Sunday Morning~Tea in Bed

There’s nothing quite as lovely as having tea brought to you in bed.  Its such a loving thing to do, bringing someone tea in bed.

So much happened this week: more talks, more questions, more friends, more hikes, and more magnificent scenery. I’d never been to Yosemite. There are only two National Parks I hadn’t been to and Yosemite was one of them. George wanted to share it with me and planned a few days of hiking amid the hectic schedule here. Another loving thing to do.  We arrived and got on a hiking trail as soon as we could, my mouth gaping open the whole time. It was sunny and warm and the views massive. Breathtaking. Heaven. California’s recent rain made the waterfalls spectacular. We were told that six months ago almost nothing was coming over, but now the falls are gargantuan. Hiking by them the “mist” was more like heavy rain.

We were camping in a tent with a platform and bed, so not really roughing it, but still a tent. No heat. Short walk to bathrooms, long walk to showers.

At the end of our first day and eleven miles of hiking, we sat with a beer relishing the setting and how compatible we are. How much we both love enjoying nature, using our legs, and appreciating the magnitude of effort that goes in to making this accessible for all to enjoy. In the year of the centennial of the National Park Service, it’s nice to reflect on the thought and planning that goes in to making this the resource it is. It’s sweet to have someone to share it with.

I appreciate those summers when my father drove us across country to explore the National Parks. Those trips were hard and we story-tell for hours about near death experiences, but there was a seed planted––a wonder, that makes me want to be inside the landscape, part of it, and I’ll never stop being grateful for that.

We talked about our childhood adventures as we relished the hard-earned beer. George asked where my father got the incentive to take us on those trips, and I didn’t know; he’d never told us. I recalled evenings reading National Geographic and wanting to go everyplace in there. When I was nine, I was reading about Yellowstone National Park, with beautiful photos of geysers and hot springs. I pointed to a picture and said, “I’m going there.”  Not that I had a plan, I just made the statement as if the trip were already set in my future and I was the only one privy to it. A few months later, after supper, my father took out a AAA triptik and laid it on the kitchen table next to his evening coffee. It traced our route from Massachusetts across the country to Wyoming and back. I don’t recall there being an explanation. I just recall my father in a good mood, pointing to the destination on this long narrow notebook of a map:  Yellowstone National Park.

In our neighborhood (and town, for that matter) kids ran out doors and yelled to their friends to come out and play. That’s how we contacted each other. We stood in the street and yelled. It was late spring and the evening was filled with lingering daylight. I took one look at the triptik and ran out the door, down the driveway yelling, “Beth! Beth! We’re going to Yellowstone National Park!” I remember my father saying, “Hey, hey, hey!” as I was running out, but I didn’t stop. This news couldn’t wait! Beth knew I wanted to go there! We’d sit and dream together for hours about our futures. We read Little House on the Prairie together! Sitting on blankets we’d spread on the ground. We’d lie next to each other under trees and read! This news couldn’t wait! I was going west! I didn’t know if anyone else in our little town had such adventure! This was headline news!

These vivid memories include the scolding I got for running out the door and bragging, because, “Do you know that many other kids will never get to do this? What if I have to cancel the trip? Huh? Did you ever think of that? Don’t you ever run out that door bragging again.” That was the usual cold water dumped on my enthusiasm. But hey! She got the piano I never got. She was pretty excited about that and I was happy for her. This was how we rolled! Dumb Dad. At nine I couldn’t quite articulate these thoughts and didn’t even try. I just felt shitty and went to bed. The usual. But we were going to Yellowstone! I think I told everyone I knew at school the next day.

So where did he get his inspiration to take us exploring? I wonder. He sternly asked me a week after the map incident, “Do you know when I decided to take this trip? Do you?” I shook my head no, thinking I might be in trouble again. One never quite knew with him. “A year ago! I decided a year ago! So you could have knocked me over with a feather when you said you wanted to go there!”  Oh, phew. I was not in trouble. But still not sure if it was a trick. Maybe one of the kids at school had told their parents that I told them we were going and I’d been ratted out. Still best to be silent and wait to see where this was heading. The trip might be canceled. Turns out, he was just pointing out that he and I were on the same page. Excellent. I was dismissed as he turned to his evening paper with a satisfied smile. I was content. I felt like I’d done something good, though, not sure what it was.

And here I was, fifty years later, sipping a beer with the man I love, in the shadow of Half-Dome, grateful for everything that led us there. It’s been a year since we met and it feels like we’ve had a thousand adventures already. We added another to the list a day later climbing to the top of Yosemite Falls when terrific storm came in and we were unprepared. I thought the rainy season was over here, but apparently not. Thunder and lightening and heavy rain came down as we tried to find shelter about a hundred yards from the top. Getting more and more soaked and seeing that this was not a passing shower, we headed down. The trail was then a waterfall itself and it was slippery and dangerous. We were carefully making our way down and came around a bend where it felt like a firehose hit us. Strong wind, driving rain, and the spray from the falls pounded us and I had to cling to a rock to keep from being blown down the trail. (Those signs aren’t kidding when they say the weather can change unexpectedly. Holy shit.) We made it down and had a long walk back to camp and were so drenched and cold that we could barely get our wet stuff off. The plan was to stand in a hot shower to warm up, but the thought of going back out in the tempest was not appealing (or probably even physically possible). We dried off with the towels there, put on dry clothes, regretted not reserving a heated tent, and wrapped in blankets until the shivering stopped.

Ah, nothing like a good story in the repertoire.  Told while sipping tea in bed, surrounded by redwoods, friendship, and love. Life is good.

Sunday Morning~A Closer Look

I have definitely adjusted to the time change… and the lifestyle. There is so much to do here! This week, after having anxiety attacks about my presentation to the Rotary Club, relaxation set in followed by rollicking good times.

I’ll start with my reluctance to use power point. I don’t know why; I guess it was just another thing to learn and I didn’t want to. But this presentation required such, so I set myself to it.  Oh! Then the system had to be updated to use this program and I had to figure that out. I thought the downloading would be a matter of minutes, but no, it was hours. So I left it and worked on other aspects which brought us into dinner engagement time. Then I felt way behind but the wine from dinner convinced me to put it off till the morn. I’d still have 24 hours before the talk. Seemed like a good idea at the time.  Waking up bright and early, ready to spend the day mastering this simple task, I open the laptop to recognize…nothing. The download changed the look of everything.  It completely throws me off when that happens and I was already nervous about the presentation. It was the TED topic and I hadn’t done it yet in front of a real audience. Actually, I was beyond nervous and this tipped me into a state of stay-away-from-me-while-I-panic. Of course it was no one else’s fault that it was so last minute. All mine. Me bad. Silly me. But I was not pleasant to be around that day. This spawned a few lover’s spats, which took up more time (we haven’t  learned to fight efficiently yet), which spiked my anxiety even more.

Just before a presentation, before I walk to the podium I always feel a bit of panic.  I love public speaking and once I’m up there and get started it’s fine, but just before, my heart is racing to the point where I can’t hear anything else.  When I get to the stage and utter my first word, it all goes away.  It’s really a remarkable phenomenon. I think it feeds my need for adventure, that little rush that signals danger, gets the adrenaline pumping, and sharpens every sense. I crave it.

It’s astonishing how quickly the time goes when I’m presenting. It’s a time warp  possible only when I am completely consumed with concentration.  It went well, though there is room for improvement. I could be smoother with the slides, I thought, but it was my first time using this program and I should have practiced more. No one seemed to notice. The audience’s reaction floored me. I’d worried about sounding too angry. I heard audible gasps a couple of times, which I took as a good sign. Definitely glad I did this. I was surprised (and thrilled) with the response, the invitations to repeat it next week, the inquiries about what can be done to help.

The aftermath of an event like that is akin to finishing the marathon for me, except that my feet don’t hurt. It’s a surge of endorphins and a rosy glow that lasts quite awhile. It’s addictive. All activity in the following days is sweeter and more enjoyable. Therefore, I didn’t mind the terror of sailing in San Francisco Bay with gale force winds. My seasickness was mild and I even glanced up at the cityscape a few times. Gorgeous. The lunch before the sail was magnificent, the company intriguing, and the wine was good, too.  However, about an hour into the sail I started regretting the wine.  The following day I spent with my dear childhood friend who moved west a long time ago. She took me to Bodega Bay where Hitchcock filmed The Birds. It was spectacular, not only to be amid such glorious landscapes but to be with someone I met at age four and feel perfectly relaxed and comfortable with. So much is understood, accepted, and loved. I’m so grateful for her.

Yesterday I decided to walk along the water to the Rosie The Riveter Museum. The air was warm and the bay perfectly calm. It looked like an entirely different body of water from the one we sailed on. I absorbed the cityscape from my perch on the shore path without fear of drowning. Lovely. At the museum there was a fifteen minute film with the story of the Richmond shipyards during WWII and how it changed the social norm at the time, describing how all races and genders worked together for the first time our history. After the film, a 94 year old African American park ranger, told her story of working in the shipyards as a 20 year old clerk and how different her experience was from the one the movie portrayed. Her great grandmother had been born into slavery and she described the generations of women in her family and how their fates were shaped by the war. The story was fascinating. It’s so strange. I wish so badly that we could live in a world without war, without hatred, or discrimination. And to hear the story of the war being the impetus for great social change as women in the workplace, African Americans riding side by side on the busses, and reliable day-care, it just seems so bizarre. Can’t we find an easier way of getting there? What kind of species are we? When have we ever not battled with each other?

Walking back along the water I noticed the houses in the development where I’m staying.  I had told my friend the day before they were all connected and identical. As I looked for the gate to get back to the road, I saw the houses weren’t actually connected. There were trees between them. And they were similar but not all exactly the same. I’d gotten that wrong. It wasn’t that big of a deal, but it did strike me after hearing that story how often we get things wrong when we don’t look closely enough. It unnerved me. I was quite sure those houses were connected and they weren’t.

The story is told by the ones at the table and it all depends on how they see it.


Sunday Morning~A New View

It’s still dark at this hour on the west coast. I’m nearly adjusted to the time change and it technically is morning now, but still dark. I look out the window and see twinkling lights in the hills, tiny constellations I could make up names for, like the small beret, or the smiling frog. I don’t think they are streetlights as they are in such a random pattern. I think I’m facing east so should be able to watch the sun rise. But I could be wrong about that. It’s funny that sunrise happens every day but still brings me a sense of awe. It’s like the full moon every month; it always seems special.

Monday of this week marked two years since Hannah left us. I purposely put off the trip west to be home for that. I wanted to spend the day honoring her in some way. Jane had planned to have Hannah’s dresses photographed that day and invited me to be there. I was happy about that. Hannah was a fashion designer. She had a unique style and had made dozens and dozens of dresses, no two alike. I’d never seen a product shoot before and it was fascinating. Jane, Nancy, and I arrived at the studio with (maybe a hundred) dresses and a cement dress form, another Hannah-original. The heavy sculpture was a beautiful size eight, with a rough surface and elegant neckline. As two of us carried it into the studio, I wondered who the model was and how she made it. She stood on a long metal pipe that screwed into a wheel rim. It’s fabulous. I wondered if Hannah named her?

I have a dress form of my mother’s. She’s named Esmerelda. My mother and I always referred to her by name. Once, I was telling my mother I’d been asked to make bride maid’s gowns for a friend’s wedding and she asked, “Would you like to borrow Esmerelda? She might be helpful.”

Esmerelda is ancient. Her skin is tattered. Her innards are rusty. She’s an old model. We could make her into different sizes by reaching into her armholes and loosening her wing nuts. Then we could spread her sections to the size we wanted her to be.  She was so accommodating. But she doesn’t work great anymore. Now designers and seamstresses use models of individual sizes. They are expensive, but much easier to work with. I borrowed one from Hannah to make Rachael’s wedding dress. I kept it for a long time. I gave it back to Jane a year ago. She said she wanted to hang her necklaces on it.  It’s soft. Esmerelda isn’t soft. I want to refurbish her. I want to replace the fabric that is peeling off her cardboard frame. I want to sand and oil all her joints. I want to do that in memory of Hannah. Until I do, she sits patiently in a corner with my marathon medals hung around her neck. Every once in awhile I thank her for being patient.

The photo shoot took two hours. Each dress was hung in front of a screen, the lighting adjusted, the hems straightened, the shadows evaluated. Every detail mesmerized me. Hannah’s design, the composition of the shot, the decision about which to hang, all were fascinating to me.  I felt as if I were watching a time lapse of an orchid blooming. I watched  Jane and Nancy collaborate about which looked better together, which colors, which length. I saw their deep friendship, their artistic eye. They worked in synch.

Nancy was there that terrible evening two years ago. I sat across the room and watched as she passed Jane’s chair and knelt. She silently reached up and put her arms around Jane’s neck, and lay her head on Jane’s arm. It seemed like slow motion. Without a word, Jane laid her head against Nancy’s. Nancy cried. Jane didn’t.

As each dress was photographed, I took it down and rehung it, then packed it into the garment bag. As soon as the bags were full I put them back in the car. I wanted to be helpful. It made me feel better.

I think what I have is survivor’s guilt. I can write about it now, since I’ve told Jane. That took me awhile. I somehow feel like she got my phone call, took the hit, suffered for me. We had just finished lunch. We’d been talking about the frock swap, men, spring, work, kids, just stuff. Just like always. It was a normal Friday. I’d been worried about my son and talked about that. Jane listened. We’d finished lunch. The waiting room was filling up. We needed to get back to work. I got a text saying it’d been a good morning. He was feeling better, which meant I felt better. I typed back some response, I can’t remember what, though I could look back and find it. I was relieved. I felt for the first time in a long time, I was not about to get a terrible phone call. And then Jane’s phone rang. My mind got scrambled and I thought there had been some huge mistake. She’d gotten the call meant for me. The call, as Sam said at the funeral, that every parent has imagined, but no parent is prepared for. It still haunts me.

I can see the slightest hint of daylight behind the hills, but the constellations remain. It seems no one is up yet. I heard it raining all night. I’d hoped to bask in some warm sun, but am happy for the rain, the trees, the fruit, the reservoirs, for everything the drought hasn’t killed yet.

It keeps getting lighter, whether it’s raining or not.


Sunday Morning~Ironing Out The Bugs

It’s very quiet in my house. After a flurry of guests and companions sharing the space, it’s just me now, and in a very short span of solo time, I have managed to cover every available surface with my stuff. It would be embarrassing, but no one is here to see it, so I’m spreading without shame. The ironing board is set up in the kitchen and I skirt around it. The table is covered with notes for my TED talk and applications for new passport and visas. The study is also covered with notes for my TED talk, as is the table in the greenhouse. I’ve got notes enough to give a three hour lecture and have to condense it into nine minutes. Yikes. I’ve got partially finished quilts spread out in the guest rooms and bits and pieces of other sewing projects in the sewing room. I’m all over the place.

I spent a couple of hours last evening listening to Prairie Home Companion, sipping Prosecco, and ironing napkins and tablecloths. It was bliss. The linens were given to me by a patient’s husband back when I was a hospice nurse. I’d visited him a couple of weeks after she died and he gave me the entire contents of her hope chest: beautiful linen tablecloths and matching napkins, many still in their original gift boxes, ladies gloves, some long, some short, some with little embroidered rosebuds at the wrist, and dozens of linen handkerchiefs. He didn’t know what to do with it all, he told me. They had no children, and he hoped I could use some of it. I adore textiles and fabrics. I’ve always envied those who inherit family heirlooms; we had none in our family. I was thrilled and honored. I used the handkerchiefs to make quilts and collars for my daughter’s dresses. I cherish the linens and use them every holiday. I take great pleasure in washing and ironing them. I think about my patient’s gentle spirit and am grateful. I like to think I was part of her family. I love setting the table. I love using the good china, saying grace, sharing a meal that took time to prepare. I love having everyone seated together. I like ironing. It’s meditative. It puts things in order. When I feel frantic and indecisive, I find it soothing to get the crinkles out of something. Eventually, my mind follows suit.

The ironing board was always set up in our kitchen growing up. It had a permanent spot in front of the kitchen windows, which, as I think about it, was prime real estate. It had a can of spray starch permanently situated at the end, next to the iron. (I remember throwing that can at my brother once when my parents weren’t home. It was heavier than I expected, probably a new can, and I think I paid dearly for that action. We probably ended up watching Combat instead of The Adams Family. I vaguely remember choosing not to throw the iron, which, in my mind was exhibiting great restraint.) Anyway, the only time the board came down was when company came. Otherwise, it stood there ready to starch and iron my father’s shirts after they’d been sprinkled with water, rolled into logs, and kept in the refrigerator until my mother had time to get to them. I think all our clothes were ironed in those days.

I cleaned the oven yesterday as well. It’s amazing how much housework I do when I am procrastinating. The TED notes are glaring at me, and suddenly, for the first time in four years, I decide the oven can wait no longer. Well, okay, it really was disgusting and I do have to get the house ready to rent for a year. And, I rationalize, I can think while cleaning. So instead of thinking about the TED talk, I started thinking about how my mother would clean our oven on a regular basis, which is to say, at least once a month. It has literally been four years since I cleaned this oven, and I use it a lot. I remember her friends coming over for a glass of wine and hearing them talk about cleaning their ovens! That’s what they would talk about! There was some new foam oven cleaner on the market and someone raved about it, and yes, they tried it, and wouldn’t you know, it worked beautifully! Didn’t have to do a thing except wipe it out! I remember listening to this thinking, I wish my mother made great discoveries like that. I wish her life got a little easier with some new foam. She always seemed to be slaving away and it was a big day when she realized she could take the oven door off so she didn’t have to reach so far in to clean the back. Why didn’t she rave about that to her friends? That actually was a big discovery. I wish she’d flaunted it more. I hoped everyone thought she was really smart for figuring that out. Yesterday, I could not figure out how to take the oven door off and thought about finding the owners manual but knew that would take the rest of the day, if it even existed. So I wrenched my back getting in there, and I just want to say, it was an athletic event. No wonder women didn’t have to go out and exercise back then.

I’m asking myself why I am so consumed with simple tasks these days? I feel a fair amount of anxiety about this talk, not actually doing the talk, but taking the stand. It’s going to stir some controversy. I’m bracing for an attack. I’m finding myself not wanting to hear anyone’s political views. It seems like I’m putting my hands over my ears and yelling “WAAAAA WAAAA WAAA”.  I’m happy boiling down maple sap, watching seedlings emerge, and listening to the peepers. I want to curl up inside a quiet peaceful world and read for pleasure. I’ve got a small window before the next adventure and I want to be still and absorb pleasure in simple things.

I haven’t gotten my country assignment yet, but will be somewhere in Africa teaching midwifery students for a year. I am excited about the opportunity; it’s a program I believe deeply in.  I’m gearing up while turning in at the same time. It’s always when I’m about to leave a place that I see all it’s beauty and value at it’s most vibrant. Ironing will be more important next year. All clothing must be ironed to kill the mango flies that lay eggs in the damp cloth. The warmth of the skin makes the eggs hatch and the larvae burrow into your skin and emerge as little maggots to then mature and fly away.  Yup.  Pretty disgusting. But a simple ironing will kill the eggs and voila! The potential host can relax maggot-free. Can’t wait.

Till then, I’ll put away my pink linen napkins and find beauty in the mud season. I’ll try to stay focused on what work needs doing and how I can be most productive and helpful.  I’ll put my scraps of paper into something coherent, finish up the raffle quilts, send off the applications, and tune out the screaming voices in our country that frighten me. I listened to Jesus Christ Superstar this week for the first time in a long time. The mob sounded scarily familiar.

It seems like a good time to retreat for a bit.