… and, Breathe

November 18.  Four years ago today we got the news that we’d been waiting for.  The molecular scan of my latest bone marrow biopsy showed I was in molecular remission.  It was a big deal.  My honey gave me a necklace with the date, a heart, and an inscription that included, among other things, the word, “breathe”.

I haven’t talked much about my experience with Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia.  When it happened I was so sick I basically had a near zero count for neutrophils, white blood cells, and platelets.  I was so sick they moved me by ambulance from the urgent care to the hospital because they said if I’d gotten in a car accident at that point, or even had an impact at all, I would die because my blood wouldn’t clot.  The first thing they did when they got me to the oncology unit at the hospital that night was to give me a transfusion.  It was the first of many.  I went into the hospital that first time on June 1 and was there until July 1.  I would go back in for a week later that July for my second round of chemo, then again for a week in August for round three, and again for a week in September, before I was even supposed to get my last round, because I’d developed what’s called a neutropenic fever.  My counts were so low, from the chemo, that I’d somehow gotten an infection that my body couldn’t fight off.  My temp passed the holy grail of 102 and the oncology nurses said, yep, get thyself into the hospital.  I was there for a week that time, pumped with antibiotics and fluids until my fever broke and my counts went up enough for them to send me home. My last round of chemo, which was two pushes on two consecutive days (by far the shortest round I had since the others were four or five days), ended up being outpatient (I was excited by this as before then the nurses at the infusion center couldn’t push the kind of chemo I was on because it was considered too dangerous.  Somehow, near the end of my chemotherapy, they’d managed to get that rule changed which was great for me as I was able to just go in, get the last two pushes, and leave… yes, it was more complicated than that, but outpatient chemo was way better than days in the hospital).  My last push was actually on my 45th birthday.  Crazy, but true.  I’d agreed to that because I didn’t want to delay it at all.  I wanted to get it done, which had pretty much been my attitude all along.  Let’s do what we have to do, let’s go, let’s get it done.  In fact, when the doctor came into my hospital room the third day of my first stay and was there to tell us (my honey, my mom, and my brother, Kev, were there with me) I had APL my first reaction was OK, what do we do about it.  What’s next.  I was weak as hell, bruised like you wouldn’t believe because I had hardly any platelets and had just had a bone marrow biopsy and IV’s put in, but I was determined.  Let’s do everything we can, let’s get started, let’s go.

Pacific

Pacific

I have talked a bit, on and off, about the details of what I went through, answering questions people have had, telling my story.  What I’ve only talked a little about though, are the feelings.  The determination, the fear, the sadness at the thought of leaving K alone, of leaving my Mom, of leaving family and friends, and as crazy as it sounds, of the thought of not being there for our pups when it was their time to go.  Strange thought, but I’m supposed to be the one to hold them when that time comes (hopefully a long time from now), and I couldn’t bear the thought of not being there for them, of not being able to tell them I loved them.  Weird huh?  A person thinks strange things when there’s a good possibility they could die.

The nurses and doctors at the hospital that first time, and every time actually, never pulled punches with me.  I appreciated that.  They told me what was what in an upfront and matter of fact way.  They told me I could die.  They told me that the first month would be the hardest, and possibly most lethal, and that if I made it through that first month I might even be able to be cured.  Crazy.  The most deadly and most curable leukemia.  Great.  What a juxtaposition.  They were honest, and so I knew I could die.  I knew that first month would be especially hard.  I was right.

At first, after a few transfusions (which made me feel so much better I would ask if I could have another… too funny… what a vampire) and being given other things to bolster me, I felt better than I had in a while.  A little more energy.  It was fleeting, and came right after a transfusion, but still, I’d feel a little better for a couple of days.  Even as I started that first round of chemo I felt pretty good, all things considered.  Granted, pretty good for me at that stage was still not great.  I had no energy and could hardly walk to the bathroom without having to stop and rest after a couple of steps, but I felt good in that context.  The nurses said I should be getting sicker, from the chemo.  At first, I didn’t.  Then, I spiked a fever, out of the blue, and was put on antibiotics.  A lot of antibiotics.  And then, finally, all hell broke loose.  I was allergic to one kind they gave me (I was on more than one) and reacted to it.  I don’t really remember much of those two weeks of craziness, thank goodness.  It’s all pretty fuzzy.  I remember not being able to get to the bathroom without a lot of help, I remember throwing up and having diarrhea all at the same time and all in my bed, which then the nursing staff had to clean up (this might have embarrassed me, but somehow didn’t… they were so gracious about it), I remember bags of clothes being sent home with my Mom or my brother so they could wash my soiled shorts and t-shirts (I was wearing my stuff, not hospital gowns) and I felt bad they had to do that.  I remember at some point the medical staff were worried about my something or other (at differing points they did extra tests on my heart, my lungs, and who knows what else, I don’t remember it all) and I was supposed to drink all of this cranberry juice that had some liquid in it that they needed in me before they wheeled me down for… uh, I think that one was a heart test?  I don’t know.  Anyway, I was supposed to drink all this juice and I couldn’t do it.  K was there, trying to help me do it, to coax me to do it, and I was resistant.  I got some down, then threw up some, then got more down.  It was a terrible process.  Finally they said they thought I’d gotten enough in me.  It was awful.  I remember I didn’t want to shower either, it was too hard, and I couldn’t do it on my own (my honey basically had to get me in there and wash me every time as I couldn’t stand up, I used a shower seat, and I could barely raise my arms).  The nurses said I had to do it because I had no immune system and I could end up getting an infection from my own body if I didn’t wash often enough.  Pretty scary to think you might not even be able to fight off the normal bacteria on your own body, but there I was.  I remember the difficult time they had putting in my pic line and then the infection I got in it a couple of weeks later that resulted in fevers and ultimately having it removed.  I remember having special protocols for my room, people couldn’t come in unless they were free of all possible colds and hadn’t been in contact with anyone who might have had a cold, and then sometimes they had to be masked to even come in.  Masks became familiar to me.  Later, after I was home and then had to go into the clinic or back to the hospital I would have to wear masks everywhere so that my compromised system would be as protected as I could make it.  Doctors orders.  They weren’t messing around.

So that first month, terrible.  Scary. Muddled in my head.  As I said, I don’t remember much of it.  Unfortunately, my honey does.  When people talk about how their loved ones never left their side, well, that’s my honey.  She stayed with me, never left the hospital except for one night (when I finally convinced her to take one night off, take a break, go see and love on the puppies, breathe, take a shower, sleep in her own bed… she wouldn’t agree to it unless my Mom agreed to stay with me that one night, which of course Mom did) in the whole of that month.  My hospital room had a little twin sized window seat meant to be big enough for someone to sleep on.  My mom brought in a twin sized air mattress for K and the hospital staff gave her linens and my honey lived there, with me.  She couldn’t use the bathroom in my room because it was too dangerous for her with the chemo circulating through and then coming out of my body, so she had to go down the hall.  She got a Verizon mobile modem and worked from the hospital, each time I went in.  I don’t know how she managed to both rule the world from the hospital and still take such good care of me, but she did.  She held me up, literally, more times than I can count, and urged me to take the myriad of pills I didn’t want to take, and coaxed me into eating a bit of something, and talked me into showering and into doing much-needed laps around the oncology unit the nurses said I needed to do when I was starting to get my strength back, and bought me a new laptop so I could stay connected with things outside of the hospital, and communicated with friends and family outside of the hospital because I couldn’t bring myself to do it, and she held me.  She held me up, held onto me, she never let me go.  I relied on her so much, during not just that and the following hospital stays, but in between, when I became afraid to leave our house because it was too hard and too scary and too everything and she would urge me on.  She protected me and saved me and helped me and nudged me and loved me.  She loved me.  She loved me more than I could have ever imagined, and that love of hers, strong, and unending, and selfless, it saved me.  When the panic attacks and major anxiety started and I would feel like I couldn’t breathe and couldn’t move and  that just the simple act of leaving our house filled me with so much fear and anxiety and scared the crap out of me she could talk me off the ledge, help to get my nerves under control, help to keep me moving forward toward healing and health and a day when life would return to normal.  The staff at the hospital kept telling me how great my attitude was, that I smiled all the time, even though I was going through something so hard, and that I was always gracious and nice about everything that was going on.  I guess I was, but I could only be that way because my honey had me.  It’s what she said to me, what she still says to me… I got you.  She did.  She was my rock, the foundation that did not, and will not, ever crumble.  The hospital staff also kept mentioning what a great relationship we had, how well we loved each other, how good we treated each other.  We did, she did.  She does.  She has me.

Life was insular.  When something like this happens it’s almost exactly like when, in old movies, the frame fades in toward the center, first to a pinpoint, then to black.  Everything outside of hospital visits and treatments and medications and test scares and transfusions and antibiotics and weird side effects and leukemia fades away.  Life becomes small and exact and finite.  You live in a place of fear and hope and anxiety and holding your breath.  There’s a lot of holding your breath.  You live for the blood tests and the results and fear them at the same time.  You hope the treatment is working, you hope you live.  You want to live.  It becomes the focus of your existence.  Living.

Somehow, through the course of my time in and out of hospitals and clinics, I managed to maintain myself and my attitude pretty well, to the outside world anyway.  It’s strange that after the first major chemotherapy and that first hospital stay I would then get anxiety.  After.  After I was done with the first part of my treatment.  It started to creep in when I went home that first time.  I was scared to be without my safety net.  Scared to be on our own, so far away from help if I needed it.  I was scared of a lot of things.  I’d been so so sick, been so dependent on everyone at the hospital, I was so unsure of trying to do it all without them.  So the anxiety came and it crept up in intensity as I went along, through the next rounds of chemo.  I’d actually be relieved, in a love-hate kind of way, when I had to go back into the hospital for the next round as I’d know I would be there, where it was safe.  Then, when after the rounds of major chemotherapy were done, I entered maintenance, which is called consolidation, and the anxiety started to increase even more.  Now, looking back, I think I know why.  When something like this happens to you it’s sudden.  Sure, I didn’t feel very good before diagnosis, I had no energy, felt under the weather, but I never thought, wow… I’m tired, I must have a touch of leukemia.  You think oh, I must have a cold.  So when you have the test and the doctor comes in and says OK, your blood is chock full of APL, you’re surprised.  Not totally, since by that point you know you’re in the oncology unit and you know something is definitely not right inside of you, but it’s still a total surprise.  One minute you’re living life… working, playing, waiting for the birth of your first grandchild, enjoying everything, and the next you’re getting a transfusion and chemo and you don’t know if you’re going to make it through the month.  Weird.   Sudden.  What it does, or at least what it did to me, was make me acutely aware that life can be great one minute, and something terrible can happen in the next instant.  Nothing is guaranteed.  Which means that it’s all sort of random and unpredictable.  That scared me, still scares me.  A lot.

I’ve spent the last four years hopeful and afraid all at the same time.  In the last couple of years you can throw in a good dose of anger to that mix.  I’ve had some periods of time when I’ve been really angry.  Angry this happened, depressed as well.  It really wasn’t just this experience, it’s been a lot of things (K’s terrible illness before mine and all the deaths I’ve had in my family), but my illness certainly contributed mightily to the feelings of hopelessness in the face of odds that at times seem to be stacked against us.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not walking around angry and depressed all the time.  Those feelings, the blasts in the face I’ve had of them on and off, are finally starting to subside some.  It’s not who I was before all this, and certainly doesn’t define me now.  It’s just that those feelings have been a part of my life in a bigger way than they were before leukemia.  I still get bouts of fear and depression.  I still get angry over things that are silly and insignificant, but that for some reason trigger a reaction in me.  I’m working through all of that.  Working through the new impatience I feel when I’m doing a project and something goes wrong.  I don’t much like it when things go wrong now, even in a little way.   But, I’m getting through it.  I think I might be, finally, coming back to myself a little.  I think maybe the haze that’s been there the last four years might be lifting.  And yes, my honey has had a major part in helping me through it, in getting me back to myself.  She’s also been patient with me.  Patient when Mr. Hyde comes for a visit and Dr. Jekyll completely leaves the room.

You hear stories from people who’ve gone through traumatic experiences, near death experiences, who say that afterward they are left with a wonderful sense of possibility and living life to the fullest.  That wasn’t me.  Certainly not initially that is.  My illness did give me an overwhelming sense of appreciation and gratitude for the people in my life, family and friends, who I love and who love me, though to be honest I had a pretty good sense of that already.  But, it magnified it, which is a good thing.  But I’m not one of those people who will tell you that they are grateful for their experience because it woke something up in them.  To that I say pshaw.  At least as far as I’m concerned.  It didn’t make me free, it scared the crap out of me.  It didn’t wake me up, I was already awake.  I’m definitely not one of those people who now, after having this nearer-to-death-than-I-would’ve-liked experience, goes sky diving and takes more risks.  I don’t think anything could make me want to sky dive, not the thought of cheating death or the promise of a million dollars.  I keep waiting for the miraculous feeling of “grabbing-hold-of-life”, but it hasn’t come yet.  I sort of had it before.  I mean, as I said, I have always appreciated what I’ve had in the people in my life, I’ve always known that’s where the magic lies, and I’ve always thought of myself as lucky in that regard.  Leukemia did nothing to engender those feelings in me, it just made me scared of losing them.

Now, as I continue to come out of the haze that’s been the last four years, I’ve chosen another path with regards to how I look at all of this.  I’ve chosen to look at it like any other thing in my life that has been hard or unpleasant.  I got through it.  I put my head down, did what was necessary, and plowed through.  My own body betrayed me.  It took me down the rabbit hole and I clawed my way out of it (with some fantastic help of course) and somehow I must forgive it for doing that terrible injustice to me.  I must say to it, yes, you threw me a big curve ball, but sometimes that’s how things go.  Sometimes unexpected things are going to happen and the only choice is to move forward.  I have to put one foot in front of the other and I have to keep moving.  Because when I plow through, there are always beautiful things waiting for me on the other side of it.  Always.

So this is how it is for me, this new gloriously strange life.  Life is unexpected, it’s challenging, it’s scary, and not guaranteed.  It’s also joyous and beautiful and sacred and luminous and spectacularly, singularly, amazing.  It is all of those things.  Those and more.  I have to take the good and the bad and all the gray in between.  Sometimes that means living through the fear and the pain and the awful, and sometimes it means celebrating and laughing and being joyous and going balls out.  Under whatever circumstance, it means living.  Always. Living.  And luckily, fantastically, I am miraculously alive.  This experience does not define me, no experience can.  We are defined by how we live over the long haul, how we love and are loved in return.

Today, four years later, I’ve moved on and am moving forward, small steps at a time.  I’m laughing, I’m awed, I’m sad, I’m joyous, I’m angry, I’m elated, I’m overcome, I’m held captive by my past one minute and free of it the next.  That freedom though, ah, that freedom is so very sweet when it comes.  I love deeply, and I am loved just as deeply in return.   And when the fear comes, when it grips my heart and things become just a bit uncertain, I feel my honey, gently holding me and whispering in my ear, just breathe.  And I do.

49 For 49

I turned 49 a few days ago.  No, I’m not really 50 something and just using 49 as my sticky-post age.  I’m 49.

I’m not fazed.  Not being fazed is a good thing.

I have never been a person who was affected by my age.  I turned 16, 21, 25, 30, 40, etc. with no real worry or fear about getting older.  Time is what it is.  It marches, so do we.  I feel like I’m becoming a better version of myself, and getting better all the time, as I’ve aged.  Wisdom, lessening insecurities, a strong and getting stronger I-don’t-give-a-shit-about-what-anyone-thinks attitude, and a more and more relaxed way of looking at the world.

I feel like I’m better at looking outside of myself, outside of my inner dialogue, to the world beyond.  I realize I’m a small drop in a very large bucket.  And what’s more, when I fall back to being too much in my head, too much about me, I can snap out of it pretty quickly by reminding myself there’s more to life, so much more, than me.  It’s my personal version of a mental slap upside my head.  It’s a wisdom thing.  Something I’ve gained with age.  A certain perspective.  I’m grateful for it.

I try not to take myself to seriously, also a wisdom with age thing.  It’s the last vestige of big things I’m trying to work on.  I think I just wrote that with a serious face.  Mental note to relax the face while writing.

So I’m better, like fine wine, aged cheese, a good bourbon.  A better and bettering version of myself.  Is bettering even a word?  I have no idea.

I don’t know why I’m writing all of this.  My intention was to make a list of 49 things, of various types and intention, in honor of my 49th.  Instead I’ve seemed to wax on about how aged I am.

Let’s take a new tack.

I received a boat load of well wishes and birthday congrats and notes of love on Facebook.  I have an amazing group of people in my life, which I’ve mentioned on this blog before, and I’m ever so grateful for their presence, support, love, generosity of spirit, and humor.  It’s not so much that I have a quantity of people, I have quality people.  There’s a huge distinction in that.  They are quality people, and I’m beyond lucky to know them, to have them in my life.  I know this.  I’m blessed.

Which brings me back to the list.  The multitude of wishes made me grateful for the people in my life and that made me think of others things I’m grateful for.  I thought, at this juncture, it would be good to write some of those down, so the following is a list of things I’m grateful for.  It’s like a master list, though I know it will change, has changed, and morph over the years.  Some things though, remain constant.  I think it’s so important in life to look at what’s good, what’s working, what’s beautiful in our lives.  To actually take the time to acknowledge these things, stop in our crazy day, be still, and reflect on what’s good and important to us.  The people in my life would be number one.  So let’s start there.

1.  Family.  Born into a group of beautiful people, on both sides, was like winning the lottery.  There are people you choose in life, who I will get to in a moment, but the clan you enter the world belonging to can be a matter of luck.  My luck was good.  They are, to the last of them, quality, wonderful, and staggeringly spectacular.   I can’t even being to express the fortune I feel and how proud I am to belong to the lot of them.

2. Friends.  Or a better description might be to say they are the family I’ve chosen.  Throughout my life I seem to have chosen well.  I also find this lucky as I was not always my better self, yet somehow my center chose wisely, most of the time.  I’ve met and made friends with so many shining souls in my life I can’t even count them all.  As I sit here I see face after face run through my mind and I’m smiling.  Each and every one brought, and continues to bring, something singularly special to my life.  Such a unique, varied, luminous group of people.  I don’t know how I ended up with the pack of you, but I’m so so glad I did.  You are more than friends, you are truly family to me.

Brown Eyed Soul

Brown Eyed Soul (Photo credit: Tj Parker Photography)

3. Pups. I’ve always been a dog person.  I love their pack mentality.  The group is better than the one.  I love their loyalty and sweetness and unconditional love.  I love how cuddly they are.  I realize not all dogs are like this, but in my experience, this is what I’ve found.  Our dogs, Weston and Riley, are the most wonderful of creatures.  Both quirky and slightly flawed and neurotic in their own little ways, they bring so much joy and love and happiness to our lives.  I can’t believe how much I love them, and how much love they give to us.  It’s miraculous, the love of our dogs for us.  It’s important to honor that, to cherish it, and to take up the responsibility that having them in our lives brings.

4. Wind in the trees.  This is a bit of a crazy one, or might seem crazy anyway, but its going to stay here none the less.  I love the sound of the wind in the trees.  It’s a reminder of the moving world.  The wind blows here, it’s blowing somewhere across the world.  It carries life and hazard and is alive in its own way.  It reminds me how gentle or ferocious life can be and that I should try to be gentler, quieter, softer in my approach.  It reminds me how small I am, how big the world is, and that there are people in other places lifting their faces to the wind, closing their eyes, and sighing, just like I do sometimes.

5. The grand boys.  I know they are people too, and yes they are included in what I wrote above, but they are worth their own category.  Every day it seems I learn something new from them, something new about them.  They have such zest, such emotion, such joy for life.  They are amazing little men and the fact that I get to be privy to their growth and exploration of the world is magical.  Seeing how they respond to things, how they are effected by their world, how they learn, it all stuns me.  I’m so grateful for the experience of knowing them and loving them and having them love me.

6. My honey.  Yes, she also deserves her own category.  I would’ve put her first, as she deserves to be first, and is, but no matter.  It doesn’t matter what number gets put next to her on any list, she’s my number one.  My center, my split apart, my soul mate.  Two people were never more suited for each other.  We are like a hand in a perfectly fit glove.  We mesh.  We work.  We somehow found each other.  It’s rare, to have this kind of relationship.  I know it is.  She knows it too.  I can be moody and difficult, we have our issues, like everyone does, but the difference is that we are always moving together in the same direction.  We find joy in each other, in our relationship.  We look at things the same way, with a sense of adventure and excitement.  She has more joy than anyone I’ve ever met.  I am amazed by her.

7.  The Scooter.  It’s fun.  It’s fast.  It’s zippy.  It’s freedom on two wheels.  Riding it gives me great joy.  What more is there to say?

2397017863_b3d3da1b98_b8. A good book.  I’m in a reading phase now.  I seem to, over the course of my life, go in and out of reading phases.  I’ve always loved it, but sometimes I go off reading.  I have no idea why.  The times when I’m in a reading phase definitely are better times.  I am more relaxed, more at peace, more in touch with things outside myself.  It’s a good advertisement, in my life anyway, for me trying to stay in a reading phase.  New worlds are always waiting inside the pages of a good book.

9. My kindle, and other electronic devices.  Is this cheating to bring up the Kindle right after the above number 8?  Nah….  I’m a geek.  I love all things techy.  I love new technology, what it can do, the places it can take me.  I have always loved these things.  I have no idea why.  I don’t really want to know how they work, I just want to figure out their functions and then use them.  Whatever thing; phone, laptop, Kindle, iPod, GPS in the Jeep, new app, etc., I happen to be using at the time.  Fabulous.

10. The dictionary.  The vehicle of its delivery has changed, moving to an online or let’s make that plural as in multiple online dictionaries, but I love them all the same.  Words, meanings of words, other words to use in place of words I think I’ve over used, and on and on.  The dictionary and/or a good thesaurus, are wonders of the world.  I adore them.

11. Chocolate.  In all its forms, covered over the top of things or standing alone on its own, I love me some good chocolate.

10469198_10152595625135802_7636557574230510828_n12.  The ocean.  Doesn’t really matter which one, though I’m sort of partial to the Pacific as it’s the one I grew up with.  The power, the endless depth, the mysteries living there.  Again, it’s one of those things that makes me feel small in a big world.  As you can probably tell by now I love that feeling.  It helps to put things in perspective.  I like most forms of natural water; rivers, oceans, big lakes, streams.  Even rain.  Rain is amazing.  I think my Oregon is showing through.

13. Ceiling fans.  Crazy as this may seem.  I love our ceiling fan in our bedroom.  I don’t know if I could sleep without it.  It’s the simple pleasures in life.  Besides which, in Scappoose we actually named our ceiling fan The Super-Sky-Diving-Fan-Blade-Lady.  Yes, if you looked at it just right, like shapes in clouds, you could see her.

14. Filtered sunlight.  I’m looking out into the backyard now.  It’s now (a few days have gone by since I started this list) the first day of Autumn (which happens to be my favorite of the seasons) and it’s gorgeous outside.  The light is coming down in streaks through the trees and it’s absolutely beautiful.  Stunning.  Gorgeous. Amazing.

15. Weston’s snoring sound.  I know I already talked about the dogs, but seriously, his snore rocks.  He’s a small dog, but can snore with the best of them.  I love that sound.

16. Finding a new band/music and music in general.  I’m an explorer by nature.  This applies to music as well.  I’m constantly looking for new music.  Finding a new group/artist is an amazing thing.  It lifts my soul.  Just as listening to an old standard lifts my soul.  Some people aren’t music people, they could care less.  I don’t understand those people.  I’m moved, shaped, enlightened, lifted, seared to the core, and effected greatly by the music in my life.

17. Birkenstocks.  We are a Birkenstock household.  There are so many different kinds of Birkenstocks in our house it’s sort of ridiculous, but they are here for a reason.  They are comfortable.  The most comfortable shoe ever.  My feet sing while wearing them.

Portland Rose Garden

Portland Rose Garden

18. Walkabouts.  I love a good stroll.  Going places my feet can take me, anywhere I happen to be, is a great thing.  My Mom and I just did a 13 plus mile stroll in Chicago recently.  We hadn’t planned on walking that far, we just did.  The weather was wonderful, the company stellar, and the sights beautiful.  Walking is an experiment in living the slow life.  It allows you to drink it what’s around you, be more effected by it, be IN it.  I recommend it highly.

19. iPhone camera.  I’m a fan.  Being somewhat of a photographer (I’ve gotten paid to do it occasionally) I have a lot of equipment.  Recently, however, I’ve been using my iPhone camera more and more.  I’ve done this for a couple of reasons.  One, I don’t have to carry around a ton of stuff, my phone is always in my pocket anyway, and two, not carrying around all that stuff and attending to it, and then using it, I feel like I’m more in the moment.  I’m still taking loads of photos, but I seem to be more present in situations just using my phone as opposed to big cameras.  And to top it off, the iPhone camera is pretty darn good for a phone camera.  I like it.  I like it a lot.

20. Eggs on toast.  We just spent many days in our travel trailer.  An egg on toast was a go to breakfast for us during that time.  One egg, one piece of toast.  Simple, and warm, and tasty.  I enjoyed it.  I just thought of it this morning, so guess what we had for breakfast today?

21. Autumn.  I mentioned fall in an earlier item.  It’s my favorite and deserves its own slot.  I love the changing of the leaves, I love the new crispness in the air, I love how we clean up the yard and put stuff away and everything starts to get still, quiet.  Strangely I love having to put on my long pants and sweatshirts for the first time in months.  I love the holidays during fall and how here in Illinois the trees start to bare themselves as the leaves start to fall.  It’s a time of change and quieting and relief from the heat.

22. Old fashioned chocolate sodas.  To be honest I just discovered these this last week.  I liked it so much I’m including it here.  Yum.

23. Travel.  As I said earlier, I’m an explorer by nature.  New places, new things, new experiences are like mana of the gods to me.  I drink them in.  Travel, by its nature, feeds that need in me to explore.  New sights, sounds, people met, and areas to explore feed my soul.  I’m a bit of a nomad and travel, of any kind and distance, fills that part of me.

Redwoods

Redwoods

24. Our new travel trailer.  Related, obviously, to the previous item, our travel trailer rocks.  We just got it this summer and ended up spending, so far, nearly 50 nights traveling around and sleeping in it.  I never got tired of it.  It’s small, but feels big for its size.  I think, honestly, I could actually live in it.  That won’t happen, as having a home base is necessary for my honey, and probably for me as well, but I think I could.  It’s perfect for the two of us and our two fur heads.  It symbolizes adventure and fun and exploration.  I’m ready to take it out again.

25. Tasty vittles.  Along with new places to see, I love finding new foods I like.  As well, truth be told, as eating standard favorites of mine.  A good meal shared with good people and maybe a nice glass of Barbera d’Alba.  Yum.

26. Quiet time.  I’m a person who enjoys solitude and silence.  In fact I don’t just enjoy it, I need it.  Sitting alone in a space reading, watching tv, drinking coffee, looking around, or just sitting and thinking, is necessary for me.  I call it my recharge time.  It’s important for me.  And consequently it’s important for those around me.  I’m a better me when I get time to myself once in a while.  If I don’t I begin to feel overloaded, overwhelmed, and a tad crazy pants.  Plus, I just plain enjoy it.

27. The blogs.  Creative outlets, period the end.  I love writing, I love taking photos, and I love having a place to put that out into the world.  Read or not read (though I prefer read) I so enjoy the constant platforms for creativity.

28. Speaking of photography.  Photography.  I see the world a certain way.  I see it in detail.  The whole is beautiful, but the real secret beauty lives in the details.  A leaf, an arm, a man smoking a cigar, shadows and light.  I have always seen this way, though I think using a camera so much has heightened this sense of mine.  When I capture what I’ve just seen with my eyes in a photograph it’s an incredible feeling.

29. Words.  Written by others, written by myself, lyrics, stanzas, dialogue, conversation, puns, silly phrases, novels, poems, short stories, witty commercials, plays, dictionaries, etc.  No matter the vehicle, words mean a lot to me.  I’m grateful for their breadth and depth and expanse.  I’m grateful to be able to convey and to have things conveyed to me.  I’m grateful for the expression of others and my ability to express.  They are the bread and fruit of life.

30.  A good hug.  My brother, Kev, is a fantastic hugger.  He’s known for it actually.  I think his hugs will go down in song and story.  He hugs with the all of himself.  It engulfs and warms and conveys so much.  There’s nothing like a good hug.  We are a hugging family.  We are people who hug.  There’s a reason for that.

Peace

Peace

31. Experience.  Vague, yes, but not really meant to be.  I love new experiences with the people in my life.  Fishing on Stan’s boat, disc golf with the Gal Up group, crab feast with the POD, fantasy football, going out for a bite to eat, bike rides, walks, dinners at the houses of great friends, train rides, laughing and laughing, seeing a film, reading a book, walking on a beach, kayaking, exploring cool buildings, seeing great art, and on and on and on.  The experiences we have are everything.  What we own, nothing. The time we spend with the people we love, doing things we love, that’s where the heart and soul of living is.

32. Bike rides.  I have always loved the feeling of being on a bike.  It’s always meant freedom and fun to me.  When I was a kid a whole gang of us would ride around together, exploring the neighborhood.  I bought my first bike, a sweet little green 10 speed, when I was in junior high.  I’d had bikes before, but that was the first one I paid for by myself.  I saved the money.  It was so cool.  I rode that bike for years actually.  I think it’s even the one I took to college with me.  It was, during school days, my main mode of transport.  Somehow I let that bike go and didn’t have another one for a long time.  In recent years I’ve gotten back into it, not as a major cyclist or anything, just as a day rider, and have loved every moment I’m in the seat.  It’s liberating, invigorating, and free.  Last year I got a new, slightly better bike, and it’s been heaven.  Stepping out to the garage and just hoping on the bike and going out for a spin, so much fun.  SO much fun.  Makes me feel the same way I did when I was a kid.

33. Life.  I’m grateful for it.  Four years ago first my honey and then I had brushes with death.  Both sicknesses, both life threatening, both terrifying.  We each pulled through with flying colors, but at times, for each of us, it was touch and go.  I’m grateful we are both here and loving, laughing, experiencing, exploring, and trying to drink in every bit of life.  I’m so very grateful.

34. Not taking things for granted.  I don’t.  I feel an expanding sense of gratitude all the time.  I know my life is good, and I don’t take that for granted.  I’m glad I don’t.  I’m lucky to know not to.  I’ve always been this way, but as I get older, and as I’ve experienced more in life, I feel this even more.  I wish I could gift it to everyone, this feeling of being so thankful for what I have, and so in tune with that feeling.  It changes everything, or can anyway.  I know people who struggle with life, always feeling they are owed, or due something, or that they have been robbed of something.  I feel so sad for them.  Honestly sad.  Our lives are a matter of perspective.  “Coffey looks and he sees hate and fear, you have to look with better eyes than that”.  It’s my favorite line from the move The Abyss.  It says everything there is to say.  We all have to look with our best eyes.  I’m not preaching here, OK, maybe I am just a little, I’m just trying to say that I’m grateful that I don’t take things for granted and I wish everyone could feel what that feels like.

35. Connection.  I feel a deep sense of connection.  Not just to my family and friends, but to the world at large.  I feel a spiritual connection to all living things, and therefore a responsibility to them.  I’m grateful for this feeling.  It brings a depth to my life, helping me to center myself at times, to know my place.  Again, I’m but a drop in the bucket and this larger living world is a huge place filled with wonders.

South Dakota

South Dakota

36. Silliness.  I was going to write a good laugh here, but changed my mind and wrote silliness instead.  There’s nothing like being silly, being a dork, being unafraid to be ridiculous and not care what anyone thinks.  I’m a total dork.  I admit it.  I embrace it.  I say and do things that get me strange looks at times.  I’m OK with that.  I’m grateful for the quirk in myself, for the quirk in my friends, for the dorkiness of my family, for the natural pratfalls and schtick, and playfulness in myself and the people I love.   Everyone should be willing to dance in the rain and do silly stuff just to make the people you love laugh.  At least, that’s what I think.  Last night I was talking in the most ridiculous southern accent just to make my honey laugh.  She did.  It was awesome.

37. Film.  I adore a good movie.  I cry, learn, expand, dream, breathe, laugh, and find so much beauty in movies.  I always have.  It’s the stories, the hope, the despair, the human commonality, the connection with places and people who I feel I know.  Near or far, made in the US or not, these stories grow a world view, empower change, enlighten, and sometimes offer an escape and relief from my daily life.  I value them, their contribution, their art.  I value their expression and message, even if I don’t always agree with it.  Movies enrich my life in a myriad of ways.

38. The Library.  I’ve always been a fan of libraries.  When I was younger I used to hang out in them a bit to do homework, people watch, enjoy a quiet place.  I never took full advantage of one and I’m not sure I even had a library card (other than in college) anywhere I’ve lived, until now.  When we moved to C-U we, naturally because it’s why we moved here, started hanging out a lot with our first grandson.  The library in our town has a great children’s area and a couple of times we found ourselves there with him exploring the kids area, playing with the train, running up and down the little stairs.  I decided to look around a bit and discovered they had a lot to offer and set about getting a library card.  I’m so glad I did.  Books, movies, music, magazines, and so much are now at my fingertips.  I created a hold list and add stuff to it all the time.  It’s so much fun.  In a time in our lives when we are trying to live smaller, use less, and have less, the library provides a great way for me to still enjoy all those things I love without having to pay out tons of money, or find tons of space in the house.  Plus, again, it’s so much fun.

39. The Y.  We also joined the Y when we moved here.  We’d never been members of a gym together.  Not really.  Well, OK, we joined another gym the first year we were here, but it was small and in a mall.  Neither of those things were necessarily bad, but it was limited.  Then the new Y opened up and we went in to check it out.  Great facility.  Pools, weight rooms, indoor track, rock climbing wall, great locker room facilities, and a great play space for the grand boys.  We were hooked and signed up.  We go through spurts when using it, like most people with gym memberships, but the diverse class offerings (we’re going to try yoga next week), combined with the facilities themselves and the incredibly nice staff make it a total winner.  We absolutely love it, and I’m particularly fond of it now as I’m back in a swimming mode and love being in the water.

40. Our meat man.  I get a lot of joy out of this one.  When we moved to Illinois from Oregon I did a lot of research on sustainable food sources, organic availability, grocery stores and what they offered, etc.  Coming from the Portland area we were used to having locally sourced meat and other foods available to us all the time.  What I found in my search here was that we could join a meat club.  Yay.  Seriously, it’s the coolest thing.  We buy our meat directly from a farmer.  We can visit the farm, though we haven’t, if we want to.  We know his practices, like him and the other people who work the truck when we do our monthly pick up, and totally dig on the superior quality of the meat we are now eating.  It tastes better than anything we’ve ever purchased, anywhere.  It rocks, and we love that we get the majority of our meat this way.  We get an email every month, we use and order form and email back what we want, we show up at the pick up spot and pick it up.  It rocks.

1393417878_f1c0d17f07_o41. Quirky art.  My honey and I are fans of art.  All kinds actually.  We’ve purchased sculptures and paintings and photography and funky lamps and stain glass pieces.  We’ve even made some of our own, of various kinds.  It’s a great thing to go to some art fair and find something we both love.  It’s a rule, we don’t buy anything unless we agree on it, which actually isn’t that tough since our tastes are similar.  I love the pieces we’ve purchased and so does she.  We haven’t regretted a single one and the whole of them makes our house uniquely ours.  It’s funky, it’s fun, it’s joyous.  And I’m grateful for the funky beautiful things we’ve managed to collect.  They represent us well.

42. Coffee.  I can’t believe this didn’t occur to me earlier in this list, but no matter.  I love a great cup of joe.  Love it. We buy our beans from a local roasting company and every morning we grind them fresh and make two french presses full of gorgeous, beautiful, sweet-smelling coffee.  There’s nothing like that first cup of the day, except for maybe the third cup… or the second.  We’re also fans of going out to a local spot (no Starbucks for us anymore), and enjoying a nice cup of drip coffee.  A good cup of coffee can be heaven in a cup.

43. Our DVR.  This one is a tad shallow, but who cares.  These are the things I’m grateful for and the DVR, and services like Netflix, are on the list.  I love not having to watch commercials.  I love being able to watch what we want when we want to.  I love the ease of it all.  I love the technology of it all.  We watch only what we want, when we want to, and barely know anything else is on.  Lovely.

44. The Up Center.  Moving to a new place is tough.  Especially when you love where you already live, have a fantastic group of friends, and aren’t over the moon with where you are going.  Our transition, those first couple of months, was tough.  We cried, we had regrets, we asked ourselves what the hell were we thinking and why did we do it?  Of course, we did it for the grand son (there was only the one at the time, not the two and the baby girl on the way we have now) and he was totally worth it.  It’s just that we had a big big life in Oregon and at first our move here was difficult.  But, we found a little place called the Up Center, went to a group or two, met some people, and started making friends.  All the friends we have here we met through that organization.  It’s because of that I’m so grateful for it.  We have a stellar group of friends here.  A truly amazing group.  A group we probably wouldn’t have met otherwise.

45. Big Boy Shorts/Pants.  I’m a huge fan of cargo shorts.  My honey and I call these our big boy shorts. We also have big boy pants.  Nothing says convenience more than shorts equipped with pockets.  Keys, phone, wallet, etc.  They all fit.  No purse, no backpack, no anything else to carry.  It’s perfect.  They are perfect.  I really dig them.  Grateful for the ease of wearing them.

46. Our bird feeders.  I’ve never really been into birds.  I mean, they can be lovely and all, but I wasn’t ever a bird watcher or anything.  Then we moved to Illinois and my honey wanted bird feeders.  She is a bird lover.  We tried a few configurations including sitting them up on things or putting them on hooks.  We have a lot of trees which means we have a lot of squirrels.  Finally it occurred to us that we needed something taller.  A long story short, we actually sunk posts in with hooks on each side.  We stained them, put copper tops on them, and used nice wrought iron hooks.  They’re great.  And we get loads of birds.  So many types it’s amazing.  I’m a bird person now.

47. Our down comforters.  We have both a summer and a winter comforter, they’re both down.  There’s something extra snuggly about getting into bed with either of these on.  They make our life so much more comfortable.  They’re awesome.

1557202_10152252227945802_1261058153_o48. Grateful.  I’m grateful for being grateful.  I often feel a wave of gratefulness wash over me.  Not sure where it comes from all the time, but it happens.  I’m grateful for this feeling.  For knowing there’s so much to be grateful for.

49. A positive attitude.  It’s fitting that I should save this for last.  It’s important to me, and a big part of who I am.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am afraid sometimes, really afraid.  I worry.  I get really angry sometimes.  I’m moody.  I’m not always the person who says let’s hold hands and all sing kumbaya.  But for the most part, most of the time, I’m pretty upbeat.  I tend to look on the bright side.  I think it’s a mixture of hope and what I believe to be true all rolled together.  I’m genuinely hopeful, most of the time.  I also genuinely believe in the overwhelming good of most people.  I know there are evil souls out there doing bad things, but I truly believe that for the most part people are good, are trying to do what they think is best, are sincere and giving and gracious and kind.  I believe that.  I’m glad I do.  I believe that things can work out.  They don’t always, but they can.  I’ve always been this way.  Maybe that’s why the teachers at my high school gave me a president’s award my senior year for having the best attitude.  I believe we should smile at each other, with our eyes, and say thank you, and that we should be friendly, we should be nice.  A positive attitude gives you a lot in return as well.  In my opinion it just doesn’t project out toward the world, it gives you a better view of it.

So there it is.  My list of 49 things I’m grateful for as I start this year of my life.  50 is just around the corner and I can’t wait to see what the rest of this year, leading up to that milestone, brings to my life.  It’s exciting.

Facing the Book of My Life

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I was sitting outside this morning, enjoying a bit of time before the heat and humidity forced me back inside.  I had a cup of coffee and was chatting with K about our trip to Oregon this year, going over some of the little details of the trip out, discussing some of the things we will do while we’re there.  During the discussion I started thinking about all of our people out there, which I often do.  I wondered if we would get to see most of them, I hoped we would.

Thinking about the people you miss sometimes leads to thinking about the life you’ve had.  Mine has been amazing so far.  Amazing, mostly, because of the people who have been in my life, either for a short time or for most of it.  It’s the people, you see, who make a life what it is.  It’s the experiences you have with those people who make the memories you hold on to, that make this journey we are all on worth the ride.

In that short time sitting outside I ran the gamut of my life, thinking about antics on playgrounds, singing silly songs in high school hallways, riding around in my Plymouth Scamp, playing frisbee in dark parks, skipping class to go to the coast, bridesmaids dresses, card games, talks in coffee shops, bike rides, racquetball, drive-in movies, travel to far away places, crying together, music shared, and laughter.  So much laughter.  So many smiles.  I have what seems like an endless litany of shared experiences.

My thoughts then turned to Facebook, which really isn’t that strange of a leap to make.  I realized, during this short accounting of my life, that I am friends on Facebook with people from all phases of my life.  I have managed to gather them there, these parts of my life, parts of myself.  I can look at my friends list and see people I knew in grade school, people I spent time with in high school, people I met in college, and people from my work life afterward. And I realized something else… I love them all.  I love them like I love those versions of myself.  The versions of me I was when I knew them.  I hold those parts of myself close, trying to remember who I’ve been, how far I’ve traveled in life, and who these wonderful people have become themselves.  Who we are all becoming, every day as we move forward in life.

It’s a deep thought, not easily articulated.  I guess I will say this.  I love Facebook.  Not for the games or the re-posting or the political stuff I seem to be inundated with every day, but for the connection.  I love it for the window into people’s lives.  For the thoughts and photos and snippets of things that are important to them.  People I’ve loved, people I still love for who they were to me,  who they are to me now.  People who have made my life what it is, who have made me who I am.  I’m grateful for this connection, for this window.  I’m blessed to have been able to renew those ties to my former self, my younger self, and to stay connected to family and friends in far away places.

Before Facebook these parts of my life were like vapor.  Diffused.  Slightly transparent.  Now, though still removed and in far off places, they are re-connected to me.  And I am, miraculously, reconnected to myself, to my past, to this life I’ve lived and am living, and to the people that have made this life.  I’m grateful for that.

 

Trading Up to a Marriage We Already Had

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It’s the 12th of June.  We’ve been legally married for 10 days now.  I don’t feel any more married than I did before, though we were told, immediately after getting the deed done, that now if we split up we’d have to get divorced like everyone else.  That made us laugh.

In 2003 my life changed for good, in both senses of that word.  It got infinitely better and was also altered for all time.  I met K, and life changed.  Ours is a true love story.  Girl meets girl, they fall madly in love, they buy a house, they do their own marriage ceremony on a far off Hawaiian island because it’s not legal where they live anyway and Hawaii was the perfect spot, they return home and have a party with their families and friends to celebrate both the purchase of their first home together and their union, and bliss ensues, even if it’s not legally wedded bliss.

Flash forward five years and Oregon gets Domestic Partnership.  We already considered ourselves married, but this was a step toward legal recognition, so I marched over to the County Clerk‘s desk (I worked for the county so it wasn’t a long jaunt), filled out the form, took it home for K to sign, paid the fee, and tah-da! we were suddenly legally domestically partnered.  Soon after we got a letter from the state of Oregon telling us we now had to file our state taxes together.  However, we still couldn’t file together federally so we had to do a fake federal return every year to go with the real Oregon return we filed.  Hilarious, and annoying.

A couple of years later K got sick, and not long after that I did.  Both required hospitalization and nearer to death than we’d like experiences.  Both times the hospital staff were very nice to us, as a couple, and even complimented us on our relationship, saying we were more devoted to each other than many couples they’d seen together.  But, they also asked us, in the middle of emotional crisis, to call our attorney and have him fax over our legal paperwork, which we’d done not long after we bought our house together, to protect ourselves and our relationship because we couldn’t get protections through legal marriage.   They said that they didn’t perceive an issue, but just in case, to be safe, we should get that paperwork on file with the hospital so we could make decisions for each other.  We were glad we had that paperwork, but slightly upset we had to go through all that, on top of everything else that was going on, during very hard times.  But, you do what you have to, even if other couples don’t have to.

We continued to live our blissfully un-legally married lives.  We got dogs (who we still have and adore more than we could ever explain), we bought rental properties, took vacations, took a motorcycle class and then bought motorcycles, got into kayaking and started doing that, went to dinners with friends and celebrated birthdays and anniversaries, visited our families, worked in the yard, eventually moved to another state, set up a new house, spent time with our grandson (and then, as of last year, grandsons), bought and sold cars, sold that first house we’d bought together those years ago (ironically the sale happened during our 10th anniversary road trip), and loved each other the whole way.  We are still loving each other, the whole way.

Suddenly, or actually not so suddenly, this year, an amazing thing happened, marriage became legal.  Huh?  And, Yeah!

The subject of marriage equality, in our normal every day lives, rarely ever came up.  We were living as a married couple, thought of ourselves as a married couple, and have been treated like a married couple by our families and friends for years.  But, we were never legally married.  We were married in every way that counted, save for that one.  Once in a while we’d talk about it, about being legal, about getting to be the same as everyone else we knew, as our brothers and sisters had been able to, as our parents had been able to, as many of our friends had been able to.  Something they all took for granted.  Meet someone you love, marry them, settle down.  For us it was never that easy, we had never been allowed do it.  We were barred from it though we were expected to pay our taxes like everyone else, without getting all the benefit those taxes are supposed to ensure.  Rubbish.  It was rubbish, but there was nothing we could do about it, not really.  So we’d talk about it once in awhile, get disgruntled, I’d sometimes cry, and we’d move on to other more important things, like what to make for dinner and the logistics of taking the car in for service and what we were going to do on the weekend when we spent time with the kids and the grand boys.  Life stuff.  Tangible stuff.

Then, as I said, marriage happened.  So, the day after it was legal here in Illinois, we again marched down to yet another County Clerk’s office to, as we’d read we could, to trade in our Oregon Domestic Partnership for an actual marriage certificate.  We walked into the building joking with each other, laughing, saying hey, wanna get married?  We walked up to the counter, whipped out our domestic partnership paperwork, and were immediately told no.  It was a kind and polite no, but a no none the less.  They said IF we’d had an Illinois Civil Union we could trade that in, and trade up, but not with our domestic partnership stuff.  I was, as is per usual, ready to accept it and ask for a marriage license so we could get married, K was not deterred, as is per usual for her (thank goodness!).  She said she’d read it on the state website, that we should be able to it, and that the conversion should be, as stated on the state website, backdated to our domestic partnership date.  The clerk went back to talk to the actual County Clerk, more than once, who finally came out to chat with us.  He again said no, but by then I was onboard and explained that Oregon’s Domestic Partnership was legally binding, just like Illinois’ Civil Unions were, and that we were even required to file taxes together in Oregon.  He smiled and said this was the first time they’d run into a situation like this, as it was all new to them as well, and he had to go make a call.  A bit later he came back, said we were correct, that Oregon’s was legally binding, and that they would indeed convert our domestic partnership to a marriage certificate backdated to our domestic partnership date.  He congratulated us, shook our hands, as other people in the office also congratulated us.  So did the heterosexual couple standing at the window next to us who was applying for their own marriage license.  Everyone was pretty awesome.  About 15 minutes later there we were, walking out with two legal copies of our marriage certificate, dated 2008.  We were, suddenly, after all this time, legally married.  We smiled, we giggled, and… I cried.  Of course I did.

Now, looking back on it all, the legalization has changed nothing in our day-to-day lives.  We made dinner that night, we chatted with K’s parents, who were visiting us at the time, we called our tree guy about a damaged limb we need to get removed, we snuggled our pups,  held our grandsons, and did a million other things we do every day, every week, and have done every year since we met and fell in love.  It hasn’t changed us, but somehow the light is a bit brighter, the wind is a bit sweeter, and the world is strangely a tad more solid under our feet.  We are married.  We are legally married.  We are suddenly, miraculously, the same, afforded the same privileges and pains in the ass as every other legally married couple.  And yes… if we ever decide to split up, we will have to get divorced.  I can tell you, with absolute certainty, that won’t happen, but the fact that we would have to get divorced means a lot.  We take on the good with the bad, the consequences with the privileges, we take it all.  Because we, my friends, are now in the same boat as every other married couple we know.  We’ve traded up.  Traded up to a marriage we already had.

Dominic Turns 1

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Today is Dominic Thomas’ first birthday.

He is bright and loving and joyful and curious. He laughs and smiles a lot and doesn’t cry much at all. He makes his pterodactyl sound, for everything, occasionally throwing in a yeah, yeah just so we know he can talk if he wants to, and he’s steady holding himself up but doesn’t trust yet that he can take that first step. He loves remotes and phones and balls, not necessarily in that order, but most of all he loves to be looked at and smiled at. He lights up every room he’s in. He is one of those people, those gloriously relaxed and happy people, and will always be.

Today is Dominic Thomas’ first birthday, and I love him so.

Happy Birthday, Dad

ImageToday would’ve been my dad’s 71st birthday.  71.

I imagine him, smiling, moving quickly from one project to another, eyes sparkling like only his did, laughing that fantastically gregarious laugh.  I imagine him surrounded by his children, their spouses, his grandchildren, his wife.  He is drinking coffee, with cream and loads of sugar, and eating a cheese sandwich.  His hair is gray, it went that way early, which is something he passed to the seven of his children, and his clunky black glasses are perched on his nose.  He’s wearing a pair of polyester pants, some funky loafers, a knit polo shirt, and some off-color windbreaker.  He’s legally blind, but you’d never know it by the way he zips around, managing to never run into anything.  His spirit, which has always been joyful and silly and free, is a big presence in this space.  He fills it.  I imagine him giving me a hug, so tight, full of all the things he could never really say.  Afterward he sits down at his pedal steel guitar and he plays.  Man, does he play.  His skill is unmatched, his notes hitting with perfection, and his smile gets even bigger, if that’s possible.  Then he begins to sing….

Today would’ve been my dad’s 71st birthday.  He’s been gone for nearly 8 years now.  I miss him still….

Happy birthday, Dad.

70 For 70

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My mom turns 70 today.  In honor of this milestone, and of her, I thought I’d throw out 70 facts about her.  So off we go….

1. She has the best smile of anyone I know.  Period, the end.  She smiles with her eyes, and is always sincere.

2. She played a mean trombone when she was younger.  I actually have a record of her playing with her high school band.  She rocked.

3. She lived next to and was friends with a prostitute when she was younger, though she was naïve and didn’t really know it at the time.

4. Her love of music led her to her love of my dad, which led to me and my brother.  He was playing in a band at what I think was a bar.  Their eyes met across the room….  (actually he might have known someone she knew, or something like that, and they were introduced?  I should really ask her this question.)

5. She is kind.

6. She can solve most problems to do with fixing things.  She’s very handy to have around because of this.

7. She isn’t above being silly, which I love about her.

8. She loves deeply.

9. She manages to handle tough situations with more light and grace than anyone I’ve ever met.

10. She’s one of the two best people I know, the other being my honey.

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11. She went back to school when my brother and I were in grade school and got her degree in education.

12. I learned to play guitar because she took guitar in college.

13. She’s super artistic and can draw really well.

14. She really pays attention.

15. She was a Cub Scout leader.

16. Every time she made a pie when we were kids she made squirrel tails out of the extra dough.  (squirrel tails are made of pie dough sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon and then rolled up, cut into little rounds, and baked… you should try them.  Tasty!)

17. She used to read to us while we ate breakfast, before school.  This gave me a huge love of books and words.

18. She’s a mean Scrabble player and we played a lot of Scrabble growing up.

19. She loves to laugh.

20. She’s an amazing gardener.  She can grow anything, and has probably tried to.

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21. She can carve a pumpkin better than anyone else I know.

22. She’s always there to help, genuinely.

23. She’s someone you can always count on.

24. She has big feet for a small woman, size 10.

25. She’s the second born child of seven siblings.

26. She worked at the Salem hospital for a few years.

27. She’s in much better shape than I am.

28. She used to be a Jazzersize fiend.

29. She makes me proud to be her daughter every day.

30. She’s a breast cancer survivor.

31. She can drive a tractor.

32. She took Latin in high school.

33. She’s lived in the same house since 1979.

34. She’s generous.

35. We’ve had many a dance party in various kitchens.

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36. She’s incredibly smart.

37. She’s very emotional, which is where I get it I think.  I’m glad of this.

38. She’s the one, and probably doesn’t know this, who got me interested in photography.  She loves taking photos, the art of it, and has all my life.

39. She once slept in a hammock by a river in the jungles of Guatemala.

40. She has eaten some gross and disgusting things (this goes along with the category of will try almost anything) like crickets and fish eyes.  Gross.

41. She loves road trips and travel in general.

42. She can fit into tiny spaces and is the person you want when you need to have a small area painted.  Somehow she fits in there and gets the job done.

43. She loves to sing.

44. She used to make our clothes when Kev and I were younger.

45. She used to knit and I still have a crazy sweater she once made for me (at my request I think) that’s made up of all the left over yarn she had.  It’s multi-colored and awesome.

46. My friends, throughout my life, have loved her and consistently told me how lucky I am to have her as a mom.  They’ve been right.

47. She calls our dogs her grand dogs and they love her tremendously.

48. She was a row boss when Kev and I picked strawberries as kids.  She was tough.

49. She once substitute taught for one of my grade school classes, I believe it was 5th grade.  She was hard on me.  I deserved it.

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50. She’s a mama bear when someone threatens one of her cubs.  You don’t want to mess with her when she’s defending someone she loves.

51. She’s vegan and has been for a few years now.  Even still, she calls herself a weekend carnivore as she sometimes eats meat on special occasions.

52. She’s open to and interested in other people’s ideas and thoughts.

53. She’s a staunch supporter of her gay daughter and her gay daughter’s partner.  It breaks her heart when discrimination of any kind is mentioned to or seen by her.

54. She used to fly fish the Metolious River with me, and my brother.  I loved that time with her.

55. She used to be a little overweight, but decided to lose it and has kept it off.  It’s inspiring and she looks awesome.

56. She always swam with us when we were kids.  I have great memories of being in pools with her at little motels all over the place when we’d go on family vacations.

57. She used to water ski, and we have the super 8 video to prove it.

58. She has an adventurous spirit and loves to do new things, try new things, and push herself.

59. She’s brave.

60. She once traveled across the country in a train.

61. She has the best laugh.

62. She has a big love of family.

63. She’s interested in how things work and is curious by nature.

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64. She’s played miniature golf on a cruise ship and eaten pineapple on Antigua.

65. She’s always the first to volunteer help when someone needs it.

66. She did a  4 day 40 mile hike along the Rogue River.

67. She grew up on a farm where my grandparents, for a time, practiced the ‘have more’ plan.  Basically self-sufficient farming, etc.

68. She’s had to shoot many a skunk and possum in her life.  She doesn’t like it, but does it because it needs to be done.

69. She knows what’s important in life, and has always made that clear, and thankfully, passed it down to me.

70. She is loved so much by so many people it’s pretty amazing.  I doubt she knows how much people think of her, or how much she means to so many.  She’s humble like that.

I love you Mom.  More than I could ever express.  I am so lucky to have you in my life, and I’m thankful for it every day.  Happy birthday!