Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sad and Vulnerable

I feel sad about what happened today.

And then I move from sadness to vulnerability. I feel vulnerable. And worried.

Why is it that when tragedy strikes (relatively) close to home that my mind shifts and focuses sharply on the possibility of loss like this in my own life? A tragic event does not make another tragic event any more likely. That's the rational voice but one that wouldn't belong to me. I'm swept away on a wave of irrational fears. Exposed and afraid.

What happened today was the report of the sudden and unexpected death of a fellow student of Laura's at college. No details yet; just some theories and talk. Laura knew her from the dorm freshman year and from shared classes over the last 4 years. She was to have graduated along with Laura in early May. And now she's gone, her young life tragically taken. Why? For what reason? How can her parents bear the pain?

These questions well up in me with no answers and my mind instantly locks on to the 290 mile drive home my daughter will make tomorrow night for Easter weekend. Ominous and threatening; suddenly I'm afraid.

Some say this is learned behavior. Others say it is "hard wired" into our genes. Probably a bit of both in my case; I am my mother's daughter and I learned from the "master".

I'll be glad to fold my arms around my daughter tomorrow night and hold her close to me. I ache inside for the parents of the young woman who died yesterday.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Better Late Than Never

My Dad's hearing has been going since he was my age, mid-50's. He's now 93. At the mere mention of a hearing test or hearing aid, he'd laugh, civilly tell us he'd "think about it" or say, "You're probably right; I should check that out". But he never did........until about 6 weeks ago when I mentioned that I thought his hearing was approaching totally deaf levels and that I was weary of screaming at him all the time. People were looking at us funny out in public. Not good.

Dad is the type of man who has to warm up to any new idea, especially when it concerns something like hearing aids. I'd say 30 - 40 years is about right. He told me he was ready to get his hearing "checked out" and could I arrange the necessary appointments. Sure enough, he's pretty deaf. Fast tracking the process, he was tested, fitted, signed on the dotted line (lots of paperwork and bring-back-within-two-months-for-a-full-refund clauses to initial) and then had hearing aids programed complete with instructions for daily use and care all within a few weeks. Darn but they work well; even Dad's pleased. I'm told that at "this age" people don't always react well to these miracles of modern science and complain about the fit, the noise, the hassle of putting them in and taking them out, maintaining them in working order and God forbid, the expense. But Dad can finally hear; he comments about the rustling of the newspaper and the sound of his shoes on the hardwood floor, sounds we take for granted.

One of his main reasons for getting hearing aids was so that he could hear dinner table conversation. Mission accomplished. There's a very nice lady who sits on either side of him for meals; one talks lots and the other keeps quiet (my Mom). He's able to hear and converse now. For that I'm very grateful.

His other motivation for wearing hearing aids was "so I can hear your Mother". From my observation, older peoples voices become weaker with age and both of my parents talk like they're on their last legs sometimes, quavery and soft. Dad can now hear most of what Mom says. I'm not sure that's always a good thing though. She's disjointed, wanders off mid-sentence, and punctuates most of her talk with old fashioned idioms (like finer than frog's hair) and some remarks entirely unique to her ever swirling, active mind. He doesn't seem to mind; yesterday I caught his stray smile and half laugh out of the corner of my eye when she remarked, "I'm foraging through the mucous in my mind".

So far so good with these new hi-tech ear pieces. I think he looks cute wearing them; I can barely see them they blend in so well.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

How Does One Deny Her Treats?

"I've just got to have some chocolate."

"We need to get to Krispy Kreme today for the donuts."

"Those soft serve hot fudge sundaes (McDonalds) are so good."

Familiar requests and hints these.... repeated over and over again by my Mom, age 92. She losing everything in her life and on some level she knows it. Her mind, beset by worsening confusion about dates, times, people, where she is or what she is doing sets the stage for very little joy. Her body, steadily betrays her. She gets around with great difficulty. Everything is a struggle. Most days she doesn't enjoy meals much. Used to her own familiar recipes and style of cooking, all of her food is prepared and served by others.

She does love chocolate, ice cream, and donuts however. I can see her face change when she's enjoying the taste of something marvelous, something from her past that brings back tasty memories. I see the stress leave her face and she is lost in endorphin reverie induced by those very things that send me to better places too.

It's so hard to deny people food (although some may say these treats are not food). I feel much like a parent patrolling the eating habits of a child and saying, "No". I don't always say no; in fact I never say no. I simply divert the subject and move on to something else or deliver into her hands the gift that will bring that contented gleam back to her face, the look I long to see but am losing bit by bit as days turn to weeks and months.

I understand the rationale for the suggested restrictions; she has gained a lot of weight in the last year. An extreme sedentary lifestyle and too many calories; it's all mathematics. Moving an ever enlarging body around on weaker legs is hard on her. I get that.

But, that doesn't make it any easier to deny her what is quite likely her last real pleasure in this withering life of hers. And that, makes me very, very sad.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Postmistress

Highly recommended!!!

The audio book mesmerized me. This is historical fiction from 1941 before America entered WW II. The characters are beautifully rendered and the plot gripping. Told from both sides of the Atlantic, this is one of the best books I've read in the last few years. Sarah Blake does a terrific job capturing the tension of those months before America entered into war; much is told through the eyes and ears of a reporter on the scene in London and mainland Europe. Contrast her experience with what's going on "at home" in a small town on Cape Cod makes for a great story line. All the characters are indelibly linked together.

Great writing and great reading or listening! Enjoy.

Monday, March 22, 2010

"Finer than Frog Hair"

We speak almost every night; usually around 7 PM after she's put on her sleepwear and sits back in her recliner chair. Tonight she told me that something (can't even remember what we were talking about now; shame on me) was "finer than frog hair". I laughed. She laughed. All these old expressions fascinate me; seems they come out of her mouth now more than ever.

What will it be tomorrow? If I pay attention, there will invariably be another classic phrase.

Yellow: an Energizing Color

Yesterday Denny and I walked through the Arboretum, a part of the University of Washington Botanic Gardens, to take in more spring color. Although too early for most rhodies and azaleas just yet, the cherry trees and other blooming trees are peaking. I was surprised to find yellow making a big splash on the scene; such an energizing color. Enjoy.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Six Down, Four to Go

Yesterday I finished up my 6th session of "acupuncture plus", as I like to call these treatments for my nagging chronic shoulder condition known as adhesive capsulitis. Josie, of Four Season Healing Center, is helping me make some headway in improving what would otherwise be several years of chronic (tolerable but extremely annoying) pain. Although there's definite progress going on, these conditions can be slow to respond.

I must confess: I haven't been doing my "homework" as Josie refers to the outside-of-the-office exercises that augment what we do in the one hour sessions. I really feel that if I had been doing the breathing techniques, stretching, moxa, massage routines, and gua sha as instructed, I might be farther along. Today I made a commitment to doing all of these as directed. I have the time. I sometimes lack the motivation and am too distracted by dumb things like checking email for the tenth time in a day or playing another round of Bejeweled Blitz. Sigh.

Onward. Four more treatments to go over the next month.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Welcoming Spring

The first day of Spring in Seattle was gorgeous; sunny and "warm". We decided to ring in the new season with a walk through the U.W. campus especially to take in those famous cherry trees on the quad. Seems like everyone else had the same idea. In order to get a photograph of the trees in bloom without people in the picture, you had to shoot up or super close. Gorgeous nonetheless.

Enjoy. Happy Spring!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bittersweet Cards

These St. Patrick's Day cards arrived in Monday's mail; the one on the left from my Mom and the one on the right from my Dad. Inside the cards someone from the adult family home had written "Happy St. Patrick's Day" but each was signed in a struggling hand by my parents. I could barely make out my mother's signature; she started over halfway through the first attempt, the letters painfully small and virtually illegible.

I can visualize the process; see them both sitting around the dining room table, a project laid before them, and caregivers supervising their efforts, coaxing and encouraging them to be festive. I'm struck by how the cards remind me of those made by my children when they were preschool age. The very young and the very old share so many commonalities although this is the first time I ever looked at their artwork in this way.

It made me sad to open these cards. Shocking perhaps to witness once again the physical and mental deterioration of these two most dear parents of mine. Receiving cards like this from my kids when they were four or five years old was pure joy. But this, is sweet and sad; guess that's why it's called bittersweet.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Saturday Seemed Like Sunday

I believe this is a universal a day that seems like another day. This doesn't happen often, maybe a few times a year for me. But, for the entire day I walk about disoriented, firmly planted in a different day of the week and continually surprised when I get pulled back into reality. The day is usually the next one up and it's usually on a weekend.

Yesterday was Saturday all day. But, it seemed like Sunday all day. The curious thing about this phenomenon is that when I ask other people if they feel the same way, frequently they do. Saturday felt like Sunday for my sister, my husband, and my daughter yesterday. Why is that? What is that about?

I was shocked that the library and the banks were open (on as Saturday?) until I put myself back into Saturday mode. I kept thinking that "tomorrow I will have to do this, that and the other when in reality I had an extra day in between myself and Monday.

Have you any insights as to why this happens? And, more curiously why do others often feel the same way? Weird. Cosmic forces?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Austin: The Present

from Allen's Boots So. Congress

Austin's enduring magic persists. There a little something (and usually a lot more than that) for everyone. Much has changed since my days in high school, eight miles west of the city. Yet, much endures.

1. Great food; it's virtually impossible to get a bad meal in Austin.

2. Wide open spaces; the downtown east and west of North Congress is still what I call "cow townish" and that's a compliment.

3. Natural beauty: Zilker Park and the foot paths along the north and south shores of Town Lake (now Lady Bird Lake) invigorate the soul.

4. U. T. Austin: a mecca for all things orange and white, Bevo souvenirs suddenly have appeal for me.

5. The hills (west of Austin) and the flats: everywhere else. Lovely contrast.

6. Lamar, Guadalupe, Congress, and Barton Springs Road; classic roadways. Oh, we can't forget 6th Street east of Congress.

7. The largest U.S. capitol building: she's a beauty. I was surprised by the seeming lack of security as we toured the facility. Granted it was a Sunday but no metal detectors, Xray machines or anything. It felt like the olden days before 9/11.

8. Great drivers. Truly. Even in traffic.

Here are some photos that I particularly like.....

Chuy's chips and salsa with guacamole.

Downtown. Cow-town.

Along Lady Bird (Town) Lake.

U.T. bookstore on the Drag (Guadalupe St.)

Bevo Rocks. A wall of burnt orange.

The Capitol seen fromthe U.T campus on a hazy spring day.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Austin: The Past

Back in Seattle after our "Spring Break" trip to Austin (with a side trip to San Antonio), I'm looking over the photographs in my camera taken during the final two days we spent in the Capitol city of Texas. I'm remembering the Austin of my past; those rich memories triggered by images of the Austin of the present.

Austin has a hold on an important three years of my life, a time when I was literally rocketed out of my home environment (Aruba) and relocated to a boarding school 8 miles west of the city for grades 10-12. Imagine a shy, introverted and very naive youngster of fifteen leaving the comforts of home to live in a small room in a sterile dormitory, adjusting to a roommate and a communal bathroom all in a locale some 3000 miles from my parents and friends. Harsh? I may not have used that particular word at the time. My word would have been terrified. The school in Aruba, affected by budget cuts, ended at the 9th grade. Thereafter, if employees of Lago Oil and Transport Co. (now ExxonMobil) wished to keep their jobs, their high school age children need to enroll in U.S. boarding schools. My Dad, being an educator (principal of the American school in Aruba), was on the inside of information regarding which private boarding schools were best. St. Stephen's Episcopal School, tucked into the hill country west of Austin, was the choice for me; excellent college prep curriculum and "close" to my older sister in Houston. Close is a relative term; the 150 miles between Austin and Houston was every bit as far as the 3000 miles to Aruba. I had to grow up fast.

Having said all of that, St. Stephen's was an excellent choice. Thanks Dad. You picked a winner. There is absolutely no question that I received a great education and was prepared academically for college. There is also no question that the staff and teachers at St. Stephen's were always on the lookout for the well being of the students, particularly the boarding students entrusted to their care. My advisor (who still teaches at the school 35 years later!) took me under her wing and played the role of parent as I flailed around trying to find myself in those awkward mid teen years.

Laura and I visited the St. Stephen's campus twice during our stay in Austin; once at night and then because I felt like she really hadn't "seen" the campus without the light of day we went back yesterday before our flight home to Seattle. The campus was quiet with students away on Spring Break. So much has changed although many of the original buildings such as the chapel, one of the dorms I lived in, and the auditorium are the same. The new construction is impressive. The biggest change is the passage of time marked by the expansion of Austin's city limits. What was once a small school community accessed by a four mile stretch of a single lane of winding road through undeveloped countryside is now part of the city proper. A major highway is within a quarter mile of the school and there are lovely homes and flourishing businesses adjacent to the 300 plus acre property. Trying to explain to my daughter how remote the school felt back in the day was tough when everything now seems incorporated by the big city.

I remember hiking with classmates down the western slope of campus down through brush to the shores of Lake Austin (more like a river that flows out of Lake Travis to the north). We called this the "gulch". Lovely and wild. Yesterday I learned that the "gulch" is no more; those acres are now fully developed with gorgeous homes built into the hills, some with river-front access. Such is the passage of time.

While I'm traveling memory lane, I'll add a few more.

Lamme's Candies, an Austin original for generations, is still a presence in the big city although their main shop is no longer on South Congress in downtown Austin. I used to stop in the downtown shop regularly as a high school student on the occasional "town trip" (freedom!!) from boarding school. The candy hasn't changed at all. Laura and I picked up pralines and mints that taste just like they always have.

Finally, the campus at U.T. Austin......Denny spent four years there getting his undergraduate degree back in the 70's. Laura and I walked about campus and the Co-op, checked out all the orange and white, Bevo laden T shirts, coffee mugs, magnets and myriad other souvenirs filling two entire floors of the building. I remember when the Co-op was where students bought textbooks and notebooks.

The U.T. Tower, Jester Hall (the high rise dorm that Denny lived in as a freshman), and Dobie Center were three buildings that caught our attention on our walking tour. I think Laura appreciated hearing the stories that came with our journey through campus. Family history.

Laura had never heard of the Tower's dark history from 1966, an event that stood as the worst mass murder on a college campus until the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007.

On the south side of the tower stands a plaza with a lovely view of the state capitol building. Surrounded by live oaks the setting is quite peaceful. I remember as a high school senior, my brother visited me at St. Stephen's School and took me in to the city for a lovely dinner. A great steak wrapped in bacon and baked potato with the works was the favorite meal for deprived students suffering through institutional food. We also walked around the U.T. campus and stood at this very spot on the plaza. He carved his initials "J.T." and mine, "K.T." into the limestone ledge shown in the picture above. For years afterward, every time I was in Austin I would trek through campus to this site, find those initials carved into the ledge, and feel the bittersweet of time's passage. Nearly 40 years later, I had hoped to find those initials again but eventually the seemingly permanent dissolves away. Sandblasting has rendered the ledges smooth. Or is it just time and weathering? Gone. But, not forgotten.

For me, Austin is all about memories of a young life belonging to a person I barely recognize from where I stand today.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Texas BBQ

Tex Mex is grand but after three days of nonstop gorging, the time arrived for a change in palate; let's say a little authentic* Texas BBQ. Kerrville, Texas, 65 miles northwest of San Antonio was just the right spot. We stopped in at Visitor's Center right off the interstate and had but a single answer to the very pleasant lady's question: "What would you like to do in Kerrville today?"

"We're looking for a good place to have Barbecue.", said we. She nodded knowingly and proceeded to tell us about three really good options in town each with a slightly different take on the classic. We settled on Buzzie's, two miles up the road on a side street in the middle of local industry. The wood shed off to the left of the restaurant was clearly the smoking shed. Open the door to this place and you know you're home; one whiff and you know it's the real deal. Slow smoked meat, nothing finer.

Need I say more? Sliced beef with onion, pickle and BBQ sauce for me and smoked turkey for Laura. Oh, and a Big Red soda, of course.

* authentic BBQ: Definitely involving slowly smoked meat, BBQ is to be distinguished from the more casual act of grilling. LOL.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

San Antonio

San Antonio comes and goes; a quick side trip from the main event in Austin. Laura and I drove the 80 miles south from Austin yesterday and checked in to a hotel on the River Walk in San Antonio. Overcast and drizzly, much like Seattle only warmer and stickier such that normally wavy or curly hair turns to frizz. Ahhhhh. Sweet memories of years lived in Texas long ago.

Did you know that the ALAMO is the number one visited site in all of the great state of Texas? We added two more to the tally with our walk through yesterday. The grounds around the original building continue to grow each time I've come back. More and more historical information, artifacts, and official tours are available, if you want that sort of experience.

Our hotel room is a "suite for cheap"; Mondays are slow days I guess and we fell into an amazing deal for a room overlooking the River Walk, situated on a corner with a wrap around balcony, a separate bedroom and living area with 2 enormous flat screen televisions. Plus, breakfasts. Plus, drinks in the lobby in the evening. We'll be sad to leave these fancy accommodations but leave we must.

The highlight of our brief stay here was dinner with Laura's roommate from junior year abroad in Florence. She goes to Trinity U. in San Antonio and we met up at The Iron Cactus for glorious (again) Tex-Mex and margaritas. Ole!

This morning we're off to Market Square to see what we see. I'd love to check out the shops at La Villita but that will be a harder "sell" for my companion. Then we'll make our way back to Austin for the last two full days of our vacation. No specific plans; just more food, drink and adventure.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Can't Get Enough of the Tex-Mex

Texas, sweet Texas. If the food ain't good, the establishment doesn't last long. Consequently, almost everything you choose to eat from the diner to the dinner divine is fabulous. I knew this about Houston having lived there for nearly twenty years. The same seems true of Dallas and Austin too.

Yesterday Laura and I flew in to the Dallas/Fort Worth airport and had about an hour before our connecting flight to Austin. We were starving and saw a sit-down Pappasito's Restaurant near the gate for our connection. Unfortunately, sit-down didn't seem feasible as we had already burned our time down getting from concourse D to concourse C on the air train. But....just past the restaurant was a Pappasito's Take Out window. Perfect. We decided to split an order of chicken enchiladas that came with rice and refried beans (of course). The line wasn't too long but unfortunately was moving slowly so with less than 10 minutes to spare before our flight boarded, we got the meal. There we were, sitting at the gate, plastic forks in hand and container balanced on Laura's lap, inhaling that meal. Absolutely delicious (airport fare has come a long way)! Like piranhas attacking their prey, so we did with that Tex-Mex plate with barely a minute to spare before our group was called to board.

Last night we dined at Maudie's, another Tex Mex joint, with friends. Beyond fabulous, of a different world, down to the bone delicious, we stumbled out high on fajitas, chalupas, and chips with salsa and queso. Add to that frozen margaritas.

Never quite getting enough, we had brunch at The Old Pecan Street Cafe today and what did we order? Tex Mex breakfast; migas for me and breakfast tacos for Laura. Oh, and coffee. The kind that makes you wake up and take notice, served in heavy ceramic mugs.

Lest you think that all we've done is eat and sleep since we arrived in Texas, we have done (a few) other things. We toured the Texas State Capitol Building today, checked out the original Whole Foods (born in Austin, Texas in 1981), and walked around the several block stretch of funky stores, including Allens Boots on South Congress.

I'm still quite energetic this afternoon but Miss Laura has faded and is napping as I write this. We'll probably stay in tonight and watch the Academy Awards on TV although a quick trip out for another meal isn't totally out of the question. This time, it might be diner fare. Everything in moderation; even Tex Mex.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Spring Break; Texas Bound

Spring Break Time!

Once again, Miss Laura and I are heading off for some mom and daughter time over her annual spring break. I'm already feeling twinges of sadness as this is the last official spring break we'll have together with her graduating college in a few months. I look back on all our trips over the years as special opportunities spent with my daughter. Good times we've had, exploring different experiences and new locations.

I remember....

2005: a fabulous trip to New York City for shopping, shows, and the sights

2006: a one week cruise on the Mexican Riviera; Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas.

2007: Chicago in March; unseasonably warm and beautiful, we saw Pink eating pizza at Ginos. (I didn't know who she was until Laura pointed her out at the table next to ours)

2008: Las Vegas!!! What else can I say?

2009: a hiatus. Laura was in Europe for the academic year.

2010: Austin and San Antonio

We considered our options carefully this year and decided that a trip to Austin/San Antonio would be a good choice. Laura was born in Houston, left at the tender age of 3 to move to Seattle and although we've been back to Texas many times over the years, Houston has been the focus. I can't wait to show her central Texas; St. Stephen's Episcopal School where I went to high school and U.T. Austin where her Dad went to college. San Antonio will be fun too with the River Walk and the good eats. We've got a rough idea of what we're doing each day but there's plenty of spontaneous time; we'll go with the flow. Great Tex-Mex, a margarita or two, the old and the new, the memories and the natural beauty. I'm hoping the wildflowers are out but that remains to be seen. Texas has been unseasonably cold this winter.

Gotta get to bed early tonight (and pack!) because our flight leaves at 6 AM!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Favorite White Wine(s)

When it comes to alcohol, unless an icy cold beer appears on the occasional hot day in Seattle or I'm in the mood to pulverize mint for a refreshing blackberry mojito, I'm basically a drinker of wine. White wines have always been my preference because for some reason the reds have a higher association with headache the next day. White wines on the dry side (but not chardonnay) that leave a crisp bite on the tongue are my favorites.

Several years back, D and I attended a wine tasting event on board a cruise ship and were introduced to what became a favorite for many years; a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from Nobilo Winery. Wonderful, crisp flavors; not too dry, not too sweet. I'm not one to wax on poetically about the features of wines; I know what I like and seek variations on the theme. But, to those in the know, the following has been said about this great bottle of white...

NOSE: Lifted fruit characters of pineapple and grapefruit with secondary notes of green pepper and freshly cut nettle aromas. PALATE: A crisp and zesty backbone combines with fresh tropical fruit sweetness. Excellent weight and balance, this wine lingers on the palate in a full, refreshing finish.

After enjoying a few bottles of U.S. (California and Washington) Sauvignon Blanc, I must say that although lovely, nothing can compare to the New Zealand twist on this magnificent grape. D and I have tried many from the Marlborough region of N.Z., a place I'd love to visit some day. Located on the northeast corner of the southern island of N.Z., wineries seem to be everywhere. And, the good news is: if you check out the Australia and N.Z. section of any wine shop and most grocery stores, an ever growing collection of new choices from this area of the world grace the shelves. Amazing and highly recommended.

My absolute favorite choice is the Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (remember: in the southern hemisphere grapes are harvested in May and bottled in September) from Mud House Winery. Five stars in my book; this one can be hard to find in the stores however. After enjoying a bottle when we took Chris and Heather out to dinner for Denny's birthday last December, I combed the stores looking for another but with NO LUCK. In my quest to find a bottle of Mud House SB, I ended up trying many others from the Marlborough region to see if any could live up to the best of the best. Many came close but Mud House is still, in my opinion, the absolute best. Serve it very cold as a pre-dinner drink or with a meal; chicken, fish, or pasta. Glorious.

D and I finally stumbled on a supply of Mud House SB at Esquin Wine Merchants in Seattle. I'm hoping that others will find it so compelling that Mud House wines will expand to the local grocery store shelves along with their cousins which are much easier to find. Below are three other wonderful Sauvignon Blancs from NZ that are definitely ubiquitous, at least here in the northwest.

Fire Road: my second favorite

Nautilus: also lovely

Oyster Bay: mmmmm

For those of you who prefer red wines, I'm told that the other fabulous wine produced in the Marlborough region of New Zealand alongside Sauvignon Blanc is Pinor Noir. Guess there is something for everyone! Cheers!