Friday, September 2, 2016

Lessons from Dorothy



My dear friend of over 30 years, Dorothy Jenson, died of inoperable liver cancer on Sunday, August 21.

She died at home, with her family. She was comfortable and did not experience pain. I was privileged to spend several sweet times with her in her last few weeks of life. Mark and I joined Dorothy and Ken,  at Sparks Lake in July. We visited Dorothy and Ken at home several times over the summer. Three nights before she died, I spent the night with her so that Ken and their son could get a full night's sleep. These were sweet, tender visits. I am so grateful that the family included me as a family member right up till the end.


Her memorial service was held just two days after she died. She had asked that I give a eulogy and play a song I had written with my ukulele.

Life lessons from Dorothy

            Dorothy Jenson and I met when we were in our mid-twenties. We share the same birth year, the same age of convert baptism, and we both gave birth to five children within the same decade. We share a similar love of the outdoors, books, family, and the gospel. For the first 10 years of our friendship, we were in the same ward; since then we have been in the same ward only briefly as the Oregon City ward boundaries have shifted from two wards when we moved here, to the five wards we know today.
            Across the nearly four decades of our close friendship, I have learned many important lessons from Dorothy. I would like to share eight of those lessons with you today.

1.     Use lots of colors
       If you were to describe Dorothy Jenson in only one word, which word would it be? For many of us, the word “artist” immediately comes to mind. And while some artists may prefer to work in media such as black pen or charcoal, that would not be Dorothy. To experience Dorothy’s art is to experience color. One time Dorothy and I were together in the celestial room of the Portland Temple, a room that is decorated in gold and white to suggest the light and beauty of heaven. As we turned to leave, Dorothy pointed out to me that the carpet was a shade of lavender. What?!? A hint of purple in that gold-and-white room? But I took a closer look at realized that Dorothy was right. Dorothy’s paintings often surprise me with color—orange in a mountain snowfield, pink along the side of a road, blue on a hawk’s face, yellow in a nighttime sky, deep reds and purples among meadow grasses, green hues in white daisy petals,
       In one of her blog posts about her art, she wrote, “Well, who knows what is going to happen when I sit down in my studio? I'm not always sure I do. Today I was thinking about abstract...just designing with color to see what comes up.” What came up was a meadow that looked just like a meadow, even though—or probably because—she used 10 or more different bright colors to paint a scene where I might have imagined only 2 or 3 muted shades.
2.    Pay attention
      
Dorothy’s use of color is correlated with another of her traits. Along the Eagle Creek Trail, on our first girls-only backpack trip I asked her what she saw as we hiked. I wondered what she noticed with her artist’s eyes. She showed me the lines in the landscape—the lines made by tree limbs, and how the lines of a Douglas fir are different from the lines of a maple tree. She pointed out the contrasts between the light on needles and leaves and the dark shadows that made the light more evident.
       Until she pointed these things out to me, I hadn’t seen any of them. She saw them because she paid attention. Paying attention in this way requires analysis, breaking the whole into parts. Seeing detail. Really seeing, attending.
       Not only did Dorothy attend to shadows and shapes, she attended to people. She noticed details and nuances in what people said and did. So much of living a life of kindness is tied to knowing when and how to be kind, and Dorothy blessed my life and yours because she knew how to pay attention.
3.    A sense of smell is highly overrated
       Did you know that Dorothy did not have a sense of smell? There was always some irony for me in her love of flower gardening, but for Dorothy, flowers didn’t grow for sweet smell; flowers were all about color. I remember one time walking into the house on John Adams Street, with the scent of Dorothy’s delicious homemade bread wafting through the screen door as I pushed it aside. “What smells so good?” I reflexively asked her (even though it was obviously bread baking). “I don’t know,” she replied, laughing.
       Dorothy found humor and the bright side in her “disability.” Stinky diapers produced by five babies never bothered her! In recent years when she and Ken organized campouts at Sparks, Lake, she cheerfully managed the group’s porta-potty maintenance—nothing smelled funky to Dorothy.
       Although Dorothy generally maintained a light-hearted take on her inability to smell, she was sometimes wistful. She shared with me how she appreciated the skills of sister-in-law Kate to describe scent in terms of color and texture.  Daughter Sarah remembers describing scents to Dorothy as colors. Dorothy told me once that for one afternoon, she briefly gained the ability to smell and that she had eagerly sniffed everything until the gift faded in the evening. Although Dorothy’s stance toward not smelling—that it was no big deal, really—was positive and light-hearted, I can’t help but think how much she must be enjoying the sweet smells of her new heavenly home.
4.     Be nice
       Years ago, when Gordon B. Hinckley was still president of the Church, Dorothy sat down with the General Conference talks published in the Ensign magazine to read all of Present Hinckley’s messages from the recent conference.
She told me afterwards that she wanted to capture his key ideas so she could commit to following the prophet’s counsel. To her surprise, she was able to distill his several messages into two words: Be Nice.
       Be nice! It seemed almost irreverent to think that the inspired words of a prophet, especially the words spoken over the pulpit at a General Conference in Salt Lake City, could be summarized in only 6 letters. Dorothy was not deterred by the simplicity of the syntax. She fully understood that “being nice” required choices and actions on her part, and that “being nice” is a call to walk the higher road, to make the better choice, to choose charity over cheap gossip, to look for—and to acknowledge—the good, to stick up for the underdog, and to trust that others are doing the best they can.
        It is one thing to be nice as a matter of our natures. Dorothy has always been a nice person. But even nice people get tired or frustrated or overwhelmed, and they can speak crossly to a child or spouse, or forget to be grateful in the midst of trials. I believe that discovering that golden nugget of prophetic counsel to “be nice” gave Dorothy a motivation to develop her basic nature and become a mature woman of charity who made deliberate choices to follow the example of her savior.
5.    Go play outside
       One of the gifts of the last few weeks of gradual goodbye for the Jenson family has been the time they have spent together discovering Dorothy’s journals and letters from years back. Becky shared with me how tender it was to read her mother’s thoughts about her before she was even born. And one of the hopes that young Dorothy had for her future family was that she would be able to teach them to love the outdoors.
       Dorothy was thoroughly happy outside. She loved to walk and garden and hike and camp and and canoe and swim and paint and dream and simply be outside. For the last ten years that she and Ken lived in Oregon City, Dorothy and her walking buddy Paulene walked for an hour every morning at 7:00 am, rain or shine. I joined them a few times when I wasn’t teaching, and it was hard to keep up with them! For Dorothy, some of the chief joys of moving to Washougal were the meadow and woodlands surrounding their home, roasting marshmallows with grandchildren around the fire pit, the patio perched on the rise that looked over the valley, the shaded porch with its swing, the flower beds lovingly planted by her Relief Society sisters, the raised vegetable beds Ken built so she could continue gardening into the last weeks of her life—all inviting her outside, every day, to play.
6.    Get it over with
      
Most of the years we camped with our canoes at Sparks Lake, we pitched our tents at “the cove,” a campsite with its own swimming hole. Of course we took advantage of our swimming hole on the warm central-Oregon summer afternoons! I will always be able to hear Dorothy saying to me, “Kathy, just get in!” Perhaps you will sympathize with me as you imagine that cold water hitting the back of your knees, the top of your thighs, your navel—of course one has to experience things like that gradually, to take time to get used to it. Not Dorothy. It didn’t matter to Dorothy that the water was cold. She knew that getting right in—getting it over with—meant that she could be enjoying the water sooner. She and Ken often joked that by the time I got in the water, they were finished swimming and ready to dry off.
       Dorothy’s practical, down-to-earth view of life helped her to take challenges in stride. Whatever the unpleasantness, it was best to face the reality and get it over with. When the cancer diagnosis came, Dorothy squared her shoulders and deliberately savored each day. And when it became evident that the chemotherapy was not going to allow her to be fully herself in her last months of life, she and Ken talked it over and then she made the classic Dorothy choice—to get it over with—not to hurry death, but also not to prolong a poor quality of life, chasing unrealistic fantasies of a magic cure.
7.     Write it down
       Most of us think of visual art when we think of Dorothy, and rightly so. She is a prolific and highly creative artist. She is also, however, a prolific and dedicated writer. She kept a thoughtful, opinionated, and descriptively detailed journal all of her adult life, a legacy that her family treasures. When she was called as Relief Society president, she instituted a weekly email, titled “The Chatter,” to all the women in the ward. Her vision was more than an informative list of activities and announcements. She wanted to write a weekly letter to the women in the ward, her sisters, to bind our hearts together. Oh, how we looked forward to Dorothy’s weekly chatty email letters.
       And speaking of letters, Dorothy maintained a lively correspondence with Ken when, as newlyweds of only one year, they were separated for several months while he completed army training. Dorothy’s family recently rediscovered these letters as they were sorting through her correspondence, and what a treasure they have been—to read the tender words of that young husband and wife, missing one another, writing of their hopes and dreams for the future. More recently, since her cancer diagnosis, Dorothy has composed individual handwritten letters for each of her 14 grandchildren and 5 children and also her mother and Ken.
       Through her writing, Dorothy’s family continues to hear her voice on matters from the mundane and daily to the deeply thoughtful. Dorothy could always be counted on to get to the point, to speak the truth, and yet to do so gently, and with humor and love.
8.    Stick to your story
       We rarely use the word “true” in one of its archaic uses, which is to be in exact alignment, exactly straight. Dorothy Jenson was true in that way. She had an innate sense of justice, of kindness, and though she was often perceived as a quiet person, she was never afraid to speak up in defense of her family and others if the occasion demanded.
      She was also never afraid to interject her version of a story. I have witnessed, many times, Dorothy reminding Ken that we wasn’t getting the story quite right, and then sharing her “more correct” rendering of the facts. These moments almost always included a classic Dorothy eye roll and some good-natured ribbing on both sides.
      Dorothy also stuck to her testimony. She joined the Church at 18 and was firmly committed to the gospel throughout her entire adult life. As a disciple of Christ, she stuck to hope. She and Ken weathered episodes of unemployment, injury, and other disappointments. She chose faith over fear, and gratitude over whining.
      Dorothy’s story has unfolded across the arc of her too-short life but well-lived life. Her story is one of kindness, of gracious inclusion of others, of courage and faith. In sticking to her story, Dorothy exemplifies the invitation of the Master: Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Well done.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Posture

“Look at her posture,” my father said.

            Four words formed in his larynx and uttered in quiet waves in the living room. 1964, I think, staring into the black and white television, rabbit ear antennae with aluminum foil sitting on top. Sunday night for sure, because we were watching Bonanza, which came on after The Ed Sullivan Show, which came on after Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.
            So, Bonanza the Western show: a scene set at a fort and a bunch of extras cast as townspeople and ranch people and Native American people walking across the screen to show what a busy hub this fort is and a woman in buckskins walks across the open square of the fort and my father says, “Look at her posture.”
            For weeks after that I walked with my shoulders thrown back, the best, most ramrod-straight posture you have ever seen, but my father never said a word.

            I had grown up hearing “stop picking your nose” because it is important for children to learn tidy habits, and if they are going to pick their noses, which possibly I might still do, they at least need to learn to pick them privately so they don’t get whacked by the back of their father’s hand. The fact that I do not ever remember seeing either of my parents pick their noses says something, although I am not quite certain what. Perhaps their noses did not produce the aggravating accumulations that troubled mine, or perhaps they were more experienced at being discreet, or perhaps I was not very observant. 
            In addition to “stop picking your nose,” which I might hear in almost any setting, I also heard “eat with your chin over your trough,” but only at the dining table. Here, my father explained, he was referring to the necessity of keeping one’s eating apparatus in closer proximity to the plate instead of leaning back and having whole forkfuls of food land in one’s lap. I was far less offended to the references to my plate as a porcine feeding trough than I might have been; secretly, I was tickled by the phrase; I got the joke.

            My father’s tone changed with the phrase: “Eat with your chin over your trough” was a reminder, patiently applied. “Don’t pick your nose” was more embarrassing to a parent, and therefore was delivered with aggravation and impatience. When my father got after my brother and me to “straighten up and fly right,” though, his voice increased in volume and it carried an edge, a raspy gruff warning that we were treading on very thin ice, indeed.  The very idea that we were knuckleheads enough to need such a reminder was patently obvious; we had been taught better than that and we were to cease and desist immediately.
            But when I heard him say “look at her posture,” it was different; he spoke in tones of awe and reverence, and I very much wanted my father to say something like that, in a similar tone, about me. I sat up straight in the third grade when I learned to play the French horn. I stood straight and stayed in step when I carried the Sousaphone in the marching band. At meetings of the Rainbow Girls I glided gracefully—with a straight back—to the front of the room, to the door at the back of the room, giving the secret knock signal, speaking the flawlessly memorized phrases, wearing my floor-length dress, standing with my shoulder blades over my hips over my knees over my ankles, perfectly straight. Such posture, such grace.

            My father was not particularly demonstrative. He loved my brother and me, and we were expected to have enough sense to know that without him having to verbally remind us on a daily basis. He showed his love by respecting us, not so much as children, but as people, people who were quite capable of learning and doing hard things. We lived in a quiet neighborhood in a small town; when I was three I rode my tricycle in the driveway without supervision; by the time I was five I crossed the street alone to go play with the neighbor children. When we were nine and ten my brother and I walked the beach a mile and a half to swimming lessons at the high school pool and home again; when we were ten and eleven we regularly navigated a little row boat a quarter mile across the harbor to play on the sandy peninsula on the other side of the bay. 

            It’s funny that four words can still vibrate across the living room fifty years later. Why that young woman in the buckskin dress provoked that particular comment from my father, I do not know. When he said, “look at her posture,” I looked and caught just a glance of her, her collar bones set back right sharp, her hair swinging behind her. Was his comment a euphemism of appreciation for the actress’s comely shape? A premonition of my mother’s eventual hunching over? A completely random meaningless spewing of four small words to cover some awkward moment I did not understand as a child? Was good posture something he even cared or thought about? Out of all the things he said, why do I so clearly remember those four words?

            Dad died three years ago, a good death, clean and painless. He was sharp right up until the last couple of hours. He sat up straight in his living room chair and gave me orders, made me write things down that he wanted done that last morning he was alive. He was not unkind; these were simply things that needed to be done in certain ways, and he knew he didn’t have much time left, so he made sure I knew his expectations. He snacked that afternoon on his favorite “nibbles”—a piece of cheese and salami, only two or three bites, which turned out to be his last meal before he died that night in his bed.

            But that last afternoon, a lot of things suddenly got hard for him. Hard to breathe, hard to walk to the bathroom, hard to speak. My parents lived in a cramped single-wide trailer; even though we had a wheelchair for him, it was too wide for the hallway to the bathroom and the bedroom. Dad and I were in the kitchen. He was sitting in the wheelchair. I was standing behind him, wheeling him toward the hall where my husband would help Dad to the bathroom. My father reached up for my hand, and I paused the chair and moved my hand from the wheelchair to his hand. My dad leaned his head toward my hand held in his, and he leaned his cheek on my hand. I could have bent over to hug him, could have kissed him, could have told him I loved him. We were paused there only a moment, barely longer than a glance. He rubbed his grizzled cheek on my hand and I squeezed his hand from where I stood, standing there, just standing, standing in the kitchen behind the wheelchair, standing straight with good posture behind my father.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Dear Friend

Dear friend,

You know who you are. Yes, this post is for you.

Although we live a thousand miles apart, I can hear the gentle cadences of your voice, the way your smile comes through when we talk. How does it work, this digital world we've grown old in, your voice beamed through unimaginable miles of cold space from where you stand to a silver satellite we cannot see between us and into the waiting curve of my ear?

We are not really 62. We are 16, standing outside the classroom door, watching the boys. We are 16, on the front lawn of the school eating lunch with our circle of girl friends, the lunch bags spread out in a patchy brown paper tablecloth in the center between us. We are 16, driving to Taco Bell for lunch. We are 16, sprawled across your crocheted bedspread sharing the things we thought might be true, the things we could tell no one else, the things we trusted to no one else. We dared to think and dream those things together, yes we did. We are 16, walking the beach near my house while the moonstruck waves lap at our feet and the stars tug at us to sail somewhere out over the far dark horizon.

We've seen each other how many times since that June night when all the seniors rode the bus to Disneyland? Not enough. A handful of times, no more. You married young, and so did I. You moved east, I moved south, then farther north. Since we left our parents' homes behind, our paths almost haven't crossed, and when they have the time has been brief, too brief, and yet. And yet. It doesn't matter, does it? There might be an awkward hug, a cliché to begin our talk, and suddenly we've slipped into the old familiar way of being with, of listening to, of trusting one another.

There's a kind of muscle memory to our friendship, a sureness in the moves, a thread of laughter that winds its way south along the Cascades, up and through the Siskiyous, and gently between the Sierra Nevada and the Coast Range through your valley, and then back north again. A thread, a current, a drumbeat, mostly quiet, but sometimes insistent like that time you called last year because you knew, you just somehow knew, that I was sad.

To you, my friend, I hold these outstretched hands, cupped, trying to hold on to what? Cupped hands as useless as a sieve while time slips through, and here we are: hanging on tight to this beautiful blue spinning planet, and all I can say is happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday. I'm so glad that our times and places on the planet coincided enough that we are who we are: dear friends. Peace to you, and love.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sign Language

*Another reflection on our trip to Antigua in 2004.

Little things you notice:
            Three different times, as I walked past the church called La Merced, I saw a man cross himself as he passed in the other direction. This was not the same man, mind you, but three different men, and one time, the man I saw was riding a bike as he crossed himself. It was a small motion, private.
            On another evening, the son of our dueña came to visit. He wanted to introduce his nine-year-old daughter to us, and he called her to him with an outstretched hand. If it had been me, I would have cupped my hand upward, ready to catch rain perhaps, or a gift. But he was Guatemalan, so he called her with his hand cupped down as his fingers motioned. His hand was the perfect shape to curve gently over her head.
            Then on the plane ride home, we chanced to sit next to one of our former students. This really happened. Eric had been in my literature class last year, and Mark’s homeroom class his freshman year. Eric should have graduated last month, but somewhere between the lit class and graduation he dropped out, and completed a G.E.D. instead. This plane ride was his first one ever, and he watched the landscape below his window with wide eyes. We chatted, and he told us of a summer visit to his mother, where she is a student at Gallaudet University, the university for deaf people. He was a coda he said, and he must have seen the question in my eyes, because he explained that CODA means “child of a deaf adult.”   He told us about working at Gallaudet, as a counselor at their summer camp for deaf children and codas, the challenges and the rewards he experienced. “You just fall in love with the kids,” he said, and his eyes glowed.
Now this is where your heart breaks, because this kid didn’t do well in high school, but he’s obviously bright and eager, and you wonder where the system let him down. Here he is, bilingual in ASL and English, loving working with kids, and yet he doesn’t know what he wants to do in the future. I didn’t know any of this when he was in my classroom last year; I only knew of his interest in skateboarding. I enter my classroom with the intention of being an insightful, caring, helpful adult in the lives of my students. How could I have missed so much?  Eric tells us a funny story about checking in at the airline counter in Baltimore. He had been waiting in line with his mother and her boyfriend, conversing in sign with them both. When it was his turn at the ticket counter, the agent had called in a sign interpreter to help, not realizing that Eric could also hear and speak. He chuckles again over the humor of the moment, and the flight attendant stops by to offer us soft drinks. As Eric accepts his cup, he thanks her, and out of the corner of my eye I notice his hand flick away from his chest, thumb extended, saying thank you twice.

A few small signs, caught with peripheral vision. Who can count the signs I miss every day?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Antigua Mornings

*My friend Liz Jorgensen is currently studying Spanish in Guatemala. Her posts and pictures trigger so many memories of the study trip that Mark and I took in 2004. Here's what I remember about the mornings.

            Sometimes the roosters begin first, sometimes it’s the empty trucks rattling over the cobblestones, but morning comes early in Antigua.  At 4:00 a.m. it’s still pitch-black when the roosters begin.  One fellow sings pretty well, but the rest of the chorus must be teenagers:  cocka-dooka-rawka-rawka.  Sound carries well up to our third-floor room, perched on the roof of the house where my husband and I are home-stay guests for three weeks.   We are intimate with the roosters, and their neighbors the geese.  Year-round, the temperature is in the 70s, and the windows are always open.
            We hear street noise equally well, and we deduce that at 4:00 a.m. the trucks are empty.  Their empty trailers bang down the cobblestone streets with the sound of someone throwing trash cans around.  One morning the sound is even louder, and the next morning, louder still.  One of the stones in the street has come loose, and the hole grows deeper with each passing bus.  Antigua buses!  This is not Tri-met.  Guatemalans import broken-down U.S. school buses, paint them in bright and wonderful colors, and drive them for thousands of miles after their northern rejection.  We live on a street which has been designated a truck-and-bus route.  Before we arrived in Antigua, I imagined that the cobblestone streets, the calles empedradas, would be quaint and tidy affairs like the cobblestone drives I had seen in picturesque settings in the U.S.  The cobblestones I had known were uniform rectangles marching in neat rows.  Antigua cobblestones are stones of all shapes, placed in holes in the street, and occasionally held in place by cement.  When the cement wears away, there is only dust, and then the stone rolls itself out of the hole.  Bang-a-bang-a-bang! Another truck on its way to a load.
            With a sigh, my husband rolls over in his small bed on the other side of our small room—this furniture is not designed for romance—but before he settles into sleep again, he reaches for the bottle of nasal spray to combat his allergic reactions to the constant dust.

            If we are lucky, we will sleep until 6:00, when the church bells will begin their insistent call to mass.  One time we asked a shop owner what the Spanish word is for the noise of the bells.  He looked at us quizzically.  “Ding dong,” he said, leaving us unsatisfied, for these bells are much noisier than a simple “ding-dong.”  “Bong-a-bong-a-dong-a-bang-a-clang” is more like it.  Nearly every morning before the church bells we hear a string of firecrackers, signal that someone in a neighboring family is celebrating their birthday today.  The geese chime in, roosters make a chorus, the bells sing out, and it is a new day in Antigua.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Just Happy

I'm just happy. I don't have anything profound to say or funny to post.

It's Sunday evening. All my papers were graded and the lessons were planned last night before I went to bed. I got to help out in the church nursery today. Three-year-olds are hilarious!

I'm gradually cleaning out the random clutter that accumulates. It feels good. I feel lighter, cleaner.

Our little family that is living with us is still…living with us. I will be glad and grateful when we are empty-nesters again. But this is fine for now. There are tender moments that compensate for the hard work of getting along with extra housemates day in and day out.

I waffle about retirement. Most days I adore my job and my students and I'm in no hurry to change my lifestyle. But there are days… For now the good days far outnumber the difficult days and I can think of no place I'd rather be than my classroom.

Well, maybe I'd rather be out hiking.

But that doesn't pay very well.

Speaking of waffles, Mark and I splurged and bought ourselves a Black & Decker waffle iron! Amazing! It cooks really good waffles!! It cooks quickly and evenly. After 21 years of marriage, it is such a treat to have a working waffle iron.

Life is good. I'm happy. Maybe I'll go eat a waffle.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Not in the hospital, not in the morgue

I did something really dumb today.

I could be dead right now. Easily.

Almost home, the final turn on to the street I've called home for 36 years, I turned left out of the bike lane and across the street right in front of a car.

The driver slowed, I think.

The car's left front bumper missed my bike's rear tire by inches.

I say I'm all about safety. Mark and I bought more blinky lights for our bikes. We bought more reflectors for our helmets and our ankles. We bought white cycling water-repellant jackets with reflector tape all over them. And we're using the blinky lights and the reflectors and the awesome jackets.

And then I go and do something so stupid and careless I'm ashamed to admit it; I can hardly believe it happened even though I was the one sitting on the bike that almost got hit by a car at the corner of Holmes Lane and Laurel Lane at 4:05 pm today.

IDIOT.

Mark has been sweet about it. He hasn't bugged me. I stopped the bike when he caught up with me--after that car plus another one or two had passed--and promised him I would never, never do that again. I promised that I will always come to a complete stop at that intersection and walk my bike across. No more hasty glances over my shoulder assuming everything is ok. Nope, not me.

And Mark, so kindly, hasn't said a word more.

Later this evening, bouncing up the back steps into the house after running a (car) errand, I thought to myself, "I'm so glad I can walk myself up these steps. I'm so glad I'm not in the hospital. So glad I'm not in the morgue."

They say teens think they will live forever, and it's true that they mostly do. But sometimes 60ish folks fall into that trap, too.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Bike commuting




Ok folks, I'm ready to make it public: Mark and I are becoming bike commuters this year.

We have ridden to school almost every day for the first two weeks and we are loving it so far.
We feel stronger and healthier. We feel good about spending fewer dollars on gas* and putting fewer pollutants into the air. And it's FUN.

The trip is 3 miles one way. There are some gentle hills, but nothing terribly steep. It's kind of a no-brainer.

The best thing (so far) is that we feel ourselves getting stronger every day. Literally. Every day we are a little less out of breath. At first my knee was bothering me, but not now. We get to school in the morning, and I am just glowing and full of energy. I love it so much!

A few things we've learned already:
1. We must allow more time. Duh. The trip takes 10 minutes by car and 20-25 minutes by bike. Yesterday morning we left the house in the nick of time, only to discover that one of my tires was flat. Mark fixed it and then he forgot his helmet and had to go back. By that point we were only 20 minutes away from being late and I was about to climb in the car, but Mark said he thought we could make it. And we did! We pulled into the school 22 minutes after leaving the house - only two minutes late. But really, we have to allow ourselves a little extra time.

2. Construction sucks. The most obvious route to school, down the main thoroughfare of Molalla Avenue, is under construction for the next couple of months. Torn-up asphalt and patches of gravel are no fun. It's worth it to us to take the "back route" through the middle school and the parking lot of the Presbyterian church, even though it's about 1/2 mile longer that way.


3. The best ride is in the morning. Overall it's more down hill (see the maps above). We have more energy, the roads are quieter, and the sunrises are gorgeous. See below. 'Nuff said.


4. You have to think about your clothing. I made it to school in a long skirt one day this week. Pulled my rain pants up over them for the morning ride. On the way home it was too warm for the rain pants so I "kilted" my skirt by bringing the back hem up between my knees and clipping it to the front of my shirt. Voila! Long baggy shorts.
Then I found this video called "Penny in Your Pants." I think I'll be able to wear lots of skirts!

It's starting to get chillier in the mornings. Today we commented to each other that it won't be long before we need to wear gloves. And maybe something to keep the neck warm.

We haven't had to ride through rain yet. But we know it's coming. We'll see how we do on that day, but for now we are feeling positive and happy about our new commuting style.

5. We're both happy with our bikes. I'm riding the 5-speed green Schwinn bike that my parents gave to me on my 17th birthday. Mark is riding the commuter bike he bought a few years ago, with a comfier seat and new (old school) handlebars.

*So far the money we have saved on gas is more than offset by the money we are spending. New seat and handlebars for Mark. New tubes in both bikes. New headlights and some flashy little gizmos for our spokes. It will take us a little while to recoup our bike investments. But if you add in saved gym memberships, saved time for workouts, and saved time by not being sick, it is WAY more than worth it.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pruning, Gardening, Grief, Guilt

Winter was long and dark.

I grieved my mom's placement in memory care. (It all seemed to happen so fast at the time. Now, looking back, I realize that she was heading into a decline for many months prior to the placement. It can be difficult to see the trajectory when you are living it every day.) (And in January, after 5 months in memory care, she "graduated" into assisted living. She loves having her own apartment. No stinky cranky roommates. A door she can lock. Her own refrigerator. A sign-out/sign-in book that lets her leave and walk a mile or more.) For months I walked a tightrope of guilt that I could no longer keep her safe in my home, and relief that I no longer had to be her caregiver. I felt judged by a few people, but mostly by myself.

I grieved--am still grieving--the estrangement of one of my daughters. It caught be off guard. Should have seen it coming, I suppose. It reminds me of the day Joe and I moved to Oregon, moving away from his parents in southern California. His mother, Eva June, stood in the driveway as we waved goodbye. I can hear her voice wailing, "They've changed the rules! They've changed the rules…" Meaning that in her world, adult children were supposed to live close to their aging parents and care for them, as she had cared so carefully for her parents. We were moving over 1,000 miles away. Escaping. Anyway, that's how I feel about this change in mother-daughter relationship. I want to hold Eva June's hand and wail with her, "They've changed the rules!" I had not known, previously, that such a thing was possible. (Not that I expect my adult children to live near me. But at least stay in touch. I had not known it was possible to walk out of a parent's life.)

Grief silenced me for months.

Sometimes silence is the only way through.

Yesterday, something seemed to turn within me. Mark and I had promised ourselves a day of yard work, but we were true Oregon slugs and didn't get outside until 3:00 pm. Among other chores--it feels so good to work hard!--I pruned the Japanese maple. It had grown into a shapeless bush, a large red leafy mound in the middle of the lawn. I probably cut away 1/3 of the growth. (I want to think of something creative to do with all those weirdly-twisted branches. They are so cool.)


Now the tree has light within. Instead of a lump, it is a lovely tree with shape and sweet interplay of light and shadow.

Mark and I dragged the plastic off the garden bed. We've created our little garden in the front lawn eight years ago, and only one other time have we planted this late, a fact of timing that triggers shame and guilt. For what? Who cares what week the garden gets planted? Just me heaping blame on my own head. So silly.


Woke up this morning planning to water the garden and found that God had already done that chore for me. Robins are cheerio-ing each other.

I feel, finally, the rising juices of spring within me.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Stormy Night

Early December in Oregon, and it's blowing hard outside. Later we'll get some more rain.

I'm settled into my green rocking chair--the one I bought new when David was a baby--in the corner of the living room. Lamplight falls over my shoulder. I just finished grading the last--well, almost the last--stack of papers.

The refrigerator hums in the kitchen, the clock on the wall ticks steadily. In the basement, the furnace is rumbling to life.

Pretty soon I'll grade the (late) Hamlet essays that were turned in today. I've promised myself to make a batch of coconut macaroons to take to school tomorrow for my seniors, who are reading A Doll's House (the main character eats macaroons and they are a symbol for deceit in Ibsen's play). Load the dishwasher, wrap up tomorrow's lesson plan.

I am nourished by the quiet. The glow of book jackets in our little library, the living room populated with furniture from my grandparents' homes, the crisp green and white bannister on the stairs.

There are some things that aren't quite right in my world. My mother had a difficult day in memory care. I learned today that a dear friend who has been battling cancer will start hospice care this weekend. It's somewhere around week 6 of a difficult personal disagreement.

But there is this: the storm outside, the clocking marking its time, this quiet peace in my home.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Itty-Bitty Getaway

Mark and I escaped overnight this weekend. It was just a quick overnight trip across the Columbia River to Camas, Washington, but it was enough to make us feel like we really broke out of our rut for a bit.

We enjoyed beautiful fall weather. Cold! But so pretty.

We stayed at the Camas Hotel, a restored historic building. It operates like a cross between a small hotel and a bed-and-breakfast.


It was fun to be tourists in a small town. This morning we went to church in Camas, then drove home the "scenic" route - east along the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge to Bridge of the Gods, then home along I-84.




We had planned to stop at Multnomah Falls to take a few pictures, but the parking lot was icy, so I was only able to snap a couple of quick photos from the car. Too bad, because the falls are always spectacular this time of year when the spray freezes all along the sides.



A beautiful drive home along a very cold and choppy Columbia River.



Now a peaceful Sunday afternoon here at home…and then back to reality tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Happy Birthday, Dad

Mark, Mom and I went to celebrate Dad's birthday with frozen yogurt this evening. We forgot to snap a selfie, but you'd better believe that the yogurt was yummy! Dad would have been 82 today. Love him and miss him.
Here's a photo from his 80th birthday - lunch at Bob's Red Mill 2 years ago.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Aurora Borealis sightings in Portland…NOT!


There has been a huge solar storm this week, and the northern lights are supposed to be visible much further south than normal. The Oregonian reported Friday afternoon that there was a good chance they would be visible from locations with a good northern aspect and a dark sky.

Mark and I decided to drive to the Women's Forum State Park in the Columbia River Gorge (near Crown Point) to have a look. Because the moon was nearly full and would interfere with darkness, the best time was supposed to be near midnight. We were pretty tired, so we decided to go a little early to see what we could. We left home about 10:30-ish. That would get us to our site in the Gorge around 11:00 pm. (Pretty late for us old fogies.)

We exited I-84 at the Corbett exit, and within 1/4 mile of starting our way up that windy road to the top of the Gorge, hit a traffic jam. We thought maybe there had been an accident. Nope. Portland had decided to have a star party. Thousands of people had the same idea we had. It was "Keep Portland Weird" in live action.

It took quite a while to get to the top. We parked along the side of the road about 1/2 mile before reaching the state park - saw lots of other cars parked along the road and decided to walk the rest of the way. Took our lives in our hands walking along dark rural road w/ no streetlights + tons of traffic.

It was warm! A brisk warm breeze coming toward us down the Gorge. Lots of people at the park. Probably many more at Larch Mountain and Crown Point.  By the time we finally got there, it was…almost midnight. The moon was very bright and our night vision was not good.

Never did see any northern lights. Saw a gorgeous, huge meteorite and decided that was enough. Enjoyed the beautiful evening, arms around each other, in the company of hundreds of our good Portland neighbors. We lasted about 15 minutes, then made our (dangerous) way back to the car. Loved every minute of it. Drove home, yawning all the way, got into bed about 1:00 am.

Took naps today. Feeling fully recovered, grateful for adventures together, even slightly silly ones.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Backpacking the North Fork of John Day River


We backpacked 40 miles in-and-out on the North Fork of the John Day River in late August 2014. We hiked a total of 60+ miles because we added 3 day hikes from our base camp at the midpoint.

I have written several blog posts about the hike (links below) and this is the summary of the overall trip.


Entry point: Oriental Campground on Road 5506 (off of Road 55 out of Ukiah, OR).
This is at the west end of the Wilderness area around the North Fork of the John Day River.

Day 1: Hiked 3.5 miles east on the unimproved Road 5506 to a meadow campsite next to the river. This campsite was about .5 miles before the Wilderness boundary (bridge across Big Creek). There is a better campsite at Big Creek; had we known about it, we would have hiked a little further to the better site.

Day 2: Hiked 4 miles east to a campsite we named "Huckleberry Springs" for the abundant ripe huckleberries and an old metal cot with springs at the site.
We crossed 3 water crossings after the bridge at Big Creek.
We passed trail junction for Cougar Trail. We rested at a campsite named Basin Camp on our map. There is a foundation of an old building there - probably a mining cabin.

Day 3: Hiked 8 miles east to the confluence of the North Fork and Granite Creek.
There is a good bridge at this point to a large established campsite adjacent to a meadow.
13 water crossings between Huckleberry Springs and the bridge.
Crossed trail junctions to Glade Trail, Paradise Trail, and Silver Butte.
Camp site / good rest stop at about 5 miles - Wind Rock (signed). A small camp site along the trail at about 7 miles.

The hiking included LOTS of underbrush and bush-whacking. Also lots of bear scat - 26 piles of scat in 8 miles. Two or three were very fresh. No bear sightings. Several salmon sightings in deep pools of the river - 50-100 at a time.

We also passed an abandoned cabin about .5 miles before reaching Granite Creek.

Base camp: We made our base camp at Granite Meadow for the next 3 nights.
The campsite includes a primitive outhouse (useable) and a simple table (no benches).

Day 4: Day hike up the Granite Creek Trail. Hiked about 4 miles (one way) to an area with unimproved roads and mine tailings from 1890's gold mining in the area.

Day 5: Day hike up the North Fork of the John Day River. Hiked about 4 miles (one way) to river crossing - no bridge. Abandoned mining cabin on the other side of the river: Tub Spring, 1895.

Day 6: Day hike up the Silver Butte Trail. We hiked about 3 miles (one way). The trail is steep in places, well-maintained.

Day 7 & 8:
Day 7: Hiked 16 miles west back to the campsite at Big Creek.
Day 8: Hiked 4 miles west back to our car parked at Oriental Campground.

Alternate entry points: Hiking guide book suggests access from North Fork John Day Campground on Road 51. It is possible to shuttle vehicles from the Oriental Campground to here via the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway for a one-way hike. The shuttle drive takes about 2 hours.

The area appears to also be accessible from the unimproved roads leading to the Granite Creek Trail and the Lake Creek Trail (near Road 10 and Desolation Butte). I do not know if the roads are drivable; I only have the topographical map for information.

Information: North Fork John Day Ranger District (541) 427-3231

Monday, September 1, 2014

North Fork of John Day River: Days 7 and 8 - Hiking Out

Day 7 - Monday, August 18
Monday morning we rise early and load our packs with mixed feelings.

We are tired (especially Dorothy - sleeping on the ground is always a challenge) and it will be good to be home and in our own beds.
And yet…sigh…it means we are leaving this beautiful place.

But before we head out, it's time for backpacking portraits in the meadow!








We know what to expect for much of our Day 7 hike (Monday). We've been over this trail before.
Once again we see Lydia's cabin, the magnificent salmon, beautiful scenery, waaaay too much underbrush.






 Salmon!!!

This time I count the bear scat: 26 piles in 8 miles. And a few of them are fresh. VERY fresh.

Even though the rangers had assured us a week ago that this area has never had a bear-human encounter where the humans were injured, still, with all that underbrush…  Well, we are sure to sing and talk to the bears every time we hike around a corner or into a brushy spot so we won't surprise a furry fellow.
I know the trail is in here somewhere…

By 1:00 we arrive at Huckleberry Springs. I vote to stay for the night and finish the last 8 miles in the morning. And yet, something seems to nudge all of us toward continuing our hike.

Ugh. I have two -- maybe three -- solid blisters by this time.

I'm not willing to discuss more hiking until I've had a good long rest. Maybe in an hour.



Rest time at Huckleberry Springs! It is so amazing. While we are playing in the water, we discover about 20 huge salmon right there in our swimming hole!! Who needs to swim with the dolphins? We are actually swimming…well wading…with the salmon. Kind of. We get within 15 feet of them before they flick their huge tails and muscle on up the river. "Stupid humans," we can almost hear them muttering through their gills.

 Blister care


Salmon!


After a good rest, play time in the water, dry clothes and dry socks, we heave our packs back on and begin hiking again.

I don't want to be the whiner so I don't say much about my feet, my blisters, my aching legs. At this point it is a matter of will, of the mind commanding the feet, the legs. We stop every hour for a brief rest. I add moleskin to the blisters. We remind each other to drink water, to stay hydrated.

Dorothy says she's sure the campsite is not too far ahead. I want to believe her but I don't want to be disappointed. What options are there? We've hiked this trail before. We know there aren't any camp sites after Huckleberry Springs until we come to Big Creek; we know we have committed ourselves to hike 16 miles from the camp site we left at Granite Meadow.


And then, almost suddenly, we come to familiar landmarks. The Big Creek trail junction. The bridge leading into the Wilderness boundary. The side road that leads to Big Creek camp site!!!

It is an epic day for the four of us 60-year-olds. My pedometer has logged 34,267 steps in one day.
16 miles
Our pack weights range from 35-50 pounds

And even though we are exhausted, even though we should be too tired to do anything when we drop our packs, we get busy -- set up the tents, pump fresh water through the filters, cook our suppers.

Because WE CAN DO THIS.

We are 60 years old, and we can backpack for 60 miles.

We spend the night next to a sweet little creek (Big Creek).





Day 8: Tuesday, August 19

The next morning, stiff and sore, we inhale a little "vitamin I" (ibuprofen), and head out for the last 4 miles of our adventure.

We are back to hiking on the unimproved road. Easy terrain, plenty of room to stroll next to a companion.


So fun! We see a few more salmon. Were they there on Day 1? Are we better at seeing them now, or are there more salmon in the river, heading upstream to their spawning beds?
Someone mentions that the river definitely seems tamer now. The landscape feels less remote.

And then…right about HERE, we finally see A BEAR!!!

He is across the river from us, and he knows we are here. He turns and heads up the river bank before any of us can grab a camera.

He is so beautiful, so black, with movement so smooth and so obviously belonging to the wilderness.

Every single one of us sees him. He is wonderful, and he is gone.

And then we hike around a corner and see the car in the distance. And some trucks.

After 8 days of solitude, we are surrounded by Forest Service guys, here to work on a project, to put a gate across the road we couldn't have driven anyway.

Post Script:
After about 30 minutes in the car, we are back into cell range. My phone rings. My daughter, Maleena, says my mom is ill and on her way to the hospital.

Now we know why we all felt the urgency to hike 16 miles yesterday. Time to come back to our real-world lives.

Two weeks later, Mom is out of the hospital and better than ever.
Two weeks later, I, too, am better than ever.

One last post…coming soon...to summarize our route for future hikers.