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Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award

Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award

I received my very first blogger award nomination last week, from appletonavenue. It’s the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award. I’ve seen awards around the blogosphere, and wondered how they worked. Now I’ve got a better sense: Someone who was nominated for the award gets the opportunity to send it on to their own favourite bloggers.

I want to express my sincere gratitude to appletonavenue for taking the time to nominate me, to tell me about the nomination, and for spreading some good vibes into the world.

Her blog is about an honest a blog as you’ll find anywhere. She often includes her personal struggles with real life issues that we all deal with: health, employment, family. She lays it out there. For real. If you have toes easily trampled, or sensitive feelings, better stay away. I LOVE THAT.  Her posts are a reminder of how honest I could be. Plus, she’s another blogger who tags with the word “rants.” And that is awesome.

I’ve mentioned it before; I like to get to the bottom of mysteries and stories. So, I spent an hour trying to find the origin of the Sisterhood award. Couldn’t. If you’ve got leads, let me know. The earliest one I could find was dated January 30, 2011, and thanked the blogger who awarded it, but when I got to that blog, I simply could not find a reference to the award. I did lots of searches for “2010 Sisterhood of World Bloggers” and couldn’t find an instance when the award was presented in 2010.

I learned a lot about the award though. In one case it was presented by a man, which proves a Sisterhood is an idea, not a set of rules. In one case it was referred to as a “cooking blog award,” so I guess I need to post a recipe. (I have one in mind, the World’s Best Crock Pot Chicken, but I haven’t found the time to get that one to you yet.) It also actually *has been* awarded to  multinational bloggers (good, because I disdain the casual use of a phrase like “world blogger”). I learned how many people seem really, truly grateful to receive a nomination. It reminds me of a new word I recently learned from another blogger I read (BTW, in the list below). The word is netizen: A citizen of the Internet. Once we start giving and taking online, we create a community. I have several Internet communities now that are integral to my sense of well-being, WordPress and facebook being the two major digital places I live, in addition to my physical Montavilla home.

The character of this award seems to morph with time, like all good chain letters do. It began in a different format, in which the blogger listed the blogs nominated, with a call out to the people “Hey, come get your award.” Now it’s more personal, and the trend seems to be an individual personal message from the presenter to the nominee on the nominee’s own page. Another change is associated rules. The one my friend received has a list of 5 rules, including answering 10 personal questions and the nomination of 10-12 favourite bloggers. I found one from 2012 that had rules including answering 7 personal questions and nominating 7 bloggers. I found one from February 2011, in which there is only one rule: pass it on. I like that. It’s the most important rule in any case.

The  January 30, 2011 award from food and thrift states “no rules at all,” but then asks to please link back to the presenter.

In my form of passing it on, I’ll list the blogs I am currently reading the most often. I’m not a nominator-type person, so if you were hoping I’d nominate you: sorry. Don’t take it personally. I am big on advertising, however. Advertising awesomeness, I mean. So here are the blogs I’d like to advertise, in no special order whatsoever:

  1. Hiking Photography – Canadian Patrick Latter is an astonishingly talented photographer. We’re talking jaw-dropping work. His blog isn’t just a collage of pretty images, but often includes quick blurbs about his friends and his interests. His interests frequently include packing into pristine wilderness and scaling mountain peaks. Only a few posts in, you’ll realize this guy has a natural Joy Of Life that is irresistible.
  2. Life on the Bike and Other Fab Things – A blogger kindred spirit, LB rides her motorcycles on distant trips and also around her part of the world, which happens to be the southeastern United States, and lucky for us: she takes her camera with her. LB is another human being whose goodness and love is obvious and irresistible. Her artist’s eye informs her lens, and the images she posts show me how to look deeper and to appreciate the wonder of the world that is right outside my door.
  3. With All I Am – Tanzanian Prayson Daniel takes his theology studies seriously and passionately. In fact, it is his own ceaseless searching for his path in faith that led him to these studies. He immerses himself in academic studies of Christianity, as well as history of Christianity, and modern applications of theological perspectives. Prayson is constant, earnest, loving, open, and humble. He and I share a lot of love, even though I am atheist and he is devout. He is helping my defensive and angry heart to learn about the better parts of Christianity, and is not trying to convert me.
  4. Hike Mt. Shasta – This hiker blogger hails from northern California. Bubba Suess has a goal of providing the most comprehensive guide to the trails and sights of Mt. Shasta. This compelling volcano is near the California/ Oregon border. Hike Mt. Shasta is fun to read because the trails are so close to my favourite backpacking area, the Trinity Alps of Northern Cali. And you know I love volcanoes…
  5. Caelan Huntress – My daughter and I met this gigantic personality (and his lovely family) years ago at a park in North Portland. Later he sold me insurance (I’m still a customer of the company, though Caelan moved on). Now I stick around because Caelan has yet another of those personalities that is crammed with adventure, love, and unquenchable optimism. He always has some new plan, some incredible dream, some clever creation to talk about. His newsletter focus right now has a lot to do with helping you help yourself, in business, branding, blogging. His blog is an intimate invitation into a beautiful life. And this man is not satisfied with plans and dreams…he then goes on to make stuff happen. It’s wonderful to witness.
  6. Ben Trube, Writer – Ben writes programs to build fractals. I am in love with fractals: mathematical equations that, when graphed, make patterns that appear the same or similar when viewed from different distances. They are also beautiful. Ben’s blog contains stuff about fractals, including his newly published book on what he’s been doing, but there are also a bunch of posts on regular stuff in his life, and about being a writer. He rants, he champions causes, he praises his friends. He also introduced his dad’s brand new book review blog recently, and I like that one too.
  7. The Rider – The Rider is a South African pastor who explores and comments on the world around him. The first post I read was about a welding project in which he built a bird feeder on his property. How fun is that? And what are the odds that I would randomly stumble onto two blogs from motorcyclists? I enjoy the opportunity to read the perspective of a non-north American, and I’m humbled by his ability to touch his readers in a second language. Here is a man with a wonderful sense of humor and an engaging delight in life and the people around him. (also, The Rider does not nominate people for awards either)
  8. Annika Ruohonen Photography – Annika also writes her blog in English, a second language. Her intent is to showcase her stunning photography, but sometimes her words offer the perfect poetic accompaniment. She is a teacher, a mother, an artist. Her photos are profoundly moving.

Whoo. That turned out to be a long post, didn’t it? Well, I hope I did the award justice, by spreading the love. Thanks to all of you for being out there, and for reading, and for writing your own.

my new camera

Continued contemplation, along with a recent conversation, reminds me of all the good I have collected from my past relationships. (dark thoughts about men of my past) Though my history shows many stops and starts with people I attached myself to, I was always genuine in my attachments. Cheesy as the expression may be, I liked learning the phrase “serial monogamy,” because that is how I operate. I haven’t been able to stay with one partner for many years, but I went into each one thinking that I would. My intent was pure commitment. Usually, the end of each relationship came as much as a shock to me as to the other person, though often it was I who had the guts to walk away.

Jess was my first love, and made it a great place to begin. We connected at a core level, with common interests and perspectives. I found out right away what a joy it can be to share life with someone who appreciates the world like I do. We are still friends, and 25 years later we still manage to reach the same opinions with the same thought processes, and we still love the outdoors in the same way for the same reasons. Talking with him is always validating. Aaron was a dreamer, and also validated my love of dreaming about my future, imagining the possibilities. He loved me for it, and taught me very early on to continue to express this precious part of my character. Lynn reminded me that there is so much to love about things that are not dreams, things that are real: the earth itself, simple pleasures like fishing, and children.

My first husband, Mark, brought a lot of music into my life. He played guitar and taught me new things to listen for. He introduced me to classic musicians and new musicians, and made concert-going a regular part of our lives. I even learned to love Bob Dylan! He went out of his way to spend quality time with his friends, and taught me that is how to be a friend. He took me camping and exploring, and we eagerly discovered Colorado and Nevada together. Mark and I shared politics and Northern Exposure. We worked together and did some growing up together. We took some chances and made great discoveries because of it. He sang Till There Was You to me, when I was sick.

Bill taught me so much about family. About loving all of them no matter how they drive you crazy (he had 9 brothers and sisters!). About making an effort to stay in touch, and reaching out all the time because that is what you do for family. Dennis, my second husband and father of my child, proved to me that a man can change his stars. There is never “too late.” A difficult beginning does not predict the outcome, and the love of a child can be the motivation to re-invent an approach to life. Through him I was introduced to the world of addiction, and of recovery. Of setbacks that don’t erase hope. He is, of course, still constantly in my life, and continues to represent a person who decided to become better, and did, and continues to do so. He doesn’t always know the right thing to do, but always wants to do the right thing. He never ceases to hope.

Jeff knew what he wanted and was able to show me that you can love someone and not be destined to be with that person. He taught me about respect. We had intelligent conversations and really engaged with things we didn’t agree on. We learned about each other and forgave differences and fell in love by accident. Jeff called me nearly in tears one morning, on the 11th of September while he watched smoke coming from the Pentagon from his office window, and will always be linked to that day in my mind. Kevin introduced me to surfing, and the inside story of Big Oil. He showed me that rich people are still people. Kirby loved his family, and wanted so much to share his family with me; wanted me to love them like he did. Through his family I learned a new way to conceive of family love and support. Miguel was filled with passion. Everything he felt was huge. He showed me that a man can express himself; can be overcome with emotion, and still be a man.

My third husband Vic taught me that achievement is an attitude, and that anyone can have it. Where we go in life is a matter of where we see ourselves. Though I have always thought of myself as a woman who could accomplish big things, Vic illuminated for me that I was thinking too small. His vision of me was a woman who belonged in a greater category of human beings, and then pushed me to believe it, too. I was attending school at a community college and he said, “If you want to go to school, why not Harvard? Why not MIT?” And so I applied! Vic also helped me develop an exercise regimen, and a love for running when I thought I hated running.

Mark helped me become introspective again. He showed me a better way to forgive, and to be tolerant. I credit Mark with setting me on the right path to be able to respect Dennis again, which was necessary because we were co-parenting. He also reminded me to forgive my father. Mark constantly strives to be a better man, to do the right thing. He will selflessly dedicate himself to a fellow human being in need, even without an idea of where to begin. He reminded me of the delights of surprises and tradition, and shared memory.  Mark brought laughter back into my life when my fierce challenges had hardened me. Laughter is a true gift.

So, I love them all. Yes, I have occasional fits of angry words couched in emotional wounds and surrounded by virtual fists swinging, but I am not sorry for what we experienced together, not sorry that the love has painful sharp edges. Though each relationship hit me with its own unique sucker-punch, I am stronger and wiser now. My phoenix rises more beautiful each time. I am a better woman today for having known them. So thank you, all of you men, thank you.

My arms outstretched to catch the spray

On a plane over the Pacific Ocean, I have an unfortunate juxtaposition of two opposite emotions when I think of Arno. I am more confident and trusting in this man than ever before; more than seems reasonable or rational. I am nearly certain of a future with him, I am on the edge of ready to commit completely. If he asked me today, I would marry him. That is how self-assured and healthy I feel. I am coming back to life again, becoming the woman I knew was buried somewhere deep, deep inside. A woman who is now filled with joy, peace, faith, and eager anticipation, and hopefulness, and expectations of being finally able to enjoy the goodness and beauty of having a regular life without constant damage control. And I am scared to death.

On a given day my emotions wander all over the place, of course. I’ve been mostly on a happiness track ever since I met him. Well, actually, ever since the pain of leaving my last relationship with Mark began to fade, I was happier. My reality includes many ups and downs, and within the happy path that has gradually traveled upward (and out of the muck of my dark history) – in the way that awesome corporate earnings might climb up a chart – there are times when I have been merely pleased and times when I’ve been euphoric, and it averages into a happy medium. (forgive the pun) Today, though my emotions overall remain happy, the track plunged.

This morning I was looking for a notebook to take onto the plane with me, since for some unexplainable reason I always want to write when I am airborne. I came across a spiral-bound notebook that I recognized as one of my old journals. I flipped to the back in case there were some empty pages and I could add my Hawaii trip entries. The journal was filled to the very last line of the very last page, and in discerning this, my eyes grabbed at some of the words.

I was talking about Mark. I couldn’t discern the date because I only marked the month and day, not the year. So… not sure about what part of my Mark experience it was. We were still living in Fitchburg, possibly new in the relationship, because I was talking about trying to ignore my fear and trying to allow myself to feel love again. That’s similar to my current thoughts with Arno, so I stopped paging through, and read it.

At one point I had written that I had “a history of living with ill men, and becoming an ill woman,” and though my past self didn’t recognize this: my journal entries about Mark were a continuation of that sickness. I didn’t see it then, and my intent was to point out how Mark was different from my terrible past men.

I wrote about his selfishness, his lying to me, and his own self-deception. “Of course I can’t be mad at him,” I wrote, “because he doesn’t do it on purpose. He doesn’t even realize he’s lying. When I point it out, he doesn’t know what I’m talking about.” How can a person be so blind to the fact that she is embracing a poisonous environment?

I wrote how he didn’t take responsibility for his own positive emotions. Rather than express his pleasure first person, he asked questions so that I was forced to carry the weight of expression. “What are you doing to me?” he asked over and over in his moments of pleasure. He wouldn’t even wear his own emotions, but made me express it for both of us. I felt like I could have been a blow-up doll and he would have been equally pleased and equally present.

I kept reading in the journal, and saw right there, in black and white, how I had clearly analyzed what was wrong with our communication, but would then go on to say how he was a good man deep inside, so the only obstacle to our improved communication was my ability to perceive his intended messages differently. I made him into some kind of hero. I talked about how he ignored me, disrespected me, and I wrote that since he is such a great person, then it is my job to “re-frame” his words and behavior into something that makes more sense for a good person. “He just doesn’t realize how hurtful it is, so it really isn’t his fault,” I wrote. “I know with patience I can understand the true meaning behind the mindless, empty comments.” Or, “I know he means well, and he’s very thoughtful and caring, so I must remind myself of that more often so my feelings don’t get hurt.”

Oh my god! What in the world makes a woman as sick as that? I have always been intelligent in every single aspect of life EXCEPT for relationship dynamics, and there I am a complete idiot. Why?

I wasted six years of my life being mentally sick with him. I got so unwell I spent the last two years of our relationship going to therapists who never helped a damn thing. I took medications that made me even more miserable, but at least they stopped the panic attacks and the voices and laughter I heard that were terrifying and frequent. My last therapist even tried to tell me to get out of my relationship, but I didn’t realize it till much later. In one of our last sessions, she was saying, very gently, “Some people, when they are feeling the way you are, might consider a change. Sometimes the options they consider might include different personal relationships, perhaps a change in setting. Please don’t think I am encouraging it, I only want to suggest what other people might have in their minds.” I had no idea what she was talking about. And I didn’t ask. I just let her words slide incomprehensibly past my mind.

Alright, alright. My intent here is not to simply to portray what a bad relationship I was in. No really. My point is that I didn’t know that I was in one even when it was making me crazy. In the past I had not seen for years how ill and abusive Tara’s father was. And how self-absorbed and sick Vic was, and Kevin, and Miguel, and all the awful men I always end up with. What is frightening to me today is that I could NOT SEE what was going on. I wanted to be in love and wanted to be loved so badly that I willingly allowed myself to be blind. I saw the abuse, recognized the betrayal, and then spun it somehow into a story about my own shortcomings in not being able to forgive enough, not being sufficiently understanding, or not accommodating the obvious signs of a wounded man who needs to be loved for who he is – because, wasn’t I asking to be loved for who I was? I told myself that I was the stronger person, and therefore I needed to be the one to accommodate his weaknesses, not vice versa.

Ugh.

At one point recently, I broke down and cried when I was with Arno, and told him of my secret terror. I want to love and to trust, but I am very aware that I cannot protect myself. At least I never have. The only means of protection I know is not to fall in love. Or, if I can’t help myself, at least to hold part of my heart back and not give all of myself. Loving Arno is frightening to me because I do not know if I am seeing things clearly. Since I could never tell before, how can I know if I can tell now? Am I currently blind? Do I love him because I am lonely? The fact that I opened up enough to allow myself to express those thoughts shows how deeply I care for him. If I didn’t care so much, I wouldn’t be so scared. Thus it also tells me that I am sufficiently emotionally involved to again be at that dreadful place where I cannot see what is happening in my own life.

Am I there? How is it possible to know?

But remember I said ‘a juxtaposition.’ There are emotions from opposite sides of the spectrum pulling at me: isn’t that how it always is? Fear, yes, but also hope. No, even better than hope: certainty. Assuredness. Confidence and deep unconditional trust in Arno. I am not making excuses for anything about him. I don’t need to. He’s got his own self-assuredness, patience, practicality, and joy to carry him along, so he doesn’t need to suck it out of me. He has no need to bluster and sputter about things I say that could be twisted into a far-fetched insult. He does not remind me of how I should be grateful for what he gives me. He does not tell me how I could be better, or how my behavior is superior and distasteful. Or childish and immature. He does not spend any time at all bragging about himself (unless I remember to ask), but seems intent on convincing me that I am a wonderful person. Arno lives a full, satisfying life, and has chosen to make himself available to me. He loves me unconditionally. And he already told me that if things don’t work out between us, he won’t be sorry we met, because he is already happy with the positive impact I’ve had on his life. “You have already shown me that I can live my life in a better way. You have proved that there are other people like me in the world. You physically express what I have in my mind; you ACT what I am feeling! I can’t envision my life without you in it,” he said to me.

Fear, yes. But happiness as well. And each new day as I learn more and more about him, and find that his words are in perfect resonance with the way he lives, I can trust him more. There are no incongruities, there are no shameful character traits to learn to tolerate, there is no embarrassing bravado, there are no heartbreaking nights of trying to defend myself from misinterpretations. Every new morning I wake up with a peaceful heart, and the fear evaporates a little more. One day it will be gone completely. With Arno I believe I can become whole again.

Mom's mountaintop cabin in North Idaho

Last night I called Thanksgiving a “success” after all was said and done. It took some humility and love to say it honestly. In my last post, I mentioned that I got it into my head to gather my siblings at Mom’s house in north Idaho for the first time ever. There were hiccups, but most of us made it. Ahh, can’t we always praise life for its opportunities for us to learn the lessons we need to learn?

1. Thanksgiving is about giving thanks, and every time I lost sight of that during the past week was a time when I became disillusioned, fatigued, angry, or sad. NEXT TIME I participate in gift-giving, I hope to retain the perspective that in every scene from my holiday and those leading up to it, was a scene full of things for which I am truly thankful.

2. Next time I will remain focused on the goal, which was the gift, and not my part in it.

3. My stress is contagious, and next time I will tap the joy I feel, and save the agitation for later, when the family is gone. Thinking back, I wonder if they suffered from my mood. I should have at least showed them more of my joy. That would have been an additional gift, to make them feel good about what they had done. Then they could at least have said, “It was worth it! Did you see how excited she was?”

4. I love my family; each and every one of them. I need to remind myself and I need to tell them so. I did say “thank you,” and I could have said “I love you” more often. It was such a delight to meet my nephew finally. It was great to sit at the table and share “remember when” stories with my brothers, for the benefit of our significant others.

5. Though I have indeed suffered challenges, I do not know what’s it’s like to be in someone else’s family.  I don’t have the right to judge someone’s complaint.

6. Next time, my gift won’t involve travel in winter! ha ha ha!

Mom is happy. She knows she is loved. She got to preside over Thanksgiving dinner with her grown kids for the first time.  All the kids and grandkids survived the horrible driving conditions. It was a success!

My blog tagline infers that I am using the blog as a medium to come clean about my path through life; that I fearlessly embrace truths. My latest post about visiting a pumpkin farm had nothing vital in it, except perhaps the photography, which shows that I have a spark of life still in me – shown through the lens – despite my watered down words.

Simultaneously, I randomly received over 200 views yesterday, within 5 minutes of my post. It’s a record for exposure in my somewhat recent adoption of WordPress in March of 2010. Match great exposure with a lame post, and I am feeling rather guilty about it all. It’s time to try harder to address my world as it is. And to be honest, there is nothing watered down about anyone’s daily life. Mine included.

This past weekend, pumpkin patch included, I have had two mothers looming large on the radar of my life. Since the end of July, the mother of my boyfriend, Mark, has been living with us. And my mother was recently here for a visit.

I haven’t posted about Rene – the “mother-in-law” – because I haven’t had the courage to put all my feelings into words. It has been very difficult to have her in my home. We have survived over two months together, which is an accomplishment. I remain unsure of my ability to sanely reach June 2011 – her proposed move-out date. And it’s ME we’re talking about; I get along with everyone. Well… almost everyone.

Let me introduce her here, and maybe I will find a way to spiritually explore my own growth through our shared experience at a later date. For now, I’ll say that Rene came heartily into my life on July 6, 2010, when Mark forwarded an email to me, which asked if she could move in with us. Rene, practically a lifelong Boston resident, was under the impression that she was welcome in her sister’s home in northern New York. She sold her home for around a half-million profit, and called up her sister to let her know she would soon be on her way. Sister said she was not welcome.

Hurt, Rene called brother who lives in a suburb of Boston, who had also offered his hospitality at one point. Brother also rescinded his offer. Feeling wounded and rejected, Rene contacted her son, Mark, with very little time left to evacuate her home, which had already sold. Our hearts went out to her, and there is nothing to say to a family member who needs you but, “Of course you are welcome here!” Two weeks later, she moved in.

Rene was recently forced to leave her career as a Boston headhunter, and to seek a new source of income. She has chosen medical billing. For whatever reason makes sense in Rene’s mind, she believes that while she is going to school, she needs to conserve money, and that requires selling her home and moving in with relatives. The training course she is taking here in Oregon runs from August through May. Rene said she plans to move back to Boston and start all over when she receives her certificate. I intend to check in here on the blog at some future point to chronicle some of the agony we have both endured as a result of her move. Oh, and please don’t forget the agony of Mark, who is between the two of us!

My own mother has come to think of our Portland home as her personal sanctuary. She visits a couple of times a year, and relishes the opportunity to have someone else make the plans, cook the meals, clean and manage the estate business. In other words, she is an extremely hard-working woman who runs an amazing piece of property from a cabin on an isolated mountaintop in northern Idaho. Her husband runs his own business that uses up all his time and energy, so he isn’t much help at home. My mom comes here with the eagerness and pleasure of looking forward to a spa vacation.

She has also suffered with the arrival of Rene. The upstairs bedroom across the hall from my daughter was christened “Gramy’s Room” years ago. Mom brought her own bed, pillows, linens, spare clothes and shoes. She brought a lamp and a rug and a number of little things to make it her place. Thus, when she came for a visit she didn’t need to bring much but her lovely self.

That very room was chosen for Rene. We thought that she and my daughter could share the upstairs bathroom (how convenient to have a bathroom right next to her room, we thought). No sense in bringing a third person into the small downstairs bathroom, right? We considered that after having lived alone in a huge house in Boston, that suddenly sharing a home with a young family – teenager included – it would be a shock to her. We chose the room farthest away from the noise of the family in order to help to ease her transition. To our surprise, she rejected everything in the room. After we hauled everything out – bed included! – she refurnished it entirely from Ikea (gah!). And, she refuses to use the upstairs bathroom and tromps down the stairs every morning to use our bathroom. And as for having her own space, as we imagined might be important to her, that is also tossed out the window. Rene is not happy unless playing a prominent role in whatever room or conversation is the current place of action. We tease (not to her face!) that she follows us like a puppy, so that we are never out of her sight.

Also unexpectedly, my mother sees Rene’s rejection of her sanctuary as rejection of her. Further, my mother sees the disassembly of her lovingly created bedroom vacation spot, a trauma in itself. Still, our home is what my mother needs to rejuvenate her tired bones, so she came for a visit last week. We put her in our bedroom, and Mark and I moved to the remaining spare room (thank the gods we have such a big house!).

Enter more mother drama. My mom has recently been overtaken by health problems that are currently running her life. This is a difficult adjustment for not only her, but for everyone who knows her, because she has always prided herself on being ferociously healthy. She was even a member of the Christian Science faith years ago, and subscribed to the belief that no human doctor or human-created medicine was acceptable for her family. She scorns most people’s health complaints, and has very little patience for listening to what others must endure.

Part of her extraordinary health is because she eats the healthiest of food, because she plants, sows, cans and prepares it all herself. And also because she is a physical powerhouse, considering her age (61) and tiny frame (she weighs 108 pounds). On any given day she will chainsaw trees on the property for firewood, butcher chickens, chop wood, or mow the grass. She built the chicken house, built an 8-foot deer fence to protect her garden, and built the woodshed. Their plumbing isn’t standard, since they are on a mountaintop and they haven’t installed a pump strong enough to propel the water up to the house, so she drives the water truck to their well at the bottom of the mountain, fills the tank, then drives back to the top to fill the cistern. She has huge gardens of vegetables and flowers and trees and shrubs (because she is in love with the rural English countryside and is ever trying to build one on her mountain). With no plumbing, she hand-carries buckets of water to all the greenery to keep it flourishing. All this, ALL THIS WORK she does by herself, alone on the mountain, since her husband is gone most of every day at work.

She is lonely up there. Especially during the winter when 6 feet of snow and subzero temperatures keep her trapped in the cabin. She has four kids and they have all scattered across the Pacific Northwest. Her husband’s kids are local, but all lead busy lives and do not visit. Her local lady friends occasionally visit, but not often enough to fill her days. She joins Bible studies and visits her favourite bookstore, and makes an event out of Monday, Laundrymat Day (no washer or dryer at the cabin), but it is not enough to fill her. A couple of years ago, she began to have inexplicable problems with breathing.

I confess, I am among those who assumed it was symptomatic of a mental disorder. She felt exceptionally tired, she said, and her throat felt as though it would close up, and her lungs felt pneumonia-like and dysfunctional. The key element was the fright she felt when she had difficulty breathing, and she knew that one of these days her throat would close up completely and she would suffocate to death. The thought of death by suffocation was, rightfully so, terrifying to her. And yes, if you have any experience with the life cycles of mental disorders, you will know that it created a whole new problem of panic attacks when she thought of the possibility of her throat closing up and killing her.

The symptoms continued and after a dozen doctor visits and complicated tests, no one could ever diagnose anything. Every pill she tried was worthless, and she refused to take any pills designed to improve mental health. She was furious with everyone who suggested it was “all in her head.” After months and months of research and frequent meetings with girlfriends, Mom decided she had candida. I looked it up and yes, there is such a disease, and it’s as hard to pin down as it would seem. A yeast imbalance in the body which makes a person tired and makes it hard for them to breathe, among a multitude of other seemingly unrelated symptoms. I started giving her more genuine support. She gave up desserts and wine and antibiotics, and after another six months, the candida was apparently under control-ish.

Then, a year ago, she developed some kind of hyperactive heart beat problem. Again – yes I know I am such a bad daughter – I can’t help but suspect it is symptomatic of mental health problems. Again, doctors are unable to diagnose anything, but they did prescribe some pills that help. They told my mother not to take more than 8 pills a day. She, stubbornly, cuts them with a paring knife, and takes 1/4 of a pill. Sometimes that dose twice a day.

This time the secondary panic attacks based on fear of death are over the top. I am so worried for her. Her heart beats hard sometimes, and she can’t always tell why. It beats hard and irregular, and in my mother’s mind it is the first step toward a dysfunctional heart that is going to beat harder and faster till it blows up and kills her. She lives in perpetual fear of being able to detect her own heartbeat. This strikes mainly in the evenings, and the terror of lying there in the dark, feeling her heart beat strong in her chest, is the most frightening experience my mother can imagine. Once while she was here, she came into my bedroom and sat on the bed next to me in the middle of the night, because being beside someone was much more reassuring than being alone with impending death-by-heart-explosion.

The next morning, she thanked me for not rushing her to the hospital. “I didn’t want to go to a strange hospital with a doctor who didn’t know me, and in a town I don’t know. The hospital stay would have been so awful,” she confided. So I realized, yes, this is deadly real to her. It had never, never occurred to me that night to seek a doctor’s counsel. In her terror that night, she had pulled my hand to her chest, “Feel it!” she squeaked. And yes, I felt her heartbeat. It was strong, like she had just hiked from the bottom of her mountain to the top.

“Does it hurt?” I asked her once, months ago.

“Oh, no. No pain at all.”

“Is it different than when your heart beats hard after you work strenuously?”

“No, no. It’s just like that. It’s the same as when I chop wood, or run a long distance.”

“Then why is it so frightening?” I want to know. I really want to understand her.

“Oh, sissy. I don’t know. It’s terrifying. I can’t help it. I am just…. Terrified.”

And it occurs to me that I need to learn how to love a new mother, and to give her what she needs from me. Please forgive my presumption, but I wonder if this is what it’s like to love a person with Alzheimer’s disease. Those heroes who must find a deep soulful place of unconditional love and say something to their loved one with kindness and reassurance, such as, “My name is Crystal. I am your daughter.” Or in my case, “Moma, of course your heart is beating hard, but you will be fine tonight. Let me sleep in your room too, so I can be there the moment you need me, ok?”

I often say I am grateful for the variety of personalities in my family. All families are filled with such different people brought together by blood as well as legal documents. We can’t choose who they are, and if we let them, they will teach us so much. So that is why we are blessed to have families: because we have no choice but to love them more and wrap our arms around them and pull them close. And when we do that, we become beautiful and strong.

Steps under construction

Steps under construction

My exciting news is that our newly poured concrete steps can be walked upon today. Yes, it takes little to make me giddy.

Little? Actually concrete for construction is a big freaking deal to some people. Like in the Gaza Strip. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

Over the past week, I hired a crew from Patrick Masonry & Concrete here in Portland to build me some new front steps. The previous steps had been poorly constructed and were falling apart. The metal railing had nearly broken off, and I was growing increasingly concerned that the mail carrier or an elderly neighbor would slip on the crumbling steps and crack their skull.

Sidewalk alongside the house

Sidewalk

Steps

support for new slab

plastic

protection from rain

Patrick showed up within 30 minutes of my cold call. The very next day the old concrete was gone and the wooden forms were in place. By Thursday it was done. Friday morning they removed all their gear except for the orange cones and the temporary mailbox down at street level. Since it had been pouring rain most of the week, the concrete was drying slowly, and he suggested that we stay off until Sunday – today!

Ready for walking!

All week I thought of Palestine. Enduring warring civil factions, Israeli blockades, bombings and terrorism from multiple sources, increasing Egyptian border control, joblessness and the looming thoughts of despair always hovering and waiting for the chance to swoop in and devastate a family…  my steps are an example of the wealth and opportunity in the United States of America.

Gazans don’t have access to concrete, nor access to many construction opportunities. With the opportunity to pour this amount of concrete, they would certainly use it for something more critical. I am almost ashamed at my frivolousness in comparison.

We all seek our personal joys and life goals in the setting we are dealt. It is conflicting to think too hard on my achievements when others don’t even have the chance to try it. However, I think my job is to be the most I can be with what I have. Thus, I’ll continue to be thrilled at my new concrete steps, I’ll wallow in the joy of rebuilding my gardens on either side of it, since they were damaged during construction. I’ll savor the security of knowing my little girl, the neighbors, the mail carriers and everyone else will now have safe passage on my property.

slab and curved walk

Slab and curved walk

I will continue my awareness of the struggles of others, and be grateful when I am afforded opportunities. I will try not to squander my precious gifts.

For any of you that were following the story… we’re now post-foreclosure panic, post-Making Home Affordable, post-waiting for the end of the story.

As of this moment, we are back into a mortgage routine, making payments, having a distinct mortgage balance (well, ok albeit daily amortization. At least I can log into their website and look at a number). We have no foreclosure on our records. We are still in our home.

Gracious, that was a tedious process. Our first call to Wells Fargo alerting them that we could no longer make our payments was in October of 2008. Sixteen months (and skyrocketing blood pressure) later, we’re all set.

Let me take on a lot of responsibility, lest we make any assumptions. Wells Fargo had no what-if-we-lose-our-job clauses when we first committed to the loan. They did not have to reorganize our payment schedule, and let us add our missed payments to the balance.

Neither one of us came through it gracefully. Wells Fargo hopefully has the headache it deserves for having to work within its own astonishingly convoluted, cobwebby network of various disparate departments multiply duplicated and unmotivated not merely to share information, but even to be aware of each other.

…and for my part, I’m bitter, even though I’m still in my home. It’s a guilt-ridden bitterness because of this voice telling me I should be grateful to my mortgage-holder. Our loan amount went up ten thousand dollars (no principle reduction like you’ve heard on the news), and our monthly amount went down 88 dollars (practically no payment reduction).  In the meantime, the value of our property dropped 40 thousand, so equity is a pipe dream.

But my family is under a roof. Even though it’s a tired old building that loses more chunks of white vinyl siding every time the wind blows, exposing the avocado paint beneath, and every time we accidentally touch the disintegrating foundation walls a cascading shower of ancient concrete pebbles builds higher piles of gravel on the floor, and even though the rain running through the moss on the roof doesn’t hit the gutters any more because they’ve sagged too far away from the building…

….this is OUR HOUSE! It’s really big, and has a basement. And Tara gets the whole upstairs to herself with her own bathroom. And there’s a lawn, and magic soil out front where I am dying to put in this year’s crop of vegetables. We have a fireplace, a guest room, a big country kitchen, and lots of places for our two silly cats to live whole lives and not get too close to each other (because they fight like demons when they do). We’ve got friends and relatives that just stop by, and neighbors that care about us. There’s a mailbox on the porch, and camellias up to the second floor that are bursting, BURSTING with blooms right now.

whew! I feel better.  ;o)

wealth

The veggies are still exploding with growth. It’s too much for our small family of three to eat on our own, and we are “forced” to give much away.

It makes me feel rich. And spoiled. We pull in heaps of dark red tomatoes several times a week. I’m plucking deep red and yellow peppers off the bush. Watching the watermelon and pumpkin mature.  Tossing fresh basil into the stir fry just because we can. Best of all, my daughter has been given no holds barred permission to eat whatever she wants from the garden, whenever she wants, so she does.

I am very grateful for the beauty and wealth in my modest, little slice of life.

…than this day a year ago.

  1. The last time we went out to eat, I had to shell out more than I’m used to. That upset me until I realized it’s because now there’s three of us instead of two. Today is better than this day last year because my daughter is living with me.
  2. When I dried off in the gym this week, my towel was scratchy. Today is better than this day last year because we are using a clothesline to dry our laundry.
  3. My President spoke in Ankara, a message of peace to Muslims, which my President last year would not have done.
  4. We are unpacked and settled into the house. Last year at this time, we were maneuvering around boxes. We didn’t have a stove/oven. The house smelled like stinky dogs and mold and tired generations. We pulled out the horrid drapes and a lot of the carpet and opened some windows.
  5. Today I know a lot about my job. This time last year they were just beginning to let me leave the books and start working on real veterans’ claims. Today they let me make decisions on behalf of veterans without any assistance.
  6. I no longer live in the same state with Barney. Woo Hoo!
  7. T has braces, and they are paid for, and I ended the years of agony, wondering how we were ever going to get the braces she wanted. Her teeth are already noticeably straightened.
  8. We’ve had many happy days in front of a roaring fire. A year ago today, we never used the fireplace for fear it had been neglected too long to work properly.
  9. Today I know that it snows in Portland. Last year I would have bet a whole paycheck that Portland would never see two feet of snow in a week. And I would have lost. Ha ha! All four seasons, baby! This place is awesome.
  10. The huge tree is gone. No more roots crushing our foundation. No more squirrels spreading millions of pine cone shells all over the patio as soon as I sweep it, or filling the rain gutters of our house and the neighbor’s with pine cone pieces.

    mountain of roots

  11. Our home has had many improvements – new paint, carpets gone, new buffet and bookshelves. The front porch steps have been rebuilt and painted a reasonable color, rather than Kelly green.
  12. The ivy is gone!!

On the way home from work last night on the bus, I was listening to This American Life with Ira Glass on my iPod. One of the stories was told by a son, painfully watching his parents suffer in this economy. His parents had both recently lost their jobs, and were in a place in life I recognized. They were beginning to cut back on their expenses in ways that make sense to people who have enough. It’s that first stage of sacrifice, where one gives up the things that have always seemed like a little bit of luxury.

The father was contemplating environmental work in Iraq, and the son was horrified. We went through that too, when Mark first started talking about going to Afghanistan, people who heard about it were shocked. My mother flatly refuses to accept that it could ever happen. The mother in the story was going over a long list of possible job fields, trying them all out in her mind. Thinking about jobs in terms of what would suit her best.

It occurred to me that I’ve actually been granted a boon while the suffering is beginning to rage about me, affecting more and more people every day. We have already been in the stage where many are just now approaching.

We panicked already. We shed tears of despair. We’ve already gone through lists of desperate strategies in our minds, looking in vain for something we hadn’t thought of that will save us. We have stopped fantasizing about what jobs would be nice to have, and have started the humbling job search for anyone willing to hire Mark, on any terms. We have cut our coffee consumption in half because it’s one of our most expensive grocery items, and switched from Peets tea to Fred Meyer brand tea – 100 packets for $1.98. We already received the foreclosure letter from Wells Fargo, and got the letter from Bank of America taking my level of credit on the Master Card from $37,000 to $500. …and my balance is already zero. They’re just protecting themselves from me: a liability.

When so many more people are being forced to understand how bad our economy really is, and how it translates into innocent peoples’ lives, there is a growing sense of worry emanating from America. The boon is: we’re already on the bottom, and can see the uphill climb that will take us out of here. The despair and panic are in our history, which is a relief.

It’s a twisted way to feel grateful, but gratitude is always a good place to be.

One of my many guises

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