Saturday, December 31, 2011

Stepping into the light

December 31: an auspicious day of reflection; a time of looking back and a grand opportunity to look ahead to new possibilities.

In recent years, I've grown into my life and feel secure in the fit. The choices I make serve me and bring me joy. I choose to be quiet, to settle in to the songs around me and to lean closer to hear strands of the faint music that calls to me. Listen in to your life.

When energy and spirit courses through me and nudges my heart just so, I honor the sacred pause. I am reminded of these words from writer Ann O’Shaughnessy:
"There is potential in that place where art is, and beauty can come, and another human can come and be there in it. I believe a creative life asks that we commit ourselves completely to clearing the conduit so spirit can flow. Our soul is the creative receptacle- the rich dense place where the creative life is born, and born again daily."

May we find the courage to step from darkness into the light.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


You know the drill. You've got a hankering for a photo and you're teetering on that fine line between snapping spontaneously and asking for cooperation. Cousin Faith's method was to get us to pose and then say, "Monkeys fly out of my bum!"

This gem was captured as we overheard Mika conferring with a colleague on the phone. Let's just say the anatomic focus runs in the family. Beyond that, it's best to not ask for details.

Monday, December 26, 2011

"Refreshing" winter waters await

A family tradition for many years, we enjoy a quiet winter getaway to Bowen Island, taking time to celebrate the Christmas season with my in-laws and sharing year-end reflections together. This year we're fortunate to have our beautiful sons joining us. Tomorrow we'll schlep our stuff, including our two eager dogs and their hefty kennels, and make our way north.

If we can muster the courage, we'll do our own private polar bear swim in Bowen Bay. My version, as pictured here in a solo event last December, is to enter with intention, dunk my body a few times, swish my arms and legs in an effort to prevent complete paralysis, and head for land in about 15 seconds.

Mika professes a plan to swim out to the buoy, which, frankly, is akin to a death wish. "If you're gonna do that, let's get your affairs in order today", I suggested. His rapid-fire retort came with nary a thought. "I bequeath my entire tamarind ball collection to Sarah. Where I'm going, there's an endless supply. I hope."

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas blessings

Family at home.
All is well with the world here.
Rich blessings abound.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

An early Christmas gift

Leaning back in the familiar chair, she closed her eyes and offered a small smile. "Thank you for the flowers. Oh, I love them. Blue roses are my favorite."

This brief and reassuring dream was the first thing I recalled upon waking this morning, on Christmas Eve. In the dream, my dear mother speaks and uses her body and facial expression to further express the happiness that is in her.

Did I send her flowers? In my dream, there is no awareness of such. Through the powerful yet gentle medium of the dream, I see that joy is possible; that we can create our own joy and sorrow from the internal landscape of our lives. My mother received a bouquet from me and she loved it! It matters not that I did not literally gift her with flowers. The gift is two-fold: she accessed joy-- Hallelujah to that-- and I learned to simply say, "You're welcome."

Friday, December 23, 2011

Three winter haiku

Winter solitude.
Strands of sunlight slipping through
silhouetted trees.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Cold ribbed spikes of glass
begin to disappear in
drops, returning home.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Against a blue sky
they sing a parting farewell.
Songs of the season.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A well-healed heel!

Any 3-Day walker or attentive crew member will tell you this is a familiar sight: a walker tending to her/his feet with an intense singular focus bordering on reverence.

I'm happy to report that the pesky plantar fasciitis I've been navigating since July is quite well healed and I am now pain-free in the foot department! I attribute this good fortune to excellent care by my foot doc and physical therapist and to the vigilance I've given to the proscribed exercises. In my view, the foot injections were key.

Now it's time to re-direct our focus to the hip once again, working on gait control and toning the adductor muscles on that chronically annoyed left side. Step by step, day by day; whoa girl; easy does it, Bessie!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Stones of remembrance

I took a walk today through Temple Beth Am's Cemetery Gan Shalom at Abby View Memorial Park.

"Even when visiting Jewish graves of someone that the visitor never knew, the custom is to place a small stone on the grave using the left hand. This shows that someone visited the gravesite, and is also a way of participating in the mitzvah of burial." ~ from Wikipedia

Monday, December 19, 2011

What do you see?

I've been thinking about perspective lately. I'm fascinated by the backstory or process by which perspective and perception are formed, given our unique personalities, values, experiences, and influences. How does perspective differ from perception? Does one exist without the other?

Simple guiding definitions:
perspective: view or vista; a mental view or outlook.
perception: the process, act, or faculty of perceiving; recognition and interpretation of sensory stimuli based chiefly on memory.

Look at this photograph. What do you see? Does your relationship with the subject(s) influence your perspective? Your perception? What about the body language? And how does the head position and eye contact of the subjects add to your perception of the moment as it was captured?

I'm interested in your perspective and perception, how you differentiate them, and how they play out for you as you look at the this photograph. Care to share?

Friday, December 16, 2011

And babies three!

2012 may be the Year of the Dragon, but for our clan, it's the Year of the Baby! In January, we'll welcome the first of three new family members.

Our nephew, Matt, recently returned from Afghanistan and living in Tennessee with his Swedish wife, Sara, are thrilled to be expecting a child, their first, as the new year begins. What a beautiful and unexpected outcome of deployment!

Nephew, Michael, pictured below with his wife, Amy, at left, and his sister, Eliza, caressing Michael and Amy's son, are expecting their third child and first daughter in April. Michael and Amy live in a suburb of Chicago with sons Charlie and Henry.

And in May, on the heels of cherry blossom bliss in our nation's capital, our oldest niece, Eliza, and her husband, Adam, both artists and educators living in Washington, DC, will welcome their first child.
Ain't life grand?

Of songs and of trees

I remember.

"Don't turn off your engine. Just wait. I'm afraid when I walk through the gate the guard will say, 'Mr. Hernandez, stop; turn around. We've changed our mind. You aren't being released today.'"

It was early summer 2006 when we drove away from the Monroe Correctional Complex, slowly making our way down the winding drive that led to freedom. Driving in silence along Route 2, all senses fully engaged, his eyes scanning the long-familiar landscape kept from view for 7 years. I remember he opened his window then, leaned his head out and tilted his face toward the late morning sun, eyes closed, his waist-length hair caught by the wind.

"I want to touch a tree." I pulled the van into a county park and we sat for a while. I asked if I could sing to him.

I remember.

Healer of Our Every Ill

Healer of our ev’ry ill,
light of each tomorrow,
give us peace beyond our fear,
and hope beyond our sorrow.

You who know our fears and sadness,
grace us with your peace and gladness,
Spirit of all comfort: fill our hearts.

In the pain and joy beholding
how your grace is still unfolding,
give us all your vision: God of love.

You who know each thought and feeling,
teach us all your way of healing,
Spirit of compassion: fill each heart.

Give us strength to love each other,
ev’ry sister, ev’ry brother,
Spirit of all kindness: be our guide.

We walked a bit and stopped at a towering cedar, stepping close, encircling the trunk with our arms, joining hands. He rested his cheek against its thready bark and drew a deep in-breath.

I remember. Oh, how I remember.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Lessons from the margins

I first discovered the joy of volunteering as a teenager while living in Maryland, cleaning up stream beds with my friend Beth as an alternative to attending school. My delinquency was intermittent, but the pleasure I derived from doing something meaningful and useful without being asked made a lasting impression. It truly was the birth of a lifetime of volunteering, and there isn't much about my teen years that has been nearly as far-reaching and productive!

Since then, my focus in the realm of volunteering has been primarily in health and social services and education, and, like many volunteer opportunities, they've offered deep and lasting reward. One of the current arms of my volunteer work is expressed through my faith community as Donations Coordinator. I am responsible for the ingathering and distribution of non-perishable food, clothing, and household items at Faith Lutheran Church. We collect items on a year 'round basis and make deliveries monthly to several agencies, shelters, and programs that serve those those in need in King and Snohomish counties.

Today's stops included deliveries to a shelter run by the Seattle Union Gospel Mission (SUGM), located in the former Lake City fire station, Immanuel Community Services Hygiene and Recovery Programs downtown, and Tent City 3, currently housed at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church. I was particularly impressed with the organizational structure, community spirit and gracious hospitality at Tent City 3. If one hundred people can live cooperatively within the chain-linked confines of a church parking lot in dozens of tents, sharing space, supplies and resources in all sorts of weather conditions while conducting the fine nuances of their personal lives, we most certainly should be able to get along in the heated, marble-floored spaces of our legislative halls.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Shifting perspectives

Yesterday in our caregivers support group, Christina shared the perspective of her Philippine culture with regard to dementias. "We don't call it that. We call it second childhood." Another group member, Joanne, told a poignant story about her husband who lives with advanced Alzheimer's in a memory care facility. Last week, Santa came to visit the residents and brought a sack of stuffed toys. The residents lit up at the mere sight of him and received their dolls and teddy bears with the unbridled delight of young children. "Don accepted a teddy bear and drew it to his chest with both hands, rubbing his face on it and smiling with joy. We walked down the hall to his room and he lay down on his bed and cuddled it with all his might. It was deeply moving."

Though the notion of viewing Alzheimer's as a second childhood is indeed controversial, there is certainly wisdom in thinking creatively about how to best meet the complex needs of those who live with the disease. As for my mother, she seems to find a measure of joy in a familiar face and in spending time with those who hold her dear. Hair brushing, soothing arm tickling, singing, holding hands, eye contact, offering soft kisses, and drinking a milkshake through a colorful straw- these are the things that seem to bring her joy.

Shared moments of pleasure made manifest through the simple act of slowing down, sharing time together and of bearing witness to the grace that arises. I'd wager it's a tried and true recipe of joy for us all. Milkshake anyone?

Monday, December 12, 2011

The common thread of caregiving

For the past 4 years, I've been attending a caregivers support group at the Northshore Senior's Center. Though I've tried other more homogenous groups, like the one in Ravenna for long-distance caregivers, or another, designed to meet the needs of adult children in caregiving roles, I've found the greatest benefit from this eclectic one. No doubt it has plenty to do with the fact that the group members have become like family to me; we care about each other and know one another's stories intimately. I appreciate the diverse circumstances and perspectives and have especially benefitted from bearing witness to the older men and their coping strategies. It's been a great gift in helping me develop compassion for my stepfather, who, until last December, oversaw the care of my mother.

Here is a list of those in attendance today and a brief mention of the loved one they care for. All of us care for a family member living with some form of dementia.
Henry: spouse at home with Alzheimer's with significant paranoia; needs constant supervision
Frank: wife Grace in care facility; mute; eyes closed for past 2 years
Marion: spouse, Don, a twin whose brother also has Alzheimer's; Don is recently deceased after living 2 years in an adult family home; Marion still attends group for support and "to help others if I can"
Francis: spouse of 16 years; lives at home with her
Arlene: new to group; spouse has dementia secondary to whole brain radiation for non hodgkin's lymphoma
Joanne: husband Don in care facility
Jenny: long-distance caregiver to mother in memory care unit
Bob: wife at home; compliant, soft spoken, "easy"
Lillian: spouse at home; watches TV 24/7
Chris: spouse Karl, 59, in memory care unit for past 1.5 years; wanderer
Christina: mother; full-time caregiver for past 4 years; has 4 siblings in U.S. but does all the caregiving "since I'm the only single one and they all have kids"
Ruby: spouse has early onset Alzheimer's; lives at home with her; Ruby recently diagnosed with breast cancer

Frank, who is soft-spoken and teary-eyed most of the time, stepped out of his shell today and read us a list of silly internet quotes that had us all busting at the seams. Janet, the social worker who facilitates the group, popped in a DVD with an image of a fireplace complete with crackling logs and orange embers. Lillian brought cheesecake, sparkling cider, mixed nuts, and two thermoses of coffee as a special treat. Joanne brought her neighbor, Arlene, who reluctantly placed her husband in an adult family home just 10 days ago. Last night she treated herself to a musical downtown, her first night out in 3 years.

It takes a village. I'm proud to be part of this one!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The body knows what the mind forgot

Body memory. It's a powerful force and it knocked my socks off last weekend when I opened my arms to receive a hug. It's been nearly 41 years since I last felt Karen's embrace, but the body memory of her nurturing hug was so palpable, I could not hold back the tears.

A mere teen when she first came into our lives, Karen served as a babysitter, older sister, mother figure, and steady presence at a time when our family was teetering on the edge. It's safe to say she formed us with an equal measure of influence as our parents. I believe this now after hearing her stories, sharing a few of our own, and re-connecting with body memories that lay dormant for decades.

Separated in the late 60s following life-changing events, my sisters and I reunited with Karen December 3 at the home of Melinda and Art. Concerned about opening Pandora's box and uncertain of what we might find there, Karen, Geo, Melinda and I lifted the lid and looked around. Tears flowed. Realities were checked; suspicions confirmed. It was a messy place to explore, but we had one another, just as we had way back when, in that formative, impressionable time.

We remembered things that had long ago been buried; buried out of necessity when survival was at stake. Despite the pain of looking back on a time that was so very dangerous and destructive for us all, something quite remarkable emerged. We saw how it was then and how it is now. We surmised about how we survived. Apologies were offered; forgiveness explored and extended.

These words, spoken by my friend Rick as part of a eulogy, embody my sentiments of Karen, both then and now:
Gracious space is a space where the other person shines- a place where people are helped to know, deep in their person, that they are unique, important and loved. It is a place where they are free to tell their story without fear of judgment; a place where the most vulnerable feel safe to grieve, to cry, to rant and to laugh out loud.

My body remembered the unconditional love from that long ago time and I rejoice in now knowing it has always been there.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sharing our abundance

Most of us don't have a hungry young buck at our heels in the kitchen, at least not literally, and my 55 year-old judgement tells me that's a good thing. But in this season of consumer-overload, I think it's wise to take a close look at what we have in our pantry, in our closets, and in the deep recesses of our personal lives, and fling wide the doors. And as we take a look around, may we find we have what we need and create space for sharing our God-given abundance with gratitude and with joy.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Out and about in Clarke County, VA

It didn't take much pursuading to capture this festive moment in downtown Berryville today. We spotted the little Christmas tree adorned with pipe-cleaner spectacles and stepped into the eyewear store to snag a sales clerk to snap our picture. Geo, goofball of a girl that she is, and oh, such a good sport to boot, was more than happy to pose street-side with her equally playful little sister.

What a glorious day we had today from start to finish! Thanks Geo!