comes with extra baggage. All of this trivia is drivel; just musing as I adjust to the new normal of going to bed at 11:15 PM and thinking about her getting out of bed at 8:15 tomorrow morning. Keep spinning orb, keep us moving forward.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Remembering Berlin

Laura finds herself in Berlin today; joined up with 120 students from GU and other colleges for the start of Opening Tour, a ten day trip prior to arrival in Florence for the official start of fall semester (e.g. academics) She enjoyed her first "legal beer" earlier today and from the emails and blog postings, she sounds pumped up about the trip, albeit a bit jet-lagged. It won't take long for these 20-somethings to rebound into action. I'm envious of her opportunities to visit the great cities of Berlin, Krakow, and Prague but will live the experience vicariously, through her eyes.

When I was sixteen, Mom and I made a side trip to Berlin during my one and only visit to Europe. The three day jaunt was a spontaneous afterthought. Dad, who'd journeyed with us through Scandinavia, Bavaria, France, and Italy was on a shorter timetable and had to leave early to get back to work. After his departure, Mom and I had an extra ten days to take in other destinations before heading home. Mom had always wanted to visit East Germany, specifically the divided city of Berlin. As a history teacher, she'd taught about the Cold War, post WW II Germany, and the infamous Berlin Wall for years. She was passionate about seeing with her own eyes and I was the lucky one to accompany her.

Mom and I flew from Frankfurt to Berlin and stayed at a hotel in West Berlin near Checkpoint Charlie. We crossed into East Berlin twice during our stay, through the checkpoint where passports were taken into the "back room" for inspection while we waited patiently in a sparsely furnished, sterile looking waiting area. Mom remembers that it took a long time for the officials to clear her passport and she fantasized that some secret, undercover shenanigans held up the process. She also remembers the armed guards using under-car mirrors to inspect all vehicles, especially buses as they passed through the security point. I recall being instructed by authorities that certain picture taking was verboten (some buildings and of course, "the wall") while in East Berlin. We risked having our camera confiscated if caught photographing something on this "no take" list.

I'd love to remember with clarity all those moments spent in East Berlin in July 1970 but only snippets remain. It was cool, cloudy and breezy when we visited and walked the streets to get a feel for the differences between East and West. I remember visiting a famous museum and a rather plain lunch in the museum restaurant. But, what struck me most was the feeling that while West Berlin was like living in a color photograph, East Berlin was life in black and white. I remember shades of grey everywhere; people, buildings, and sky. Many buildings were well preserved and beautiful (the museum) but there were also many standing in partial or complete rubble. There were no flowers and minimal green. The people in East Berlin mimicked the greyness of the surroundings. They were plainly dressed in shades of grey, black, and brown. Not only were voices muted, there were few sounds of cars and no motorcycle noise. Quiet.

Feeling like we were being watched at every turn, there was a palpable sense of relief crossing back into the western side of the city. West Berlin stood in sharp contrast, even to the eye of a 16 year old. Everything was in color. Billboard advertising, loud noises, people's voices, vehicles of all kinds, smells of food; all these signs of a city alive and moving with restless energy. Experiencing the differences created by this draconian Wall was the purpose of the visit and I got that, loud and clear. Thanks to Mom who felt a lesson in History, despite the times and the inner jitters (hers), was too good to pass up.

Yesterday I asked Mom what happened to all those photographs we took that summer in Europe, specifically the ones of Berlin. I'd really like to find them, scan them into the computer, and share them with Laura as she experiences the city in 2008. Mom says the pictures (or slides) are in a red box somewhere at the Arapahoe house. Hmmmm. I don't have a lot to work with here but I may go and rifle through the small office to see what I can find.

In the meantime, I'm reveling in fond memories of days past when mother and daughter experienced a Berlin very different from the city my dearest daughter sees today.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Who Blogs?

According to a recent article in the journal Computers in Human Behavior (whoa, that's a journal with a niche) entitled, "Who Blogs: Personality Predictors of Blogging", there are certain traits shared by many bloggers. Whether we believe this data or not, it's based off the Big Five traits of personality which include:

1. neuroticisim
2. extraversion
3. agreeableness
4. openness to experience
5. conscientiousness

The authors reference a growing body of evidence suggesting that variations in the above traits are linked to differences in ways individuals use the Internet. My take is that variations in the individual recipe predict how we interface with modern technology (e.g. Internet, but not limited to blogging). Interesting concept.

Whether you choose to believe the results of this study or not, the authors suggest that those persons with high scores on openness to experience and high scores (in women only) on neuroticism tend to be bloggers. The other three traits were not predictors of the tendency or desire to blog. Here's how Wikipedia defines openness to experience and neuroticism.

I get it with the neurotic bit. The openness to experience part was the surprising piece for me. If the Wikipedia authors are correct, I might just fit in that category as well. At first glance my conclusion about openness to experience meant that words like this would readily exit my mouth: "Hey dude, sign me up for that bungee jump or let's gear up for the rock climb adventure on Mt. Rainier!". Apparently that sort of shit can be stored away in the "Dumb Ideas" file and I can still be considered open. Revelation.

Ok, so I'm female, neurotic, and open and therefore drawn to blogging. Endlessly.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Just the Facts

D and I just arrived home after a quick trip to Portland. We drove down yesterday with Laura, spent the night at a hotel, and saw her off at the airport earlier today on her flight to Frankfurt.

These are the facts.

How we'd each write or talk about this experience, above and beyond the facts, would be interesting indeed. We all have our own take on those last hours spent in each others company. Leave taking is tough business sometimes.

The only photograph I have from these hours that's neutral and somewhat soothing is this one taken of the carpeted flooring adjacent to the Lufthansa passenger check in desk. The other pictures are either too dark, too weird, too posed, or downright scary. This carpet, I'd say, is uhmmm, just part of the facts.

Arrivederci, Laura!
I miss you already but know that you're off on a grand adventure!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Motherly Advice

Suffice it to say, I've received it (the motherly advice) and I've also dished it out over the last few days. The good news is that on both accounts, the advice was thoughtful, well intentioned and well received. It isn't often that we allow ourselves to tap into the wealth of generational intelligence by opening our hearts (and ears) to the nuggets of wisdom that come from having lived awhile. I'm reminded that I can still learn from my 91 year old mother and in turn impart solid advice to my 20 year old daughter, especially when she specifically asks for my input. In this time when emotions run deep, I'm grateful that not only have I "mothered" my daughter but I have also been "mothered", significantly and sweetly.

Earlier this week in an emotionally raw and vulnerable state I shared the heaviness of my heart with Mom. This is unusual but the time seemed right; she could sense something was amiss. No matter her age or condition, she still knows how to impart her wisdom lovingly. She also knows how to drive home an important point about family dynamics and the hasty decisions we tend to make in moments of anger. She made her points and I listened. She was right.

Mom went on to share that she's been reading the Bible lately, usually at night when she has trouble falling asleep. The Old Testament Psalms are her favorite and in particular the 91st Psalm (hmmm, that's also her age). While she offered up her wise advice she quoted from this Psalm and it brought me back to the days when I was my daughter's age, readying for the journey back to school in the states; "leave taking" as we called it. Sad days these were, fraught with some of the same anxieties that color the present days as Laura readies for her trip abroad. Mom used to reference the 91st Psalm way back then; she'd often read it to me the night before I'd leave home as I was packing the last of my belongings into the suitcase. She quoted bits of the psalm this time around; the words never fail to lend comfort to my tangled thoughts. When I got home, I found my dusty, rarely opened Bible, opened to the Psalms and read the text of the 91st slowly.

Thank you Mom for setting me straight on a troublesome issue. You're right on and I'm fortunate that you are still connected enough with my pain to sit me down, ask for my attention, and tell me what I need to hear. And, thank you Laura for asking for my input and really listening to the wisdom I've offered. We are stronger for these connections. Mothering is an art form and when done well, a great blessing and privilege.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Leave Taking

I left home at fifteen. Fifteen is young, too young. Although I navigated the terrain, gave it not much (conscious) thought, and was blessed with much needed support (in today's lingo: infrastructure) to provide for my needs, the "retrospect-o-scope" shines some light on the fallout. Leaving home at this age made me grow up fast and may have contributed to my constant sense of anxiety, anticipatory loss, and feelings of vulnerability. Maybe. This musing is simply background for today's post which is about saying goodbye, my daughter's leave taking for places afar, and the feelings revived as I reflect on bits of my past.

Times are entirely different: the setting, the maturity, and especially the advances in communication. Leaving home in 2008 is nothing like leaving home in 1972 when a telephone call with static crackles and echos traversing the 3000 miles between us, a cablegram, or stamped letter were the only means of connection. The letter which is now a near obsolete art form, in those days was the solid rock of connection spanning the distance between loved ones. I have hundreds of them saved as proof, each a precious bit of history preserved. Thirty six years later, as I say goodbye to my 20 year old daughter journeying to Europe, there are myriad options for connection: cell phones, text messages, Skype, Twitter, Facebook and email, all emphasizing rapid and real-time communication. I wonder if there will ever be a letter or postcard unless it's an afterthought, a honored salute to past tradition.

Despite the advances in technology, I still sit and fret about letting her go. Two years of college behind her, I know she is prepared to live away from home. She is independent, savvy and sensible. But the entire continent and ocean blue are orders of magnitude bigger than the 290 mile stretch of Interstate 90 that separated us before. I'm trying to get my mind around this concept especially when the end point is vague. We still don't know when we will be able to visit or if she will journey home for the Christmas holiday. The potential 8 month stretch apart looms large and albeit doubtful to last that long, fuels my restless nature. I don't enjoy open ended, amorphous plans. Duh.

As we enter the final days of preparation, the contrasting, often roiling emotions underscore dramatically what this experience is for me. I'm digging back to my past, remembering what it was like to be the one leaving home (or, was it actually being the one left behind at boarding school?). But now, as the parent, I'm reflecting back on the emotions my Mother might have experienced when she bid goodbye to me way back when. The composite is an unstable, ever changing, unpredictable landscape juggling around in my head. Out of the blue, I weep (or wail). Then, I plunge back into the business of preparation putting emotion aside for the sake of forward progress.

We've just got to get through this rough patch, I tell myself. Things will smooth out when we can settle into the new normal.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Blackberry Madness Redux

Dining on Irish Cheddar, crackers and cucumber whilst sipping a Blackberry mojito has got to be one of the nicer ways to spend a Saturday night in late August. Then, to finish it off the "piece de resistance" in the form of the Blackberry cobbler topped with whipped cream was divine. There is none left, by the way. Every last crumb got eaten at Mom and Dad's AFH yesterday and as for the smaller one here, forget it; it's gone too. We are pigs.