Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Remembering Dad

I am often flummoxed by the things people know, or at least profess to know, about their loved ones. I have friends who can wax for hours about the accomplishments or proclivities of their parents, not only recalling details from their own memories of direct experience, but cite all sorts of tidbits they've heard about. This can stir my inner world to the point where I wonder what is wrong with me.

I know so little about my father and his life prior to marrying my mother when he was 23 and she a mere 18. My memories of him are primarily painful ones that twist my stomach into knots. His fuse was short. We were a family of 6 with an upward trajectory socio-economically, and then things fell apart. We left; he stayed.

During the years following the divorce, my siblings and I took the Greyhound bus to visit him every other weekend. When my brother was old enough to drive, it was his job to get us there and back, all four of us navigating an ever-shifting landscape. I have no doubt that Dad gave it his all, trying to keep the connection intact and do his part, but I can tell you, it was no picnic; ever.

I did plenty of work in therapy during the early years of my marriage to unravel the tangle of family stuff I brought across the country with me, and much of that work centered around my father and my fear of him. Time brought healing and clarity; he changed, I changed, we reconciled little by little. 

During my last visit to his home in PA a year before his death, an extraordinary thing happened. Dad was sitting on his porch enjoying the summer day and I went outside to join him. He was frail then, spoke in whispers, and often stared as if in another place, which I suspect he was. I sat near him. He looked at me, really looked at me, as though seeing me for the first time. I remember his hands, cupping the arms of the rocking chair. "You're such a pretty girl," he said, and just like that, I began to cry. I had never heard such sweet words from my father and I did what you would have done: I said thank you and hugged him gently.

I've been thinking of Dad a lot today; it's his birthday month, and well, sometimes I miss him. Tonight I made a batch of Brazilian Black Bean soup. I hummed and sang the entire time. Both my parents had that habit; Mom hummed and sang; Dad whistled and sang. I love that I do it too! 

Dad learned to be kind to his children before he died. I learned to say thank you. We're still reconciling; these things take time. Remember that.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

Faith does a quick breast check before
we start the final miles of day three, 2007.
Things that bring Faith to mind:
the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure
rascally behavior
emotional risk-taking
my LPD
belly laughter
1:1 time with my nieces
foot massage
hummingbird sightings
wind in the trees
Pam's Kitchen!
second-hand clothes that fill the bill
self-directed behavior
toilet paper trails!
intimate connections
Ashland summers
kd lang
courageous living
courageous dying
Dr Rockhill, aka Rocky
the bounty of community
choosing our legacy
soft-as-silk Sinanan skin
my one and precious life. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

A wedding 41 years in the making

The family farm along the Shenandoah River is being transformed into Wedstock as I write. My sister Georgie and her dear man, Bill, will stand still long enough to exchange vows on Sunday afternoon. Let the party begin!    

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

You and me, him and her

Walking and swimming provide me precious opportunity to clear my head and to see things in a new light. Yesterday I pondered 4 types of people: 
those who claim their space
those who claim others' space
those who are reluctant to claim space in any amount
those who observe how others claim space

I am intrigued by all of this: how we come into this world, how we find our footing (or not), how we exist and how we ambulate, how we interact.

Give me an aisle seat or a place on the periphery over the boxed in locale any day. Give me a place at your side and trust me to know how close to stand. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Freewill offering

Abbey releases her wishing leaf, bound for the north sound.
Ah, summer. How you gift us with your bright light, blue skies, verdant landscapes, sparkling waters. Generous, inviting, hospitable, gregarious even. How you prepare the way for autumn glory.

I ask you, how do you weave your magic, year after year?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The power of music

At the symphony last night.  Violins crying.  Piano solo, whisper soft; the hall shrouded in a silence like an underwater world.  Tears falling, remembering.   

Monday, June 9, 2014

The church of the holy water

The Wellness and Lap Pools of the Lynnwood Recreation Center,
 a much-loved sanctuary.
I've written about him before, back in October 2012 (see "Get your groove on", 10/15/12), and today I learned his name.  Ed is a regular at The Church of the Holy Water, my term of endearment for our neighborhood pool, preferring the open deep end where he descends to the bottom, swims along the contoured surface, and positions himself for a slow, relaxed ascent to the surface.  I have long admired his easeful water play, and today I told him so.

Ed had something to say about his affinity for underwater swimming: "I grew up in a staunch Republican family, always at the country club.  I was the black sheep, preferring swimming over golf." He says his goal is to practice calm.  "When I swim along the bottom and begin to need air, I calm my thoughts and slowly come to to surface."  

That explains a lot.  When not letting go in his underwater world, Ed can be found smiling and conversing with fellow swimmers as though he has nary a care.  I love that this man is intentional in his search for calm, that he finds it at the bottom of the pool, and that he felt comfortable enough to tell me so.

Now, excuse me while I resume my lap swimming meditation, albeit on the surface!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Expressing ourselves

Molly, better known as the traffic and safety fairy at the Seattle
3-Day in the mid-late 2000s, displays her airborne style.
We were gassing up our cars at the same time today, which is how he came into my field of vision.  Eating from a jar of peanuts, he relaxed in a shaft of sun while his gas tank reached its limit.  He was wearing the most remarkable pair of shorts, and I would be truly remiss to not mention them!

A mid-thigh style with a conservative cuff, these eye-catching light lime-green shorts were festooned with tiny turquoise whales. I could not help myself, and so I approached to give him two thumbs up on his kick-ass attire.  He smiled and replied, "I've gotten so many compliments on them!"  

Here's to finding our true colors and wearing them with pride!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Connecting with intention

Sandi seeks connection with mama and her ducklings,
Usa-River, Tanzania, 2004.
I had two items to drop off at the mail mart, neither of which required money changing hands.  Zulli was tending to another customer, and I could have easily breezed in, dropped the goods on the side counter, and announced with a quick smile, "Just dropping off!"  I see folks do it all the time and Zulli and his business partner, Shamim, navigate those interactions with efficient, cheerful swiftness and grace.

I took a different tact and waited my turn.  I know how Zulli and Shamim love to connect with their customers.  There's a drive there that goes beyond superb customer service, which they always deliver; they minister to folk.  Thankfully, their approach has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with extending compassion, courtesy, and grace.

After a brief interaction over the items, Zulli stopped mid-stride and looked me in the eye: "You're keeping well, then?"  
"Yes, Zulli, thank you; very well."

I ask you, is there anything more comforting than having someone check in with you and really mean it?  Which is why I waited my turn, so grace could flow between us.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Sharing 58

A beaming Mimi receives a stately escort
 from her eldest grandson, Michael, at the
Derick-Helbig wedding, July 1998.
There's a corner in the side yard that has become, quite organically, Mimi's Place.  By midday, warm sun caresses the spot for a few blessed hours, then slips behind the house and lingers.

It began with a soft-pink camellia last spring, a gift from our neighbors in honor of my dear mother's passing.  Over time, other things found a home there: a rock cairn, a blue-bronze heron statue, and just today, a set of wind chimes with a rich deep timbre.    

All of these things hold signficance and help me more fully embrace my mother and my memory of her.  Though I have many varied images and feelings of Mimi in my head and heart, I realized today that I most commonly picture her as this photo so aptly depicts: an engaging, vibrant woman of 58; the age I shall be this year.  

Coincidence?  Fodder for psychoanalysis?  Bah!  I have a different theory.  I think I remember her this way because it was an especially happy time for her.  Finding her stride after several life-altering experiences, Mom seemed at the top of her game. She and Andy were 12 years into their 25 year marriage, her interior design business was thriving, and her life appeared balanced in a deeply rewarding way.  Meaningful work and good health; time for volunteering and travel; adventures with family, a measure of quiet of her own crafting; her life was all of these things.  

Today I remember Mimi in her 50s and celebrate with both arms raised!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Along came the twins --------------------> : fellow artists willing to play!

Ma (Heang), Jenny, Riley, and Nicholas: co-creators of "Toys don't eat dirt"
An alternative to planting flowers, April 2014.  Slugs and curious onlookers welcome!
Every cool thing needs a flag.

Autographs offered willingly by twins, Riley and Nicholas, nearing 4.

Treasures from my storied life, 1975-2014.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Spelling her way in j-o-y

Bill & Nancy pause for a photo at their chest-high raised bed
at the Intergenerational Community Garden at the Lynnwood Senior Center.
Three weeks ago she experienced a stroke.  Today she was planting and marking two short rows of garlic with her soft-spoken partner, Bill.  Next up in their shared day was a round of Bingo with friends at the senior center.  "I can't do the numbers right now, but Bill will h-e-l-p me and we'll …"

Her cheery demeanor and Bill's quiet witness shone like a companion star on this sunny day.  "I can't always find the words I want.  Do you g-a-r-d-e-n too?  We love this place!  We were here for the b-i-d-d-o-n!" She made open scissors with one hand and I got it straight away-- they were there for the ribbon cutting celebration last year when the community garden was officially opened!

Strangers to one another, we shared a mere 15 minutes in the noon sun together and when we parted, our collective joy was palpable.  Nancy tugged off her garden gloves, came around the raised beds, looked me in the eyes and opened her arms.  

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love my life! 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Jeffrey Michael!

Birding on the lane at Windfield Farm, 2008.
He's the only brother I've got and he's enough!  A fierce competitor with a photographic memory, growing up in his wake was not for the faint of heart.  Geo can tell you he had a versatile arsenal of torture techniques which, lucky for me, he practiced mostly on her.  Somehow the extra years between us gave me sufficient cushion in that arena.  Perhaps he favored me a tad for the 'free' money I slipped him when he played Monopoly and I served as banker.  You would of done the same thing; how else could I have justified helping myself to his coin jar to support my candy habit? 

A former school bus driver in Looneyville, WV, Jeffrey turned over his bus route, sold his parcel of land, and headed for the nation's capital for a spot at Georgetown University's School of Medicine.  I'm fairly certain he's a fine family practice doc.  I imagine his patients revere him; I surely did.  Actually, I still do.

He's got a parcel of land once again and has spent many of his days clearing trails, opening up the view of the Blue Ridge mountains, and building his own disc golf course.  This grandfather of four turned 64 today.  He took the day off to play with friends.  He's good at that; playing, and being a friend.  And you can bet all the money I took from him those many years ago that he's about to sit down to a fine home-cooked meal prepared by Janet, his beloved partner of 42 years.  Handcrafted with love key-lime pie will follow. What a day; what a guy!  

Happy Birthday, brother!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Worth the risk

Kris flies.
Risk.  Risk-taking; take a risk.  I know folks who find getting out of bed risky business enough; facing the day, facing our lives; it can disarm us in a heartbeat.  

There are days where I am more willing to step outside the parameters of my life.  And there are moments in those days when I simply go for it, no holds barred.  Sometimes the risk factors are crystal-clear to me; often, though, I see the extent of the risk (in its complexities) only after-the-fact.

By the numbers, now; a short story.  Two women entering Whole Foods at nearly the same time, each pushing 60 years.  A pair of bare legs, that's what I saw.  Buff, muscular, toned.  Sturdy?  Yea, that too.  Four seconds; that's what it took for me to scurry inside and find her gathering a bunch of kale.  My sixth sense said, "Go for it!"

Two points for a take-down.  Nah; I didn't take her to the ground; it was better!  I asked if she was ready for a compliment and said I hoped she would take it to heart as it was meant.  Without hesitation she spouted: "Yes, I am!"  (One point for Jenny!)

"I was coming in the door just behind you when my eyes were drawn to your legs and I got so focused on their beauty and strength, well… I walked right past this (hand basket) and then realized I had to go back and search for the little baskets…"

Now you might be saying to yourself, "Jenny.  Jenny.  When will you ever learn?"  But here's the thing: I have learned.  I've learned that people respond favorably to authentic feedback when it resonates with their heart.  They can sometimes even let go of conventions of what is 'appropriate'.  She was pretty blown away with delight about the whole encounter: what I was doing, what I said; how it was received; how she perceived the need for it today.    

An especially sweet moment was when she said, "I'll have to call my mom and tell her!"  I loved that!  Man, did I love that.  And I hope she does.  I hope she calls her mother, wherever she lives, and doesn't hold anything back.  And her mother-- surely she'll have a few fine words of endorsement too for her fifty-something daughter.  For after all, mother's know about the power of their words.  And how risky it is to use them.  Or not.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The day before she slipped away quietly

Coffee for two, March 15-29, 2013.
Dear Mom,

It's hard to fathom that a year has gone by since we had our final farewell.  I am forever grateful for the privilege of being your daughter.  That still stands.  

How I remember our conversation on March 13, 2013 when Mindy called and passed her phone to you.  The words I spoke.  The breaths you took.  The sounds from your throat.  The way we said 'I love you' over and over in a thousand ways.  The way we looked back.  And then how we stood still in time and let it be enough.

Sending love from my heart,
Your Jenny

Monday, February 24, 2014

A lost love found

In step: Bill and Geo find their groove after 40 years.
He entered her life in the early 70s when Georgie was a mere 20 years old.  The courtship months were short as I recall, each going their own way and, with time, stepping into marriages with new partners.  He carried her in his heart from the day they first met, even as he built a life without her.

She welcomed the occasional letter over the years, but that was the extent of their contact.  Both left their marriages and navigated new relationships. Georgie had a steady partnership spanning nearly 22 years.

Winds shifted.  Embers got sufficient air to fan the flame once more.  She found him via social media and they exchanged pleasantries.  In June, they met face to face for the first time in several decades.  Time stopped.  And then it began again.

This week, news arrived that they will exchange wedding vows in late summer at Windfield Farm, home to our dear aunt and uncle; home to Georgie, and soon, home to Bill.  We are over the moon with joy!

What can be said about love?  How does the passage of time change us, strengthen us, and open our hearts to what resides there?  I can live with the mystery; I can live with the miracle.  And, so it seems, can they.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

"Who's the old dog now?"

Eli with White Bear.

Old dogs, new tricks.  His delight in fetch has always been limited to the chase and retrieval; the bring it back part, well, not so much.  

We're discovering new ways to be together, Eli and me, in the changing landscape in which we find ourselves.  For the past few days, we've been goofing around in the back yard during sun breaks with balls, garden tools, and our combined energies seeking release.  First, with multiple tennis balls to keep the action moving, Eli would run to retrieve one, then march it back and strut around, taunting me to try and take it as he evaded me at every opportunity.  

Today we explored a new realm.  With gentle, patient words and attentive body language to match, I let him know how I wanted to play the game.  He followed my cues, consistently dropping the ball nearby, and waited for me to fling it again.  Hah!  

Gotta love the new trick for a pair of old dogs!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Before rising

Spring's gift.
In his final year of a 7-year incarceration, he told me this.  "Before my feet hit the floor each morning, I pray."  It's one of the many things he shared with me through weekly visitations and more frequent written correspondence.  And it's one of the things that comprise his legacy.  How, day after day, through a life wrought with violence and abuse, he sought light, a precious singular shaft, sufficient to illumine a way forward.

When I woke yesterday, the third anniversary of his untimely passing, I offered this in his memory.

Gracious and compassionate God,
Open my heart today so that I might reflect your light upon others in need.  Friends grieving.  Strangers stumbling. Loved ones living with isolation.  Direct my hands and lips in service.  Amen.

Today has dawned.  The prayer still stands.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

As surely as the sky is blue

Excited, delighted, and proud:
Cousins Wyatt and Nadya, and Maya and Isabel, take turns
holding Maude's leash on a sunny spring day, 2008.
What do I know?  Some days, I would say, not so much.  Today I'd say, "Listen.  Let me tell you what I know."  I know the unconditional love that springs forth between dogs and humans.  I know how a good dog can change you, can turn ornery folk into puppies, quiet types into sweet talkers, and those with a serious bent, into lighter beings; people you'd want to spend time with, or better yet, become.

I know that a dog can make your life rich and full and messy in ways you can barely fathom.  Steady, devoted, good-natured, affectionate, loyal. This one, Maude of Autumn Morning, will be remembered for her swift legs, sweet nature, keen interest in squirrels, affinity for foul-smelling things, shy demeanor, and long blessed life.  First as litter-mate to our dear boy, Harold, taken too soon as a puppy on the loose, then as elder sister to young Elias, who joined our family in 2002 as a companion for Maude.

Today we bid her farewell and released her from this earthly realm after 13 years of steadfast companionship.  What do I know?  I know she was ready to go, that we were entrusted with the task of bringing her life to a close, and that she will be sorely missed.  I know that Eli, approaching 12, has the challenging task of carrrying on in familiar turf without her.  

We knew Maudie well; 13 years together is ample time to get a good read on a girl.  She knew us well too, better than we'd care to admit.  We understood that love came in many forms and bask in the sure comfort that it reaches us still, even in death.

Dear girl, Godspeed.  May your grand off-leash adventure begin!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Reflections on a marriage

Approaching Niihau, Jan 25, 2014 and ready to snorkel!
Layers of color contrasting dark and light,
Niihau seduces with its stark beauty and forbidden status.
Emerald green, cerulean blue, shimmering silver.
How the sea colors change from place to place,
reflecting the land forms and sky-scapes surrounding it.

How a couple, married nearly 34 years,
match those changing landscapes with their own ever-evolving palette.  How it is enough to keep us looking ahead, engaged in the messy business of living.

There are ordinary things that unfold every day.  I call them miracles.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

When in doubt, get horizontal

A fellow napper at Polihale State Park, Jan 21, 2014

While Mika got horizontal nearby after a long barefoot walk,
this equally endearing fellow caught my eye.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Seeking sun

Waimea Canyon's extraordinary palette.

Twenty-four hours until departure.  Seattle fog be gone!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The slippery slope of health

A lifetime ago: my nursing school classmates sporting our graduate caps,
Howard Community College, Columbia, MD, 1978

Some things feel like a lifetime ago, because, well, they were.  Apparently, just a few weeks ago we were celebrating the holidays together as family and ventured to beautiful Bowen Island, BC, for our annual winter getaway by the sea.  By the time we returned home and the festive Christmas tree was decommissioned, I began to feel a bit under the weather.  By January 1st, it was clear I was a sick puppy in need of a warm bed.

What followed was a long slow 2 weeks of hacking and coughing, resting and moaning, with debilitating ribcage pain. It was a mere 12 days of essentially horizontal living, but it feels like a very long time ago that we were walking our dogs around Killarney Lake and visiting Jan and Ken in their home in Tunstall Bay.

 I am slowly gaining ground thanks to a steady regimen of rest, attentive care rendered by my family, and the various drugs I agreed to ingest to treat the respiratory bug and killer cough.  

Acute illness is a wake-up call and a stout reminder of all the ways we sally forth with nary a nod to the gift of good health.  Today I am grateful for sufficient energy to carry out a few simple tasks on my to-do list.  More importantly, I give thanks for my life of faith and the gift of prayer.  Today I offer a prayer of healing for those who are facing difficult times: major surgery for breast cancer in a young mother; a family care conference to establish a plan for a family patriarch in fragile health; hope and faith for those in our community living without shelter.   And I give thanks for the blessing of family and friends and for the light they cast.