Friday, November 9, 2012


Seems the election hoopla got me off my writing.....

I've been ruminating on life since retiring from my full-time/part-time gig with the university.  When I was employed, working for 'other',  life was predictably busy, stressful, ordered.  Part of me thrived under pressure for years-churning out reports, enjoying my stats work, finding applicant demographics interesting, always taking on new challenges with the aid of technological advances.  The first 7 years on the job were a joy-I looked forward to heading in to work and enjoyed the people I worked with.  But the shift in management styles, the trend to less people contact, more data management just replaced the joy with more stress and as my health went south so did my love for my position. 

Choosing to retire early for health reasons was a no-brainer.  After all-health is everything.  But health challenges affect retirement, too.  When I hear stories of what others are doing in their retirement the picture is vastly different than my own.  

Each day I awake with a question: what condition am I in today?  The answer to that question will decide what I do that day and evening.  Is is a migraine/nausea day? Is my husband available to transport teen to school functions? If so, then probably light duty around the house, laying low with some pain medication, icepacks, meditation for peace and positivity, breathwork for pain management, cuddles with kitties for comfort.  More light duty around the house as pain/nausea allow.  Need to read for degree work but so difficult with head pain-hard to focus with pain as well as with medication.  

Husband not home?  Then no pain medication for certain!  Schlepping kiddo about means staying sharply focused-which also means extra breathwork, meditation to try to unclench muscles, yoga stretches for pain management. Breath through the reading today.  Where's those icebags?  Hope I rounded them all up and got them all back into the freezer this time!  It's frustrating to go to the freezer only to find that I have left them under a pillow on the couch.  

Hoping to find something that I can work on today that will give me a sense of 'job well done' of the 'perks' of working outside of the home is having a short-term job completed, turned in, all done.  House chores never end and there is no performance appraisal to let me know how I've done!  I think that is one of the interesting conundrums of retirement-we crave independence from our supervisors but  miss the 'job well done' feedback.  Must find a way to reward myself!  These days-a soak in a hot tub would be a blissful reward!

Finding balance between 'job satisfaction' in the new role of retiree/stay at home mom/graduate student is complicated when most of my life I depended on my employed position for my self-worth.  Having freedom comes with responsibility-the responsibility to rely on self for self-worth.  What a wonderful and frightening thing!  I know so many women who have never given themselves permission to feel good-simply by their own merit alone rather than by something they do for others.  

So-in between the health issues, the house issues, the what am I going to do with the rest of my life as it is issues, I am free to discover the creation of self-worth and self-identity.  I think this initial stage has been an unraveling of sorts-a de-cluttering of the mind and heart of layers of hubris accumulated over many years of service.  I know that I still want and need to be of service to others-but now I get to choose how best to serve while being my authentic self.  

oooh, the possibilities..........!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


For several years my daughter and I sponsored a beautiful boy through the New Day Foster Home in Beijing, China.  Phillip came into this world with several profound challenges and has been cared for by the wonderful and dedicated people at NDFH.  He has endured multiple surgeries, had been been given worst possible outcome scenarios of never walking, talking or engaging in life.  Each time he has beat the odds and has grown into a handsome, talkative, rambunctious and very active little boy!

But sadly, over the years, in spite of his amazing progress, he watched by as his foster brothers were adopted while he was passed over.  We can only imagine what this little boy was feeling when he was not chosen by a family.

Last night, my daughter called me from a friend's sleepover.  She had just heard the news we had prayed for over the past couple of years.

Phillip has found his forever home.

It will take many months for details to be finalized, precious first meetings to take place. But he is matched.  He is wanted.  And he has a very bright future in his own family with parents and siblings who will love and support him throughout his life.

Life is good.  Congratulations to you our dear, dear Phillip.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

living with chronic illness

I am posting this passage written recently on a separate thread I normally reserve for a specific audience-those coping with chronic pain.  I think that it merits a repost on the main thread.

It is difficult for people who do not have chronic illness to cope with the lifestyles of those who have disabiling conditions.  One of the challenges for people with chronic illness and those who love them is coping with the impact of the unpredictable and disruptive nature of illness.  We may miss out on family functions, may miss work, may find it difficult to keep appointments with doctors as well as a host of other commitments to friends and family.  We just aren't as dependable in some ways as we would like because of the somewhat spontaneity of the symptoms.

I absolutely feel grateful NOT to have a terminal illness.  I am grateful for the 'up' days.  But I am also keenly aware of the setbacks, the missed opportunities, and disappointing family and friends.  It hurts.

Adjusting to chronic illness is a process.  For some, like me, there is a mourning the loss of the active life I once knew.  There is the life 'before illness' and all that has come since.

The challenge is to find peace through a balanced perspective.  Yes, there are some things that I have chosen to accept that I may not fulfill in this lifetime.  Having chronic illness means change. But that is something that we all have in common-the predictablity of change!

I can list all the things that I find disparaging about living with a disabling illness-OR-I can share what I have learned from having to adapt.

acceptance:  I was almost a 'type A' personality.  I was a perfectionist and stressed out so much when I couldn't be perfect that I made myself sick!  Getting smacked down with a migraine has forced me to relinquish control, to let go of that striving for perfection and to accept myself as I am today.  That's not a bad thing.

compassion:  It is so true that if you haven't gone through something yourself it is difficult to understand what someone else is going through.  Ok.  So-now I have the ability to be of service to others who are suffering, who are in pain, whose lives have been disrupted through illness and loss-I can offer empathy and compassion. If having illness forges my spirit into a more compassionate loving one then that is a good thing!

gratitude:  oh boy.  I cannot fully express how freeing it is to feel gratitude for every day I am alive-and every day my children are healthy and happy.  Having an illness reminds us of our mortality.  It reminds us that time is limited and we had better kick ass while we are here!  It reminds us that we must cherish our time with friends, family, engage in our passions, to live life fully while we can!

Pain sucks. Being sick sucks. Don't get me wrong.  I have wallowed in the pity, experienced the full-on depressions and felt, at times, like giving up.  But that doesn't last long before I am reminded that life is brief and beautiful and I will savor every gritty, gorgeous, sensuous, meaningful, keenly felt moment of every day that I still am lucky enough to be alive.

Friday, October 5, 2012

woman as lifelong learner

I am a graduate student in public history at PSU.  Still ;-)

When I entered graduate school a few years back I was employed full-time at the university and began by taking one course a term.  I knew going into the program that with family and outside work obligations the pace of my progress in the masters program would be s l o w.  Just didn't know how slowly it would go.

Health setbacks required a shift from full-time to part-time employment.  I picked up the pace slightly with my schooling however, and continued to progress nicely while pulling good grades. I could do this! Favorable feedback from professors encouraged me in my efforts and it seemed my dreams of working in my chosen field were coming into fruition.

Unfortunately, my health continued to be an issue and I eventually, with support from my dear husband, made the choice to leave my paid position after 10 years of service.  It was a heartbreaking decision on one hand but a relief nevertheless.  I could use my strength to focus on completing the last year of my masters program.

Ah, life has other plans for us!  Just prior to my last week on the job our family suffered terrible losses with the deaths of two family members and two friends.  Shaken, I requested no retirement party, and my last day on the job was minus the traditional fanfare.

Coping with losses meant focusing on the health of our precious family unit.  We needed to be there for each other.  My daughter, in particular, was deeply affected and all my energy naturally shifted to her. We also received devastating news that my mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness-another blow that further drew our attentions away from anything other than caring for each other emotionally and physically.  Finally, additional losses and illness-including something that hit my daughter so hard that we almost lost her-seemed to alter all concept of time, meaning and purpose.  We were doing all we could at that point to tread water.

There is no knowing why our family faced so much seeming insurmountable loss in such a short time.  It just was.  And there was no awareness on my part just how much the stress, the grief would affect my ability to cope with everything from the daily rigors of homemaking and childrearing to being a life partner and to being a college student.  In my mind I was still up to the task but I had not realized that I was actually living in shock.

In now obvious denial, I thought we should all resume our respective routines as soon as possible which included me heading back to school. I signed up for classes and showed up the first week thinking I would be able to function!  My professor kept asking me if I was feeling ok.  Guess something didn't look quite right with me.  He could see something that I couldn't at the time. Within a week I had dropped classes and was in therapy.

Looking back on that time now I can't believe that I thought I was ok.  I was akin to the walking dead.  I was terrified of everything, waiting for the next crashing wave to hit.  My daughter was still struggling, I had a son deployed in Iraq and I was still going about my responsibilities of making school lunches, cleaning the house, cooking meals, caring for everyone as best I could.  But.....when the child and husband were asleep I was up.  I developed a need to have the television on for comfort at all times of the day and night and/or was glued to the internet in what was apparently a numbing behavior. Facebook became my sole companion, computer games became my escape.  My health continued to be a challenge and during this year of 'schock' I became reclusive and dependent upon anxiety and sleep medications.  Because I wasn't moving enough yet eating compulsively I packed on the weight.

It is easy to not feel good about letting myself go over the past year.  Because, on the outside, that's what it looks like.  But on the inside we all must cope the best way we know how with what life throws our way.  Ultimately, forgiveness is the best gift we can give our ourselves.  I want to fashion an enormous 'S' for Survivor and emblazen it on the front and back of a shirt and wear it every day to remind myself that I have endured.  Sometimes, that's not merely the best we can do-sometimes to endure is the ultimate success.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

I love old things, color, patterns, and textiles.  No surprise then that I enjoy collecting old quilts-my favorites being crazy quilts.

Crazy quilts respresent life to me in all its random, quirky, odd beauty with much heart thrown in!  I like to think on the woman who breathed life into the quilt as she constructed it from bits of old clothing-perhaps her man's threadbare shirt, her daughter's outgrown castoff dress, a toddler's blanket.  Each remnant that is woven into the quilt is born anew, a life recycled, memories preserved in the textile's patterns, initials of loved ones embroidered with love on a carefully crafted square.

One of the quilts that I absolutely treasure is a 'friendship quilt'-crafted with loving hands of women friends, each working their special squares with embellishments unique to their own lives, mingled with swatches of her companions' lives.  I can imagine the women sharing stories, laughing, perhaps singing, sharing their hopes, their joys, their bittersweet memories as well as the happy ones.  Their handiwork results not only in a masterfully crafted quilt, signed and dated by each friend, but adds to the creation of shared memories between friends and a memory capsule of sorts to be enjoyed for generations.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Listening to our Children

Today I came across an article that is rather timely.  Wish I had read it before a conversation that went a bit south with my teen daughter.  The point of the article is that as parents we, with good intentions, want to 'fix' our children's problems, make the hurt go away, impart our wisdom, etc., etc.  But sometimes we   j u s t  n e e d  t o  l i s t e n  with an open heart and mind.  Our children, especially our teens, are learning to navigate the waters.....we need to let them figure things out, let them know that they are capable, that we believe in them.

The article is worth sharing:

now, to eat my humble pie as I did not just listen to my girl.



Fall's Promise

After a day of frenzied back to school shopping with the girl I welcome the quiet calm of this new morning.  The first week of September means a coolness and slight crispness is in the air.  This is always my favorite time of year-fall has always felt like renewal to me: when I was a child in a turbulent home summers brought a certain dread because I was settled into the home environment, surrounded by a chaos of emotions. So summer's end brought a feeling of hope and stability as I returned to the excitement and safety of school.

To escape the stressful confines of 'home' during the summer months I spent as much time outside as possible.  The woods excited me with their musty smells of damp soils mingled with fir and cedar boughs and the distinctive odor of the western skunk cabbage, Lysichiton Americanus.  The sounds of the forest: the birds, the insects, the frogs of the bogs, the cracking of old twigs under my feet, or the creaking sounds of the monolithic cedars as the limbs swayed in the breezes, all a symphonic score that was the both the sweetest music to my ears and soothing salve for my troubled soul.  The vast fields to the north and west that changed wildly with the seasons: summers turned the tall grasses a golden hue, the sedges prickling my bare legs as I walked.  Animal scat clusters and owl pellets littered the furrows between the grasses.

Summer's close brought the blackening from the field burnings. I watched both with apprehension and excitement as the field workers with their protective gear plodded along torching the grasses creating a smoky low burning fire-and I can still hear the crackling sounds as the dry grasses yielded to the flames.  The soles of my shoes were sooty from walking the freshly charred fields and the pungent smokey smell of the burnt stubbles was sometimes overwhelming but not enough to deter a child from exploring   freshly burned fields.

Fall brought the Indian summers-the horizon just above the fields appeared to glow from the sun's rays and Mt. Hood seemed to loom larger in the view to the east.  There was a certain pick-me-up in the air so my walks were brisk and everything felt quite vibrant.  The deer stayed close to the edge of the fields nearest the woods this time of year yet sightings of their gentle form were frequent and comforting.  The occasional sightings of coyote and fox thrilled me and excited my faithful friend, Koala, our blue-eyed Australian sheepdog.  When she spotted wildlife in the fields her bobbed tail wagged wildly as she stood her post-ears perked, eyes wide, and flashing her widest grin!

Spring brought the rains that washed the discarded remnants of the past from their hidden places down the slopes of the hills in the fields.  After each rain, mother and I would pull on our rubber boots, put on our coats and trudge into the fields to look for arrowheads and other stone tools crafted from the hands of members of the Molalla peoples, the original inhabitants of the area,  and miscellaneous old stuff:  pieces of broken purple glass, old buttons, marbles, broken china-flotsam from the pioneers who lived on the land after the indigenous peoples had been driven out to live a very different life on the Grande Ronde reservation.  My heart was torn between the guilt of enjoying the beauty of the land in our possession while mourning for a people who had lost their lifeways of living in such a lush, abundant environment.

Home meant isolation. If not for nature I would have felt quite lonely. Returning to school brought friends, teachers, and so many BOOKS.  Teachers provided assurances through praise and high marks.   School opened my mind.  The school girl version of me was the modern-female-scientist: at once botanist, zoologist, archaeologist, biologist, astronomer.  If there was a common name-there was a better sounding and far more interesting Latin name.  Every living thing, every object had a scientific name that I had to know.  Field notebooks littered my bedroom floor with notations on every leaf, rock, animal, artifact, star sighting.  I couldn't learn enough fast enough.  The textbooks, reading lists, filled me with knowledge-so much excitement and stimulation. Great works of literature filled my mind and moved my heart. Science teachings brought a keener interest in the workings of nature-the mechanics behind the forming of mountains, soils, rocks, and life itself.   Knowing more meant a deeper, more intimate relationship with the world around me-a world in which I could escape from the darkness of home.  I was genuinely happy at school-and those early years instilled in me a love of learning that is at the core of my being to this day.  And today, with each start of the school year, as I help my daughter prepare for the return to school, as I watch her at 16 years of age just beginning to come into a world of her own doing, I smile as I feel that same sense of wonderment, that refreshing spirit of renewal with the hopes and promise for what lies ahead.