Thursday, August 21, 2014

My Happy Place

We took a vacation. It was grand.

I'm taking longer than usual to get back to our "normal" life, because I have a pinched nerve in my neck. (If you know me well, or even know me on facebook, you'll be aware that I do NOT write about aches, pains, viruses or day-to-day illness, out of respect for others, particularly those who suffer from really serious conditions.)

This has been going on for several weeks, since before we left for Canada, and has prevented me from writing or reading for any length of time. That's why I've been absent from here, and from reading your blogs. All these weeks, I have been itching to read and write, so here I am, with my laptop perched on two large cushions so as not to irritate my neck.

It is good to be away from home on the anniversary of Katie's passing. As the day approaches, I worry that if I am in our house, I will walk by the door of her room, go in, and re-live her death, moment by moment. I realize that I don't have do that, but feel helpless to stop myself. It takes an annual effort to resist re-living the entire month preceding her passing. So I planned our vacation to take us away over the day it happened, and it went well.

The best way to tell you about it is in photographs...they really are worth a thousand words.
That's Gregg and David in the distance. We walked for hours and had a picnic lunch on this beach - my favorite place to hike
My friend Teri calls this a "God-circle" - shining on Incinerator Rock. I saw more than one of these on this trip
Surfers love this cove
David finally talked us into doing something we have been resisting (for reasons of economy) for several years: taking a seaplane trip to Hot Springs Cove. It was a blast.

My father used to fly a single-engine retractable (landing gear) plane called a Mooney 201, so I love small planes, but have never been in a seaplane before. Gregg has, but David and I had not. This trip included a hike out through old-growth forest on a beautifully-maintained boardwalk to three, natural hot spring pools. Gregg and David carried our lunch, water, towels and a change of clothes.

If you thought you saw this in the slideshow,
you did. 
We were stunned to come across it on our hike out to the cove. 
It felt like a love-message from our girl.
We saw thousands of these (known as "sail jellyfish," though they are not jellyfish), which rarely come ashore,
and we saw Spiderman's underpants, on the sidewalk in Victoria. If you see him, beware - he's going commando!
We stopped at a tiny winery to buy a couple of bottles of their excellent wines which are unavailable in the U.S. This is the Venturi-Schultze Brandenburg #3 dessert wine, and I highly recommend it - particularly if you accompany it with a serving of sticky date-toffee pudding.
We took beautiful walks through the countryside and city.
Community garden in James Bay neighborhood
We ate fabulous food and met interesting, fun, kindhearted people. We spent time together as a family, just the three of us. It was pure joy.
Spoiler alert: this might be our Christmas card.
Whenever we visit, I feel as if I want to move to Vancouver Island - for good. It is my "happy place," so while we're always glad to be home, we had a heavenly vacation. And I felt Katie's presence in so many lovely ways that it was easy not to grieve for her - even on the 16th.

Thanks to all of you who sent messages, thoughts and love during this time. I deeply appreciate it, and want you to know that we are well...and happy.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Karen Gerstenberger: Where to Begin? Here and Now.

I'm over at my Karen Gerstenberger blog today - please come for a visit!  Karen Gerstenberger: Where to Begin? Here and Now.: Life is taking a new shape. I have recently neglected my blogs, but the practice of writing needs to be just that: practiced. Fortunately, t...

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Letting Go in Order to Comfort Others

Today, I went through our house and selected items to donate for the hundreds of people whose homes have been destroyed by wildfires in central Washington. I put toys, books and clothes into bags - four bags full. 
I'm also donating these items, which belonged to Katie.
 Breathe.

These are some of my favorites of Katie's clothes. I washed them before packing them. It was odd to wash her clothes again, especially items that I have laundered so many times for her. It felt odd because I wasn't doing it so that Katie could wear them. 

It was just odd.

I can't think of a better reason to part with these clothes than to give them to families who have lost every single thing they own...but it still takes my breath away.

I hope our clothes, books, toys and (especially) Katie's clothes will be a blessing to the families in need. They will probably never know what these items mean to me, but that is not important. This gift is to help comfort them in their loss, as so many people offered comfort to us in ours.

Monday, July 7, 2014

"Hope for a Sea Change" by Elizabeth Aquino

My friend, the very talented writer Elizabeth Aquino of the blog "A Moon, Worn as if it Had Been a Shell," has written a gorgeous new memoir called  
"Hope for a Sea Change."
 
 It's available in eBook form for only $2.99 from
Amazon.com and
SheBooks.
I hope you will follow one of these links and order a copy. You can read it in one sitting, and I'll bet you will, because you won't want to put it down. Elizabeth's writing is gorgeous, and her story will give you a glimpse into what life is like for an intelligent, energetic, witty, loving, creative, dedicated woman when she is faced with the sudden onset of a mysterious illness in her precious first child.

Elizabeth's writing is insightful, honest, clear, and yet filled with feeling. Her descriptions of life with a critical illness in the family - of adjusting, coping, and seeking help from "the best of the best" - are gripping, intense and luminous. I could feel her hope, discouragement, wonder, exhaustion and dark humor as she tells Sophie's story. The only downside of this memoir is that I wish it was longer.

One of the bonds which we share is the birth date of our only daughters. Sophie and Katie were born on the same day, in the same year. Though I have never met Sophie, I was fortunate to be able to meet Elizabeth in Victoria, B.C. last year when she was on a respite break, provided to her by Caregifted. Elizabeth's voice and sensibility is a gift in my life, and I know that it will be in yours, once you dip into her beautiful prose.
That's Elizabeth on the right, across from Kim of the "Art in Red Wagons" blog
Elizabeth's writing and friendship have been lights on my path since I met her in the blogisphere. I recommend you visit her blog, as well as download her memoir. If you are anything like me, they will leave you you wanting to read more. I can't wait until she finishes and publishes the long version - but please, don't wait! Order your copy today. It costs less than a latte, and its impact will be far more lasting and beneficial to you than a rush of caffeine.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Independence Day!

This week's bouquet from Persephone Farm
Remembering - with gratitude - that it is a privilege to live in a free country, and that this freedom did not come as a gift, but was bought for us at a great price. That price was sacrifice on the part of others - those who were willing to live for freedom, and to die for it. They are the ones who bought it, and gave it to us, and left their gift as a shining light to all. I thank them, and hope that my life, in the light of their sacrifice, may do justice to their gift.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Double Nickels

I turned 55 last week. To me, that's the "speed limit" birthday, but others have suggested that it also stands for "double nickels" - as you can see in the card I received from David:
On the morning of my birthday, Maribeth came over for a walk on "her" beach, and lunch in one of our favorite haunts...
...and then back to our house for a little "chill time" on the deck, and a quick visit with David and Gregg. Maribeth was the perfect "birthday presence," and I'm so grateful that she was able to spend it with me!
Late in the afternoon, our friend Linda arrived from Vienna. She was on her way to visit her family in California, and stayed with us for five days of fun.
Here we are at Burrata Bistro during my incredibly delicious (and oh-so-filling) birthday dinner...
 
...and this is the dessert tray which Burrata Bistro provided: blueberry tart, mocha creme caramel and tiramisu - with complementary glasses of port for everyone at the table!
Thank you, Kim and Alfonso!

Linda travels all over the world singing (her specialty is the operas of Richard Wagner). She was nominated for a Grammy award this year, and we enjoyed hearing all about her experiences at the ceremonies, parties and events surrounding the award show. Though she didn't win this time, it is quite an honor to be nominated at all - not to mention the privilege of attending the live concert, meeting and mingling with other artists.

We have a good time reminiscing about things we've done in the past, such as the time we went to the last concert given by the Commodores, before Lionel Richie went out on his own. We heard them perform in a small nightclub outside of Boston, with seats very close to the stage, and we were perhaps the only people not of African heritage in the club. And then there was the time I went to the church where Linda was a soloist, donning a choir robe, and standing next to her on the altar. I lip-synched along with hymns I didn't know, trying to be invisible. Not easy, standing next to the soloist, who happens to be about a foot taller than I.

On this visit, we went shopping for clothes and gifts, to the Pike Place Market in Seattle and to Port Townsend. We had our morning coffee together in the sun on the deck, barbecued dinners at home, and just relaxed. Linda had just come from an engagement in Seville, so it was good to be able to offer her a peaceful retreat by the sea.
You can tell that she and Gregg get along well...
 ...and share a sense of humor. 
She has known our kids since 2003, so she and David get on famously, as well.
My parents also love her, and took all of us to their club for dinner, after cocktail hour in their home.

On Monday, we went with my parents to Seattle to have a traditional (delicious) German dinner with a lovely couple whom Linda met when she sang in the Seattle Opera's production of Parsifal in 2003. Heidi and Hans are from Germany, adore Wagner's music and Linda's interpretation of it, and have become dear friends of hers - even traveling to Europe to hear her sing.
Here are Heidi and Hans with Linda on our deck in 2012 (my photos of the dinner at their house did not turn out well). We had a wonderful evening, and are so thankful to have met them through Linda. Music has the power to unite hearts across history, cultures, time zones and many miles.

All in all, a very happy birthday week, for which I'm grateful!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Persephone Farm CSA

Since we are not great gardeners, yet we love to eat healthy food, Gregg and I decided to try something new this year: we are joining Persephone Farm's CSA (community supported agriculture) program. The best description of the CSA is in their own words (from the Persephone Farm website):
"From the first week of June through the end of October, subscribers receive an armload of fresh-picked seasonal vegetables, herbs and flowers from our farm. In addition, subscribers can choose to receive eggs from our happy hens as well as fruit, fresh–baked bread, cheese, wine, salmon and berries from other local producers. We aim to foster a deeper connection with all the foods we offer, through recipe sharing, seasonal celebrations and lots of neighborly conversation at our weekly pick-ups."
Persephone is a farm on 13 acres in the nearby town of Indianola. Of that, two acres are under cultivation, and they have an orchard, berries, free-ranging poultry and beautiful open fields, punctuated by grand maples and surrounded by tall trees.
We visited tonight for the opening of the CSA program, and an orientation for first-time members. This included a tour of the gardens, a light buffet of delicious hors d'oeuvres, artisanal cheeses, bread, local wine, beer and talks from the owner, an intern, a local beekeeper and the provider of cheese and bread.
It felt like the best kind of school - hands-on, outdoors, in the sunshine, right in the midst of what they were teaching us. I felt happy and blessed, listening to joyful, passionate people discussing their love of nature, good food sources, healthy agricultural practices and their daily work.
We bought a half-share of produce, and a weekly share of artisanal cheese, which is going to be plenty for the three of us. The cheese-maker (and bread-maker) is locally renowned chef and cookbook author Judith Weinstock, so you know it is going to be good. Every other week, we will also receive a bouquet of fresh flowers! Persephone grows flowers to encourage the bee population to pollinate their plants. Tonight, they gave us the gift of two tomato plants and a basil plant. The tomatoes are going into my parents' garden this weekend, because Gregg and I do not have "green thumbs."
Persephone's website states that biodiversity is the key to their success. They use crop rotation and homemade compost, avoiding pesticides and chemical fertilizers. The farm is not "certified organic," but their standards are higher than national "organic" standards. We are going to benefit from their practices by picking up our produce right from the farm each week. It will be fresh, local, varied and grown with love and care.
We are blessed to have Persephone Farm so close to our home. It is a leader in the field (pun intended), and has a respected internship program, with as many as 100 applicants for its four annual positions. Martha Stewart has even visited the farm; you can read about that event here.

There are still a few openings left in this year's CSA program, so if you are interested (and live in Kitsap County), follow this link to find out how to join!

Monday, June 2, 2014

"Antidote for Pessimism"

I've been leading a writing workshop called "Word Soup" on Bainbridge Island for two weeks. It's great fun and the class is brimming with talent and energy. It is wonderful to see the students jump in and write. Each prompt that I offer is met with energy and willingness to enter the scene and draw it with words. Each student has a unique voice and perspective, and it is a privilege to add ingredients, stir the pot and see the delicious "soup" emerge.

Word Soup took a break last week; class will resume this Thursday for another two weeks, and I am thankful for the pause, because Gregg and I caught a virus just before we left for Canada and I did not want to infect anyone else. This is a small problem - nothing compared to chronic or acute illness - but it reminds me of two things:
1) when I'm sick, I always, ALWAYS think of Katie, along with others who suffer from horrible illnesses and truly disgusting treatment regimens (and their cruel side effects). This reminds me that I have no reason to complain about something like a virus and
2) a pet peeve: I dislike reading "illness" posts on facebook. If a person is asking for prayers, by all means, post a request, but otherwise, I do not want to read the daily complaints about allergy symptoms, vomiting in the backseat of the car, what came out of your cat's nose, bum, ear, etc. A little filter is a blessing!

I am not unsympathetic to small or large suffering, but there is enough negativity online and in the media to sink most ships on any given day, and the broadcasting of our run-of-the-mill virus, sniffles and stomach flu "news" simply does not help to keep anyone's ship on an even keel. In my opinion, that's the purpose of a private journal.
Which brings up something I've been wanting to share:  Gregg went to Spain on business at the end of March, and the first week of April. Because he was there over a weekend, he arranged (at our expense, not his employer's) to take a tour. Spain has a richly diverse history and many sites of great cultural interest.
One of the things I admire about Gregg is his willingness to go off of the beaten path, on his own, exploring foreign places. Many people would find it intimidating or exhausting, but he loves to do it, and it enriches his business travel to fill his "down time" with such forays. Museums, palaces, bull fights, bus tours, Roman ruins, churches, Jewish ghettos, famous restaurants, shopping streets, markets, live music, parks - from his work in Japan to France, Italy and Spain, he is open to all of it.
On this trip, he visited (among other places) the city of Italica, and the cathedral of Cordoba. The cathedral has its origins as a Christian temple in the Visigoth period, was turned into a mosque in the year 785, and back into a Christian cathedral in 1236. The architecture and interior design tell many stories, and the brochure which Gregg brought home was packed with facts.
The most interesting thing in the little pamphlet was the following passage:
"A REFLECTION
"The Church, through the Chapter, has ensured that this Cathedral, an old Western Caliphate Mosque, and World Heritage Site, is not in a pile of ruins today. In fact, this has always been one of the missions of the Church, to safeguard and inspire culture and art.
"The visit to the Cathedral of Cordoba may awake the demand and the quest for a greater Beauty that will not wither with time. Because beauty, as truth and righteousness, are an antidote for pessimism, and an invitation to take pleasure in life, a shaking of the soul that provokes the longing for God."
I had never before seen this aspect of the church put into words, but it explains why I enjoy visiting historic places of worship: they are sanctuaries where beauty, art, architecture, history, allegory, music, faith, longing, hope, love, soul and spirit converge.

Perhaps this relates to my instinctive recoil from dreary illness-posting and negativity-spewing on facebook. It is not a lack of interest in others' opinions and experiences, nor a lack of compassion for the small sufferings of our daily lives; it's a question of how much we spread the grit of our small annoyances. Spreading "beauty, truth and righteousness" lifts the spirit - our own, and those around us.

We all need safe sounding boards - places where we can share our deepest heartfelt feelings. In a public forum, however, it's important to think about what we are creating with our words and images, since we have the power of instant, far-reaching communication at our fingertips through the internet. 
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. - Phillippians 4:8, New Living Translation

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Victoria

I love Canada. I feel so "at home" in British Columbia that, every time we visit, I have fantasies of living there.
Victoria is one of my favorite cities. It has an international feeling, a historic sense, and yet it has a manageable size - not too big and not too small. It is truly charming - not phony charm, but the real kind, based upon innate good qualities.

When we visit, we walk as much as possible, and do not rent a car. We average 8-12 miles walking each day, and we love seeing the neighborhoods and different areas from ground-level, at pedestrian speed. We love to be near the water, and Victoria has plenty of that. We love to eat and drink well, and restaurants, cafes and pubs abound. There are plenty of interesting shops for browsing, as well as farmer's markets, yard sales, antique stores and coffee shops. We love boats, so the Swiftsure sailboat race weekend is a natural attraction for us - plus, it coincides with our wedding anniversary (or should that be the other way around?).

On this trip, our 23rd anniversary, we arrived in a drizzling rain, so we checked our bags at the hotel and borrowed an umbrella. As Puget Sound natives, we view an umbrella as simply an insurance policy: if we carry one, the rain will stop. True to our expectation, after about an hour of carrying the umbrella as we walked up to the Cook Street Village for a cup of coffee and some people-watching, the sun came out.
We found a fabulous delicatessen that was new to us. Its cheese selection made our mouths water, but we were saving our appetites for dinner at Cafe Brio. We were not disappointed; we never have been, at Cafe Brio.
Part of the fun of our hotel's location is walking through Laurel Point Park, looking at the city from various angles, reading the dedications on the park benches, and people-watching. We walked to dinner as the light softened from day to dusk.

Gregg started his meal with a salad and a beer; I had a glass of wine. We chose to share a fish entree, and Gregg had a half-serving of pork shoulder to himself. Then we shared a dessert which is in a class of its own: the Sticky Date Toffee Pudding with vanilla bean ice cream, swimming in toffee-rum sauce. Oh.my.good.heavens. I don't have words to describe it.
With dessert, Gregg had coffee, but I indulged in something new: fortified blackberry dessert wine from the Venturi-Schulze Winery on Vancouver Island. We are planning a visit to that winery on our next trip to the island.

On Saturday morning, we awoke for an early breakfast so that we could watch the sailboats heading out to begin the race. One reason that I love this modest hotel is its location on the inner harbour. The parade of boats is an exciting spectacle, and we are able to enjoy it from our breakfast table.
The harbour looks quite different without the boat parade. It is always busy, with ferries, pleasure boats, float planes, passenger ferries and commercial shipping, but I caught it during a quiet moment here:
After breakfast, we walked up past Ogden Point, onto the breakwater, out to the lighthouse and back. Then we continued up Dallas Road to Beacon Hill Park, and joined the crowds watching the boats depart. The winds were brisk, and there were were para-sailors riding the updrafts.
It was exciting to watch them flying so close over head, floating on the wind. Gregg was totally captivated. I thought he was going to try it, but he didn't.
We went from the Swiftsure race to the Moss Street Farmer's Market, another favorite place. They have beautiful crafts, vegetables, baked goods, toys, face-painting for children and live music. Along the way, we admired the many charming cottages, some made into duplex and four-plexes, with glorious gardens. Victoria enjoys a drier climate than ours, and it shows in the cottage gardens.

After walking about 10 miles, it was time for a nap, and after our nap, time for happy hour: oysters on the half-shell, beer and cider, outdoors near the harbour.
From there, it was on to the Irish Times restaurant, where there are dozens of beers on tap, pub food and excellent live music. They featured Irish folk tunes on Saturday night (fiddle, guitar, bass and vocals) - really well done, and in such a fun atmosphere.

The Irish Times' menu contains this page:
This is not my view of alcohol, but I thought it was pretty funny. I like the very last sentence best.
 Walking back to the hotel, this was our view along the quai (the Empress Hotel, above)
and the government buildings. Do you see what I mean about the charm of the city? It has captured my heart

I'm thankful that Gregg and I agree on the gift of time spent together as an anniversary present. It's my favorite kind of gift.