Thursday, December 27, 2007

A birthday...

...and a death.

This wasn't quite what I was thinking about posting here today, but my plans were altered by the news this morning of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan. She was fifty-four years old. Today, I enter another decade of life as I find that I've somehow managed to survive sixty turns around the sun. It's my sixtieth birthday.

Like so many of my friends, I don't feel like I'm sixty years old.

Some days, when I'm tired and cranky, I feel like a five-year-old. Some days, when the symptoms of MS are on a rampage, I feel like a ninety-five year old. But most days, I feel like I'm somewhere between thirty-five and forty-five - old enough to have stored up some wisdom, but young enough to laugh like a maniac when I watch an episode of "Family Guy" on TV.

So maybe the reality is that no one really feels their true age? Or that age, as so many people insist, is irrelevant?

When I look in the mirror and see that the gray hair is starting to win the battle with the dark brown hair, or that those once-imperceptible lines under my eyes are suddenly a lot more apparent, it becomes quite clear that I've lived each and every one of those sixty years. But inside, where it counts the most, there's still a young woman with a silly sense of humor and a desire to keep on living life as fully as possible - in spite of the passage of years and the damage to her fragile central nervous system.

As the sad news this morning reminded me, yet again, life is both fragile and miraculous, and never something to be taken for granted.

So on this day of my birth back in 1947, I remind everyone who bothers to read this little blog to take a moment to breathe deeply and be grateful for your life. I'm sure grateful for mine.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Teetering on the edge...

...of the Medicare Abyss.

I just sent this letter to my Senators:

"I am one of the many older or disabled residents of Oregon for whom the 2008 Medicare D coverage changes will cause tremendous hardship.

I have Multiple Sclerosis. In 2001, I suffered a severe, and ultimately disabling, MS exacerbation that abruptly ended my working career. I intended to continue working as long as possible, to continue contributing to my 401(k), and thus be in a position to supplement my Social Security benefit when I retired. So much for plans...

Compared to many others, I’m one of the lucky ones. I had Long Term Disability insurance when I got sick, and my benefit continues for another five years. But now that I find myself facing the dreaded ‘donut hole’ in Medicare D (I’ve started calling it the ‘Medicare Abyss’ – donut hole is too nice a term), I worry that I won’t be able to pay for my medication without great difficulty.

Avonex, the medication that slows the progression of MS, will cost $1,600 a month once I fall into the Medicare Abyss (some time in the first quarter of 2008). I’ll need to come up with $4,090 out-of-pocket if I want to continue this treatment. When I see my neurologist in January, I’ll speak with him about the risks involved in stopping Avonex treatment. I don’t want to take that risk, but I may have no other choice.

I know I’m just one middle-class person, representing just one vote for you. But I’m joined by thousands and thousands of people, many of whom can barely afford to heat their homes in the winter, much less pay exorbitant prices for medication they desperately need.

Please support me and my fellow citizens and do something to fix Medicare D?"

I guess I should be glad that we bought the wheelchair and walker when I was still working and had decent health insurance (my used, portable wheelchair cost over $900 when we bought it in 2002!), and that David's mom gave me his dad's motorized scooter when his dad passed away. We need to get it repaired, since it got screwed up when we moved to Portland, and I'm hoping it's repairable, since those little machines cost several thousand dollars. The thing is, if I do stop Avonex therapy, I may well find myself needing all of those mobility-assistance tools a lot more than I do today.

This is one helluva sixtieth birthday present.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The "Ladder of Abundance"

Yeah, I know. Everyone blogger and his/her mother (at least in the US) is writing something about Thanksgiving today. So I'm not original. Big deal.

Here's the thing. I spend a lot of the time in my head being negative, grumpy and cranky. I think about getting old (hell, I turn sixty next month), being sick with an incurable disease, facing increasing medical costs with a shrinking income, the horrific political climate in this country, war, climate change... well, I could go on, but I'm not gonna do that. Whenever I find myself peering up out of one of my emotional rat-holes, I force myself to look, instead, at the amazing abundance in my life, and all the things I have to be grateful for. Doing that actually does help a lot, even when my climb out of the rat-hole seems impossible.

So this morning, this absolutely, drop-dead-gorgeous autumn morning in beautiful Portland, Oregon, I will share my list of Things I'm Thankful For (even though I ended that phrase with a preposition).

  • My husband, whose unfailing love and support keep me going every day. David, I can't imagine life without you.
  • My son, Zack, who now lives a scant five miles away, and who is willing to meet his old mom for lunch once a week. Seeing your smiling face lights up my life, my son, more than you can imagine.
  • Emily, Zack's sweetie, whose love makes him happier than I've seen him. Thank you, Emily!
  • Frank, my son's dad, whose love for Zack helped us all navigate through some tough times. Frank, I'll always be grateful to you.
  • My small-but-beloved birth family. I love you all very, very much, and am so glad that we can stay connected through email, even though we live a continent apart.
  • The Dunning clan - all of them - for accepting me into their family with such unconditional love. You guys are the BEST!
  • My friends - here in Portland, in the Bay Area, back east, wherever. Whenever I get crazy about finances and the future, I think about the true 'wealth' in my life, and realize that I'm rich beyond words when I consider my friends. I sure do love you guys, too!
  • Our three kitties - Sam, Harley and Caruso. I love you little furry creatures, even when I'm greeted with a pile of cat-puke first thing in the morning (like this morning!). There's nothing better to counteract the blues than snuggling with a warm, purring kitty.
  • Our beautiful, whimsical, colorful home. I spend a lot of time here, and it's about the best place to be on house-arrest that I can imagine.
  • The ability to volunteer, even a little, with organizations that matter to me. Whether I'm petting cats or doing a little writing for Onward Oregon, being able to contribute a tiny bit to my community is a real blessing.
  • Living here in Portland, a city of communities, where commitment to maintaining a livable environment is still a core value (and the politics are Blue!).

Whew. Okay, that's enough for now. I could probably keep going, but you get the idea. Everything I wrote about is a rung on the Ladder of Abundance that I can use to hoist myself up out of a rat-hole back into a brighter reality. So thank you for helping me!

And have the happiest Thanksgiving ever!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Rumors to the contrary...

...I'm still alive.

The thing is, there's not much new here at Rancho Dleepow del Norte, so every time I've begun a post here, my internal dialog goes something like this:

"Who's gonna care what your stupid back yard looks like? Probably no one. I mean, how many times can you write about the way the trees look or the squirrel who has figured out how to circumvent the 'squirrel-proof' bird feeder or how much you love autumn in Portland?"

"Hmmm. Good point. I'll log out instead."

And I leave Blogger and do some fantasy online shopping for a while.

But several of my friends have mentioned in email that they check the blog regularly and wonder if I'm okay (this is what happens when you're a life-long extrovert - silence implies disaster!), so I'm here to report that I'm doing as well as an almost-sixty-year-old women (gasp) with Multiple Sclerosis can do. The truth is, as I think about it, a lot has happened in the weeks since I posted here, but I'm not sure how much of it I can (1) remember and (2) seems worthy of sharing here.

One very recent event, however, is haunting me. I received an email from a friend/ex-colleague, letting me know that the 23-year-old son of another colleague had been killed in Afghanistan on November 9th. Twenty-three years old. My beloved son will turn twenty-three on his next birthday.
Sean, the young man who was killed this month, was married in January 2007. His wife will give birth to their child in February, 2008. And he's gone - killed while on patrol in Afghanistan, along with four of his fellow soldiers. Just - gone.

Can I tell you that this is a parent's worst nightmare?

When I first held my son, I was almost overwhelmed by the rush of love I felt for him. I'd never felt anything like that before, and could hardly believe how deeply I loved that tiny, red-faced little guy. I still love him like that - a deep, fierce, protective love that often feels overwhelming. I worry when he doesn't reply to emails (even though I remind myself that he's very introverted!) or when he doesn't call for a week or so. I cannot imagine living with the the unending fear that all the parents with beloved children in Afghanistan and Iraq must contend with each and every day. It is beyond heartbreaking.


Do you ever wonder how the President and his band of merry men sleep at night? I sure do.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Living in a (kitty) war zone

It's been quite a while since I've posted here, so it's time for a quick update on Caruso and Co. Caruso is doing beautifully. He now owns the living room, and spends most of his time curled up on the big sofa in a little gray-furred circle, sleeping peacefully. When he wakes and stretches, he'll usually do his little "Where is everybody?" yowl; if I'm awake, I'll lumber out to the living room, scoop him up, and we'll have a short love-fest before he settles down at his food dish for a snack.

He and Sam have reached a detente of sorts, and we've seen them sleeping near each other on the guest room bed, or lying on the sofa together. Every once in a while, they'll pause next to each other and Sam will attempt to groom Caruso, while Caruso sniffs at Sam's face. All in all, they've found a way to co-exist.

Harley, otoh, is a completely different issue. She refuses to enter the living room, preferring to go through the kitchen to get to the food bowl in the sun room. If she catches sight of Caruso and he moves a muscle, she's after him, hissing all the while, chasing him into his hiding place behind the sofa. It doesn't matter how often we reprimand her, or try to carry her into the living room when we're sitting in there together, she morphs into the Terrible Tortoiseshell Torpedo whenever she realizes Caruso is nearby.

Harley is a big cat (and she can't get away with the 'I'm not fat, I'm just big-boned' excuse - she's a porker). Caruso is slender and probably weighs half of what Harley weighs. So far, they haven't tangled (he clearly understands that discretion is the better part of valor, choosing to run and hide rather than attempt a fight with her). I sure hope he continues to do this, and that she eventually learns to accept him.

Lately he's been following me around the house, and he's even ventured into our bedroom, where Harley tends to sleep most of the time. So far, she hasn't realized he's been in there. Thankfully.

Of course, my fantasy is that our war zone will eventually turn into a place where all three of these kitties will learn to tolerate each other -- but I'm not holding my breath!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

More about the garden

The forecast for Portland is hot - temps near 90 degrees. So I went down to the vegetable beds just now, before it heats up and I need to cocoon in the house, and picked a few ripe cherry tomatoes, a handful of lettuce leaves and a few sprigs of oregano and thyme. I anticipate a significant crop of tomatoes - yellow pears, red cherries and Roma tomatoes - in a week or so, but the zucchini, cucumbers and eggplant are still not really producing much. Next year we'll put things in much earlier, in hopes of a bigger harvest ('big' being a relative term, of course!).

The pear tree is bursting with fruit, and our niece Bobbi is coming over mid-week to help me can a bunch of pears (bottle, really, not can, but the old-fashioned verb seems to linger). The muscat grape vine is covered with fruit as well, not enough for wine and too much to eat. I need to find some recipes for using these grapes since the vine produces prodigious amounts of fruit every year.

I saw a large, brown maple leaf on the front deck this morning, and the Japanese maple in the front yard is showing its first bright-red autumn leaves. It's odd to think of autumn with such summer-like temperatures, but it's clear that autumn is definitely closer than I'd like to think.

I sure did miss the change of seasons, and am very glad to be living in a place where we can experience all four, distinct seasons again.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Summer's ending

The end-of-summer spiders have arrived, and are spinning their webs everywhere. I wasn't aware of this phenomenon until a few years ago, when I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle that described it; ever since then, I watch for their return and that becomes the first indication that summer is on the wane. There are lots of other signs that autumn is approaching around here - the leaves on some trees are beginning to turn, many of the plants in our yard are slowing down and/or stopping entirely (I've been clearing out piles of lily-leaves and dumping them on the ever-growing compost pile in the back yard), the pear tree is laden with fruit and the grapes are ripening as well.

We started our vegetable garden in early summer, and I wondered if we'd get much of a harvest from the things we planted. I saw the first cucumber on that vine yesterday, the tomato plants are covered with fruit (not yet ripe) and it looks like we'll have more carrots than we can use. I'm not sure about the eggplant and zucchini, though. And we've been picking yellow grape tomatoes from one of the plants we put in a big pot on the back deck - those are just wonderful.

I'm beginning to understand why harvest time was such a huge thing back in the days when folks lived and worked on their own farms, and depended on those farms for their food even though my experience is on a very small scale. I've prepared and frozen a dozen containers of pesto, made with organic basil from our weekly box of veggies (our subscription is with Winter Green Farm, a wonderful CSA that delivers to the Portland area) and with basil from our own little herb garden. I froze a huge bag of garlic (also from our veggie box), and won't have to buy garlic in the supermarket for months and months. I'm researching all kinds of information on freezing veggies and herbs so we don't waste any of these delicious veggies and fruits, and so we can enjoy them in a few months, when locally grown summer produce isn't available. We already have a dozen or so freezer bags filled with blueberries and strawberries, and I anticipate adding a lot more produce to our stash before summer ends.

Of course my experience is nothing like the lives of real farm folks. I'm quite aware of that, and don't mean to imply that it is. But I began thinking about this whole issue while I was cleaning the basil yesterday, so I thought I'd ramble about it here today.

Oh, and the pesto was killer! I'm so glad we'll have some to enjoy in the dead of winter.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Cat Update

It's been a while since I've posted about our three kitties, I know. Life has been - um - just a bit hectic for the past several weeks, and I've barely been able to feed and cats and keep the litter boxes emptied, much less write about them. But things seem to be settling down again, so here's a quick update.

Sam and Caruso have reached a detente of sorts - I've even seen Caruso sit patiently while Sam grooms him (something Harley rarely, if ever, does). They're not yet what I'd call 'friends', but they more than tolerate each other.

Caruso and Harley, otoh, have a much less friendly relationship. This morning, I saw Harley crouching under the dining room table, glaring at something in the sunroom (which turned out to be Caruso). She waited until he scampered into the living room before venturing out to the food dish in the sunroom. I suppose it's good that she's no longer actively hostile towards him, but my fantasy of having three cats sleeping together with us on our bed is clearly just that - a fantasy. Hopefully, Harley will be comfortable enough with Caruso to come back and join us in the living room, though; I miss that.

So - it's not perfect yet, but it's getting better.

Caruso's newest activity is to curl up and nap on a pillow in my lap whenever I'm sitting on the sofa in the living room. It makes reading a bit difficult, but I sure love that he's comfortable enough to sleep on my lap!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Minnie Driver rocks!

Last night we heard Minnie Driver at a local music venue, and I gotta say, the woman can sing. I've been a big fan of her acting, and we both loved The Riches (and can't wait for the new season to start). Neither one of us knew anything about her singing career, but she sounded terrific when we listened to a cut from her album online and decided we'd spring for tickets.

I'm really glad we did. Her band was great, she's got a terrific voice, and the material she writes is pretty damned good, as well.

If you get a chance to see her perform, do it!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Zack and Emily

Yesterday, Zack's dad took Z&E on a sightseeing ride up to Mt. Hood (one of the myriad 'must-see' places in and around this beautiful city). He sent me this photo, taken during their wanderings.

I had to share it here.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

And the beat goes on...

Zack and me at Fatapples restaurant in 2004 (spring break)

I got a week's respite from non-stop visitors (which was nowhere near enough) and my son's beloved, Emily, arrived in Portland last Monday, to await him and his dad, who were driving here from Minneapolis. Zack and his dad made it here on Thursday; David helped them unload the contents of Zack's truck and the trailer they'd rented for the overflow that didn't fit in the moving pods, and Zack joined Emily here that afternoon. The pods should arrive on Monday, and they'll be ready to move into their first home together -- here in the beautiful Portland area!

We haven't lived in the same city for twelve years, since I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and Zack remained in New Jersey with his dad. That was the single most difficult decision I've ever made, and the most painful, but looking at it with 20/20 hindsight, it was also the right decision. Zack and his dad have an enviable relationship, built on mutual love, trust and respect. And despite my having moved across the continent, Zack and I have managed to build a solid, loving relationship, as well. For years, we talked on the telephone twice a day - once when he got home from school and again right before he went to sleep at night. That routine changed when he went away to college, of course, but we still spoke at least once a week while he studied at MCAD. I have a raft of regrets at not being around to watch him grow up, day by day, but the single thing I missed the very most was not being able to hug him on a regular basis.

But now I can! Yes!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Life is fragile

So I was sitting at my desk, adding the names of all the cities I've visited to my Facebook profile, when my cell phone rang. It was my beloved son, Zack, calling to tell me that he and Emily were fine, that they hadn't been on the bridge over the Mississippi River that just collapsed.

I, of course, had been blissfully unaware of the disaster until he called, and am grateful beyond words that their planned trip OVER THE BRIDGE THAT WENT DOWN was delayed by enough time that they were nowhere near the bridge when the disaster occurred. (Thank you, Zack, for calling to let me know you guys were okay!)

Ever since then, I've been thinking about how incredibly fragile our lives are, how we can be safe and well one instant and then - poof! - gone in the next instant. Just ... gone.

I'm really bad at living in the moment. I spend my days either regretting something in the past or obsessing and worrying about the future. Intellectually, of course, I know crazy it is to live like this, but it takes an event like yesterday's near-miss for Zack and Emily to slap me upside the head, get my attention, and remind me how important it is to pay attention to the here and now.

Forgive the somewhat smarmy advice, but take a moment to tell someone you care about that you love them. And a hug wouldn't be a bad thing, either.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I ain't no energizer bunny

Apres tattoo: me, Sandi and Vona
(Photo by Reva)

When we lived in the Bay Area, people were willing to visit us at any time of year. We were just as likely to have out-of-town guests in February as in July, which made it a lot easier to manage the flow of folks in and out of our house.

It's a little different now that we've moved to Portland, where there are four discernible seasons, and winters mean the possibility of snow and cold (ish) temperatures. As a result, folks prefer to visit in the summer, which makes perfect sense, but makes it a wee bit difficult for me. This year, we've had back-to-back visitors (literally - one leaving the same day another was scheduled to arrive) for two solid weeks. I wanted to see and be with everyone, but it's pretty clear that my desires and my capabilities are, shall we say, misaligned?

When I dropped my sister off at the airport on Sunday morning, I felt pretty good - I'm a morning person, so getting up at 6:00 am so we could get to PDX by 7:00 am wasn't a huge problem for me. The freeways were almost empty, and I blasted vintage Bruce Springsteen on the CD player during the ride home (there's nothing like "Born to Run" as background when you're driving 15 miles above the speed limit on an empty freeway). I felt pretty good when I got home, but got slapped upside the head by MS fatigue within an hour after arriving at home. For the past two days, I've been drifting around the house like a zombie, too tired to do much of anything, spaced out most of the time, and almost too tired to sleep. Today was the first day I woke up feeling even close to what passes for normal in my life these days, and I'm hoping to put in an hour at the animal shelter (for the first time in three weeks).

But a lot got accomplished in the past couple of weeks. My beloved son was here to find an apartment for himself and his sweetie; we managed to look at about a dozen different places, and they got a great apartment in the complex they liked the best. My sister, who flew out to Portland to spend an important birthday with me (she and I are all that's left of our nuclear family), not only had a birthday celebration, but managed to fulfill one of her fantasies by getting a tattoo! (See photo, above.) I knew she didn't want a party, but I really wanted to commemorate her birthday, so I threw a "Leos' Birthday Bash" for all of the Leos in my life (including my husband, his sister and brother-in-law, and several of our friends) so Sandi wasn't singled out. The weather cooperated, and we had a lovely evening out on the back deck, with lots of food, drink, laughter and conversation.

Unfortunately, I'm gonna need about a month to recover from all of the activity. It sucks. I love being around people, especially people like the ones who visited this month. I just wish I had half the energy I used to have. Where's the Energizer Bunny for humans, I ask you?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

I took a walk this morning...

...around our back yard.

The first thing I did was admire (again) how gorgeous the back decks look since David worked his usual magic out there. He found a (relatively) environmentally-friendly set of products for cleaning the decks, and deck stain from the same manufacturer. Everything looks brand new out there, as if the deck had been installed a week ago. We're in the process of rearranging everything that's out there (benches, plants, etc.) and the few changes we've made already look terrific.

My initial intent was to check on the hydrangea bush at the very southeast end of the yard, to see if the blossoms had opened completely. In the process, I discovered a second hydrangea bush hidden back there, with much deeper blue-purple blossoms than its larger neighbor. My plan is to check the bushes every couple of days so I can capture the blooms at their best, cut them, dry them, and have a new set to take us through the winter.

Of course, once I was out there, I saw a gazillion things needing attention, so I lumbered back up to the house, grabbed my gardening gloves and some clippers, and did some pruning. The Grapevine That Ate Portland needs to be pruned daily, so I saved the roses from extinction by cutting back the vines threatening to strangle them. Then I did a bunch of clean-up around the day lilies (we really need to dig up a bunch of those guys this fall, 'cause they're taking over), gathered up the clippings and loaded the wheelbarrow (which was close by, since David did a bunch of pruning on the big clematis when he was prepping the deck last week).

The most exciting news (for this city gurl) was a squash-blossom sighting! We only planted one zucchini plant, knowing that zucchini can take over a garden, and having only limited space in the raised beds. I'm really looking forward to harvesting zucchini from our own little garden.
All of the tomato plants have lots of blossoms, and the few I planted earlier in the season are covered with small tomatoes. More than any of the veggies we planted, I'm so looking forward to harvesting tomatoes.

So now the front deck is clean, as well. David is giving it a day to dry, and will stain it tomorrow. He's been itching to get these two projects done, and he can check them off his 'to do' list now.

You wouldn't think a short trip around your own back yard could be so interesting, would you?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Dance of the cats

It's been fascinating to observe the way our three cats behave with each other.

Caruso has staked out the living room as 'his' space. It's taken time, but he now feels comfortable enough to curl up and nap on the couch during the day, and I'm pretty sure he sleeps there at night as well. Sam roams the living room, doing a route around the back of the couch and under 'Caruso's' table, but the two of them seem to have reached a point where they tolerate each other.
Caruso is very careful when he leaves the safety of the living room to use the litter box or to munch on wheat grass from the planter in dining room bay window, since he knows there's always a chance he'll encounter Harley.

Harley does NOT like Caruso. They've only tangled a few times, but the result has been a house filled with blood-curdling yowls (Harley) and a very frightened Caruso high-tailing it behind the couch.

Last night, they got into it again, and Sam came charging out from wherever he'd been sleeping to come to Harley's defense. He's done that a few times (like when she went nuts because we were putting Advantage on the back of her neck - go figure); he's very protective of her. She, on the other hand, claws him whenever he bothers her; as far as I'm concerned, she hasn't really earned his obvious devotion to her.

More than likely, Caruso will avoid our bedroom and the office, which are definitely Harley's places, and stick to the other end of the house.

Sam, like Switzerland, will remain neutral most of the time, but will always, I assume, come to Harley's defense if it seems necessary.

And so, they dance.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Caruso doesn't like cameras

Caruso and Lib

I'm not sure why, but every time I've tried to take a photo of him, he's ended up hiding somewhere.

The other night, he was snuggled on my lap, purring away, and I asked David to sneak into the office, grab the digital camera and take a photo. As soon as Caruso saw the camera, he tensed up, but I held onto him, petting him and whispering that it was okay, and David managed to snap one picture before Caruso bolted.

As you can see, we both have gray hair.

Back yard boogie

We were sitting out on the back deck late yesterday afternoon, enjoying the colors and birdsong, when we heard a band tuning up, somewhere to the south of us, obviously in a nearby back yard. I wasn't sure if we were going to find ourselves surrounded by very loud (and possibly badly-played heavy metal), but the band was great and they played a set of old rock'n'roll (songs like "Under the Boardwalk" and "Love Potion No. 9"). From what I could tell, in addition to the basics (bass, guitar, drums), there was a keyboard player and a saxaphone, too -- the perfect combo for 1950's and 1960's rock.

I got up to do some weeding and to pick strawberries for dessert, and found myself dancing along to the music (if you can call what I'm able to do with limited balance 'dancing'!). The music made my chores a lot more fun, and I was disappointed when the band announced their final song and stopped playing.

What could be more wonderful, I ask? A beautiful summer evening, warm-but-not-too-hot, surrounded by trees, bushes and flowers, listening to live rock and roll -- for free!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Weekend update (about Caruso, of course!)

This little guy continues to amaze me.

Last night, we hosted David's twin nephews and one of their wives (Kurt's wife and two children are in Germany for most of the summer, visiting her family, and he's been here for a few days). Mr. Caruso was curled up on the love seat, which has become 'his' place in the living room, when they arrived, and I was sure he'd disappear in a streak of gray fur as soon as he heard their voices. But I was dead wrong - he sat in his spot, calm as could be, and even let Kevin scritch his ears! He stayed out of his hide-y hole for the most of the evening, letting everyone pet him, purring up a storm, and behaving as if he's always lived here.

At one point, he was sitting under the table and I came into the room, called his name, and he popped out from under the table and walked over to me, tail held high, obviously glad I'd returned.

He's a courageous little guy, and I'm so, so grateful that the folks at Animal Aid trust me enough to let him live with us.

Now all we have to do is convince Harley, the o-so-irritable tortoise-shell princess, that Caruso has as much right to roam the house as she does. With luck, this will happen some time in the next, oh, decade or so.

He seemed a bit more nervous and skittish this morning, and I'm wondering if the months he and his fellow kitties spent alone when his guardian was in and out of the hospital has scared him enough that a prolonged absence of humans (like when we sleep) scares him into thinking we're gone and won't come back? Or am I anthropomorphizing just a little bit here?

Friday, June 22, 2007


We have two large banks of strawberry vines growing in our back yard, and I've been out every morning for the past week, bucket in hand, picking strawberries. David has strawberries with his cereal every morning. I've made one strawberry pie, several servings of strawberry shortcake, strawberries with sour cream and brown sugar, and I've frozen about six cups of whole berries so far. I picked another quart or so this morning, and plan to serve them tomorrow evening with pound cake and whipped cream. From the looks of the vines, we'll easily be able to harvest another few quarts of berries before this year's crop is done.

And the berries on the blueberry bushes are starting to turn blue-purple, so it will be time to do some harvesting there very soon.

Oh boy, oh boy!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Yep, another Caruso Comment

I gotta say that this little guy is absolutely amazing. He's been living here with us since June 1st, less than a month, and the changes in his behavior have been incredible.

Don't get me wrong - he's still extremely wary of Sam and Harley (Harley, being a typical tortie, is much more aggressive towards him than Sam), and he runs and hides under the table in the living room whenever he hears a loud noise, or when David comes into the room. But the bonding he and I did when he lived at Animal Aid has continued, and we've established what seems like a decent trusting connection. So when I wake up and finish my morning 'duties' (make coffee, clean litter boxes, put out a few Greenies for Sam'n'Harley) I now go into the living room and call out "Caruso!". Within seconds, he's out from under the table, leaping gracefully up onto the love seat, and we start a little love-fest. I never dreamed that he'd respond to my calling him in such a short period of time, or that he'd have the courage to curl up on a pillow next to me on the love seat and fall asleep - but that's what he'll do now. A week ago, when I'd stand up and leave the living room, he'd be back under the table in a flash of gray fur; in the past couple of days, he's stayed on his pillow, in a cat-curl, with his head on his front paws, and continued to sleep even though I'm no longer there to protect him.

Oh, and he comes by his name honestly, that's for sure. He'll yowl whenever he's moving from one space to another in the house, or when he wants me to come in to the living room and spend a little time with him. And his purring can fill the room!

My guess is that I won't see three kitties curled up in bed with us when I wake in the morning for quite a while, but things are definitely moving in the right direction.

I'm so, so glad we were able to adopt him. Most people who go to shelters want to adopt the tiniest kittens and puppies (who wouldn't - they're adorable!), but we opted for slightly older cats when we brought Sam and Harley into the family (they were four and five months old, respectively) and now that we've adopted a senior kitty, I can see us continuing to do that in the future.

Hell, I'm older and sick - why should I discriminate against a cat with the same demographic?

Friday, June 15, 2007

A little this, a little that

Let's start with Caruso.

It seems like he's getting a little less frightened every day, although he has a long way to go before I'd call him 'comfortable' living here. The latest change in his behavior happened two days ago. I was sitting on the love seat in our living room, reading a book, when he emerged from under a table next to me, me-yowled a couple of times, and jumped up beside me. He began purring almost immediately, rubbing up against me and showing me exactly where he most needed scritches, when he noticed I had a small pillow resting against my (much-too ample) belly. He half-climbed onto the pillow, got that eyes-half-closed-ecstatic look that cats get when they're blissful, and began kneading the pillow, purring all the while.

After a few minutes of this, he noticed the other small pillow propped up in the opposite corner of the love seat, went over there, did a little kneading, and curled up for a quick wash-up and a nap. We sat there together for a long time, me reading and Caruso napping. It was a lovely moment of peace and calm, and I'm hoping for many more.

On another topic entirely... David built me a small, raised garden bed in the sunniest corner of our back yard. At one point, there was a huge (and apparently gorgeous) cherry tree back there, but it died and had to be cut down. The folks from whom we bought our home had built a child's play structure in that area that David took apart last year. We had the tree stump ground down last summer, our nephew carted the sliding board and swing away to use for his kids, and David salvaged all of the lumber and most of the screws from the structure.

Last week, using what he'd salvaged from the play structure, he built the raised beds. We got a trailer full of soil from David's sister & brother-in-law, he shlepped it all down in wheelbarrow loads, mixed it with soil from the garden, and yesterday I planted veggies (four kinds of tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, cukes, eggplant and zucchini). I need to strew some Sluggo on the soil to try and prevent a slug-fest out there, and to keep everything well watered and weeded. With some luck we'll have salads made from our own little veggie garden later in the summer!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

One more from graduation

(From left to right: Emily, Zack and moi, a few minutes after graduation in May)

One of my beloved friends suggested that I post this photo (she really loves Zack's smile - and those gorgeous dimples). As I look at this photo, I swear his joy is almost palpable!

I live to serve, so -- here it is!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Caruso, con't

Yesterday marked some kind of breakthrough for Caruso, I think.

I looked into our guest bedroom, where he's spent a lot of time hunkered under the bed, and there he was, curled up on one of the pillows, out in the open! We did a little bit of bonding, and I left him there, still on top of the bed. About an hour later, I saw Harley sitting in the doorway of our bedroom (an unusual place for her to be), so I peeked in and saw Caruso lying on our bed! (I'll know he's been accepted into the pack when all three cats end up sleeping with us at night.)

Unfortunately, Harley, who is a typical tortoise-shell cat, with enough attitude for several other kitties, got pissed that he was in her spot, and chased him off the bed and back into the guest bedroom. She began a fight, but I think David managed to make it clear to her, in his inimitable and quite successful way, that she was not allowed to harass Caruso. So far today, she's left him alone.

I went looking for him when I woke this morning, and couldn't find him anywhere. I checked all of his hidey-holes with no success, when suddenly I saw his head pop up from behind a small table that sits in the center of the bay window in our dining room - he'd been stretched out on the windowsill (something neither of our huge cats could possibly manage) and I didn't see him until he looked up. He let me come over and scratch his ears, and then he spent an hour or so lying in a pool of sunlight while David worked on the crossword puzzle nearby. When I returned from volunteering at Animal Aid, Caruso and Sam were lying a few feet apart on the dining room rug, enjoying the warmth of the sunlight that was streaming in the windows.

It looks like this is gonna work!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Caruso, continued

For now, he seems stuck in a holding pattern, spending most of his time curled up in one of those wonderful cat-circles, with his head resting on a paw, safely tucked away under the bed in our guest bedroom. My morning routine now consists of (1) make coffee, (2) empty the litter box,
(3) give Sam and Harley some 'greenies' (cat treats that clean their teeth) and (4) lie down on the floor next to the bed where Caruso is hiding and spend some time petting him/talking to him. At first, there was no reaction from him, but now he starts to purr almost immediately, which I'm hoping is a Good Sign.

Whenever he's moving from one spot in the house to another, he announces his intent with very loud yowling, as if to warn everyone away. I've managed to pet him when he's hunkered down under the dining room table, and even to catch him and hold him a couple of times, but for now, he's very much the phantom cat living in our home.

C'mon Caruso! We like you a LOT, and would love it if you'd join the tribe!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Caruso Update

It turns out that Mr. Caruso is quite a bit more adventurous than we'd imagined when he first arrived here. After two days living in the hall bathroom, he decided it was time to get out and explore the rest of the house; once he'd done that, there was no keeping him in that room. He's still scared, of course, and tends to run away whenever David or I try to approach him, but we figure it's going to take some time before he feels safe enough to hang out with us the way our two cats do.

He's found several places to hang out (under a table in the living room, on top of a set of drawers under the desk in the sunroom and under the dining room table - do you sense a theme here?) and we can usually find him in one or another of his hidey-holes when we look for him.

At this point, our biggest problem is keeping Harley and Sam away from Caruso's food (he's on a special diet), which isn't easy. But from what I can tell, he's eating and drinking and not too terribly traumatized by this latest change in his life.

I'm just looking forward to waking up one morning and finding him curled up on our bed, fast asleep. Then I'll know he's really joined the family!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Seven Things

So a ways back, my dear friend Reva tagged me to post seven things about myself that most folks don't know.

This is a difficult task for an extravert, since we tend to share intimate details of our lives with strangers in line at the supermarket, but I'll do my best.

1. I was born three weeks before my actual due-date, on a Saturday evening in December. My parents were attending a Philadelphia Orchestra concert, and my mom's obstetrician was away for the holiday, unable to make it back for my arrival. So I was delivered by an intern who, in what I can only assume was sheer panic, somehow managed to drop me as I emerged into this life, and I landed on my head in the 'after-birth' bucket. I've often wondered if that event explained a bit about my bizarre mental process, but I'll never know. My uncle, who was our family physician, stopped by our house every afternoon on his way home from house calls (remember house calls?) 'just to see your beautiful little baby'. He was, of course, checking to see if I was okay, and didn't tell my parents what had happened until I was over a year old. Times have changed, huh?

2. Back then, I was a friendly, adventurous kid. One afternoon, when I was five or six years old, I convinced one of my little girlfriends to 'explore' with me. So we took off to visit someone who lived several blocks away, something that little kids simply didn't do back then, causing huge panic when our parents realized we were nowhere to be found. I'm not sure how we got back home, but I do know that was my last solo exploration attempt for a very long time, at least one that took me 'off the block'.

3. But I was still an extremely social little kid, so one afternoon I wandered down to visit the one family on our block who had a television set. When I got home, I told my parents I'd been 'televisiting' (apparently, this is a true story). My dad was so charmed by my cleverness that he sent the quote into Readers' Digest where it was printed in the 'Kids Say The Darndest Things' column. He won $5 for the quote.

4. One summer, my roommate made extra money driving a Good Humor ice cream truck. She wasn't able to make her rounds on a couple of nights, so I did it for her (which was pretty interesting, since I had absolutely no idea how to drive a standard transmission back then). I'm pretty sure I took my profits, meager as they were, in ice cream.

5. When I moved to Boston in 1977, it was almost impossible to find work in my field (Human Resources), so I registered with a temp agency, and ended up working at Harvard. I worked as a temp at the Law School, and then spent several months working in the Provosts' Office at Harvard College, where I typed and re-typed and re-typed dozens of drafts of what became the Core Curriculum. I ended up being hired as assistant registrar at Harvard Law School, where I got to meet all kinds of luminaries, from Archibald Cox to Lawrence Tribe. One of my responsibilities was producing the 1L seating charts, made famous in the movie "The Paper Chase", and I still remember seeing student workers sitting on the floor outside my office, cutting photos out of the freshman 'face book' and pasting them onto huge pieces of poster board.

6. Many, many years after this, one of my managers suggested that I attend the Dale Carnegie course. I went - reluctantly - and was all set to hate the experience when, to my surprise, I loved it. I just rediscovered the "Outstanding Performance" pen I won during the course, and i still have all of the books I purchased for the course, including the workbook with signatures from all of my fellow attendees. A year or so later, I went back as a 'graduate assistant', and the instructor with whom I worked convinced me to sign up for instructor training, about half-way through my first stint as a graduate assistant. I did it, was certified as an instructor, did one session as a student teacher, and was assigned my first solo class a few weeks after that. It was rare for anyone to attend instructor training after only one experience as a GA, and unheard of for someone to be assigned their first solo class after only one student teaching gig, but somehow I managed to do that. There's no doubt that the course changed my life.

7. In 1990, I was scheduled to fly to Shanghai with my manager, to work with the Plant Manager and his newly hired team in a chemical plant being built by the company I worked for at the time. At the last minute, my manager had to bail on the trip, and I was faced with going to China alone (I didn't even have my travel visa at that point!). I was terrified and furious, but I found the courage to get on the plane and make the trip. It ended up being one of the most memorable experiences in my professional career, even though I arrived in Shanghai with nothing more than my scented markers and a few rolls of masking tape. I spent the week facilitating a series of meetings with the plant managers, a group of young Chinese workers whose employment with this joint venture showed both courage and vision. At the end of that week, we had crafted a series of seven core values for managing the plant and the people who worked there; as far as I know, they are still being used! I still have a little bowl that the managers gave me as a thank-you gift the day before I left.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Caruso update

Caruso is settled in to his temporary home in our hall bathroom. He found his new bed within seconds, and seems quite content to curl up in there when he's alone. But as soon as I'm in there with him and settled on the floor, he pops out of his bed and joins me for a love-fest. I coo at him, he purrs back at me. He rubs up against me, marking me with his scent and I scratch his ears and rub his back. He's definitely eating and drinking, and has used the litter box, so it seems as if he's gotten comfortable in this new place already.

He's very skinny, so I'm hoping we can get him to eat and gain a little weight back. The biggest challenge for me is all about patience, a quality I lack. It will take time to integrate him into our household, and I, of course, want to open that door and let him out into the rest of the house RIGHT NOW. So maybe we will end up helping each other?

I'm so glad he's here.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Meet Caruso!

A few weeks ago I wrote about having met (and bonded with) an elderly cat who was living at Animal Aid, the shelter where I've been volunteering for the past month or so. Caruso is a beautiful boy, part Russian Blue, whose owner died in January, having ensured that all three of his cats would go to a no-kill shelter.

Caruso (so named because he was very verbal!) was quite depressed when he arrived at the shelter, and spent most of his time hiding. It took the wonderful folks at Animal Aid a long time to coax him into eating a little bit, but he was clearly still quite frightened and skittish when I met him.

I'd promised David not to turn into a Crazy Cat lady, bringing a new cat home every week (although I gotta tell ya, it's a HUGE temptation), but Caruso just tugged at my heart as soon as I met him. I convinvced David to accompany me to the shelter to meet Caruso, and the two of them hit it off as soon as they met, so we agreed to start the adoption process.

We had to take our two cats to the vet to be tested for feline HIV/leukemia, and we were distressed to discover that Sam (thanks to those years of brawling back in California) is HIV positive. Harley, on the other hand, is fine, and our vet assured us that it was highly unlikely that Caruso would contract the virus, but we assumed the folks at Animal Aid wouldn't let the adoption go through.

Much to my joy, the day after I'd left a message letting them know the results of Sam's blood test, I got a call from one of the women who works at the shelter, telling me that she'd called our vet and was willing to let the adoption go through.

Two days ago, I bought a new cat bed, and I set it up in our hall bathroom, along with a small litter box and a food/water dish, and sweet Caruso arrived at our front door about an hour ago. He found his bed in seconds, and has been curled up in there ever since (except when he ventures out to do a little exploring). He started to purr as soon as I began to scratch his ears, and it seems as if he knows he's out of the shelter and back in a home.

Now we need to work to ensure that our two cats accept him, so he can join the household. Wish us luck!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Graduation weekend

Zack and his ancient mom, just after the graduation ceremony

We've been back from Minnesota for a couple of days, and I'm still in Major Recovery-From-Travel mode, but I did want to write a bit about my son's graduation from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD).

MCAD is a small art school (there were less than 100 people in his graduating class) located right next to the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Zack graduated with a BFA in Comic Art, MCAD being one of only two colleges that offered a degree in Comic Art when he was applying to college four years ago. From everything we've seen and all he's told us, it's a terrific place, and the graduation ceremony definitely confirmed that impression.

Graduation was held in the Children's Theater, which is part of the art institute complex. The room was large and comfortable, and the stage set was gorgeous (done in my favorite color palette, with lots of blues and teals and purples, so what could be bad, right?). The ceremony itself was a wonderful mix of formalities, whimsy and humor - just perfect for an art school that encourages creativity and individuality. The masters' degree recipients all wore commencement garb, but the bachelors' degree recipients could wear whatever they wanted; this led, as you can imagine, to a fascinating range of garb, from the graduate who wore the tux he'd rented for his wedding (which happened the following day), to the guy who graduated in a black toga covered with green glitter drawings, to Zack, in the 'dressy' outfit you see above. Some of the guys wore jeans and t-shirts spattered in paint, which seemed totally appropriate. Each masters' degree graduate had a mentor, and I loved the fact that each and every one of those pairs hugged each other when the diploma was delivered.

Best of all were the speeches (one speaker for each class and a keynote speaker), each different but all three were terrific. Who knew that it was actually possible to enjoy a graduation ceremony? Not me, for sure!
After the ceremony, there was a reception in the main MCAD building, where we got to see the display of Senior Projects (an amazing range of work, from comics to illustrations to furniture to fashion). It looked like every graduate had designed a business card, and I have two of Zack's new cards right next to my monitor.
It's very rare for someone to know what he or she wants to 'be when I grow up', but Zack has known since he was nine years old that he wanted to be a comic artist. I'm so grateful that he found a school like MCAD, where creativity and individuality are encouraged along with the highest standards of performance, that he was admitted to study there and that he's graduated!
Congratulations, Zack! You rock!

Monday, April 30, 2007

How does our garden grow?

Well, up until yesterday afternoon, the answer would have been 'awash in weeds'. Dandelions. Fireweed. Popweed. This fuzzy-stemmed stuff that re-seeds EVERYWHERE. Same with a yellow-flowered weed that is not only invasive, but about impossible to wrangle out of the ground.

I put in three hours of weeding last week, one hour a morning, and managed to fill a 30-gallon green-waste bag with the results of my labors. But David put in about six hours over the weekend, filling another two bags in the process. Some of our work was pruning/thinning (the strawberry patches needed thinning really badly, and the grapevine was begging to be pruned back). He cleared out all of the popweed and grass that had grown between the stepping stones on the various paths down into the garden - a painstaking task that required tremendous patience (which he has, and I definitely do not!). He found a half dozen stepping stones buried in the weeds in one of the garden beds, and used them to fill in the main path that leads down from the gate. That path got pretty treacherous in the rain, especially for a gimp like me, but now there's a safe pathway that even I can manage!

It's still a bit too early to think about new planting, but when we return from Minneapolis in mid-May, I'll start planning for some summer-blooming additions to the garden. For now, we're both enjoying the new, green barrier that surrounds our back yard, blocking out any glimpses of rooftops or the unsightly billboard we can see in the winter months.

Ah, spring!

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Seat of Enlightenment Rulz!

The Chair Affair auction was held last night, and I gotta take this opportunity to say that The Seat of Enlightenment kicked butt! The chair was one of only a dozen entries that made it into the live auction (the remainder of the fifty entries were sold in silent auction) and we were hoping it would bring in a lot of money for the Community Warehouse. It sold for THREE THOUSAND, SEVEN HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS!!! When you consider that this was the first time David and Larry collaborated on a project, and that it was the first time David attempted to build any kind of furniture, this success becomes truly amazing. I'm not surprised, mind you. The chair is both unique and beautifully crafted. But the competition was fierce, and included quite a few well-known artists/artisans, so it's clear that these two guys make one hell of a creative partnership. Oh, and not only did the chair sell for that astounding amount of money, the next-highest piece sold for $1,000 LESS than the Seat of Enlightenment! We found out last night that the Warehouse estimates it costs about $100 a family to provide the household goods/furnishings people so desperately need, which means the proceeds from the sale of this one chair will help close to forty families at some point in the future. Not a bad outcome, huh?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

At the animal shelter

This is Martin

I've attempted a couple of options for volunteering since we moved to Portland, none of which really felt right to me -- until I was accepted as a volunteer at Animal Aid, a no-kill shelter that's less than a half mile from our home. Our wonderful neighbor Deb suggested that I check out volunteer opportunities there (since she knows what a sucker I am for cats), so I downloaded the volunteer application and mailed it in about a month ago. I got a call from the Volunteer Coordinator who signed me up for an assignment socializing (read 'petting') cats one morning a week. I started two weeks ago, and had to force myself to leave without committing to adopt at least one cat (my mantra is "remember the litter box!", a gentle reminder that we already have two cats). I skipped last week after hearing there was an outbreak of ringworm at the shelter (we of the Suppressed Immune System can't risk exposure to something like that), but I was back again this morning, visiting every room except the ringworm-ward, and falling in love with several cats while I was there.

I spent a lot of time with Martin, a somewhat shy guy who lives in one of the four smaller rooms (for cats who are skittish or too shy to live out in the biggest room). He is an absolute love, and it was hard to leave him after I'd spent a full hour at the shelter.

Before I met Martin, however, I spent a good deal of time with Caruso, a 12-year old gray cat whose owner passed away, leaving three cats behind. Apparently, it's taken him quite a while to recover from the trauma of losing his beloved person, but today he was about as sweet and friendly as a cat could be. At one point, while I was petting him and talking with one of the women who works in the office, I stopped scratching his ear momentarily; he put out a paw and gently grabbed my hand as if to say "Hey! You're here to pet me, not talk to some other human!" He's another love of a cat, and I sure hope he finds a home soon.

The truth is that I feel as if the cats are doing as much, if not more, for me as I am for them. There's nothing quite as wonderful as an hour spent scratching kitties behind their ears and listening to their purrs...

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Being human

David and I were talking yesterday, about the horrific events in Virginia. I keep thinking about those lives, snuffed out by a sad and obviously disturbed young man, and am overwhelmed with sadness for all of the people who loved them. This event opens the door to my Fear Closet, the place where all of my deepest fears lie in wait (the door tends to open in the middle of the night, when I awake from a sound sleep), where I worry that something like this might happen where my beloved son attends college. It's usually easy to close the door to the Fear Closet, especially during the day, and I do so with great relief every time.

What we'd both thought, within moments of hearing about the carnage in Virginia, was that the loss of only 32 lives in one day would represent a good day in Iraq. It seems as if the number of innocent people killed in daily violence in that war-torn country escalates every day, at least according to the headlines in the Oregonian. If you think about it, we should be damned grateful that only 32 lives were lost to madness and hatred this week. We could, after all, be living in Iraq.

So where is the sadness and empathy for the husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, children and grandchildren of each and every human life snuffed out in Iraq? Do you feel that every time you read a newspaper headline or watch the news on TV? To be honest, I didn't. As so often happens, I've become accustomed to these awful statistics, just as I did during the Vietnam War. I'm not proud to admit this, but sadly, it is true.

So here's my latest resolution: I will stop every morning, if even for a moment, and think about the people whose lives are ripped apart each and every day in Iraq, with love and compassion. As if they were Americans. As if they were just like us, human beings. What a concept, huh?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

We did it!

"The Lib*erators", nearing the end of the 2007 MS Walk

For the second year in a row, our little team of friends and family participated in the annual MS Walk, a fund-raising event in support of MS research. The final tally isn't in yet, but it looks like we've raised close to $5,000!

Unlike last year, when it poured buckets for most of the morning, we had perfect weather for a 5k walk (or, in my case, a 5k roll!). Several of us learned from last year's wardrobe malfunctions (one should never sit in a wheelchair in rainy weather without some kind of waterproof protection on one's legs!) and we were prepared for rain and wind; luckily, we didn't need that protection this time!

I want to thank my beloved friends and family (those who walked and those who contributed to our effort) for their love and support. You guys are the BEST!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

A few more photos

...of The Seat of Enlightenment.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


This is something we used to talk about a lot, back when I was working. We did a lot of work focused on 'transforming' organizations, or departments, or teams or individuals, mainly so the corporation could sell more widgets and make more money.

Now that I've been forcibly removed from the corporate universe, now that I spend the majority of my time in and around our home, I had a thought about transformation - real transformation.

I know I've rhapsodized about spring in Portland a few times (maybe even a few too many times?) in earlier posts. I'm not here to retract one word of what I've written (spring in Portland is absolutely the best) but watching the changes - or, if you will, the transformation - taking place daily in our back yard, has caused me to think about that process in a very different way.

A few minutes ago, I cut the first tulip (a lovely, yellow blossom), brought it into the house and put it in a vase. It occurred to me that the tulip buds hadn't even appeared at the beginning of last week, and now - presto! - we have buds and tulips appearing all over our yard. Trees (there are several huge trees in yards that abut ours) that were just barely showing green if you looked carefully a week or so ago are now so covered with green blossoms that we can no longer see through to the road below (which means, thankfully, that we can no longer see the billboard either!). Within a week or so, we won't be able to see the houses to our south, and we'll again feel as if we're living in semi-isolation, rather than in a thickly-settled neighborhood in Southwest Portland. The split-leaf Japanese maple that traveled with us from Berkeley, and now sits on our front porch where I can see it from the kitchen window, is suddenly covered with open leaves. Two weeks ago, I had to strain to see the first buds appearing on its branches.

In my current incarnation as a stay-at-home, non-working person, I see all of this amazing change in our landscape as different kind of transformation, one that doesn't have to be taught or mandated or demanded. This beautiful, quiet, delicate, elegant and silent transformation happens because - well, because it's part of an organic and natural cycle.

I very much prefer this natural transformation to the kind we tried to facilitate back when I was working. With 20/20 hindsight, I finally realized that the best we were able to do was effect temporary changes. Calling what we did 'transformation' was the ultimate in arrogance.

It's the trees that really understand transformation.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Running on empty

If you've ever been so sick or so tired that the thought of doing anything beyond brushing your teeth and throwing on some clothing makes you want to weep, then you have some idea of how MS-fatigue feels. A friend of mine said it was like sinking into quicksand. I used to think of it as a heavy, dark curtain falling over me, forcing me to stop whatever I was doing and rest. Regardless of the metaphor used to describe it, MS-fatigue is both unrelenting and overwhelming.

It's been six years since the Big Exacerbation hit, six years of gimpy legs, canes, ever-more limited physical capabilities and fatigue, fatigue, FATIGUE. Fatigue is my appointment secretary. It dictates what I can and can't do every day, whether I can manage to exercise and go to the grocery store in one morning or whether I'll need to spend all day doing nothing but checking email, watching DVDs and sleeping. On a 'good' day, I can manage 40 minutes on my trusty Theracycle, a drive to New Seasons for groceries and maybe even a light chore or two before I have to collapse and sleep. But I still haven't adapted to this way of living, not even after six years, not really. Because I still want so very much to live my old, 'normal' life, the one where I could do pretty much whatever I set my mind to do. Change jobs? Sure. Change careers? Absolutely! Move across the country and start a new life on the West Coast? Hell, why not? Travel to China - alone - for work, in the early 1990's, before China had truly opened up to western visitors? You betcha!

Now? It doesn't matter one teeny, tiny bit what I want to do, or how much I will myself to do it, because my new Appointment Secretary controls what I'm able to do, regardless of what I want to do.

So why am I whining about this issue again today? Because I'm trying to recover at least some of my energy after a week-long visit from my beloved son and his sweetie, who spent their spring break week with us. I LOVE having my son nearby. I love being able to talk with him, to hear what new things he's into, to see him so in love with his sweetie and, best of all, to hug him whenever I feel like it (he's very tolerant of my need for hugs, which I appreciate). He and Emily are extremely undemanding visitors, asking for little more than visits to the Japanese and Chinese Gardens, access to cats, and an adequate supply of Diet Pepsi. But I'm determined to make the visit something good, something special, and I always end up doing too much, resting too little and running on empty, energy-wise, when they leave. This visit, I was too damned exhausted to sit in the car when David drove them to the airport, so I stayed home and rested instead. This damned MS Appointment Secretary made it impossible for me to spend an extra half hour with my son even though I desperately wanted to grab that extra time with him before he left.

And I've been more limp than the proverbial wet noodle ever since. I sleep eight or nine hours at night - deep, uninterrupted sleep - and I'm too tired to do anything requiring energy within an hour of waking. I'm too tired to cook (last night, I made a tossed salad and that was exhausting). I'm still running on empty, three days after they went back to Minneapolis (three lazy days spent doing nothing) and I'm not quite sure how to fill that energy tank back up.

Maybe I should end this post and rest a while, huh? Or even better, maybe I should figure out what my limits really are.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Seat of Enlightenment

The Seat of Enlightenment

A good friend of ours has been working, non-stop, on a fund-raising event in support of the Community Warehouse here in Portland. The Community Warehouse is a righteous place that provides furniture and household goods to people in need, at no cost to them. This year's fund-raiser (The Chair Affair) is an auction of about fifty chairs designed or re-created by an amazing group of artists and artisans -- among them, my husband David and our good friend Larry Shifrin.

Larry is the 'Owner and CIO (Chief Illumination Officer!)' of Lumen Essence Lighting, a fascinating and creative shop in the Pearl District selling an impressive range of reclaimed-and-refinished lighting fixtures as well as fixtures Larry has designed and created himself. It's a terrific place, and well worth a visit even if you're not in the market for a new wall sconce at the moment!

So when Larry approached David with an idea for crafting a chair to include in the auction, there was no doubt in my mind that this duo would create something absolutely spectacular. Which they did.

Here's their description of the chair:

The Seat of Enlightenment

Designed and constructed by Larry Shifrin and David Dunning, this chair is an expression of West Coast Pacific Rim fusion. The Buddha floats in repose over translucent arcing waves of Pacific tranquility. He sits centered, at home among forms reflecting both East and West. As Frank Lloyd Wright drank in the aesthetics of the orient and drew them into his forms, we seek an expression that makes the old new, and the new, timeless.

For his part, David built and shaped in hardwood, forming over ninety wood-to-wood joints involving no metal fasteners. The chair form is seven feet tall and features fifteen legs. He developed the layered, crackled paint effect and finished the hardwood in urethane. Meanwhile, Larry selected the brass and bronze elements and produced the rich blend of subtle polychrome finishes seen on those pieces. Larry also chose, from his extensive inventory of period glass, the 1912 leaded glass shade illuminating the Buddha. The gifted glass artist Carol Hall was kind enough to contribute the highly textured curving glass from her studio, recycling and re-slumping it for this piece. To complete the piece, Larry illuminated the forms with ten integrated light sources.

  • Lost wax cast bronze Buddha
  • Recycled, re-slumped art glass donated by Carol Hall Glass Design & Lighting
  • Leaded glass from the venerable Jefferson Glass Company, dated 1912
  • Hand-blown aurene glass with delicate glass webbing
  • Hardwood
  • Brass and copper
  • Paint
What the description doesn't talk about are the 12-plus hour days spent creating the design (and fine-tuning it a gazillion times - these Myers/Briggs 'NTs' are all about perfection), cutting the wood, measuring the various elements to ensure that each and every piece/cut/joint was as close to perfect as possible (and measuring again, just to be sure), talking on the phone, consulting in the workshop, figuring out how to place all of the wiring required for the amazing lighting, sanding, gluing, painting layer upon layer upon LAYER to create the final crackle finish -- and making at least one wife (and probably two!) totally CRAZY in the process. Larry got to experience me in Full Cranky Bitch Mode one evening when dinner got postponed way, way too late; I must have scared him, 'cause he came over the next morning with a peace offering of beautiful Shasta daisies (Which worked, of course. I'm a sucker for fresh flowers). And that's just the stuff I got to see. I'm quite sure that Larry put in tons of time when he wasn't in the workshop with David!

But I gotta say that these two men (along with Carol Hall, the glass artist who donated the two beautiful pieces of slumped glass) have created something beyond special.

If you're in Portland, OR, or can get here on April 26th, why not buy a couple of tickets and attend the auction? It's for a very good cause, and you'll get to see some amazing, beautiful, quirky and interesting creations (and who knows - maybe you'll bid on something and take a piece of art home with you!).

Sunday, March 25, 2007

I'm in love with Jon Stewart

Every time I watch the Daily Show, every time I watch Jon interact with the people around him, I fall a little more in love with him. (btw, I do NOT mean this literally) Aside from his amazing wit and enviable ability to think on his feet, it's clear (at least to me) that he genuinely cares about the people with whom he works.

Let me ask you a question. Did you ever have a manager who did everything possible to prevent talented people from succeeding in the greater organization? You probably know what I mean - the boss who guards his or her staff like a bulldog, not in a positive protective way, but with the goal of ensuring that good people never get a chance to get promoted or moved into a more challenging position. I've worked at companies where that misplaced sense of ownership was so rampant (and ultimately so damned destructive - because good people eventually leave companies where they feel trapped or unappreciated) that we were forced to include the number of promotions out of a department as a positive factor in the executive and senior management bonus plans. Imagine this: the only way we could pry good people away from these pathetic, insecure bosses was to PAY them extra money if they encouraged their employees' growth and success. "What the hell?!" you might ask. And all I can do is nod my head in agreement, and assure you that I saw this happen more times than I can count during my tenure at several large, successful organizations. I'd leave work after a session with one of those managers, and wonder if I'd somehow died and was now living the Myth of Sisyphus in some weird version of Hell, constantly rolling the same damned boulder up the hill, only to have it roll back down the second I'd gotten it up there. Why was it so obvious to me, with my B.A. degree in American History and no business school experience at all, that ENCOURAGING THE GROWTH AND SUCCESS OF PEOPLE IN AN ORGANIZATION KEEPS IT HEALTHY? Beats the hell out of me...

So look at Jon Stewart as a manager (which, I assume, he is). Stephen Colbert, once a reporter on the Daily Show, now has his own highly successful show (and Jon Stewart is an executive producer for the Colbert Report). Steve Carell, once a reporter on the Daily Show, has an amazing career in movies as well as starring in one of the funniest comedies on broadcast TV these days - The Office. Rob Corddry and his brother Nate are also Daily Show graduates, both having moved on to rolls in other TV shows. I'm sure there are more examples, but you get the point.

I'm not presuming to imply that Jon is directly responsible for the success these other guys have achieved. But I feel pretty certain that he has encouraged them, that he continues to encourage everyone who contributes to the success of the Daily Show, to hone their skills and increase their competence. And I'd bet that he has never tried to hold anyone back from pursuing new opportunities, even if it means a loss of talent in his organization. My guess is that Jon understands that a healthy organization needs not only to nurture and reward talent, but also to let people move on when it's time for them to do so.

So beyond his awesome sense of humor and timing, his not-to-be missed imitations of our president and vice-president, his courage in facing many guests whose hostility and anger is palpable to most viewers, and his very occasional fits of giggles when it's clear he's just loving someone else's performance, I love Jon Stewart because I think he's exactly the kind of manager I dreamed about working with when I was still able to work.

Yep. I'm in love with Jon Stewart (even though I'm old enough to be his mom).

Saturday, March 24, 2007

My son, Zack

I know most parents say this a lot, but today, right at this moment, I feel the impact of these words more than I ever have in the past: Zack is an incredible human being, and I love and respect him more than I can find words to say.

There's no reason to go into the situation that prompted me to make this post. But watching him wrestle with a difficult, painful problem, and seeing the amazingly mature result of his deliberations, fills me with love and deep respect for him.

The majority of parents would tell you that they love their child(ren). But I've often wondered how many, if asked this question, would also say that they like their adult children. I'm definitely in the 'love-and-like' camp, and being able to add the word 'respect' in the mix is a real gift.

He's quite a guy.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Cooking Cabbage

Last night, I made something called "Savory Cabbage Strudel". I found the recipe because we had two heads of cabbage in the refrigerator, both delivered in the bushel of organic vegetables that's delivered to our house every week, and I was determined to use them, rather than give them away (or worse, dump them directly into our compost bin). The recipe involved saute-ing a bunch of veggies and fresh herbs, rolling the mixture up in phyllo dough and baking the resulting 'strudels' for about a half hour. In retrospect, I'd pump up the onion, add garlic and a few more herbs to the mix, but overall, the strudels turned out to be quite tasty. Whew! No more guilt about wasted cabbage!

So here's the thing. I'm not really just writing about my Culinary Success With Cabbage, but more about how important it is to push myself to try new things these days. I mean, I have dozens and dozens of tried-and-true recipes, some that I've been making for three decades by now, and it's often so much easier to pull one of them out of the file rather than attempt something new.

This whole tey-something-new-in-cooking thing happened when we first got involved in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), and subscribed with Full Belly Farm, a truly wonderful CSA that serves the Bay Area. I had no trouble with the contents of the summer and fall veggie boxes; after all, I'd been making stuff with tomatoes and zucchini and stuff like that for a long time. But as we moved into winter vegetables, and I found myself gazing at four or five leeks (yep, I'd never cooked leeks before) or celery root or Jerusalem artichokes, I suddenly realized that I'd either have to learn some new tricks or give away half of what had turned up in the box every week. As it is, I do have to gift someone with the kale and chard that comes every winter, because David, whose mother had a huge vegetable garden when he was a kid, has eaten enough of those greens for several lifetimes, and refuses to eat them anymore. But I really wanted to figure out how to use some of the ingredients I'd never used before, so I pulled out three or four of my vegetarian cookbooks and, among other things, discovered a killer recipe for potato-leek soup that has become a new 'old favorite' around here.

But every recipe I found for cabbage either bored the hell out of me, or sounded ghastly, or was too boring for words - until I found the Savory Cabbage Strudel somewhere online. We both agreed that this was a keeper, and I think we'll be adding cabbage to the list of veggies we eat at least semi-regularly.

Which doesn't sound like much of a step into Doing New Things, I know, but the experience was a reminder that I really do need to seize every opportunity that presents itself for new and interesting stuff to try. Hell, even if the new thing doesn't end up being all that interesting, at least I'll be open to possibilities. Once that happens, the likelihood of stuff being fun and interesting increases, I think. And heaven knows, I need as much fun and interesting-stuff in my life as possible these days.

So. A new mantra of sorts has arrived in my life. Whenever I find myself reluctant to try something new, I will repeat the phrase 'cooking cabbage' in my head - a reminder to be open to the possibility that something very tasty might be waiting out there to be experienced!