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 whether he could marry our daughter or not, 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. My boldness, my desire to change tradition, never really mattered.  Because love, being in-love, the beginning of a new family, the dedication and growth that will come from this union--the tradition continues.

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 wreathèd 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.

Monday, February 16, 2015

A Love Story

I refuse to believe that as a thinking, living, loving, creating human being, that I could end. I want to live forever and love deeper, learn almost everything, keep my bucket list growing. Therefore, life continues after death. Absolutely and without a doubt. My relationship with my husband continually evolves; I'm always trying to be a better daughter, sister, mother; the effort and time I give to these people--there is no way, no way, it can ever be over.

I am happier, more compassionate, more patient, more curious. I imagine in ten years I will be even more. Imagine if I had forever to become more of the above. This concept helps me to understand how God could become God. The New Testament admonishes us to be like him. In reality, I could never become like him in this short time on earth, but given eons of time? Perhaps.

With that stated, I want to tell you about my indomitable friend. Happily married with two children, her husband was struck with a debilitating disease. Very clearly, her life would change. She knew that no more children would bless her family and that she would become the family's sole support, financially and emotionally. She accepted the change with sorrow and realistic expectations. The next years were rough.

Last night I saw her. Years have passed, the children are now adults. Her husband still suffers, she is still the support of the family. It has been a trial, but she is happy. Concerning her marriage, she said something that has stuck like grime in an oven. "I know what he was like before, and I know what he'll be like when this life is over."

Like me, she believes, even knows, that her life will not end. If her love can be sustained for her husband during such opposition, what will it be like when the disease is gone? She'll have a second chance with a man she loves, a man who is difficult to love. Now.

How different now is from forever. How different life seems when we look at it with only "now" eyes versus "forever" eyes. Hope.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

I remember the first time I had a French macaron. It wasn't in Paris, or France, it was at a San Diego farmer's market. It was delicious.  I'd never tasted anything like it, but the flavors, the scrumptiousness, didn't absolutely convince me until the second time I had a macaron. I knew it was good the first time, but the second bite a week later confirmed my first experience. Many times, the second, later bite doesn't stand up to a first experience. That is how I knew I'd found a delectable food.

It's like the books we read from our childhood. The books we love and adore. I had a librarian ask me about re-reading a childhood favorite when I had become an adult.

"Did it stand the test of time?"

It did, and how how satisfying that was.

And when the Pink Motel , my first mystery, didn't stand the test of time? Oh what a let down.

So each time when I had a macaron, the taste just kept getting better.
When leaving San Diego one morning, I made a slight detour before I15 to pick up a box of macarons to share with a friend.

The friend, a confirmed gourmand, even made her own macarons.

Because there are so many delectable food items in Paris, the macaron gets lost amid the other superstars. What can beat a Parisian baguette smeared in fresh butter or a pain au chocolate? The macaron almost becomes, with its intense sweetness, like the screaming child.  Amidst such subtle sweetness and simpler color palettes, the bright oranges, neon greens, ruby reds of the macarons, look like aliens.

When we stood in the Pierre Herme shop, we were overwhelmed by the aesthetics of patisseries and chocolats. Treats are elevated to an art form and it's almost a shame to eat Pierre's creations; but it would be the greater shame to not.

Tony and I would indulge in maybe two small, palm size cakes. We would take them to the park quatre corner, sit down on a bench and force ourselves to wait for just a moment, enjoying the ambience. The cathedral, the magnificent marble fountain. The Parisians strolling, rushing, relaxing. The ever present hum of traffic. Ritually and reverently, we would unwrap the first cake. I would photograph the cake. Then with more constraint than usual, we would take a small bite and savor. Sometimes I would "Ahhh," and always we would smile. And somehow, the savoring, the sharing, the appreciation, and the bike ride to and fro, we never gained weight in Paris.

We did indulge in Pierre's macarons. They did not disappoint. But when I saw the recipe in my daughter's Pierre Herme dessert cookbook, I wasn't tempted in the slightest to try it myself. Today, I understood why. I found a most delightful post "Making the Best Macarons in the World."

The author, Madylyn, prepared for weeks, trying to collect the exact ingredients, from different stores around Paris and England. But some of the ingredients were impossible to find. Even her French mother in law, who had been baking and cooking for years, hadn't heard of a certain type of butter. Her French cooking friends had never heard of chocolate pate. Finally, when all ingredients were assembled and she and her daughter began to create, they had missed the instruction to separate the eggs and store for an entire week.

Madylyn never tells us how much time the macarons took to complete, but when they were complete, they were delicious. Her conclusion was: M. Hermé on adore vos macarons, mais comme dit Alexia, on a réalisé qu’il faut les acheter dans vos magasins!

Basically: M. Herme, It is easier to buy your macarons than attempt to make them. I am easily convinced. A trip to Paris would be much easier.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

It was bound to happen. It always has and always will. We can't help it as human beings. We like to share and when something works for us, we have to spread the word, cajole, prompt and even, ughhh, nag.

Poor Tony is the target.

"How many vegetables or fruits have you eaten today?"

He gives me his requisite blank stare. Probably hoping I'll go away.

"How many?"

Still looking like a deer in the headlights.

I really hate to act like his mother (how non-romantic), and I've seen grown women reduce themselves to their husband's nanny.

So my diatribe lasted only a few days, and I tried to appeal to his sense of adventure and repeated often, how much I want him to be healthy, so we can keep hanging out and doing fun things together.  Like next week's jaunt to Baja for a kayak and baby whale petting experience.  And the adventure bucket list that we have to complete: Paddling in Palau. Another summer biking in Paris. Hiking the old Inca Trail in Macchu Piccu. A month in India. Visiting Chicago in the winter,--which takes more stamina than all of the above.

After the diatribe, I was silent. Just cooking healthy, picking up lots of CSA veggies and fruits and today...

He was eating an apple.

Possibly because today is Valentine's and he knows there's a bowl of sugar cookie dough in the fridge waiting to be formed, cooked and frosted.  And then he will watch with great sadness as I deliver the extras to the kids in my Sunday School class.

Balance. We'll get there. Together.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Ten Qualities of Wholeness by Joan Borysenko

10 Qualities of Wholeness

  • Curiosity: Openess, spaciousness, and presence
  • Stillness: The ability to center and find inner peace
  • Emotional Intelligence: Self-awareness (How do I feel?) and empathy (How do you feel?)
  • Mastery of the dirty tricks department of the mind
  • Social connectedness and friendship
  • Self-care: Exercise, nutrition, sleep, rest, boundaries, saying no, saying yes
  • Lightness: Sense of humor and the ability to let go
  • Spirituality: A life of compassion and awareness
  • Forgiveness

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Pajama Club

The Pajama Club***Are you a member?

Is it a rare day when you can stay home the entire day?
Do you lavish in those days?
Do you crawl back into bed mid morning?
Catnap in the sun streaming through a window?
Do you freeze when the doorbell rings at one o 'clock?
Do you decline face-time calls?
Do you feel a tinge of embarrassment when your spouse/roommate/children come home and you are still in your pjs and nary a hair on your head has been brushed?
Do you put off the can-wait errands because it means you'll have to get dressed?
Would you rather eat whatever's in the fridge because it's a better alternative than getting dressed and going to the store or the drive-thru?
Have you ever gone to the drive-thru in your pajamas?
Do you take advantage of those things that can only be done at home in your pajamas?

If you answered yes to most of the questions: congratulations. You are a member of the Pajama Club which entitles you to these privileges:
*Living in the present moment
*Basking in the present moment
*Understanding your body and soul needs a break
*Confidence in self that allows you to be a shlumpadink once in a while
*Refueling with strength to get back to the grind--tomorrow

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Relationships Are More Important Than Things

Tony has a bi-annual tradition with his graduate students: pool party/dinner in the summer, ethnic pot luck dinner in January. Currently there are eight grad students with girlfriends, wives and children. With significant others, our guest list bumped to 16. The group had decided to leave children at home whereas, in the summer, they are all invited to bring their families swimming.

Saturday afternoon, I enlarged the table with card table extensions and went on a scavenger hunt for extra chairs. We were ready for the crew.

As the guests started to arrive, the children came in tow, and while I stood by Tony's side at the stove, I asked him what happened. He wasn't sure himself, but gracious hosts that we are, we wanted them all to feel welcome. Seven children welcome.

We all love children. We love our own, our grandchildren, children of the world and yes, our grad students' children. But children change the dynamic of the  gathering and so, we, Tony and I, had to change.

Relationships are more important than things was the mantra that got me through the night. Relaltionships are more important than things. And I believe this with all my heart.

So, when the two year old pulled down the blinds, and the father visibly felt horrible, I reassured him that it had happened before. When the sweet, new mother of a one year old asked if she could have a broom to sweep up the food her child had thrown on the carpet, I picked up a big chunk and told her not to worry, the cleaners were coming on Monday. When Tony told me a few of the chosen little ones were running through the house with cookies crumbs dropping--no worries, all could be swept, vacuumed or integrated into the decor.

I forgot myself, my house and instead enjoyed the louder decibels of happy people ringing through the house. This is what I wanted my house to sound like.  Joy. People cannot be replaced, but carpet, chairs and bad attitudes can.

"Relationships are more important than things." Kathy Sanders

Monday, February 9, 2015

Definitely Angels

A few years ago, I was in Las Vegas visiting my family when I heard that an old jr high/high school friend had had a baby. The baby was born with Down's Syndrome and he was still in the hospital for some heart surgery. I wanted to do something for Beth, my friend. Mom had a drawer of homemade baby blankets and I learned from Beth's sister that I could catch her at the hospital at a certain time.

At the specified time, Beth came bouncing down the hospital corridor excited to be with her baby. We chatted for only a few minutes, and before she went into pediatric ICU, she told me she would see if she could bring baby Michael to the window. I waited outside the big steel door. A minute later, she bounced back through the steel door.

"They're letting you come in to see Michael. They never let anyone in."

I was joyful and nervous. I'd never been in a pediatric intensive care unit.

I entered, washed, and dressed in the requisite gown and cap. I followed Beth through the maze of tiny babies hooked up to tubes and machines.

We were in the largest pediatric ICU in the city and as Beth told me, many of the babies were there because of their mother's choices and eventual inability to make choices-- crack and heroine addiction. How sad to see such suffering of innocent children.

We came to sweet little Michael.

The little time was precious, but I knew it was for him and his mother. We said our goodbyes and I started to find my way back to the beginning--but something, a feeling, had a grasp on my emotions. I didn't want to leave, and I walked through the babies as slow as possible. In such a sad place, I should have felt a kind of sorrow and empathy for those babies, but instead I felt a kind of euphoria. A pleasant feeling that felt like a kind of ultimate love. I took off the gown and walked through the steel door. Boom. The feeling was gone.

I tried to understand what I had felt. I questioned the possibilities of the surreal presence. The tangibility of it was unmistakeable but there was nothing I could pinpoint exactly. The conclusion I came up with was that I was surrounded by angels. Yes, angels. I kept this feeling to myself until almost a year later when I unexpectedly ran into another old friend who was the head pediatric nurse in the pediatric ICU at her hospital. Stumbling over my words, I tried to explain when Sherry, my friend interrupted with a surety and confidence I hadn't expected.

"Oh yes," she said. "Definitely angels. You see, so many of those babies have come to earth and their time is so short. They came to teach something to their parents. And then there are the babies who make it but have to suffer, but they do not suffer alone. Definitely angels."

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Life and Death

When there is a slight pause in our yoga practice, one of the ladies announces she had her 5 year check up and she's still cancer free. The good news deserves much more than a quick mention in a practice to raise consciousness and health. We all pause, congratulate and savor the blessing and her joy. She adds to the conversation that she is very thankful because she is one of the three percent that survived pancreatic cancer. I want to get off the floor, walk over and embrace her like a good luck charm. She's like the Ganges River or the Pool of Bethesda.

After learning of a young friend's mother's diagnosis of lung cancer, I've been a bit more aware of cancer. I am told that lung cancer is the worst, but then I am informed that pancreatic is the worst. The woman at yoga confirms this. With the class celebration, her story unfolds a little more. Her survival in part, was because of early detection and  only because her doctor ordered the wrong cat scan.

Not only is her survival a three percent miracle, it seems there are other miracles at work in her life.

I had to look up the Miriam Webster definition of a miracle: an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs and an unusual or wonderful event that is believed to be caused by the power of God.

And yet, on Friday night, I attended a one year memorial service for the death of a friend's baby. As I talked to the grandma of the child, there were so many what ifs. So many questions unanswered for what may seem, forever.

Why is one person miraculously saved, and another, so wanted, so cherished taken from her family?

The answer as mysterious as life itself.

And that is how, I wonder, do people survive without faith.

Again, my Miriam Webster app tells me that faith is a strong belief or trust in someone or something; a belief in the existence of God: strong religious feelings or beliefs.

There ARE times when we have to hold on to something other than our own thinking, feelings, beliefs, and shock, in order to survive.  It's like putting life, or an aspect of life on hold. Putting it on a high shelf in the back if the closet. I don't understand this right now, so I will have to put it away for when I do. It's still functioning when we may not feel like functioning. In Luke 2:25, we are introduced to a man who is told that he will live until he sees the Savior. I have the impression that he lived a very long time while waiting for the Messiah. When he finally sees and recognizes the child, he cries out to God, "Lord, now lettest thou they servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen they salvation (29-30)."

Simeon is an ultra example, to me, of faith. All questions, all promises will be answered and fulfilled.

Though the woman at yoga was blessed with life, though the parents of the newborn were crushed with death, each reason for life or death has an answer. An answer that will come after a trial of faith, but faith that has the power to sustain.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Abundance and Generosity

It was my first order with a local CSA (cooperative sustainable agriculture). The customer (me) places her order online and then she picks it up at a designated place. Not knowing what to expect,  I ordered out of curiosity and as an experiment. Surely 24 pounds of cauliflower couldn't be that much?? 

It was. Twelve drummers drumming or rather twelve beautiful, green cauliflowers. I'd taken the chance because I love roasted cauliflower, but the real reason for taking a chance was that it would give me a chance to be generous.  Cauliflowers aren't exactly loaves of bread, or fresh baked cookies, or gift cards, but I always appreciate the gift of fresh produce. At the end of August, when my neighbor allows me to pick all the cucumbers she can't use, when she shares her abundant grape harvest, I am so grateful.

So, I started texting friends and neighbors soliciting some fresh green cauliflower and I received an abundance of positive replies. After delivering one, I passed two neighbors just leaving for their morning walk. "Would you like a cauliflower?" I asked. They both looked confused. "Bet you've never been asked that before, have you?"


They were happy with their cauliflower.

Abundance is a blessing. The greater blessing of abundance is sharing that blessing. When I think of having a chance to be generous, I always think of my sister-in-law when she was abundant with very little abundance of her own.

She was living in Northern California and her husband had just finished part of his schooling. There were years left of no-income living. At the time, she had a friend who was moving and couldn't take all of his possessions, so he gave them to her. She had dishes, a vacuum, etc and piece by piece she gave it away to someone who had a need. Shallow me, questioned her actions. Why didn't you have a garage sale? Heaven knows, she could have used the money.

 It was over twenty years ago and I don't remember her exact response, but this is what has stayed with me, "It gave me a chance to be generous when normally I have nothing to give."

She clearly understood the wealth of giving vs. the wealth of having.

Trying to follow her example has brought joy in the little things that I sometimes have in abundance. Each spring when my raspberry brambles need thinning, I can pass some along. Some day, there might be a hundred raspberry patches that came from my yard.

So the extra cauliflower really had nothing to do with extra cauliflower. It was the chance to be generous.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Ancestry DNA

While hiking with friends, a month before Christmas, I asked for some great Christmas present suggestions. Kristi and her siblings were giving their parents a DNA-check gift.  I mulled it over and decided it would be fun for my mom. She loves family history and had always described her heritage as mostly English, a little French and a little bit of this and that. It would be fun to know exactly.

And the snowball started rolling. Now that my father had passed away, I became more curious about my ethnicity. Dad was very proud of his Swiss heritage and would have said, had always said, he was 100% Swiss. I ordered the DNA test for my sister, so we'd know our father's ethnicity. I next realized that my sister's daughter had no idea of her father's heritage; everyone had passed on and their history was a mystery. I ordered the test for her. Then it hit me that my sister's boyfriend had been adopted at a young age and at one time had searched for his birth family history. I ordered Tom a DNA test too.

Everyone was pleased and two weeks later, the surprises started rolling in. Mom was hardly English. She is one third Irish. I had never met her father, my grandfather, but now his photo from the 1950's revealed a twinkle in his eye that could only be Irish.

Tom's results came next: as expected he was 61% Italian and a mix of other ethnicities, but the real surprise came in his third cousin "hits." The message my sister left on my phone is priceless. She gives me his DNA statistics and then, "The good news is that he got tons of third cousin hits. His life has just started. Today is February 3rd and this has changed his life. Thank you."

I can't listen to the message without tearing.

But I didn't completely understand the meaning of "third cousin hits." I called to shed some light on my curiosity.

When a person completes an ancestry DNA test, they are entered into the database. Each person's test searches over 700,000 genetic markers for likeness in other people who have taken the test. If a person matches 90% of another person's genetic markers, they are more than likely related-third cousins. But the fascination comes when and if there is a closer genetic match--a person could find a sibling, a parent, a child. But only if that person has been DNA tested.

The possibilities are staggering. If Tom had a sibling or half sibling, and if the sibling did an ancestry DNA test through, he would find the sibling.

It changes the preposterous-ness of the old cliche--It's like looking for a needle in a haystack.

And now, my sisters and I wait for our ethnic-DNA ancestry results--surprises welcome.

Thursday, February 5, 2015


After a two and a half hour hike in the foothills, I say goodbye to my neighbor, and as I'm crossing the street she yells out, "Thanks for the adventure."

It was a two and a half hour hiking adventure. We hadn't meant for it to be that long, as our usual hike time is 90 minutes--only longer if we have a special destination. This morning's length was because we got lost.

We were never really lost, as we could always look east and see the valley, even our clump of homes.

Towards the end of our hike, as we climbed higher to loop around a mountain and head back, the trail became so muddy from new melting snow, that we decided to turn around; but turning around meant navigating the same muddy trails while walking downhill. We decided to cut our own trail through the terrain. All roads lead to Rome. Or home. Eventually.

While hiking an unexpected, steep, mountainside, we all tried to keep cheery. There was no danger,  just the unexpected. I recalled an adventure documentary I'd watched where the narrator had explained that "It's not an adventure until something goes wrong." As we continued our searching descent, we recounted all the reasons to be positive about this adventure.

We entered a thick grove of scrub oak and I wished for a machete. We ended up in a beautiful little forest none of us had every seen before. We found a perfect bike trail too.

Ever since I was a child, adventure has always been important: hiking around our cabin with cousins, pretending the bed was a ship having loaded everything important, climbing the skeleton of a time worn castle. I graduated to new ski runs, foreign countries, strange and tasty foods, friends and boyfriends that showed me a different point of view. To share the marriage adventure was and is a privilege. The children that followed constituted the most unique adventure ever. Education was a constant adventure as was teaching, traveling, losing and loving.

Books can and should play a role in adventure. Armchair adventure. I am reading Rebecca Rusch's biography about her EXTREME adventures. I will never be part of the Eco-Challenge travel adventure; they run, paddle, bike for days without sleep. They keep hiking on blistered feet, rappel a 500 foot waterfall in a blizzard; eat meals on the back of a galloping horse. They summit mountains tethered together, in 65 below windchill. Reading her book more than fulfills my sense of adventure--it actually makes me want to stay home under a warm blanket.

As I get older, I suspect the low level degree and danger of my adventures may diminish, but nonetheless, adventure is always a must. Even if it's only almost lost in the hills above my home.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015


My friend needs to set a future date with me and so she asks, "Do you text?"

"I couldn't live without texting."

"Me too. Remember all the hours we spent on the phone?"

I laugh, cause I sure do remember.

"And remember when we were attached to the wall?"

"I remember the long chord Tony bought so I could multi-task while on the phone for all those hours." A home video flashes before my eyes. I'm on the phone; it's attached to the family room wall, but I have the chord stretched to its maximum and I am clear across the kitchen. I'm on my second hour with my little sister and trying to get something else accomplished.

Suzanne doesn't let up. "Remember the portable phones?"

Do I ever. But the greater memory is Tony's angst at all the portable cradles in every room with no phones in sight. One day, we found five portable phones in our teenage daughter's room: under the bed, wrapped in the bed covers, in the closet, in a drawer, and on the floor hidden under a pile of clothes. Poor Tony. He tried threats, humor and finally labeling each phone according to the room of its home base--to no avail. Eventually, he got his wish--no home phone line. Everyone was responsible for their own phone calls: cells for everyone living at home.

Eventually, a solution arises for every problem, even back in the days when our home was populated with four busy, active, lovely teenage girls. Missing combs became another source of irritation for Tony**. He would buy huge bags of combs, put them in his drawer and eventually, whether it was years, months or days, all the combs disappeared. The solution this time was that he resolved never to comb his hair again. How could this come to pass? His hair loss from worrying over all the missing phones and combs--a rather ironic solution to yet another missing problem.

**Tony wanted me to be clear that he is not bald. Just a slight, hardly noticeable, hardly-hardly noticeable, receding hairline.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Surround Yourself With Honeymooners And Happy People

For the celebration of our twentieth wedding anniversary, we boarded a flight full of couples with the same idea--except most of them were conspicuous newlyweds headed off to their honeymoons.

One bride carried her bouquet on board and another even more conspicuous couple wore matching t-shirts embossed with different titles: hers read BRIDE and his read GROOM.

As the "Honeymoon flight" headed for Papete Tahiti, other people revealed their plans too--couples celebrating 10 and 20 years of marriage. This flight definitely had the party feel.

Our travel required another plane ride and a boat ride to Kia Ora Savage where we were to join six other people at a small resort. Our island was big enough that each day was spent in privacy, but for our meals, we all met together at the family table. There was a middle aged couple from Australia, another middle aged couple from Germany and a couple on day one of their honeymoon. Each night when we gathered for dinner, we would celebrate their second, their third and so on, day of marriage.

When my husband and I married oh so long ago, one set of his grandparents was still alive, healthy and able to attend our wedding. Previously, to our blissful day, Grandpa and Grandma were known to be a cantankerous old couple--especially to each other. After the ceremony, they walked hand in hand and their smiles were beaming. This continued through the after-ceremony dinner and the next day celebration. Something had clicked and the wedding may have been just a simple reminder of their own early days. A reminder of how they too chose to spend their lives with one another and how happy they once were.

I never thought that their change of hearts may have been directly affected by hanging around with Tony and me. But there is something magical about a wedding day and whenever I sign a wedding card, I always include the advice, Always remember how you feel this day. When I think of the honeymooners on Kia Ora Savage, I feel gratitude to Vicki and Armid, for sharing their honeymoon with some old married couples and reminding us of our own beginnings, and giving us a reminder that we should always strive to be around people who are in love; because love is like a cold--infectious.

Monday, February 2, 2015

One Degree

Every morning I check the weather app on my phone. It determines whether I walk or run, where I walk or run, what time I walk or run, or whether I'm inside on the elliptical. The app determines whether or not I think about putting plexiglass on the cold frames, whether I dress in layers or not, whether I drive to the bank. Or not. The weather is perhaps, too much of a life determiner for me.

Lately, there has been a perceptible change when I am outside. Coat, hat, scarf and gloves feel a little too cozy. And I've noticed the hourly change in temperature on my phone app shows a one to two degree increase. With this incredibly slow change, eventually we will arrive at the height of summer and again at the height of winter. Once in a while there is a wicked and unexpected dramatic change, but the temperature, the seasons, the weather is a pretty reliable friend, and all that takes is subtle, minimal changes, everyday.

Patterns and habits. All it takes is subtle, minimal changes everyday and we reach our potential, our best self, best weight, best endurance, best patience, best at whatever we choose. Two bites instead of the whole thing, a green drink instead of a milkshake, a walk to the church instead of a ride, a kind comment instead of an acerbic retort, a ten minute read vs. not reading. Twenty minutes internet surfing instead of an hour, one movie instead of five. Slowly sliding the temperature up and down. Slowly almost imperceptibly, we wake up one morning and say, "It's spring!" Or, "I did it!"

Sunday, February 1, 2015

As we sit in this almost empty theatre, I'm questioning my tastes in film. I thought I'd gotten pretty good at picking great documentaries at the Sundance film festival.

Don't question yourself, a little voice whispers. Never go with the crowd the voice reminds me and I think of some of the more popular films at this year's festival and how I wouldn't have chosen any of them. And then a lady sitting behind us, with a very loud voice, finds out  her flight is later than previously thought, and she and her companion can fit in one more film. She reads the options and I'm literally sick to my stomach when I hear one of the descriptions. Is it legal to make a film about that?

The Sundance Film Festival is a candy shop of creativity, chutzpah and daring innovation. There are no ratings, no limits, accolades to the odd, and the out-of-the-box. Independent film. Independent thinking. Independent ideas. I'm proud to support and be a part of this community that welcomes people from around the world to enjoy film. But, I have to be careful in my film choices.

When the film begins, there are still more empty seats than usual. Trust your instincts. This is going to be a great film. And it is.

Welcome to Leith is the story of Leith, North Dakota: population 24, including the children. All is quiet and conservative until a hate filled, well known white supremist moves into town with the intention of filling it with like minded people.

The people of Leith soon discover the very laws that protect them are the same laws that protect this man with a heinous plan.

Racists intentionally antagonize the people in the town's they invade. They provoke and aggravate, hoping for the first shot or the first punch so they can "defend themselves," or "sue for damages." The town's people, even though they fear for their lives, can't fight back--at least not with a weapon or a fist. They learn to fight back with the law.  The laws are what allow them to condemn the house of the white supremist. The laws are what send him to jail and possible trial.

There are two important national players in this story. The SPLC, Southern Poverty Law Center has made a huge dent in the power of hate groups. Through civil suits they have successfully shut down the financial resources of hate groups. Their posse of hate crime watch dogs follow the actions of hate crime leaders. The SPLC alerted the sheriff in Leith when this man, Mr. Cobb, was buying up property.

Another organization, Not in Our Town, is also a help to town's like Leith. They were there supporting, filming, doing whatever was needed.

In the end, the white supremist goes free. He apologizes for his actions of terrorizing Leith. Yet when our film makers follow up, Cobb is still spreading hate on the internet, sometimes 18 hours a day.

I chose the right film. The film forced us to look at our sacred rights as human beings and how we must help others keep those rights whether they are black, white, Hispanic and strangely, full of hate.

This film will later air on PBS--worth your time.