10 Word Review – Lady Bird

LadyWitty. Writing. Ronan. Metcalf. Youth. Independence. Quirky. Family. Individuality. YES.

Call With Kindness

IMG_2257Today’s random act of kindness was to call a faraway friend or relative to say hello.  We decided to pick up the phone and give Lisa, K’s cousin, a jingle.  We hardly ever get to see her, and shamefully never talk to her on the phone, so we thought she would be a good choice.  The funny thing is when she answered the first thing she asked was if she was our act of kindness today.  We told her yes!   It was a great conversation and we were so glad we called her.

It reminded us, again, that we should reach out more often to those people in our lives we love.  All it takes is a quick phone call or even an email to say, I’m thinking of you, and I love you.

 

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!

Best Finds of 2013

I’ve been reading a lot of best of lists in the last several days, everything from albums of 2013 to recipes involving bacon.  Everyone seems to be making a year end list.  I thought, why not jump on the bandwagon.  So here we go.  This isn’t a top ten or even a list with any sort of theme.  These are just things (songs, movie houses, art, tv shows, food, etc.) I discovered in 2013 that will stay with me long into 2014 and beyond.

Let’s get to it….

The Lone Bellow came into my life via iTunes and a free download.  I instantly became obsessed with them.  Great lyrics, excellent harmonies, and catchy tunes that stay in your head for days.

The Cinnamon Crunch Bagel from Panera.  This thing is addicting.  I’m so glad we discovered them, and so sad at the same time.  It’s all kinds of deliciousness in a small round baked good.  Toasted with butter… so damn tasty.

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Kickapoo State Park, Illinois.  We’ve lived in Illinois now for nearly two and a half years.  Surprisingly there are many things we’ve come to appreciate and even truly like about living here.  One thing we haven’t is that there isn’t as much water as we were used to living in Oregon.  We’ve done our best to travel to nearby towns with river walks (there aren’t that many) and to find state parks and such that have a decent amount of water, in whatever form we can find it.  One such place, to our delight, is Kickapoo.  First, you have to love the name, c’mon, it’s kind of awesome.  But more importantly, it has water.  All sorts of little lakes and a stream, running through it.  There are canoe rentals in the summer, and loads of trails.  We went in the fall, when the colors of the foliage were stunningly beautiful.  We will definitely be going back.

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The Golden Harbor Restaurant.  With a huge menu, free tea by the pot, and a cool old school vibe, this place rocks. Plus, the food is great.  How can you go wrong with spicy green beans, salt and pepper mushrooms, and plates full of sweet and spicy chicken.  The menu on the wall is enormous and all in Chinese.  You can pick up an english language menu from the little table by the front door if you like.  Write down the numbers of the things you’d like to order, take it up to the counter, and moments later your tasty hot food starts coming out as it’s ready.  We love this place.

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Season tickets for the University of Illinois women’s volleyball and basketball.  What a great deal.  We’d been to games before, but this all inclusive $35 dollar ticket package gets you into all the home games for both sports.  We’ve had hours of enjoyment at these games.  The atmosphere, the competition, supporting the local university, and eating an occasional stadium dog… all worth it.  Can’t beat it for good sporty entertainment.

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Cris Cab.  I can’t even remember how I stumbled on this young gent.  All I know for sure is that his music is catchy and I’m semi-addicted to it.

Dominic Thomas was born.  I don’t know if you can call him a discovery, but as he grows, and has one discovery after another of his own, we have discovered a little more about him, and ourselves.  I think that’s part of the beauty of little people.  As they grow and change and develop we see the world through them, and it is an amazingly wondrous place.

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The fun of riding steam trains.  Taking a five mile ride on a steam train isn’t exactly something I would choose to do on my own.  Maybe an over night or a several night journey, one with sleeper cars and a nice dining car, but not a shorty ride on a steam train that goes one way forward and then backs up on the return trip.  But, somehow, with the help of the excitement of a three year old, short trip steam trains kinda rock.  We went a couple of different times and I’m sure we’ll be going again this year.  Our mini engineer in training loves it and, consequently, so do we.

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The Blacklist.  James Spader is just plain awesome.  He’s an amazing actor.  In lessor hands this role, and the tv show connected to it, might not be as riveting and interesting as it is.  But with James Spader at the center, a decent supporting cast, and top notch writing, Blacklist keeps you hooked.

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Portland, Maine.  We took a little road trip for our 10th anniversary to Portland by way of NY, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, etc.  We loved New England.  It’s beautiful, it’s people are great, and it’s beautiful.  Portland, the destination for this trip, didn’t disappoint.  We met in Portland, Oregon.  It’s our city, as we like to call it.  We love it there.  I had, however, always wanted to go to the other Portland.  To check it out.  To see what it had to offer.  My honey felt the same.  Seemed fitting that on our 10th we would take a trip to that other Portland to see what we could see.  It was great.  Good restaurants, excellent scenery, really nice people, and funky in it’s own way, we enjoyed it very much.

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Roadtrippers.  I love this website.  We travel quite a bit.  Most especially, in recent years at least, we’ve gone on some major road trips here in the U.S.  This site allows you to plan your route and then see what sorts of places might be along it.  From practical to strange Roadtrippers has them all.   They also have an app, which rocks.  I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.

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Cafe ZoJo.  It’s a local coffee shop that’s fairly new.  I’m not sure if we actually found this in 2013 or the year before, but never the less, I’m including it here.  The staff are friendly, with quick helpful smiles, the atmosphere is eclectic and comfortable, the food is tasty, and the coffee is sublime.  ZoJo is our go to for take away coffee.  I’ve never had better drip coffee in my life.  That’s saying a lot.

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Sleepy Creek Vineyards.  We actually discovered this place by way of a thing called the Fork in the Road Tour.  A few local farms, their goods, a nice drive with good friends, and we ended up, last stop on the tour, at Sleepy Creek.  We were given a tour of the vineyard,  an explanation of the bottling process, and then a tasting.  The wine was good, but the people were great, and the atmosphere was awesome.  Later, like a month or so, they hosted the Salk Fork River Art Festival.  Again, great setting, great wine, great people.  We were hooked.  They do several events a month including things like film festivals, live music, art festivals, weenie roasts, and of course wine tastings.  It’s worth the drive east.

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Cinnebarre in Salem, Oregon.  We live in Illinois now, but we still spend a significant amount of time in Oregon.  It’s where I’m from, and where my honey lived for over 30 years.  It’s home.  My mom lives in Salem, in the same house we lived in when I was in high school.  Salem is the capitol city, and has always been considered, amongst people who live in Portland anyway, a lessor town.  But in the last several years Salem has grown up a little, and funked out a bit as well.  To prove this point they now have a movie place downtown called Cinebarre.  It’s a chain, though there are only about seven or eight locations around the country.  The fact that one of those is in Salem is very cool.  Cinebarre is a movie theater and it’s a restaurant.  You get table service during the movie, which seems like it could distract you, but it doesn’t really.  Walk in, look at the menu before the movie starts, fill out your card, prop it up, and the wait staff comes to take your order via your card and then brings you the food while the movie is going.  You can keep ordering if you want to, they also have beer and wine.  It’s a kick and a unique movie experience.  I like it.

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Honda PCX 150 Scooter.  We used to own motorcycles.  Big motorcycles.  Hogs.  We had all the gear, went on rides, and thought we were slightly above all those scooter riders out there.  That’s the way it goes.  If you ride motorcycles you think scooter riders, or scooterists as I like to call them, are slightly beneath you.  Not really in an arrogant way, it’s just that as a motorcycle rider you’re cool.  As a scooterist you’re nerdy.  Until, of course, we gave up the motorcycles and bought a Honda scooter in 2013.  It’s beyond awesome.  It hauls buns, can carry both of us, is fun as hell to ride, and seems easier.  Maybe the easier part is just because you don’t have to shift, I don’t know.  But it’s zippy, and it makes a fantastic second car.  I so love to ride it.  Who would’ve thunk, those few short years ago, we would prefer a scooter, but we do.  I guess if that makes us nerds we proudly own it.  I’m a scooterist.  Damn straight I am.

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Thankful Everyday – Twenty-Three

23.  I’m thankful for my grandparents.  Bill and Martha were the best.  They gave us all, and there are a lot of us, such a great sense of family and fun and strength and curiosity and acceptance and love.  I’ve written about them here and here and here and so many other times on this blog before, but I can’t say enough about how thankful I am to have come from, and been able to spend time with, such amazing people.  I see them everyday in my Mom, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, and myself.   We are their legacy, and if you ask me, they did good.  I feel them every day and I’m so thankful for that.

The photo below is courtesy of my uncle, Tom.

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Thankful Everyday – The Nineteenth

19.  I’m thankful for the kids.  I never had my own children.  Never really wanted to, until I met K.  By then we were old enough that we decided having them wouldn’t work.  Lucky for me K already had children.  They were grown, but she had them.  It meant, and means, that I get to be a step-parent to some great kids.  When I met K her daughter was in college.  She visited in the summers and we went to visit at various times of the year.  In the years since she graduated, met her husband, moved to England with him, started having babies, and moved back to the states.  K’s son graduated from college and moved to Japan, lived there for several years, and is now back in the states.  We live near K’s daughter, her husband (who I also feel is a kid to us), and the grand boys, and we get to see K’s son when we visit Portland or he visits here.  I’m lucky.  Before K there was just me, my family, and my friends.  It was a good life, I enjoyed it.  But now, wow.  My life is so much richer, so much more full and lovely because I get to spend time with the kids and the grandsons.  We enjoy them, have fun spending time with them, have had big adventures with them, and we love them tremendously.

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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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To Be Human

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Gulls at Mead (Photo credit: Tj Parker Photography)

So much of how we see ourselves is based on how our peers, our friends, our family, and our community sees us.  Yes, if you are a person with good self-esteem you can be in the world as a more confident, relaxed, grounded individual.  But even the most secure person struggles, at times, with how they think other people see them.  We are constantly being influenced by what our friends, family, and society think of us.  Whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not, whether we admit it or not.  We carry those opinions, thoughts, comments, with us throughout the course of our lives.  Little voices of disapproval or questions about our actions, our look, and our direction pop up occasionally as annoying ghosts in our minds.  It happens to me.

I’m a pretty relaxed confident person in that I don’t care much what others think of me.  OK, more accurately, I may care a bit, but I don’t let that influence the decisions I make and the way I am in my every day life.  Most of the time.  Keyword — most. It’s strange how those little voices come up at the strangest of times.  How those negative experiences, comments, criticisms, stay with us over time, no matter how hard we try to exorcise them from our heads and our lives.

When I was a kid I spent a significant amount of time with my paternal grandmother.  She loved me so much, treated me so well.  She was not a nice person.  As I grew I realized she didn’t treat my brother as well as she treated me.  She called him names, excluded him from activities, made comments about him.  When I realized this I slowly stopped spending time with her.  I loved her, but she wasn’t good to him and I loved him.  It was my little way of standing up to her, and my not wanting to be around that sort of behavior and negativity.  Even as a kid I felt that stuff profoundly.  Negative emotion, action, etc.  I can’t stomach it.  No matter how many toys you buy me.  My aunt, who was this same grandmother’s daughter and my dad’s sister, didn’t get along that great with her own mother because of this playing favorites type of mentality. Yet, she was her.  Maybe it was to make up for how my grandmother was, but my aunt, who treated my brother like a little prince, was not nice.  She was not nice to me.  She called me names, excluded me from activities, and made comments about me.  Once, when my brother and I were at her house we were eating a meal.  She looked at me and said, “you eat like such a pig”.  Bam.  There it was.  That moment changed me a little bit forever.

For years, and even still once in a while, that little line pops into my head.  Because of that line when I was a teen and a young adult I never liked eating in front of people.  I was so self-conscious, always afraid people would see the pig in me.  The pig that she’d noticed and pointed out.  The pig that in reality didn’t exist, but existed after her comment so much in my head and my heart.

Ouch.

I grew, and grew out of those feelings.  My self-esteem took a long time (for not just this reason of course) to grow and blossom, but it did.  I realized it was her problem and that I had never been a pig, but it informed so much of how I was in the world for so long.  Perceptions.  Judgements.  Those ideas other people have of us and those we have of ourselves can be cruel and are often wrong.  I saw myself as a pig because she’d seen me that way.

We tell ourselves internal stories.  Stories about ourselves, about our world, about the people we see all around us — friends, family, strangers.  We do this all the time.  It’s how we explain things, people, interactions, relationships, to ourselves.  These stories, told as a constant monologue in our heads, are our way of explaining our world to ourselves.  This is what that means, this is what that looks like, this is how this or that person must be, and on and on.  They are really just our stories, even if they are about other people, because they are based solely on our own thoughts and experiences.  Our experience of ourselves, our histories, the path we’ve been on.  Our experiences inform our stories.  Always.

We can never, and I repeat, NEVER, know another person’s story.  Not really.  We think we do, we assume things and place expectations on every other person we know, see, and meet, based on what’s happened in our own lives, based on what we’ve been told, and based on what we’ve been through ourselves.  But these stories and assumptions and ideas about people are false truths.  We get arrogant and judgmental and place unfair expectations on others based on what we think we know of them, what we think we see, or what we think we would do in their place.  Instead of really knowing what we’re talking about we often fill in the blank with our own ideas of a person or a situation.  These ideas coming from, again, what our own thoughts and experiences have told us must be true.  We, as humans, do this all the time.  I do it all the time.  I try not to.  I fail.

To look at another person and automatically assume you know what they should do, how they are as a person, or how they should act, is arrogant.  To hear about another person, another group, and assume things about them without having any real interaction with them is wrong and it’s sad.  It’s harmful to them, to ourselves, and harmful to the world.  It automatically separates us from each other instead of connecting us.  Any time judgement seeps into a thought, a conversation, an opinion, we’ve lost a bit of ourselves.  We’ve lost a bit of humanity.

This is not a particularly flattering story to tell on myself, but here I go none the less.  Years ago I worked at a prison for kids.  This particular one was called a youth correctional facility, but it was a prison.  I’d just turned 23, and a few months earlier had graduated from college with a degree in psychology.  I fancied myself as liberal, open, and non-judgmental.  Part of the orientation were these little tours of the different units at the facility.  One of those units, a place called the Secure Intensive Treatment Program, was on the tour.  This particular unit, which I would end up working at three years later, after a lot more experience, was where the kids who’d committed murder and attempted murder were housed.  Basically it was what would be called maximum security in an adult prison.  I walked in there with expectation, pre-conceived notions, and prejudices I wasn’t even aware I had.  When I walked in I thought I didn’t have any prejudice, any judgement of others.  By the time I walked out I knew I was sadly and shockingly wrong about myself.

Ouch.

Part of the tour of this particular unit, other than a staff member telling me about what they did there, was a tour of the unit by a kid who lived there.  I heard this from the staff and immediately started looking around at the kids in the unit.  There were all sorts of kids there, pretty much all races and ethnic backgrounds represented.  In my mind I zeroed in on this one particular kid.  I’m not sure why.  He was big, and gruff looking, and African-American.  I was instantly afraid of him.  There were other kids there that pretty much fit his same description, but I kept saying in my head, please don’t let my tour guide be that kid.  Any other kid, but not him.  Fate has a sense of humor.  The staff couldn’t read my mind, but sure enough, he ended up being the kid the staff picked out to show me around.  I introduced myself, he introduced himself, and off we went to the various parts of the program.  He was soft-spoken, thoughtful, and explained the ins and outs of the place with wonderful perspective and detail.  I liked him instantly.

My experience, which was non-existent with criminals, very limited with African-Americans, on the fringe with people who were gruff looking, and nil with teen felons, filled in a story about this kid.  Before I even started talking to him I thought, I assumed, I knew who he was and because of those perceptions and assumptions I was afraid of him.  I was sure he would be dismissive and sarcastic and intimidating.  Sure of it.  I knew he would be scary to talk to and deal with.  I couldn’t have been more wrong and I learned a big lesson that day.  A lesson about myself and about how we see our fellow humans without even knowing them.  How we judge without having any real experience, the experience which then lets us know someone and understand them.  Let’s us see them honestly, and in a real way.

These are the traps, the stories, and the falsehoods we find ourselves in.  We go there all the time.   Intentionally or unintentionally.  I know I do.  I don’t mean to.  I try to be my better self, but I know I don’t always succeed.

The homeless are many in Portland, where I used to live.  When I was a kid visiting Portland for various activities at various times they were called bums (which speaks a lot to our judgmental nature as people).  Later on, when I was an adult living in Portland there’d be the every so often news story about the homeless problem.  I used to avoid them at all costs, try not to look them in the eye, and generally sort of pretend they didn’t exist.  I assumed I understood them, knew things about them, without knowing them at all.  Harsh, but true.  I’m not proud of it, but there it is.  On the other hand I was always sensitive to kids who lived on the street.  I worked with teens and had (still have) a soft spot for them.  I don’t know why but I’ve always loved that at risk youth population.  They are tough and vulnerable and resilient and sensitive.  Many are just downright amazing.  I had experience with homeless teens so when I saw a homeless kid on the street I often gave them some change, said hello, acknowledged them in some way.  I looked them in the eye and I saw them.  Adults living on the street — that was different for me.  I had no experience with them, other than what the media portrayed and what I’d heard other people say, so I’d avoid eye contact and walk quickly past to avoid any sort of interaction that might happen.  I didn’t really see them at all.  Where’s the humanity in that?

Ouch.

Things changed, my perceptions were altered, when on my second date with K we met a homeless woman.  We were sitting outside at a café having coffee.  The date had been going on for a while.  We were having great conversation, enjoying each other.  I saw this homeless woman half a block away, heading our direction.  She hadn’t noticed me yet so I did what I always did, I avoided her gaze, I looked away.  But as fate would have it, she approached us anyway and asked for money for coffee.  I didn’t know what to say, hemming and hawing, looking around, being generally uncomfortable.  But K — she rocked it out.  She looked at the woman, in the eyes, and said that she wouldn’t give her money but she’d buy her a coffee.  The woman said she didn’t like the coffee from the place we were sitting in front of and wanted the money so she could buy it elsewhere.  K offered to walk down the street with her to buy her coffee at another place.  The woman still refused and again asked for money.  K then offered up her own cup of coffee to the woman, who again refused and then walked away.  The point of this is I learned a great lesson that day, one of many from the woman who is now my wife.  Compassion, interaction, and most importantly — acknowledgement.  K saw that woman.  She interacted with her.  She didn’t avoid or dismiss or shun.  She engaged and talked in a meaningful and genuine way.  I loved her all the more for that.  And I learned something from her.  Now, when I see a homeless person, I see them.  I look them in the eye, I say hello.  I now, because of real experience, see the homeless as people.  People whose stories I don’t really know.  People whose experiences, the experiences that led to their homelessness in the first place, I have no way of knowing and definitely no right to judge.

I was perusing the internet the other day and came across a video of a homeless veteran who had agreed to do a little exercise with a crew of people from a ministry who have made it their mission to work with, help, and try to enrich the lives of homeless veterans.  They did a time-lapse video of the exercise.  In it they cut and colored his hair, trimmed his beard, and put a new set of clothes on him.  He couldn’t see himself until after the transformation has happened.  Finally, when they were done they brought out a huge mirror and showed him to himself.  He was stunned, mouthing the word wow before he got up and hugged a member of the team.

Seeing this video started me thinking, which led to this blog post.  This guy, who in the beginning looked exactly like what you’d expect a homeless person to look like, looked like a CEO of a company when they were done with him.  A haircut and a change of clothes is all that really happened, but it changed the perception of him.  Ours and his own.

We carry what others think of us, say about us, and the judgements they make of us around inside of ourselves.  Those thoughts and judgements always end up incorporating themselves into our lives, into the framework that makes up who we think we are.  It happens to each of us and when it does it makes us uncomfortable, chiseling away at our foundations, even though we try to keep those judgements at bay.  Yet, we turn around and do it to others.  We see people, groups, other humans and we think we know them, without knowing them.  We make up stories about them without hearing their stories.  We judge, without knowing anything about their real experiences.

Ouch.

We should know better.  We obviously don’t know better.  We should strive to do better.

Maybe if we think the best of the people around us, they will think the best of themselves.  Maybe if we work hard at being interested and connected with people they will be interested and connected.  Maybe if we treat each other with kindness and compassion instead of judgement and accusation they will be more kind and compassionate.  Maybe, just maybe, if we treat people as human beings, they will be more human.  And maybe just the act of being more connected, and compassionate, and kind, and human gives us each a bit more humanity.  Maybe if we listen more and judge less the stories we tell ourselves will contain more fact than fiction.

Maybe…

Thankful Everyday – The Eighth

Here we are, day eight.

8.  I’m thankful for my second family.  When K and I got together I didn’t realize at the time that I’d be gaining a whole new set of people to call my own.  People who in turn would call me their own.  People who made me a part of the family and have accepted and loved me ever since.  They are amazing and I’m so fortunate to have them in my life.

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Thankful Everyday – The Seventh

Day seven and these feelings of being thankful are still going strong.

7. I’m thankful for my brother, Kevin.  We’ve been through so much together.  No two people have the same experiences he and I share.  But more than that, he’s a fantastic brother, and a gentle soul.  He’s also famously the best hugger in the family.  In fact, when someone gives someone else a big hug they call it giving a Kevin.  Funny, but true.  He’s my partner in dorkiness and has one of the best belly laughs I’ve ever heard.

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A Dance of Victory

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I didn’t call yesterday.  Since 1999 I’ve either been there or called.  She was not at home for the weekend.  I didn’t want to interrupt her fun.  Now — I feel bad.  Or better yet, maybe not bad but sort of off about it.

1998… Mom is diagnosed with breast cancer.  She’d had the lump, the biopsy, and then the news no one wants to hear.  I was there when that diagnosis came.  It was storming that day.  I remember it vividly.  What followed is what typically follows.  Surgery, then chemo, and finally radiation.  I was there for the surgery and then after for a few days, then again for her first chemo, and on and off throughout.  Of course I was, she’s my mom and I adore her.

My mom, as I’ve written here before, has so much strength and grace.  She also has the best smile, the warmest heart, and the most mellow of dispositions.  Not that she doesn’t occasionally get angry or frustrated, she just handles that stuff pretty well most of the time.  We’ve experienced so much together, she, my brother, and I.  The three musketeers in a way.  Lots has happened in our lives.  I of course remember all the tough stuff, as a person does, but I also have memories of moment after moment of laughing until I cried with her, with them.  Mom has a great sense of humor and loves to laugh.  She knows how to be silly.  How to have fun.  I think I got some of that from her and I’m so grateful I did.  We have even managed to laugh and smile our way through some hard things.  That’s part of her strength.  I admire her so much for it.

Every year, on diagnosis day, I’ve shown up at her house with brownies and mocha almond fudge ice cream.  Both particular favorites of hers.  She loves her chocolate.  I’ve shown up and lit a candle commemorating the number of years since the diagnosis.  An anniversary of sorts.  A victory dance.  The year she went to Hawaii with my sister I colluded with my sister to provide the goods, I called, and we sang to her together on the phone.  Since my move to Illinois I’ve colluded with my brother to provide the goods, I call, and we sing to her.  K has been a part of this since she’s been in my life.  It’s been something that’s always been important for me to do.  The funny thing is that Mom usually forgets.  She’s busy with her busy life and when I’ve shown up, or my brother has provided the goods and K and I have called her, she is surprised that it’s that time again.  She’s not a person to dwell.  Something else I admire.

So yesterday was the anniversary.  I believe it was 15.  A biggie.  Every year we get to feel that celebration a little more because it’s another year she’s cancer free and here and living a great life.  I kept thinking of her yesterday.  K and I were out exploring a nearby state park, new to us, and even though we were having an adventure, Mom kept popping into my head.  I knew she was up visiting some of her siblings this last weekend so I knew she was having fun, as they do together, and still I kept thinking of her.  I’m blessed to have her.  Blessed.  I know this.

I contacted my brother a couple of days ago, just to check in with him about the whole thing, and was reminded she wasn’t going to be home until today.  She’d told me she wasn’t, but I didn’t really put the two together — she’s not going to be home and it’s the anniversary.  But there it is, there it was.  So I didn’t call.  I should have.  Though knowing Mom she won’t be upset and she probably didn’t even remember what with everything that was going on up with the family.  I’m sure she enjoying herself too much to remember it.  My bro and I, during our email exchanges, planned on doing it today, when she gets home, which is fine and dandy.  We’re not going to forget it all together, we just delayed slightly.  I guess it’s OK.  It is OK.  It’s just that this was the first time I didn’t call or see her on the day.  First time.  But here we are, I remind myself, 15 years later and life has moved forward.  Those facts in and of themselves are fantastic things.  Moving forward, living life.  All good.  She’d say so.  It is so.  So I guess not calling is just part of that whole living life thing.

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2013, yesterday… It wasn’t stormy out.  In fact, it was beautiful out.  Sunny, a fall-ish coolness in the air, but warm none the less.  Leaves changing color, falling, crunchy under our feet.  A beautiful day.  What follows from here is what always follows… love, smiles, laughter, lots of hugging, talks, and more love.  And, later today, brownies and mocha almond fudge ice cream.  Victory.

Carving Out Halloween

Halloween, it’s nearly here.  For me Halloween, though enjoyable (mostly for the candy and occasional small party), hasn’t been my number one holiday.  I know people who live for this little snippet of time in the year and I love how they love it.  I envy their enthusiasm for it.  I wish I could share it.  I think I’m just lazy.

Corn mazes (I finally went through one two years ago — made fun by the fact that we made it a game and had teams competing to see who could finish first — mine didn’t), costume parties, candy corn, leaves falling, spooky houses, apple bobbing, rascal ghosts and goblins, and carved pumpkins.  My enjoyment of this particular holiday nowadays mostly consists of taking photos of the cute grand sons in their costumes and maybe going along to watch the trick or treating.  Some years we leave our porch light on, like last year, so we can open the door multiple times and give out loads of candy to the nicely dressed munchkins, and some years we just leave the light off and hunker in.  Our one Halloween decoration is a plastic pumpkin that is lit from within.  We put it in the window and plug it in, then we take it back downstairs to the storage room.  I know, I know — bah humbug.

When I was a kid Mom made our costumes.  We were ghosts, Batman and Robin, and other regular stuff for kids of our generation.  A favorite of mine was the year I wanted to be a Lucerne carton of milk.  Yes, a carton of milk.  Mom somehow made that happen.  A box, some shoulder straps, and a nice paint job — I was milk.  Quirky.  It goes along with my personality I guess.  When I was older, in college, I went to a party as the unknown guest.  This was a play on the unknown comic, who was popular during that time.  He used to wear a paper bag over his head when he did his shtick.  I made a huge paper bag out of other paper bags and put it over my head.  I had eye holes.  The bag went to my waist.  I remember it being hot in there.  I hardly knew anyone at the party (big parties aren’t my thing, they make me kind of uncomfortable), and after being asked a few times “who is in there?” I took the thing off, went outside, and smoked cigarettes.  Then I left.  Once, when I was a kid, I think it was the year I was the milk, I went to a kid’s party.  At some point during this party some girl hit me in the leg with a caramel apple.  My pajamas got all sticky and gross.  I ended up leaving.  I guess parties and me really don’t mix.  I can’t recall one I’ve been to, of a large size anyway, that was fun for me.  Smallish gatherings with several friends or family, or both, no problem.  Big parties with loads of people I don’t know — torture for me.  Maybe it was the apple incident that threw me over the party edge.  I’ll never know.

But enough of my insecurities and  foibles, back to Halloween, the day of scares and dares and tricks and treats.  There is a thing I loved, and love, about Halloween, other than it being in the fall, which rocks for me (I love fall), and that thing is my mom’s carved pumpkins.  My mom — so creative.  She has loads of creative talent, way more than she realizes.  That woman can draw, play music, sew, fix most things around the house, and she can carve, or sculpt if you will.  I always looked forward to what she would do and was always so proud of her creations.  She didn’t think much of them, you know, just something she did, but man were they cool.  We have loads of photos of them, year after year, and not one was the same.  She used to do one or more every year and take them to my step-dad’s office or other places.  She usually did at least one for us at the house as well.  Those pumpkins had loads of personality.  That’s what made them so great.  Each was a definite character unto itself.  They were amazing.

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She doesn’t always carve them anymore, but when she does they are as spectacular as ever.  I always bragged about them, and still do I must admit.  My idea of carving is a very crude triangle-eyed, triangle-nose, jagged mouth sort of creation.  Not very inventive or attractive.  But Mom’s pumpkins — Wow.  While mine appear to be some sort of freakish trick, Mom’s pumpkins were, and are, always a definite treat of the season.

Missing People Just Plain Sucks

Missing people just plain sucks.

I’m sad.  I just finished watching a video about the School of Piano Technology in Vancouver, Washington.  And no, pianos themselves don’t make me sad, just in case you were wondering.  What just made me sad was missing my dad.

My relationship with my dad was… complicated.  My parents divorced when I was a young pup.  Knee high to a grasshopper.  My dad, who didn’t want it, didn’t handle it well.  My mom, for her part, wishes she would’ve done the whole thing differently, but we’re human, and we handle things the way we do.  Better or worse.  Life is messy, and so was this.

After the divorce my brother and I lived with Mom full-time.  Dad had visitation and Mom, who still thought he was a great guy, wanted us to have him in our lives.  She talked kindly and fondly of him and often encouraged us to call him.  Dad, who was a person filled with light and joy by nature, couldn’t handle the separation and his best defense was to ignore that it happened, and consequently, to ignore my brother and I.  Simply put it was easier for him to pretend we didn’t exist than it was to actually be engaged with us on a part-time basis.  The whole situation was made more difficult by the fact that he remarried and after a few short years together they moved to Montana.  Being so far away just put further distance between us.  My dad had a great life there.  He and my step-mom had five children together and were happy.  It was good for them, for him.  But he was still my dad and though I loved him, and knew he loved me, he dropped the ball in the being a parent to my brother and I department.  He dropped it big time.

Missing people just plain sucks.

There were hardly any calls to us, and when we did talk to him it was because Mom had asked if we wanted to call him.  And when, finally, we were on the phone with him, after we’d made the call, he would cry, say he missed us so much, and ask how come we didn’t call more.  We were pre-teens, he was the grown up.  Who should have been responsible for keeping in touch?  Apparently, according to my dad, the pre-teens.  I think I only ever got one or two birthday cards from him.  He never wrote a letter.

Missing people just plain sucks.

When he first moved to Montana we didn’t see him for four years.  Not because Mom stopped us from going, but because Dad didn’t ask us to come.  I remember our first visit there, I was 12 when he moved and 16 when we went for the first time.  My brother and I went by train.  It was strange suddenly being with him, with his new family, and feeling outside of it all.  Feeling apart.  He tried to make us feel like part of the family, but he was a tad clumsy with those things.  I have memories from that visit all clouded by this feeling of us all being a bit uncomfortable.  The weird thing is that when we were with him we were his everything.  In person he was fantastic.  Showered us with attention, talked as if nothing was off, as if we hadn’t just spent four years not really communicating at all.  We were his light, when we were there with him.  I’m sure that then made it strange for my step-mom and for my younger siblings.  Suddenly he was all about us.  Wanting to introduce us around town, spend all his time with my brother and I.  He would say things to us like, take this to your mom, referring to our step-mom as our mom.  It didn’t feel right, to us or to her.  He wanted one big happy family when we were there.  Like I said, he was awkward with things like that.  Then, when we weren’t with him, when we were back in Oregon, it was as if all the lights shut off.  All communication once again stopped.  Like a switch.  A switch I wasn’t very good at understanding for a long long time.

Missing people just plain sucks.

This happened every time we went to Montana to visit, or my dad and all came to Oregon, which wasn’t a lot.  After I was a bit older I drove out for my little sister’s high school graduation and then for my younger brother’s high school graduation.  Same thing.  Switch on.  Switch off.  It’s something K saw first hand a few times after we got together and she never understood it.  She always said it was so strange that he didn’t communicate at all with me and then when I was with him he couldn’t get enough of me, showered me with attention and affection.  Switch on…. switch off.  It was actually kind of nice to get her opinion about it.  All those years feeling that way, to then have her confirm how odd it was, was comforting.  Made me feel a little less off kilter where the Dad situation was concerned.

My brother and I handled this whole switch scenario very differently.  When we were younger my brother had Dad on a pedestal, way up high, something porcelain and delicate and beautiful and not to be disparaged or messed with.  Dad was the end all and be all to him.  For me that wasn’t the case.  I was angry.  I remember my brother and I having big yelling matches about Dad.  He defending him as I screamed about what an ass he was for not caring, for not talking, for not being there, for basically abandoning us.  I wrote Dad letters I didn’t send.  Made mixed tapes for Dad that, unfortunately, I think I did send.  Embarrassing, and yet not embarrassing.  I was a teenager who desperately wanted her father to love her.  To acknowledge me when he wasn’t right there looking at me.  To be my father, my dad, whether or not he was standing in the room with me.  Because honestly, I adored him too.  I wanted desperately to have his attention.  After we were adults, my brother and I did a swap in this regard.  Me, having come to grips with who Dad was as a person and who he would always be, and my brother having an experience with Dad in regards to my brother’s wife at the time that would make him so angry he didn’t see or speak to Dad for six years after.  Dad didn’t really do anything, but he didn’t stand up for my brother or his wife and my brother couldn’t make excuses for him anymore.  I think all the anger he hadn’t allowed himself to feel over the years came out because of this incident.  And I think the amount we love and adore someone informs the amount of anger we can feel for that same person.  He was bitter and enraged.  For a long time.  Just as I had been bitter and enraged for a long time.

Missing people just plain sucks.

Later, after we got older and Dad and his second family moved back to Oregon, it was really too late.  They lived not far from Mom, probably only 20 minutes or so, but I never thought of visiting him.  It wasn’t a vindictive thing, it was just that it didn’t occur to me.  He had made himself so absent in my life that he was absent in my thoughts.  By then I would see him every couple of years and that was about all.  I didn’t even think of seeing him.  Didn’t think of making that effort.  Strange.  It’s amazing how someone can be gone from your life for so long that they are no longer a part of the every day culture of it.  You think of them sometimes, and those thoughts and feelings are usually warm and tender and genuine, but during the course of a normal day they don’t even enter your mind.   It’s sad, but that’s what happened with Dad.

Missing people just plain sucks.

Several years ago now I got a call from one of my younger sisters.  She told me Dad had had back pain and had gone into the hospital.  Everyone always teased him about how he whined about his pain or an injury, or whatever.  This time he wasn’t whining.  He went into the hospital and 11 days later, having gotten out and been sent home on hospice, he died in that house 20 minutes from my mom’s place.  I was there.  During those last few days I spent time with him at the hospital, listening to him writhe in pain as the cancer that was attached to his spine grew so quickly it broke his back.  I was there telling stories from my childhood with him and our visits together over the years.  I asked him questions, he asked me questions.  I was there at their house, one that had never been mine, watching the stream of well wishers from their church who brought food and spoke so fondly of him.  I was there to talk to him about music, which was his life’s blood, and laugh with him about some silly thing or another.  I was there standing by his bedside with my brother when our dad apologized to us for not being the father he should have been.  I was there to forgive him and to tell him I loved him.  I was there when his breathing slowed and then stopped for the last time.

Missing people just plain sucks.

I’ve been thinking about Dad a lot after watching the piano hospital video, which made me cry and cry.  I was thinking he was such a joy-filled, emotional man, and here I am, a joy-filled and emotional woman.  I’m blessed to have been his daughter.  He didn’t always do it well, being my dad I mean, but he did do some things right.  Most especially when I was with him.  In person he was awesome.  He was passionate and joyful and silly and fun and so warm.  He was one of the most genuine people I’ve ever known.  Honestly himself regardless of the situation.  He loved to laugh, and that laugh was so infectious anyone hearing it had to laugh right along with him.  He had music in his blood.  So talented and effortless, able to play pretty much any instrument, though he stuck with the pedal steel guitar because it was the hardest thing to play and he loved that about it.  I loved to listen to him play.  Loved it.  I loved watching his face when he was playing and singing.  I swear light shot out of him in all directions when he was sitting at that guitar.  Getting to see he and his band play together, live, was always awesome.  I loved his mis-matched outfits and his love of sweets and his gray hair and how when he walked places he moved fast.  He never moseyed.  He was blind, but that guy could move.  I remember watching him do single axle jumps while Ice skating and can picture him floating the river with us.  I can see him playing frisbee at my step-grandparent’s house, leaping in the air, and I remember fishing his glasses out of the river after he, my brother, and I went into the water when the raft ripped down the middle.  I love how he loved his coffee, with loads of sugar and cream, and how he was always the first to lend a hand when someone needed it.  I loved how he smiled and I loved his laugh.  I remember being a tiny girl visiting him one night at the gas station he worked at at that time, and how he walked over and bought us hot chocolates at this diner next door, and then lifted me up so I could clean someone’s windshield.  He made things an adventure.  I remember feeling like I was having an adventure almost every time I was with him.  Not many people do that, give that feeling.  He did.  It was a gift.

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Missing people just plain sucks.

Now, thinking about him, the all of him, I’m proud to be his daughter.  I had, long before he died, come to grips with who he was.  The guy who wasn’t the greatest of dads, yet was.  I’d wrapped my head around the fact that he was who he was, and that he would never change.  He wasn’t emotionally mature where my brother and I were concerned, but that was what it was, and it was OK.  I came to a place of accepting him for him and accepting and forgiving myself for putting him in the place I ended up putting him in my life, which was sort of on the side, just out of reach.  And I learned a great lesson from him.  I learned to be there for the people I love.  I learned that the hard way from him, but I learned it.  I think he’d be proud he taught me that lesson, even though I know he wasn’t proud of the way he taught me.  I’m also proud that he passed on his dorky sense of humor, his ability to be light and silly, and his love of all things coffee.  I’m grateful for those gifts, and for the gift of having had him in my life, even the little amount I did.  I’m grateful he gave me my younger siblings; my brother from our mother, and the younger five he had with my step-mom.  They are fantastic, and even though we don’t spend loads of time together, not nearly as much as I’d like, when we do it’s wonderful.   They are, simply, great people.   Each with a great smile.  I have a great smile too.  My smile came from both of my parents.  They both, Mom and Dad, have and had great ones.  Smiles from the inside.  Smiles that light the eyes.  It’s the thing most people notice about me, and it comes from them.

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Missing people just plain sucks.

It just does.

I miss Dad, and I love him, and sometimes, when the light is just right or my mood is, I see him in me.  Smiling.

You’re a Big Brother Now

Dear Sebastian…

I don’t think the Grandmas have written in a long long time.  We’ve seen and spent time with you plenty, but have been so lame about writing anything here.  We thought it was time to remedy that.  So here goes…

For six weeks now you’ve been a big brother.  Your little brother Dominic was born on May 13 and since then you have been so good with him.  You love to kiss his little head and you’ve even held him a few times.  What a great big brother you are.  Not only do you love him, he loves you right back.  He loves the sound of your voice and looks in your direction every time you are around him.  He’s already looking up to you.  It’s so sweet.

Your Grandmas are so proud of the big boy you are and of how you’ve helped to welcome your baby brother into the family.  You are such a caring sweet boy and we love you very very much.

Love…   The Grandmas

 

Fathers

I started writing this on Father’s Day and was, as can happen, distracted by actual life events.  Visits from family and then traveling can do that.  I had nearly forgotten about this post until I noticed it idling there, the red “draft” sitting beside it in my post queue.  It was important to me to get this piece of writing out there, so here it is… late, but no less important to me.

Originally, like most people, I started out with a Dad.  One.  He was full of life, fun loving, sporty, loved his coffee, loved to laugh and laughed a lot, went gray early, had false teeth, played the pedal steel guitar better than I’ve heard anyone else play it, had a major sweet tooth, was legally blind, and smiled with his eyes… Warm and full of love.  My Dad was a dork, which I inherited.  Totally goofy with a dork’s sense of humor.  I’m honored to carry that on.  I’m also so happy to have his sense of joy.  It’s the best gift he passed on to me.  That and his sense of play… and awe.

When I was a tad older, and not much mind you, Mom married Bill and brought another dad into my life.  For 33 years he was the man of our house.  Bill had a sly sense of humor, often a mischievous twinkle in his eye, a love of science and the PBS shows Nova and In Search Of, could fix nearly anything, was the best BS’er I’ve ever seen, adored his tractor, loved a good pancake breakfast, and loved my Mom.  Bill taught me to love learning, whether he knew it or not.  He had a keen and curious mind.  Always reading National Geographic, Scientific American, and the like, he was interested in how things worked. And even though he wasn’t much of a traveler he wanted to know about the world.  He was a guy who didn’t have a large formal education, but he was a very educated and very intelligent man.  Bill, or Billbsy, as Kev and I called him when we were younger, was a guy of deep feelings and strong opinions.  I didn’t often agree with his politics, but that was OK too.  Bill had the ability to talk to anyone and did.  I was always amazed at how he just struck up a conversation with the people he was around, whoever they were.  He taught me to fly fish, to love small Mom and Pop motels and car trips, and passed on to me a great appreciation for the mysteries of the larger world.  I am oh so grateful for those gifts and for the gift of seeing my Mom love and be loved so well.

A few years after Bill passed Mom met and married Don.  I recently, after Don’s passing, wrote a blog post about him so I won’t go into all the things about Don that impressed and amazed me, but I will say that after just having attended his celebration of life I was so awed by the number of people he affected in such a positive way.  He was an amazing father and grandfather.  He lived an amazing life and I was so honored to have had him in mine for a time.

I gained yet another dad when I married Karen and met her dad, Don.  From the beginning, even though Karen’s parents tend toward the very conservative, they accepted me, and our relationship.  I knew I was in when Don, one day, put his arm around me, called me kid, gave me a little squeeze, and smiled at me.  That small gesture meant more to me than I can express.  He has been strong, and wise, and has shown me love from the start.  I  also, see an earlier blog, had the honor of being chosen by him as the forker during a new in our relationship Thanksgiving dinner.  I won’t explain here, but needless to say, I was thrilled to get the job.  Don is steadfast, opinionated, warm, curious, and can, even still, move fast when he’s headed somewhere with a purpose.  He has a fantastic laugh and does it with a great twinkle in his eye.  He gets joy from small things, which has been a great lesson for me because when it comes down to it it’s the small things that matter.  He’s quiet, reads voraciously, loves his family and extended family with a passion, and is a solid rock of support and strength.  I appreciate his presence in my life every day.  And like I told him this Father’s Day, privately with a little kiss on his cheek, he is the only dad I have left and I love him so.

Lastly, when talking about Dad’s, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about my Grandpa, my Mom’s dad.  Grandpa, who I also wrote about in a couple of previous posts, was the epitome of a fantastic father and grandfather.  I learned so much from him… how to play cribbage and backgammon, how to tie my shoes, what a good person should be.  He had a love for life, an adoration of family, and a playfulness and sense of joy that was so strong it still flows through our family.  I was with some of the family this last weekend and I could see him in all of us.  Those were some amazing genes he passed on.  He is the father of my Mom and so through her, he also gave me so many gifts.  I was blessed to have him in my life for so long and am so lucky to be a part of him.

As I look back at this list of fathers, my list of dads, I am amazed at the quality of the men here.  They were nothing like each other, and yet the most important thing about them, their ability to love well, is shared by all of them.  Most people get one dad and I have been fortunate enough to have four.  They have been, and are all, each one, a blessing to me and my life.  Men, who might be reading this, and I know a few uncles, brothers, brothers in law, a son in law, friends, and cousins who might, you should know you are valued.  You, as fathers, are priceless.  You bring so much love, joy, strength, and happiness to the children in your life.  You might not know this, or be aware all the time, but you are so loved.  What you do, what you provide, is invaluable, and I, for one, am so thankful and grateful to you.  Watching you dads be dads is an amazing thing.  It’s a joyous thing.  So thank you fathers, mine and the dads I get to watch every day being fathers to their daughters and sons.  Thank you, and happy Father’s Day.

 

Our Better Selves

We can be a divisive country.  Throw politics and religion into the mix of any conversation and it’s likely people will not agree on something.  It’s our passion and our conviction that makes us so.

In those moments of disagreement we are also not always our better selves.  We point fingers, call names, and talk way too much about us and them.  It can get ugly.  It can get cruel.

Today, reading and watching some of the coverage of the terrible tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma I was moved by that amazing other side of our collective personality.  The wondrous awe inspiring side that pushes all divisiveness and disagreement away.  The  side that rises to these terrible occasions.  Because when the going gets tough, as it sadly does from time to time, we as a people rise.  We forget about political and religious differences.  We forget about color and sexual orientation and economic division and we extend our hands, our hearts, and our help to anyone and everyone who needs it.  We become our better selves in times of hardship and tragedy.  We become the people we should strive to be every day.  We become one big human family.

In times like these I’m always so proud of us.  So proud and so moved.

She Is Grace Under Pressure

I love my Mom.  It’s not just loving her though, I admire her.  When I think of some of the best qualities a person should have… truth, trust, honesty, integrity, acceptance, humor, a non-judging attitude and spirit, honor, fun, smarts, strength, an ability to keep moving forward no matter the circumstance,  and grace… she has all of that in spades.  I have known this, and looked up to her, my entire life.  She’s a fantastic role model, someone to aspire to be like, and then on top of that, she’s also my friend.

Mom and I sat at a restaurant I like while I was in Oregon this sad month and she said to me she was glad we could talk to each other about most everything.  I agree.  The truth is Mom and I have been friends most of my life.  I’m lucky.  I watched her while I was there for those 19 days and I, again, was amazed by her.  She is no stranger to sadness and heartache and yet she shines.  She keeps moving, keeps making sure those around her are OK as well.

I saw Mom with Don’s kids, who are fantastic people by the way, and I loved her all the more.  Was so proud to be her daughter, yet again.  Mom has a way about her.  A way to calm and make you feel like you matter and that you are important.  She does this effortlessly.  She does this naturally.  She does it with everyone she’s around.  It’s why people love her.  My friends, throughout my life, have loved and do love her.  And over the past three weeks she was these things for Don’s kids, without even trying.  She probably doesn’t even know she has had this effect her whole life.  The feeling she instills of calm and peace combined with that smile, the famous smile that beams light and love, it engulfs you.  Her presence says everything will be alright.

Somehow, through tears and sadness and heartbreak, she manages to keep that wonderful smile.  She manages to see that there is still beauty and love and hope and reason in the world.  This doesn’t mean she hasn’t been hurt and sad and angry in the last three weeks, or at other times in her life, it just means she knows how to feel that and still see the love around her.  She looks at the world with the best eyes… eyes of hope and love and possibility.  She doesn’t let circumstance weigh her down, change her outlook, make her cynical and hard.  She never plays the victim and has never been one.  It’s spectacular, really spectacular.

Mom has had her share of sadness and loss.  My heart aches for her now, as it has in the past, as she deals with this heartbreak.  But I know something, something she knows too, something she said to me herself, I know she will be OK.  And she will.  Knowing that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking of her many many times a day and trying to will my love to her over the miles between us, I am and I do.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t want to hug her and tell her over and over that I love her and that even though I am miles away I’m holding her.  I think she knows this.  I hope she feels it.  But knowing it helps me, and her too I think.  Because it’s true.  As she gets through the hours, and days, and the next few months, she will keep her life moving forward.  She will love and be loved, she will have happiness and joy, she will laugh and have peace again.  She will be OK because she is grace under pressure.  She will be OK because she knows there’s more good than bad in the world, and that light always shines it’s way into dark spaces.  She will be OK because Mom is strong beyond measure.  She’s stronger than even she is aware of I think.  She will be OK because it’s who she is.

I love my Mom.  But more than just love, I admire her.  That admiration causing tears to stream down my face and my heart to swell with pride.  I love you Mom.

I Hope The Fish Are Bitin’

I can’t believe it’s been a week.  A week.  Time goes so fast, or slow, or fast again, depending on how you look at it, and how you feel.  To me, and in talking to Mom, to her as well, it seems as if the last week has stretched out creating the illusion that oh so much more time has actually passed than has.  Yet all in slow motion… stretching.  It’s strange.

It’s strange what emotions do to you.  Sad ones anyway.  A week ago today Mom called me early early in the morning to say her husband, Don, has died suddenly, and what everyone believes is pretty peacefully, in his sleep.  She woke to strange breaths, tried to wake him, called 911, did chest compressions until the ambulance arrived, and watched as they worked on him both here at the house and then again at the hospital.  He couldn’t be revived.  She was sitting with him when she started making calls.

I couldn’t believe it early that morning and still I don’t know if I can believe it.  I was just here visiting a month and a half ago.  Just here at the house hanging out with them.  Here chatting with him, loving that occasional mischievous grin he’d get sometimes when he thought he was pulling one over or getting your goat a bit.  I really liked that grin.  I really liked how he made my Mom happy.  Gardening, traveling, spending time with family, trying new Vegan recipes together, reading the paper over good espresso in the morning, and watching the news at night.

Don was a passionate man.  Passionate about seeing and exploring the world, passionate about his grandkids and kids, passionate about my Mom and their life here on the farm.  He loved trying new gardening techniques and recipes and finding just the right mix to make a suet the birds would like and eat, mixing it up in big batches and devising a plan of delivery so the bigger scrub birds couldn’t get it all.

Sitting here helping Mom go through some of his papers I discovered he was a bit of a poet and philosopher at heart, eloquent when he wanted to be in writing his thoughts down.  Snippets here and there of things he’d experienced while traveling, feelings he’d had as kept moving forward through life.

He was an amazing guy, and though I didn’t know him nearly long enough, or know him as well as I would’ve liked, I really only need to know this… he loved my Mom well, he loved his children, and he adored his grandchildren.  He had friends he cared about and who care about him.  He knew what life is all about.  He lived his life using that as his guide… it’s about the people you love and who love you.  And because he lived his life that way, because he knew it was all about loving his people and them loving him, he made such and impact on those people… he made an impact on me.  I can see him in the beauty of his grandchildren, in their smiles, their sense of fun, in their determination.  I can see him in his children, how they are as parents, who they are as people.  His legacy is vast and far reaching.  His memory, his impact on everyone, so lasting and strong.

Don… you loved well… and you are so well loved…

And if you can hear this… hear me… I hope the fish are bitin’ where you are, and I hope they look out because Fly Fish Don is coming.

“hold life like a face between your palms”

“to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.”
― Ellen Bass

Don, you will be missed.

Giving Thanks

Wow…  Thanksgiving is tomorrow.  Can’t believe it.  Sometimes these things sneak up on us.  Not that we aren’t prepared, we are.  It’s just that I can’t believe it’s already that time of year.  We have entered the holiday season.  And again I’ll say… wow.

Now that I’m getting over my shock at the time of year it is, I want to give some thanks, as has become my tradition here at the think tank every year.  I am thankful for so many things….

First, as always, I’m thankful for my honey.  I just spent a couple of weeks away from her and let me tell you, I’m no good without her.  I mean this in a metaphorical sense people so don’t go making assumptions about my lack of self esteem… my self esteem is in tact.  It’s just that I don’t like being without her.  As I explained to my Mom and my brother, Karen is my home.  A house is a structure that, if done correctly, reflects who we are, feels cozy to that end, and shelters us from the elements.  A home, on the other hand, is where our heart lives.  Mine lives with Karen.  Hers with me.  We are simpatico in this.  Which makes it all the more real and heartfelt.  My home is with her, no matter where we live, and I am beyond thankful for that.  I’m blessed to have met her, lucky to have snagged her, and honored and humbled by the fact that she continues to love me, and love me more every day.  I can’t begin to express what this means to me, and really I don’t think there are words to describe it.  She is my breath, my light, my warmth, my love.  She is my split apart, and I am hers.  I whisper, thank you thank you thank you, out to the universe every day for her.

Mom and Kev… We are, and have been for a long long time, the three amigos.  Having spent time with you these least three weeks (one here and two there), I appreciate you even more, if that’s even possible.  There is a magic that happens when we are all in the same room.  I’m so lucky to be a part of that.  So lucky to have you… I feel love and gratitude for you every day.

Mary, Martin, and our little man… Thank you.  Thank you for allowing me into your lives, into your family.  As I’ve said before, I never had my own children, but nevertheless I consider you mine.  I feel a part of a family, with children, and grandchildren, that I would never have without you and your acceptance and love of me.  I love you guys and am so very grateful for you every day.

My family and friends… I tear up thinking about all of you, near and far.  For one person to be blessed with such an outstanding group of people in my life… I am so humbled.  You bring the zest, the encouragement, the support, the fun, and more love than I thought possible.  I’m amazed every day by the depth and quality of the people in my life.  Not only the sheer numbers of you, but by the people you are.  Each and every one of you is a stellar human.  I mean this.  Family to friends, each of you brings something so uniquely you to my life.  I treasure that.  I treasure how individual you are, how loving you are, how fun you are, how many smiles and laughs you’ve given me over the years, and I feel so fortunate to have all of that with you.  I am blessed beyond measure for knowing you, for having you in my life, and for continuing to get to spend time with you when I can.    No matter the distance it seems we always manage to pick up where we left off, be that a year ago or yesterday, and I am honored by that, by your presence in my life.  I feel you with me every day and I’m so very thankful for you.

The pups… I don’t know if I’ve said this before, but they are so important to me and every day I’m so loved by them, and grateful to them for their little selves in my life.  They are my home as well, and I am so lucky to have them.  They love without condition, without pretense, without judgement or agenda.  They’re always excited to see me, even if I’ve only been outside for a moment, and they are always completely genuine.  I love them more than I can measure, and am so very thankful for them.  They bring a joy to my life, our lives, that can’t be measured.

I always say the only thing in life that truly matters are the people we love and who love us.  I mean this.  Everything else is set dressing, though nature, in all it’s glory, is a wonder and something I’m also grateful for every day.   To that end I’d like to include the following poem by e.e. cummings.  He’s my favorite poet, and I’m humbled by and grateful for his words, words that have helped, at times, me to get through periods of struggle.  Words that have at times helped me to better explain the world to myself.  This is one of my favorites of his… and it pretty much sums up the rest of it, the rest of what I’m grateful for…

i thank You God for most this amazing

by e. e. cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing

day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)