Monday, December 28, 2015

LET'S TALK ABOUT MY BIRTHDAY!

Christmas is over for 2015.  It was great.  Mellow and fairly stress free,  except that just like Thanksgiving, I find there is too much time spent in the kitchen, prepping, serving, and cleaning up.  It feels sort of out of balance, time-wise, for a 30 minute-meal payoff.  Maybe we should all eat more slowly.   We might linger longer if our dining room chairs were more comfortable.  (Re-upholstering with new foam cushions is on the "to do" list for 2016.)

So, let's talk about my birthday!!!

Hub says if I die first, he will be sure to mention at my Memorial Service how much I love my birthday.  And I do!  I don't know why.  I've lamented that it comes so close to Christmas and as a kid it frequently got all rolled into one.  (Now I insist that my gifts NOT be wrapped in Christmas paper!)  But having a holiday birthday is kind of fun too, because the world is already in a festive mood!

This year was a "big" one -- 65.  Our culture has decided this is a milestone birthday, but in thinking about it, that basically came about due to a financial/career decision made at some point that 65 would signify the traditional retirement age and the age at which we Elders get on the dole and can receive Social Security benefits and Medicare.  Now that the retirement age is all over the map and Social Security can be taken "early" or "late", those things don't really signify anything at 65 anymore.  I did get to sign up for Medicare and experienced the learning curve of what the heck "supplemental" insurance is.  But other than that, so far 65 feels a lot like 64.  And likely like 66; we'll see.

I was flattered by the offers from family and friends to throw me a party.  I like my birthday, but I don't like birthday parties.  So I declined.  What I like is an extended birthday celebration, so that's what I created and was treated to.  Perfect-o!

On Birthday Eve I went to my usual morning Yoga class, then off to a Holiday/Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon put on by the social service agency where I worked for 10 years before retiring.  I'm officially volunteering there now two days a month, so I got an invite and a gift card.  It was a nice kick-off to my birthday weekend to spend time there with my BFF and former supervisor, although a bit startling to realize I only knew about a dozen of the 60 or so in attendance.  Time marches on.

That evening a dear friend hosted a dinner party for me.  We six gathered to enjoy her considerable culinary skills in a home decorated beautifully for the holidays.  My women friends (we three are the "Shiny Sisters", a moniker we've adopted and I don't recall why...but who doesn't like shiny things???), gave me lovely gifts, one of which is a bit over the line of R-rated, and a hoot!  Then I was surprised by an after-dinner gathering in the living room where Hub and my friends feted me with prose, poetry, and song.  It was so moving and so beautiful for me to hear (BEFORE the Memorial Service) the ways in which I have touched their lives, the things they appreciate about me, their wishes and blessings upon my "Third Age" stage of life.  Such creativity from my poet, theater, and musician friends!  And Hub moved me to tears by bringing a recording of a song that has special meaning for us -- sort of the story of our tumultuous early married years and the gratitude we have for  our ability to survive and grow in love together to an age we never could have imagined back then.

On birthday morning, I sat around drinking coffee and chatting with Hub, a favorite pastime and one that happens too rarely as we go about our hustle, bustle lives.  Early afternoon I headed for the spa and treated myself to a 90 minute "Vitality" treatment:  foot soak and foot, ankle and calf massage, then a relaxing full body massage with hot stones, then an "anti-aging" eye treatment.  I don't know if I reversed aging at all, but at one point I flashed on that old query:  "On your deathbed what will you wish you'd done differently?"  My answer: I didn't get enough massages.  I'm gonna fix that in 2016.

Late in the afternoon we met friends of 32 years for Happy Hour at one of our favorite local places with a view of Puget Sound and the ferry landing. But the view was secondary.  What I know is no matter where we meet, I am always renewed by their company -- the history of old friends shared, the goofiness, the wit, the laughter.  It was a highlight.

From there we drove to Seattle (in a traffic snarl, reminding us why we so rarely make that trip anymore, sadly) to attend a Kirtan with the amazing Gina Sala.  I'm going to plug my other blog here so you can read about a Kirtan if you don't know what that is (and poke around in the blog for a minute.  I keep telling you it's not just for Yogis!)  : http://circlingthemat.blogspot.com/2015/12/make-joyful-noise-kirtan-coming-to-yoga.html  I was transported, as always, by the warm energy of those in attendance, the music, the mantra.  Ahhh...

On post-Birthday morning, my "kids" all showed up for brunch prepared by Hub.  I had lots of help from our 6 year-old Angel to open presents, the food was delicious and my gratitude for every single moment with them was beyond measure.  I don't know what I thought it would be like to have grown children, their partners, and grandchildren in my life -- I don't think I had a clear idea of it.  Or if I did, I might have assumed they would only show up out of obligation and avoid us when they could.  Imagine my delight that they actually seem to ENJOY family time and coming home to see Mom and Dad.  So blessed.

The afternoon found us in front of the TV, our Sunday ritual, cheering for the Seahawks.  They won!  Then off to a Holiday/Caroling Party which had nothing to do with my birthday, but I included it in my personal festivities nonetheless.  It is such fun to hang out with friends who are musicians.  We are not musical at all, something I regret, so maybe that's why I am drawn to those who are.  We had such fun singing and banging away on various percussion instruments while those who can played guitar and piano.  Plus, yep, I got another lively rendition of Happy Birthday and a Tiramisu cake!

So, now I'm 65 and I think the celebration was worthy of that milestone.  I appreciate those who endure and indulge my birthday every year.  I crammed a lot into that weekend, as well as a get-away BD/holiday weekend the week prior and a sweet and festive BD breakfast with my BFF a few days later.   Then Christmas came along, so it was a busy week.  I've always said December 26th is my favorite day of the year -- a day for relaxing and letting the craziness of December start to fade away; my goal this week is to do just that.

At least, that's the view from here...©


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

SHOPPING FOR FIGS

All was calm, all was bright....until today.   Readers know I have teeny, tiny stress and Scrooge issues around the holiday season.  I always participate, often grudgingly, in all the traditional hoo-hah.  But I mostly just keep December 26th in view, ready for the checkered flag.

But this year, I've been...dare I say it?  Relaxed!  Happy!  Not stressed or resentful or overwhelmed or exhausted.  It's all seemed pretty easy-breezy.  As I said in a previous post, I've cut way back on many of the usual activities of the season and that likely helped.  So yay me!

But today.  Today I tackled the grocery shopping chore of the season.  We do a Christmas Eve Buffet and a Christmas Dinner for the family.  It's usually the same food every year and I'm frankly sick of it, so I decided last year that this year would be different.  I got on Pinterest and found some really cute and easy "finger food" ideas for the buffet, including a dessert that features figs!  Figs!  Just like the song!  Cool, huh?   We are having a different menu for Christmas dinner too.  I'm excited about both.

But it would be hard to overstate how much I HATE to grocery shop.  I mean I truly detest the whole ordeal.  Hub does 90% of our food shopping.  But he is working Monday thru Wednesday this week and we have our grand-girls with us Wednesday and Thursday too, so there was literally no time for him to hit Costco and the regular grocery store in time to have the ingredients here to prep.  So off I went this morning.

Costco was a madhouse by 10:30 a.m.  I drove around forever looking for a parking spot and finally got one a day's hike from the entrance.  Let me say something about shopping carts at this point.  I think we need to institute a cultural norm that when you exit your car and see carts in the parking lot cart coral, you grab one and push it into the store.  I did that this morning and was glad of it because people were literally milling around outside the entrance waiting for someone to bring the carts in from the parking lot and replenish the cart area.  Really?  JUST GO GET ONE!

But most people must not have been in much of a hurry because once inside the store, jammed with  shoppers pushing their Costco-giant-sized carts, one would think the ventilation system was pumping out sleeping potions.  Every single person seemed to move in slow motion in every aisle.  And "keeping right" seemed to be a pie-in-the-sky notion because people generally moved down the very center of the aisles, sometimes two and three abreast, literally coming to a dead stop at frequent intervals to check their lists, chat with an acquaintance, or abandon their cart altogether to head for ubiquitous food sample tables.  Please!  JUST PULL OVER!

I finally made it out of Costco and through the parking lot again where cars were at a standstill waiting for parking spaces to open up.  I should have taken bids on mine, in spite of its distance from the store -- I had three people jockeying for position as I pulled away.

I then had to go the "regular" store, also jammed.  As I headed in, I found myself in the crosswalk in front of the store where pedestrians ALWAYS have the right-of-way.  But as I crossed, a big blue Oldsmobile came bearing down on me.  I really and truly hate to say this because I am a proud and vocal anti-ageism proponent, but the woman driving appeared to be well over 80-85, could barely see over the steering wheel, and had absolutely no intention or thought that she should maybe be stopping for me, even though I WAS RIGHT IN FRONT OF HER as she coasted (thankfully!) to within about a foot of my right leg.  I yelled, "JESUS!  STOP!" and jumped out of the way.  She just kept creeping along, foot never touching the brake, as I turned to watch her proceed at a snail's pace through the parking lot.  I am grateful she wasn't gunning it.  I'd have been a goner.

Here's a pet peeve:  grocery shopping is so inefficient.  I lift the items off the shelf and put them in my cart.  I push them around the store like some precious fragile cargo, then I stand in a long line, pick them up again and put them on the conveyor belt where someone else picks them up to scan, and yet another person picks them up to bag.  Then they are returned to me in my cart, where I wheel them gently to my car and pick them up again (at least now nestled together in bags) and put them in my car.  We drive home, where I pick the bags up yet again (!) and lug them into the house where they are plopped on the counter top and picked up AGAIN! to be put away.  By now I think we've developed such a meaningful and long-term relationship that it's no wonder I don't want to disturb them to pick them all up again to actually cook!  Ugh!  There must be some way to get that food from the store to my kitchen via quantum physics parallel universe convergence or something.  There's far too much touching and lugging.  And I don't even like to cook, so half the time my good intentions come to naught and the perishables perish before they are even put in the pot.

But that won't happen this week, because it's Christmas.  So bring me some figgy pudding...and bring it right here!

At least, that's the view from here....©

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

COME FROM AWAY...AND MORE.

Just thought I'd let you know how December is going so far.  I'm sure you've been curious about my vow to "chill".  So far, so good!

The tree is up and lit.  Ornaments will go on tomorrow.  A few table decorations made it out of the bins after all and I feel happy when I look at them.   Angel and I had a craft-making day on Saturday and cranked out some glittery stars and pipe cleaner/bead candy canes.  I play a couple of hours of Christmas music every day and burst into song all on my own on occasion -- mostly to entertain the granddaughters who seem to find my renditions either pleasing or hilarious.  Me too.

I've taken myself on a few easy, low-key outings.  The Assistance League, a do-gooder organization in town which runs a thrift store, manages estate sales, and provides clothing for low income school children, held a Home For the Holidays Home Tour fundraiser on Monday afternoon.  Being a weekday, most of the attendees were of retirement age and mostly female.  Like me.  It was fun to tour the six historic homes chosen for this year's tour and see them decked out in Christmas finery.  Talk about extravagant!  My practical side kicked in and wondered where they store all that stuff and how much work it must be to get it out, arranged, and put away again.  Also dusting...who dusts?   The tour seemed well-attended in spite of the downpour that day.  We all had to either remove shoes or put on those surgical bootie covers at each house.  That created quite the bottleneck at the entry, but people were of good cheer about it.   I went all by myself, something I rarely do, and had a great time going at my own pace, chatting and laughing with strangers, and seeing a few folks I haven't seen in years.   I enjoyed my own company and had a lovely, holiday-festive time!

On the way home, I stopped by a new coffee shop in town run by a local organization that provides housing, childcare, education, and job training for people who have experienced homelessness.  The coffee shop is their newest enterprise, attached to a vintage/antique retail store.  The proceeds help fund programs and clients work there learning retail job skills.  Starbucks coffee and a favorite local bakery provide the goodies.  I'll be back!

Yesterday was the annual neighborhood Ladies Holiday Tea.  It's a tradition dating back probably 30 years.  I have only gone a handful of times.  The whole "ladies" thing is not my thing.  I was always busy with meaningful work on "tea day" -- driving carpools, working PTA events, being involved in political campaigns, working full time, and just generally being all judge-y about "ladies who lunch". But this year, in my newfound desire to get out of my own way and just do things that sound like they might be enjoyable, with no highfaluting agenda attached,  I went.  Plus it was hosted by a woman right across the street who I like a lot, even though we are both introverts and rarely even talk in person. (We are email friends...weird, but it works for us.)  Well, it turned out to be a blast!  I thought I'd not know many women there, but I knew about half and it was great fun to catch up on neighborhood news, share some festive treats, and connect with others who have lived here for nearly as long as we have, as well as those who are new to the 'hood.  I realized that with 33 years at this address behind us, I am now one of the "old-timers".  Whew!  That's both hard to own and a source of pride.

Last night, was the topper:  A friend and I braved yet another torrential downpour to drive to Seattle to see a play.  We had to park a ways away since the Seattle Center garage was full (so many activities at the Center this time of year!) but that allowed us to see the grounds lit up for Christmas.  City Sidewalks...Busy Sidewalks...Dressed in Holiday Style...

The play was a lively and funny musical: "Come From Away" -- a Newfoundlander colloquialism meaning "not from here".   It was outstanding!  It's a story I knew nothing about.  On 9/11 US airspace was closed and flights from all over the world were diverted hither and yon.  One such place was Gander, Newfoundland, a burg of about 10,000 people on the North Atlantic coast.   On an average day their airport, mainly used by US military, sees 6-8 planes.  On that day, 38 jets landed, carrying nearly 7,000 passengers and crew members from all over the world!

The play is the story of some of those passengers and the residents of Gander who welcomed them with such compassion and caring and generosity, as these folks were grounded and far from home for five days before they could again fly on their way.  The townsfolk provided them with food, clothing, shelter (in their own homes in some cases), medicines, medical care...What an inspiring story!

"Come From Away" is all the rage right now in Seattle -- sold out audiences and extended runs.  Rumor has it, it will be Broadway bound --  a deserving kudo.  Last night was Canadian Night and the actual mayor of Gander was in the audience.  He received a standing ovation when introduced and he spoke briefly.  What a funny and warm, down-to-earth man!

People want to honor and embrace examples of kindness like demonstrated in Gander on that sad day in 2001, and what better season to remind ourselves that there are good people, (many... most, actually) in the world.   I'm still basking in delight and remembering, we've all "come from away" at one time or another.

At least, that's the view from here...©

Saturday, December 5, 2015

PUT ON A HAPPY FACE

So, my BFF (and loyal blog reader/supporter) told me she looked back in this blog's archives.  (NOTE: Remember --there is now a subject index you can use to find posts related to various subjects (top left corner of any blog page; at least it shows up on my computer -- but not on my phone and I don't know why; different formatting for "mobile" sites?  I will never really understand this tech stuff...)

Anyhow...she went back in the archives and re-read some posts from last December and told me I really struggled with the holidays last year.  I haven't re-read them, but I believe her.  I struggle every year.  I both love and loathe this season of "joy", which is so often false, manufactured, forced, and too damn hard to sustain.  I have fleeting moments of joy.  The rest is a lot of work.

So this year I am determined to drop the quest for perfection, the almost OCD drive to create "holiday magic" for my family, and just "chill".  I may go all the way to ... dare I say it?  Selfish! I might actually sit down and decide what I want!

Decorating:  Hub put up some outdoor lights and garlands yesterday, but cut way back since squirrels decimated our lighting extravaganza last year (ate through the cords and ruined a King's Ransom in strings of lights!)  We hung a pretty wreath at the front door, which I love.  I have agreed to a Christmas tree.  I'm thinking that might be the extent of my decorating.  Hauling all those bins out of the attic and setting out a bunch of red/green/gold/silver hoo-hahs all over the house feels like a "should" and I already dread putting it all away.   I think I'll go out and cut some greens and holly and stick a votive amongst the foliage and call it good.  I might buy a poinsettia.

Gifting:  The granddaughters will make out just fine.  I'm focusing on educational, artistic, bookish gifts, but for our Angel I'd better throw in a Disney Princess of some kind.  The baby seems delighted with a set of measuring spoons.  Tee Hee.  The adults -- always a bit of a quandary, but have a few things stashed away in the attic and have a few more ideas.  It will be fine, except I wish all those years ago when I made big stockings to hang by the fireplace with care that I'd used a smaller pattern.  Filling those up is a challenge!

Cooking/Baking:  I suck at both of these and dread the very idea.  But I've been on Pinterest and have some new ideas for our Christmas Eve buffet so we'll see if I actually pull that off.   Christmas dinner is pretty easy -- ham for the fam and a bean burger for me.    Not gonna bake.  Will welcome any gifts of baked goods from friends and family. (Hint!)

Music:  I love Christmas music!  I grew up sharing TV Christmases with Andy Williams, Dean Martin, Lawrence Welk.... I just love those old renditions of holiday music and Christmas carols.  I've got it dialed in on the music channel on my DISH TV -- switching from contemporary to traditional.   Faves:  Silver Bells, Winter Wonderland, Let It Snow, Santa Baby, Silent Night.  Also the Mannheim Steamroller renditions of Christmas classics.

Outings:  I always think we should go into Seattle and do the city thing -- then I think of traffic and parking and crowds and rain; I generally talk myself out of it.  There are so many holiday shows and events to choose from I get a bit overwhelmed.  So, we're going to a Solstice Kirtan on my birthday.  Non-traditional, I know, but will be among friends and my spirit will soar with mantra.  I do hope to find a place to sing some carols at some point; might check out a church somewhere or a community sing thing.  Going to a couple of holiday parties; not hosting any this year, which cuts down the stress considerably.  Hosting means more decorating and more planning and more food prep, so we're taking a break.

Birthday:  Yep.  My birthday falls six days before Christmas, so there is an extra dose of festive in December for me.  I actually LOVE my birthday and I love celebrating it.  Hub and I always go away for a romantic weekend to our favorite little town on the Olympic Peninsula around mid-December; a friend is hosting a BD dinner for me (the milestone of turning 65 seemed to be an occasion for an extra fete), and the family will be by for BD brunch on the big day.   (Note: I do not allow anyone to wrap my gifts in Christmas paper.)

Do I sound curmudgeonly?  I actually don't feel that way.  I feel relieved.  I think I can actually pull this season off without sinking into December Depression if I can stay on top of keeping it simple, making decisions with thoughtfulness and intention, and quieting the "judge" who wants to scream "not good enough!" in my ear.   I'm going to put on a happy face and find gratitude in the little things that truly bring me joy.  Although, I admit, I'm currently working on the fact that the outdoor lights are not quite to my liking -- and parts of the deck garlands are already burned out -- that's totally not prefect from the get-go!   Even so, I hope to look back on this year's Christmas posts and say, "You did it!  You were merry!"

At least, that's the view from here....©


Monday, November 23, 2015

HERE COMES THE SUN...OH NO!

You don't have to tell me this is an ugly hand.  I think I have written before about looking at the ends of my arms and seeing my dad's hands attached.  Twist of genetic fate.   Ruddy, wrinkly, and a shared  disregard for protection from sun, water, detergent...you name it.

But I should have taken a photo at the height of my recent regimen of topical chemotherapy to treat pre-cancerous lesions (keratosis).  This photo is actually one week out from discontinuing the treatment.   Keratosis has the potential of turning into a form of skin cancer -- basal cell or squamous cell.  I've had both already -- a basal cell on my nose and a squamous cell on my leg.  When I was examined recently, my dermatologist detected teeny little red discolorations on my hands and forearms.

So, not wanting to take any chances, she had me smear this creme stuff on the backs of my hands for 3-1/2 weeks.  She said the medication would cause the "bad" cells to show up as red, blotchy areas, a rash perhaps resulting in oozing and scabbing, itching and burning.  I was so looking forward to that!  Of course I went on the internet and treated myself to some truly horrifying stories and photos of what looked like burn victims with skin peeling off.

So, when my hands got some red blotches, a bit of a burning sensation that lasted, oh, about 5 minutes after applying the creme, and a few teeny tiny scabs, I figured I was at the beginning of the descent into hell I'd seen and heard described.  Then, when that didn't happen, I figured I was doing it wrong and the medicine wasn't working.  Have I said I always expect the worst?

Going back for my scheduled re-check, I was declared "good".  My case wasn't so severe and the medicine did exactly what it was supposed to do and I could discontinue it and start on a multiple times a day moisturizing routine as the rash healed.  And I was to never, ever, never again let my skin be exposed to the sun.  Thank you Scandinavian and Northern European heritage.

We have all heard that a lifetime of sun exposure causes cell damage in just about anyone.  For those of us with red hair and blue eyes, the sun really isn't our friend at all.  I never purposely "laid out" in the sun.  I was always too hot and uncomfortable to do it and saw no result other than red.  I never really tanned...not like my blonde and brunette friends who I envied for their bronze, smooth-skinned beauty.  My skin has always been marked by freckles, moles, bumps, and discolorations.  I don't look hideous, mind you, but I still literally stare at women with smooth, flawless skin and wonder what that would be like.  I still envy.

I did get a couple of blistering burns in my 20s.  One on my first trip to California when I fell asleep on an LA beach.  Another on a trip to Georgia when I just stupidly didn't think of putting sunscreen on and got the worst burn of my life.  Duh!  Those were bad.  And we lived in South Carolina for two years in my early 30s and I figured going to the beach every day had inoculated me from damage since for the first and only time in my life, daily exposure led to a teeny tan that didn't seem to burn after awhile.  Ignorance.

I'm paying for those indiscretions now.  And even after living in the Pacific Northwest for 33 years I guess enough sun comes through our infamously cloudy skies to contribute to the problem.

Plus, on the very day I was given the "all clear" on my hands, I also had an eye appointment where the optometrist detected "very early, not to worry yet" changes that could lead to cataract.  WHAT?  "Why?" I asked him.   Seems family history plays a role.  (Thanks Grandma and Mom), as does...sun exposure!  He recommended wearing sunglasses most days -- even those of "bright cloudiness" (This is what we call sunshine during Washington's rainy season -- October to July).

With my new lens prescription I got new regular glasses and new prescription sunglasses.  I have stocked up on odorless sunscreen.  (Yes, I have read recently that the chemicals in sunscreen are also harmful and there is a movement afoot to eschew those products and just let the healing warmth of the sun have its way with us, within reason. So I don't know about that.  I think I'll stick with the sunscreen.)  As for our annual trip to Hawaii...well...you'll find me under the palms, in the shade, wearing a burka.

At least, that's the view from here....©


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

END OF AN ERA

I am feeling discombobulated.  (Love that word!)  Here it is past mid-month and I've not written a post in either of my blogs.  The thought of sitting down to write creates a "thud" in my heart and mind.  What would I say?  I got nothin' for the blog.

It's not really writer's block.  There is ALWAYS something to say.  Writers write.  And I've been writing.  But it's been mostly random thoughts, stream-of-consciousness, journal-puzzling, email responding, all around my decision to leave my UU Fellowship (well, take a long sabbatical) -- the place and community that has been my home-away-from-home for 23 years.

"Leave my church" is a HUGE phrase and one I want to take back the minute I write it.  My church is not a typical Christian church, the image conjured when the word "church" is uttered.  I am a Unitarian Universalist -- a seeker who finds wisdom in all faith traditions and within my own human experience.   We call ourselves not a church, but a Fellowship -- and have taken great pride in our community of "like-minded" people (mostly liberal thinkers and doers) gathering in an old Methodist church building we bought a couple of decades ago, situated in a fairly conservative small town north of Seattle.

Alas, pride goeth before the fall.  This UU community also fancies itself an anti-authoritarian throwback to the glory days of the 60s when "Question Authority" was the rallying cry.  I think it still wise to use our brains and question leaders not acting in our best interests.  But there is process for doing that -- a democratic process that certainly includes replacement of elected leaders through the election process.   There might also be protests and petitions and expressing differing opinions.

But are these appropriate and loving strategies to direct at church leaders, friends who sit across the aisle on Sunday mornings?  Is it OK to give voice to flaring tempers?  To conspiracy theories and rumors?  To name-calling and character assassination?   To promoting an "us" vs "them" divide?  I don't think so.

But that is what has happened over the past few months at my UU Fellowship.  I don't even recognize what it has become.  We had a inexperienced (and some might say, controlling) minister, who started the ruckus with a personnel decision unpopular among some, but supported by others.  She has now resigned after only being in our church for just over a year.  Two months prior to her leaving, I resigned from an important committee chair position because I couldn't work with her any longer for a number of reasons unrelated to her personnel decision (with which I agreed).  Three Board of Trustees members resigned for the same reason.  All of us have left the whole church to some degree or another because of the vociferous faction that rose up in defense of the dismissed volunteer.  Some violated boundaries of confidentiality, decorum, and just good sense.  (Really?  Calling for resignations?  Monopolizing meetings and services with  personal agendas? Calling out our Board of Trustees as Nazis that Hitler would be proud of?  That's going a bit far, don't you think?  Did the good folks on the Board deserve this vitriol?)

So, I've been grieving the loss of what was once a truly loving and supportive community for me.  One in which I devoted thousands of hours of time and energy, as well as thousands of dollars in financial support over the years.  I had so many friends there, so many positive and joyful experiences.  Yes, there were flaws, underlying problems that would surface and then recede, but all- in-all I hung in there, believing (even in the past few years when my involvement seemed like mostly work and worry) that we were "better" than other churches -- we were smarter, more insightful, more loving, more giving, more involved in the community and the world with our activism, more creative and more accepting -- more compassionate.  But nope.  Not so much.

I get the lesson here.  Putting oneself or one's community on a "better than" pedestal is always wrong, and particularly wrong for a church; it never plays out quite that way.  I am humbled at the same time I am sad and disillusioned.  I am grieving.

I'm also excited about the freedom from responsibility and commitment to that institution.  It really was a full-time job at times.  If I wasn't physically there, I was there in my thoughts and plans, talking  about and organizing for this or that committee or event or worship service.  It came only second to my family in importance -- and sometimes (too often) it came first.  I thought about it when I went to sleep, when I woke up, and even during my insomniac nights I'd get up and work on a project of some kind.  Sheesh!  I was completely out of balance!

So, I'm getting quiet now.  Sitting with this stunning turn of events that I never saw coming only a few months ago.  I'm opening myself to new vistas of spiritual growth, personal development, healing and forgiving.

It's just that in that space, writing has taken a back seat.  But I'll be back.  Writers write.

At least, that's the view from here... ©



Saturday, October 31, 2015

I'LL HAVE THE STEAMED YONI, PLEASE.

OK.  Let's explore Yoni Steaming!

First, "yoni".... anyone?  Let me help:  It's the Sanskrit word for "vagina" or "womb". The male counterpart is often referred to as a "lingam" but this isn't a direct Sanskrit translation.  We will go with it for now, though, since it is used in common parlance as such -- if you commonly parlance in these things.

At the World Elder Gathering we attended in Hawaii, there were breakout sessions designed for women only, yoni steaming being one.  I read the description of this deeply spiritual practice of womb honoring and it cracked me up.  I admit right here and now the ONLY reason I signed up was for blog fodder.  I mean, really!  Who wouldn't???  Besides, even after reading the description of the practice, I was unclear how my yoni could get steamed (other than the usual way).  I was on a research mission.

I showed up to the session with nine other women and found a circle of yoga mats, each with a 5- gallon bucket placed upon it, surrounding a beautiful altar laid out on a colorful scarf in the middle of the circle.  The young woman leading the session greeted us with a brilliant smile and warm, welcoming manner.  She was beautiful, 25 or so I'd guess, wearing a midriff baring halter and long skirt.  She had perfect skin.  I notice skin these days since I'm currently undergoing topical chemotherapy on my hands for pre-cancerous lesions, but that's another story.

I chose my mat and bucket and looked around.  The other women (ranging I'd guess from 55-75 years of age) looked as bewildered as I, but certainly game for the experience.  There was also giggling.

Our leader asked us to sit quietly and started us off with a guided meditation on the deep spiritual significance of our womanly bodies, focusing on the womb and its many wonders as a place of procreation, shelter, a place of power, and insight.  I'm a sucker for a good guided meditation.  I was getting into it, but kept being a tiny bit distracted by the technicality of having no womb.  (Hysterectomy: 2001)  I wondered if I was committing fraud by being there.

Next we did a check-in where we went around and talked of our responses to the meditation, so I mentioned this fraudulent feeling and my years of infertility and anger at my body and parts that didn't work right, tears welled in my eyes...what the hell?!?  This wasn't funny anymore!  I actually dropped my cynical, "I'm only here for the material" stance and shared honestly.  As did everyone else.  We were assured that the "womb space" remains regardless of actually having the anatomically correct apparatus.  I found this oddly moving.

But then it was finally time to start the actual steam, so I regained my bemused affectation and waited patiently while our leader poured a hot (steaming!) herbal potion into glass mixing bowls (like a yummily-scented tea).  The herbs were a mixture meant for post-menopausal women.  She knew her audience.  Once poured, each bowl was placed inside the 5-gallon bucket and a beautifully crafted smooth wooden toilet-type seat (think luxurious outhouse) was placed over the bucket.  We shed our undies, picked up our long skirts, and lowered our nether parts onto the seat where the steam was rising to bathe our yonis in a nice warm elixir of nurture.   It felt pretty great.

The idea was to do a 20 minute sit.  (I thanked my Yoga and meditation practices for the core and back strength to remain in an upright and unsupported position for this long).  While sitting, our leader did a simple singing bowl performance (so soothing) as well as a Goddess chant in Sanskrit (beautiful voice).  The yoni tissues, being warmed by steam, relax and swell and she says the vaginal space opens to allow the steam to rise to the womb space...I don't know about that.  But it did feel nice -- not in a sexual way, but more like an "ahhhh...." relaxing massage sort of way.  She encouraged us to vocalize with her.

I've done this before in other settings, including Yoga classes, and always feel a bit self-conscious.  But we all sort of started to hum or hiss or sing as she made the singing bowl ring and it was actually quite lovely.

Until I detected a disturbance on the other side of the room.  I opened my eyes and realized our leader had walked to the entrance to dissuade a MALE conference attendee from walking through our Yoni Steaming space to get to his room.  Uh...NO!  I saw her motion to him silently to go away, as she shook her head no.  He ignored her!  He walked right through (along the wall at least, not in the middle of our circle).  It totally funked my vibe!  I was so pissed at male privilege, discounting women, abuses suffered at men's hands -- maybe I projected a bit of historical patriarchy on the poor guy who just wanted to take a nap, but sheesh!  I do have to think he didn't know what he was walking into and was likely completely appalled to find ten Elder women sitting on buckets, "vocalizing".  I hope the image haunts his dreams for years to come, because he acted like a total lingam!

When steam time came to an end we de-throned and arranged ourselves in a lying down position on our Yoga mats for a few moments of Savasana (basically lying still in a quiet, meditative frame of mind).  Then we sat and did a check out and to a woman, there did seem to be a theme of feeling nurtured, healed, and renewed by the experience.  Go figure.

I left still thinking the whole idea was a bit bizarre.  And I do see the humor in suggesting this as a "girls night out" activity.  But let me say this:  When women come together, stories are told.   This exercise ended up being surprisingly moving.  Once past the curiosity and giggles, we shared our stories -- of shame, abuse, infertility, miscarriage, abortion, of being sexually active or of sex being a distant memory -- the stories of women's bodies, women's lives.  By focusing our attention with loving intention on a body part that is both worshipped and vilified, both caressed and violated, we took back what belongs to us.  We loved ourselves back to wholeness.  And that is no laughing matter.

At least, that's the view from here...©


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

STARRY, STARRY NIGHT...OR NOT

"Are the stars out tonight?...I don't know if it's cloudy or bright..."  Do you remember that line from a song to which I don't recall the title? (Name that tune!)   Well, we went stargazing in Hawaii.

We booked a pricey tour (a rarity for us). We justified it by recognizing the opportunity to get to the top of Mauna Kea with a guide doing all the driving and narrating, have a dinner on the way, see the sunset from up top, and get a close-up of the night sky through their telescopes (a 7-1/2 hour tour).  The cost suddenly seemed worth it.

With great anticipation we met our driver/guide at the tour headquarters in Kona-Kailua.  A few others from our tour were also there.  We got on our brand new and really comfy14 passenger mini-bus and headed out, with high spirits.  We drove about 15 miles -- to pick up more passengers.  We drove another few miles -- to pick up our pre-made picnic suppers (BBQ chicken or Tofu wrap).  We drove another 30 miles to pick up more passengers.  All along the way our guide entertained and educated us with Hawaiian history and lore, geology and culture.  Still -- it's a lot of driving and the first hour basically felt like we were getting nowhere as we went out of the way to make stops.  No matter I was still so excited!

Our fellow tourists were a fine group.  I had already pegged the young couple across the aisle from us as newlyweds, which turned out to be the case as I learned as we all took turns introducing ourselves.  The give-away for me was the way the new husband kept fingering and twirling his wedding band.  My son did the same when he was first married with a similarly startled, contented, quizzical look while contemplating the ring finger.  There was another newlywed couple from Seattle (vintage Mariners T-shirt made us recognize their home town), a middle-aged couple who met on E-Harmony -- he the talkative one from Houston who seemed annoyed that the task of teaching his grandson to hunt deer fell to him since his son refused to do it.  Generational clash, I guess.  There was a lovely couple from England who asked insightful questions listening carefully and with interest to the answers.  I don't recall details about the others,  but all seemed very happy to be on the tour and eager for the star experience.

We stopped at the base of the road to the summit of Mauna Kea.  An old sheep shearing station, abandoned, provided a picturesque backdrop for our picnic supper set out at tables under a big awning tent.  The food was surprising tasty and we enjoyed the time to wander around, shooting photos and starting to acclimate to altitude.  We were at 7000 ft. elevation.  We were encouraged to drink as much water as possible (they provided souvenir water bottles) to ward off any elevation-related dehydration headaches.  I hate headaches.  I drank.

Back on the bus we continued up, up, up.  At about 8,000 ft. elevation we stopped again to see a huge radio wave receiver just like the ones in that old movie, Contact.   Still looking for life in the great beyond.  I filled my water bottle and kept drinking.

Up we continued, passing the visitor center at 9000 ft. elevation and venturing onto the 4 mile section of dirt road that is recommended for 4-wheel traffic only.  It was a washboard, but not terrible.  Plenty of "regular" cars were braving it, but car rental companies probably frowned on the practice.

Finally, we reached the summit.  The elevation was just under 14,000 feet.  The wind was blowing like crazy.  The tour company provided parkas for which I was most grateful.  We knew enough to wear long pants and real shoes.  I couldn't believe there were people up there in flip-flops, T-shirts and shorts!  At top are a variety of observatories housing research telescopes of varying sizes.  While they are guarded by park rangers, they are not necessarily staffed by the scientists who study the Universe.  Each is hooked to a computer somewhere else and the computer tells the telescope what to look at and remotely aims it in that direction.  Arm-chair astronomy!  The landscape was stark but hauntingly beautiful.

I would really have enjoyed it a lot more if.....I hadn't followed the hydrating directions to extreme.  I got out of the bus and felt the predicted lightheadedness of high altitude, but no headache (yay!).   But, the predominant bodily sensation was "I gotta pee so bad!" -- distractingly bad.  The two Port-A-Potties were down the hill about a hundred yards.  I knew my lightheadedness would make the trek back up the hill more than a little uncomfortable.  I noticed the sun beginning to set behind a bank of clouds, but all I could focus on was my brimming bladder.  Hub, what a trooper, found a big transformer box at the back of the parking lot and guided me behind it where he stood guard while I dropped trou and squatted.  When ya gotta go, ya gotta go.

We rushed back to the western edge of the parking lot and just caught the sun descending into a cloud.  It was stunning.  And quick.  Within a few minutes we were back on the bus heading to the Visitor Center where we'd get to see the majesty of the Galaxy, the Main Event!

Except we were no sooner underway when those clouds thickened, darkened, and let fall a dowsing rain that didn't let up and which also provided us a thunder and distant lightning display.  We still stopped at the Visitor Center, hopeful the storm would pass.  It didn't.  No stars.  We loaded up again and drove the 40 miles back to where we'd started six hours earlier.  The driver was markedly quiet and drove much faster -- like a horse to the barn.  I felt it was a long day and a long drive for a picnic and a hurried sunset.

To say we were disappointed is an understatement.  So much so that we went back on our own a few days later --not to the top, but to the Visitor Center where the skies were clear but the moon had waxed to half-full and its brightness created a glow that made many of the stars disappear in the moonlight.  We did look through the telescopes there and saw craters on the moon, rings around Saturn, and a star cluster.  So all was not lost.  The tour company gave us a 30% refund and the brownie muffin we had on the way off the mountain was outstanding, so there's that.

What I know now is that the starry night sky in Kalani was the most magnificent sky we would see on the whole trip, planned tour notwithstanding.  A good reminder to appreciate what's right in front of me instead of thinking the grass is greener, or the sky is starrier, somewhere else.

At least, that's the view from here... ©

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

ELDERS IN THE JUNGLE

I am so happy to be home.  I am not a good traveler, actually.  I used to long to run away, crave a change of scenery and an escape from my "real life".  Now I am sort of amazingly content to stay home.  I still enjoy the occasional change of scenery, but I rarely feel a craving or need for it.  When I do, a few days away and I'm renewed and ready to come home.  Everything I love is right here.  Plus, traveling is full of "hassle-factor" frustrations and physical discomforts -- two things I've worked hard to NOT have in my life!  (Like NOT having WiFi on the trip and unable to blog it in real time!)

But anyway, we just got back from the "Big Island", Hawaii.  We had not visited there for 27 years -- I recall Son-One was 3 yrs old and held my hand the entire time.  Literally.  And thanks be to the gods, I remember even at the time telling myself that in spite of how clung to I felt, to cherish that time since it wouldn't be long before he would shun my outstretched hand.  I was right.  Son-Two was 18 months old and hated every minute of the trip, fussy and out of sorts most of the time.  Now he loves to jet off to new places.  I wonder now why parents even want to travel that far with little tiny children -- but we saw plenty of them doing it, as we did so long ago.

This time it was just the two of us and the impetus was to attend the World Elder Gathering of the Mankind Project, in which Hub has been actively involved for nearly 20 years.  Yep, from parents of wee ones to "elders".  We've come a long way.  The gathering of about 150  elder men and women (over 50 years old) was held at Kalani Resort, in the Puna District south of Hilo -- the jungly wet side of the island.  We lucked out and had perfectly sunny skies nearly the whole time (one night of rain, while we slept).  Kalani is beautiful.  Here, cruise through the website:  https://kalani.com  Our accommodation was the largest of the Treehouse rooms and it was heavenly to sleep in a room largely enclosed by only screens, letting in the welcome breezes (when there were some...it was very hot and humid!  We were grateful for the fans!) as well as the sounds of nature, including the invasive Coqui  tree frogs that set to "singing" at dusk and well into the night.

The schedule was jam-packed with programming for men and women separately and men and women together.  One co-ed presentation that most motivated me was by a physician who spoke about nutrition and advocated a mostly vegan diet both for health and the planet.  His claim was that most modern ailments are diet-related and I saw his points.  Hub thought he was a bit on the extreme side, but we both noted places where we could be more conscientious consumers of food and resources.   Kalani itself it devoted to sustainability and healthy cuisine, so we got a good start at the retreat.  Today I'm getting a new crock-pot.

At one of the women's sessions we created a croning ritual that was joyful and moving.  I know the word "crone" has taken on a seriously negative connotation, but it is actually a term of respect and recognition of a woman in her wisdom years and I can embrace that.  The ritual was for each woman to enter the circle, wearing a length of fabric as a belt,  and state an answer to the questions:  1.  What have you learned?  2.  What are you now learning?  3.  What will you teach?  It was profound to hear the answers. Then, as she stood alone, five women at a time approached her with a 3 foot length of ribbon upon which was written a characteristic that had served them in their lives and with which each wanted to bless the new crone, i.e., love, compassion, strength, humor, courage, etc.  Each woman tied her ribbon to the belt and said "I bless you with...courage (or whatever her word).  At the end of the ritual the crone stood alone in the circle wearing her new crone skirt flowing with 20 colorful ribbons writ with words of affirmation and received the blessing of the group.   It was quite beautiful and for some extremely emotional.

One afternoon there were breakout sessions for women on various topics.  I chose Yoni Steaming.  Of course.  Because how could one pass up an opportunity to experience that???

At least, that's the view from here...



Most were from the US, some from U.K., a lot from Australia.
The Gathering in the main building.
Sitting area in our "treehouse" (Second story walk-up on a hill really felt like a treehouse!)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME...

I was born Donna Jones (no, not my real last name).  Then I married and became Donna Smith (also not a real name).  Then Hub and I separated for a year early in our marriage and I informally started to use Jones again.  Then we reconciled and I decided to hyphenate Jones-Smith, so I was Donna Jones-Smith.  At this point, thinking I'd finally accommodated the patriarchy in a way I could almost live with, I filled out a "change of name" form and sent it in to the Social Security Administration asking for a new card with my new and improved name.  No questions asked, they sent me one.

About ten years after that I decided I no longer wanted the unwieldy and confusing hyphenated name (my real unmarried name is unusual -- eight letters long and no one can spell nor pronounce it).  So I just took back and starting using my LEGAL, married name, Smith.  Done and dusted.  I thought.

With my 65th birthday looming, I am being inundated with offers for Medicare Supplemental insurance.  I've mostly just tossed it all in the recycling bin, but Hub alerted me to the fact that maybe I'd better take a look at it and get myself signed up sooner rather than later since, you never know, there could be a glitch in the smooth-running bureaucracy that is the U.S. Government.  So I got online and started to fill out the electronic Medicare enrollment form.  I got as far as my name.  Glitch.

Immediately I got the error message that my name and my social security number did not match.  Try again.  I went to the safe and pulled out my old SS card and there it was Donna Jones-Smith.   Hmmm....that's right.  I did that about 35 years ago, didn't I?   Well, no prob.  I'll just run down to the SS office and have them put in a change order for a new card.

I gathered up all my "proof of identity" documents to prove I was LEGALLY Donna _______.  That little name discrepancy on my SS card, was just a brief flirtation with trying to claim some sense of identity not tied to my husband.

Allow me to digress here to rail agains "the man".  Could there be a more soul-deadening, impersonal place (except Walmart) than any government benefits office?   I mean really:  I was greeted by an unsmiling "guard" at the door who instructed me to wait  in line to check in at a touch screen computer kiosk to be assigned a number.  With number print out in hand, I took a seat among the 30 or so people in rows racing a window too high to see out.  A TV screen displayed the numbers currently being served, but they were typically one or two numbers behind, which I knew because periodically some unseen, disembodied voice announced "Now serving number A202 at Window 3 or some such.  If you were in the restroom and missed this, well, get to the end of the line.  Also, some lucky folks (or likely not so lucky in life) had an actual scheduled appointment.  If this was the case, a young woman emerged from behind a locked steel door at the back of the room, talking to the backs of heads of rows of folks who may or may not speak English or have a hearing challenge,  and in a voice barely audible said, "Anderson; is Anderson here?"   Then, having given "Anderson" a full 3 seconds to respond, she turned and walked back behind the door, as it banged close behind her.   How hard would it be to be actually HELPFUL to people?  To be friendly?  To be reassuring?  No one is sitting in the Social Security office for any good reason.  So frustrating and sad.

But back to me.  I rather quickly (50 minutes wait) found my number being called.  I went to the woman in Window 4 and explained my dilemma and how easy it would be to fix it..."Here are all my documents...."  "Nope, don't need them,"  she said.  "I can't do anything without a court order."  "A court order for what?" I asked.  "A name change", she answered.  "But wait, I'd be changing my name from my sort of made up version of both my names to what is already my LEGAL name."  "I know, I understand," she said with a tinge of sympathy. "But I can't do anything about this until you get your name changed in court."  "But last time all I did was fill out a form..."  "I know, it used to be like that.  It's not anymore.  I can't do anything without a court order."

So, off I went on Monday morning to District Court.  I filled out a Petition to the Court for a Name Change and paid my $131.00 fee.  Yes.  $131.00 to change my name to my legal name, which already appears on every legal document I have in my possession, expect my SS card.   My court date was set for two days later, today.

This morning I showed up early, waited in line to proofread my Petition, then in line to enter the court, then in line to have my case heard, which took about 3 minutes for my new/old name to be approved by the judge, then waited in line to get my notarized duly signed and stamped Court Order showing my name change.  I drove back to the SS office, and was delighted to find I DID NOT have to sign in and wait for my number to be called again.  For some reason there was special dispensation for this matter of business and I got to stand in a designated area of the lobby and see the next available worker because I had a "pass".  It turned out to the be very woman I'd spoken with two days ago.  She was friendly and also appalled that I'd had to pay so much to not really change my legal name, but just to correct my name in their system.

Lesson learned.  The patriarchy wins.  You will either have your father's name or your husband's name or a combination of them both unless you just choose your own name (which you will need to do in court, believe me.)   So I say pick a name and stick to it.  Just live with it, whatever your decision.  And for God's sake don't mess with the Social Security Administration.

At least, that's the view from here...©

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

USA! USA! USA!

AND NOW.. the last installment of the D.C. adventure:  The Big Buildings.

THE WHITE HOUSE:  My fondest wish for this trip was to get a White House tour.  I contacted my Congressman's office in late June because that was the soonest we knew we were traveling to the East Coast.  As it turns out, I was far too late to get inside the White House.  Applications are taken 6-8 months ahead of a visit to D.C. in the summer.  So, we stood outside and took pictures through the fences.  My heart pounded like I was sighting a rock star.  I am a political junkie and most especially for presidential politics and most especially I have deep regard for this president, Barack Obama.  Our hotel was close to the White House so we ended up walking past it frequently.  One day we watched a heated and rather scarily escalating protest outside the gates between people from Saudi Arabia and Yemen.  Security forces moved the tourists out of the area but before we shuffled  along a safe distance away, I felt a sense of pride for our Constitution which affords the right to gather and engage in free speech, no matter who you are or what you have to say.  This was also in great evidence at nearly every public monument we visited where Christians with bullhorns took to their "pulpits" to preach to passersby at high decibel levels.  I may not agree with their religion, but I was happy they could do it.



THE SUPREME COURT:  Tears welled in my eyes as I approached the stairs to the iconic Supreme Court building.   I don't know why my emotions were so raw.  I do know I am a sucker for pomp, circumstance, history, and tradition.  I guess because the Supreme Court, in theory, is above the political fray, it holds a place of esteem in my mind as the branch of government we can count on to get it right.  (But not always....Bush did not win that election and Citizen's United is a blow to our democracy.)  Sitting in the chambers of the court -- rather a modest room -- moved me deeply.  The tour guide was full of inside information, historical facts, and an obvious love for the Court.  I bought a pocket Constitution in the gift shop.


THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS:  Oh, I do love a library!  This is a big, beautiful one.  The
building itself is awe-inspiring.  It epitomizes all the architectural wonders of our capital city.  Stone, marble, sculpture, relief, stained glass, murals, wood, soaring ceilings, wide swooping staircases...and a collection from Thomas Jefferson's personal library on display.

THE CAPITOL:   Our consolation prize for not getting into the White House was a private guided tour of the Capitol building by an intern from our Congressman's office.  She is a fine young woman, who aspires to a job with the State Department.  (I'd advise her to lose the sorority girl "vocal fry" speech and the habit of ending every statement with a question mark?)   We found the Capitol building to be confusing, noisy, hard to navigate, requiring lots of backtracking and winding down long and institutional looking corridors, emerging into big beautiful rooms, then ducking again into the abyss of confusion.  The rotunda is encased in scaffolding for restoration, both inside and out.  So we didn't see that.  Maybe that is the centering feature of the place, and with it being hammered upon, entropy and chaos have ensued.  I don't know.  I did leave wondering if the anger, partisanship, animosity, back-biting, and ineffectual lack of meaningful legislation is the cause or the effect of the building's chaotic nature.  I wouldn't want to work there either.

Everywhere we went, on every street, stood huge government buildings we hear about but never really visualize -- The FBI, The Treasury Department, The State Department, Health & Human Services, Department of Agriculture, all the Smithsonian Institute buildings -- even a National Botanical Garden which I'd never heard of and it's fabulous!  I felt like a backwoods girl in her first visit to the "big city".  I told you I'm a sucker for this stuff.  I'd like to have the marble concession (so beautiful!) as well as the security contract for government buildings.  We were searched at every entrance to every building; all had barricades of some type surrounding them; often gates, dogs, and armed guards were in evidence and sirens wailed 24/7 as police, fire, and ambulance sped to some disaster or another.  Big city.  Big city trying to protect itself.  It made me sad.

Opinion:  In my first D.C. post I posed the question:  Can a die-hard Liberal Democrat actually succumb to feelings of patriotism?  This is a no-brainer.  Questioning our leaders and the policies they enact is the mark of a Democracy.  But one would think that any criticism of the Conservative status quo these days is tantamount to treason.  I, for one, am a patriotic optimist.  I believe that progressive ideas, compassion for others, reason, intellect, and emotionally literate people of integrity will win the day -- regardless of party affiliation.  Walking around Washington D.C. I was filled with pride and hoped desperately that the virulent contentiousness of the past couple of decades will subside soon so we can all embrace this Grand Experiment in democracy with humility and hope.  This country is mine too.  And I love it.

At least, that's the view from here...©


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM. I MEAN DAYS..AND DAYS...

Washington D.C. has a large number of impressive museums.   We spent hours and hours touring them on our trip earlier this month.  We ambitiously thought we'd sail through two or so a day.  We were wrong.

Who designs modern museums anyway?  These are not dusty old repositories of used up things anymore; they are works of architectural and design excellence.   In my last post I mentioned that I felt I had inhabited different worlds in D.C.  These museums were part of the reason why.  Entering each one meant entering a universe of multi-sensory experiences.

Ford's Theater:  After milling around in the bright street level lobby/bookstore we were led down a flight of narrow winding stairs to another world -- the world of Lincoln's Washington during the Civil War years leading up to his assassination.  The museum was set up as a an old cobblestone street with "storefront" displays and artifacts of the time.  Then we were invited to climb two narrow winding staircases to the Theater itself where we took seats in the balcony to hear an historian describe the night Lincoln was shot.  We looked across the theater to the very box where Lincoln and his party had sat.  History came alive.  Across the street we visited the Petersen House where the wounded Lincoln was carried and died the next day.  That museum continued on with experiential displays of the manhunt which ensued and finally a depiction of the hanging of John Wilkes Booth and his accomplices.

The National Gallery of Art:  I remember 30-plus years ago spending 3 days in a row at the National Gallery -- my Art History Minor studies still fresh in my mind.  This time, as I wandered through the galleries for about four hours, I found myself awed again.... and impatient.  I think Hub was proving a point -- I always say we do the things HE wants to do, but rarely do we go to a poetry reading or an art gallery.  He insisted that we see each and every painting and sculpture in each room of the gallery.  I tired before he did.  HaHa, funny Hub.  (The outdoor sculpture garden renewed my energy after we exited the indoor works.)

The National Museum of American History:  Wow!  We never made it to Air & Space Museum because we ended up spending seven hours inside this one!  The exhibits were divided into themed rooms and each was a world into itself.   Two highlights:

Next Stop: Oak Park Avenue  In the American on the Move exhibit there was a full scale display of a Chicago Transit Authority (CTA)"el" station, with an actual elevated train car we could enter and sit in.  Immediately we were back in Oak Park and Chicago where we lived, went to school, and worked as young marrieds from 1973-80.  So many memories flooded back and we delighted in reminiscing about our twice daily commutes into the city from our little apartment and first house in Oak Park (western suburb just adjacent to the Chicago city line) -- the time I was groped, of course; the time my friend Sara fell asleep, her head resting on a stranger's shoulder next to her; the time a friend working at the Medical Center filled a giant balloon with nitrous oxide and I transported it home in a crowded el car to a party for recreational use.  (A looooonnnnngggg time ago!)

Oh Say Can You See?  In another display (sponsored by Ralph Lauren, for some reason!) was a dramatic display of the actual Star-Spangled Banner -- the flag which had flown over the burning capitol in 1814 inspiring Frances Scott Key to write the poem we know so well (set to the popular 1700's tune of a song celebrating drinking and sex -- also very American.)  The flag, spread out flat on an angled floor panel, was displayed in a darkened room with stark spotlights and a star-lit ceiling.  The places where it had been cut during one point in history and portions of it given away as souvenirs was evident.  But the majesty was still there.  Hearing the story told, reading of the very real fear the people of that time felt, worried that their fledgling nation would not survive the British attempt to wrest control yet again, I felt myself filled with the same sense of relief and resolve they must have felt.  I wept with patriotic pride standing there listening to the familiar melody, so challenging to sing, and the words I've ridiculed for their glorification of war.  In that moment, in that context I was so moved.  I got it.  I just don't get what it has to do with sporting events.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:  I didn't want to go.  Hub has been there twice before, both visits cut short by tight scheduling.  He wanted to go spend more time.  He said it was difficult but worth the discomfort; it was important.  He was right.  About the difficulty.  And the importance. Talk about entering a different world.  It was extremely crowded, but everyone moved through the museum in hushed silence as the crowd of museum-goers moved together through the dark times of Hitler's rise to prominence.  We watched emerge his rapid, unquenchable thirst for ultimate power, fueled by his belief in a "master race" and his subjugation of the Jewish people -- and many others he deemed inferior.  It was stunning in it's stark depiction of the concentration camps, the ignorance and willful denial of the world's citizens, the incomprehensible cruelty of those who carried out the "extermination" plan and the abject horror and hopelessness of those caught in the Nazi net.  At one point I had to leave the gallery to compose myself -- tears streaming from my eyes.  But I came back; I faced what was there to see, to contemplate.  The very last display was of current events -- recent examples of genocide from Pol Pot in Cambodia to the current crisis in Syria. It was a call to action.

Smithsonian Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden:  We had to be outside.  We had to find beauty and whimsy after such an emotional immersion.  At the Hirshorn we found it.


National Museum of the American Indian:  By now we were seeing a common theme.  History is
the story of people rising to power, acquiring land, subjugating or eliminating the peoples and cultures of those who had come before, and then eventually losing it all to greed and a new wave of conquest.  Our little "Angel", our step-granddaughter is Native Choctaw and Caucasian/Cherokee on her birthfather's side of her heritage.   I read of the people on the Trail of Tears and wept for the loss of their homelands.  Yet,  the beauty and resilience of Native cultures is inspirational.   This museum has the unique Mitsitam Cafe, composed of five food stations featuring cuisine of the Native people of the Northern Woodlands, South America, the Northwest Coast, the Great Plains, and Meso America.  What a delight to sample a variety of dishes prepared with traditional ingredients, cooked with traditional methods.  A cafeteria feast of culture.

This is a long post, huh?  Imagine how sore your feet would be if you were me actually spending hours and hours in these museums!  I did it for you; you're welcome.  Until you get to D.C. yourself, I encourage you to Google each of these museums for lots of information I didn't provide and to fact check what I said.  I could have it all wrong; my memory isn't super sharp sometimes.  What is true, however, is how grateful I am to live in a country that provides access to these national treasures free of charge to its citizens.  We are so blessed.

At least, that's the view from here...©

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

MONUMENTS & MEMORIALS

Washington DC seems like a million miles away, instead of a mere 2764.5.  I'm home now, sitting in my favorite chair watching the the faint hints of pink fade to darkness in a dusky sky, the Cascade Mountains etched in blue on the horizon.  Yep.  A million miles in my mind and nearly 3000 in reality, I am definitely in a different world than I was a few days ago.

Different worlds.  I thought about that quite a lot during our trip to the nation's capital.  We purposely decided to do the whole DC "tourist thing".  I had not been there for 34 years, which when I figured that out stunned me greatly.  Where does the time go?  Hub had been there a couple of times without me, once taking Son-One along when he was in college -- a Political Science major.  How could you not?  But this trip for me was one long-delayed by distance, child-rearing, job responsibilities and competing travel priorities.  I started to get insistent that I go before Obama is out of the White House.  I am such a supporter of his that I felt a pull to be there when he was.  I figured he and Michelle had been waiting for me to stop by long enough!

We already had a plan to visit my brother and his family in Jacksonville, FL and Savanna, GA.   A
jaunt up the eastern seaboard seemed in order.  Landing at Reagan Int'l. and cabbing into downtown DC, catching glimpses of the Washington Monument, reminded me of the awe with which I view that city.  It became even more so the next day.

We had the good fortune to be able to stay at the Mayflower Hotel, a gorgeous building on the National Historic Register, situated in the heart of the business district and within walking distance of just about everything we wanted to see and do.  Of course, when I say "walking distance" that is a subjective determination.  To Hub, nearly everything is within walking distance.  He'd just returned a couple of weeks prior from a Mt. Rainier camping trip where he'd hiked 12 mile mountain tail loops over rough terrain.  A mere city sidewalk was nothing to him.  As for me, I had been told the Metro is a fine way to get around.  But walk I did.  I gave that new FitBit quite a workout!

Day 1 saw me rack up 8.6 walking miles as we visited nearly every monument and memorial on the
National Mall:  Washington, Lincoln, MLK, FDR, Jefferson, World War II, Korean War, Viet Nam War.  At each one we took the obligatory photos and read all the inspiring quotes and descriptions.  I felt I was in a living history book, recalling being taught of the feats of these great leaders, of the battles of these great wars.   The monuments are enormous, the settings breathtaking, the artistry of the marble and sculpture inspiring.  Yet, the pattern I saw clearly was the history of our country told through the lens of war and the strength of the men who fought in them.  I began to look for any hint of women in the history of country.

At the Vietnam Memorial, just across from the stark black wall of names inscribed there, is the Vietnam Women's Memorial, a bronze sculpture depicting three women,  one of whom is tending a wounded soldier.  The sculpture was created by New Mexico artist Glenna Goodacre. This is the first memorial ever erected honoring the sacrifice of women serving in war, the project spearheaded by former Army nurse,  Diane Carlson Evans.  While I was moved by the iconic wall of names, tears came to my eyes when I stood at the the Vietnam Women's Memorial, drawn to the detailed faces sculpted in bronze of a young man in agony and woman ministering to him with great compassion.  All of the old evening news segments from the 60's came to me, where we watched the horror of war unfold in our living rooms a world away.

By the time we walked a dirt path skirting the Tidal Basin, heading to the Jefferson Memorial, I had developed a blister, was beet red in the face from the 93-degree heat and humidity, my sundress sticking to me and just about "monument-ed" out for the day.  But also grateful for the opportunity to explore these historical monuments, remembering classroom history and feeling a renewed sense of pride and connection to my country.

Could a diehard Liberal Democrat, our ilk so often reviled for not being unquestioningly pro-American, actually have a hint of patriotism springing up in her heart?  A question to ponder.

At least that's the view from here....©

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A LITTLE BIT OF FITBIT

Well, it's all the rage, huh?  Do you have one?   The wrist computer gadget that gives a continuous readout of time of day, number of steps walked, stairs climbed, current heart rate, miles walked, and calories burned?

If you also access Fitbit.com and the mobile app all of this info is automatically downloaded and calculated, along with the option of entering items consumed in a really terrific food log and voila!  You know all about your calorie consumption, calories burned, etc etc.  You can set a weight loss goal if that's your thing and even decide how long you want to work toward it -- fast, medium, or slow.   Check it all day long on your computer or smart phone!

There is even an option for connecting with Fitbit friends to share info on your progress and urge each other along.  AND if you wear it overnight it will tell you how long you slept, how often you woke up, and how many times you were restless.  I know...a bit scary, huh?

I don't do the sleep part because I like to sleep without anything strapped to me or hanging on me -- no jewelry and certainly no computer!

But during the day, my purple Fitbit is my new best friend.  It's oddly motivating to get that immediate feedback.  Fitbit emails me "badges" if I accomplish some pre-determined feat of excellence.  I pay little attention to them, but it is sort of fun to get an "atta girl" for my efforts.


Fitbit has decided that 10,000 steps is the daily goal.  I don't always make it, but I find myself not worrying about having to make extra trips up and down stairs or out to the garden or down the driveway to pick up the newspaper, because I know I'm getting more "steps and stairs" in.

The first time I got to 10,000 steps I was sort of freaked out.  I had no idea my Fitbit would throw a little party on my wrist for this accomplishment.  I was being neighborly and had walked across the street to gather up a few days' newspapers still on the sidewalk leading up to front door.  They were on vacation.   I got almost to their property line when my Fitbit began to vibrate like crazy for a few seconds.  I stopped dead in my tracks!

I thought I'd triggered an "Invisible Fence" system used to keep dogs in the yard.  We used to have one.  It would cause the dog collar to vibrate in warning that if our pup went another 4 feet, he'd get an unpleasant "correction" (mild shock -- I tried it on my hand to test it out -- unpleasant, not excrutiating).   Anyway, I thought, "Yikes!  I cannot go onto their sidewalk...I'm gonna get zapped!"

Then I glanced at my Fitbit and noted I had just made it to an even 10,000 steps.  Oh!  It's congratulating me!  Sure enough, now I know when I get the vibration, I won't get zapped -- it's a good thing, not a punishment!

There are quirks to it, though.  Another time I knew for a fact that I had not walked enough to get to 10,000 steps yet, that night in the middle of a musical performance I was attending, I got the vibration.  I realized most of my "steps" had been my wrist moving as I clapped along with the music!  Another time I was scooting around on my bottom pulling weeds in the garden for a few hours apparently in just the right sort of motion to be registering 10,000 steps.  So, now when I know I'll get a false reading, I just take it off.  But sometimes that stops the accumulation of data and when I put it back on it starts over from zero.  I like to keep my documentation accurate, so this annoys me.  I also suspect that pushing a stroller or carrying my granddaughter around is causing my arm to be stationary while my feet are moving, which then doesn't register as steps.  Friends have told me to put it on my ankle or tie it to my shoe.  Haven't tried that yet.

But in spite of a few little annoyances like those, I still love it.  And I'm absolutely amazed that something like this exists.  I LOVE being alive and moderately able to interact with basic technological advances.  I get frustrated when I don't understand the finer points nor am I nearly as intuitively tuned in as my grown sons and even my six year old granddaughter around tech stuff, but I am so grateful for the access to, and the fun of, some of these gadgets.

Just checking -- I'm at 8 flights of stairs today -- I can easily make 20 by bedtime.  But my step count is way low -- too much reading and computer time!  Better get a move on!

At least, that's the view from here...©


Sunday, August 16, 2015

STEPPING BACK

Oh me, Oh my.  I do not like conflict.  But sometimes it's unavoidable and then I'm not afraid to face it head on.  It takes me awhile and I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, then I just get to a point where I feel I've done all I can do and have nothing to lose by falling into the fray.  I feel both liberation and loss when that happens.  Because I know for me something's gotta change.

I love my Unitarian Universalist church, but it hasn't felt very church-y to me for awhile.  I've been in some form of leadership position there for a very long time, active and visible and trying to help create a growing, thriving, welcoming place of personal refuge, spiritual growth, and targeted activism.  My focus has been on organizational structure and transition over the past few years.  There is a joke amongst UUs that trying to move that group in one direction is like herding cats.  We are an independent, anti-authoritarian crowd who rely on the democratic process in decision-making, but are not above a good protest when outcomes don't agree with our way of thinking.

I feel like we've had one controversy after another over the past couple of years and we are currently embroiled in a brouhaha that is slipping into way, way too much of my personal life.  Its tentacles are reaching beyond the actual "issue" and now even the response to the original issue is becoming the problem.  People are choosing up sides and I can't take it anymore.  Well, I don't want to.

A couple of weeks ago, when all of this sort of came to a head for me, I was visiting friends at their new beach house and one evening our conversation centered around our spiritual practices and what we want in a spiritual home.  It revealed to me that most of my actual spiritual practices have little to do with Sunday morning worship.  Meditation, yoga, writing, and my current addiction to the Outlander book series (HAHA) don't happen in the confines of my church.  It gave me pause.

Then, the following night we explored this statement: "If you don't know where you want to be in five years, you are already there", meaning, of course, that without a goal/plan/dream, nothing will change.

We each talked about our personal goals for the near future, which led us to realizing that if we are not already living toward that goal, living already each day in service to our dream, we are missing the mark.  No magic wand will wave and put us in our own personal Nirvana in five years' time.  I won't magically be in terrific cardiac health in five years if I don't get on the treadmill today.   Whatever the goal, it starts now.

We talked about what actions and activities touch our "essence" -- those moments when we are what is called, "in the flow", when chronological time seems to disappear and we enter "soul time", lost in pure joy and spirit.  For some it happens when listening to, singing or playing music, for others when painting, or gardening, or running, or hiking.  For me, again, I am lost in my Yoga practice, meditation, and writing; also when gathered in fun and laughter with close friends and family, and I would add lately when doing crafts with my granddaughter.  No church building or committee or controversy over policies, politics, or personalities required.

This past week I resigned from an important leadership group at my church and have declared I will not accept any leadership position in the foreseeable future beyond continuing to facilitate the WISE  group for women over 60 years old, which I've done for five years.  This is not a tantrum.  I'm not party to or personally involved in the current controversy.  I have an opinion, but it's not public.  It's just that in my capacity of leadership I was being drawn into the quagmire, losing sleep, dealing with side issues and seeing some people I have admired and some I have called friends behaving with surprisingly questionable wisdom and appallingly questionable outrage.

Going back to the beach house conversations, it was clear that this church stuff was dramatically impacting my ability to have opportunities to be "in the flow" -- to make choices about how to spend my time and energy, touching my essence.   In five years' time I'll be nearly 70 years old.  I know how fast five years flies by; how fast a lifetime flies by.

I recalled Mary Oliver's brilliant poem, "The Summer Day" and its stunning closing words:
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?


I thought about my "one wild and precious life" and how much of it I've spent fulfilling commitments.  I took my concerns about "bailing on my commitment" at church into meditation; some would call it prayer.  My decision became crystal clear:  I will waste not one more sleepless night on policies and procedures, conflict and controversy not of my own making or of my personal responsibility.  I love my church; I love my community there.  But my sense of personal integrity around honoring a commitment I made to be on that committee felt like a burden -- and an obstacle to following my heart.  I was out of integrity with myself and if I didn't stop this pattern, nothing would be different in five years' time.


Stepping back is not stepping out, but it is stepping into a new way of being with a church and a community that has been central to my life for 23 years.  Liberation and loss.  Yes, that about sums it up on this sunny Sunday morning as I sit at my writing desk...in the flow, if not in the pew.

At least, that's the view from here....©