Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Do you remember (or are you still in that wonderful place) when summer was a magical time? I remember looking forward to summer vacation with both joy and longing -- longing to be done with school and all of its trappings (like homework and dress codes and SCHEDULES) and the joy of knowing I had three solid months of relative leisure ahead of me.

Summers meant freedom. Summers meant lazy afternoons spent doing stuff I liked to do (playing jacks or hopscotch with my girlfriends on Morse Street when I was in grade school, hanging out with my friends at the neighborhood playground or walking several miles to and from the nearest library or riding my bike in the cool of the evening, feeling the whooosh of cool air on my face when I raced downhill).

Back then, hot weather didn't bother me much, even though we didn't have air conditioners. When I was a teenager, I'd slather myself with baby oil (later, with Bain du Soleil tanning gel) and lie out on the lawn, baking in the hot sun, working on my tan. At night, one large window fan would pull the hot air out of the house and suck in cool evening air. It was a rare night that the house didn't cool down by morning, even though our summers were hot and humid.

And the foods of summer were so, so, so wonderful! Corn on the cob and tomatoes grown in New Jersey (which really was the 'garden state' back then), watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, peaches and plums -- a wonderful, delicious mix of sweet, juicy, delicious fruit that was always available in our refrigerator. In the summer, every evening meal started with a thick slice of cantaloupe and even though I prefer to eat fruit for dessert these days, I sure loved that cold, sweet start to every evening meal in the summertime.

Even when I started to work in the summers, those months were still magical.

And the summer evenings! Warm, soft evenings, filled with fireflies (we called them 'lightening bugs', but I'm trying to be a wee bit more lyrical here). Sometimes, there'd be a thunderstorm, with a rush of rain and spectacular lightening (I was afraid of lightening, of course, until my dad taught me to count the seconds between the flash of light and the thunderclap so I'd know just how far away the lightening hit had really been). When the storm ended, I'd go outside just to smell that distinctive smell of rain on hot, concrete sidewalks. It's a smell that still means 'summer' for me, even though I now live in a part of the country where summer rains are very rare, indeed.

Funny, isn't it, how one's perceptions change? I no longer work outside the home (hell, I don't work much inside our home either, thanks to MS!), so the magic I used to associate with summer gone. No more afternoons playing jacks with my girlfriends, or sulty summer evenings spent sitting out on someone's front steps, waiting for a lightening bug to flit by so I could catch it and hold it in my cupped hand to watch the little flashes of light through my fingers. No more bike rides in the blue-gray of dusk, racing to get home before it got too dark to see where I was going. And for sure, no more slathering myself with tanning gel and spending four or five hours baking in the sun.

I miss that feeling, but it's sure nice to have those memories.

And we definitely have the fruit and tomatoes and corn on the cob!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

But there's no global warming, right?


Have you looked at one of those weather maps of the United States lately? The last time I looked, the entire country was blazing hot (color-coded red/orange/yellow), even placed that are usually cool, like the San Francisco Bay Area.

We have a weather station in the dining room, with three satellite sensors (one in the attic, one in the garage/workshop and one under the clematis arbor in the back yard). Thanks to the heat pump we had installed last autumn, the temperature inside our house has stayed close to 75 degrees. But in the late afternoon, when I woke from my usual afternoon rest/nap and checked the temps, it was ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY degrees in the attic and ONE HUNDRED AND NINE in the back yard.

I haven't lived in Portland all that long, but I have to think this isn't normal summer weather. I know for sure that temps nearing 100 degrees isn't 'normal' for San Francisco, where the fog usually acts as a natural air conditioning unit, cooling most of the city and large swatches of the East Bay (including our old neighborhood). This is the second time in two months that we've experienced temps topping 100 degrees, and it SUCKS.

Believe me, I know how lucky I am. Our home is cool and comfortable, and the Pacific Northwest has enough power to get us through this heat wave without brownouts or worse.

But what if this is the new 'normal'? What if the arrogance and refusal to accept scientific data that exemplifies so many of our elected officials, and our collective unwillingness to take the steps necessary to curb global warming -- what if it's too damned late?

This is the ultimate folly of the so-called 'me generation', isn't it? Who cares about what happens to our kids and grandkids, or to the glaciers, or to the salmon, or to songbirds. Who cares if there are tsunamis in Indonesia or hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. As long as I'M okay, it doesn't matter, right?

Bullshit. It matters -- big time.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Lily That Ate Bridlemile

The thing is, I really love lillies. We have a bunch of them scattered around the house - at least a dozen out front and three or four in the back yard. They've been planted randomly, it seems, and it's been interesting watching them grow.

There's one in particular that's planted near our front deck and captured our attention a month or so ago when it grew to about seven feet high. I had fantasies of waking one morning to discover that the house had been commandeered by a talking, walking lily plant giving orders about filling the living room with potting soil so it could reproduce in relative comfort. It finally stopped getting taller and began to produce buds (BIG buds), and it took several more weeks for those buds to open. But when they did, all that waiting was well worth it -- it produced the most gorgeous, white lillies I'd ever seen.

So a few days ago, I cut off a couple of stems and put them in a vase on the sideboard in our dining room. And suddenly I remembered why I used to hate getting floral arrangements with lillies in them -- I'm ALLERGIC to the pollen! After a day of itchy eyes, constant snuffling and general allergy-related misery, David took the vase and put it out on the back deck.

I've learned my lesson. Enjoy the lillies in their natural habitat.

Monday, July 17, 2006

We're havin' a heat wave!

We are, and most of the country is, as well.

That's not quite accurate. Our latest heat wave arrives later this week, with temps in the 90's again for most of the weekend. Hot weather and MS are NOT compatible. Heat makes it even more difficult for the Central Nervous System (CNS) to work properly -- nerve impulses are even more erratic than usual when the body overheats, which means that symptoms get a lot worse and even more unpredictable than usual.

Last summer, when we lived in a rental house without air conditioning or cross ventilation (we had to keep the front and back doors closed to keep the cats inside), it was hell. I felt sick - really, really sick - until David figured out how to hook up the portable AC unit in our bedroom (odd windows that needed to be jerry-rigged in order to handle the vent) so I could hibernate in there until the sun went down and the temps outside became bearable for me.

One of the many wonderful aspects of living in Kensington, CA was that we were smack in the middle of the finger of fog that drifted in through the Golden Gate, over San Francisco Bay and up towards the East Bay hills. That fog generally arrived at our house in the late afternoon, and truly was 'natural air conditioning'. I used to watch the temperature gauge on the dashboard of my Passat when I'd head home from work in Menlo Park; there were a couple of days when it started out reading over 100 degrees and ended up at 70 degrees when I pulled into our driveway! I loved the fog and the cool, comfortable temperatures that accompanied it. On the handful of days that the temps got too high for me, we'd set up the AC unit in the bedroom and I'd hang out there until evening. Here in Portland, though, there are a lot more than a 'handful' of hot days in the summer, and I'm finding myself housebound a great deal longer than in Northern CA.

So I'd better log off and get out in the garden to do a little weeding and pruning before the temps get too high for me!

Stay cool, everyone, and drink LOTS of water!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

I still can't quite believe...

...that I actually live in Oregon.

When I was in my twenties, people I knew who'd traveled to the West Coast came back raving about Oregon. It was the most beautiful place any of them had ever seen, they told me, and I yearned to see it for myself.

Back then, I'd only been on an airplane twice. The first time I'd flown to Boston on a prop plane, flying student stand-by for something like $60 round-trip, to visit a high school friend who was going to Northeastern University. The second time was on a jet (finally!) to Arizona, to visit one of my college professors who hadn't gotten tenure at my east coast university, and ended up the head of his department at ASU, where he went when he moved back out west. Travel wasn't a big part of my life back then (and continued to be a non-event until I began to travel a LOT for business), so I figured I'd never see Oregon, except, maybe in a movie.

In 1995, I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area with a fifth-generation Oregonian, and we drove to Oregon and Washington State in the spring of 2000 (mainly to see his father, who turned 90 a week after we visited him in Wenatchee, WA). I fell in love with Oregon on that trip, which was way too short, and finally began to understand what all the hype had been about back in the 1960's.

Still, I never thought I'd be living in Oregon (but I have my Oregon driver's license to prove that I'm now an Oregonian!).

Today, we made a spur-of-the-moment decision to drive to Mt. Hood and have lunch at Timberline Lodge. Timberline is one of those astounding, beautiful WPA buildings, filled with incredible wood carving and iron work -- a real testament to the good stuff government can do if it chooses (a much better way to spend money than war, in my not-at-all-humble opinion). We didn't take the tour of the Lodge, since MS-fatigue made it clear I needed to get home and sleep after we drove there and had lunch, but we're going back, for sure, to spend more time in that amazing building.

It was so cool seeing people skiing in mid-July, and to see that there was still some snowpack left on the mountain, even this late in the summer.

I love it here.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Give peace a chance?

So I know I keep posting about perspective and managing one's attitude, but ya know -- there are times that seems absolutely impossible.

Today is one of those times for me.

The first thing I heard on NPR this morning was a report about the ever-worsening conflict in the Middle East. Then a dear friend sent me a link to an article describing the continuing horrors of life on the ground in Afghanistan. I'm bombarded with new from Iraq, a sickening, hate-and-death filled mass of quicksand, a place that sounds more and more like hell-on-earth every day.

I read stories about fundementalists of every religious faith as they roil around in self-righteous furor, hurling invectives at everyone and everything that doesn't fit into their particular world-view.

It reminds me of something my father - a wonderful, thoughtful, loving and intelligent man - once told me: "More people have been killed in the name of God than for any other reason in the history of mankind". The Nazis may have skewed the numbers a little bit, with their precise and efficient means of slaughter, but the statement is still, sadly, true.

Are we still so pathetically frightened, we humans, of difference - so insecure in our own beliefs that we simply cannot tolerate anyone who believes differently?

That thought is heartbreaking.

At least to me, on this particular morning.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A little more on perspective

It's been raining in Portland (yeah, I know, big surprise), which is unusual for this time of year. Usually, the rain tapers off and stops in late May or early June, and doesn't come back until the fall. But yesterday and this morning, there have been relatively long stretches of soft, gentle rain, the kind that you just know makes all of the stuff growing outside very happy.

When I lived on the east coast, rain in the summer was a regular thing, especially storms that included lots of lightening and thunder. When I was in grade school, playing hopscotch or jump rope out in the street with my friends, we'd sometimes get caught in a passing thunderstorm that sent us scurrying to my front patio, where we sat under the awning, shivering and watching the lightening in relative safety, waiting out the storm until we could go back to jump rope or jacks or whatever we'd been doing before the rain arrived. I loved the smell of rain on hot sidewalks. Still do, but it's rare to catch that smell here in the Pacific Northwest, where thunderstorms are a rarity and summer rain equally so.

It's been interesting to watch my perspective on summer rainstorms modify in the eleven years since I left New Jersey and moved to the west coast. Back then, I found rain in the summertime annoying as hell. Now, knowing how much we need rain during these dry months, I'm kind of thrilled when an unexpected day or two of rain happens.

See? It's all about perspective. The rain doesn't give a rat's ass about me or how I might feel about it. I guess I might as well welcome it, huh?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Critters abound...

...in our back yard. There are birds everywhere - in the trees, perching precariously on a bamboo support next to the poor dogwood tree (crisped in the last heat wave), swooping down to peck at black sunflower seeds from the feeder on the back deck or just rambling on the grass, hoping to find a worm. I've learned to identify several species without needing to grab the Sibley's and frantically search for a photo that look similar to what I'm seeing out the window, and to appreciate the characteristics that differentiate one from the other.


Two (we hope it's just two) new denizens have joined the birds in our back yard, neither welcome nor appreciated.

There's a gopher digging burrows in all of the flower beds, and worse, a rat living high on the hog thanks to the bird seed that drops onto the back deck from that feeder.

We've agreed that the gopher can stay as long as it doesn't start digging up the grass, although we did buy a trap a few days ago, just in case.

But RATS??!! AARRGGHH, no!!!

So, much as I hate the thought of doing this, we'll be placing rat poison under the back deck and in the storage area under the house, in hopes of killing it (them?) off.

See, I still remember seeing a TV show about a doctor, starring McDonald Carey (Google him, if you don't know who he was) all about bubonic plague caused by rats. I still remember lying in bed, designing strategies for running from my bedroom into my parents' bedroom without being bitten, just in case I woke one night to find the room filled with raging rats, intent on infecting me with the Black Death. That show scared the hell out of me back then, and that fear lives on today, five decades later (thanks a LOT McDonald Carey!). So -- no rats in our back yard, please??

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Now that he's had a taste of freedom...

...Sam is back to whining and yowling to be let outside. AARRGHH!

When we lived in the Bay Area, we had a cat door, and the kitties were able to come and go as they pleased (unfortunately, so were the raccoons, but that's another story). If we tried to keep Sam in the house, he'd bolt out the door as soon as it was opened even a crack, and more than once he almost knocked me over the in the process (he's a BIG cat with lots of muscle and VERY determined). Given how wobbly I am on the best of days, the last thing I needed was a 20-pound, black feline pushing past me out the door, so we gave up trying to keep him inside within weeks of moving into our home in Berkeley. But now that he's older, and less agile, and our yard is filled with beautiful song birds, we're determined to keep him inside.

I gotta say, though, this YOWLING is NOT fun!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Sam, the adventurer

Sam used to be an outdoor cat, roving the neighborhood and, from time to time, getting into fights with other cats. As he got older, he began coming home with visible injuries, injuries requiring frequent visits to the vet and lots of antibiotics to ward off infections. When we moved to Portland, we decided it was time to stop the forays into the Great Outdoors, partially to end the abcesses and other injuries and partially to stop the hunting/killing of birds.

Our vet in California told us that most outdoor cats became accustomed to staying indoors after a month or so, but she clearly didn't know Sam at all. This morning, after fifteen months of indoor life, Sam escaped through the sliding door that leads to the back deck and yard (which had been left open by a house guest) and disappeared for half the day. It's HOT again in Portland, so I only made two attempts to coax him back into the house before I was driven inside by the heat.

David came home in the early afternoon, found Sam hunkered down under the back deck, coaxed him out far enough to grab him, and he's now safely back in the house.

But it's clear he hasn't given up on the idea of going outdoors AT ALL.


Thursday, July 06, 2006


It's funny how one's perspective changes, isn't it? When I was healthy and working and busy all the time, I barely noticed anything much that happened outside of my narrow focus. I didn't notice birds or flowers or any of that 'superfluous' stuff. I always wore a watch and knew what time it was, because I had meetings to attend or places to be at certain times, and I always, always, ALWAYS knew the date. Now? It is to laugh!

I can't remember the last time I wore a watch on any regular basis. After all, who cares what time it is when one has no obligations (other than an occasional doctor's appointment) during the day? I'm always having to ask someone what the date is if I find myself writing a check in a store (not that I do that too often, thanks to an ATM card). I'm always a little embarrassed to admit that I have no idea what the date is (and there are even times I can't remember what DAY it is, either). Gack.

But I do notice the hummingbirds at the feeder outside the sunroom window, and each and every new plant that flowers in our yard. I notice birds, too, since we have about a dozen varieties that visit our various bird feeders on a semi-regular basis, and I'm almost able to tell the difference between a house finch and a purple finch (which is actually red - do NOT ask me why they're called 'purple').

As I think about it, trading awareness of my calendar for flowers and birds seems a more than equal trade....

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

And here's Sam, surveying the deck from above...
This is Harley, known as the Queen of the Bungle. She's beautiful, but not very bright.


When I lived on the east coast, I'd only seen hummingbirds in the zoo, or at an amazing, rambling garden near Philadelphia that's part of some estate or other (DuPont? I really don't remember) inside a climate-controlled building.

I was thrilled when I realized that hummingbirds visited our little garden in Kensington, CA. We planted a bunch of stuff that attracted hummingbirds and butterflies in that garden, but the absolute best plant we had was The Pineapple Sage That Ate Kensington. The original plant was in a 4" pot and cost us under $5. By autumn, it was over 5' tall, and almost as wide around, and it was covered with little, trumpet-shaped blossoms that bloomed all winter, after most of the other flowering plants had died down. I worked from home a lot, and would sit at my desk in the little 'office' (a small building at the very end of the back deck) with the door open, thrilled as hell whenever I'd catch sight of a hummingbird. After a while, I got to know their feeding patterns, and I'd often go out with my mug of coffee in one hand, and join them as they had their morning nectar. We had a feeder for a while, but decided to forego all bird feeders when we realized that our two Inveterate Hunters (Sam and Harley, our cats) viewed the visitors to the feeders as fair game ("I will NOT pimp for the cats!" was my explanation when I asked David to take down the feeders).

One morning, after I was no longer working, but still going out to the 'office' to check email, I realized that one of the hummers was hovering just outside the office door, no more than four feet from my chair, as if wondering why I wasn't out there with the rest of the guys. It hovered there for about thirty seconds after I turned and said "good morning", and then it darted away.

I wasn't sure we'd get hummers in Portland, but lo! and behold -- we do! Since we'd decided to keep the cats indoors when we moved (for reasons that will take too long to share right now), we felt safe filling the feeders that hung on the deck outside the sunroom, and even adding an elaborate hummingbird feeder, one with four glass globes on a mobile. It took no more than two or three days for the hummers to discover the feeder, and now I see them at least once a day, if not more.

This morning, I saw a ruby-throated hummer at the feeder. If you've never seen one of these beautiful birds, I highly recommend doing so!

Happy Birthday, America

Last night, we watched the Fourth of July fireworks from the balcony of a condo overlooking the Willamette Rive, not more than five or six blocks (and 19 floors!) away from the fireworks barge. One thing I love about Portland (at least from this particular vista) is the amazing proliferation of, uh - 'independent' fireworks displays visible all across the east side of the Willamette River. At one point David observed that you could see some kind of display about every inch across the hills, from the Sellwood Bridge on the south all the way up towards Vancouver, WA on the north.

We were able to see two 'official' displays from the balcony - one at Oaks Park, an old-fashioned amusement park near the Sellwood Bridge; the other, the city-sponsored display just under the Hawthorne Bridge. We knew the fireworks were about to begin when we realized that the traffic was stopped on the Hawthorne Bridge, and sure enough - moments later the sky lit up with brilliant reds, whites, greens, and yellow lights.

The thing I loved the most, though, was seeing the traffic on the Marquam Bridge (the route I-5 takes over the Willamette) come to a complete stop as everyone paused to watch the fireworks.
I love the thought that folks are willing to pause in their travels to enjoythe dance of lights.

So, Happy Birthday, USofA. I hope the Bill of Rights survives until your next birthday.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Hanging out in the garden...

This morning, after I exercised, I took my coffee and book outside and sat under our neighbor's huge maple tree (which shades the northeast corner of our back yard beautifully). It was the first time I'd seen the yard from that vantage point, since David just put two folding lawn chairs and a little teak table out under the tree yesterday, and I fell in love with the yard all over again, seeing it from another angle.

Which is, in a way, a metaphor for life, isn't it? An attitude realignment (or change in angle) can sure adjust the way I feel about my life...

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Life before TheMonSter

Before my life was redefined by this illness, for something like 15 years, my profession was something called Organizational Development (or OD, not to be confused with 'overdose', please?). OD encompasses a lot of different stuff, from designing leadership training programs to one-on-one coaching to facilitating intense strategic planning sessions. It requires a lot of energy, both psychic and physical. A colleague of mine once described facilitation as 'watching two TVs at one time', and that's a great analogy. One TV is tuned to the task at hand (are people straying from the point being discussed? how are we doing for time?). The other TV is focused on group process (is everyone getting the chance to participate? are there any subtle hints of unspoken conflicts going on? is there an 'elephant in the corner' - something people need to discuss that's being avoided?) which I always considered much more demanding and exhausting than the task stuff.

Bottom line: I loved that work. Even though I'd approach every big assignment with knots in my stomach, convinced I was facing failure and eventual disgrace, I'd usually find myself at the end of a difficult session exhausted but elated, because (as the same colleague once told me 'trust the process, it always works'). And it does.

I miss that work more than I can say. I miss the daily contact with people, the challenge of learning to 'hear the whispers in the organization', the frustration involved in sorting through piles of information (and mis-information) until something just came together and clicked into place -- and I'd understand what the hell was really going on. It was a little like being a detective and searching out clues. It was a little like being a doctor -- listing symptoms and diagnosing what was going wrong. But most of all, it was a way to help people deal with the inevitable (and often painful) crap that always seems to surface when a bunch of them end up in an organization, trying to get something done. I know how smarmy and trite it must sound to say that I like helping people, but I don't much care if it does. I liked helping people.

And I miss doing that.

So a few nights ago, I had a dream that I'd been asked to address a class about my work as a political organizer (something I've never been). In my dream, I could walk without a cane, so I was able to stand in the front of the classroom, and walk around as I talked, making eye contact and paying attention to people's reactions to what I was saying. I started out with what was supposed to be a short description of my professional career, but the class members got really interested in what I was saying, started to ask a bunch of questions, and my entire 'talk' focused on OD rather than political organizing (a good thing, since I would have been lying through my teeth otherwise!). When I woke from the dream, I could still feel the rush of energy I'd felt as we talked about that work, the same kind of psychic and physical 'high' I'd get when I was still able to work.

I shared the dream with David, my husband, who suggested that I contact a couple of the colleges in the area to see if they'd be interested in a guest lecturer (unpaid, of course, since I can't manage more than an hour or two at a time on an irregular basis), so that maybe, just maybe, I could recapture a little of the wonder I felt when I was still able to work.

It seemed like a damned good idea, and I'm mulling over how to make it happen.