Friday, September 30, 2011

Things She Told Me: #5

"Every man is an island."

Yes, she said, "Every man is an island.", in direct contrast to 16th Century poet John Donne who writes in Meditation XVII:

"No man is an island,  entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were;  any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

I only heard her say this a couple of times in my teenage years and each time in the context of a deep and serious conversation about the nature of human relationships. Do we ever really "know" another person?  In retrospect, I  suspect she felt her life was much like an island, adrift in a vast sea of loneliness.  Did she believe others might feel the same? She was confident in her conclusion as if resolved to this view of reality.  

Some days I think she's right.  We may be individual parts of a whole, inter-connected, desperately linked one to another. Yet, we constantly fight a personal reality of disconnectedness, alone-ness on this lonely personal journey we call life. 

Not everything my Mom taught or told me was cheery and bright. For that, I'm grateful.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Things She Told Me: #4

"If you can read, you can sew!"

Mom tried in vain to coax an interest in sewing out of me from the time I was ten or eleven.  She was a very capable seamstress and entirely self taught, a fact which probably motivated her statement. She meticulously followed a pattern, producing amazingly complicated garments; tailored suits, fancy dresses, and jackets. My sister caught the sewing bug which pleased Mom. Unfortunately, I didn't.

I can hem a pair of pants and sew on a button. But, sew as in create a garment?  I once made a straight skirt and thought it a huge amount of work for something that didn't fit too well. No thanks, I'd rather purchase my clothes.

To Mom, sewing was about the challenge. She would rip out a seam and re-do her work to perfection. I would watch her, witness her frustration, observe her tenacity and attention to task. But, I didn't care to take on the challenge myself. I resisted all her efforts to teach me. As an adult, she was still trying to get me interested, offering me one of her sewing machines and looking through pattern books for relatively simple styles.

"If you can read, you can sew!"  represents Mom's general approach to any challenge. Read the instructions and jump in. Anything was possible.

Thanks, Mom.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Things She Told Me: #3

According to Mom, who absolutely loved ice cream eating it with great enjoyment up to a week before she died, the very best part of any ice cream treat was as "the last bite". I'd have to agree. The last bite, so sweet and sad at the same time. The experience comes to and end but leaves you dreaming of the next one ahead.

Mom was especially partial to soft serve ice cream, layered into a cake cone (not those pointy sugar cones). The last bite became the end of the cone. As long as there was a bit of ice cream nestled down in there along with crunchy cone, all was well with the world.

"My, but that's good", she'd say.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Things She Told Me: #2

Just a reminder: this mini-series of posts are memories I have of my Mom; things she told me, lessons learned, advice she gave, and in some cases how being where I am now in my life makes her words all the more interesting to me.

Mom shared with me more than once her personal observation regarding men who had never married by the time they were 35.

"You can pretty much count on it; if they haven't been married by then, they're homosexual."  In later years she used the word "gay" instead.

There were no judgments, just her personal conclusion

I can already think of several exceptions to this rule.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Things She Told Me: #1

This mini-series of posts are memories I have of my Mom; things she told me, lessons learned, advice she gave, and in some cases how being where I am now in my life makes her words all the more interesting to me.

So; to my Mom, always ready to impart her wisdom--many thanks, much love and I will always miss you deeply.

When Mom and I shopped for my wedding, we found ourselves in the lingerie section of Foley's in Houston. This was the fall of 1977. I was 23. She was 60. I remember hunting around for a nightgown to take on my honeymoon.

"Buy something black", she advised. "Men love black negligee."  And then, a wry smile.

I felt like we had crossed a line. Maybe I was embarrassed. I don't remember that we said anything else about the subject after that. As I recall, I did buy something black but beyond that, no specific memory.

Today, I'd have no problem saying something like that to my daughter; neither of us would likely feel too weird about having that sort of  conversation. In 1977, with my Mom, this felt a bit odd.  But she was right: men do like black.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Year Ago, I Knew

Last year, on the last Sunday in September, I remember stopping in to visit Mom and Dad at the adult family home in the mid afternoon. Mom was sitting in the living room, calling out, "Mama, Mama, Mama.", barely showing any sign of recognition when I walked through the door. Dad was with her, concerned and doing what he could to comfort her.  I tried not to make too much of her behavior; the day prior she had been much the same when I arrived but seemed to snap out of it during my visit.  

I may have brought her a small single serving of ice cream that day although I can't quite remember. If I did, she ate it with enthusiasm. She wasn't eating much in those last weeks but never turned down ice cream. I tried to bring her things that might bring her some joy and momentarily distract her from an ever flowing sense of anxiety and dread. Ten minutes with some mint chocolate chip ice cream drove her demons off, at least for awhile.

On that particular day she never came around and her agitation escalated. Nothing the caretakers or I did seemed to make any difference. She would sit for a minute, then want to get up and walk and once up (a struggle with her worsening weakness) she wouldn't know where she wanted to go. The endless calling out for help was making all of us feel concerned. She didn't have a fever. She didn't seem to be in pain. I  wondered if she might be septic, infected somewhere and hoped there would be a simple fix for this problem. In my heart, I obviously knew there was not going to be a simple solution.

How did I know? I just re-read my blog post from that day; that's how.

I felt so bad for my Dad that day. He knew things augured  badly for Mom even if he couldn't verbalize to anyone what he felt inside. His face told the story.

I remember  one of the paramedics who attended Mom at the house and escorted her on to the gurney and into the ambulance came back into the house after they got her situated. She wanted to find out "if there was anything else" she should know about Mom. She found Dad and me in Mom's room both of us in tears, trying to comfort each other. She remarked that she could tell we were worried and that our love for her showed. "Here, let me give you a hug", she said. This sweet gesture from someone none of us knew was the best thing she could have done in that moment. She knew as well as we did that this was the beginning of the end and none of us was really ready to face it.

Mom spent just over a week in the hospital. There was nothing "fixable". She wouldn't eat; she was confused and restless much of the time, calling out endlessly for people who were long gone from this world. Was she making her way to a new place even then?  These questions are among the great mysteries of our worldly existence.

I'm beginning the process of anniversary grieving. I feel the loss of my Mom but worse, as I felt that Sunday night last year, I am overwhelmed with concern for my Dad. He's aged so much in the last twelve months.  Today he could barely walk from the living room to his bedroom; so short of breath and frail looking, each step an enormous effort. As I sat with him, I read the newspaper and he stared solemnly ahead and at last nodded off for a bit. He was glad to see me but had little to say.  By the time I left an hour later, he looked better, smiling and thanking me for visiting. "I'll be back tomorrow, Dad", I reminded him. 

Mom died on October 12th last year. What I'd like to do in the coming days is remember not not only what happened over those sixteen days leading up to her death but also reflect on the memories of the better times, the times when Mom was Mom, full of life and love.

I'm hoping to tease out from the thousands of memories I have of my Mom, pivotal lessons she passed on, funny, quirky comments she made, and thoughts I've had about her life that have came to me more in retrospect as I've looked back on her life and influence.

We'll see what comes up for me in these early days of fall when leaves are turning and we move into a time of reflection.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Saturday Adventures

Today was a great fun all around.

Denny and I drove up to see my Dad and take him for a spin in D's new car. The high tech stuff was of little interest to Dad but he definitely applauded the smooth ride and powerful pick-up. Who doesn't like to show off a new car?  Watching men pour over the chrome and guts of a new vehicle brings a smile to my face. They're such guys at times like these. I much prefer the "new car smell" which, so evanescent, is gone within a week.

Dad rides shotgun

That which hides under the hood mesmerizes....

We spent much of the day in Gig Harbor. Chris and Heather's new house looks more like a home every time we visit. I'm so happy for them; owing a home in one's mid twenties is commendable in these hard economic times. Good for you guys!

Tina and I joke that we have a new "grand-cat"; little Gus is just three months old and winning the hearts of all who enter Chris and Heather's door.  I remember back to our first home. Well before children, we parented cats Pearl and Bubba (the cat who refused to ever die; he lived for 21 years) and dogs Toby and Spike.

Gus in Heather's arms
We gals (and Shaun) slipped out of the house mid afternoon while the guys watched the Husky's game. We caught the first fall showing of the Northwest Glass Pumpkin Patch. What's that you ask?
An amazing display of hand blown decorative glass pumpkins in all shapes, sizes, colors and designs created by local glass artisans  lined tables under an all weather tent. All were for sale. I thought they were beautiful and bought two. I've got my two pumpkins displayed on the family room mantel for now.  Check these out....

Pumpkins can be blue, can't they?

Orange anyone?

Tina and I wandered around the shops a bit; loved to learn that some of the clothing for sale at Coldwater Creek is "made in the USA"; the proud tags still hanging next to clothing similarly priced (I was glad to see made in the USA was no more expensive) sporting tags: "made in China". We may be making some slow, steady progress after all.

What's not to like about a day resplendent with family, friends, my best friend and his new car, pets, and an evening of television?  Very little.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

After 20 Years, It's Time

While I'm on the general subject of our 20th anniversary living in Seattle, I figured our front yard re-do qualified for inclusion in this series of blog posts.

When we moved into our new home in Seattle in September 1991, the company that had been mowing the lawn and providing general yard service for the former owners asked if we'd like to keep them on the payroll. We were fine with that plan. Not long afterward, the lead landscaper asked us (more like begged) if we'd like to cut down the crabapple tree just to the right of our front door and replace it with a healthy tree of some other variety. He'd apparently been working hard on the former owners to convince them it was time for this tree to go; apparently the crabapple was diseased and beyond hope. We told the guy, "No thanks." several times and he gave up asking.

We never thought the crabapple tree looked  all that bad those first few years but gradually we noticed that the only time the tree had any glimmer of life was in early spring when a lovely showing of pink flowers sprouted from struggling winter limbs. Soon afterward, all the tree's green leaves would turn brown and one by one drop all summer long such that by August, all that remained was a dry, scraggly mess of branches.  When the once well trimmed hedge of boxwood bushes surrounding the crabapple tree quadrupled in size over the ensuing years and restricted movement on the front walkway, we finally considered the advice the landscaper gave us 20 years back. Sometimes it takes us awhile to listen.

Long story short: the crabapple tree, pronounced hopeless and ready for the saw back in September of 1991, was finally put to rest along with the overgrown boxwoods. I don't like the idea of cutting down trees but this time I didn't feel too badly. I figure the crabapple and the boxwood bushes enjoyed long lives, many seasons beyond what the landscaper recommended. As evidenced by these photos below, it was time.


I drove up to the house late Friday afternoon after work, slowly took a deep breath and walked up the front steps to get the first view of the newly designed bed in front of our dining room window.  I barely recognized the house as mine. The new plantings looked so tiny compared to the bulk of green and twisted bark of the dying tree. Plus, all the open space took my breath away.

We now have a weeping cherry tree (fast growing I'm told) and at the base, small boxwoods and flowering azaleas. I envision planting tulip and daffodil bulbs around the trunk of the tree. Come spring, color will erupt from the ground.

I'm wondering what this space would look like had we taken the landscaper's advice twenty years ago.  Would this weeping cherry now tower up to the rooftop? I guess we'll have to give it another bit of time to know for sure.

Time marches on. We make choices every day. Big and small.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

From Kindergarten to Grown Men

C. Maher and C. Maynard
 Twenty years ago this month, Denny and I walked our 5 year son in to his kindergarten classroom at Blaine Elementary in Seattle. This was his first day of school and he was excited, if not a bit wary. His teacher, a veteran of decades in the public school system, remarked that there was another young boy in class with the same first name: Christopher. Interestingly, the last names were remarkably close as well: Maher and Maynard.  Little did we know the two  would strike up a lasting friendship spanning those 20 years.

Our Chris and best buddy, Christopher attended grade school, middle school, and high school together. The boys shared after school activities, sleepovers, a passion for computers, gaming, and pranks.  They adopted the same nickname: "Topher" which then morphed into "Toe". In later years, the two "Toes" confessed to a wide range of questionable adventures, usually involving water and/or model rockets. Sigh.

"Toe", Laura, and "Toe"
These two boys attended different universities but both remained in Seattle, linked by proximity. When our son Chris and Heather married, Christopher supported his good friend as a groomsman and delivered a wonderful toast at the reception. In a mere blink of an eye, they had grown from kids into adults.

Last weekend, these guys bid each other goodbye as "Toe" drove his childhood friend, "Toe" downtown to catch the train to Seatac and a flight to Texas. "Toes" has a new job in Austin and leaves Seattle behind. I wasn't able to give this second son of mine a goodbye hug but we did talk on the phone while the two were enroute downtown. I pointed out to "Toe" that it was exactly 20 years ago that the two first met. Young boys become young men, their futures bright and full of promise.

I'll miss seeing "Toe" at our dinner table. I'll miss the laughs and reminiscing. The memories live on.  Good luck to you, "Toe".

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Twenty Years in Seattle

Twenty years ago this month Denny and I moved our family from a home in Houston to a new home in Seattle. We started out on an exciting new journey. Twenty years have passed. Amazing.

In 1991, Chris was five and Laura just three years old. The kids were excited about the move to a new city but sad to leave their grandparents (both sets), cousins, extended family and their beloved nanny. The same sense of ambivalence about leaving family to move thoursands of miles to a place neither one of us knew much about affected Denny and me. We had exciting new jobs ahead and a beautiful new city to explore but still we wondered: Would we be happy in the northwest? Would we ever be able to call Seattle home?

We're still living at the same address two decades later. Once the new folks on the block, now we're the old timers. Our house proved to be a good choice in a great location. For years the sounds of  young voices filled every room but now the spaces seem large, spacious and way too quiet; the proverbial empty nest. How did that happen?

Our house looks much the same as it did on that September day in 1991 when the moving van pulled up with all of our belongings.  Sure, we've renovated the main floor a bit and there's a new exterior paint job, new roof and a redesigned deck out back but the bones of the house remain intact. We've planted new trees at the back and front of the house and in the space of those years, the former hedges and bushes have doubled and in some cases tripled in size.  Time marches on.

The view from our bedroom window changed over the years as homes across the street were leveled and rebuilt and others had their roofs lifted, creating second stories with views of Puget Sound. What once was a decent expanse of water seen from our upper deck is now mostly a view of our neighbor's homes. Sigh.

How many more years will we call this dwellling our home?  Probably not another twenty years. Without those young voices, the house feels different; not bad....just different.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Discovery Park Picnic

Four generations gathered Saturday afternoon on a bluff in Discovery Park overlooking Puget Sound for a late summer family picnic. This is the third year my wonderful sister planned and organized the event that is fast becoming a tradition. The idea is a casual, bring-a-dish gathering centered around a table of great food and drink, whispering evergreens and gentle southerly breezes providing shelter and coolness and nothing special to do but visit with each otherand enjoy the views of the sound and the energetic younger generations. This quite possibly was the best event of the three to date.

Dad filled his role as the elder statesman and had in his view his three children (certainly a treat for him to have all of us together), five of his seven grandchildren, and four of his six great grandchildren along with spouses, significant others, and friends joining in to round out the group. The weather was picture-perfect. The kids played with kites and ran around with parasols and threw balls around the grassy bluff. There was much to eat, comfortable chairs, and as my son would say, "good times".

Dad's favorite part of the outing was watching the energy of his great grandchildren; he loves to see the younger generations in motion. That and the taste of blackberry cobbler made his day. He wasn't able to partake of the spread of food but after sipping on his chocolate Ensure drink he said he was ready for dessert. He enjoyed every bit of his cobbler. Even though I was the cobbler maker, I'm going to brag and toot my horn about the finished product; it was fabulous. This particular recipe can't be beat. The hardest part is picking the blackberries and keeping away from the stinging nettles and thorns. (Aug 2008 post with recipe).

Years ago Dad would comb the blackberry bushes in Discovery Park and bring in a haul of fruit worthy of numerous cobblers, pies, batches of jellies, jams, vinegars, ice creams, sorbets and his own special concoction: blackberry liquor. Blackberries became the symbol of summer in Seattle and the cobbler in particular, the be all and end all dessert for family gatherings.  He always knew where to find the mother lode of hidden vines that weren't picked over by other visitors to the park. Due in part to his love of picking berries and the well used Wild and Free Blackberry Cookbook, we've enjoyed all sorts of treats over the years.

My photos are still on the camera; I doubt they'll be as good as the ones my sister shot. These are hers and they capture just how special the afternoon in the park really was; a time to reflect on the blessings of having loved ones in our lives.

** photos courtesy of MM Hansen

Monday, September 5, 2011

Blackberry Picking Time

The blackberry crop in Discovery Park seems picked clean this year. Either that, or I don't know where to look anymore. Denny and I spent an hour amongst the brambles and thorns yesterday and barely came away with enough berries for the large pan of blackberry cobbler I'm planning to make for next Saturday's picnic in the park. The big, juicy berries were few and far between, replaced by smaller, more tenaciously attached brothers and sisters. We managed to pluck enough though and today I prepared the base for the cobbler. I'll refrigerate it until Saturday morning and then put on the crumble topping and pop it in the oven. Yum; the taste of summer (in September....)

There are several other blackberry treats we crave this time of year in addition to cobbler. Today I tried picking at a site on Magnolia Boulevard where my Dad used to go back in the day. Mom always worried about him getting hit by a car picking in this area; the bushes butt up to the roadside in some areas. I steered clear of those places although the berries were lush and big on those vines hanging into the street.  I managed to score a large sized container full of berries in 45 minutes or so.

Back home the berries went into the juicer and now I've got the fixings for blackberry sorbet and for blackberry mojitos later on in the week. That juicer rarely gets used except for this purpose. If you want a  pure, seedless juice out of these little jewels, run them through this machine and a rich, dark syrup is all that remains.

I'm looking forward to Saturday's picnic in the park. Hopefully this glorious weather will hold. September is such a beautiful month in Seattle.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Summer Lives On

Although the days get shorter and the light changed weeks back, Seattle is just now bursting into consistently lovely weather. Some say it is our "two weeks of summer". Maybe.  We've been blessed with cool temperatures for months compared to other parts of the country who are burning up with heat and humidity. There won't be any complaints from me about our weather however.

Our heater has been off since mid June. That's a good, energy saving thought. There hasn't been a single day that I've regretted NOT having air conditioning this summer. And, to top it off, the down comforter stayed on the bed this year; that's how cool it has been at night. Sweet all around.

Today has been a perfect day.  We went out on what the man calls, a peregrination about town to pick up this and that. At our last stop, we parked and two kids ran up offering lemonade or fruit punch from their stand curbside. With the warm sun hitting its zenith, the taste of that pink, icy cold lemonade was so good, we went back for seconds.

Ahhh, sweet summer.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Little Vitreous Humor (not)

What is happening here?

     A late birthday gift, perhaps?

     Another reminder that the passage of time brings the unpredictable?

     An  experience to tuck away in the archives of "bad stuff that can happen" when you're just trying to age gracefully?

Suddenly there were painless flashes of black darts in my left eye, lasting milliseconds, recurrent with every step. Step; flash; step; flash; step; flash. Off and on for hours, then gone for awhile, then back again.

What in the world?

I was kind of freaked out but since the vision was still OK and there was no pain, I let it go, hoping all the while that the symptoms would take a hike. Not so. This was Tuesday.

Wednesday I squeezed into my eye doc's overly burdened schedule at the end of his day. Turns out I have a predictable condition of ocular aging; emphasis on aging. Vitreous detachment. Not to be confused with the more serious phenomenon of retinal detachment, this separation of the gel-like substance of the inner eye (vitreous) from the retina is exceedingly common and almost always benign. The incidence increases after age 50 and may affect one or both eyes. By age 80, almost all eyes are affected. Many never notice any symptoms; others experience what I had.

All this was news to me. Nephrologists apparently know little about the aging eye beyond the development of cataracts and far sightedness. Sigh. What else should we be expecting????

After 48 hours, the flashes are over and I'm left with some annoying floaters in my eye. If this is the worst of what I'll experience, I'm relieved.  One more appointment with a retinal specialist armed with powerful dilating drops to check out the peripheral aspects of the retina for any tears or holes and I should be finished.

Seems the major complication of the typically benign vitreous detachment is a vigorous tug on the retina which then decides to pull loose. Not good. That Mom had a detached retina at exactly this time in her life back in the early 1970's puts me at a slightly higher risk. She had impaired vision in the affected eye for the rest of her life; maybe hers all started with a detached vitreous. We'll never know.

So, although benign for the most part, the darker side lurks and I'll be sure to get this checked out.
Aging eyes. This business is getting close to the brain and in my estimation, too close for comfort.  LOL.