Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Simple Things

Ah, the simple things. A shower. Lentil soup. A smile. Stars.

To pull away from the city, the USA, and land in a place like San Ignacio Lagoon is a step into simple.
Simple brings new ways of seeing things. It's like brushing the hair out of one's eyes and seeing clearly.

San Ignacio Lagoon life was simple. See whales. Touch whales. Get a meal or two in-between, make friends, hopefully get a shower (a short shower from limited water in a small tank).

The simpleness of eco-toilets, only a few steps above an outhouse, opened a whole new world I forgot about living in a city. At least once a night, usually around 3:00 a.m., I would have to get up and make the one minute trek to the eco-toilets. Ah, but there was such a silver lining to the trek. It was waking up and realizing I was a minute, itty bitty human in a giant snow globe of a world.

The horizon was flat--sea and desert. No mountains nor tall buildings to block the sky. What I saw each time was a celestial sea of sparkle. Awe and wonder. So simple yet so forgotten. The big dipper. Orion. The Milky Way and billions of other lights and stars that I couldn't have begun to name.

It was cold. I was tired. But the splendor was unmistakeable and simple.

Simple. How I love simple.

Monday, March 2, 2015

It's a fascinating thing to love a religion, to believe that it is the restored gospel of Jesus Christ on earth, and to be so misunderstood.

Case in point. I am having an intimate conversation with a woman I care about and respect. She is European and she is educated. She knows I am from the Salt Lake City area.

She says, "It must be awful living in Salt Lake City. I hear it is mostly Mormons."

 Ella cannot offend me, because even though I have only known Ella for two days, I love her. A person cannot be offended when there is love.

My response to her: foremost, I didn't want to embarrass her. My natural response was, "It's only about 40% Mormon in SLC and about 70% where I live. It's really a lovely place. A lovely place."

Yes, I was taken aback and then the questions started swirling in my head: If she assumes I'm not, then what does she assume a Mormon is? What makes living around a Mormon so awful? What experiences has she had with Mormons? Is she going by hearsay? What brought Ella to these conclusions?

As our conversation continued, it naturally flowed into the reason we were in Utah. "My husband came to start the CS PHD program at Brigham Young University."

I could see Ella putting the pieces together in her head: BYU probably means Mormon. And oh my! I can't believe I just said that. As an articulate woman, she started to stumble over her words.

Everyone knows what it feels like to speak a faux pas and I felt compassion for Ella.

I couldn't help but think about the awfulness of living around Mormons. I happen to and always have, since my first day living in Utah, lived around wonderful people-Mormon and not Mormon.

I did not want to move to Utah. I was worried about the homogeneity of the environment. I was worried about the complacency my children might fall into concerning their beliefs.

My worries were unfounded.

I think of my neighbors in the three neighborhoods I have lived in. Loving people concerned about each other. It took an act of service for me to love and appreciate the state of Utah. After my third child was born, a friend and neighbor came to my house with a group of girls. They made dinner, cleaned and didn't stop until they knew they'd done all they could. I was humbled. I didn't want their service, didn't think I needed their service, but I appreciated their service. How awful.

The same month of this new baby, my husband was out of town, and an older child needed emergency care. Again, I didn't ask but a neighbor and a cherished friend came to my house, not knowing before hand, immediately gave up her Friday night to drive us to the hospital. She didn't stop until the prescription was filled. How awful.

I think of the neighbors that surround me, their kindness their intelligence, their cultural experiences. One neighbor speaks Swedish, another Japanese, another Spanish. There are PHD's, a business woman of the year, another woman who dedicates herself to drug addicted kids. How awful.

I have found it a great blessing to live among Mormons. It has been a  great blessing to live among Jews, Catholics, Muslims, atheists, Methodists, Baptists, around people of diverse beliefs, people from different cultures, people of a different color, socioeconomic differences. Even Ella, a person whose beliefs or misunderstandings are just part of the human experience, no matter how erroneous those beliefs may be. It's easy to love those who love you, but as I found, it can be just as easy to love those who don't.

In A Fast Paced World

My friend Marcia, a busy mother, wife, master's student, believes literature is important enough to dream and to create a literary society.

For this, I am grateful.

At the beginning of an endeavor, there is so much possibility, and I love the people who dare to see it. People like Marcia.

I've posted the invite so like-minded ladies will have the opportunity. The gala is to introduce the mindset of the lit society and to introduce the upcoming reads and dates of communion (an act of instance of sharing--not to be confused with a religious communion).

See you there!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Summer Camp Friends

We gather at a small hotel in Mission Valley. Twenty three people in all, from all walks of life. Many of our fellow adventurers are retired, with time to take off in the middle of the week for a whale of an adventure.

We meet each person at a slow pace trying to remember his or her name. Bunny and Nancy from Boston. He is a business broker and she is a tour guide. Bunny was premature and his mother thought he looked like a bunny--the name stuck and we have a sixty year old man who calls himself Bunny. We learn immediately the highlights of their life: their son's script was accepted out of thousands to be part of the twelve for a Sundance script workshop.

There is Barbara. A single woman, nurse practitioner who worked with veteran AIDS patients in the 1980s. At first it was depressing because everyone died, but as the drugs improved so did life spans.

Martha is a retired State Farm Insurance agent from Denver who voted to legalize pot. When we discuss the cultural and social ramifications she asks in a confronting way, "Do you have a problem with this?" I want only peace as we glide through the mangroves and let the issue fly out the boat.

I learn that a peaceable man and his wife are retired Methodist ministers. Sue is a retired math teacher. We are also in the company of a pharmaceutical administrator and a man who is in charge of payroll for the entire city of Philadelphia. John was a union negotiator and the constant conflict, his on-call status, left him with poor health. Estella was born and raised in Tijuana. Margot has a mentally ill niece she is responsible for and her husband Ralph almost died from a fall while hitting an overhead tennis shot. Jennifer is a doctor of environmental science and her partner a software developer. Jayne has traveled all the way from South London to celebrate the big 50. And Tony and me. Different ages, locales, upbringings, beliefs--but we've all come together for one purpose: to see, to commune with the California gray whales.

It has a summer camp feel--like when we were all kids and our parents dropped us off for a week or a month to live and create memories with strangers. We all live in tiny, rustic cabins within a few feet of each other. We share the same four eco friendly toilets ( a one minute walk from our cabins), the wash station; we sign up for showers every other day, waiting patiently in line for the person before us. Meal times are communal. You sit by your spouse if it works, if not you find an empty chair and get to someone new. Each day at the designated time, we climb in a boat looking for whale adventures.

It works. It all works. We are all trying to be our best selves. We want a fantastic experience with nature and this can only happen when we are first having a fantastic experience with our fellow humans. Humanity means being the best human: Patient, kind and eventually loving. It means asking before we board the boat if someone has a need or a preference.  Allowing Ralph a place in the smoother  back of the boat because of his back.

When we part, it is with sadness. To come so close and then abruptly end our relationships is tough. We try to hold on: offers for room and board if we ever come to Boston or Riverside; pretending we'll all make it to Jayne's birthday party in London. But I've been here before and rarely do we keep the connections. They are fleeting, gone but always remembered: like our encounters with the magnificent whales. Magnificent humans we can also be.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Whale of All Whales

This photo is sort of like showing the end of the movie first; it was the end cap, the culmination, the encore to a life changing experience. Yes, life changing. More on this later.

We had been playing with this mother and her baby for at least a half of an hour. Playing with whales means this mother whale came to the side of the boat with her baby, lifted and nudged her calf towards us, allowed us to scratch her head, her baby's head and rolled for us. She also nudged the boat, swam under and around us.

A whale's eyes are on the side of its head, so for it to look at us, it must turn on its side--an obvious overture meaning it wants to see us.

She looked as if she was taking leave, but then she emerged from the sea in what humans have named "spyhopping." Spy because supposedly it is how a whale "spies" its surroundings, and hopping because the motion of its tail to keep it upright resembles a hopping motion. Or so I imagine.

I was at the bow of the boat, to the left of the person in the photo, in direct line or right next to this magnificent creature while it spyhopped. It started to lean towards the boat, and I thought possibly she was going to lay down her head. I instinctively reached out my arms to wrap around her--that is how close she was and how I anticipated our encounter. But she spyhopped around the boat, stunning everyone on board, including the captain who was as surprised as his passengers. He proclaimed he'd never seen that before. When she slipped back into the water, our boat, our friends, burst into cheers of awe and happiness. We'd witnessed the sublime.

**Thanks to Ralph Mueller who sublimely caught this photo.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

I am still in Baja. I look forward to writing about my experiences and posting them the first week of March. Until then.....

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

This Is Exactly What the World Needs To See and Do

We see the hate and destruction. Now this is what we need to do and need to see.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Close Encounters of the Whale Kind

For years we’ve wanted to visit San Ignacio lagoon. But the remote location, the sparse accommodations, have kept us at bay. Tomorrow morning at 6:45, we meet our group and begin our journey to remote, arid, Baja Mexico. Our destination is without plumbing, electricity and if we leave the door to our room open, the wind will blow it off.  

What we will have, amidst the have-nots, is time to commune-yes, commune, with gray whales in a protected sanctuary. Each year for possibly hundreds of years, the California gray whale has migrated from Siberia to San Ignacio lagoon where the females give birth and nurture their young. In just the last 25 years, the gray whales have become friendly and intensely curious in humans. They seem to want to introduce their babies, of which they are extremely protective of, to humans. The encounters are well documented and we can only hope to experience everything we've heretofore read. But it wasn't always this way.

The gray whale was hunted nearly to extinction twice in the last two hundred years, and once they were even slaughtered in the very bay we will visit. It was the 1850's when whale hunters accessed their way into the lagoon and slaughtered hundreds of whales for their oil, fat and bones. Funny thing, the great whale hunter Scammon, eventually became a whale advocate---because there was something that happened over time, when he continually looked into the eye of the whale, when he watched their social habits, their apparent love and devotion to each other. 

The gray whale was a fighter when harpooned and appropriately nick-named the "devil fish." Before 1972, the gray whale was known to attack boats. This seemed to cease during a first encounter with a Mexican native whose name was Pachico. Strangely enough, the friendly encounter happened the same year the Mexican government decreed the San Ignacio Bay a sanctuary for wildlife. The same year the United Nations voted for an end to world wide whaling and the same year US congress passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act. A year later, the Endangered Species Act was created and the gray whale put on its list.

A conscious shift was made, but could it be possible? Just coincidental? Whatever it was, the whales started making friendly overtures to Mexican fisherman and each encounter seemed to change the fishermen for life.

Pachico forever after referred to the whales as his family. His encounter as found in Eye of the Whale by Dick Russell: "...he had been alone in his panga, fishing for grouper, when a gray whale surfaced alongside him. He was well aware that small boats generally kept their distance from the whales. He was surprised at first, and rather frightened. But when the animal lingered, Pachico felt himself compelled to place a hand in the water. The whale rubbed up against him, remaining almost motionless."

The encounters continued. A 1976 New York Times article tells the story of a vessel, the Royal Polaris, whose occupants watched a whale swim next to the boat and they could "...peer directly into one of the creature's widely separated eyes, and discern that it was peering back at us with more than mild curiosity." Another whale allowed the people to scratch its back  and ..."lifted its head for about forty-five minutes of petting for everyone aboard."

This is why we will travel tomorrow to pristine, remote, San Ignacio Lagoon. I'm nervous about the accommodations, the food, the small plane ride, the van ride over unpaved roads, all for the anticipation of communing with one of the great creatures of the earth: the gray whale.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Story RE-Telling

I am driving with my mom and Tony on Coronado Island California. It's a small island, really peninsula, next to San Diego. Often times the traffic is congested and we've figured out all our little short cuts to get around more efficiently. This can be tricky as most of the short cut roads also have driving restrictions, because they are residential.

Several years ago, I was in Coronado with Max and Anni. They were still small enough that they had to sit in the back, in their carseats. I'd taken them out for a morning donut run and we ended up at two different stores and the short trip took longer than expected. My mom was home waiting for me to take her to a medical appointment. I was worried I wouldn't make it back. I needed to take a short cut. But the short cut was prohibited until 8:00 a.m. I looked at the clock. 7:57. I turned left onto the residential street--right into the arms of a waiting policeman.

Today when we make the same left hand turn, during legal times, Tony says, "Well, arent you going to tell us your story?"

I'm insulted and answer "NO, I'm not since I obviously re-tell the story over and over again and it's so predictable that you can make fun of me." I'm practically squirming in my seat, because I do in fact, WANT TO TELL THE STORY.

My wants outweigh my unappreciative audience, and it's only because I start giggling. Because---I love this story. When the policeman stood in the road and flagged me down, I turned back to see my two grandbabies. They were aghast and slightly frightened that Grandma was being stopped by the police.

And because the story gets even better and has a serendipitous ending, I swallow my pride and re-tell the story, enjoying it, laughing at it, like never before.

At the time, I'd accepted I'd broken the law and was waiting patiently for the policeman to write out my ticket. But then he asked me why I was in such a hurry. I explained I was going to be late taking my mother to her colonoscopy. Hmmm. The policeman who'd probably heard that line before, asked where the procedure was going to take place. When I told him, he believed me and waved me on. We were all relieved. Babies included.

I have so much fun re-living my experience, I realize that the story teller doesn't always tell the story for her audience. This is clear, because my audience somewhat complained by making fun of my oft told story. But I had to retell the story for myself. And the tenth telling was more fun than the first - ninth.

I vow in the moment to never get after anyone, or remind them I have already heard the story. More than likely, they are telling it for themselves, not for me. Who am I to deny a simple pleasure?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

My Vanity

On the day our future son-in-law took us to lunch, I took a photo of the three of us to document the important moment: the day he asked for our daughter's hand in marriage. The problem was that it was still a secret to our daughter. Future son in law was waiting for the ring to arrive and he wasn't sure how far away his formal proposal was going to be ( it ended up being two and half weeks later). In the meantime, I was afraid my daughter might see the photo, and I didn't want to be the one who blew the "secret."

The other problem was-- I didn't look good in the photo.  Awkward angle, dozy eyes, and I looked my age. Handsome future son-in-law didn't look his best either. Easy solution. Delete. Ah...but it was such an important occasion. Was it more important how I looked? Ah vanity.

When I tell Tony this, he mentions if it had been a good photo, I would have instagram-ed it that very day. Secret or no secret. I laugh, because it is in part, true.

Why is it so important how we look? Or how we perceive we look? Which brings up another perplexity somewhat related.  Why do we look at ourselves when given the chance? A mirror, a store window-why do we look for ourselves first in the group photo?

In our family/kitchen living area hangs a large mirror at least sixty by sixty. I originally placed it there so the view was visible from all angles of the room. It has become so much more. It is a place to check oneself before we leave the house, a place to cut hair, a place for a one year old to smile at himself. AS a permanent resident, I have the fun of watching how people like to look at themselves. Quite amusing, but quite natural.

On a recent visit to our house, our two year old grandson would run the length of the room. As he passed the mirror, he automatically turned to watch himself run. On cue, consistent and totally predictable with what everyone does in our house. Is it negatively perceived vanity or normal human nature?

At some time in your life, you've had to function with most of your vision cut off, with just a slit in the bag over your head or with two holes cut out for your eyes while wearing a pillowcase. This actually mimics how we see and act, though not as cut off and not as limiting. We function behind a body, we function behind a closed door without ever seeing what the door is like. Our world view is through this body with rarely seeing from where we are looking outward. Who is it that sees the world? When we do see ourselves, it is a kind of surprise. It is reaffirming. We exist and we get a glimpse of how we appear to others--an important part of the equation.

My girls make fun of me when I look at myself in the mirror and more especially because I make a funny expression. That I haven't figured out yet, but at least I have a glimpse of why it is important to see myself and to see myself look well.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

To Heck With Tradition~~All Hail To Tradition

When our future son-in-law (it's official!), asked about taking my husband to lunch and what was his favorite restaurant, I replied to his text in what I presume was an unexpected way.

"If this is a change of life occasion, you better include me."
Who was this bold woman using my phone?

Yet, it didn't make any sense not to include me. I had raised her and hadn't I done the hard stuff? Pregnancy and birth? Why did my husband, and fathers around the world, have the privilege of accepting the offer of marriage for their daughters. And another thing: why do fathers give away the bride? Wasn't this my privilege too?

We arranged for the three of us to meet for lunch on a Saturday morning. There were a few times when I had regretted my boldness. Was I ruining a bonding moment for the two most important men in my daughter's life?

I am happy to report that it all seemed good and natural. I belonged there. I was a part of the process. My son-in-law was fine and gracious when asking both of us. When the time came to answer, I was sort of speechless and my husband spoke well for our family. Funny that my speechlessness was maybe more than a coincidence. Perhaps tradition is stronger than I had anticipated and perhaps I had succumbed. It doesn't change the importance of the big picture. Love, in-love, the beginning of a new family, the dedication and growth that will come from this union--a wonderful tradition.

Friday, February 20, 2015

My father was an astute businessman with a sixth sense about money, and he wasn't afraid to work hard to earn it. His practices weren't always kosher. At a young age he sold worms to fisherman: A dozen worms for 25 cents--except there were only 11 worms. He told this story with boyish sheepishness; he knew he was wrong, but at the time, it was good business sense.

He didn't always understand why someone would work hard without a good return. Take me for instance, and teaching school--I rarely had a conversation with him when he didn't ask if I hadn't gotten a raise. Though he never outright said it, he was astounded I would work for so little--but everything is relative.

When Mom volunteered to serve on the condo board, he was still perplexed that her service went without pay.

When my uncle lived in Hawaii, he decided to grow a garden. The family joke, possibly originated by my father, was that his home grown beans cost $37 a pound. After the containers, the dirt, the seeds, the real cost was higher than a supermarket's.

When I first told Dad I was keeping bees, his eyes lit up and he asked, "When do we get our first honey?" Dad already saw the return of the investment and I was sorry to say, that it probably wouldn't be for a year. Oh. And then of course, so many things went wrong, lost queen, weakened hive, robber bees who stole all the honey stores, and a four day stretch of below zero weather. Which ended in frozen bees. But since they wouldn't need the honey....

It is with great pleasure that I dedicate my first pot of honey to my father.

 I crushed, extracted and sieved it. It is so delicious; my dad would have loved it. The bittersweet of the story is I can't share it with him. But of course he would have asked what the pot of honey cost. "What did it cost you?" would have been his exact words. And of course, I would have been embarrassed, as usual, to reveal my lack of business prowess, because it was impossible to hide the truth from him.

Funny thing~~I suspect he already knows, and I see only a grin on his face.
 Yes, dad, the $400 pot of honey

But hold on Dad....there is a bonus. I also extracted pollen which I will experiment with to combat my grass pollen allergies in June. And you know how expensive medical research is. With that in mind, especially if I find a cure with this pollen, the $400 investment is peanuts cause we all know health and its companion happiness are the real wealth.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The World Is Too Much With Me

The world is too much with us--from my very first read, this has always been a favorite poem. As a teenager it rang true. As a twenty year old, as a thirty year old etc. etc. But never have I felt it more than a few days away from leaving this "too much with us world." How does a poem written in 1802 connect so well to my 2105 angst?

On Friday, Tony and I will start a journey that will take us to a remote location without internet. When Tony informed me, I felt a kind of relief-joy.

I love the advantages of the internet. I pay my bills, I have almost every piece of information at my fingertips, I can communicate with three friends at once, send photos within seconds, watch a movie. Oh and how that list goes on.

As I write, I am sitting with my laptop, my iPad and my iphone and I feel like letting out a primal scream. It is all too much with me.

The World Is Too Much with Us
William Wordsworth
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. --Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreath├Ęd horn.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

For several years, my daughter's brother and sister in law have wanted a child. They have explored all the possible avenues for starting a family. My daughter loves this couple and aches when she thinks of their empty arms. She has never met a woman so caring and kind to children, with a generous husband who shares his wife's desires.

When the couple sent their adoption profile to family and friends, my daughter, forwarded it to me and I wept, because I could feel their want.

The journey has been difficult, first with their own efforts at fertility and then through the laborious process of adoption.

And then the good news! A mother had chosen them to adopt her baby, but when the baby was born, she chose not to give him away. The adoptive mother had quit her job and the decorated nursery stood empty.

Heartbroken, they didn't give up and next month, their new adopted child will be born. The risks are still there, but they are hopeful.

I know very little about this next baby except that the mother is African American and no mention was made of the father's ethnicity.

The adoptive couple are pale blonds of European descent.

One of the things that brings me sorrow is racial prejudice. I attended elementary school in the later 1960's and I saw first hand efforts of integration and its evil counterpart: discrimination. I can't understand why people wouldn't like someone because he is Muslim or she is Jewish. Or Mexican, or Mormon, or Catholic. Or white.

Wanting a baby is the purest form of love and to our adoptive parents, it doesn't matter what color a baby is.

My other dear friend had the same want and her adoptive children include children of color, because color doesn't matter. Children are children and people are people. I told her yesterday that it might take people like her to change the world, to help rid the world of prejudice.

My favorite story is of a little boy with very white skin.  His aunt was from Haiti and dark skinned. It wasn't until he was around five years of age when he was crossing the street with his cousin and his aunt, and the aunt told him to take her hand. When he did, he was shocked, "Your hand is black!" He exclaimed, and then he examined his cousin's hand, "Yours is too!"

What a beautiful thing to be in a child-state and not notice color. What a beautiful thing to be so filled with love and desire that color doesn't matter. What a beautiful thing it would be, to just be, and to not notice color.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Honey Lining

The afternoon temperatures were reaching the mid forties, so theoretically, the bees should be coming out of the hive for what is called a "cleansing flight." I watched my hive closely, but not a buzz.

Curiosity overwhelming, I opened the window. It was a tomb--all bee life frozen in the last moments of life. It was surreal and sad. However, I still had hope that the middle of the hive was clustered, warm and alive. The temperature continued to climb and consistently reached the fifties for several days. I called Lisa and asked her to join me as we took a peek at the wild hive in the fence post.

This hive was buzzing, flying in and out as if it was mid-summer. We then checked Lisa's hive and found the same thing. We were thrilled. The real test was if Nikki's hive was buzzing. After checking on her hive, knocking on it, trying to evoke a reaction, nothing. She feared the worst too.

As we walked into her yard, we could see bee activity. We started yelling for Nikki, "Nik your bees are alive!" Nik was at work (in her home office). Out she came, ecstatic her bees were alive. It's a wonderful thing when one's friends have good fortune, but it magnified my loss.

Since then, I've had several acquaintances ask me about beekeeping. I know a few things, but then I catch myself, "Don't ask me, my bees all died this winter." It always ends in a laugh, albeit a sad laugh for me.

So what went wrong? I'm pretty sure when the temperatures went below zero and a fierce wind blew, my bees didn't survive the cold. I realize I didn't wrap the hive well enough, perhaps they weren't located in a sunny enough spot, perhaps it wasn't even my fault. It was a weak hive from the beginning and really their chance of survival was low.

Will I keep bees again? Yes! Absolutely. Will I do things differently? Yes!

Last week, pretty sure there was no hope for the hive, I opened it up to clean it out. No cluster in the middle. Every last bee was dead. I was happy to see there were honey stores. They didn't die of starvation. Now what to do with the honey. I pulled the combs, took them up to the kitchen and pulled out a spoon. What I tasted was surely food for the Gods. A little silver lining in my first year bee tragedy.