Monday, December 29, 2008

Warning: Contains a Rant!


The Stones “Satisfaction” (as in “I can’t get no”) is playing in my head. This mother did all she could, even being nice and cooperative with the Wasbund and taking on the old roll of taking responsibility for the shopping for product of the beloved offspring of this ill-fated marriage. But alas, all is not well. Said package, was all set to be delivered the 23rd (which in my book is “in plenty of time for Christmas”) but that was the day the snow hit and all hell broke loose. For the next three days we hovered over the delivery status on the UPS site, left notes on the doors with instructions of what to do just in case they came while we were indisposed (as in in case I was in the bathroom and son was plugged into earphones) or had wandered out to case the neighbor’s food supply in our snowed in conditions. The package did not come in and the UPS folks were apologetic. I got that: I couldn't venture out: was not hopeful that they would be able to deliver. I was still very sweet and understanding. Dealt with wasbund's constant inquiries as to “do you know where it is?” followed by the oh, so helpful “It would be good if he could open it on Christmas” (no sh#t Sherlock!). So I get to wrap a beautiful little box with a sorry little note about what’s coming just as soon as the weather breaks. Son is OK. He knows I tried and I keep him informed on my conversations. Then UPS informs me that air deliveries will have priority (not ground) because of the back ups (I say why not make them all a priority? Is that possible?) and they will be delivering no ground shipments over weekend nor on New Years Eve Day nor New Years. If we are lucky they will deliver on Monday (today) or Tuesday.

I check the tracking number today. No update to the status of “undeliverable due to elements.” So I call. First I have to go through a series of inputs and number pressing (I tried going straight to “0” for Customer Service but no luck) then get on hold and get to listen to a loop of jingle about how wonderful UPS is and all the guarantees for holiday delivery). Finally I get a young woman who is very apologetic. I had self talked myself to be kind and understanding, knowing that they are probably dealing with a whole bunch of frustrated people and knowing that the poor girl who is getting my call is not the one that is delaying delivery. But she tells me that the status hasn’t been updated and therefore they don’t know where my package is. OK. Not sounding good for delivery today. Then she says I have to call Best Buy to ask them to initiate a search. I say they won’t be able to tell me any more than you: you guys have my package. I am initiating the search. She says I am not. Best Buy has to. I tell her this makes no sense. I don’t want to call Best Buy. They don’t have my package, UPS does and I would like them to put a trace on it. No can do. So I grudgingly say I am not happy but I will do this ridiculous thing. She says “thanks for calling” and I can’t help myself and mumble “as if I had a choice.” Oh, I so did not want to go off on this girl. But then I am off to the Best Buy Customer Service maze where I again push a series of buttons after listening to a series of recordings and get on hold on another interminable loop of Best Buy advertising jingles. The first time I try to put it on speaker phone after ten minutes of holding I accidentally disconnect and have to start all over again. I say a bad word. Then, initiating another call and finally reaching that gosh-awful loop I put it on speaker and it is a 45 minute wait until this nice lady comes on. She first checks to see if the product is available at any local stores. It is not. So she issues a re-order that will be sent express air and we are hopeful that we will get it tomorrow or Wednesday (though I am not telling my son tomorrow is a possibility). Now I call my son to tell him the whole sad story. Apparently he did not hear the part about how I’ve been on the phone over an hour trying to get this fixed out. All he wants me to know is that this puts a terrible burden on him as he won’t have time to get it loaded up and set up before he leaves to return to school (which by the way he will if it comes on Wednesday). Lots of heaving sighing on his end. I won’t tell you what I was doing on this end. Then I get to deliver this message to oh so helpful Wasbund, by e-mail of course, because talking is way too aggravating to stomach. In this mood I cannot be responsible for what might fly out of my mouth as I get a lecture on how this is a let down for my son, or worse yet, end up apologizing for ruining everyone’s holiday and taking personal responsibility for causing a snowstorm to hit the area and ruin the economy and the whole region’s holiday as well. That was my old pattern. That is why I e-mail when possible.

I am sure this post is a total bore. But it is what is consuming me at the moment…when I should be working. So I get this off my chest with this post and then I can return to things I actually can have success with. This does not include anything to do with the weather, the economy, nor the state of mind of my wasbund or child. I am not even going to send a nasty note to UPS. I am just so darn happy that I finally got a helpful person at Best Buy and will bask in the belief that all will work out…until it doesn’t. In fact I think I’ll try to get a massage on the way home (I have a gift card) and do something for me.
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Picture from here

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Rediscovering Childhood!

Yesterday I had a fun outing with Jill and Debbie and Sam and Natalie to Crossroads, where Jill finally got out in to retail land again. The kids were good in Cost Plus and Sam was successful in wearing down his mom to get a stuffed football, though when he was doubtful he tried to slip it under his T-shirt. It's hard for a four year old to hide a stuffed football in his shirt. But you can't blame the kid for trying! Nat loved the nesting wooden dolls...but did not like it when I surprised her with a feathery purple mask. As difficult as it is for Natalie to communicate, she is incredibly expressive if you just look. Note to self: look more often. Then we had a blast in the party store trying on costumes. I ended up with a ridiculous Christmas jester hat (that I have since had fun with, though Andy would not let me wear it when we went out for sushi tonight) and Sam got a British copper hat which inspired him to leave the store making siren sounds. Then I had to say my goodbyes as I had an appointment to head into the city with Anne. But one thing that really struck me about the outing with Jill and Kids to the mall was the interaction Natalie had with two strangers, one in each of the stores. These women both made it a point to speak to Natalie, asked about the symbols on her lapboard and told Jill and Debbie how beautiful and bright Natalie was so that Natalie could hear it. It wasn't patronizing. It was wonderful and it made me realize how important that is, to both the people who are stuck in a body that limits them, and to the people who love and care for them. They say that life is worth living as long as you are learning and growing. I thank Natalie and her family for teaching me something new every time we are together. What a blessing.


Then I had a great escape into the City with Anne yesterday. It would have been wonderful anyway you slice it, but coming on the heels of snowboundness, it was especially sweet. Parked in my office garage (grins...save $$ and stress on parking). Sale perusal at Restoration Hardware, interrupted by the sounds of music familiar to Anne, who found a free performance in the atrium by a gospel group she used to have entertain in her home. Great Christmas music by a gospel and children's choir and reunited old friends (Anne and the band). Then to Anthropology...I love everything in that store. But what I'm most excited about is a find that I get to add to the box of gifts that I really must get sent to my siblings. A book I've been trying to find since my sister was first expecting let's see....seventeen years ago. I've been looking on and off on the Internet the last couple years and never found anything more about it than it was "out of print." But, lo-and-behold, on the shelves at Anthropology there it was. A new reprint. I snatched up three copies, one for each of the Sib's homes (including my own). Once it has been sent and received by them I will reveal the book and slip in some of that wonderful wisdom it included, as needed. But it sure was fun to rediscover this staple of my childhood.


After some fun in Anthropology (mostly just lifting, oohing and aweing, smelling and poking and then putting back for further consideration), we wandered over to Bambuza, a most wonderful Vietnamese Bistro near the Convention Center. It was my suggestion but turned out it had wonderful memories for Anne as it was one of Hunter's favorite restaurants. After a lime drop martini and some good green papaya salad, walnut lemon prawns and broccoli and beef to satisfy our protein needs we made it back to the eastside. We attempted a movie at Lincoln Square but after experiencing how full the parking garage was we decided instead to check out the light show at the Botanical Garden. Every year I am so impressed with this show that is available for free to the public. Every year I come away wanting to learn how to create these wonders. Anne and I both mused about how cool these light creations would look in our respective yards. Maybe next year.... Then we checked out a few wonderfully decorated homes on our way back to drop Anne off. It was a wonderful escape, and the day concluded nicely when Andy made it safely back home from playing music and hanging with friends (they are practicing for a New Years Even booking they have).

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Who, What, Where?


If you look closely you'll see I've got a new slide show on the side bar. These are pictures that I condensed so that I could load them into my new digital picture frame that Andy gave me. As long as I was at it I uploaded it to Picasso so that I could stream it onto my blog. OK, I'm not that technical but I think that's what I did. Anyway, sit back and enjoy. You will see some shots of great friends and family (there's Natalie in her feather boa and sunglasses) at beaches, cabins, on cross-country skis, in cooking class, at the Pumpkin Patch. There's shots from Sicily, the Amalfi Coast, the Ligurian Coast and other favorite places in Italy. I've got the garden tour in Dorset England that I happened upon. Pictures of my home in the summer, fall and winter. Andy's Sr. pictures. There's almost 500 pictures there but they go by fast. Hope you enjoy!

Soon I'll be able to add pictures from Sudan and later a fiftieth birthday in Tuscany. After being stuck in the house for so long I am ready to put back on my travelling shoes. The picture above is one of my favorites, from a sunset dinner in the Tuscan hills at a villa where I learned to make pasta by hand. Though they say the last supper was in an upper room, this picture always makes me think of a last supper setting.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Tried a New Recipe: Angel Kiss Cookies

When I was sprung from the house the first time by Leah and Marlin I got what I needed to try a recipe given on one of my favorite blogs, Piece of Cake. I also got back energy, and hope, and a reason to get out of bed. And so I baked. The recipe starts with cream cheese and butter. That was enough for me. I forgot to get the white chocolate chips the recipe called for so used some semi-sweet ones I had instead. Anyway, they turned out quite delicious, though maybe not as pretty as if I had used white. Andy is helping with the consuming as are some of my neighbors that I shared with. Me...well I try one (or two) every so often just to make sure it's a recipe worth sharing. The consensus is yes. I wish I could share some of them with you but since I can't I'll point you in the direction of the recipe here for Angel Kiss Cookies.
Gotta love this ending to the directions:

"Eat any broken pieces and crumbs immediately. Eat hot off of the baking sheet. Just go and eat them all.
Finish the bottle of wine.
Take off your apron. Take off your shirt. Take off your pants. Run around naked.
And don't forget to turn off the oven."

I did finish the wine and turned off the oven. However, I will wait to do the stripping and running around naked until Andy is back at school. Satchmo can handle it.




Christmas Rescued


As noted in the last post, a Tuesday evening rescue allowed Santa to arrive with a decent stocking, though Andy got to see what his stocking would have contained had it not been for that rescue. Dare I say he was not the only child in the area who got a can of chili in his stocking. I think he even appreciated the irony of getting a tropic palm tree air freshener for his rear view mirror. Christmas eve was a bit anti-climactic. Mostly because I could not get to church. Typically on Christmas eve Andy is with his dad and I volunteer to help greet and seat all five of the services at our church which is a good way for me to feel helpful and less sad about our current situation. But I couldn't get to church because of the (dirty word) snow. The good thing is that I had Andy this Christmas Eve and he was with his dad for Christmas dinner: a reverse of the usual. So we had a nice dinner as a result of the night before grocery store trek and we watched "A Christmas Story" which is what we always enjoy together around Christmas. I always laugh out loud at that movie, after seems like a hundred viewings. "You'll shoot your eye out." I love that the story is clearly told from someones true recollection of coming of age with all the embarrassments, dreams and exaggerations that stick in our minds, though they may be a version of the truth, not necessarily the truth. My own such recollection appears here, if you'd like to take a gander.

Andy has strong Harwood lines and so does not sleep in on Christmas morning. The night before he asked what time would be OK to wake me up. I said (hopefully) "not before seven." Being a Harwood myself, I was awake on and off before that and promptly at seven AM I heard the lights go on, and we were officially into Christmas morning. This kid has matured. He liked the clothes he got (he used to turn his nose up at clothes when he was of Lego age). He was a sport about his main gift that was ordered with plenty of time to arrive but is still trying to make it to our house: UPS is way behind and paralyzed by the snow. We are hoping it comes before he heads off to school. But, being just the two of us, and gifts just between the two of us to open, we were done by seven-thirty.

I've been having a blast setting up the digital picture frame that Andy gave me. As I go through oodles of picture files I have I am in awe of how blessed I am to have had the adventures we've had (trips and gatherings with many of you, my loyal blog readers) and the incredibly wonderful friends and family I have in my life. We enjoyed delicious cinnamon rolls that a friend. a.k.a. angel, dropped off for us. Then the isolation and missing family and tradition set in. Turns out I was not the only one feeling that way. The old adage of "A friend in need is a friend indeed" comes to mind. Things came together and I was able to be rescued by Jill's parents to drive me up to Jill's where she is really snowed in and was badly in need of being sprung. We snatched her off the top of that nasty hill and down into soggy but not icy weather. Her parents dropped us off at the movies (just like Junior High, Jill said) and we joined the thousands who also had that idea. There are a ton of good movies out we want to see but settled on "Seven Pounds", Will Smith's release. The start time wasn't for a few hours though so we thought we'd check out the mall area to see if we could get a meal or drink (or lots of drinks) somewhere. Nothing was open. Nothing like finally getting out and having no place to go. We wandered around and found a comfy couch in the B-Square Lodge outside the closed Starbucks, but in front of a nice fire place. We had settled in to some people watching. We looked out across the main road at the dark windows of McCormick and Schmicks, a really, really fine seafood restaurant that is way classier than our usual hangouts. By gosh, it looked like there were people behind those dark windows. It really was hard to tell and honestly I thought we were just wishful thinking. Then we saw a person go in the door. IN THE DOOR! Oh my. It was a pinch me moment. We almost ran across the skybridge to get over there. Bracing ourselves for the certain disappointment we had been suffering from on so many occasions over the past week. In fact, we decided that if it was open only for a private party that we would act the part and walk on in and pretend we were the private party! But lo-and-behold, the doors opened and we were welcomed, cheerily inside. There was about a ten minute wait. I think we were both just waiting for someone to discover the error of this good fortune and find some reason to kick us out: it just felt too good to be true. But we were called to a nice table with really huge wine glasses on it, just waiting to be filled. I had to wipe away my tears. I looked at Jill and she too had a ridiculously huge grin on her face and tears in her eyes. Our fortune had turned. And here is what I really think about about being seated at that table with that wonderful menu to peruse. God's abundance. We both would have been thrilled to find a Jack-in-the-Box open and an order of curly fries. But filet mingnon and a glass of Cabernet? That was a gift from a God who knows what the soul really needs. He is so good. We had adult conversation, cheerful, attentive waiters, wonderfully cooked meals and dessert! Yes, DESSERT, even. We lingered almost to movie time, made it to the flick. It was a little heavier story line than we might have wanted, but Will Smith is so fine to look at that it was OK. Wanting to stretch out the evening as long as possible, and hungry for interaction with friends, we trudged through the slop to Anne's house. Added bonus, Charlie was hanging at Anne's to escape too many nights with her own mother who has been stuck at her house. So we had a little cheer and cheerfulness, running on of too-long-quiet mouths and the usual laughter that we share. Then it was time for the coach to come get us (Jill's Dad's truck) before it turned into a pumpkin (really, before things started to freeze up again) and we were all delivered to our home prisons again.
Update: I got my car out! It wasn't easy but with some extra pushing and shoveling I was able to get onto my road and in the worn tracks. Made it down the hill on the bare patches and on to dry road. Yay!! Hip-hip-hooray!! We headed out early afternoon into a light snow shower that was melting on contact but enough to plant a little seed of worry until we were back soundly at home. My car is now at the bottom of the hill so I will be able to go to/from church and work as long as it stays somewhat clear. We went into downtown and parked at my office. There we joined the hordes of folks doing returns and spending Christmas cash. I was able to slip into Anthropology (I LOVE that store) while Andy was visiting with some friends from Central he bumped into out front. Then into Urban Outfitters to his exchanges and to Barnes and Noble. I didn't buy a thing (that's got to be a first) while he stocked up on some new videos and music. Grabbed some good clam chowder for late lunch/early dinner before we headed back. Stopped into the hardware store for a snow shovel (sold out) and the pet store for Satchmo's belated stocking stuffers and a new sweater (as manly as we could find) because we realized he outgrew his old collegiate one. Home again home again jiggety jig. I'll not be going out tonight as Andy wants my car but I'm reserving it for tomorrow. Need to see my peeps!

Update to the update: one upside of being snowed in is catching up with friends who are also snowed in. Just got off a long ,fruitful conversation with Lola who is stuck out in the country outside Vancouver and making the most of it. We had a looong, over due chat and now it's time to post and figure out the evening. Cheers.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Angels!


This is what they look like. Yep. I'd like to thank whoever you were that prayed for my sanity and rescue after that last post. Shortly after, Leah called and said she and Marlin were coming back from work and were dreading going back home to be stuck again so would love to come by and gather us up and take us out. "Yes, YES "I said. Marlin even got his wonderful all-wheel-drive up our hill before I could walk down. Andy's angels pulled through too. Just as I was arranging this with Leah, one of his friends called and said he had his mom's good snow car out and was on his way to gather him up. So Andy headed off with his friend (and will spend the night) and I went with my friends. We headed to Bell Square. Oh the traffic was thick. The garage looked impossible. We were giving up and heading out when lo and behold, a spot opened up. May have been a result of a most useful prayer you all should learn if you don't use it already. Goes like this "Hail Mary, Full of Grace. Help us find a parking space. Amen." Works every time. We divided and conquered. I got a few more things for Andy and found the head mount flashlight I need for my upcoming trip. Then we headed to Redmond and had a most wonderful dinner at Typhoon. What a treat. Food cooked by someone else and fresh vegetables. Adult conversation. Thai beer. Ordered lots. I don't know how long it will be before I get out again so I wanted left-overs. Then, the grocery store. Surprisingly uncrowded. Though there were several shelves that were very low on inventory. But I was able to pick up vegetables, some good steaks for Christmas Eve dinner, flour and other things for baking, good red wine, some lottery tickets for stockings and best of all: a chocolate orange for Andy's stocking. This is something he always gets in his stocking and lo and behold there was one, just one mind you, left on the shelf. Waiting just for me.
It felt so good to get out. Inspired, I came home and began mucking out the house. Put all our glassworking away and reclaimed the dining room table. With my beautiful Poinsettia as centerpiece. I have a few more things to wrap now and baking to do tomorrow. All is good. Andy will now get two stockings. One will contain the fun things I've gathered up for him and of course the chocolate orange. The other will be his snowbound stocking, including the can of chili, bacon bandaids and the air-freshener tree for his car. I mean really, that will be something to remember and remind us how grateful we are to have angels in our life. Me, I feel like a new person. Amazing what going out in public and having a good dinner with friends can do. I'm good now for a few days. Now, to sleep in heavenly peace. Goodnight!

Bah Humbug!


How are we to keep our sanity in this period of isolation in the middle of the City? Andy is seriously getting a can of chili in his stocking. And a tropical air freshener palm tree to hang from his rear view mirror. That's about what I found at the Little Store. My house looks like a train wreck and I am eating non-stop totally out of boredom. Only problem is my grazing is getting more and more creative. Saw a terrible movie on Pay-per-view where Meg Ryan pulls a cube of butter out of the fridge and alternatingly dips it into cocoa and then a bowl of sugar and gnaws at it between crying jags. Pure inspiration, I tell you. I almost found myself doing the same a few hours later. My hill is slicker than snot and several inches thick of ice from what I can tell. I may not get my car out until I get back from Sudan. I am inviting my neighbors over for dinner tomorrow. I need something to make me clean my house up. Andy is worried I will be using up valuable food resources. I reminded him of the Donner Party and told him I am just checking out the future menu. The up side is I am using up lots of food that has been in my freezer for a while. The down side is I am using lots of food that has been in my freezer for a while. We had tacos last night on shredded shells. Did you know taco shells do not hold together after a year in the feezer? We pretended we were eating tostados. At least they were pretty.

Forgive me for going on so long. I haven't spoken with other women in a while. Satchmo and I are now having two way conversations but we're having a hard time relating to each other. Please fill me in on your McGiver cooking adventures. Or anything. Really.


(Later...Next Day)


Update...I'm changing my strategy. On an optimistic fit with reports from neighbors we decided to try to go into town. We hiked to the bottom of the hill. Dug a load of snow off the car. Kicked a path for the car through the slush and snow on the side of the road (note to Santa: I really, really, really want a shovel. That's all). Then I get in the car while Andy stands by the side to watch. Car just slides towards Andy. Then we rock back and forth. He yells at me when the wheels spin. He does not understand the art of slush driving. But then apparently, neither do I. I try another time but he is standing right where the car slid last time. I ask him to move so I don't run him over. He hold his glove up. I know there is a middle finger in there somewhere. He stomps off. I slide and give up. I am so frustrated. I am angry and sad and I do understand his grouchiness but really. The neighbors are not coming over for dinner. They got out and are dining out. They are not as desperate as we are for company. It's just as well. I've decided to eat my son. Put him out of his misery, take care of the food issue and get half the grouchiness out of the house. The other half belongs to me. I am going to bed. Bah humbug.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Stocking Stalking


I am thinking of Little House on the Prarie and how they made Christmas over what they had in the house. I am pretty concerned I will not get to the store before Christmas. Fortunately, Andy is the only one I am trying to make a special Christmas for. But still, the Santa in me wants to make it special. Well it will be special, but I'm afraid 'specially bad if he can't get out and to be with his friends pretty soon. He as adapted the "I am just going to sleep through my mysery" tact. I already gave him the I-tunes cards that were to go in his stocking to give him something fun to do. I purchased a few things for him to unwrap and those are under the tree. But the stocking...that's what I really love to do. And, what I really am not prepared to do without going to the store. I believe I will march down to the "Little Store" down the street and buy candy as filler. The little store is really not much more than a gas station store, without the gas station. But they are troopers. They were opened two years ago through the ten day power outage, handing folks flashlights and hand totaling the purchases. It is a trek from here, but on level floor and thank God we have at least that. I am guessing that by today they are getting a little slim on shelves, which just encourages us to be very creative in our cooking. But back to the stocking. I have a few very small things I had picked up but will have to create the rest from what we have. This may be the year he remembers as the one he got a can of Clam Chowder in his stocking. How about a bar of Dial soap? I have lots of girlie things...things I have picked up for friends or could regift. But I really think he'd be a little confused with that scented candle and nail polish. I might just give him a nice bottle of wine. He is not quite 21. Close enough to share a special glass with me every once in a while but not old enough to buy his own. I am guessing he would be quite jazzed to get his own gift bottle of wine, and it would fill up a lot of space in that stocking. But would it be sending the wrong message? Well, I am off to pull on the boots and mittens and all so that I can trek to the Little Store before the next snow front comes on, as has been promised. I will be sure to take pictures of what we come up with for the stocking.
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Isn't this a cute stocking? I think I may have to order it for Satchmo's Christmas next year from this site. Oh my, Satchmo's Christmas. I usually pick up a few new toys for him. I will have to get real creative on that. At least my neighbors picked up a bag of dog food for him the first day we were snowed in. "Just in case" we were stuck more than a day. Thank goodness!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Snowbound






















Tomorrow, Monday, will be my fifth day snowbound. Judy says my snow karma is way too powerful. On Wednesday morning when I woke up I experienced one of those elementary school morning feelings when everyone prepares for a snow day and one doesn't come. I did get a day in at work and got important things done, but for the second night in a row I brought a trunk of work home...just in case. When I went to bed Wednesday night though the news was showing snow all around not a flake had floated down on our little cottage. And so I wished for snow. When the alarm went off at 5 AM I tentatively pulled back the shade, and yup, the snow karma came through. I got my snow day. I followed through on some of the work projects I could handle from home on the VPN. Snuggled in my bed, looking out at the snowglobe action outside my window, chipping away at work...just didn't feel like work. Friday more snow, Saturday more snow, and today, more snow. Our hill is pretty much impassable. Andy did park his car down below so when roads clear up along the lake we could get in and out when that clears. I won't be able to get my car down the hill for some time after I'm sure. It's always the last to clear and is quite icy. So we've been working on glass, eating out of boredom, catching up on reading and writing, etc. I had a long conference call with the Sudan team as we had to cancel our scheduled face-to-face meeting as nobody could travel. Andy's dad came in his mighty Subaru to take Andy out to finish his Christmas shopping and to pick up some groceries for us. Even with that little outing he got, he is otherwise going stir crazy. He and his friends are all stuck at home with their parents and unable to do all the fun things they had planned. Some of his friends are in even worse shape, stuck at airports across the country, unable to get into the airport. There are storms all across the country and even if they could get into Seattle they aren't able to get out of their home airports. We've been down the lake with the dog a few times. He loves the snow but gets cold pretty quick. Then we come back to the cozy cottage. The Christmas tree is lit and the swags swiggle around the staircase. It's cozy. But it's getting old!








Stay warm!

Friday, December 19, 2008

What Will You Hang on Your Tree?

One of the fun things I'm discovering by writing a blog is a plethora of wonderful blogs out there. People who are great writers, impressive crafters and lots of mothers who are just...well, words fail me. My gift for you today is this. Read THIS, now. I swear, you will be laughing and much more loving of yourself in this stressful season. What will you hang on your tree?

There are so many wonderful blogs out there. Here are a few I want to spotlight. I know, none of my blog readers have endless time on their hands. My friends and family have busy hands...and lives. Me, I choose writing and reading over sleep. Which is why I am finding and keeping up with some of these people, strangers really. But, if you are "stuck" at home due to the snow, you might want to check these out:

C Jane Enjoy It This beautiful blog is written by Courtney, a young mother of one baby (affectionately refered to as "the Chief") which is the result of a huge battle against infertility. She's recently published on the subject, but the real impressive thing is that she is also currently caring for her sister's three children. Her sister, Stephanie, and brother in law were badly burned, but survived a small plane crash in August. So while her sister is still in hospital, she has these three additional children, and the care and concern for her sister as well. Her sister had a good blog too (NieNie) which is currently trying to keep alive with reruns at request from readers. The sisters are part of a larger Mormon family that we get to know through the blog. I am so impressed with these two women and the care for each other, spouses, children. The blogging community has taken the sisters recovery under their wing and there is much fundraising for the sister as add on. Done sweetly, and specially and not at all distracting from the blog.

St. Udio (which is a take on "studio" I think) This young mother and her husband, with two very young children of their own, have adopted three young siblings out of the foster care system. The adoption isn't final yet so pictures of the adoptive children aren't on yet. I just admire this young mom's dedication to her family, her desire to do something for the world by taking on these children, the fondness she speaks of her husband (it's always so refreshing to see good couples in action, especially if you hang out with a lot of women who have not had that experience), her craftyness, etc. It's a nice slice of life to gaze in on.

Piece of Cake This is the blog that I cited in the intro. She's just plain funny and so honest. And I am going to bake her angel kisses cookies this afternoon if I can get out on the roads to the grocery to get supplies.

Under the Clouds This is written by Amy, who recently moved to our area from California. Cousin to my dear friend Jill, I am honored to be invited to join their Christmas dinner this year. I'm a little like Mary this year, with no place to go for Christmas dinner, since last minute changes were made and Andy is with his father instead of the usual spending it with me. But I digress...I like following Amy's blog because I know her and she's another impressive mother who is dedicated to her kids, her home, her family and is real and honest about it.
Anyway, if you are snowed in today, you might want to browse a few of these. But for sure read the first one linked...this one: here. and tell me, what will you hang on your tree? Enjoy!


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Letting Go of It....


I was really angry about an injustice today. Something that left me feeling how unfair things can be. About the balance of power and money and how that affects me personally, even though I have so very much to be grateful for. It was really eating at me. And then it popped into my head about how to reach out to those "haves" to give them an opportunity to do for the "have nots" (not me directly, but in some way providing a little personal redemption). So I launched that out there and will leave it to these folks that have lost the ability to understand the world they live in, and I will see what they do with this opportunity. I can't change the way they divide the spoils. I don't want to waste the energy in ruminating on the dissapointment. All I can do is make it possible for them to show me that there is heart somewhere in there and see what happens. I am prepared to be let down. But at least I feel like I took some action other than just whining and comiserating with the multitude of others who are also feeling the sting. I can let it go and if any of them decide to respond, well then that will just be a cherry on top!

About that Poinsettia...


You know that Poinsettia that my neighbors dropped off ever so shortly after I had gotten done sharing with someone my problem with poinsettias. I saw the person I had shared my poinsettia problem with again today and told her about that poinsettia showing up right after I had gotten done telling her about my problem with them. She told me that right after I last saw her she had prayed that poinsettias would be redeemed for me. I figure that was probably just about the time Cynthia and Hugh were walking through the store and felt compelled to pick up a poinsettia for me. Well knock me over with a feather. Doesn't that just send shivers up your spine? Who can argue the existence of a loving God in the face of coolness like that?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I Am Forgiven!

This is what happened after my present peeking confession to my sister on a prior blog entry. On Saturday morning, after I posted, I was feeling a little nervous about my confession and wanted to call her to give her a heads up. Anxious to talk to her about my confession, just to make sure I hadn't stirred up things that shouldn't be stirred.

I have no idea why I was feeling this. My relationship with my sister is SOLID. Any jealousies I had as a child I've outgrown. While younger there was some inherent competitiveness, and definitely I displayed the bossy traits of an older sister. We played well together, but also fought regularly as siblings do. In fact I think learning to fight fair is one of the things having a sister or brother teaches you. When I think about it, the seeds were planted for a better relationship when my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer during my adolescent (her pre-pubescent) years. We were forced to hold hands and wait, not daring to exhale. When the initial hurdle was passed I noticed the more volatile part of our relationship had cooled some. Soon I was off to college, but shortly after my folks decided to pick up stakes and move to Sudan. This created an opportunity for us to have an incredible "European Tour" with my mum, followed by several months of helping her settle into her new life in Sudan. We explored that country and the people together. When we returned to the states, leaving mum and dad in Sudan, we began to depend on each other more. She began the college phase of her life at University in Seattle while I continued on at UPS in Tacoma. Since mom was out of touch (there were no internet connections, no good overseas telephone connections at that time) I got to be her sounding board, her soft place to land as she tested out her new wings. What a wonderful gift. We've been very close ever since. Being there for each other through career explorations, heartbreak and yearning that come with boyfriends, the joy and scary territory bringing a child into the world and learning to be a parent. Now, learning to live without a mother, coping with aging bodies and health challenges, partners in crime in loving an aging father. I cannot imagine doing any of these things without my sister. I really don't think we've had a harsh word or misunderstanding in years and years.

She has my heart. So why would I be nervous about my confession of crime I committed against her, really, a minor crime in retrospect? I think that's part of the core of me: guilty until proven innocent. So, to continue...I called her to prime the pump for the confession that was posted. I caught her in the middle of an important errand with her son, so she was going to call later in the day when things settled down. As I finally laid my head down on Saturday, after a busy day myself, it occurred to me that I hadn't heard back. A little spark was lit in my brain that perhaps I had really messed things up with this confession. I had exposed myself as the fraud and selfish soul I am. It was too much for her and she was finally shown what a creep I truly am and was having trouble re-establishing her trust in and love for me. Oh, falling asleep is such work sometimes. Throughout Sunday, a little discomfort burned in my heart as I anxiously awaited to hear from my sister, to take my licks if need be, but at least a chance to patch things up I hoped. I even called her phone a few times but when she didn't answer I wasn't provided the relief I longed for. I even imagined she was at the other end seeing my incoming number and having to give herself space while she prepared herself to confront me. meanwhile I made myself busy with baking Christmas goods and working with Andy on some glasswork projects. Judy came over for tea which was a wonderful distraction. And Sunday evening I went to a delightful Christmas Dessert event with Jill at her church. But once again, as I laid down to sleep I was sure that I had really done it with Julie. This is the conversation I had with myself "Wow, I should have listened to my intuition and not posted that. It probably sounded so flippant, like I didn't care that I screwed her over. But I thought she would see the humor in it. I can't believe she would let something like that put a wedge in our relationship. I was just a kid, really. Such a bad kid, though. I'm such a rotten soul. I'm sorry I'm such a rotten sister. She's so good to me and I am such a shit. I am heartbroken. I need my sister. I can't stand not having her. I am so insensitive: to think that something like that wouldn't piss her off. But wasn't it funny? I have no compass. I don't know right from wrong. I don't deserve to have her in my life. I can't stand this. I am calling her fist thing and throwing my heart at her feet. I need her forgiveness. I need her. (then some mighty wailing thrown in for good measure)"

Monday morning. Freezing out there and lots of scraping and heating the car. I forgot to call her first thing and now she is at work and I am at work. But my heart is broken and I am having a hard time working. I have to apologize and beg her forgiveness. Now. So I send her an e-mail that I hope she will see during a break. I have to know she forgives me. Else I will have to change my life. Under the heading "Still Friends?" I write: "OK, now I'm worried. I didn't hear back from you and am wondering: was my confession on the blog over the top? I didn't mean for it to be flippant. I was just reminded of it when putting up the Christmas tree and for some reason was moved to confess to my evil ways. I am sorry: I really do feel badly about the actions of a selfish child. That was me. Or, (hoping) did you just get busy and side tracked and are not smarting from what I did? " I am really distracted from work. My heart is sick. A few hours later, I am shaking as I open the e-mail. This is what I get: "OMG! I am sorry that you even had to stress the tiniest bit about your hilarious confession. I did just get busy . . . I love your blog and your writing from the heart. Happy day! j" All is good. All is right with the world. I have not lost my sister. Now she knows what a shit I can be and she still loves me. Of course she had no clue what visions were dancing in my head. My indiscretions as a child hadn't even registered on her judgement scale. That's how forgiving she is and how silly I am to think they would.

There's a lesson in here somewhere.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What Child Is This?

I got to Jubilee Reach this morning before the children arrived, just in time to catch Luis setting up the two-foot tall nativity scene under the soaring Christmas tree in the lobby. Baby Jesus, in the manger, was placed in middle, as Mary and Joseph, the Three Kings, and one other guy that I think I should know but must have forgotten, were positioned around, looking adoringly upon Him. A donkey and three sheep nestled in beside. Each of the figures sported an electric plug in their back, waiting to be connected to an electrical source so they might glow. I had the incredible experience of being there as some of the kids arrived. As they came through the door, the children spotted them right away, rushing right past their waiting name tags to check out this display. Hats and backpacks still attached. This was a moment of Christmas wonderment that I wish everyone could experience.

I was checking out the ornaments on the tree that the children had made earlier in the week, as the questions came bursting out.

“What are those?”…. “Why is that baby there?” … “Who are those guys and what are they carrying?” …“How come those sheep are lying down?”

[I am humming “What Child is This?” as I write.]

I had a flash of panic as I realized what an important moment this was and what an awesome responsibility I had to get this right.

“This is the Christmas story.” …“That’s baby Jesus. He was born on Christmas.” …“Those are three kings with presents for baby Jesus.” …“Jesus was born in the barn and the sheep are sleeping by him.” I start to think I’m pretty good at this.

Then the questions got harder. “Who is He?”…“Is He real?”…“How come these things (the electrical plugs) are there?”

Fortunately some answers came. “He was really nice and taught people about God and love.” … “Yes, He is real. He was born a long, long time ago. Even before your Mommy and Daddy and your grandparents.” The hardest question was the one about the electrical plugs. Somehow I stumbled through that.

As I was down there on my knees right next to each child checking out the nativity scene I had my own questions. “How is it possible they don’t know this part of the Christmas story?” “How did I get so lucky to experience this wonderful moment?” “How awesome is this?” “Why did they put those darn plugs right in the middle of their backs?” What a great morning. It’s beginning to feel like Christmas.
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Written December 2007

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Confessions of a Present Peeking Girl


I’ll just admit right up front: I am a present peeker. If I know a gift is in the house I will hunt it down and check it out. It’s who I am. It’s why, when expecting my child, I didn’t think twice when they asked if I wanted to know the gender of my unborn before the day of birth. Presents placed under my tree before December 25 now stand a chance of making it to the day without pre slit tape and paper but it is not easy to get my mind off that temptation. I come by this character trait honestly. I am a Harwood child. Growing up, the three of us (my older brother and younger sister) couldn’t wait until the December evening on which my parents would head off to bridge club. While they were off bidding and throwing cards down on tables, we were at home having a pre-Christmas Christmas. First we would hunt through the house until the hidden stash was found. Then we would gather the troops and go through the trove to discover what was in store. No room in our house was safe. We had picked up the skill of picking door locks using nails. We could get into Dad’s study, the canning room/bomb shelter. Even Dad’s hunting closet where the guns were locked up. After we had accomplished the stash preview we would then go to the living room and gather around the tree. Any presents that were already placed under were fair game. We would make sure we had sharp scissors and a roll of tape at hand. The only gifts that survived without preview were those where the wrapper had the nerve to tape the wrapping directly to the box. Those were considered too risky to remove without tell tale tearing. Even with all this hard work, Christmas morning would arrive and there were always some magnificent things that had slipped past our discovery. I suspect now that stocking stuffers travelled in car trunks (this I suspect because as a Mom I found it to be a reliable gift hiding place myself) and large ticket items, like bikes and skis were held at relatives or neighbors homes. Next door, the Baenen kids were conducting their own gift safaris and we would seek out each other to compare our finds.

We did this for years until we were taught our hard lesson. During the annual bridge night search mission we found the trove in the locked gun closet. Inside there were fantastic Barbie get ups including her Dream House and pink convertible. But most exciting was a multi-purpose game table which included set up for pool, ping pong, Skittles and other games. We danced and leapt and laughed and hugged each other. We could hardly wait for Christmas to get this set up and enjoy hours of loving interaction with each other. Between the night of the discovery and Christmas I remember day dreaming about the parties I’d have with friends over. I shared shadowed grins with my sibs when no one else was looking. We were extraordinarily well behaved and gracious leading up to the big day.

Finally Christmas morning arrived. As usual, we woke very early in the morning, anxious to get the unwrapping rolling. Finally, Mom and Dad were convinced it was late enough to get up (we usually woke around 4 or 5 am and tried to wait on working on the parents until at least 6). We came into the living room. Stockings had been filled. Under the tree a landslide of presents had appeared. Nothing quite as big as a game table but maybe there was a box with a clue as to where to find it? As was tradition, we took turns opening gifts, youngest to oldest rotation. I don’t remember much what I got that year, which is unusual. Mom loved to gift and her own children at Christmas were always well taken care of. But I had a Barbie convertible and game table on my mind. At last we made it through everything. I exchanged looks with my brother and sister but nothing could be said. We helped pick up the shredded wrapping paper, got dressed out of our pajamas and began our day. When lights finally went on around the neighborhood we headed outside to play in the snow. Contrary to usual behavior, the Baenen kids were not drawn out by our laughter and shouting. And so, when it seemed time was OK to knock on a neighbor’s door we went over to see if they could come out to play. We were invited in and there we found Stacie, Stephanie and Marty in the family room, intently playing a game of pool on their new game table. Our game table! Comparing notes later, they were all prepared to receive the gifts we had opened. They were present hunters too. We never went on our gift safaris after that. If our parents were going to switch stashes on us what good was that? We didn’t care what the Baenen kids were getting. I suppose if we were smarter we could have traded information with them but that wouldn’t be the same.

Recalling this incident I have a confession to make and will also reveal whether my dear sister is reading my Blog. Sis, do you remember the gifts we received from Aunt Sara? Do you remember the beautiful crystal glass ornaments we got one year? I hung mine up on the tree last night when Andy and I were decorating. We always got the same presents from her: you and I. I was always a little disappointed in that because, since you are younger than I, you were always before me in the opening rotation and I would know what my present was from her by what you had opened first. My gift snooping obsession was pretty bad and one year I must have had the opportunity to do a little peeking when everybody else was out. I quickly opened a few presents to me when nobody else was around. One of them was the gift from Aunt Sara. It was a crystal ornament and it must have broken in the shipping. The devil in me put an idea to switch the tag with yours from Aunt Sara. That way I had a chance that the one I opened wouldn’t be broken. So Christmas morning, you were consoled by Mother when you cried over your broken ornament. And yesterday I hung mine on my tree. Forty some years later. Still not broken. What a turd I am. I love you Sis, for loving me even though I am a present peeking, gift swapping turd. You do still love me don’t you?

Family Pictures


I love this series of family photos. I am inspired to get Andy and Satchmo out for a pose today.
ah, but I think you have to get them trained young. What's your best family photo?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas Letter 2004


Two weeks before Thanksgiving the holiday decor schussed into Starbucks. Like the Mouse King vs. the Nutcracker, the Tuscany yellow colored walls battle with the cranberry red and tinsel silver of Starbucks’ Holiday Look. The tall centerpieces on the display tables, made of shiny metallic paper cones and silver spangles are vaguely tree shaped and look tacky. Trashy. The usual non-descript everyday cardboard cups offering stupid drivel of life advice have been replaced with a deep crimson holiday one sporting a cute sketch of a man and boy working together to put up a tangle of holiday lights. “It Only Happens ONCE a Year” it says. I think this is supposed to be encouraging.

Even though, at home, we are not yet dealing with Thanksgiving leftovers and dirty dishes, here Christmas tunes are playing in the background, as if to herald in these garish Christmas decorations. Faint staccatos of cinnamon dance through the typical peppery coffee aroma. Any sign of baby Jesus is conspicuously absent from all the d├ęcor and holiday gifts. Likewise, there are no Stars of David. No green trees. No gold stars. No white doves. It seems commercialism can’t afford to recognize the true meaning of the holidays. This makes me slightly sad. But mostly I am disgustedly amused. I’m certain this whole holiday campaign has been planned for at least ten months. Probably as soon as last year’s last post Christmas holiday sale items were boxed up and sent to some African country, the Starbucks visionaries got together and looked at several benign holiday campaign ideas to select this year’s winner. This year’s attempt looks oddly familiar to last. Which itself looked like the year before that. There is only so much you can do with crimson red, white and silver. It all starts to look the same. Now, if they would throw in some pine boughs, some golden stars, some brightly wrapped gifts: decorations as colorful and varied as the lives of these customers that come here and they might just knock me into the Christmas mood. These people, standing in line in peppermint-mocha daze, craving the wake up that only an espresso fix can give, are showered with snowflakes of holiday stress that this new seasonal Starbuck’s decor has released; depression dancing into their subconscious like the Sugar Plum Fairy.

In Starbucks I see couples and sense a triple shot of tension between some. I remember that. How we would load into the Subaru always saying “next year we should go to the mountains and cut our own.” Son would be sulking. Though he said it was because he’d rather be doing something else, I suspect it is the same reason that my heart was also sulking. I knew that with the Christmas tree would come a day of cussing: help would be hard to find at the tree lot; carrying the tree to and tying on the car would have husband and son barking at each other; the stand wouldn’t fit right; the tree would be unacceptably crooked; the poor dog would get yelled at by husband as she got in the way in the excitement; the decorations weren’t put away right last year; the light strings are tangled and only half work. I do not miss that.

This year son and I got our tree up and decorated the day after Thanksgiving. As we pull the box with our take-apart fold-down pre-lit fake tree (no floss, no tinsel, thank you very much) out of the cardboard box that has been stashed in the basement of our rental, son laughs and calls us “trailer trash” because we have a fake tree which makes me laugh because there is no tree crisis, no day of swearing and moodiness though I used to vow that I’d never have a fake tree or use Presto Logs instead of real wood which are two fabulous changes in my newly single life. Make that a cup of seveneleven coffee trailer trash, please. Stained cardboard cup. Just black. No room.

Here at Starbucks, the Christmas gift packs are expensively assembled. They will be snatched up by the last minute gift shoppers who have to bring something for their seasonal catching up with friends or in return for some small gift somebody unexpectedly gave them. I know this because this is when I buy Starbucks overpriced gifts.

This year Christmas shopping is fun. No frustrating effort in going out with my uncommunicative husband who only whines about the parking and the crowds and how we should have a list. No exhaustive efforts on a mother-in-law who doesn’t like me. No obsessive shopping for careful selection of a special gift for my husband which he will store unused for years on his dresser, claiming he likes it but still wont use it and doesn’t want to return it but wont use it or donate it to a good cause. No, this year our shopping is fun. Son and I spend more than our limit selecting CD players, basketballs, footballs and make-up kits for needy teens. Son asks with worry if we have enough. I say, for trailer trash we are doing OK.

Coming home from shopping, we stop at Starbucks. Son is not as bothered as I by the garish colors and lack of Christmas in the decoration. He thinks I am being silly. He tells me that for trailer trash I sure am opinionated. I am OK with this. We pull into our driveway, crimson cups of Starbucks’ hot chocolate in our hands, reminding us that “It only happens ONCE a year.” Our trailer trash tree looks beautiful, all lit up in the corner window. This has been a peppermint mocha moment. With whip cream.
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Just cleaning up and found the 2004 Chrismas letter. Picture from Palermo (Sicily) Opera House, 2007. I want to go to Cappucino class in Italy and learn how to make designs in my foam!

Monday, December 8, 2008

December 26, 2004: A tribute to my mother

Poinsettias: these are the hardest thing for me about the holiday season. You see, my mother died suddenly on December 26, 1992. Her service, held several days later, was in the family church which was packed to the gills with people who loved and miss her. It was also packed with Poinsettias. And so, while I always dedicate one to her memory in my church at Christmas time, I usually shy away from Poinsettias. I was having a hard time getting into the Christmas decorating spirit this year. Actually, it's been that way for the last several years. I struggle with having to recreate a new tradition: what I had built as tradition with my wasband and in-laws in our family home over twenty plus years is done. True, I no longer have to do the more stressful parts of the holiday (like shopping for loads of in-laws and for a husband that was very hard to please, and dealing with family dinners that, often as not, turned into drama laden scenes at the family table with just a little too much alcohol consumed) but I also miss what had become tradition. New traditions include use of an artificial tree which I am able to put up by myself, or with the help of my son, which replaces the family tree hunt and evening of decorating together. I also get to decorate the outside of my sweet little cottage with gingerbread lights. In fact last year I was in line at the hardware store with my cart chock full of lights and the guy in line in front of me turned around and said "somebody's husband is not going to be happy with your purchase." I responded, without thinking "Well, I don't have to worry because I no longer have a husband, but you are right, he would not have been happy with me at all. That is why I no longer have him!" (Did I say that out loud?) The guy turned away, not knowing what to say.

So, back to Poinsettias. Last week I was explaining why I have a hard time with Poinsettias in particular, and Christmas in general. When I got home, I was barely out of my work shoes when the doorbell rang. There stood my lovely cross street neighbors and in their arms a beautiful Poinsettia and a thank you note for something I had done for them. I think it was God saying "All is well. You can face the Poinsettias and move on." So now I have this lovely plant as centerpiece to my table and I am starting to get the Christmas things out. When you lose somebody you love you wrestle with the pain of the loss and the fear that you will forget that person if you ever get over the pain. I think of my dear sweet mum with every glimpse of that plant. On Christmas Eve I will sob in church as we sing "Angels We Have Heard on High." And yet, I am grateful that I have those memories, as bittersweet as they are. And so, in honor of my mum and the Christmas season I post this piece I wrote four years ago on December 26.


December 26, 2004
Twelve years (now 16) from the day Mom died. Twelve prickly, empty, sad December 26ths. I am always glad to get through this day. It hangs over Christmas in a way Mom never would have wanted it to. Christmases were made for Mom. She died with Christmas cookie dough clandestinely squirreled away in her mouth: the green corn flakes and marshmallow wreath ones with Red Hot berries that Grandma Louise brought into our young lives, years and years before. Baking cookies that helped Mom keep her loving memories of her own mother alive in our memories too. (When she met up with her Mother, was her soul's tongue still green and did they giggle and dance about the Christmas cookies?) When I arrive in the aftermath of the failed CPR attempts by the EMTs to the quiet agonizing shell of the condominium, the kitchen is still mid-recipe. My tears mix in with the soapy dish water as I struggle with wanting to leave the kitchen as I found it forever after that, but know that the parade of caring, loving friends will be starting to arrive and Mom would have wanted the kitchen to look clean for company. Twelve years later and I still cannot enjoy those cookies or eat Red Hots without my eyes watering over from more than the spicy cinnamon burn on my tongue.

Several people have told me that the night before, Christmas night, she danced and laughed and sparkled at the Clark family Christmas dinner. There are pictures from that evening. She is so full of life. Dad and Julie have commented that she seemed especially animated, as if somewhere in her she knew that she had to squeeze every joyous, energetic sparkle out of herself with a knowledge that her life was fleeting. Part of me refuses to believe that. I, and my family, Mark and Andy, and Tom and his family, were to have met up on the 27th to celebrate a belated Harwood family Christmas. Mom would have reserved part of herself to make it to that if she had known. But I am at peace knowing that her last night was blissful. I think she was hugely joyful to have had opportunities in that last night to hold and coo over Sarajane, her precious six-month old Granddaughter. Mom could not contain, nor did she want to, her joy over her grandchildren. And to have a granddaughter to add to her fold, along with her two grandsons, completed her joy.

She was comfortable in the loving partnership she had forged with my father through their forty plus years of marriage. I am sure that evening they unconsciously choreographed a dance of socializing separate from each other and then together, apart and back, apart and back, entertaining all those with whom they shared themselves. Dad commanding attention with his sharing of useful and useless knowledge. As others shared part of themselves with him he would take up any thread out there and add an anecdote that would illustrate the depth of his life experience or range of knowledge. Mom, on the other hand, would engage with whomever she was talking to with genuine interest and amazing glimpses of insight into their world. She would have thrown out little pieces that showed she remembered something special they might have shared with her in the past. And they would have responded with appreciation for her care and interest. Though she had lots to share about herself, she would allow that to take a second seat to the genuine interest she had in the life of those in front of her. She would be filing away in her head ideas of how she could weave what was shared with her into a future action that could help solve a problem or recognize an accomplishment or take care of something else seemingly unrelated but still leaving the world a little better place to be in for somebody. When their satelliting orbits would align and Mom and Dad would end up in the same place in the room, they might jokingly tap on each other’s foibles, but in a caring, accepting way, that showed that they were comfortable and accepting of each other.

Though Mom died at the young age of 59 she was a survivor. Pictures of her younger years show a well-proportioned young woman. However, like most of us, after having children she battled with her weight. I remember a few successful reductions through weight watchers or walk programs with her friends. But most of my teen years she hovered around a size 12 to 16 and I have a feeling she was not overly happy with that but not overly down about it ether. After my sister was born, to as late as when I was in the 8th grade, she experienced several miscarriages. And even though the last pregnancy was very much a surprise and something that must have surely thrown my parents for a major lifestyle reconsideration (their youngest, Julie, being ten years old at the time, and their oldest, Tom, already in High School) I remember my mother being very sad about that loss. But other than those miscarriages, she was basically very healthy.

Until she was about 42. I remember coming home to find Mom ironing madly, very preoccupied, a nervous tension in the house. I thought maybe she and Dad had had a disagreement or something (They were non-fighting parents. Unlike some of my friends’ parents, they did not air their anger in front of their children with mean words, slamming doors or cars screeching out of the driveway. Instead, on the rare occasions when there was tension between them, they avoided each other. Looks were exchanged and upset was shown in eyes and mouth lines, but there was no yelling.) It was a spring weekday but Dad did not go into work. He and Mom went on “an errand.” After they got home they had my sister and me come into the living room. They had discovered a lump in my Mom’s breast. It did not look good. Some tests had been done, phone calls made, and, through the special intervention of my Mom’s cousin’s husband in Seattle, surgery had been scheduled to take place in two days at Swedish Hospital in Seattle. It had been arranged for Dr. Hutchinson (founder of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center) to perform the surgery. In talking with my sister years later about that time, I realize that we all dealt with the news in very different ways. At thirteen years old, when she heard the word “cancer” she automatically assumed that Mom had been given a death sentence. It makes me gulp in sadness to think of what she was thinking and experiencing then. Though on some level I knew that death was a real possible prognosis, I did not allow myself to imagine life without her. I guess you would call it denial. I can remember a few times, in my early experimental drinking that I took part in shortly thereafter, when the alcohol had allowed me to let my guard down. I was devastated and extremely emotional about the whole thing, one time calling the local crisis line to vent my fear and pain, but that was the only time I remember expressing the pain related to potentially losing Mom to cancer. With one day to prepare and tell a few close friends, we went about the business of making plans for surgery and coordinating our trip to Seattle: Dad to go with her, us to come a day later if major surgery and a long recovery was needed.

The few close friends shared the news with the larger circle of friends and community. There were many people who just dropped by for a few soft words and hugs and tears. I spent my time trying to look like I was putting the house in order and mostly hiding in my room. I don’t know where Julie and Tom were and what they were doing. Dad was getting the hugs too. Though he is usually a preoccupied man I had never seen him with this kind of preoccupation. He was short with us: we were all on pins and needles. Dad went over for the surgery while my grandmother stayed with us in Pullman. They didn’t know until they got into the surgery whether the lump was cancerous, what would have to be taken and done. The news was delivered to my father in the waiting room: the lump was cancerous, cells were found in the lymph nodes, the entire breast, lymph nodes and part of the chest cavity would be taken. Additionally, she would need follow up with removal of her ovaries, which were believed to be responsible for producing the type of cancer she had. Later they would decide to give her radiation and chemotherapy treatment, for which she would have to be driven 160 miles round trip from Pullman to Spokane every day for months and months.

After the surgery, we came to Seattle to visit her in her extended hospital stay. Swedish was a big hospital in a big, big town. We were staying with Aunt Rosie and Uncle Bob in Laurelhurst. They tried to keep us busy while Mom and Dad dealt with appointments, check in etc. I don’t think I enjoyed the zoo, swim club or other distractions arranged for us. I can close my eyes and see my mother in the hospital bed. Her usual beautiful hair looking worse for wear as she had to have bed shampoos and it wasn’t in its usual teased up big style. (Though it looked bad then, it was only a preparation for what was to come: to total loss of her hair; the wigs she wore until it grew back. When it grew back it was a completely different color and texture. Much later, one day when she was at the stylist another customer told the hairdresser she wanted to have her own hair look like Mom’s. Mom told this lady it wouldn’t be worth the effort!) In the hospital she was wearing the soft fuzzy peach colored zip up robe with mint green and cream panel in the front with a coordinating nightgown. The nicest looking pajamas I can ever remember her having. The room was filled with flowers from friends and family. Not a bare surface to be had. She already looked thinner and though she tried to smile and be cheerful for us she moved with great pain and her teary eyes argued with the smile plastered on her face.

Dad told me later that in their hours of despair through this thing she had lamented that she wanted to live long enough, to be given enough time, to at least see her youngest child through high school. I cannot imagine the anguish she must have felt realizing that there was a good chance she would not be around to see her children grow up, to know her grandchildren, to help her own mother face her own final days. But she did make it through. Later we would find out that Dr. Hutchinson was often referred to as “The Butcher” which makes sense if you had seen the scars and cavity left on my Mom. The chemotherapy and radiation were hard. We would often hear her retching in the back room, loosing the contents to her stomach, and then dry heaving as the chemicals raced through her system. In fact, for many, many years after, she would automatically feel nauseous in the car coming and going from Spokane, though the trips were for happier things than chemotherapy, like shopping or symphony performances. Somehow, maybe because of the aggressiveness of the treatment (though with today’s advances in treatment it would probably be easier now), she survived past her goal. She not only survived but also thrived. So much so that years later strangers would never know of all that she had been through, unless of course they saw her in a swimsuit or short sleeved shirt in the summer when scar tissue and loss of body could be seen. She did invest in more expensive prostheses, which were not much covered by insurance. These were purchased in Seattle. Clothing, especially swimming suits were very hard to find, and since she spent much of her summer in a swimsuit, cooling at the Baenen’s pool next door and keeping the wet suit on through the hot Pullman evenings, this was a major problem. She had to buy these special swimsuits for the rest of her life as she was never able to have corrective surgery and her mutilation was so extensive. But really, in the winter and later when I had moved away, I would completely forget how sick she had been and how extensive her surgery had been and be shocked to the point of losing my breath when I would see her scarring, so complete was the recovery of her spirit. There was a funny incident when she had come over to Seattle, and I took her, with Andy as a toddler, to “the breast shop” where she needed to order a new prosthesis. The fitting is rather a long tedious process and there was not much to amuse the restless Andy in that shop. While the fitter was busy with Mom she hadn’t noticed that Andy and I had started playing catch with one of their floor models, the only thing I could think to do to keep him from totally melting down. This poor woman was quite undone when she saw what we were doing and politely suggested we go somewhere else and come back after a while when she was finished with Mom. We did and Mom said the woman was especially concerned as the floor model we had found was a quite expensive top of the line one, and though quite expensive, not really designed to withstand a game of catch. We laughed about it in the car going home: and congratulated Andy on his good taste. Mom was never morose or bitter about her “falsey”, just accepted it as part of herself, grateful for the opportunity to be alive still to need one.

She was full of life, wisdom, and hope. She did not dwell on what had happened, though I do know that there was always a little extra stress around the annual follow-ups that she had for the next seven years until she was officially declared cancer free. From then until 1989 she lived an incredible life. After returning to work, she earned increasing responsibility, up to the position of Dean of Women at WSU. She was active in our church, PEO, bridge and book clubs. She traveled for fun. She spent a few summer months with Dad on an author’s fellowship hosted by the Rockefeller foundation on Lake Como Italy (while the Harwood children “held down the fort” in Pullman. I can’t believe that they trusted us and what we got away with. I can’t imagine doing that in today’s world with today’s teenagers, but that’s a different story). Later, she gave up her career and moved further away from her children than was comfortable, to live with Dad in Sudan, then Jordan, then Egypt on agricultural projects, teaching English as a Second Language to contribute locally. In each new country she created a new group of close friends, also ex-pats, so that by the time she returned to Pullman she was loved by many around the country and world. She made the most of each situation, living in strange housing, learning to not only live, but also thrive, on what was available locally, dealing with difficult men in Muslim countries. Julie and I had a wonderful European tour with her and, at the end, got to see how they lived and how she had acclimated in these countries. While on the overseas assignments she wrote wonderful letters, many of which I have saved, shopped for her children, and later grandchildren, with enthusiasm and kept in close touch with her good friends back home.

Eventually she and Dad had moved back to Pullman and designed and built their Priest Lake home. In the summer of 1989 it was just ready to be moved into and that summer my father retired from WSU. Late that summer was the much planned for wedding of Julie to Mark Clark. There was so much excitement. Mark was a local; the son of a good friend of Mom’s who was also active in the same PEO group, and a previous bridge group as she. The day before the wedding, as we were sitting around watching Julie and Mark open presents she mentioned something about her jaw aching, feeling funny. Both my Dad and I told her she was probably just overly tense as her brother, John, and his wife, Janet, as well as other out of town guests were arriving later that day. That was all that was said about that. The wedding was beautiful and fun. There was a disconcerting aftermath in which a few people who had attended, including me, and worst of all Julie on her honeymoon, came down with a very bad case of what seemed to be food poisoning, but because it hit so few people we were never sure. After Julie returned from the honeymoon the day after her wedding to get a special shot from our family Dr. (me too) and slept it off for a day, she resumed the honeymoon, only to have her new husband have to leave table mid-romantic dinner to be violently ill, apparently a delayed reaction to the same thing that had hit us. While all this was going on Mom was growing more and more physically uncomfortable. After the wedding guests (and bride) had all left town Mom and Dad went up to Priest Lake. However Mom thought she was having a gall stone attack (something she had had a few years earlier) and asked him to return to Pullman. By the time she got to her Dr. there her heart was in near arrest and she was life-flighted back up to Spokane. Julie and Mark were just finishing their honeymoon with a planned stop at the Priest Lake cabin and when they didn’t find Mom and Dad there made calls and were able to get to the Spokane hospital soon after Mom had arrived. I was called at work in Bellevue and told I should get to Spokane as soon as possible: that there was a good chance that Mom would not make it through that night. With Mark’s help (my Mark’s help) I got to the airport and could assume Andy, who was about a year old, would be in good hands, and got to the hospital in just a few hours. The news from the Drs was bad but Mom seemed not so bad. While all the reports were that her heart was very badly and permanently damaged she was once again resilient. And over the next three years she gradually gained her strength. There were side effects from the medicine, including losing her sense of taste, fatigue and a fear of going to sleep at night, a fear that she might not wake up, but overall she gradually seemed to become her old self, though thinner and actually looking very good.

In June of 1992 she danced with joy and was filled with plans with the arrival of her first granddaughter, and also the first grandchild that would live locally, close to her, so she could be an even bigger part of her life. Again, appearing to recover to the point where we forgot of her fragile health. So though I guess we knew her heart was damaged, her recovered spirit had us all fooled. And when she died so suddenly on December 26, after a night of dancing and laughter, a night of cuddling her treasured granddaughter, the wrapping and planning and cooking for her Christmas reunion with the rest of us, it was a shock that she left us so quickly. And now I have to tell of the most unselfish thing that was done that day: when Dad came in from the garage and found her out on the Kitchen floor; when he called 911 and began CPR; when he called Julie after the EMTs got there; when Julie came over and went with him to the hospital; when she watched them work on Mom for quite a while; Julie said to Dad and to the emergency room personnel “let her go. It would be too hard for her to have to recover from this.” It would have been so hard for her to have to recover again and to live with that damaged heart. Julie’s unselfish act, to ask that Mom be set free, knowing that the gift was for Mom despite what the loss would be for all the rest of us, is something I can barely fathom, so immense was her sacrifice.
Twelve years later I still miss her. Like her recovery from her cancer and initial heart attack, I mostly have recovered from her death. In some ways I have been resilient, as she was, seeming to have fully recovered. But on days like this, it is like seeing her scarred chest and arms after being unaware of her trials for so long. I am caught by surprise by my own scarring from her death. I can only hope to be half as resilient from my own set backs and to live a full and contributory life to the point that others would not be aware of what trials I might have endured. Thank you Mom for showing me that it is possible. I miss you.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Girlfriends!

Can you imagine nine men meeting at a support group, signing up to provide and receive continued support after the support group program ends? Then imagine fast forwarding three years and see those same men, on an early December evening, sitting around a beautiful home, exquisitely decorated for Christmas, with no less than four decorated Christmas trees (one of pink feathers...photos included of a few of them), laughing and carrying on at least three conversations at the same time, finishing each others sentences and asking probing questions without offense. Imagine the topic of one of those conversations is the organizational details of how they are coordinating the shopping and wrapping that is being done to put together a trunk full of presents for a needy family that goes to the community center where several of those men around the table volunteer their time. Imagine, in the middle of the table, a colossal, fully loaded Shrimp Louis and home made split pea soup: so tasty and special it brings at least a few gathered around the table to tears: tears of gratitude. Imagine the host man jumping up from the table and offering to go through his closet to pull out a few different suits for one of those gathered to try on because he isn’t sure what to wear for an upcoming event. Thank you Katie for the wonderful meal and your generous heart. I love your style.

Did I lose you at “imagine nine men meeting at a support group…? It’s things like the above described scene that make me so grateful that I was made a woman, not a man. I may write more about it later, but this is not an easy season for me and I find myself often immersed in some darker place. Grace shows up in so many forms, some little, some huge. Often in the form of my girlfriends. Who can remain in a funk when you are sitting around the table with those friends?

The night before the one described, I was sitting around another table with a different group of friends. This time at my church attending the Women’s Christmas Dessert event. Here table hosts go all out and decorate their tables with their best china or Christmas dishes, nicely polished silver service, sparkling crystal stemware, candles, flowers, nativity scenes. Each table different, reflecting the sense of style and personality of the table host. Charlie and Stacie joined forces this year and did a gorgeous table which I was fortunate enough to be asked to join. Gave me a chance to see them as well as other dear friends. After a short musical program and entertaining talk by pastor Kendy Easley to help prepare our hearts and minds for the holiday season we went to our candle lit tables. There a gorgeous little dessert was at our place, and men from the church who had volunteered, served us coffee and kept our water glasses full. Time flew as I caught up with this group of friends. It was another beautiful evening with my girlfriends.

And speaking of girlfriends, as promised, here are “the girls” as they appeared Saturday night at the event the borrowed outfit was for. The body painting was added during the break between my dealing at the Black Jack table when I told the painter “I need to earn tips.” It worked! Two self shot photos taken after the event to show the painting and the cleavage I’ve been telling you all about. I was also wearing the masque which helped to pull off the cleavage shot a little less self consciously. Was able to spend the evening at the party with another girlfriend, Janelle, who also volunteered as a dealer. Love my girlfriends!