Sunday, August 1, 2010

Glimpsing My Mortality

I glimpsed my own mortality Thursday night. 

Late in the evening, nearing my regular bedtime, my back began to hurt a lot.  The pain was like fiery liquid, coursing through my spinal cord.  I've dealt with spinal pain before, it appears to be a part of my ongoing condition, but this changed from the familiar to the scary in a few short hours. 

Normally, these attacks last maybe 15 to 30 minutes.  I usually curl into a ball, and rock back and forth, concentrating on getting through the pain.  The technique I use is very like ones I used in childbirth.  Afterward, I'm absolutely spent.  The intensity of the pain takes everything I have to work through, and leaves nothing for the recovery.

The usual coping methods didn't work, massage didn't work, nothing seemed to work... it was getting worse.  It was spreading around my back to my rib cage and chest.  The pain radiated and pulled from spine to sternum, and everything in between.

After about two hours, I realized this wasn't going to go away and it wasn't "normal" pain.  We decided to go to the emergency room.  The chest pains were very unfamiliar and a lifetime of training told me that chest pains needed immediate medical attention.

While triaging me, they decided to put me right back into a room for an examination.  The first thing they did was hook me up to something they called a "12 Point."  Two days later, and I'm still trying to get all of the glue off of my skin.

They had a terrible time IV'ing me and taking blood.  They said I was very dehydrated.  This was surprising to me.  I take a diuretic as a part of my daily meds, so I make a point of drinking 64 ounces of water at work every day.  They got the IV in on the first shot, but weren't able to draw any blood from the site.  It hurt like hell... I'd never been stabbed on the side of my forearm before.  The blood tech spent more than a half an hour looking for a viable vein on the other arm.  She used hot packs, and went about tapping and rooting around trying to find even a superficial vein she could poke.  The first poke was unsuccessful; nothing but a sluggish spurt.  Apparently, I was clotting up too quickly.  Her second try yielded success. It's taken 2 days for the bruise to fully form.

They decided on some pretty heavy pain killers after my exam and my first blood pressure check coming back at 220 over 58.  The Dilaudid didn't do a lot the first time, so they doubled the dose, up to 2 mg.  Finally the pain, although not gone, was manageable.  I ended up getting one more dose before they released me.  My metabolism being what it is, I was still feeling the residual effects 12 hours later.

The diagnosis:  My gall bladder was being naughty, and possibly my spleen too.  They unhooked me, gave me a prescription for something that apparently counteracts some of the naughty behavior and sent me home.  I was thankful it wasn't a heart attack or something.

So, the next day, I underwent a very comprehensive ultrasound.  

Nothing.  Everything looked normal.  Tentative diagnosis shot to hell. 

So where am I now?  I still don't know what happened to me.  That frightens me more than knowing, I think.  I have a regular appointment with my Rhuemy next week... I'll chat with him about this little episode then (provided nothing else happens between now and then).  Part of me wonders if this is just another manifestation of my everyday pains and troubles.  Is it something I can look forward to on a periodic basis?  I've heard that unexplainable pains and trips to the ER are not uncommon.  This would be my second one in less than 5 months.

I glimpsed my mortality the other day, and I was frightened.  Not because I know my life is a finite production, but because unexplainable things were happening to my body.  Being human isn't for sissies.  I figure being "damaged" goods must be part of my lesson in life.  Patience, tenacity and hope.  If not that, then I don't know why anyone should have to go through this every day... 

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Is It Truly Better to Have Loved & Lost...?

This has been a rough year.  It's about to get even rougher.

I found out, last week, my *almost* sister-in-law is dying.  She's 35. 

Normally, vivacious and bubbly, W lays in a hospital bed now -- too weak to stand, and hooked to a variety of machines that keep her alive and her pain as minimal as possible.  She hurts a lot.  The medicine can't take it all away.  Nothing can take it away at this point.

She's dying as a result of liver failure.  She's been in and out of the hospital for the last month or so.  Each time, we hoped the tests would show us the path to her recovery.  Each time, the tests came back inconclusive.  We know what she doesn't have, but we still don't know why... why her liver failed, why she has to endure the horrific pain, why she's being taken from us.

This week, the doctors told us her spleen and kidneys were failing, and failing much faster than expected.  She is quickly sliding into total systemic failure.  She is no longer a viable candidate for a transplant.  They can do nothing to save her.  She is going to die.  She is going to die within just a few, short months - at most.

My brother, who is a seasonal fisherman, flew home from Alaska last week.  At that point, we still had hope that she could rebound.  J was going to fly back up, in time for the fish runs... but he's going to miss them this year.  He has no intention of leaving W's side.  We expected no different.

J waited a very long time to find his special love - his one love.  It was on his 36th birthday (last year) that, after months, he finally spoke to the tiny red head at the bus stop.  "It's my birthday," he told her.  They went out for the first time that night.  They've been together pretty much non-stop since then.

They're a darling couple.  J towers over her, at well over six-feet tall, by more than a foot.  He's a big teddy bear of a guy, with soft hazel green eyes and a soulful face.  He's quiet, and uses his words sparingly.  W is curvy and bouncy and filled with the zest of life.  She loves to talk, and can engage even the most curmugeonly grump into a conversation.  They are opposites, yet fit together perfectly.  They were planning for an autumn wedding, and getting married on the water.  They both love the water.  W bought a beautiful green dress to celebrate the occassion.  The dress now hangs, where all can see it, in a sterile hospital room.

J sleeps on a cot in her room.  He only leaves for short periods of time, and then, only when someone else can be there with her.  She doesn't want to be alone.  We don't want her to be alone. 

W's mother died several years ago, following a long illness.  J's (and mine) mother has become her surrogate mother, and our family is her family.  She's asked our stepfather to give her away.  She has a way with him... she can tease him until he is unable to sustain his grumpiness.  The affection is both mutual and obvious.

It's a waiting game now.  We wait helplessly for W to die.  We wait with broken hearts - unable to fathom Why!  Why her?  Why now?  It's so cruel.

What will happen to J after she's gone?  I worry about him.  He's always been a loner, but with W's influence, he came out of his shell and interacted with the world more.  I forsee him totally withdrawing back into himself, disappearing from us all for a while, or longer...  I worry he'll never truly recover, that he'll forever shut his heart against any possibilities.  He's so very sensitive - far more than I am.  Sure, I cry easy... I cry at silly commercials, Disney movies and the sign of wildlife who lost their bid against moving vehicles.  But I'm pretty resiliant--I bounce back, with time.  I have a need to love, to pull people close and nuture them... to take in strays and try to help mend wounded souls.  I have to reach out and be touched back.  J doesn't have that same need.

He's my little brother.  My heart aches at this tragedy, at his and our loss of this vibrant person we love so very much... it's so unfair.  But then again, so was the loss of my son-in-law, just a few months ago.  If I were a religious woman, I might wonder why God was doing this to me.  Rather, I simply wonder why.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Today's word is Persevere, defined as, "To persist steadfastly in pursuit of an undertaking, task, journey or mission in spite of distraction, difficulty, obstacles or discouragement."

It's a little after 3 AM on Thursday, and for the second night in a row, I find my efforts to engage in refreshing sleep thwarted by pain. Given, tonight's aching and discomfort nowhere nears the horrible pain I endured 24 hours ago.  Last night, at this time, I was literally writhing in pain and crying.  Tonight, I hurt - a lot, but aside from not being able sleep, it is endurable.

I've chosen the word persevere because for a person who suffers from chronic, neuropathic pain (or at least for me specifically), there are essentially only two choices.  I can give into the pain, and let it win, or I can get on with my life as best as I can... adjusting, as necessary, to accomplish what needs to be done.

I went to work today, albeit a little more than two hours later than usual.  Several people commented that one look at my face told them it was not a good day, and I hurt.  "Go home and rest," they'd say - meaning well.  The problem with that option is that:
1.) Going home doesn't make the pain go away, or even abate much.  Had I gone home, I wouldn't have slept, and I certainly wouldn't have relaxed at all.  Instead, I would have sat on the couch, watching On Demand and worried about the work I wasn't accomplishing; and,
2.)  Being at work provided a little distraction.  I definitely moved slower and had to fight through several pain flares, but I made it through my day, put out a lot of little fires, provided my department with the level of support and assistance they expect and need from me, and kept my To Do list from growing too much.  I also managed to meet my obligations as Shop Steward by attending a pre-negotiation meeting before coming home for the day.

Another example of persevering, or "getting on with life," are the photographic excursions we go on nearly every weekend.  This economy has severely curtailed most thoughts of a true vacation in the foreseeable future.  These little mini-trips get us out, as a family, to view and enjoy the beauty of our region, afford me the opportunity to play with my camera and are easily modified to meet my physical needs on that given day.  We spend time researching festivals and fairs that are scheduled somewhat locally.  A partial tank of gas and a tasty picnic lunch is all that it costs - and then we escape to the world of pirates, explore sandy dunes, commune with other animals of the planet, and get some fantastic people-watching opportunities.

My life is very different than the life I had before the pain became such a big part of everyday living.  I used to rock climb, and buck hay for my grandmother, and dance the night away.  Now, I sometimes don't even have the strength to carry my camera bag, or the energy to stay up past 9 PM.  I've had to readjust and reassess my priorities... and how to accomplish them.  It's almost like my life is mimicking the economic recession, forcing me to make cut-backs and restructuring how how I use my physical currency.  A big difference is that eventually the financial recession will pass.  My vigor is not expected to return, so the changes I'm making constitute a modified lifestyle.

The important thing is that I persevere.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Word of the Day: Connection

It's been awhile since I paid homage to my goal of posting a word/picture a day.  It feels like the right time to re-start that endeavor.

Today's word is "Connection."  One definition of the word is "a relation between things or events."  I've felt a distinct lack of connection for nearly a decade now.  Connection to my spiritual self, connection to my artistic self, connection to the world around me...

When we moved up to Washington in 2001, I must have forgotten to pack something.  I no longer had an urge to create, or when I did, I didn't know how to go about doing it.  There was something missing - something undefinable, yet tangible.  I'd lost my zest.  My smiles and laughter seemed less frequent.  I felt lost.

Yes, there was depression involved, but the depression was a symptom of the void - not the end result.

About 4 years ago, the absence of spiritual and creative light broke, and a small, faint glimmer pulsed - periodically brushing my soul.  For a while, it was so faint, that only looking back on those days, can I see it.  Nearly 3 years ago, I moved from the suburban hell I'd been living in, out to a far more rural environment.  It was then I truly noticed the first breath of reconnection.

Reconnection to the Earth and my surrounding world.  I've always been a creature of the Earth - drawn to her beauty and bounty.  I now live in a tiny house (a third the size of my former split-level, suburban prison).  It's not special, it's not pretty, it's not even always water-tight... but it's surrounded, no - embraced, by 60 foot tall evergreens, salal, huckleberries, ferns, and bracken.  An abundance of birds visit my porch every day.  I know that I'm sort of "bribing" them with my offerings of suet, berries and nuts - I'm okay with that.  The tiny chickadees sit on bits of wire and decoration, peeping at me.  The boisterous nuthatch hangs upside down on the suet feeder and laughs at me.  The beautiful Flickers brought their nestlings to feed at my porch this year.  The crows socialize loudly as they fly through my yard (how I love them).  I have Stellar Jays, woodpeckers - both small and huge, owls, grosbeaks, waxwings and even a hawk.  I can sit outside (or inside - looking through a window, if need be) and watch them for hours.  I never tire of their antics.  I cannot describe the sense of peace it gives me.
I now live in an area where it's only a stones toss to the shoreline of the Hood Canal or the forests of the surrounding hills.  I have incredible mud flats and estuaries to visually explore, and too many parks and trials to count.  I feel the Earth's pulse in my own, and it is healing me.

Although I am physically reconnecting, my artistic self remained in seclusion and uninspired.  My husband bought me a camera.  Originally, it was just to take pictures of things I might like to draw or paint - but the photography became it's own expression.  I still have so much to learn.  After being silenced for so long, it feels like my artistic self has been given a voice again.

Recently, I've felt my spiritual self stirring restlessly.  I think, perhaps, with the re-emergence of my Earth Self and my Artistic Self, my soul feels it might be safe to come back out.  As is my nature, I've been doing a lot of research and reading and seeking.  I'm beginning to reach out to others, looking for new friendships and renewing existing (and often, yes, sadly under-nourished) relationships.  I am questioning what "I believe" and finding my niche within it all.
And so, with these emerging connections and re-connections, I'm finally coming full circle, back to myself.  It's taken nearly a decade, and I'm not the same me as 10 years ago... but I'm giving myself importance again.  I'm accepting the changes that have occurred, the losses felt so very keenly, and the scars that both leave in their wake.  I am connecting. I am developing and nurturing relations in myself and around me.  I almost feel like a child again, learning how to interact with my world, or a day--righting itself after a particularly violent storm.  It's frightening at times, but it also feels pretty good.

Monday, May 31, 2010


Today marks another Memorial Day.  Today is different than previous holidays.  Today, I "get" it.  I wish I didn't, I wish I were able to naively enjoy a 3-day weekend, family bbq's and what I thought was an adequate reflection on the true price our military personnel pay everyday.

Sacrifice always comes with a price tag attached.  Some of our troops are away from their loved ones for long periods of time.  Children are born and grow up in their absences.  T-ball games and ballet recitals are missed, and only enjoyed through home movies or emailed pictures.  Thanksgiving dinner arrives with one less person at the table, while the family prays for their safe return.  Parents celebrate a milestone anniversary - all smiles on the outside, crying on the inside, that their beloved child is so far away, and potentially in danger.

There is also the "ultimate sacrifice" - the giving of one's own life for the benefit of others.  My son-in-law, Joel, did that.  He gave his life, in service of the US Army.  Not only did he sacrifice himself for his Ranger brothers, he gave up his chance to be a life-long husband and father.  He was overseas and missed his first wedding anniversary.  A week before the tour of duty was over, he was gravely injured.  Three days later, he passed from this world - his family, wife and infant son at his side.  His son will celebrate his first birthday in a matter of days from now.
Why did he do this?  Because he was a US Ranger, because he believed in his country and wanted to serve and protect her, because this was his calling.

To Joel, and every other veteran - both gone and still with us - I thank you.  Honestly, my thanks are truly insufficient, but they're all I have to offer, and they come from the heart.

“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” Arthur Ashe

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Of Lilies & Squirrels

We went to Wright Park, in Tacoma, yesterday - it was my first "outing" in over a month.  I've really not felt inspired to explore or use my camera.  I'm still mourning--I will for a long time--but I also needed to get out again, feel some sunshine on my face and breathe in the fresh, Spring air.

We visited the WW Seymour Botanical Conservatory. I lived in Steilacoom for 7 years (just outside of Tacoma) and never went to Wright Park, or even knew the conservatory existed.  But then again, I lived in Virginia for 3 years and never went to the Smithsonian... so there's probably a pattern here.

It was overcast and blustery to start, so we ducked into the conservatory first.  There is an art exhibit going on right now - student glass blowers.   There are whimsical mushrooms, barnacles and other sea creatures, and frogs disguised with lilies.  The glass caught and refracted light, creating rainbow splashes in every corner.

Each month, the conservatory has a different theme.  April's theme is "Easter Lilies, Asiatic Lilies, Callas, Hydrangeas, Azaleas & Primula Obconica."  Lilies have long been a personal favorite - Callas especially.  I think it has to be their pure lines and absence of color (unless you're enjoying hybrids), except for that WOW! bit of yellow in the middle.  I find them comforting.  I can't give you a reason why, they just are.  I really wanted them in my wedding - but Calla Lilies and August aren't compatible.

There are a lot unexpected textures in the conservatory.  Many of the plants and trees are tropical.  Palm-like trees, with swaying fronds, vines and tubers, and sneaky thorns hidden in clusters of sweet-smelling, tiny blossoms.

There are, of course, many orchids - all sizes, colors and levels of bizarre shapes.  I was really taken in by the ones that appeared to be made of purple gingham.  Sadly, none of those pictures turned out satisfactorily.  There were also these small orchids, smaller than an inch, that we're a soft chocolate-milk brown.  They translated to pink when I photographed them.  Still pretty though....

We found other unexpected treasures in the conservatory, but I don't want to ruin it for anyone who'd like to visit and hasn't yet.

Wright Park was established in 1890. There a several, weak-knee friendly trails, a pond with fountain, several sculptures, activity areas and squirrels galore.

These are your typical "urban" gray squirrels... bold, well-fed and really too cute for words.  They all know how to perform for your pleasure & fully expect payment - although they do work for peanuts (kaboom-clash).

We were literally followed by a pair of them as we left.  We had come unprepared.  Next time, we'll be sure to arrive with the necessary, appropriate offerings.

The park has several sculptures - mostly classical in nature.  There are, however, two, modern pieces - both commissioned in 1974.  One of the pieces nestles up to the pond.  It's called "Trinity" and depicts three children playing.  My interpretation of the artist's intent is that of innocence, diversity and communal togetherness.

We had a really lovely afternoon.  We'll visit again.  The conservatory promises Polka-Dot Plants and Begonias soon. Parks truly are necessary for a community's well-being and health - both physical and mental.  Nothing refreshed the soul like the kiss of Spring sunshine on your face, the melody of bird song and the company of those you adore.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Saying Good-bye

Yesterday, I attended my son-in-law's memorial service.  It was in the Main Chapel at Fort Lewis - interesting, in and of itself, by it's diverse architectural features and decorative embellishments.  It's been a long time since I set foot in a church, so I found myself looking around and drinking it all in.

I went into the church early and found a spot at the outside end of a pew in the family section.  I had my grandson with me, Joel's son.  Orion is only 9 months old and it was his nap time.  He was tired and overwhelmed by the number of people who just wanted to see him and touch him, a living link to Joel.

Orion and I sat down in the quiet church, only soft piano music playing, and he took down a bottle and nestled into me.  His little head pressed firmly against my heart, a tiny arm thrown up over my shoulder.  He snored...quiet and steady.  I felt a sense of peace for those 30 minutes that I hadn't felt in more than two weeks.

The church filled up slowly with people who were strangers to me - but that came with the common goal of celebrating Joel's life and his impact on ours.  It was a sea of uniforms and mourning faces.  Young and old, civilian and troop, many races and belief systems... all together, as one unit, with one purpose.

I had many people from "my side" of the family attend; some relatives I hadn't seen in many, many years.  Several were meeting Joel for the first time, through this service.  A reminder that family is always there, and will show up when you need them most.  My mother and step-father; my brother and his fiancee; my cousin, M., who is also my Sister-of-the-Heart.. they were all there.  M. sat directly behind me.  I could literally feel the support she was sending me to be strong.

Family-of-the-Heart attended.  My daughter spent a good portion of her formative years in another state, and grew up among a tight-knit group of people we consider to be family... our tribe.  J. attended as representative of this group.  She'd only physically met Joel once, at last year's Halloween party, but she felt the loss of Joel as keenly as the rest of us.  Her presence allowed my 14 year old son, who really looked up to Joel as both his brother-in-law and a hero, to finally grieve.  She's always had a very special effect on people - allowing us to lower our guard, while she stands as a soft, welcoming sentry, protecting us during our vulnerable moments.  Before she left for home, J. made new connections with my cousin, M., and some of the grieving soldiers.  I'm thankful for that - those young men will genuinely benefit from knowing her.

Orion slept soundly until the bagpipes started.  He was confused by the sound at first, but then taken in by their haunting beauty.  I, on the other hand, began to lose it a little bit.  Bagpipes have always been difficult for me to listen to, and on this occasion, much more than usual.  The honor guard/pall-bearers brought Joel down the aisle. Once at the front, the soldiers gently unfolded our country's flag over his steel-blue casket, and then marched to the back of the church.  Those poor boys... they did so well.  Their expressions did not in any way mask their grief, but they held it together and showed great dignity.

I had appointed myself to be Orion's keeper for the services... partly to relieve the burden from my daughter, but mostly for selfish reasons.  I needed Orion.  He's on the verge of walking, and didn't grasp the importance of the words being spoken at the podium... words about his father.  When he started fussing, I took him (and the darling duck Cousin M had brought for him) out of the service.  At first, we sat in the foyer - where he posed for pictures.  Orion is an utter and complete ham for a camera.  I was still able to listen to the service, but without distracting the other guests.

Once he'd had his fill of the paparazzi, we went and played in the sunshine and the grass for a bit.

There was a beautiful slideshow highlighting events in Joel's life. It was like watching him grow up.  I was fine until the pictures I'd taken over the last few years started to pop up.  Like the one of his sister, Jessica, posing bunny ears over his head at Thanksgiving.  The photo of Joel, Cass and Orion at the pumpkin patch (my favorite)... or the one at the Capital Lake in Olympia last summer.  Joel was always so good about putting up with me and my ever present camera.  I told him it was so I could supply pictures to his family in Alaska (which was true)... but mostly, my selfish nature was the real reason.  I couldn't/can't get enough pictures of those I love.

I had to take Orion outside again near the end of the service.  We went and found a few toys in the waiting room and then again, played in the sunshine.  Orion and I had the privledge of viewing Joel's escort from the church - something the other guests didn't see.  The bagpipers led the way, and then Joel was brought down the stairs and to the waiting car.  I stood there, Orion clutched to my heart as we watched him pass.  It is a moment I will never forget.

After the service, Orion played in the sunshine and grass some more. Soldiers and their companions, non-military friends and family from far and wide stopped by to introduce themselves and say hello to Joel's legacy.  Orion looks so much like his father - I think it may have supplied at least a little comfort to those who saw him, that Joel is still with us.

Joel remains in our hearts and in our memories.  Joel lives on, in the guise of his son, Orion.  Joel may not be "with" us anymore, but he will never leave us.

We love you Joel.

 "A part of us remains wherever we have been" - Chinese Proverb

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Joel D. Clarkson, 10/08/86 - 03/16/10

My 23 year old son-in-law died today.

He was a US Army Ranger, on his 5th deployment to the Middle East.  He sustained a critical head injury on a mission last week.  Once the field surgeons stabilized him, he was flown to Germany.  My daughter (his wife) and their 9 month old son flew, together with his parents and sister, to be with him.

The injury resulted in brain death.

Carrying on his heroic nature, his last act was to donate life-saving organs so that others might live to see their spouses, children and parents another day.  His final gift saved seven people, including children.

They're all flying home soon.  My daughter's last comment to me, before leaving the States, was that she wasn't coming back until she had Joel with her.

I cannot fathom what my daughter is feeling as a "widow," not yet 21 years old.  I mourn that my grandson will never know his father, except through old pictures and other people's memories.  I empathize so deeply with his parents and siblings and other family... I considered him "one of mine."  I find myself cursing the bright blue, Spring sky for daring to be so cheerful today.  It should be raining buckets, with keening winds, black clouds and the suffocating sense of loss I am feeling right now. 

Before today, I would have disbelieved the human heart could shatter into so many pieces, in just a millisecond.

Joel ~ Son.  Brother.  Grandson.  Nephew.  Cousin.  Husband.  Father.  Son-in-Law.  Brother-in-Law.  Brother in Arms.  Friend.  Hero.  We love you.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Seagulls, Butterflies and Dinosaurs... Oh My!

We took a day trip into Seattle this last Saturday.  It started with a ferry ride from Bremerton, up the Sound into Seattle.  Although Bremerton is mostly pretty industrial looking, it is beautifully surrounded by the Olympic Mountain Range.  When you take in the panoramic view, they seem to go on and on and on.  Blue, and gray and white - sharp contrasts with misty bases.

The seagulls love to draft off the ferry.  I imagine it's not only the more economical use of their energy to cross the Sound, but the fact that eager passengers are generally fairly generous with bread crumbs and other goodies.

I'm a bit jaded, being a native Pacific Northwesterner... the Seattle skyline is still beautiful and awe-inspiring to me, but I rarely feel inspired (or am lucky enough) to catch a truly magnificent shot of the famous vista.  One of the things I do love about Seattle, and never really seem to tire of, is the interesting combination/contrast of the svelte metropolitan facade and the decidedly industrial feel of parts of the waterfront.  Art Deco buildings and stark, purposeful lines... all in shades of blue and green.

Our family tradition is to, without fail (or it's not considered to be a "successful" trip) stop at Ivar's for fish & chips.  The standard is to get fries with your fish, whether you want them or not.  In my case, I'd be perfectly happy with just the fish.  The outdoor dining area is the primo gull gluttony arena.  In fact, signs encourage diners to share generously with the "dainty eaters."  They're not only quite adept at performing (loud) acrobatics to earn their dinner, they're not at all shy about telling you that you're being stingy.  Although discouraged, pigeons and little birds provide quick clean up of the floor and won't tell on you if you ignore the sign and share a little love with them too.

I know it's a little weird, but I'd never ridden the Seattle Monorail until this weekend.  It's been there since 1962, pre-dating me be a couple a years, but I'd never been on it.  BDB (hubby), knowing this, planned it as part of our day.  The ride over was interesting, albeit, nothing scary.  The ride back - a little (okay, a lot) more intense.  We sat in the VERY front and could (clearly) see just how we could (in theory) fall from the side of this narrow concrete rail, several stories in the air - into a building or the hard asphalt below.  I should probably state here, that I was the one worrying about these (im)probabilities.  The guys just enjoyed the ride.

We arrived at the Seattle Center after a short 90 second trip.  This is the home of the Space Needle, the Experience Music Project (EMP), the Pacific Science Center, the Science Fiction Museum, etc.  Lots and lots of good stuff - not to mention a pretty cool carnival and outdoor sculpture garden.

Our primary goal of the day was to visit the Tropical Butterfly exhibit at the Pacific Science Center, but we had to get through a variety of distractions first.  Obviously, there are numerous angles in which to capture the Space Needle with your camera.  Most of which have probably been captured by someone else, who walked there before you in days past - but that's not going to stop any self-respecting amateur photographer from trying.  Like I was told in photography class (so many years ago, back in high school - when they still used REAL film... I don't miss the dark room at all), every day presents a new and unique perspective of the every day.

At the Seattle Center, they were having a (National?) Yo-Yo contest... we snagged our varied Orange Julius treats (both of the guys totally love strawberry... I'm a bit more "exotic" with my tropical leanings) and scurried back out into the glorious, February sunshine.  In addition to multiple, modern, metal sculptures, the Center is host to a beautiful, carved totem pole.  It's situated so that a viewer can see our native history and (implied) future (via the nearly 50 year old Space Needle) in one blink.  Artistically and culturally - it's a pretty interesting contrast.

We eventually tore ourselves away from that desperately needed Vitamin D.  Another new experience for me was visiting the Pacific Science Center.  We chose the back left corner first (questing for my butterflies).  The guys barely made it in the door before encountering a shuffle board (used to explain friction).  I then spent time prying them from the exhibit that demonstrated gravitational patterns and bubble racing.

We chose to skip the tidal pool (we're planning a trip to the Newport Aquarium, in Oregon, later this Spring... and quite honestly - there's no comparison).  I met Lydia the Leopard Gecko, marveled at naked mole rats, laughed at the funhouse mirrors and tracked my genes (not blue).

Finally, we made it to a (deceptively) cooler wing of the center, and were greeted by Zorak (come on, there's got to be at least one, fellow Space Ghost geek out there).  He was 2 1/2 stories tall and robotic.  Pretty cool.   

And finally.. the butterflies.  So many... so pretty... really not shy.  There was only one species of "local" butterfly... the Monarch.  The Owl Eye Butterflies seemed to be the most abundant of the species.  One of the butterflies hitched a ride on BDB's hat for almost an hour.  People were constantly coming up and asking if he knew someone was hitching a ride.  A very precious little girl (5 or 6) with a little, pink camera wanted (and was accommodated for) pictures.  I won't post the pictures of the "Butterfly Whisperer" or "Lord of the Butterflies" because he's not nearly an enamored as I am by them (but they are in my Flickr Photostream).

I think, perhaps, one of my favorites was this colorful butterfly on the "Crown of Thorns" flowers, but it appears the crowd favorite was this Golden Helicon.  Another of the Looks-Pretty-Tastes-Yucky-to-Birds variety.

The website said the butterflies were attracted to red and yellow.. but, truth be told... they like sweat.  It's hot in there (they are after all, "tropical" butterflies..).  They LOVED BDB's work hat and I guess I was tasty too - had one land on my blue-jean clad calf and ride around on my shoulder.  I had to be "de-butterflied" as we left.  Darn thing must have REALLY liked me - kept jumping off the attendant's de-butterflying baton back onto my shoulder.  I felt special.

We finally left as dusk was falling.  I love the architecture of the Science Center.  Very 60's Futuristic!  Arches, lines, space-age... then add in the eco-features of being in the Pacific Northwest - Orcas, Seagulls, Dinosaurs (?)!  The beauty of pictures of architecture at sunset - the awesome color!

We finished our day, wandering around the semi-deserted carnival.  I'm guessing it doesn't rev up fully until there are enough Summer tourists to pay for it.

Despite the dark skies, there were enough ground effects to adequately light the paths and sculpture gardens.  One particularly interesting combination (IMO) was the Space Needle and a bright, orange piece called the "Olympic Iliad."

We hiked around town for about 8 hours, over just a few block of Seattle - and then it came time to go "down hill" to the water front to catch the 7ish ferry.  Have you ever experience 60 degree angles before?  My knees still aren't talking to me... and we missed that ferry.  We finally caught the 9:05 ferry - which put us home after 11 at night.  Thankful dogs greeted us at the door (both for dinner and outdoor time), and I spent most of Sunday snoozing, resting and/or knocking back kidney killers (anti-inflammatory meds)... but it was TOTALLY worth it.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

From Someone Who's Been There...

I have this friend, okay, she's actually my daughter's best friend, but I adore her.  She's a young mother of two, her husband is deployed to the Middle East (again) and she's feeling the growing pains of finding her "Self."

Being the avid giver of unsolicited advice, I sent the following message (which is something I really wish someone would have shared with me when I walked in her shoes many, many years ago):

"Read your latest blog posting, and take what you will from this comment from someone who's walked the path before you...

Yes, it is important that your spouse finds value in your efforts and your dreams, and it is vitally important that they support you while you discover how those dreams actually blend into your life. You must, however, absolutely acknowledge those dreams and hopes for your own well being. A spouse that loves and cares for you will naturally fall in line with helping to you attain them.

For a very long time, I (unintentionally) allowed my "self" to be martyred (by me) for what I thought was the best interest of my family. Turns out, it wasn't necessary to give up all of my wants to fulfill their wants and take care of them as best I could. As parents and partners, we often feel that if we place ourselves on equal ground (not above, not below) to those we love, we are in some way being selfish. The reality is that when we de-value our "self," we are short-changing those we love. We are sharing less than we can of who we are and what makes us special and valuable to them.

So to you, dear (Name), I say this.... find the time to explore what makes you happy and fulfills you as a person. Your family will benefit from your increased contentment, and blossoming self-esteem. Your husband will continue to compliment you, and instead of questioning those compliments, you will take them as they were intended and it will feed your creative soul... and that well-nourished "self" will bring a new level of closeness to your husband and a better understanding of you to yourself. Your children will benefit because you will offer the example of how to discover and follow your dreams, and still be a thoughtful, caring and confident person. Your friends will also benefit because a self-assured, confident person can better help them through their own troubles and self-searching.

I wish you the joy of discovery and the contentment of awareness on your journey."

For the record:  My husband 1001% supports my dreams, in fact he regularly kicks my dreams in the backside to get them motivated.  My dreams tend to get a little lazy... often, they'd rather snooze in front of the TV versus drive to the other side of the Canal to discover hidden forest ponds.  When I lost my urge to draw or paint and fell into a pretty significant depression... he bought me a camera and a new Muse came knocking.  Last year for Valentine's Day, he gave me a tri-pod.  This year I got butterflies (they're beautiful, but don't ask me to explain) and a hiking stick.  Today, he's taking me to Seattle to see and photograph the butterflies... you see the pattern?  This is only a few very examples of his on-going support.

And how do I practice what I preach?  It's not easy... but I try to find the things that make me "happy," and then actually do them.  At first, I resisted going to Seattle today - I've been sick, and I feel so tired, and money's tight, and so on.  Then, I realized I was shorting myself again - I really wanted to go. 

So, as for being sick and tired... I'll take it easy, take breaks as I need to and let my guys baby me.  They do, when I let them.  Money's tight... Well, let's see what we're getting for our dollars.  A ferry ride (two-ways) across the Puget Sound on a clear, sparkling February Saturday that only requires a fair be paid one-way.  A ride on the mono-rail to the Pacific Science Center... both of which are new experiences for me, even though I'm a native northwesterner.  An exhibit with thousands of colorful, exotic and live butterflies to photograph and swell my "self" with joy (butterflies have that effect on me).  Okay, so we're looking at $5 for all-day parking at the terminal to take the foot ferry (2 adults and 1 youth) for about $20 (the trip is about hour each way), $10 for the bus to the monorail (again, round-trip), $12 for the monorail experience (to and from), and $37 for admission to the Science Center.  About $84 for a day's entertainment for 3 people.  There is, of course, the obligatory fish and chips at Ivar's so we can feed the seagulls our fries (a must in our family, in order to "keep clam") and probably a mocha somewhere in our day too.

So, in closing... although the Hubby came up with this idea to spark my Muse and get her off her lazy backside, it's up to me to embrace the opportunity to feed my soul, nourish my "self" and become more, in order to give more back to those I love.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Reclaimed Estuary

We visited the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge yesterday. I'd been wanting to visit since we first moved up to Washington (June 2001), after crossing the Nisqually River and being mesmerized by endless vista of watery, reclaimed pastures, with it's layer upon layer of color and texture.

The area had been drained and farmed for many, many years. Dairy cattle lived and dined on the rich grasses grown in the silty, nutrient-filled soils.

Since that time, the Nisqually Tribe, together with the Federal Fish & Wildlife program have worked tirelessly to allow the estuary to return.

Today, two, abandoned dairy barns sit picturesquely near ever encroaching bracken, marsh waters. The Canadian Geese mill about in throngs numbering in the thousands - their calls are deafening when they become startled and take to the skies. I was challenged by one gander. He was standing sentry on a shallow hill, protecting his mate from my (unwelcome) presence. I never really came near her, but he let it be clearly known that I was (in fact) far too close and treated me to some very obvious displays of his willingness to take this encounter to another level. As I was in his home (however transient), I moved away. He went back to eating.

The ghostly skeletons of pasture trees still dot the waterscape, providing interesting texture and contrast. I was especially intrigued by a long, leggy structure that the Mallards, Wood Ducks and other waterfowl liked to circle.

As we were finishing up our 3 hour hike (I use the term loosely - there are no inclines, and a good portion of the paths are wooden foot bridges over the marsh ground), we were treated to the sight of, not one, but two American Bitterns. Hidden in the marsh foliage, perfectly camouflaged - only the soft rustling sounds, followed by their odd, characteristic jerky movements brought our attention.