Monday, December 20, 2010


I’ve been having trouble finding the Christmas spirit this year. I struggled a bit last year, but nothing like this. It’s been a tough year and it hasn’t left me with much in the way of magic feelings. I’ve pined away the days leading up to Christmas, feeling like the Grinch and lamenting my lack of internal joy. I’ve watched Christmas movies and cried, not because the content made me feel sentimental, but because I “used to” feel the joyful, nostalgic feelings expressed in the movies and this year I don’t. Well, at least I didn’t up until late last week. Late last week I had an appointment for a massage and I was whining to my massage therapist (there’s a reason they’re called therapists) about my lack of Christmas spirit when Nicole said to me, “Well, Debbie, I think the first thing you need to do is practice a little acceptance.” Acceptance? What the heck did that mean? She went on to say that perhaps I needed to just accept that the Christmas spirit thing just wasn’t happening for me this year. Just accept it; quit fighting it.

Immediately after my massage I went for my 52-minute walk (a minute a year) and I thought about what she’d said. I realized that I had, in fact, been enjoying the holiday activities happening outside of me – enjoying each as they were happening. However, leading up to each activity I stressed about my lack of holiday joy and following each activity I stressed about my lack of holiday joy. So, the majority of my time was spent worrying about this internal lack instead of appreciating those things that were going on around me. As I walked along the waterfront trail on an unusually cold, sunny day, I decided that I would focus on enjoying that which was happening around me and just accept that, internally, something was lacking. I enjoyed the sunshine and the crisp December air; I enjoyed the squirrel that ran across the path in front of me; I enjoyed waving to the engineer of the freight train that went by parallel to the trail. I thought about each of the holiday activities I had participated in this month and each that was to come and I enjoyed the thought of each of them. And do you know what happened? As I focused on enjoying and feeling grateful for the people and events external to me, I uncovered the joy inside of me. By the end of my walk I felt that my attitude had made a 180-degree turn. I’d gone from feeling like the Grinch to realizing that it is a wonderful life.

Monday, December 13, 2010


Humans have been passing down stories for as long as we have roamed the earth. However, during the past few decades, as life has sped up, we’ve found that we often don’t have the time to share stories. Older generations usually don’t live with younger generations and there isn’t time for talking around the dinner table or on the front porch. Several projects have been started to encourage people to document the stories of their elders. Starbucks even has stories as its theme this holiday season: Stories are Gifts – Share. For Christmas several years ago I gave my uncle a tape recorder and blank tapes, asking that he use them to tell me the stories of his and my father’s youth. They had a harrowing story of leaving their hometown in their teens to return to Finland, their parents’ birthplace, and finding themselves, instead, in Russia, starving and cold, with no money. They eventually returned to the U.S. without their mother, who had not yet become a citizen. I’d heard bits and pieces of the story as I grew up, but I really wanted to hear from him the entire story, with more details. When my uncle died, I found the tape recorder and tapes – untouched.

Stories are part of the root system we pass on to our children. I’ve always understood that the stories I was told as a child helped me to know who I am, but I’ve always looked at the storyteller as being the elder, the one with the experiences. Last week, as my daughter-in-law and I were discussing the Christmas tree she and my son had picked out. My daughter-in-law said, “Debbie, I would like it if sometime you’d come over and explain to me all about Jarrod’s ornaments because he doesn’t know their stories.” Each of my children has their own Christmas tree as they grow up and ornaments are added each year. When my oldest son married, we no longer put up his small tree and, instead, passed his collection of ornaments on to him and his wife. I was thrilled that my daughter-in-law wants to know the stories behind the ornaments, but this was definitely an OMG moment. Like it or not, feel like it or not, I am the elder! I am the keeper of the stories.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Just Call Me Old-Fashioned

On our drive back from the last Oregon home football game, we were desperately looking for someplace to get a quick, late dinner. We had hoped to find a Burgerville, since that is our fast food stop of choice, but the Albany Burgerville was packed and we couldn’t find the Salem Burgerville. Finally, we decided to just pull into McDonald’s. Once inside, we found a line of two people waiting to order and two people waiting for food – not bad. However, the place was dirty. Napkins were strewn around the floor, tables were left unbussed and garbage was flowing out of the containers. The woman behind the counter was busy putting together orders and did not acknowledge the people waiting in line to order. When she finally handed out food and then went on to take orders, she never made eye contact, never apologized for the wait, never even smiled. She obviously felt overworked and it was clear that each new order was just seen by her as additional work she would have to do.

After a lengthy wait for our food, I realized that she was finally assembling our order, but it was on a tray, not in a to-go bag. I went up to the counter and said, “If that’s our order, we’d like it to go.” Her snarly reply: “Well, you didn’t say you wanted it to go,” to which I replied, “You never asked.” (That’s supposed to be the first or last thing they ask when taking an order). At that point, I could no longer contain my disgust with her attitude and suggested that it wouldn’t hurt for her to trying being polite. She then went on a tirade about being busy; doing the best she can, blah, blah, blah.

While I’m sure this McDonald’s, just off the freeway halfway between Portland and Eugene, had, in fact, been busy throughout the post-game period, it was no longer all that busy and I counted at least five people working in the restaurant (all of whom had the same sneer as our counter attendant) and none of whom seemed to be making any attempt to be pleasant or to clean up the dirty floors, tables and garbage cans. On the way out of the restaurant, one of my sons said to me that I shouldn’t have said anything to her because she’s in a dead-end job, being paid minimum wage and can’t be expected to be nice under those circumstances. When I responded that I’d had similar types of jobs in my youth, he said, “Yes, but that was thirty-some years ago.” Really? Has it become old-fashioned to do a good job? To be polite and welcoming as an employee at a public establishment?

My parents taught me to always do my best, regardless of the situation. Have a class you don’t like? Get through it and do your best. Teacher’s unreasonable? Do your best. Job boring? Do your best. The summer I turned fifteen I found a job at a small café in the coastal tourist town where I spent my high school years. It wasn’t a popular place and didn’t have much curb appeal, so business was often slow. I had to be at work by 3:30 a.m. all summer and, often, there would be only a dozen customers throughout the day (except for weekends when we sometimes had people standing in line because of the tourist business). I hated the job. I was bored most of the time, the hours were terrible and, because of the light level of business, the tips weren’t great. I remember complaining to my dad about it, but he just said the usual: Do your best. He suggested that I find things to do when I was bored: sweep the floor, clean the shelves below the counters, polish the pie displays. I took his advice and made it through that summer and the next year, when I applied to the manager of the local “hip” drive-in, I had a great reference from the café’s owner. Later, when I worked at as a teller at US Bank, busy days were my favorite. Sure, it was hectic and exhausting, but it became a game to see how many people I could serve and, of course, I did it with a smile because I had to “do my best”. I went on to a management-training program within the bank and was a Vice-President when I “retired”. I have to believe that “doing my best” had something to do with my career success.

If it’s true that it’s now old-fashioned to do one’s best, regardless of the circumstances, how do people ever expect to advance? To ever have opportunities? To ever feel self-satisfaction? If this is the current state, just call me old-fashioned.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

When Does an Anomaly Become the Norm?

A year ago I wrote a blog titled Fake It ‘Til You Feel It about trying to put joy back into my life. Well, a year has gone by and I’m still trying. This year has been an emotional roller coaster ride with a lot of downhills. Now, as we enter the holiday season, I’m reminded anew that I’m still not feeling the joy and awe that I would normally say is a part of my persona.

As I’ve sat thinking about this lack of joy this morning I’ve realized something. Lately I’ve been busy – busy, busy, busy! Laundry, housecleaning, shopping, cooking, volunteer duties, bookkeeping – busy, busy, busy! I’d even considered writing a blog about going through life being busy, getting things done and how good that feels. This morning I realized that I’ve kept myself busy, busy, busy because it’s easier to be busy than to open the door of my soul to check on what’s going on inside. When I opened that door I found that I’m no farther along the path to joy than I was a year ago and I’m worried – when does an anomaly become the norm?

Yesterday, while my husband and I were out for a walk, an old man came toward us on the path. As he approached, he tipped his hat and, with a huge smile, said, “Good morning! Have a wonderful day now!” I said to my husband that there was an example of how I used to be and how I want to be again. My husband responded that the old man had probably not always felt that way; he’d probably had down times, too.

I’m not willing to accept this “down time” as my norm. I wish I could put the busy, busy, busy behind me and just go sit on a mountain top for a few days to figure out where I’ve misplaced my joy. That’s not entirely possible, but a few hours of quiet this morning to think and reflect have done wonders. I will continue to consider this current frame of mind an anomaly, not my norm; I will open the door to my soul and clean out the cobwebs; I will go out, smile and tip my hat; I will fake it ‘til I feel it – and I will feel it!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Homecoming -- More on Perspective

A friend posted on Facebook yesterday that her son (who is in the military) and his wife will be arriving home today for a week’s stay. When reading her post, I could sense my friend’s excitement at the anticipation of this upcoming visit. This post came on the heels of my oldest daughter’s arrival home from college the day before for a six-day visit, so I completely understand the joy of having an adult child return home.

We have three children who no longer live at home and one more that is only home on a temporary basis. Should the need arise, any of them would, of course, be welcomed back home, but I understand that they need to grow up, move on and live their own lives. However, I also know that I love to have any of them come for a visit; it doesn’t matter whether it’s a six-day visit from out-of-town or just a visit for dinner (or free lunch food) from across the river – my “mommy feathers” plump up at the news that a visit is upcoming.

As I’ve acknowledged this feeling of joy at having a grown-up child return home I’ve thought back to my own childhood home and the feelings I had in going back as a young adult with the knowledge I now have of how my mom must have felt whenever I’d return home. I always loved going home for a visit and I loved having my mom take care of me, even though sometimes I felt smothered by her care or obstinate in my belief that my way of living – in many ways different from hers – was the really true “right way”. I know now that I probably hurt my mom’s feelings a time or two either by not being as gracious as I could have been about her desire to see me or by changing my plans last minute so that a planned visit either didn’t occur or was cut short.

This understanding of the two perspectives: going home as my young-adult-self and anticipating my children coming home as my adult-mom-self, is a new realization for me and I have to admit that it leaves me feeling a bit vulnerable. I realize that I’m vulnerable to the possibility of hurt and disappointment should an adult child decide not to visit home but I remember that I might have done the same thing so, hopefully, I can just growl to myself and move on (something I’m really not very good at). However, on the flip side, I can now fully appreciate my own great joy and satisfaction in having an adult child walk through the front door.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


I had foot surgery six months ago and I realized recently that I feel pretty good. Looking back, I find myself thinking that it’s great that in just six months I’m back to regular workouts (no running yet, but lots of walking), my foot feels okay most of the time and I can even wear some, not all, but some cute shoes. But then I remember how devastating I felt after the surgery and for the first several months. During that time I worried that I would never again feel good, that I’d never again be myself. I let myself dwell in a hole of pain, fear and self-pity. Now, when I look back at that time, I’m amazed that I allowed my perspective to be so skewed. When will I learn, really learn, that so much of how I feel, how I react, is just a matter of perspective? So many events in life could be handled more easily if I could just remember to think about perspective.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Quack! Quack!

A few weeks ago I was in Eugene for a Ducks’ football game. We’d gone down the night before the game in order to be at ESPN’s Game Day show bright and early the next morning. Upon arriving in town we went to dinner at a restaurant just off campus and then, on our way back to the hotel, we walked through campus. The UofO campus is really beautiful with lots of trees and grass – even a cemetery! Spirits were high on campus that evening in anticipation of Saturday’s ESPN show and the big game against Stanford. As we walked through the dark, we suddenly heard a band playing the UofO fight song off in the distance. Not having anywhere we had to be, we decided to follow the sound, even though it took us off course from the hotel. We soon found a portion of the UofO band holding an impromptu pep rally in the courtyard of one of the dorms. We stood on the sidelines and clapped along. Then, when the band moved on, we followed them. It was great fun – the music, the clapping, the energy. As I looked around at the crowds of students, I realized that it has been thirty years since I was a student there! Thirty years?!? How did that happen? But, then I realized something else: While I loved my time at UofO thirty years ago, I realized that I have enjoyed being a UofO alumni member much more than I ever enjoyed being a UofO student. As a student I was focused on the jobs at hand: studying, graduating and getting a job. Did I miss out on something by not getting involved with sports, extracurricular activities and Duck pride? Perhaps, but I did do well in school, I did graduate and I did get a job and, for the last thirty years, (actually it’s only been the last fifteen years – it took me awhile to discover my inner-Duck), I’ve been able to revel in the joys of being a Duck. Quack! Quack!

Monday, September 6, 2010

What Comfort Zone?

We all have our little fears and foibles. I sometimes like to think I’m nearly perfect, but I’ve realized that part of growing up is acknowledging our own weaknesses. I found out, while still in high school, that I am claustrophobic. I was at a school carnival when someone suggested we try out the cardboard box maze the junior class had made. It was actually made out of everyday cardboard boxes, so we had to get down on our hands and knees to crawl through it. About halfway through I panicked. I was in this small crawl-through box, there were people in front of and behind me and I had no where to go, so I took the only option – I went up – right through the top of the boxes, ruining that section of the maze. I also have a fear of heights. I cannot remember the first time I realized this fear, but I do remember an experience when my husband was in Korea picking up our first daughter and I thought I’d surprise him by hanging a new curtain in the alcove above our front door. I climbed up the ladder, got onto the little shelf and, again, panicked! I managed to quickly hang the curtain and make my way back down the ladder, but my entire body shook for a full ten minutes afterwards.

Having learned that I’m not actually perfect, I’ve tried to avoid heights and closed in spaces. I’ve still had a few episodes that have taken me by surprise (ask Drew about California Screamin’ when I bolted out of my seat just before the ride began and he later told me, “I was so embarrassed! I tried to look like I didn’t know that crazy white woman.”), but for the most part, I just accept that heights and small spaces are better left to acrobats and miners.

Today my husband and I visited St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. We’ve been there before, but it was so awe-inspiring, we wanted to see it again. As we stood underneath the main dome looking up, we realized there were people on a walkway, high up at the base of the dome. You have to understand the dimensions of this beautiful building to get a feel for how high up this is – up near the base of the dome there is a piece of art (there’s art everywhere), but in this piece, a man in is holding a pencil and the pencil is actually six feet long! So you can imagine just how high up this walkway is. My husband immediately pulls out his guidebook and looks up information on the walkway. It turns out visitors are allowed to climb up there, so off we went to find the stairway.

We found the entrance to the stairway and found out that you can either walk up all 500+ stairs or pay a little extra to take an elevator and then walk up only 300+ stairs. Given that I’m still recovering from foot surgery we opted for the elevator. When we reached the top we were surprised to find that there were only a few stairs to climb to get to the dome walkway. It was amazing! I admit that I stayed against the wall and just peeked over and that I didn’t stay for very long, but it was still amazing and I was quite proud of myself for having gone at all. Then, while I waited on the exit stairs for my husband to finish viewing the basilica from this bird’s eye view, I noticed a little door with a sign that read, “Ingresso Cupola” and further went on to say something about discouraging the old, the sick and those with cardiopathic problems from climbing the 321 stairs. I showed the sign to my husband when he finally exited the walkway. We were both confused because we thought we were at the top. Then my husband realized that the 300+ additional steps we thought we’d have to climb to get to the walkway were actually the steps to get us to the cupola – we could climb to the top of the dome and be outside! Woo-hoo or something like that. My husband was very excited, but all I could think about was being even higher. However, I’d already shown my bravery by walking around the walkway; I wasn’t about to wimp out now, so up we went.

Since I’m recovering from foot surgery, I knew I’d be slow going up and down, so when my husband asked if I wanted him to wait for me or if he could just go on, I said, “Just go ahead. You’ll want to spend more time at the top than I will anyway.” Bad decision! About ten steps after this bold statement, the straight stairway turned into a closed-in spiral staircase of the very, very small variety! I couldn’t turn around (there’s one stairway up and one down), so I kept on climbing, telling myself that it would be okay – it wasn’t. I began to panic as the walls closed in on me and I kept climbing upwards. I started to hyperventilate (not good when climbing stairs) and I called up to Brian to wait for me. I found him a few steps later waiting for me by a small window cut into the wall. I sat down on the ledge of the window and breathed the fresh air coming through as I tried to quiet the turmoil going on within me. We eventually made it to the top with Brian leading the way, holding my hand and talking me through it, but I was soaked with sweat (from both the heat and the panic) by the time we got to the top and I spent my time on the cupola plastered against the wall trying to regain my sense of sanity.

The trip down wasn’t as bad (worse on my foot, but easier on my brain) but I was thrilled to walk through the final door out to the terrace where we’d gotten off the elevator. This was an experience that was so far outside my comfort zone I couldn’t even fathom what my brain was doing to me, but I was proud of myself for being able to suck up the fear and follow through (and forever indebted to my husband for his unwavering strength). I know I have a fear of heights and closed in spaces and, for today, I conquered them. Well, conquered is probably too strong a word – for today, I didn’t give in to my fears.

Am I glad I went? You bet! Would I do it again? Never!!!! After all, part of growing up is learning to acknowledge your fears and foibles and, in this case, accept them rather than try to conquer them.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Lighting a Candle

I’m not Catholic, in fact I’m not particularly religious; at least not in the conventional sense. However, European churches leave me in awe and with a sense of that which I don’t understand. (See my blog entry from March 26, 2008, European Vacation, Day 3: A Religious Experience) Today my husband and I visited the Basilica of St. Mary of Health in Venice. I wanted to go to this church because of a story I’d read about it in the book A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi. We arrived at the church late in the afternoon -- a long walk through Venice’s streets, but located almost directly across the Grand Canal from our hotel. There were musicians playing and singers performing on the steps of the church when we arrived. After listening for a few minutes, I motioned to my husband that I was going to go inside. I was afraid that the church doors might soon be closing since it was getting late. I walked around the inside of the church, again in awe not only because of this sense I get from these European churches, but also because of what I’d read in de Blasi’s book about an annual celebration held in this church. As I approached the exit to the church, there was a place set aside to light a candle. The candle costs 1 Euro – you supply your own prayer.

I know someone who is currently dying. She has ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. I wrote about her last fall (September 26, 2009, ALS) and now, less than a year later, her prognosis is not good. Today, in the Basilica of St. Mary of Health, I paid my 1 Euro and lit a candle for this woman. I know that physical health is not a possibility for her, but my prayer was that she knows mental and spiritual health. I stepped away from the altar and had to find the tissues in my purse (and then I put on my sunglasses).

This church was built as a “deal” with God in the 1600s in an attempt to stop the plague. Today, in 2010, no deals were being made, I was just making a simple gesture of hope, but I was filled with emotions of grief, gratitude and, surprisingly, peace.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

African Time

Since arriving in S. Africa five days ago, I’ve been keenly aware of the cultural differences between rural S. Africa, where we are staying, to life in the US, rural or not. There are of course language differences. Even though English is the official language of S. Africa, most S. Africans speak some sort of local dialect. There are clothing, housing and food differences. But I think the most prevalent form of cultural difference has been what is referred to as “African Time”. I know there are other cultures around the world that work off a slower clock than we do in the US, but to see this pace in action is amazing. There’s no hurry to get work done. There is no hurry to get anywhere. Even the waitress in the dining room walks at an extremely slow pace. At first I thought she was old or crippled because her gait was so slow, but then I realized that she just moves slowly, as do all of the staff people we have encountered. I’d equate their gait to the slow ambling gate of many gas station attendants in Oregon – usually the younger guys who just stroll out to the car, but those guys have a seemingly lazy, insolent attitude and that definitely does not seem to be the case here. Life is just lived a bit slower and that begins with the slow pace of the body’s movements. Maybe that’s because it is so often hot and it’s hard to move quickly in the heat. Maybe it is because animals are all around and quick movement calls their attention. We were told that the only thing that runs in S. Africa is food. As I think about what I want to take away from this trip, it’s not the souvenirs or the photos and memories of the animals, though we will have ample amounts of both. No, what I want to take away is a memory of African Time and I want to try to internalize a bit of it in myself.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Best of the Day

For years, when we’re on vacation, our family has followed a tradition of doing “Best of the Day”. We almost always do this tradition in the evening, usually during dinner. During Best of the Day, everyone takes a turn at telling what was their best part of the day; duplications aren’t allowed. There have been very few times when we’ve had to enforce the duplications rule because, almost always, everyone sees the day’s activities a little differently. Even when more than one person picks the same event, there are specific nuances for each person that make each Best of the Day unique. This has been a great way to reinforce the wonderful activities, sights and events that are part of our vacations and it’s also an eye-opening way to find out what is meaningful for each of our children.

Today, our safari group headed off to a neighboring game reserve with the hope of seeing elephants. Those who know me know that seeing elephants in their natural surrounding would definitely be a Best of the Day. We did find the elephants and watched from several different viewpoints as they drank from a river and wandered its banks. I was awestruck! Just as with watching the elephants at the zoo, I could have stayed much longer than those I was with. While seeing the elephants was an incredible experience that moved me in much the same way Michelangelo’s Pieta moved me when we were in Rome two years ago, I realized that this was not going to be Best of the Day for me. Earlier, as we’d entered the game reserve, we’d seen two giraffes off in a field beside the road. We’ve seen several giraffes over the last couple of days, so seeing them was not, in itself, that spectacular, but then, they ran! The grace and beauty of these strangely large creatures galloping across the field was amazing! Again, I was awestruck! This, I thought, would be Best of the Day.

Our group picnicked beside a small river (in the Pacific Northwest we could call it a creek) and then prepared to leave in order to see if we might possibly be lucky enough to find the lions given that we’d already found the elephants. We all loaded up into our 11-person open-air jeep-type vehicle and then our guide noticed that one of the back tires had gone flat. No problem, there’s a spare underneath the jeep. However, the long metal rod that is used to loosen the spare from its mooring was missing. Our guide tried using a similar instrument from another tour vehicle parked nearby, but it did not work. Our guide’s cell phone was out-of-range and we did not have a radio, so we were forced to wait while the other vehicle’s guide went to the nearby (and that’s a relative term) lodge to ask them to send assistance. Our guide quickly mentioned that he hoped they would not be on “Africa time”. Well, they were. Three hours went by before the tire was patched, pumped up (by hand) and ready to drive on. Three hours with nothing to read, no cell phones, no Internet – nothing! Nothing but the silence of the African countryside, a bird lover’s bevy of exotic birds flitting around, baboons wandering back forth in front of us and a level of peace and internal quiet that I have not known in, dare I say it, YEARS! Three hours where I was content to just sit, listen and watch (and smell, too – I could smell the baboons before we could see them). Three hours of peaceful satisfaction that I’d almost forgotten could exist – definitely Best of the Day.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

I Used To Be Cool

I wear sunglasses – often, and I have for years. My eyes are fairly sensitive and it just feels better to wear sunglasses rather than to squint. They’re also great for hiding tears during emotional moments as my friend Kim and I know so well. My standard routine, when I wear sunglasses, is to place them on top of my head when they’re not in use. Over the years, having my sunglasses on or having them on my head has become sort of a signature look for me. When we visited China several years ago, my sunglasses and long black coat garnered me movie star status with locals who wanted their picture taken with me. I’ve always felt pretty cool wearing my sunglasses or walking around with them on top of my head; however, this summer, I’ve realized that I’m no longer cool. Now, I usually have a pair of reading glasses at hand and, when I take them off, I habitually put them on top of my head, often without realizing that my sunglasses are already there. Then I have two pairs of glasses on my head – not cool, dorky! Or, even worse, I hook one pair or the other inside the neck of my shirt. So then I’m walking around with one pair hanging from my shirt and one pair on my head, but it’s a toss-up as to which pair is where, so I find myself walking out into the sunlight and accidentally putting on my reading glasses or trying to read a label with my sunglasses.

When I started wearing reading glasses my husband asked me not to wear the librarian-style reading glass necklace, but a friend recently suggested that I get the neoprene-type of eyeglass straps that are used for kayaking and other sports. Her theory is that this type of “nerd strap” doesn’t look as dorky – it makes one look sporty or athletic. I actually checked out the “athletic” straps at REI last weekend and, frankly, I had trouble envisioning the look as either sporty or athletic – it still said, “Dork!”

The final straw was when I found a pair of my beloved Maui Jim Cabana sunglasses available on Ebay. They’re a discontinued style that I’ve worn for years and I love the way they look and how they fit. I have them set-up for a “watch” on Ebay so I’m notified whenever a pair becomes available. Imagine my surprise, perhaps disgust, when the most recently available pair was listed as “Vintage”.

I’ve come to the realization that I am just no longer cool (a fact my kids would say has been true for at least a couple of decades), but I’m okay with that. I may not be cool, but I can balance two pairs of glasses on my head at one time – there must be some benefit in talent like that!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Embrace the Inevitable

A year ago I, along with my friend Jill, volunteered to take over the planning and organization of the Holt Family Campout that we have attended for the last sixteen years (not including 1998, when we had to cancel the day before the campout and for which my children will never forgive me). This campout hosts almost 100 adoptive families, is a week long and is packed full of activities, potlucks, socializing, friendship and fun. When I agreed to take over leadership, I knew that we were coming upon a busy year: our oldest daughter’s senior of high school, a foreign exchange student for the fall, the finalization of my mother-in-law’s estate, but I was excited and eager.

Since that time, one year ago, in addition to the expected “busyness”, we have also had major work-related stress, an additional foreign exchange student for the entire year (which was great!), two cancelled international trips, now combined into one on which we depart five days after this campout, my oldest daughter’s fourth knee surgery, my major foot surgery and then back problems – it hasn’t been a good year! In fact, this has pretty much been the worst year of my life!

Six weeks or so ago, when Jill and I spent three days working on the planning for this campout, I was in a foul mood – exhausted, stressed, in pain from my surgery and frustrated by the impossible desire to make everyone attending this campout happy with their site assignment, the schedule, etc. I had lost the joy of the campout. Jill tried to tell me that I would feel better about the campout once my body felt better and…she was right! My surgeried foot is healing, my other, plantar fasciatis, foot has been shot full of cortisone and feels better, my back issue has resolved and I am now sitting by my campfire with a hot cup of coffee early on the morning of the first “official” day of the campout (we came a day early in order to be set-up and ready when everyone arrives this afternoon).

Over the last few days, as the kids and I have prepared for the campout, the joy returned. I not only feel better physically, but also mentally. Instead of feeling frustrated about changes and requests generated by those attending the campout, I just said, “Thank you for letting me know.” Instead of dreading nine days of camping (two days longer than we normally stay), I am looking forward to the additional time to sit by the fire, read a book, even listen to the crows. The campout was inevitable, the international trip scheduled for five days afterwards is inevitable. I have embraced the inevitable and it feels so good!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mt. Hood

Friday night my husband and I drove to Sunriver via the pass over Mt. Hood. As a native Portlander, I grew up with Mt. Hood always off in the distance. When I learned directions, it wasn’t with north as the keystone, but with east – because that’s where Mt. Hood is. As we drove along Hwy 26 with the light of the day quickly fading to twilight, there are a couple of places where Mt. Hood looms up over the road – and each time I saw it, massive against the sky of fading light, it took my breath away!

When I was 13 my family moved from Portland to the Washington Coast. The first time I returned to Portland, as we crossed the I-5 Bridge into Oregon and I glanced to the east and saw Mt. Hood – that’s when I cried. I had come home to my city, to my state, to my mountain. Jonathan Nicholas, a Portland journalist, once wrote:

Whether they are flying in from Bali or Bora Bora, Tacoma or Timbuktu, even the most jaded travelers press their noses to the windows as planes bank for the final approach to PDX. Newcomers are lost for words as the face of Mt. Hood looms into view. But Portlanders know exactly what to say, “Ah, home!”

Whenever I glimpse the mountain, whether it’s close up against the twilight as it was Friday night, or peeking through the clouds as I cross the Glenn Jackson Bridge, I feel like Pocahontas when she sings the song, Colors of the Wind:

Can you sing with all the voices of the mountains?
Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?

Somehow I am connected to Mt. Hood. I don’t understand it; actually, I don’t even try. I just am, and it’s a connection that gives me roots, satisfaction and wonder.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Child to Adult -- Three Weeks to Catch Up

Three weeks ago our oldest daughter was still our “child”. Sure, she’d turned eighteen and had just graduated from high school, but in the eyes of her dad and me, she was still a child. Curfew was the biggest source of contention. She’d tell us that she was an “adult” and shouldn’t have a curfew; we said that she was still a child living in our home and we should be able to say when she should be home at night. Now, there are, of course, two sides to this story, as there are to most. On her side, it was true, she is, technically, an adult and it is true that with the fall, she will be away at school and we won’t have control over her comings and goings. But from our side, we still look at her and see the little girl with her index finger stuck backwards into her mouth. As I explained to her, we need time to adjust to her changing status, just as we did when she entered her teenage years and wanted more freedom to go with friends to the movies or the mall. What we’ve always asked, during these times of transition, is that our children give us advance warning of their new found status (or the new status they believed they should be accorded). What had been happening with our oldest daughter, from our standpoint, was that she was pushing the status on us at the last minute. 10:30 curfew? She’d call at 10:20 to ask if she could stay out later – No! Then, three weeks ago, she went away. We sent her to Norway with our foreign exchange student who was returning home after living with us for the school year. Not only is the teenage lifestyle more relaxed in Norway, but we had no way of knowing what type of hours she was keeping – we just relied on her host mom to set the appropriate parameters and to keep her safe.

Now, our daughter is home and, when she asked about the ever-nagging question of curfew, I responded, “I don’t think it’s a big deal any longer.” During the last three weeks her dad and I have come to grips with the fact that, yes, she is growing up and, yes, she will soon be leaving the safety of our ever-watchful eyes and, no, there’s absolutely nothing we can do to prevent either of the first two facts from happening. So, three weeks – not so much a matter of her growing up as it has been a matter of us catching up.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Bottom of a Dip in the Road or Sliding Down the Slope to Old Age?

As I’ve been whining about for the last few months, this past year has been the toughest of my life – in addition to excess stress from a variety of fronts, I had my first “real” surgery followed by five weeks without putting any weight on my surgeried foot, then three more weeks walking around with a big “boot”, two trips to the ER for surgery-related problems, thrown-out back from walking like a gimp with the boot, no exercise, weight gain – shall I go on?

This definitely hasn’t been my best year and, as it’s gone on and hasn’t gotten better, I’ve honestly worried that I’m just beginning to slip down a slope that leads to “old age”. The stress has taken its toll on my body and I look older. The surgery and back problems cause me to walk bent over and I look older. While my foot recuperates I have to wear “sturdy” shoes that only go with frumpy clothes and I look older. Add that all up and I feel not just older, but old. However, this morning I woke up and was able to stand upright for the first time in over a week. Then, as I began to walk around I realized that my foot wasn’t screaming with excruciating pain for the first time in over two months. I have always promised myself that I’d go kicking and screaming into “old age”, but, for the last few months, I haven’t had any kick or scream in me – only whine (along with some wine), but now I’ve decided that this slope I’ve been slipping down just goes down into a little dip in the road and that this must be the bottom of the dip because I’m now on my way up the other side. It will be a tough climb, but I will get out of this hole and I’m just so thankful that I can now see that it’s just a hole, not that “old age” slope that I’m not yet willing to slide down.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

...and the Foot Bone's Connected to the...Brain Bone?

I had surgery on my foot, so I understand why my foot hurts and why other muscles hurt from using crutches, walking (hobbling) differently, etc., but what I don’t understand is why surgery on my foot has affected the way my brain works! It’s true, I’m getting older and brain function does decrease a bit with age. It’s also true that the stressors of this past year have caused some issues with how my brain works. But for the last six weeks, ever since my surgery, I’ve been almost dingy – I’ve messed up on our family’s scheduling (more than once), I’ve written a check for different amounts in the numerical and written-out sections, I’ve missed deadlines, I’ve forgotten special events, I’ve thought I’d conveyed information that I hadn’t. I’m normally a very organized person and these brain lapses really bother me. I’m used to being on top of all that’s happening; I’m used to being right. Now, I’m just not up to par. My foot is recovering, but will my brain recover as well?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Honeymoon: 33 Years and Counting

I just woke up from a little mid-afternoon nap – I fell asleep on a chaise, in the sun, on a deck overlooking Haystack Rock on the Oregon coast. There aren’t many coastal days more beautiful than this, but there was one that I remember vividly thirty-three years ago – the day my husband and I were married just a few miles north of here. When I woke up from my nap, I stretched, reveling in the heat from the sun, then sat up to look around at the beauty surrounding me and there, just below my deck, I saw a small group of people gathered around a man in a black tuxedo and a woman in a white dress. A wedding in progress, a marriage just beginning and all I could think to wish for them is that their honeymoon lasts as long as ours.

I’ve read the articles that state that couples have to learn to accept their lives after the honeymoon ends. I’ve seen the movies and TV shows depicting couples going through the rote of living their days. Blah, blah, blah! Sure, there are stages of a marriage, many of them, but you don’t get to thirty-three years feeling happy, passionate and in love without bringing with you some of the honeymoon feelings. You remember the honeymoon – the kindnesses, the love, the quiet talks together, etc., etc., etc. Those feelings, those niceties, those intimacies that we experience on our honeymoon are, I believe, what carries us happily through the years ahead…if we hold on to them.

Our wedding photographer told us that we should pick out photos from our wedding collection to put on the wall of our bedroom. His theory was that whenever we might have an argument or fight we would enter our bedroom and there we would be, the portrait of us on our wedding day and we would be reminded of how we felt on that day. There have only been a couple of times that I’ve actually had to take his advice and look at those pictures in the heat of anger, but when I did I was humbled to find myself remembering the bigger story, seeing the bigger picture. In fact, whenever I look at those pictures, whether it’s in an angry moment or just when I wake up in the morning, I am reminded of how I felt on that day and how, while it was truly wonderful then, it doesn’t even compare to how I feel now.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Pristine Arteries

Pristine arteries – that was the information we received after seven hours in the emergency room – oh, wait, it’s no longer known as the emergency room or ER, now it’s the emergency department or ED. I had my middle son drive me to the ED yesterday morning after experiencing chest pains that came on quickly and strongly and then began to radiate up my neck. At first I thought I just had heartburn (a condition for which I do take medication), but I quickly realized that the pain had progressed beyond typical heartburn. I sat for a few minutes in one of my old lady chairs, sweating profusely and trying to convince myself that nothing was wrong. However, it was very clear to me that I was experiencing the types of symptoms common to women heart attack victims. I considered sitting it out, but remembered hearing that it’s better to head to the ED and be a little embarrassed than to sit home and be sorry. So, off we went. My husband met me at the ED door and we were quickly ushered back for monitoring and evaluation. I won’t go in to all the details, but throughout the next seven hours, the staff performed several different tests to be sure that I hadn’t had a “cardiac event”. The end result was that, while they couldn’t tell me what had caused the pain, they could tell me what hadn’t caused it – I had not had a heart attack and I found out that, in fact, I have pristine arteries. That’s nice news to hear.

As I sat in the bed throughout the afternoon yesterday, waiting to find out what had happened, I was scared. I was afraid that this was, in fact, a “cardiac event”. I feared that this was a blatant statement from my body that I had reached a new stage in my life – not one I’m anxious to admit or succumb to. I worried that healing from foot surgery would be nothing compared to the healing that would be necessary after a heart attack. Instead, I learned that I have pristine arteries and I feel a renewed sense of excitement over finishing this foot healing and beginning the process of rebuilding my muscles and fitness level after this surgery-induced hiatus.

For a lot of people, having a heart attack is a reason to improve their lifestyle. I’ve had a pretty healthy lifestyle for a long, long time and, even though I’m on the bench right now, I know I will go back to the lifestyle – and having had this heart attack scare really helps to remind me of who I am and what type of lifestyle I want to lead.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Jack 'n Diane

Today is my 52nd birthday – it was two years ago today that I proudly wore my tiara with the declaration, “50” on the front of it and celebrated by having 50 girlfriends join me for lunch at my favorite restaurant. A lot has happened in the last two years – some good, some bad, but through it all, I still feel pretty good about “being in my 50’s”. Sure my body isn’t what I’d like it to be. Some of that I can change, but some of it is simply a matter of aging. It’s also true that my brain gets a little rattled sometimes and I know people look at me differently – I’m now often considered “older”. But, overall, being in my sixth decade is pretty cool.

Last night we stopped by Michael John’s performance again – well, we’d planned to “stop by”, but ending up staying for all of it. Anyway, one of the songs he regularly sings is Jack ‘n Diane. As I listened to the words last night, on the eve of my 52nd birthday, I had to disagree with the line, “Oh yeah, life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone.” I mean, here are two American teenagers making a statement like that – heck, they probably thought that line applied to anyone over thirty. As someone more than two decades beyond thirty, I can certainly say that I haven’t lost the thrill of living. How sad would that be? No, there’s a lot of thrill left: places to go, people to see, things to do, lessons to learn, beer to drink…(that last one’s for my daughter-in-law). Will I still feel that way when I’m seventy or eighty? I’m not sure, but I know a few people that age that are wonderful examples; who give me hope and show me what is possible. No, Jack is, I hope, simply wrong.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

House at Pooh Corner

Last night we went to the Sunriver Mall for an outdoor performance by our friend Michael John. Michael is a musician with a flair for singing songs that touch our hearts or make us laugh. Last night he sang House at Pooh Corner, a song made famous by Kenny Loggins. This song always brings a tear to my eye and last night was no different (thank goodness for sunglasses). But last night the lyrics resonated with me more than usual:

Christopher Robin and I walked along
Under branches lit up by the moon
Posing our questions to Owl and Eeyore
As our days disappeared all too soon
But I've wandered much further today than I should
And I can't seem to find my way back to the Wood

I’ve been struggling with the effort to find the “old me”, to regain a sense of myself as person filled with joy and last night I realized that I had let myself wander much further than I should have into stress, worry and despair and I really need to find my way back to the Hundred Acre Wood – to a quiet life of joy, friendship and adventure. Thank you Pooh (and Michael).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ooh, Ooh!

Two days ago on Facebook I declared, “Ooh, ooh, I gotta new attitude!” and I’m happy to report that the new attitude is still hanging around. I’ve been trying for months (and especially the last three weeks) to change my attitude back to the positive, happy frame of mind I am used to, but up until now, I haven’t been successful. What’s different this time? Well, I found inspiration in some surprising places.

First, my whine, whine blogs and status updates on Facebook brought in a slew of comments and emails that were so encouraging and that helped me to remember that we all go through tough times and we do come out okay on the other side. Second, this past weekend I finished reading a book that my friend Jill gave me the day after my surgery. The book, The Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life by Kathy L. Patrick, is a combination memoir, book list and inspirational self-help. Kathy’s upbeat attitude, her self-described Queenliness and her penchant for wearing a tiara reminded me of myself. I read this book thinking, Wow! That sounds like the “old me”; I want to be that “me” again! And then, third, I found inspiration in the most surprising place of all – in me! Sunday evening I read back through some of the blogs I’d written in late 2008 and early 2009 when I was caring for my ill and dying mother-in-law (another tough time in my life). I was amazed by my perspective and the calmness I felt throughout that time. I was surprised to remember how much I liked the slower, quiet pace forced on me by having to be with my mother-in-law 24/7. While I’ve been happy with the amount of work I’ve been able to do during this surgery recuperation period, I forgot to look at this quiet time in a positive way. Heck, I’ve forgotten to look at life, in general, in a positive way. Hearing from friends, reading a book that sounded like the “old me” and then reading words actually written by the “old me” helped push my attitude right back in the direction from where it originally came. Ooh, ooh, I think I’ve rediscovered my old attitude!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

I am Presently Struggling with _____________ (fill in the blank)

My husband has a new exercise video in which the director admonishes against saying, “I can’t,” as in “I can’t do pull-ups.” Instead he suggests saying, “I am presently struggling with pull-ups.” With the stress we’ve experienced this past winter, with my foot in pain and inaccessible for walking, with a generally poor attitude, I feel like my use of that statement would be, “I am presently struggling with… everything.” This kind of attitude, this negativity, this whininess is so against my normal outlook that it adds to my struggle. I feel as if I am wallowing in a murky mess of pain, fatigue, discouragement and self-pity. So, while I’m not expecting any miracles or immediate attitude turnarounds, I’m trying to keep the word “presently” in mind. All of this: stress, pain, immobility, is a temporary situation. I am presently struggling; I will not always struggle.

Monday, May 17, 2010

It's Hard Needing Help

I’m not very good at accepting help, even though, over the years, I’ve told others that they have to learn to accept help when it’s needed. I’ve told my mom, my mother-in-law and friends that we all do what we can to help others in need and then, when it’s our turn to be the one in need, we must graciously accept the help of those who offer. I’m normally the caregiver, the helper, but now, following surgery and unable to walk for five weeks, I must be the one to accept help – it isn’t easy and I’m not very good at it. However, what I’ve found is that the help is not only very necessary, but when it’s offered, I’m so appreciative – even as I butt my head against the need for assistance. The friend who checks in with me regularly and offers up ways she can help, the neighbor who brought a real homemade dinner for our family, the friend who is doing more than her fair share of carpooling, another friend who has her hands full with her own family’s needs, but still offers her help, my family who constantly checks in with me – “Do you need anything, Mommy?” “What would you like me to bring upstairs for you?” “Do you need fresh water?” “Can I give you a ride for errands?”

I find myself humbled and grateful for these offers of help. It’s not easy accepting, but I’m learning to graciously say, “Yes. Thank you.” And, I’m also learning that those forms of help that I most appreciate are not huge or onerous – the small things really do mean so much and I think that after this experience, I can be an even better caregiver and friend until it is, someday, inevitably my turn to again be the one accepting the help.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Running Girl Wannabe

I think of myself as an active, healthy woman, yet during the last week and a half I have felt old and tired. A week ago this past Wednesday I had foot surgery to repair a bunion. I now have a plate and screw in my foot along with two incisions. Beforehand, I’d spoken with many people who’d had bunion surgery and, while there were varying reports of pain levels and recuperation, based partly, I believe on the type of bunion surgery, I felt that I was pretty well prepared mentally for how this would affect me – hah! To begin with, the pain the first day was worse than I’d anticipated, then I fell during the night trying to use crutches to get to the bathroom by myself – silly me! And my throbbing foot has meant that I’ve spent most of my time these past ten days lying on the couch with my foot propped up on a pillow. My brain hasn’t been ready to read (or write), so that has left television as my only entertainment. I swear I’m beginning to feel my brain cells numb with every minute the TV is turned on. So, today I decided to force myself into a better place. I decided that I would start the day out by getting dressed, doing my hair and make-up and spending more time in my office being productive – throbbing foot be damned! As I was picking out jewelry to accessorize my basically sweatsuit-type of outfit – it’s all that will fit over my foot, but at least it’s not pajamas – I spotted a silver necklace in my jewelry box that I haven’t worn in ages. It’s a pendent of a woman running that I received as a finisher’s “medal” for Vancouver’s first Girlfriends’ Half-Marathon 2-1/2 years ago. I’m signed up to run (or walk, we’ll see…) this same half-marathon this October with my daughter-in-law, but right now, while I’m hobbling around on crutches, the reality of being able to do that seems like some kind of distant dream. But, given that I’m trying to make today the beginning of a new attitude, I decided that was just the right piece of jewelry for me to wear today. I’m hoping to have an outing to the grocery store today (woo-hoo, it’s sad when that’s an exciting proposition). I’ll probably take along my little knee scooter or else I’ll use the motorized scooter at the grocery store. Either way, I'm hoping that my “running girl” pendant will help me feel younger, healthier and full of hope.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

What is Brave?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a day when I cried off-and-on throughout the day (ESP of the Heart). We were traveling to Sunriver that day and had stopped for dinner at a restaurant in Bend. During dinner, I again started quietly shedding tears. My almost-18-year-old daughter was sitting next to me and I was sure that she would be mortified that I was crying in public, so I apologized for being such a wimp. Her response surprised me, “I don’t think you’re a wimp. I think you’re brave for being able to cry in public. I wish I was that brave.” Now, this is a young woman who has weathered four knee surgeries in the last seven years, who intimidates people with her 5’2” toughness, who isn’t afraid to do silly things in public or call attention herself – I think those attributes are brave. Someone else I know is going through a tough time and is taking it all in stride, displaying the utmost dignity and professionalism. I look at this person and think, “Wow! That is so brave. “ As someone who wears her heart on her sleeve, I think I’d be venting my anger and whining away my sorrows. So, maybe when we behave in a manner that is authentic to who we are and when others see in us that which they don’t see in themselves – perhaps that is when we appear most brave.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Real Problem With Pets

Yesterday I wrote about some of the day-to-day problems with pets; today I want to write about the real problem with pets – and that problem is that pets normally do not outlive us. I was reminded of this recently when my daughter-in-law’s 18 year old dog died. She had had him since she was in high school and, during the last few years, we got to know him and care about him. He wasn’t my pet but I loved him just the same him – I was Grandma to a dog.

When we first met Caesar he was still able to go for a run with us around the lake in Austin. When my son and daughter-in-law lived with us for nine months when they first moved back from Texas, Caesar was still able to get up and down the stairs in our home. However, his health, eyesight and strength had declined dramatically over this past year. I often looked at Caesar and realized that as he aged, the rest of us also age. He was less able to participate in day-to-day activities, but he still relished a special event when he could be at the center of the activity. A trip to visit us for Sunday dinner perked him up, even though he was only able to lay on his bed in the family room. It was difficult for him to get up and move around, but when the other dogs or the cats ran around and played, Caesar would perk up his ears and sometimes even try to get up and romp around for a few minutes. His was a gentle nature; like most dogs he just wanted a little attention, a good pet now and then and, in return, he would curl up his tail in delight when someone he loved came near, making that person feel that they were very special, indeed. As I said yesterday, we have lots of pets; they are all part of our family and, when one leaves us, it leaves a small hole in our hearts. I found a quote recently that said something to the effect that having a pet will bring great joy into your life, but the pet’s ultimate death will also bring great grief. That’s the way it is with so much in life – we get the great joys, the happiness and love only because we are willing to accept the pain that comes with the finale.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Poop, Barf and Things that go Bump in the Night

We have pets – lots of them and, in the last week, I’ve experienced many of the problems with having pets. Last Thursday morning, as we were scurrying around getting ready for my oldest daughter’s senior project garage sale, my youngest daughter came into my office with a horrified look on her face. “Mommy,” she choked, “I think Reggie (one of our big dogs) had a problem in my room last night.” Truly, she looked like she was ready to throw up! I followed her back to her room, opened the door and was horrified at the sight – to put it delicately, Reggie had had a lower digestive system gastric problem…in circles, all over the room! An immediate call to the carpet cleaners got us an appointment for first thing the next morning. In the meantime, I cleaned up what I could, and then we opened the windows and shut the doors.

Last night I was awakened by Czar (our other big dog) making a funny sound. Assuming he was just cleaning himself, I told him to stop, but then he got up and went to the other side of the room and it soon became apparent that he, too, was having a gastric problem, this time of the upper digestive system, if you know what I mean. I flipped on the lights and saw that half his dinner was now sitting on the clean carpet of my bedroom. I quickly ushered him out of the room with the intent of getting him downstairs and out the door, but he only made it as far as the top of the stairs before the other half of his dinner was deposited on the clean hallway carpet. I finally got the dog outside and went back upstairs armed with gloves, paper towels, rags and carpet cleaner. Awhile later, with the carpets reasonably clean again, the dog back inside and settled back in his bed, I started to drift off to sleep only to hear what sounded like someone rummaging around in our garage, which is right below our bedroom. I got up and went to listen at our bedroom door – nothing. I went back to bed and it started again. I decided to go investigate in the garage, but, as I reached the top of the stairs, I realized that the sound was coming from my daughter’s closet, which abuts our bedroom. Could my daughter possibly be up at 3:00 a.m. cleaning out her closet? I quietly opened the door to her room, turned up the light enough to see that she was in bed, sound asleep, but the noise was definitely coming from her closet. I sneaked over to the closet and swung it open – the light was on, but nobody was in there. Then the noise started up again and I looked down to see that my son’s hamster, Dixie was running around the closet in her play ball. She would run till she hit a wall – bump! Then she’d turn and run the other way. I have no idea why she was in the play ball, locked in the closet at 3:00 a.m. and, when questioned, this morning, no one has any knowledge of why or how she got there -- yea, right…

A friend with three small children recently told me that her husband and daughter really want to get a puppy. Even though I love my pets and can’t imagine not having at least some pets in the house (though we don’t really need as many as we have), I say to her, “No! Not now! Kids already provide enough poop, barf and nighttime noises!”

Saturday, March 27, 2010

ESP of the Heart

Yesterday someone very special to me was going through a very emotionally painful experience – and I grieved and cried throughout the day. I was not only sad because of the cause of her pain, but I was also feeling her pain. I don’t mean to diminish what she was going through by saying that I, too, was feeling it, but I have no doubt that my feelings yesterday were somehow mirroring hers, even though they might not have been at the same level of intensity. This, I know, is empathy -- the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another ( I’m not sure about the “intellectual” part – I’ve always thought of empathy as being ESP of the Heart and I’ve known, since I was a little girl, that it is strong in me.

I learned early that I cannot watch, read or hear about events that are painful, sad, demeaning – basically anything negative – without having my heart twist and turn with the horrible emotions I attributed to the victims of the painful, sad or demeaning experience. I soon realized that not everyone “felt” with the same level of intensity. Somewhere along the line I learned the word “empathy” and I clearly remember thinking, Yes, that’s me! Over the years I’ve come to believe that somehow I receive information – emotional information – in a way most people don’t. I think this is, perhaps, some sort of “gift”. As I write this, I’m thinking that some people will read it and say, “Wow! Debbie’s a little woo-hoo,” or “Debbie’s a little crazy.” I don’t think I’m crazy, though; although, isn’t that what all crazy people think? Anyway, I’ve given this a lot of thought over the years and I do believe that we all have ways of communicating that we simply don’t yet understand. Perhaps someday scientists will discover that there is, in fact, a mental radio signal that we all send out and that some of us are simply equipped with more sensitive signal-receivers. In the meantime, I will continue, as I have my entire life, to avoid that which causes me to feel undue discomfort. The problem is, there are times in life, like yesterday, when I cannot avoid the discomfort because it is happening to someone dear to me – it’s not a movie, book or news report. At those times I think of this “gift” of ESP of the Heart and I think…..This sucks!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Beach Therapy

As a kid I loved the beach – not just any beach, but our beach, the Long Beach Peninsula in Washington. My parents were both born and raised in that area so we spent many weekends there visiting relatives while I was growing up and then, the summer before I entered high school, my parents moved us back there so that I could attend the small local high school while they prepared for retirement. In many ways, the beach itself had a terrific impact on helping me negotiate my high school years. I walked on the beach when I needed to think; I sat on a piece of driftwood and wrote when I needed to be creative and I screamed and cried into the ever-present wind when I was upset. After leaving the peninsula for college, we went back mainly to visit family, but our trips became less and less frequent. Over the years our tastes turned more toward the dry warmth of Central Oregon’s high desert rather than the damp cold of Washington’s Coast. After my mother-in-law’s death last year, my husband really didn’t want to go back to the Peninsula – too many memories, too much dampness, too much rot.

Last week I had some business that I needed to take care of in Long Beach so I asked my husband if he’d please accompany me there for the day. The weather that day turned out to be unseasonably warm and sunny for mid-March. We had a lovely drive down, quickly took care of the business and then headed out to find someplace to have lunch. We settled on an inn that has been there for more than one hundred years. The restaurant was closed for refurbishing, but the pub was open and we were the first to venture out onto their small garden deck. We ended up relishing a lovely lunch while sitting in the sunshine, sipping beer and wine and talking – for two hours! When we finally left we headed to the beach for a little walk that lasted for 1-1/2 hours!

The two hour lunch had been wonderful, but the walk on the beach was just what I needed. As we walked, hand-in-hand, me carrying my shoes, we talked, laughed, reminisced and I remembered why I love the beach. As I look out to the horizon, I gain perspective as I realize the immensity of the earth. As I watch the waves roll in, roll in, roll in – never stopping, I feel the possibilities of all that can be done. As the wind blows and the ocean roars, my worries are carried away and I feel peace. A simple walk that gives me perspective, helps me see the possibilities and brings me peace – beach therapy!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


I haven’t been able to write lately because my mind feels like it has been dammed. Normally I have topics rolling around in my brain, taking shape and developing into complete thoughts and sentences. Lately, however, I have felt that I’ve had too much on my plate and the stress has created a log jam that has dammed the river of my thoughts.

I really don’t like writing these kinds of entries because it just comes across as sounding whiney and I’d much rather sound upbeat and positive, but the fact is, life isn’t always upbeat and positive. I strongly believe that we can all determine how we react to life’s events and I usually choose to react in a positive manner. However, I’ve had many talks with myself lately about my negative reaction to the stressors in my life and I’m simply not listening. I’m not yet ready to put on a happy face and move forward. So, I hope that by writing this out, I’ll at least loosen the dam and allow my thoughts to flow to friendlier, warmer waters – perhaps my attitude will follow close behind.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Needed and Needy

As a mom and a wife, heck, as a woman, I’m used to being needed. Whether it’s my kids, my husband, or my volunteer commitments, I definitely feel needed and, frankly, I like being needed. I like that my husband looks to me as his confidant. I like that my family needs me for tasks and support, great and small. I like that they look to me to “keep the ship running”. However, sometimes I am needy. Sometimes my positive outlook slips into the “hole without joy”. Sometimes, my body doesn’t function perfectly and I feel sick or achy. Sometimes I need the figurative hug of comfort. My husband and my children are usually pretty good about appreciating me and making sure I am taken care of when I need that, but, lately, there’s just too much neediness. Kids with major bumps and bruises (one requiring surgery), other “growing up kid stuff” that needs to be dealt with, a husband with some major stressors, paperwork and tax preparation that seem never ending – no lack of feeling needed for me. But during this “needed” time, I’m also feeling quite “needy”. My body has aches and pains that seem to just keep springing up. The level of stress I’m feeling, from being so needed, has reached an all-time high. Stress keeps me up at night, no doubt adds to the aches and pains, and then the downward spiral begins. If my mom were still living, I’d tell her I need her to come take care of me for a few days. This clash between being needed and needy is tough and I know I’m not alone. I can think of at least half a dozen friends who, I have no doubt, are caught in this same place with me. It would certainly be easier if we could all just separate the times we’re needed from the times when we’re feeling truly needy and not have the two happen at the same time, but life doesn't let us make those choices. So, what do we do? We go on. We do what we have to do: we take care of our families, we complete our work and chores and we make it through the day by always looking for that little smile, hug or bit of support that assuages some of our own neediness.

Post-Script: After I posted this I realized that I should have ended with, "What do I need today? I need to spend the day in bed...and I'm going to!"

Friday, February 19, 2010

My Parents' Legacy

I had wonderful parents who were loving, giving, honest and hardworking. I know that much of who I am today is because of my parents. Recently I have discovered another area in which my parents left me a legacy: my feet! Each of my parents has claimed a foot. In the last couple of years I have developed a bunion on my right foot. My dad had bunions so bad that for the last several years of his life he wore Birkenstocks every day, everywhere and, even then, he had to cut a piece out of the side of the cork footbed in order to accommodate his bunions. I have also had on-going problems with an in-grown toenail on my left foot. My mom had such bad problems with in-grown toenails that she had had the toenail cut way back on both sides of her big toes. As a little girl I always thought her toes looked so funny – big wide toes with little skinny toenails.

I am so grateful to have had parents who set a good example and who fostered strong morals in me, but I’d be completely happy to not share in their podiatric problems. Too bad we don’t get to pick and choose what legacy we receive.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Perfect Gift, Part 2

As my husband and I were talking about my last post, The Perfect Gift, he pointed out that I had missed one of the “gifts” we give each other – the gift of shared dreams. As I’d mentioned, I had heard early on in our married life of older couples who didn’t give each other gifts and I had been determined not to let our relationship get so boring that we wouldn’t give each other gifts. I said that I now realize that the gifts we give each other of commitment to our relationship, friendship and accumulated memories were much more important that any physical item we could give. With my husband’s addition of share dreams to this list, I realized that it is those dreams that keep our relationship from becoming boring. So, on Valentine’s Day, to my lovely husband I give the gifts of commitment, friendship, memories and dreams.

P.S. And to my friend with three small children, I wish for you the gift of relaxing sleep.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Perfect Gift

I’ve always loved giving gifts; they are an expression of my feelings toward and my desire to please those I love. Over the years my husband and I have each searched and searched for just the right gift to give the other for any gift giving occasion. I remember, in the early years of our marriage, hearing of older long-married couples who didn’t give gifts to each other and I remember thinking, I will never let our marriage get dull enough that we don’t even want to give the other a gift. Well, here we are, an older long-married couple and, frankly, I don’t give a hoot about gifts. In fact, for the last few years, I’ve asked my family not to get me gifts for Mother’s Day and my birthday (I still like to have a few things under the Christmas tree, though), but I’d much rather receive kind words or a family activity. This weekend is Valentine’s Day and, while I’d love to present my husband with a gift that truly expresses the love, devotion and gratitude I feel toward him, the reality is that no physical item can do that and anything less seems trivial. The real gifts are the on-going commitment to our relationship, the friendship we share, the history we’ve accumulated. Those are the perfect, lasting, most-meaningful gifts in a relationship. Of course, if my husband wants to visit the jewelry store…(just kidding)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Who's Off Base?

My two older daughters play high school basketball. After the games were over Friday evening, the younger of the two told me that the boys in the student section of the bleachers (this was an away game) were awful and that they were yelling at her, calling out her name and referring to her as Mulan and Pocahontas. My daughter is Asian (S. Korean), but she is neither Chinese nor Native American. She was obviously upset by their behavior and name-calling and my mommy-feathers were immediately ruffled. I told her that if people ever did things like that in the future, she needed to let me or her coach know immediately, not at the end of the game when everyone was gone.

Later, on the way home, my oldest daughter said something about the rude remarks made by the boys on the bleachers and I said, “Yes, your sister has already told me that they were yelling inappropriate things and referring to her as Mulan and Pocahontas.” Much to my surprise, my oldest daughter (who is very clear and proud of her Korean heritage) said, “Oh, well at least that’s sweet – Mulan and Pocahontas are both princesses.” I was shocked! To me, these comments were racially motivated and were intended to single my daughter out from the other girls on the team. Yet my oldest daughter obviously didn’t see them as racially inappropriate comments, even though she is very aware of racial issues, having grown up in a predominately white community. I began to wonder which of us was off-base… Were these inappropriate racial comments or was I just being extra-sensitive about a topic that can, with our transracial family, be an issue with which we do, occasionally, have to deal? I’ve thought about this a lot over the last two days and I think that we were both right. These were racial comments, they were inappropriate and they did disturb my middle daughter. However, I think my oldest daughter’s attitude was so wonderfully positive and appropriate –there’s sometimes nothing you can do about the idiots in the world who don’t know better than to single people out based on racial attributes – and I’m glad that my oldest daughter could look at them and, instead of feeling anger, hurt or hatred, turn their comments around and call her sister a princess – which she is!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Living in Whoville

Whoville, the Dr. Seuss creation where all the little Whos are struggling to be heard, struggling to just let others know they exist. As a woman married to a successful man, I sometimes feel like I live in Whoville. This isn’t the fault of my husband, of course; it’s the fault of individuals in our society – and often they are women, too – who fail to look beyond Horton the elephant to see that there are also Whos. This happened again yesterday. I received an email from the UofO Duck Athletic Fund regarding our recent deposit for seats in the new Matthew Knight Arena. Our Duck Athletic Fund account is in both of our names (though that took years to happen since they initially set-up the account in only my husband’s name, even though everything sent in to them contained both our names), the seating application form had been filled out by me, I had signed the check and, guess what – I’m a UofO alumnus, too! Yet, this woman in the DAF office sends an email expressing gratitude for the deposit, but the email is addressed only to my husband. This wasn't a form email that just picked up the first name on the account; it was a personal email – addressed only to my husband, but in reference to our joint account.

I had a previous professional life and, I will admit, when I first quit my job to stay home, it took awhile to become comfortable with my new identity. I often wanted to introduce myself to people saying, “Hi, I’m Debbie. I used to have a professional position.” In the years since I’ve come to appreciate my contribution to both our family and society and I no longer struggle with the need to justify myself. However, when someone so inconsiderately overlooks my handwriting, my signature, indeed even my name, to focus on just my husband, I revert to feeling like just a little Who in Whoville.

P.S. I sent this woman back a stinging note about this subject – I don’t think she’ll overlook a Who again.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Cat Under the House

A friend told me a story with a tag line that has quickly become a “saying” in our home. This friend let her cat out for the day recently, but the cat did not come home in the evening. She called for the cat; her husband called for the cat; the kids called for the cat. They finally gave up and everyone in the house went to bed except for my friend who sat up in her office. Late in the night my friend heard the cat meowing and went outside to investigate. She found the cat (a large, roly-poly cat) stuck in a vent opening while trying to get out from under the house’s crawlspace. Afraid of hurting the kitty, my friend went to get her husband who was sound asleep. “Honey, the cat is stuck in the vent opening of the crawl space. Will you come get it out?” Her husband sleepily asked if she seriously expected him to get out of bed to rescue a fat cat that got itself stuck under the house. She, of course, responded that she did expect him to do that – he bundled up and headed for the large crawl space opening on the opposite end of the house, flashlight in hand. The light and sounds underneath the house spooked the cat enough to encourage him to get himself unstuck and out of the vent opening without harm.

Some of the women listening to this story were amazed that the husband had actually gotten up to rescue the cat. I wasn’t amazed; I know my husband would do the same thing. He might look at me funny, but he’d get up and do it. Little chores like this are, in my opinion, one of the things that separate a good husband from a great husband. Again, this is my opinion, but I believe that when a man does a chore, even one he thinks is silly, because his family asks it of him, he is showing his adoration for his family.

Friday night coming back late from an “away” girls’ basketball game, two of the players found their cars had been “pranked” – one had the battery removed, one had been put up on blocks. There was one dad in the group at the parking lot (the dad of one of the girls with a “pranked” car) and, even though it was late and the rain was pouring down, he got out, jacked up the one car to remove the blocks and put the battery back into the other. As I watched him (I had my car turned so that my headlights were illuminating the work areas), I thought, “This is a cat under the house.”

I’ve often thought that a man is sexiest when he is doing something for his family. Show me a dad comforting a crying child, changing a diaper, coaching a sports team –that, to me, is a sexy man! Now, in addition to those family-oriented visions, we’ve also added the vision of the man who does what’s needed when there’s a cat under the house. A man who may roll his eyes at his wife’s request, but who gets up and does what’s needed regardless of what type of situation it is that can be called “a cat under the house”.

P.S. Lest you think that this is a one-way path, stay tuned for the next blog that will flip the “doing” in the other direction.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

OMG - It Happened!

In this process of aging there are markers and events that remind us that time is moving along: the first gray hair or wrinkle, children reaching milestones, parents with declining health – some are serious, some are just vain, but they all scream out, “You’re getting older!” I’ve come to grips with the fact that I am getting older (not old, just older) and I’ve welcomed many of the signs of aging: celebrating my 50th birthday almost two years ago, my oldest child getting married this past summer – gray hair? Hah! I conquered that concern years ago (with the help of my hair color guru, Joelle). But last night an event happened that really stopped me in my aging tracks! Last night I gathered with my group of neighborhood women friends for our monthly Pokeno game. Pokeno is similar to BINGO – everyone gets a Pokeno card which is filled much the same as a BINGO card except that instead of numbers, the Pokeno card has pictures of playing cards in each square and a deck of cards is used instead of the typical BINGO balls. During the second game last night, as the woman sitting next to me was “calling” the cards, I suddenly realized that my brain could not connect the card she was calling with the pictures of the cards on my Pokeno card. I panicked a bit as she called out and showed us three different cards and I found that I could not make sense of those cards in relation to my Pokeno card. Finally, I said out loud, “Well, that’s just weird!” and I went on to explain what was happening. The friend on my other side said, half-jokingly, “Maybe you are having a stroke or maybe you have a brain tumor.” Frankly, that’s sort of what I was worrying about myself, but as she spoke I realized that was not the case. The truth was, I COULD NOT SEE THE DETAILS ON MY POKENO CARD BECAUSE I NEEDED TO USE MY READING GLASSES! I’ve used reading glasses for computer work and for reading books, menus, etc. for several years; I have glasses lying around all over my house (in fact, twice I’ve had a little boy whisper to me, “Debbie, someone left their glasses on the back of the toilet” – yea, we know who those belong to…), but the Pokeno card is not small, there is no small print and, up until last night, I have not needed my glasses to see my card. Last night my brain said, “Enough!” It refused to make the effort to discern the shapes, numbers and letters on my Pokeno card from the blurred visual message that was being sent to it. Last night I had to retrieve my reading glasses from my purse and do the Granny-glasses head tilt where I looked at my card through the glasses, but then had to tilt my head down to look over the top of the glasses whenever I looked at someone across the table. This may seem vain, but this was an aging event that I have dreaded, that I have denied was coming and that I’m still not sure I can accept. Maybe my eyes were just tired, maybe the lighting wasn’t good…maybe I’m just getting old(er)!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Holding On To The Upward Spiral

I love the look of our home once we have all our Christmas decorations up – the house feels so rich and festive! I revel in the beauty and light throughout the holiday season; however, once the season is over, I’m so happy to have the house back to normal. This weekend we put away the last of the holiday decorations and our home feels new, clean and refreshed again. January is a time for making resolutions and starting over; it feels as if my home experiences the same renewal. When the house is clean and organized, I feel more organized and in control myself. I’ve been lighting candles and turning on lamps throughout the house during the darker hours of the day; I’ve been cooking dinners for my family; and I’ve felt peaceful even amidst our hectic schedules. Nothing external in my life has changed during the last few weeks – same work, same schedules, same stressors, but I have made an internal shift that has created a feeling of peace within me. I feel better internally, which creates a more organized living environment, which makes me feel even better, which makes me want to continue with the plan that is keeping the house nice and my mind organized – it’s a nice upward spiral – now the trick is just to figure out how to hold on!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

I'm a DD; You're a DD; We're all DDs

I have just spent four of the last five days at Disneyland with my husband and the “older” half of our family. When we enter Disneyland the first day, we always stop to read the plaque above the entrance gates: "Here you leave the world of today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy." Then we hustle under the gate and come out in a new world. As we went through the gate this trip, I was messing around with my 20-year-old son and we sort of put our hands out to the side like we were flying through the gate. We were laughing and, as we reached the other side, my son said, “Next time you need to twirl as you go through.” My husband laughed at me and said, “You’re such a dork! You’re a Disney Dork!” I took that as a compliment.

Throughout the four days, my husband and the kids teased me about being a Disney Dork. They laughed at me when I told the cast member on the Dumbo ride about my youngest daughter’s concerns that I would not have anyone to ride with (and then proceeded to ride Dumbo with my arm to the side as if I were embracing a child beside me). They laughed as I conversed with little kids throughout the park (my son said that I’m not allowed to ever again go to Disneyland without my own small children because it’s not right that I keep “borrowing” other people’s children – I didn’t actually “borrow” them, that could be construed the wrong way, I was just engaging them). They laughed at me when I cried trying to say hello to Walt and Mickey (the statues); when I cried at the castle-lighting ceremony; when I cried coming out of Small World (decorated for Christmas with a Peace on Earth theme). Well, I guess my response to this teasing is that I’m proud to be a Disney Dork (I’m thinking of getting a t-shirt that says so) and, to my family, y’all should look in the mirror when you say, “You’re a Disney Dork!” There was my daughter-in-law in the Winnie-the-Pooh ride, bopping up and down in her seat in time to the Winnie-the-Pooh music, there were our grown-up “boys” playing with bubble-guns all day under the guise of making other people happy with their bubbles. And there was my husband who texted me at the end of the day yesterday saying that, instead of heading out of the park with the rest of the group, I should turn back down Main Street and join him at W&M (the Walt and Mickey statue) so that we could say a proper goodbye before leaving. Yes, I’m a Disney Dork, but I’m not alone. If our family ever starts our own rock band I have the perfect band name: Debbie & the Disney Dorks.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Beautiful Year?

I’m sitting in a hotel room watching the sun rise over L.A. (we’re here to watch the University of Oregon Ducks play in the Rose Bowl today) and I wonder if this beautiful sunrise can be an omen of a beautiful year.

Frankly, I’m feeling a little whiney about last year. I know it was a tough year for a lot of people, my family included. I feel whiney because I usually believe that we make our own happiness and I have trouble feeling happiness about the last year (even though there were many happy events and occasions) – the overriding feeling in my heart is one of burden and feeling beat down. So, I’m sitting here watching this beautiful sunrise and giving myself a pep talk about sloughing off the weight of last year and moving into this new year with an open heart – reinstilling my belief that we do make our own happiness. Things happened last year that were out of my control but, like a snake, I can shed that skin of doom and let a bright new outlook shine and New Year’s Day is a great time to start anew. 2010, I’m ready for you!

Post-script: I wrote this yesterday, but was unable to get it posted to the internet (don't even get me started on hotel internet connections and costs). Also, we now know that the Ducks did NOT perform well in the Rose Bowl, but I want to state that, even so, I love my Ducks! As I look forward to 2010, I'll also be looking forward to the 2010 Oregon Football Season!