Category Archives: Stories and Meditations

No pedigree, just a heart of gold.

Sammie didn’t have a pedigree.

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She was really too young to be taken away from her mother when she came home with Dad. Her mom had a pedigree: Brittany Spaniel. What is known of her father is that he was a good fence jumper and the source of her lab-like coloring and shape. The mother’s owners were appalled since they wanted pedigree. I won’t give details…or share my opinion about such people,  but Sam came home with Dad at seven weeks old because staying with mamma wasn’t an option. A tiny, by turns timid and energetic ball of mostly black fur with a white tummy and a heart of gold.

She used to worry when Dad went out in the boat, running back and forth along the bulkhead barking. She wouldn’t get into the boat or swim. She also worried when he climbed ladders.

She went everywhere with Dad.

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When she was young she was so fast that she actually grabbed a bird out of the air, a wren I think. Chasing birds is a young dog’s sport and as she got older she discovered fishing. It took us a while to catch on to what she was doing: she would wade along watching the bottom and every so often jump. Watching carefully we realized that, as she waded along she would startle the bullheads and occasional flounder into moving then try to pounce on them. She spent hours at it.

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She even caught one once, it had been injured by a seagull, but she was very proud.

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I’ll probably say more about Sam soon. We had to say good-bye to her last week and I have a big hole in my heart right now.

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Mother’s Day Flowers

Happy Mother’s Day!

Flowers have dominated this Mother’s Day. It has been beautiful: warmth, bright sunshine, and masses of gorgeous flowers in bloom. Even so, for me it has been an emotional roller-coaster

First: Roses

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My son sent me a WeChat message during the night.

We got back from a three week long visit to him a week ago today. It has been a busy week. One of those weeks which go by very quickly, yet so much happens that you barely remember it. Maybe some of that is jet lag. But for me, at least this time, some is emotional lag.

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It is always hard to say goodbye not knowing when you will see your loved ones again. The political situation, both in China and between China and the US is becoming, more tense, and the rules are always changing. Mothers do worry. Even when our offspring are no longer cute little boys but grown, responsible men. It’s not about being controlling or not letting go, it’s about caring.

Second: Poppies

KSM-20180513-MD_Flowers-02As I walked the dogs, sans camera because we were supposed to be hurrying to get off for Mother’s Day lunch and tea with Grandma. As I mentioned earlier the day itself has been gorgeous and usually on such a day the dogs and I would dawdle dreadfully, maybe spending over an hour to go a couple of miles between their sniffing and my taking pictures. The dogs still sniffed but I shortened the walk and left my camera at home. However, as we got back into my yard the poppies were just catching morning sun filtering through the leaves on the maple tree.

Third: Another Rose

KSM-20180513-MD_Flowers-03The Mount, where Grandma lives decorated the dining room in a classy way, with dark blue table cloths and dark red roses. I almost burst into tears. On Monday we had had to put my father’s dog to sleep. I called Sam my half-sister because we had different mothers. I loved her dearly, we spent many happy hours together walking on the beach and in the woods during her not quite 13 years on Earth.

KSM-20180507-MD_Flowers-01The rose against the dark blue cloth hit me hard: the veterinarian’s office had laid out a dark blue blanket with a red rose for Sam on Monday, My beautiful, lively Sam was skin and bones and unable to stand on her own anymore. Damn, I’m crying again.

Fourth: an abundance of May flowers

Because of the warm weather we were able to take a walk outside and enjoy the May flowers:

Fifth: tea cup flowers

KSM-20180513-MD_Flowers-09KSM-20180513-MD_Flowers-10The Mother’s Day tea featured fancy teacups of different designs and luscious, goodies, both sweet and savory, as bright as flowers as carefully arranged on the plates as a bouquet… But they also had those red roses and the dark blue table cloths.

Sixth, and last: tomorrows roses

KSM-20180513-MD_Flowers-16KSM-20180513-MD_Flowers-17Because of the warm weather sometime during the day the first two roses in my back yard decided to bloom. I found them as the pups and I returned from our afternoon stroll…thank goodness they aren’t red. I think it’s going to be a while until red roses don’t make me teary-eyed.

“My thoughts are gray and white…and cloudy”

Yesterday was sunshine and relatively warm. I got my roses pruned. We went over and had dinner with Grandma, then watched a couple of episodes of an old British sit-com she likes together. She was coughing in a way that didn’t sound good, but she’s had a cough for a while, it is a side effect of some of her medications (she swears she doesn’t have side effects and speaks of how they haven’t fixed it for her, it has gotten better and worse, but she’s had the cough for years now). They’ve been doing tests and trying various remedies for a month or so.

This morning it was cloudy and the nurse called and said Grandma has a fever and they are doing tests to see if she has the flu or a bacterial infection of some sort. Of course, if it’s the flu we’ve been exposed…as has an elderly friend of mine who we saw last night at dinner time. It feels like the clouds looming on the horizon, and overhead. Nothing one can do, just wait to see if it’s going to dump on you.

I live with ambivalence. Things aren’t black or white. Sometimes they are dark, and sometimes bright, and sometimes both at once. My personality doesn’t handle this well: I am an engineer by training. We figure out what needs to be done then find a solution. Chronic health problems that come from an aging body aren’t things that can, for the most part, be solved. Occasionally there is something that can be fixed. and often those can be hard to determine among the chronic things.

You can’t stop over a little rain; “you won’t melt” as I was told time, and time, and time again by the adults who wanted us to go outside and give them a break, including my grandmother.

Just like life in Seattle, where you will do precious little if you let a little rain get in your way, I can’t let Grandma’s myriad health problems stop me from doing things. They have become more frequent of late, it seems like I am always needing to check in with the medical professionals about this or that these days. Last summer we came back from a long planned vacation to Grandma in the hospital and a VA documentation nightmare. At one point she said ” you can’t go away again”, but I need to. Emotionally I need, desperately, to not be waiting for her to die for me to live.

Life is messy, and I know that with all the good advice in the world I would drift away from the regular discipline of study and exercise without the incentive of a practical reason to do them. I’d somehow find something else precedence. Knowing that they are needed for my general health and peace of mind is not enough.

So we have three trips planned over the next six months: to visit our son in China this spring, walking the length of Hadrian’s Wall in North Cumbria in June and our annual visit to Mount Rainier in late July.

These plans help keep me grounded and healthy. I study a little Chinese every morning (push-ups for my brain) and, in addition to walking the dogs (often “sniff” is a more accurate description than “walk”), I am doing Walk at Home workouts several times a week to stay fit enough to enjoy the walking and hiking planned.

Strategic Planning

As I mentioned at some point: I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I do, however, make plans that force me to do the things I would and should do if I made resolutions.

For example: I plan travel that forces me to keep in reasonable shape. Just being in shape  for its own sake does not motivate me. But taking a trip where I need to be able to walk 10 miles a day does. My son still remembers my going up and down the (not very quiet) stairs with a pack on over and over and over again, to prepare for the walking trip we took to France in 2001. (The weather here is often bad I have to train in the house.)

Since I have known him (we’ve been married for over 31 years now), my husband has mentioned walking Hadrian’s wall. After getting home from China last fall, and finally recovering from the fall I took a few days before I had to travel home; I suggested that we might want to do it this year if we are going to.  I didn’t hurt myself that much, but it was hard to recover (it took over a month for whatever I did to the bones, ligaments and or muscles between my back and front about six inches under my armpit to stop hurting when I twisted in any way…do you know how much you twist?) and I realized how fragile my toughness is.

We are now scheduled to walk the wall this summer. I found a company that arranges accommodation and transports your luggage from one stop to the next so we won’t be roughing it at all (I think those days are well past for me).  In addition to having our luggage transported and scheduling the longest time available (10 days of walking, the wall walk is 84 miles so it comes to an average of 9 or so per day), we added in two rest days so we can dawdle at the Roman Forts along the way. While my spouse is in much better shape than I, and might well relish a more vigorous approach, at least I’m game. I’ve set myself up to succeed and expect to enjoy every mile of it.

Not only that, but now I’m motivated to stay fit. I can do the 11.5 mile maximum day now, so all I have to do is keep at it.

Strategy

Finally…already

It’s finally New Year’s. 2017, a busy roller coaster of a year for me, is ending. 2018 will start soon…already has in much of the world. I deliberately took the picture with the roses this morning since it has all the stages from bud to rose hip in it. My life is less about new beginnings and more about cycles. “The seasons spin around again, and the years keep rolling by.”

Perhaps this bizarre scene I saw on the same walk would be a better choice:

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The doll has been sitting on the bench for several days now (it’s on my regular morning dog walk route), but someone added a banana blossom bud to it.

You know it’s been quite a year when you are elated to get a letter from Department of Social and Health Services on December 30th confirming your calculations and allowing you to close the books on 2017 with no carry forward.

Because of my grandmother’s situation I don’t necessarily anticipate a grand and glorious 2018. I am, however, confident that it will hold many joys; I fear they may be balanced with sorrows and stress. But so it goes.

I make no resolutions. Too much can’t be predicted and feelings of failure could upset my delicate emotional balance.

As I walked the dogs the wind changed and it went from warm-ish and cloudy to cold and clear-ish.

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Space Needle with Mount Baker in the background.

If you zoom in in the picture above you can read the sign saying “I’m getting a space lift.”

Almost sunset on this almost eerie day, it seemed very quiet and dim, and very chilly.

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and cheers to all for this brand New Year.

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She looks remarkably good for almost 95.

Finally

Meager Joy

KSM-20141223-Cookies-01If you are young and have never walked through the “valley of the shadow of death” with a loved one don’t read this. Live into the simple joys of Christmas. Let your stresses be finagling a smile in the Santa photo and finding a way to teach the next generation about joy. Smile, laugh, bake and eat cookies!!

My chosen title isn’t quite right. Joy isn’t a simple thing, it isn’t always jolly, true joy is hard in some ways. Just as true love isn’t lollipops, rainbows and roses on a sunny summer day: it gets deeper and stronger dealing with the adversities life throws at you.

A few days ago the Daily Prompt was Jolly. I wanted to do a post related to that, perhaps to have the illusion that I have some jolly joy in my life. But I didn’t get around to it. A common theme this year.

How can I describe the emotional turmoil, frustration, and weariness that are dominating this season of joy for me?…yet also convey that there is joy, even if it isn’t jolly.

I am blessed with “all I really need”, as the Raffi song says: a song in my heart, food in my belly, and love in my family. Many blessings, including that my Grandmother is not just alive and kicking, but actively enjoying many things. Even so, her health is deteriorating. Her heart and kidneys are tired and strained, keeping the balance is becoming more and more difficult for her health care providers. Today I got a call from the nurse practitioner about her kidneys, she is getting close to “stage 4” Kidney disease.

Being a “modern girl” (although “girl” hearkens back to the song from my younger days not my age) I looked it up on the internet. It means “not good”.

This late summer to late fall (technically it is fall for almost another week) has had a lot of what I call “whammies”. There have been a couple this past week. It is hard for me to wrap words around them (which is why I haven’t been posting much). Most have been related to my grandmother: her deteriorating physical capabilities caused by worsening of the underlying health conditions, magnified by the often overwhelming amount of paperwork needed to provide her with care.

I am emotionally ambiguous right now, out of sync with “Joy to the world the lord is born”; my refrain doesn’t have the rhythm and rhyme in the right places (story of my life): “Seek joy in this world. But do what you have to do. Hold on to love, but take care of yourself too.”

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Never-the-less, it is important to make this time good, for others,  including a scared, ornery, old lady that I love very much, and for myself. I have to smile, laugh, bake and eat cookies…because it is the season of joy, and we are together now, no matter what the future holds.

Meager and Jolly

Un-nesting

In our family we like to nest. My grandmother is no exception. We are giving up her apartment, because she will be remaining at a skilled nursing facility. It just isn’t safe or reasonable for her to be without access to care 24 hours a day.

Un-nesting her is a significant effort: her apartment was stuffed, every nook and cranny full of trinkets and memorabilia. The walls covered with paintings and other art to where not much wall showed through, even at that there were a couple of boxes of framed items that were never unpacked from when we mover her up from California over two years ago. And a few items are in the backs of closets.

The holiday season isn’t optimal for dealing with this change: I’ve spent many hours this past week enfolding fragile trinkets in bubble wrap. Things that probably won’t be unwrapped again by us. The stuff of life, treasured and carefully tended for so long, sits in boxes, waiting until someone who is more emotionally distant sends them off to a new home. As a result of this time we aren’t having a family Thanksgiving. Some of us will be joining Grandma at the nursing home for dinner there.

I’ve sent many things off to charity: outfits that will never again fit, clothing items that are too hard to get on and off. Kitchen items that no one in the family needs right now (more of that to come). But mostly I kept things, carefully wrapping up favorite dishes and glassware, fancy china serving pieces. and so on. Maybe a great grand-child setting up a home will need them in a few years.

This “un-nesting” is the antithesis of what most people are doing over the holidays. I feel out of sync. Unlike my cat, the Empress, who settles in anywhere.

As the wind howls…

Catching up on reading blog posts after a stimulating day of packing up my grandmother’s apartment and responding to a letter from the VA “Debt Management Department” on her behalf (see my Scared Speechless post for background), I got home before the peak winds were due to hit.

So far the lights have only flickered, but Cee’s question: When you lose electricity in a storm, do you light the candles, turn on the flashlight or use your cell phone for light? hit home: at the first flickers I lit candles in the living room, kitchen and bathroom. I also started up our gas fireplace (I’m not quite sure how to manage the electronic ignition by battery).  Before the flickers, based on the weather reports, I had already filled three thermoses with boiling water.

Here are answers to Cee’s other questions:

20150614-KSM-Puppy_FriendsDo you ever sit on a park bench for more than ten minutes? Not very often. Most park benches aren’t terribly comfortable and, in Seattle, they are often wet and cold, also I tend to be walking when I am at parks (two dogs, need I say more?).

Would you rather be given $10,000 for your own use or $100,000 to give anonymously to strangers? Tough one. Right now I am trying to figure out how to deal with a safe, yet also pleasant, way for my grandmother to live. I think I would take the $10,000. That would cover the difference to give her a private room instead of a shared one at a nursing home for about eight months.

Another concern I have about distributing a large sum is that I feel very inadequate to know enough about various charities to do a good job of making decisions that will make real improvements. I’ve seen charities that have had unintended consequences.

What inspired you or what did you appreciate this past week? We have had a beautiful fall, this past week has had some lovely days and the colors are warm and cheerful, and inspiring.

At this very moment I am extremely appreciative that I have a safe place out of the weather. I wish everyone else had that as well. Maybe if I could figure out a way to help that along I would take the $100K.

Cee’s Share Your World

Point of curiosity: Chinese eggs

In China I have at times been fascinated by the variety of eggs available. I found a few pictures of eggs that are unlike what one would ever see in a grocery store in the US. A variety of sizes and colors, and cooking treatments.

Seeing how people in China pile eggs into a plastic bag (no egg cartons) to carry them home fascinated me. Cracking the eggs I realized that US eggs have much more fragile shells (at least those sold in Grocery stores do). US eggs piled into a plastic bag would be scrambled, with extra calcium from the shells, before they got home.

I don’t know why that is, but if you do I’d love to hear about it.

Daily Post prompt:Egg

No time for an egg

My favorite breakfast is an egg, a piece of toast, and a tomato (grilled) or a piece of fruit. This weekend I’m attending a conference and have been settling for cold cereal. With a be-downtown-by-9:00am deadline, I was thrilled that it was fallback day. Mornings aren’t my best thing.

I hussled the pups around a few blocks and couldn’t figure out where my temporal margin of safety went. Grabbed my pack and headed briskly up the hill to the bus stop. It was a cold but not torrential rain during these activities.

I saw a bus stopping from a block away. I don’t run for buses on principal, but especially not when the pavement is wet. The bus lingered at the stop, long enough that I started to hope, so I made my slow pantomime of running in case the driver was looking, . The bus pulled out when I was less than twenty feet from it. So much for on-time.

I sat on the icy cold bench. To make it extra uncomfortable it is a metal mesh. Which means it conducts the icy cold ambient temperature  and allows an icy breeze through, so it stays cold. After a few minutes the rain changed to snow. The next bus was only 15 minutes later but my toes, and other parts, were numbing up nicely by then.

On the bus I looked at my watch and realized that I hadn’t changed it. Instead of being a few minutes late I was too early and needed to find a way to kill time and stay warm in the Sunday morning desert of downtown.

So I got my egg after all.

If I had been a little more on it I could have had it at home, where it was warm, instead of the bagel sandwich shop where I got hit with a blast of cold air every time someone came in.

I realized that my alarm is on my cell phone, which automatically updates, and every other clock in the house, plus my wrist watch was on yesterday time (my husband usually handles this chore but he is out of town). Has anyone else forgotten to change their clocks back?