… 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.

Thankful Everyday – The Thirtieth

Here we are, the final day of thanks for the month of November.  I think every day, in my normal life, I say a mental and emotional thank you for something… the way my honey laughs, the excited way the pups greet me every time I walk in a room, the smiles of my grandsons, the beauty of the sky or the day or the soul of a friend.  I appreciate things.  Even so, this has been a lovely exercise in purposed thankfulness.  Being cognizant of what I have in my life.  I have a lot.

30.  I am thankful for love.  Love of all kinds.  Love from friends, family, my pups, the grandsons, the kids, my Mom, my siblings, and most of all my honey.  I am blessed to have so much love in my life.  More love and more joy from that love than I could ever dream possible.  I feel it like a wave sometimes, immense and overwhelming in a totally good way, and other times it’s presence is like a vast and endless calm sea supporting the weight of this tiny ship.  Most importantly, I feel it.  Always.  I’m lucky, fortunate, grateful, thankful, honored, blessed, graced, and humbled by the magnitude of it.  I am loved, and I love.  It’s beautiful.

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Thankful Everyday – The Seventeenth

17.  I’m thankful for laughter.  The way my honey laughs with her whole body, how my brother slaps his knee when it’s a real good one, the grandsons giddy sounds, my friends smiling eyes when they laugh, strangers passing by who are cracking up, my family’s sounds of laughter at a family function, and my laugh when I’m crying because something is just so wonderful.  Laughter is the music of the soul.  It’s joy out loud.  I’m greedy for it, in myself and in others.  Nothing beats a good laugh.

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Thankful Everyday – The Fourteenth

14.  I’m thankful for the water around me.  Whether it’s clean drinking water, a warm shower, snow, a lake to kayak in, a pool to swim in, ice for my drink, a river to fish in, rain, or an ocean to be amazed at I am so grateful and thankful for all it’s lovely forms.  I’m a water girl.  I learned to swim at a young age and have spent many hours near or on the water creating memories with family and friends.  It’s a gift and a blessing I appreciate whole heartedly and don’t take for granted.  I’m lucky, and thankful, it’s so readily available to me.  I know others don’t have it so lucky.

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Thankful Everyday – Day Thirteen

13. I’m thankful for the music in my life.  I was fortunate to grow up around people who love, listen to, and play all types of music.  It instilled in me a love for all types of amazing sound.  Nothing fills the soul more than a fantastic piece of music.  My tastes are eclectic and varied, which was also a gift from a myriad of people, and thankfully I have music in and around my life every day.

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Thankful Everyday – Day Twelve

12. I’m thankful for my friends, near and far, who are the best people I could hope to know.  Each of you has brought such depth and joy and fun and meaning to my life.  I’m blessed, honored, lucky, and humbled beyond measure by the quality of my friendships.  I have so much love for you and am so thankful for the love you’ve always given me.

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