Sunday, December 13, 2009

Chicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom

I love reading. In fact, reading is one of the distractions that gets in the way of my writing. When I have a free moment, I’m often torn between the need to write – creating the raw product, and my love of reading – consuming the finished product. As a little girl, I loved trips to the library. I loved poring through the stacks of books, always looking for that perfect treasure. As an adult, I have come to love bookstores as well. I love the abundance of books and, just as with a Starbucks coffee shop (see Pure Luxury), I love that most bookstores have places for people to sit and relax with their books. I love that other people in a bookstore are also readers; even if we don’t speak, there’s a shared camaraderie. But most of all, I love the possibilities – every aisle, every topic invites me to learn, to try, to discover.

Yesterday, my husband and I visited the granddaddy of bookstores – Powell’s City of Books in downtown Portland. I’m not normally a fan of Powell’s because it overwhelms me; it is literary sensory overload. However, we were in the neighborhood and there were books we needed, so in we went. We were looking for a couple of children’s books, so we checked out the directory and headed for the Rose Room. We quickly found the first book and began looking for the second – a book I’d heard about but I’d forgotten the title. We looked in the sections that we thought made sense, but we didn’t find what we were looking for. I’m not a fan of asking for help, so I sent my husband in search of a bookseller and I began to wander the stacks. I came out in a children’s reading area full of parents reading to their small children. Around the area, books were displayed upright on shelves. I scanned the titles, recognizing many from my years of reading to my own small children (who are no longer small) and then, there it was, my favorite book to read to my children – Chicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom. I was already feeling nostalgic after seeing the parents and children snuggled up together reading, but seeing this book on display, just about put me over the edge. I immediately retreated to find my husband, while trying to keep the welled-up tears from spilling down my cheeks. My husband was busy talking with two booksellers, trying to locate the second book, the one without a title. He wasn’t having any luck and had me go over with them the information I knew about the book. They were coming up blank, when one of the booksellers walked away and came back with a book – the book we were looking for! She said she had an idea of where to look and had gone to browse through that section only to get there and see the book sticking out from the others – the magic of a bookstore! That magic was all it took for the tears to spill over. I’m a sucker for nostalgia; add magic to it and I’m gone!

We headed toward the cashiers’ area, me with tears running down my cheeks and my husband looking at me with a look that questioned whether he’d married a treasure or a dork, when I realized that I was succumbing to the other magic of a bookstore – the magic of possibilities. I’d pointed out a vegetarian cookbook I’d like to have and then there was the quilting section – maybe I could learn to quilt. Or gardening – wouldn’t it be great to have our own garden? There’s a book for every topic and they all dance around my head inviting me to look inside, to consider the possibilities. I love the idea of having possibilities, of knowing that there’s more to learn about and discover, but I also know that I have to be somewhat realistic about what I have time for and what innate abilities I bring to the table (or the book), so as happens so often when I visit a bookstore, I had to force myself to head toward the cashier. I had to put on mental blinders so that I could get through the remaining stacks without stopping to browse and consider.

Once outside, I breathed a sigh of relief and contentment – relief that we’d made it out with only a half dozen books, when we went in to get just two and contentment because I’d experienced nostalgia, the excitement of discovery and magic, all by walking through a bookstore. I think I’ll go home and look through our bookshelves. When I find what I’m looking for, I’ll curl up in one of my old lady chairs and I’ll read Chicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom just for me.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Sing Loud, Sing Proud

I was raised to feel pride in our country. My parents came from a generation that applauded patriotism and, as a young man, my dad had a taste of another country that did not have the privileges, justices and rights that ours has. I learned early to put my hand over my heart and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I’ve known the words to the Star Spangled Banner for as long as I can remember. As a child, we said the Pledge of Allegiance every day in school. I still enjoy being in a classroom first thing in the morning in order to have the opportunity to put my hand over my heart and say, “I pledge allegiance to the flag…” There was a time, too, when it was common to sing the Star Spangled Banner; now, usually, we just listen to it. We listen to a recording star or wanna-be recording star or just some local talent sing the National Anthem while we listen and then hoot-n-holler at the appropriate place towards the end of the song. I like to go to sporting events so, over the years, I’ve heard the National Anthem sung in a variety of ways and I guess I’m a purist because I really don’t like all the fancy variations so many singers seem to think necessary. One of my favorite versions was sung by an opera star in town for a performance. His rendition was pure talent, not hoopla, and he sang as if he meant the words. When he finished, there seemed to be a moment of silence as we all took in what we had just heard. However, throughout the years, my all-time favorite version of the National Anthem is that heard at each home game of University of Oregon football. At Autzen Stadium, we don’t listen to the Star Spangled Banner, we sing it! The band plays the music (and they do it nicely enough that we’re able to sing along) and the crowd is invited to sing the words. The singing at the first game after 9/11 was one of the most moving experiences of that time period – we put our hearts together and truly sang loud and proud. While the level of participation varies from week-to-week, there are still many of us who obviously relish the opportunity to actually sing our National Anthem rather than just listen to it. Pete Seeger said, “When you sing, you feel a kind of strength; you think, I’m not alone, there’s a whole batch of us who feel this way.”

I don’t sing well (as my section neighbors at Autzen would surely tell you), but I sing. I sing with passion, I sing with gratitude and I sing with pleasure. In this time when we’re trying to live more simply, I wish we could get rid of the fancy singers and their often-butchered versions of the Star Spangled Banner. I wish we could move back to simply singing it ourselves; to feeling the strength that comes from singing together. I wish we all had the opportunity, on a regular basis, to remember our patriotism and to stand up and sing loud and proud.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pure Luxury

My husband and I and several other family members ran in last week’s Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning. It’s a grueling 4 mile run – actually, the first two miles aren’t grueling, they’re downhill; it’s the last two miles, when you turn around and run back up the hill, that are tough. As is common, the morning of the run was cold and wet. I said to my husband that, if I were Oprah, I’d have personal assistants waiting for me back at the car with hot Starbucks coffee – now that would be luxury! We’re not Oprah, so we had to drive to a Starbucks to get our warm caffeine fix, but that was okay; having coffee delivered to my car isn’t really within the realm of my definition of luxury. However, there are a couple of activities that, to me, reek of luxury and, strangely, coffee is often involved.

I am a bit of a coffee addict and I run through Starbucks on a regular basis. Sometimes run through means drive through, but I also get out of the car and go inside regularly. When I do go inside, I’m always envious of the folks sitting in the lovely overstuffed chairs chatting with a friend, reading a book or working on a laptop. I look at those people and I think, That looks so wonderful! How do they find the time to just sit and relax like that? Well, there have been a few times when I have had the opportunity to sit at a Starbucks, slowly drink my coffee, chat with a friend and enjoy the atmosphere and that really does feel like luxury to me.

Another luxurious activity for me is getting up early, when the house is quiet, to either read or write (with my coffee, of course). Right now, that’s what I’m doing and the feeling is made even more luxurious by the addition of our Christmas decorations and the twinkling lights on our tree. Sitting here in the quiet, with my coffee and my laptop, feels almost decadent.

I’ve realized that my definition of luxury has nothing to do with the monetary cost of the activity, the real luxury is having the time –the time to stop in Starbucks and sit down rather than run in and run out; the time to sit in my family room and enjoy the quiet and beauty of our Christmas tree; the time to simply stop. Right now, I’m creating my luxury by taking the time. I have rearranged my day so that I can luxuriate in this atmosphere in the only time it is available. It will probably mean that I get less done today, but that’s okay; I’ll have a warm memory of a little luxury to start my day.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Potato Potahto, Tomato Tomahto

When I think of the Thanksgiving holiday and its origin, I think of the Pilgrims and their harvest celebration. I’ve always sort of thought as the holiday as a reminder to think about the Pilgrims, their hardships and all they did to forge a life in a harsh wilderness. In today’s society, Thanksgiving has become many things: a holiday to gorge oneself with food, a holiday to watch football, a holiday that marks the beginning of the holiday season (and its shopping) – basically it’s a holiday, a day off from work and school. At our house, we always spend a few minutes before our meal going around the table and each saying what we are thankful for, but the overall idea of thankfulness has, I believe, taken a backseat to the Pilgrim images and today’s eating/football/shopping mentality. Even when I think about the reason for the holiday, I again go back to remembering the Pilgrims. Yesterday, my friend Rose sent an email saying, “We are certainly lucky to live in a country that dedicates a holiday every year solely to being thankful for all that we have and enjoy.” No reference to Pilgrims, food or football; just thankfulness (aka gratitude). So, today I am going to celebrate Gratitude Day. We’ll still do our Thanksgiving Day traditions: early morning Turkey Trot, hot croissants for breakfast afterwards, maybe some football on TV, traditional turkey dinner this evening and a mention before dinner of what we are each thankful for – and maybe this is just a matter of semantics: thanksgiving vs. gratitude, but the words evoke different emotions for me. So, today I’m not going to think in terms of Thanksgiving Day; I’m going to think in terms of Gratitude Day. I am going to go through the day truly thinking about all that I have to be grateful for. If you are here at my house, you probably won’t even know that I’m having my own special experience – except, perhaps, for the goofy little grin I’ll be wearing on my face. Happy Gratitude Day!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Midnight at the Oasis?

For the second night in a row, I rolled over, looked at the clock numbers projected on the ceiling and, AARRGH, it’s the middle of the night. Whenever I wake-up in the middle of the night with the feeling that it must be morning, only to find that it’s 1:00 a.m., 2:00 a.m. or, as was the case tonight, 12:15 a.m., I feel a helpless, irritated sigh rise within me. Sometimes I wake-up, look at the clock, roll over and go back to sleep; those times I’m not really awake – and I know it. Other times, like last night and tonight, I know as soon as I feel consciousness that I am really awake. I’ve tried simply staying in bed – that rarely works; it usually becomes a rock-n-roll tussle with the sheets. I’ve tried reading in bed – that disturbs my husband who rarely struggles with middle of the night consciousness. I found sleeping pills to be quite helpful – and gained 20 pounds while using them. I found a CD called zMusic that helped lull me back to sleep, but – husband, again. So, I usually just get up. I try not to do anything overly exerting or exciting; the idea is, after all, to try to get to the point of sleepiness again. I usually make myself a cup of decaf tea and then I either read or play computer games (Freecell is my favorite). Tonight, I had the song Midnight at the Oasis running through my head. Maybe I need to look at my house as an oasis to be enjoyed in the middle of the night. I looked up the lyrics – something about camels, sheiks and a cactus pointing the way – that starts to sound like a Salvadore Dali painting and isn’t what I need to get myself back to sleep. I’d blame this on the “M” word, but this has been a lifelong affliction for me; I’ve prowled the house while everyone else slept for as long as I can remember.

Actually, I sort of enjoy the quiet in the middle of the night. Even though I’d rather be snuggled into bed, fast asleep, I feel a sort of peacefulness at this hour. Maybe this is just my normal rhythm and the only reason it’s a problem is because the alarm clock that goes off too early when I’ve spent a couple of my sleeping hours not actually sleeping. I guess the day will come when it won’t be necessary to set an alarm clock, when it won’t really matter that I’ve been up in the middle of the night. Maybe that’s one of the ways that aging will feel comfortable to me; I’ll be able to accommodate my own rhythms rather than fighting them. Maybe I’ll just enjoy this time right now and turn the alarm clock off in the morning. Maybe this really is an oasis in my busy day.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Fake It 'Til You Feel It!

I’m not the originator of that phrase, but it certainly has been my mantra for the last two weeks. This fall has been amongst the most stressful times in my life; two weeks ago I found myself ground down to the point where I wasn’t feeling joy – and that’s not like me! I had begun my holiday preparations (I like to be organized so that I can enjoy the holiday season), but I was just moving through the process; I wasn’t feeling the spirit of the season. That’s when I decided to just fake it ‘til I felt it. I grabbed my red and green reusable shopping bags and I headed to the mall with a fake smile on my face. At home, I squeezed out some fake creative juices and began working on our Christmas cards. I planned and cooked dinners (real food, not fake) so that our family could sit down together in the evening and I faked it ‘til I felt it!

The stress isn’t gone and I have had moments, hours, half-days of slumping back into the hole without joy, but then I repeat my mantra (usually in my head so that people don’t look at me funny, but if I am with my husband I say it aloud because he is working on faking it, too) and I must say that faking joy feels better than no joy and the more I fake it, the more I feel it.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Early Morning Wake-up Call

I’ve taken a hiatus from writing; actually, I haven’t taken the hiatus, my brain just turned off and a hiatus happened. As in the past, this break in my writing indicates stress, sickness and a not-up-to-par frame of mind. I’ve been keeping a list of topics I want to write about, but the right side of my brain has been MIA – there haven’t been any creative juices flowing.

I woke up early this morning hoping that once I’d made the coffee, planted myself in my old lady chairs (click here to see my blog about my chairs) and turned on my laptop, I’d be able to force the reticent right side of my brain into action. Then, as I was making the coffee, my daughter’s dog started barking so I went to retrieve him from her room (if we leave him in there once he is awake, he uses the bedpost as his potty spot). That meant that I also had to take him outside to do his duty, even before finishing the coffee preparations – not exactly as I had planned. I put his leash on and out the front door we went into the dark morning. We had barely stepped off the front porch when I heard the hoot of an owl from the trees to my left and then, seconds later, I heard another hoot coming from nearby on the opposite side, near the street. Unlike the area to my left, the street side does not have any large trees to welcome an owl. So, as soon as Thurman (my daughter’s dog is named after Thurman Munson, the Yankee catcher and Team Captain who died in a plane crash in 1979; he was my husband’s favorite player – that’s one way to get Daddy to accept your dog) had finished his business, we walked toward the end of driveway. I was hoping to hear the owl again so that I could figure out where he was hiding. Just as we reached the corner of our house, there came another hoot. I looked up and perched on the peak of our roof, silhouetted against the night sky, was a huge owl! He turned his head and cocked it downward to get a look at me, he hooted several more times while I stood there mesmerized. I thought about trying to hoot back at him in the hopes of a conversation (I’ve been “talking” to squirrels since I was a little girl), but I was afraid that my owl-speak was not very accomplished. So, I just stood and watched this rooftop visitor, feeling privileged to have stumbled upon this early morning moment. And then, without warning, the owl puffed up his body, spread his wings and flew off toward the trees; then, just as quickly and quietly as he had flown away, my right brain woke up.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Once Upon A Time: A Real Life Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, in the city of Portland, there was a little girl named Sue who wanted to grow up to be a Royal Rosarian. All of her friends wanted to be Rose Festival Princesses, but Sue wanted to be a Royal Rosarian – and the Rosarians didn’t even allow women into their ranks at that time. Flash forward a couple of decades and, in the late 80’s, the Royal Rosarians changed their charter to allow women as members. Flash forward another decade and Sue, now all grown-up, becomes a member of the Royal Rosarians – seemingly a dream come true. But wait, the beauty of dreams is that they can be expanded and there is more to this story.

The Royal Rosarians are a civic organization founded in 1912. By mayoral proclamation, they are the official greeters and ambassadors for the city of Portland. Most Portlanders recognize them as the folks in the white suits who march alongside the bands and floats in the Rose Festival’s Grand Floral Parade. While they are, perhaps, most noticeable in that role, their activities actually run throughout the year and include not only greeting visiting dignitaries, but also taking Portland’s message of goodwill to cities and communities throughout the region and, in fact, around the world. The Royal Rosarians also provide other civic services – a few years ago they helped sponsor the Portland High School Band that marched in the Grand Floral Parade when the Portland area high schools had to eliminate their music programs because of budget cuts; last year they helped to provide over a thousand area school children with backpacks and school supplies to help these children have a good start to their school year. Royal Rosarians each foot the bill for their travel and other organizational expenses; this is an organization filled with pride, honor and civic responsibility.

Now, for the rest of Sue’s story. The Royal Rosarians are run by a council of members— some elected, some appointed; that council is lead by the Prime Minister. To become Prime Minister a person must work his or her way up through the ranks; this is not an easy position to attain. Saturday night my husband and I attended the Royal Rosarians’ Coronation Ceremony where our friend Sue was named the 2009-2010 Prime Minister for Portland’s Royal Rosarians – what was especially significant and special about this event is that Sue is the first woman to hold the position of Prime Minister. Almost 100 years after the formation of this organization and only twenty years after women were first admitted, Prime Minister Sue stood on the stage receiving the standing ovation and adoration of hundreds of friends, family and fellow Rosarians. Saturday evening, in the mythical realm of Rosaria, a fairy tale came true.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Donating

"Anonymous" made a comment asking about donating. You can follow the link in the post below to the ALS donation site. My understanding is that you can continue to donate through the end of the year. Thanks!

By the way, the picture below was taken just before the walk. I'm on the right; the other two are my daughter-in-law, Jessie and pseudo-son, David. They were great sports to come out and keep me company on the walk.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

ALS


Last month, on August 30th, I wrote a blog titled It’s Been A Great Day! in which I mentioned that during the previous week a friend had been diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. That friend is the mother of the little girl that I helped with four years ago while her older sister was undergoing cancer treatments. The mother’s diagnosis now, when the girls are just turning five and eight years old, has left all who know them devastated. This week I learned of two walks in the Portland area to support ALS research and assistance: there’s a walk today in downtown Vancouver and one tomorrow in downtown Portland. I will be walking in tomorrow’s event in Portland in honor of my friend. I don’t usually use this forum in this manner, but today I’d like to invite you to share this walk with me by supporting my fund raising efforts. Walking or donating a few dollars doesn’t seem like much, but at least it’s a positive action directed at a disease that is devastating, debilitating and fatal.

One last thought that has been brought home to me by my friend’s diagnosis: Live today!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Runaway

Yesterday my oldest daughter, a high school senior, played a song for me, Runaway by Love and Theft. A few of the lines are:

I'm gonna pack my bags and never look back
Run a parallel line with the railroad tracks
And make my getaway
I'll put the pedal to the metal as the sun goes down
Leave everybody sleeping in this sleepy town tonight
And at the break of day I'll be a runaway

I asked her if that was going to be her a year from now when she leaves for college. She smiled at me and shrugged. I know that she’s anxious to get on with her life. Senior year seems like a waste of her time, a delay in her plans. I remember that feeling myself, though I’m not sure she’d believe that I felt the same way. My husband and I listened to Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run in those days. Actually, we still listen to Bruce, but the words to Born to Run really struck hard with us in 1976:

Baby this town rips the bones from your back
It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap
We gotta get out while we’re young
`cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run

So we ran. We ran away from the town we thought would rip the bones from our back and we ran to college, to marriage, to kids, to careers; basically to adulthood, to self-discovery and self-fulfillment.

What I realize now is that it’s not the running away that’s important; it’s the running to. Running away feels negative and implies giving up and leaving behind; running to feels positive and implies goals, desires and dreams to explore. When my daughter “runs away” I hope that she will understand that she’s not just running away, she’s also running to.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

It's Been A Great Day!

“It’s been a great day!” I overheard this sentence last night from a woman who has been sick for years and recently underwent an organ transplant. All has not gone smoothly; she’s had infections, other issues and ambulance trips back to the hospital, but yesterday she was able to be out and about for a few hours and, at the end of that time, she exclaimed, “It’s been a great day!”

As I thought about this statement, I couldn’t help but counter it with other news we’ve recently received: a teenage suicide, a friend of a friend of a friend whose wife collapsed and died just as they were both pulling their lives together and while she was six months pregnant and a friend diagnosed this past week with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Each of these pieces of news left me not only with sadness and grief, but also with a renewed sense of how precious and fragile life is. This type of news reminds me, as I go through my day, that I need to slough off the little irritants, sometimes even the big irritants. I need to wake up in the morning, not whining that I didn’t get enough sleep, but happy to have woken up. I need to end the day thankful for what I have in my life – more importantly, thankful for whom I have in my life.

It’s been a great day – hearing that said by a woman who battles medical issues daily and in the context of the recent slurry of bad news, I realized that we can all learn a lesson about putting our days into perspective. Any day can be a great day!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Costco High

Ah, a trip to Costco – great deals, more things you don’t really need than you could ever imagine, bulk-shopping at its best! But Costco prices and products are not the source of my Costco “high”. I walk away from Costco feeling high because of Teddy. Teddy works the door at Costco – sometimes he’s the greeter; more often he’s the person at the exit who checks my receipt. Whichever door he is at, his presence assures me of a Costco High. Teddy is the epitome of customer service. He has a warm smile that never leaves his face; he says the nicest things, “Bless you,” “Have a wonderful day,” “You look beautiful today,” and everything he says is obviously so genuine, so sincere. One day, as I pushed my cart toward the exit, Teddy looked toward me and exclaimed, “It’s so nice to see your beautiful smile!” Did he not know that I was smiling in anticipation of being greeted by him?

Teddy’s job is not professional or technical, but he performs it with such grace and enthusiasm that he would have to be rated as a highly-skilled employee. Teddy goes through his day at Costco not only doing his job well, but also making a difference in the lives of those of us lucky enough to shop at his store. He could simply take the receipt, scan it and the shopping cart, make his little mark on the receipt, but he does so much more. In just seconds his words and smile light up the day of Costco shoppers. I don’t know Teddy’s last name and yet I find myself smiling in his presence – that makes me realize anew that I should do the same for those friends and family members whose last names I do know. If one stranger can make hundreds of people smile, think what we can all do for those we love and care for who aren’t even strangers to us!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Team Tony

Friday evening I helped at a charity fundraising event for the Arc of Clark County, a non-profit organization that serves children and adults with developmental disabilities. This fundraiser was organized by neighbors of ours who are involved with the charity because of the services one of their sons receives from the agency. They actually have two sons – twins. One was born fine, but the other has several, some still undiagnosed, problems that have caused him to need multiple surgeries, hospitalizations and tests along with having delayed development and other cognitive issues. Little Tony has become the poster boy for Team Tony, a fundraising effort to help support the Arc of Clark County and one of its programs, Pride for Kids.

As I watched a video about the Arc’s services, I had a warm glow come over me as I saw pictures of families working with and loving their children, even though the efforts involved in raising their children are probably something far different from what they had planned for. This is true, too, for our neighbors. With three little children in the house (the twins have an older sister), they, naturally, have busy lives, but in addition to the normal toddler/pre-school activities, schedules and messes, they also must spend so much additional time taking care of Tony’s medical and developmental concerns. Yet, they also freely give of their time in order to give back; they have found a passion in helping the Arc.

I used to be a trust banker, but now I am a volunteer and, while I enjoyed my career, I can say without a doubt that I find much more satisfaction in the work I do now – even though it doesn’t come with a paycheck. As I watched my neighbors Friday evening, knowing what a crazy, busy life they lead, I was very impressed that they still make the effort to volunteer, still take the time to give back. When they were waiting for the twins’ birth, they did not know that their lives were about to change because of the special needs of one of the boys. They did not know that “busy” would take on a whole new meaning. They did not know that, in adversity they would find a new passion, a new way to bring joy and meaning into their lives. While I’m sure that they went home from the fundraiser with exhausted minds and bodies, I am also sure that they went home with a feeling of joy in their hearts.

I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve. --Albert Schweitzer

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Karaoke Queen


I am not a performer. I have neighbors who are professional performers and I’m always in awe at their ability to stand before people and put on a show. I can stand on a stage and talk without qualms, but the idea of being physically or emotionally exuberant in a make-believe manner is beyond my comfort zone. So, when my son said that they wanted to have karaoke at their wedding reception, I sort of cringed. I don’t sing well (I received my singing ability, or lack of it, from my mom – she was asked to just mouth the words when she joined her middle school choir) and the idea of “performing” in front of people left me uneasy. However, once we arrived at the reception, I could see what fun people were having. Two of my middle son’s friends kept encouraging me to pick a song to sing with them. This was one of those times when I really wanted to do something, but I was just so uncomfortable. My courage vacillated back and forth between “No way, no how!” and “Let’s do this!” As the evening wore on I finally succumbed (helped along, no doubt, by a few Black Butte Porters); we chose Dancing Queen as our song. I love this song; I love to dance; I love being the Queen (see Six-Word Memoir and Every Queen Needs Her Crown) – it’s my song. We got up on the stage, joined by a nephew and a few other people as the song went on. We sang, we swayed, we danced, we weren’t good, but we had fun! What exhilaration! What a rush!

No doubt about it – this was outside my comfort zone. While I’m not likely to be the first to jump up and perform at any future parties...

…when I get the chance...
I am the Dancing Queen, young and sweet, only fifty-one
Dancing Queen, feel the beat from the tambourine
I can dance, I can jive, having the time of my life
See this girl, watch this scene, dig in the Dancing Queen!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Passing the Baton


My oldest son has been engaged for almost two years; yesterday he became a husband and I became a mother-in-law. Recently people have been asking me if I’ve been nervous about the wedding – or excited or happy or what. I’ve certainly been happy about the wedding. My son and his fiancé, no wait, my son and his wife are wonderful together; I could not have picked a better life partner for him even if I’d posted a request for resumes and conducted interviews. And I was also excited for the wedding; it’s been in the planning stages for a long time. However, I found that I really wasn’t nervous. I expected to wake up yesterday morning feeling nervous and anxious, but I found that I didn’t really have any intense feelings. I realized that the work was done, the events for which I was responsible for were taken care of and yesterday was truly their day – all I had to do was show up and enjoy it. And enjoy it I did!

The wedding officiant was a dear friend of ours who has known our son since he was born. Just before we all prepared to walk down the aisle, this friend called us into a huddle, much likes sports teams do at the beginning of a game. What an appropriate beginning to a ceremony marking a life commitment. Isn’t that one of the ways we get through life? We gather with our family, our friends, our supporters; we cheer each other on – Rah! Rah! Rah! Let’s do this! As part of the ceremony, our friend gave the bride and groom his personal message about marriage, family, commitment and tradition. It was beautifully said and obviously came from the heart. Since we’ve all been friends for almost thirty years and since my husband and I and this friend and his wife have long term marriages, I guess it should not have been too surprising that much of his message echoed my own thoughts on marriage. One of his points, which I had also expressed to my son and his wife in a letter I wrote them the day after they became engaged, is that they should try everyday to give 100% to the other without asking for anything in return because if each person does this whole heartedly, the level of joy and satisfaction in a marriage can be tremendous.

My son and his wife wrote their own vows and, again, it was heartening to hear them echo words about marriage that my husband and I have lived and words similar to some of what we said during our own vow renewal two years ago. As I listened to the vows they made to each other, as I watched them look at each other with obvious love and adoration (we call that look “goo goo eyes”), I felt a deep satisfaction. We all wish that our children will be happy when they grow up; our son suddenly seemed very grown-up and, in marrying a wonderful woman, he was taking a huge step toward the type of happiness we have always wished for him. For almost twenty-eight years we have guided and encouraged him; we have been a good example of what happiness in marriage can be and we have hoped that he would find similar satisfaction in his own life. Yesterday, it felt like he took the baton from us, took his bride’s hand and, together, they set off on their part of life’s relay. Where their run will take them, we don’t know, but I do feel that we handed the baton off firmly and I think that it fits well in their hands. I can’t wait to watch them run with it!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Wedding Toasts

My husband and I travelled yesterday to attend my nephew’s wedding. The bride and groom are both 40-ish+, second marriages for both. I hadn’t yet met my nephew’s fiancé, but on the car ride here I found myself thinking about both of them and what their life together would be like. My nephew is dear to me. I was only eight years old when he was born and he lived with us quite a bit of the time when he was growing up so, in many ways, he was more like a little brother to me than a nephew. I so want him to be happy! As we drove, I thought about what I’d say if there was a time allotted for toasts and I came up with two versions of what I’d like to say to them.

First, I thought of my husband and myself (we’ve been married 32 years) and I thought of what roles we play within our marriage that help to keep our relationship strong. My toast: In marriage, may you be each other’s friend, lover, confidant and supporter and may those roles grow and become richer with each passing year.

Then, I again referred to our own marriage, trying to pinpoint a specific action that helps keep us close. My toast (partly a story): On our wedding day, our photos were taken by an old, eccentric photographer. We ended up with beautiful scenic shots that showcase not only us, but also the beautiful day of our wedding on the Washington coast. Our photographer suggested that we have several enlargements made of some of the more scenic photos and that we put them up on our bedroom wall as a reminder of our joy on the day of our wedding. Those photos are still on our bedroom wall and, more than once, I have stomped into our room and slammed the door over one irritation or another only to find myself face-to-face with those photos. “Darn,” I say to myself, “I really want to be mad right now,” but when I see those photos I’m reminded of why I married my husband and whatever the irritation is, it seems to lose its importance. So, my wish for the two of you is that you will always remember the love and happiness you feel today and keep in mind the big picture of what your marriage is and what you want it to be, even as you encounter the irritations and angers that are inevitable when two individuals blend their lives together.

There was only one toast, given by the bride’s father, so I didn’t have to choose which of my toasts to use. Hopefully they read my blog.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

No Running Regrets

My oldest son and his fiancé are both runners. I love running with either or both of them. It’s a great time to share a healthy activity while also talking and enjoying each other’s company. I’ve always thought it would be great to also be able to run with my daughters. My oldest daughter is old enough to run with me and, while we’ve done a few three mile races together, she usually runs ahead rather than staying behind at my slower pace. Now, my middle daughter is old enough to run; as we drove to our vacation spot last week, she asked me if she could run with me – what a treat! We ran four days last week – twice for 3+ miles, once for 2+ miles and finally 5.7 miles. As we were running the morning of the longest run I told her that it had taken a lot to get me off the couch that day – a quiet morning with a book and my coffee…hard to pass up. However, I reminded myself of a quote I like that goes something like this: You will rarely regret going out for a run, but you will often regret skipping one. With that quote in mind, I got up off the couch, woke up my daughter and prepared for my run. As we were running, I told my daughter about having to repeat the quote to get myself off the couch; she started to laugh and admitted that she, too, had had to use that quote to get herself up out of bed when I woke her.

If I hadn’t gone for the run that morning, skipping the run itself would have been the least of what I’d have regretted missing.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

He She We

I’ve been reminded lately that it’s been weeks since I’ve written anything. I came home from Korea to learn of the impending divorce of a friend of mine – this makes five divorcing friends since the first of the year and, frankly, I’ve felt so saddened and conflicted that I haven’t felt able to write. I think I just need to write about this and get it off the top of my mind so that I can move on and write about other events and ideas that are also rambling around in my brain.

Five couples, five divorces in just seven months – not good news! I’ve realized that I look at a marriage as a combination of the “he”, “she” and “we”. There are two people – the “he” and “she”*, each of whom have their own separate identities and then there’s the couple – the “we”, that is, in many ways, an entity of its own. As I’ve learned about the divorces of the five couples, I’ve found that I grieve the loss of the “we”. Even though I may stay friends with one or both of the individuals, the “we” of the two together is no longer there. Even though this “we” is intangible, it feels like a tangible loss.

When we learn of the death of a person who is our age, it feels kind of creepy – “That could have been me.” Perhaps the news of so many divorces is upsetting in a similar way because I realize that, just as life is fragile – it can be taken away at any time by accident or illness, the “we” in a marriage is also fragile – it, too, can be lost, leaving just the “he” and the “she”*. I exercise, eat well, drive safely and look before I cross the street in order to minimize the chance of accident or illness in my life. Similarly, I think the way to process the news of so many divorces is to do what I can to bolster my own personal “we”, something I think I do well naturally; it’s just that right now I really feel the need to cuddle up, wrap us in a cocoon and do some serious “we” building.

*or the “he” and “he” or the “she” and “she”

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Meeting The Birth Parents

After almost seventeen years of wondering about them, we have met our oldest daughter’s birth family. When our daughter first found out that she would have the opportunity to meet them, the tears came steadily – tears of joy, tears of gratitude, and tears for their grief. I felt overwhelmed when I anticipated the privilege of being able to meet the people who gave my daughter life; the people who gave her life to me. I assumed that the actual meeting would be full of tears, grief and gratitude. When we prepared to leave for the Holt Children’s Services office in Seoul, I packed an extra package of tissue in my purse to make sure that we’d have enough to handle the onslaught of tears I anticipated. The initial meeting, my husband and I, our daughter and her birth parents, took us a bit by surprise and, while there were definitely a few tears and a few anguished cries of grief, they were short lived and the overwhelming feeling turned to joy as we exchanged gifts, looked at pictures and started putting together the pieces of our daughter’s birth story. In all we have met seventeen people in our daughter’s birth family – parents, siblings, a grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins. We are thrilled to finally have the chance to thank them for the wonderful gift of our daughter; to let them know how much she means to us and to let them see what a wonderful young woman she has become. They seemed to be celebrating the gift of having her back in their lives, of being able to explain the circumstances that led to her adoption, of seeing her loved and happy.

While the two meetings we have had were joyful and interesting, they were not the “fireworks” that I had expected. There were a few tears, but the smiles definitely outnumbered the tears. There was a little grief, but the happiness far outweighed the grief. I have struggled to define my feelings about the two meetings we have had with her birth family. I had expected extreme emotions, intense feelings, but the more accurate description would be the ho-hum of “normal”. It felt normal to meet these people; it felt normal to watch our daughter interact with her siblings; it felt normal to say, ”Thank you,” and to receive back a thank you from them. I talked with a friend about this lack of fireworks and she pointed out that, for us, we’d had our emotional moments when we first found out that the meeting was actually going to happen; then, the meeting itself, became the obvious “normal” next step.

It’s true that this is a huge event in our daughter’s life; it’s an event that affects our entire family in one way or another, but it was a normal next step for her and for us. It is certainly the beginning of a new chapter in her life, but how salient that chapter becomes in her overall life story is yet to be seen. I do know that I am thrilled that she is on the bus heading home with us.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Lesson(s) Learned

I’m sitting awake in the middle of the night in a town in central S. Korea. Tonight was supposed to have been our homestay night with a Korean family. Because of the size of our family it would have been two Korean families, actually; our family needed to split into two groups in order to be accommodated by the host families. The homestay is a part of this tour that I knew from the beginning I did not want to do. My husband and at least some of the kids echoed my feelings. For two months, since finding out about the homestay, my husband has been suggesting that I contact the group leader about alternative options. I did not make our concerns known, however, because I was really trying to go along with this “group trip” idea and I didn’t want to make problems for the group leaders. Well, as we made our way by bus to the city where we were to stay, my apprehensions grew and, eventually, popped. I lost my composure and “flapped” as my oldest son would say. My comfort level had been breached and I couldn’t move on. After talking with the tour leader I tried to say that we’d go ahead with the homestay, as planned, but he graciously offered us the option of a night in a nearby hotel.

I feel terrible about disappointing the two families that were to have hosted us. I am quite sure that they went to great trouble to prepare for our arrival. It’s especially ironic that this wasn’t comfortable for me since we love to host visitors in our home. However, I do not regret that we did not experience a Korean home; we will do that on a day visit with our oldest daughter’s birth family. What I learned, though (which my children had great fun pointing out to me), was that I should have followed my heart and spoken with the tour leader two months ago. Our plans could have been altered, the stress and apprehension could have been avoided and the two families would not have been inconvenienced. As my middle son said, “Mom, you always tell us that we should talk about what’s bothering us. You tell us that we can’t be helped with our problems if we don’t tell anybody that something is wrong.” Well, that’s just what I had done. I had not informed the people in charge about our level of discomfort with the plan and then the issue came to a head too late to remedy the situation without undue harm.

As I’ve sat awake tonight (I haven’t slept through the night since we arrived) thinking about what my son said, I realized that, in addition to needing to vocalize my concerns, I’ve also learned another lesson. Sitting here in the dark I realized that, in anticipation of this trip, I did not plan for my own care. I’ve been so concerned about helping my children through this trip back to their birth country and helping my oldest daughter navigate the experience of meeting her birth family, that I didn’t think about the toll that caring for others was likely to put on me. We’ve traveled a lot with our large family and I’m used to counting heads and herding children across streets and through crowds, but I’m not used to adding in the intense emotions that this type of trip was sure to have on my children and how those emotions also effect me. I’ve had in my mind that this trip is all about the adoptees on the trip, but the reality is, the adoptees are all part of families and we are all affected by the discoveries and, in some cases, the reunions the adoptees in our families are experiencing.

So, I should have talked to the group leader; I should have “used my words” as my husband pointed out and I should have acknowledged that this trip would be an emotional roller coaster ride for me as well as my children. Lesson...no, Lessons learned! (I hope.)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Parenting: Sometimes It Even Makes You Proud

For the second time in just over a year we are in a foreign country with all but the oldest of our children. Last year it was Europe, this year it is South Korea and for at least the second time in over a year I am immensely proud of our children. Let me assure you, they are not perfect; however, they do understand the importance of appropriate behavior, respect and open-mindedness. I have been amazed watching them engage in the culture of this country; watching them alter their behavior to fit the situation; watching them show interest in and respect for the customs and history of this proud land; watching them dive in with relish at new foods brought to the table, knowing that it is perfectly okay to say, “I don’t care for this,” once they have given the food a fair taste (though it rarely happens that they don’t like something once they’ve tasted it). Last night my husband and I sat back at dinner watching our kids as they talked with others in the group and with Korean photographers and tour guides; as they sat appropriately and enjoyed a 21 course meal; as they clapped at the end of formal welcomes, compliments and good-byes. Both of us were pleased with our kids – with who they are, with their interest, their exuberance, their willingness to listen and learn. Yes, sometimes (quite often, really), parenting can even make you proud.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Connections

It’s 5:00 a.m. and I’m watching the light begin to rise across the city of Seoul, S. Korea on the second day of a tour designed to reintroduce our children to their homeland. This is my sixth trip to this country and, while I would not presume to consider myself Korean, I definitely feel a sense of homecoming and familiarity when I arrive, when I walk among the crowds of people and when I open the curtains in the morning and look out upon the city.

I love my hometown of Portland, Oregon, USA and I’ve always felt a pull toward, and a connection with, Mt. Hood, the 11,000 foot mountain which towers over the city on its east side. In Disney’s movie Pocahontas there is a song called Colors of the Wind that is about connectedness with nature; whenever I hear that song, I think of how I feel about Mt. Hood. When our family visited Arizona several years ago, I was surprised to find the same sort of pull, the same sort of connectedness with the saguaro cactus that grows throughout the state. I now sit in the middle of the city of Seoul and, in a similar way, I feel a connection. It’s not a connection to a particular object like a mountain or a type of cactus; it’s a connection to this entire country, to the people, their customs, and their history. It’s true, I have an actual connection through the four children born here that are an integral part of my family, but in many ways, the connection I feel is personal; it does not run through my children. I think that if I were to have visited here, to have learned about this country before becoming the mother of children born here, I would still feel some sort of pull, some sort of familiar connection. While my heart bubbles over with warmth and satisfaction at being here, I wonder how many other places and objects there are that might illicit the same feelings in me. I hope to keep my heart and eyes open and my mind active with learning so that I might discover again this satisfying feeling of being connected to a place or an object that is not part of me. But for today, I will go out and relish the sights, the sounds, the smells and the wonder of this place that feels like home but which so obviously isn’t. I hope that my children will find this same connection.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Motherhood is a Miracle -- No Matter How it Comes to You

A couple of years ago I saw a plaque in a store that read, “Motherhood is a miracle – no matter how it comes to you.” That touched a note with me since motherhood has come to me in more than one way. My husband and I have children that were born to us, children that were adopted by us and a child that just sort of melded into our family – that I am a mother to each of them is, truly, a miracle. When we welcomed our birth children into our lives, there was the miracle of creating a new life; when our adopted children arrived, there was the miracle that we had been chosen and entrusted with the blessing of raising these children. As the mother of adopted children, I’ve always been aware that they have another family: their birth family. Even though we don’t have information about these other families, they are there, in the background of our lives. Over the years I have dreamed of meeting our children’s birth mothers; of being able to perhaps offer them some peace with their decision to place their child for adoption. I’ve wanted to let them know that their children are treasured, they are loved and they are growing up to be wonderful young people. Now, with our upcoming trip to South Korea, we will have the opportunity to meet our oldest daughter’s birth family and my emotions have been running on “high” ever since we received this news two weeks ago.

Now that we know more information about our daughter’s birth family, I am even more humbled and grateful that she became a part of our lives. I’ve been running through my mind the “what ifs”. What if she had not been born prematurely; what if her birth family had not made an adoption plan for her; what if, what if, what if. She is so much a part of my heart now that I cannot even imagine what life would have been like without her. A set of circumstances, fortuitous for us, led her to us and, while I have no doubt that those circumstances were devastating for her birth family, I am forever grateful that she ended up here.

My husband and I firmly believe that it is our duty to help each of our children with this type of search if that is what their hearts desire. While the reality of this upcoming meeting has left me with reeling emotions far beyond what I’d expected, my husband, my daughter and I chose this path and none of us regret it. While our entire family will be affected by this meeting, I know that this is truly my daughter’s “event” and that it is monumental for her. My husband and I will be beside her to help her, support her and love her. We hope she will take advantage of that and lean on us even as she stands up proudly to welcome her birth family into her life. Yes, motherhood is a miracle – no matter how it comes to you or how it comes back to you.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

51! How did that happen?

When I think about the “perfect age” my go-to year is 36. Not because that year was particularly memorable for me, but because it just seems like a good time of life. By 36 I had weathered the deaths of my parents; I felt strong in my relationship with my husband, confident in my parenting, past some of the insecurities and unknown that are the 20’s, yet my body was still youthful, my face unlined and my hair more or less its natural color.

This morning I was awakened at 7:00 by a text message from my twelve-year-old son wishing me, “Happy Birthday!” Today I’m 51, not 36; how did that happen? I started thinking about what has happened in the years since I was 36. What has happened to put me at 51? In the last fifteen years we have welcomed at least three more children into our family (I’ve lost count…); I quit a career I loved (trust banking) and found a cause I’m passionate about (adoption); I learned to make exercise a part of my daily life; I realized that my strong relationship with my husband is a never-ending source of comfort and growth; I’ve learned to cherish the friends from my 20’s while finding my first grown-up group of “girlfriends”; I’ve cooked a thousand meals (more or less) and realized that cooking for less than six people seems a waste of time, driven back-and-forth hundreds of times to soccer fields, baseball fields, basketball courts and dance studios and, perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned that the years are going to go by regardless of what I do, how well I eat or how much I exercise, so I’ve tried to enjoy each year, I’ve tried to relish each change and I’ve tried to remember to be grateful for the blessings of this crazy life I live and love.

Post-Script – After the “alarm clock” of the text message went off this morning, my husband told me that the kids wanted to make me breakfast. I groaned a bit because I knew they wouldn’t want to get up for at least another hour and my body was telling me it needed to eat something sooner than that. So, being a good mom, I decided to wait for my child-made breakfast and just have a small bite to hold me over. But what to have? I had been up in the middle of the night (does any 51 year old woman sleep through the night?) and had needed something then, so I had eaten half a banana and had tossed the rest, in its peel, into the garbage. This morning, being the “mom” that I am, I retrieved my tossed half of a banana, peel still intact, from the garbage can and ate it to hold me over so my children could sleep-in and then get up and “surprise” me with breakfast – like I said, this crazy life I live…

Post, post-script - I wonder if garbage digging is a new trend for my plus-50 years?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Parenting: Sometimes It Even Makes You Smile

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Parenting isn’t for wimps! In a family the size of ours, there’s always something going on with the kids – some good, some bad. There are some days when I wonder if the work is all worthwhile; I had one of those days recently. I won’t go into the specifics, but let’s just say that some of my little angels were being something less than angelic. I fretted, I talked, I reasoned; it was tough – and I’m not a wimp. Finally, with events settling down, I went to bed exhausted. I awoke in the morning to a funny story from one of our older kids about his escapades the previous night. Nothing illegal or bad had happened, just funny circumstances. Then I saw the face of another child who had been out to the first concert sans parents and I reflected on the amusing fact that I was relieved that this child had become lost only four times in route. As I deal with children, teenagers and young adults, I’m constantly torn between the parenting stressors of monitoring, disciplining and training and the parenting joys of seeing the possibilities in each child’s heart and head and loving each one for who she or he is. It’s true, parenting isn’t for wimps; there are days, weeks, sometimes months or years that are tough, but there are also sweet moments and funny stories; sometimes, even when we don’t expect it, perhaps when we need it most, being a parent can even make us smile.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Celebrate Today!

Disneyland is currently promoting the theme: Celebrate Today! As soon as we walked into Disneyland in March, the theme caught my eye and my thoughts. There are two ways of looking at this theme: it could mean Celebrate Today, i.e. celebrate this day, just because it is today; or, it could mean Celebrate Today, i.e. today you should celebrate something.

Recently we were blessed with a visit from Brian’s aunt who lives in Australia. She had three weeks to travel across the country to visit friends and family she has not seen in years. She told me that, before she left, she charged herself with the responsibility to be totally present to whoever was in front of her. I believe that throughout her visit, she Celebrated Today – she was cognizant of each and every day, aware of each and every person with whom she came in contact.

I’m sometimes accused of being a goody-two-shoes or a Pollyanna; I have a bit of a positive outlook on life. In the context of the Disneyland theme, I think that’s because I always try to Celebrate Today. It doesn’t always work and I do have my “down” days, but I try to be upbeat, to find the good in the day.

Whichever way you want to look at it – Celebrate Today!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Listing Life

During the past month several people asked me why I was no longer writing in my blog (I went from March 31st to April 22nd without an entry). The truth is, I wasn’t writing because I was working on being more organized and productive, yet, somehow, being productive did not include producing anything written.

Once the trauma and “must do’s” surrounding my mother-in-law’s death had settled down, I decided that it was time to get back into a more normal routine. I also needed to catch up on several projects; I know myself and I know that the best way for me to stay focused is to make a list of what needs to be done. So, early this month I started making a daily To Do list for myself. I was thrilled with the results: tasks were getting done, I wasn’t wasting time, I felt a sense of accomplishment throughout the day every time I was able to cross off an item. The problem was, my life of lists was listing – I had not been including time for fun, creative “tasks” (like writing this blog). I found myself feeling a sense of accomplishment over all the tasks I was getting done, but empty from the lack of enrichment. So, to borrow a phrase I’ve heard, I put myself back on my To Do list and do you know what happened? Not only did I write a blog earlier this week, but my mental attitude improved in all areas – I exercised more, I ate better, I felt more settled and happy. When my To Do list includes activities I enjoy, my life no longer lists; it comes back into balance.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

P.S. I Love You

Last year, on our anniversary, my husband and I watched the movie, P.S. I Love You. I didn’t know anything about the movie beforehand and, had I known about it, I’m not sure I would have watched it. I sobbed throughout the movie; not just a little tear here and there, but full-blown sobbing. I had never cried so much during a movie. The movie haunted me for days, but, eventually, I realized that I had really enjoyed it and I was left with a very positive feeling about the movie. Since then I’ve watched it several more times, never again sobbing as I had with the first viewing. Recently, we watched P.S. I Love You with a friend who does not like sad movies. Now, let me assure you that I, too, do not like sad movies! Marley and Me? Never! As I expected, this friend cried throughout the movie, though not quite as badly as I had a year ago. Afterwards she asked me how I could possibly like that movie; she thought, perhaps, I’d become numbed to the sadness. I’ve thought a lot about the reactions this movie elicits and why my own feelings about it changed from haunting to positive.

This movie is definitely a love story and the chemistry between the two main characters (played by Gerard Butler and Hilary Swank) is electrifying, but it’s also very, very sad (it won’t ruin the movie for you to know that Gerard Butler’s character dies fairly soon after the movie starts). While there is great sadness, there is also great love. When I first watched the movie, all I could think of was how devastating such a loss must be; how horrible to lose your soul mate. Remember, we were watching this on our anniversary – it was tough! But later, what I realized is that, although Hilary Swank’s character goes through some really, really hard times, her life does go on; she does forge ahead to do those things she was meant to do. So, I guess the reason that I now see the movie as being positive is because it offers reassurance that great love is okay; that even if tragedy strikes, it is still okay to have loved thoroughly. This movie gives my heart permission to love.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Starting My Day with Dumbo


Last week my husband and I took our family to Disneyland for a four-day vacation. As is our routine, we were up early every morning, aiming to get to the gate 30 to 45 minutes before opening. We have found that the first two hours are the best for getting on rides without waiting in long lines. As is also our tradition, we parted ways at the Walt and Mickey statue at the end of Main Street (after saying, “Good morning,” to Walt and Mickey, of course); my husband and all but our youngest child headed to Space Mountain while I and our youngest walked through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle on our way to FantasyLand to ride Dumbo.

I don’t remember with what child this tradition started, but somewhere back many years ago, I started taking the youngest child or children to ride Dumbo while my husband took the older kids to ride Space Mountain. As the years have gone by, the youngest child has changed and those that used to be youngest have moved up to the Space Mountain group. Our youngest child now knows she’s the youngest and, while she isn’t a fan of riding Space Mountain anyway, she has long made the pledge that she will always ride Dumbo with me first thing in the morning. In fact, just before this trip she wrote me a note expressing her joy at the upcoming vacation and said, “I will always ride Dumbo with you in the morning. Even when you die I will ride Dumbo in the morning.”

I have no interest in riding Space Mountain, but it’s not like riding Dumbo was ever tops on my list; it was just a good “little kid’s” ride that gets too busy later in the day so it’s a natural choice for an early-morning ride. However, somewhere along the way, the kids have come to believe that riding Dumbo in the morning is my favorite choice. This past trip, as my daughter and I got on Dumbo the first morning (we were the first, and only, riders three of the four days we were there – the fourth day it was raining and wet Dumbo seats didn’t appeal to either of us), I felt joyfully giddy about sharing this ride with my daughter; about starting my day with Dumbo. As the ride started to go around and we rose in the air, I leaned my head back, let the wind blow through my hair, took a deep breath and thought that this was, truly, the best way to start my day – in FantasyLand, riding a flying elephant with a child I love.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Old Lady Chairs


We have a little nook area off our kitchen that we call the Sun Room. Most recently it has been the home of a tall pub table with two stools and an overstuffed chair and ottoman. The initial idea was that it was supposed to look like a little French bistro, but the effect never quite happened and I always hated the overstuffed chair. So, several weeks ago, while sitting up late one night on my computer, I came across a set of chairs that I instantly fell in love with. I loved the style. I loved the fabric. I was ready for a change, so I ordered them as well as a matching ottoman. My kids were immediately appalled and dubbed them, “Old Lady Chairs”. I’m not an old lady, so I don’t see how my chairs can be Old Lady Chairs – I think they’d more appropriately be called Vibrant, Glad-to-be-my-Age Lady Chairs. Whatever they’re called, I don’t really care. I’m writing this from the comfort of my Old Lady Chair and I love it. The point is, when I walk into the kitchen and glance over at the nook, a sweet feeling goes through me and I smile. Pleasing to my eyes, comfortable to my body and smile-provoking – hard to ask more than that of a chair!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Taking Care of Me

Last April I wrote about having “because that’s what we do” as a family motto. Bringing my mother-in-law home to take care of her was because of that motto; it just didn’t seem as if there were any other options – that’s just what we do. We cared for her for only six weeks before she died and, while there were precious moments and wonderful memories we will treasure, there was also the stress of caring for someone around the clock, the stress of changed schedules, the stress of dealing with the frustrations of dementia. But we did it because that’s what we do; we get the job done. I was definitely tired during those six weeks and I felt a twinge in my back now and then from helping to lift my mother-in-law, but none of it was unbearable. Then, a few days after she passed away, I was in the car with my husband and I took a deep breath and exhaled – and I felt the stress leaving my body! For as long as I can remember I’ve been able to take a deep breath, exhale and feel a tingling sensation in my fingertips and toes. I’ve always believed that the tingling was stress exiting my body. That day in the car, I realized that it had been weeks since I’d felt that tingling sensation. At about the same time, the twinges in my back turned into a full-blown back ache. I realized that my body had been holding in the stress, holding back the pain – my body had been getting the job done and, now, that the job was over, my body could relax, start to expel the stress and let me know that I needed to deal with my back. “Because that’s what we do” and “Because we get the job done” are words that ring in my brain, yet my body, without my conscious knowledge, took on those thoughts and helped me get through a tough time. Now it’s time for me to take care of my body.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Life Does Go On

Last March I wrote a blog titled, “Death and the Cosmic News Flash That Doesn’t Occur” which was about having someone die and not intuiting it. This week I experienced a sensation that was somewhat the opposite – having someone die and realizing that other people didn't realize what has just happened in my life.

My mother-in-law, who we’ve been caring for in our home, died suddenly and quickly Tuesday morning. Even though she’d been ill for a few months and even though she had plenty of medical issues, we hadn’t thought her death was imminent, so it was surprising and a little shocking when she collapsed and died within a few minutes Tuesday morning. Our younger children had already left for school so we decided to let them finish out the day before breaking the news, but our oldest daughter was still home so she was very aware of what had happened.

After the necessary arrangements had been made, my daughter and I both felt the need to get out of the house, so we headed out for a drive. We ended up over in Portland where we picked up my oldest son and went out to lunch. The three of us sat at lunch, in grief and shock, and talked about what had happened that morning. Inside, we were still churning emotionally, but to the outside world we were just three people having lunch together. As we grieved verbally, holding back the tears, I looked around the restaurant and realized that we were in our own little bubble of emotion; nobody else in that restaurant had any idea of the trauma we’d been through that morning. Just as I felt that I should have somehow known when someone close to me had died, in that restaurant I felt that people around us should have somehow known what we were going through. There was no way for them to know, of course, but it seemed so eerie to be walking around, full of grief, amongst the world of the non-grieving. As I watched the people around me as they laughed and talked, it hit me that this moment was, in some ways, a gift; a reminder that life does go on. A loved one is gone, our hearts hurt, but the world around us continues to function and, eventually, we will function again, too.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hitting the Wall

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been caring for my mother-in-law and I’ve tried to look at the positive aspects of that responsibility by focusing on the quiet times and the balance they offer as well as looking at the challenges as a way to improve myself and increase my patience – yeah, yeah, yeah! It’s fine to look at the positive side, to try to raise my mood by focusing on the good instead of dwelling on the bad, but the reality is that this is an exhausting, frustrating time in my life and last week I hit the wall. I was still performing the chores necessary to care for my mother-in-law, but it was routine, more like a professional than a daughter-in-law. My mother-in-law’s dementia has taken away much of her mental functioning, but even she noticed the difference. At one point she said to me, “You’re not being very loving.” Whoa, hearing that made me feel really bad. I didn’t mean to be unloving. I didn’t mean to go about caring for her as if I was a heartless robot just going through the motions of doing what needed to be done. I realized then that I had, in fact, run into an emotional wall. I spent some time grieving to friends and complaining to my husband. Then I took a deep breath and picked myself up from the spot on the ground where I’d landed, took a few steps back and charged back into, and through, that wall. Even though I still feel exhausted, I feel like I came out on the other side refreshed and with a renewed sense of purpose. And isn’t that what we all do throughout our lives, in varying degrees of seriousness? We run into walls; we fail, plans are changed, roadblocks come our way, but we pick ourselves up and move on. Here’s to crashing through walls!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Beyond! Beyond What?

My husband held up his Men’s Health magazine and pointed out the title of an article, “How to look your best in your 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond”. Beyond! At 50, 51 for my husband, we apparently no longer warrant a decade distinction, we are simply “beyond”, but beyond what? Obviously we are beyond our 20s, 30s and 40s, but perhaps we are also beyond some of the worries of those decades. Perhaps we have found careers that are meaningful. Perhaps we have dispensed with petty disagreements with family and friends. Perhaps we have learned that relationships are the cornerstone of our joy. Perhaps we have realized that there is always so much more to learn, to see, to enjoy. Perhaps we now know that beyond is not really beyond, old is not really old, until you make it so. I like to think that “beyond” can mean some things are behind us, but ahead there’s still so much opportunity. I think that’s what Buzz Lightyear meant when he said, “To infinity and beyond!” I’ll make that my rallying cry!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Coo Coo Ca Choo

A few weeks ago, two entries ago, I wrote about the strange peacefulness I was feeling as I began the journey of caring for my mother-in-law. The feeling of peace, of being centered has continued and, given the circumstances of my daily life right now, I’m a little surprised by that. My mother-in-law requires round-the-clock care; she cannot be left alone. Therefore, most of my time for the last three weeks has been spent at home. I do have a relief person who has been coming in two afternoons a week so that I have time to run errands and I’ve made a couple of trips to the grocery store when I have someone else available to cover for me here, but mostly I’ve just been home. Normally I’m used to running around doing errands and transporting kids; it’s a bit strange to be scheduling all of those tasks into two afternoons a week. And, while I find the slower pace nice, I’ve also had my share of cabin fever. However, the peacefulness pervades.

Our Christmas cards this year had a Beatles’ theme because the picture we used on the front was of us crossing Abbey Road a la the album cover. One of the lines inside the card was coo coo ca choo from the song I Am the Walrus. I looked up the meaning of the phrase before using it and, according to the Urban Dictionary, it is: A term used often in the hippie era of the '60s, implying that everything is fine, or that there is no need to worry about anything. While I doubt I’ll ever manage to “not worry about anything,” I do think that my current sense of peacefulness is based on my feeling that I’m doing what I need to be doing right now. Even though caring for someone in this manner is tiring and emotionally draining, it’s what I need to do right now and there’s no sense worrying about the change in our lifestyle or what else I might have been doing. Everything is fine – coo coo ca choo!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Inspiration

I’ve been inspired this past month by a couple of friends who are making efforts to redefine themselves. One has adopted serious lifestyle changes in the areas of food and exercise, the other is trying to figure out the dynamics of having and keeping friends. Me, I’m working on practicing being patient as I care for my mother-in-law and deal with her dementia.

Certainly there are some traits we are born with and many that we learn from our environment as we grow up, but I think it’s exciting to realize that we are all capable of making changes in ourselves as we age or continue to “grow-up”. That ability to change, to redefine or refine ourselves is what keeps our lives exciting and is what helps us continue to grow as human beings.

My friend who has made the healthy lifestyle changes thinks it’s funny that I find her inspiring since she’s gone a number of years not worrying about her health. I think she’s inspiring for just that reason – she is a reminder to us all that it is never too late to change. That we can all pick out parts of ourselves that we’re not happy with or wish were different and we can make the effort to change, to be better, to realize our true potential.

For those of you who thought you knew me, let me introduce you to the new me -- just call me Debbie, the Patient One.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Unexpected Sandwich Generation

As with many other people my age, I’ve recently gone from being a member of the glorious, perhaps infamous, Baby Boom Generation to being a member of the Sandwich Generation. I spent some time in this generation 15 years ago when my mother was terminally ill and I’m back in it again with my mother-in-law. We still have four children living at home and now we also have my mother-in-law living with us. I have spent the morning sitting by her bedside – talking with her, reading to her and listening to a CD of her own mother’s piano music. It’s been a tough morning, but just as we revel in the opportunity to care for our children, I am also finding the act of sitting here, caring for my mother-in-law, to be an opportunity to be relished. Being sandwiched between generations is, for sure, a tough ordeal, but the chance to help my husband’s mother, who has always been a wonderful mother-in-law, brings me, in some strange way, an unusual sense of peace and joy. It is an unexpectedly sweet sandwich.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Something New -- Las Vegas, Faux or Real?

A few years ago I gave my husband the book, 1000 Places to See Before You Die. The gift was not just the actual book, but the promise to travel with him to see many of the places. This year for Christmas my husband turned the table and gave me a four day trip to Las Vegas where we stayed at The Bellagio, one of the 1000 places. This was our first time in Las Vegas and we were both amazed by how unreal so much of the city seemed. There was the obvious – girls with fake this and fake that; the less obvious – a hotel hallway to our room that we later learned had taken us to a completely different building over a block away. There’s a fake New York and a fake Paris. We watched a highly touted water show, but it, too, seemed fake when compared to our experience of watching Old Faithful’s real geyser spewing up and meeting with a lightning bolt coming down. However, there has also been the real – breakfast “off the strip” at a place full of locals, the miracle of Hoover Dam, dinner conversations that belie our thirty-plus years together. On our last night in town we had dinner at a restaurant overlooking the faux lake in front of our hotel. We had what we considered to be the best table in Las Vegas – outside, next to the railing with the lights of the city as a backdrop to the lake. Every thirty minutes the water show, even though faux, would entertain us. When the accompanying music was the song, Proud to be an American, the tears running down my cheeks were real. It was a wonderful trip and, while I don’t think I need to visit Vegas again anytime soon, we did have a great time. I guess it doesn’t matter whether the surroundings are faux or real – what matters is that I know I am real.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Something New -- Tattoo!

I recently read about a local writer, Marc Acito, who did something new everyday for 365 days. It’s exhausting to think about how one would go about thinking up something new to do everyday, but I like the idea of continually trying new activities, of keeping my mind open to new ideas. After his 365 days were over, Marc said he’d go on trying new things, but not on a daily basis – perhaps weekly. For me, I think even weekly might be too stressful, so I’m thinking that I’ll just try to keep this idea in the forefront of my mind; I’ll try to remember to try something new on a regular basis, but without a firm commitment to the timing.

Along this line, I did something new yesterday, though not as a result of this challenge. Yesterday, after years of thinking about it, I became a tattooed lady. A friend’s 20 year-old daughter and I went together, along with a cheering section, and we both got tattoos. I won’t tell you where hers is, that’s her business, but mine is on my lower back and the image is two small, intertwined hearts – the same image that we used on all of our correspondence for our 30th anniversary celebration a year-and-a-half ago.

I’ve wanted a tattoo for many years, but for a long time I couldn’t figure out what image I’d use. Should it be a rose (for Portland), Mickey Mouse ears, something to do with the University of Oregon? I just couldn’t decide. However, once we started using the intertwined hearts I knew that was what I wanted. Then there was the matter of the pain. I’d heard from several people that getting a tattoo is a painful experience. I’m not very interested in exposing myself to pain, so that hindrance was an obvious reason to delay. This past summer when my friend’s daughter started talking about getting a tattoo, I knew that going with her would be the best way to get this done. So, we decided to schedule the appointment for her winter break and Friday was the day. It was a bit painful, but my image is so small that the actual time to apply the tattoo was only about five or six minutes. I handled it fine, I accomplished something I’ve wanted to do and now I’m thinking about what “something new” I’ll do next.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year - Year Two

One year ago today I began writing this blog. This morning I re-read that first entry; I wanted to see where I was one year ago. Overall, I’m pleased with what I’ve done this past year and writing this blog has been a big part of how I feel about 2008. I have been told that topics I’ve written about have touched people’s hearts or have been inspirational. I have been told that friends feel they know me better from what I have written. I have found the act of writing to be soothing to me personally; thinking about what I will write has helped me to be more aware of what is happening around me. I’ve tried to keep my topics positive, as much as possible; this helps keep my own outlook positive. When I’ve found myself feeling down, writing has helped to turn my mood around. I had also hoped to find more time for myself this past year and writing this blog has helped me eek out a little more time for myself, though I must admit that it’s not really that much time and it will probably be years before I quit dreaming of more.

Last New Year’s Day I also wrote that I wanted to learn to play the drums. Well, I haven’t mastered the drums, but I did force myself to participate in the Ladies’ Rock Band weekend in October (see my October archive for more information). It was such an incredible experience that I’m dragging my future daughter-in-law along and going back for more this October. I was really nervous about that weekend so I feel more of a sense of accomplishment for having done it than for finally sitting down at the drums and picking up my sticks.

The other area where I was looking for improvement was in weight loss and control – well, I guess nobody’s perfect. I gained instead of lost. Exercise is, and always will be, part of my daily life, but weight loss doesn’t just happen from working out. I figured out late in the year that stress and medication were affecting my metabolism, so I’m back on the weight loss bandwagon.

Overall, though, I’m really very happy with how this transitional year turned out. I approached fifty with gusto and excitement. My birthday was a wonderful day full of friendship and love. I feel good when I tell people I’m fifty (and even better if they act shocked). I have plans for this coming year that I know will be fun, help me grow and bring me joy. I know that there will be days of stress and frustration, but that’s okay. Whether my day is full of joy or overcast with stress, I have a wonderful support system in my husband, family and friends and I can always sit down here and organize my thoughts in my blog.