Ocean, wildflowers, and a little race

Point Lobos: Saturday hike

Point Lobos: Saturday hike

My husband ran the Big Sur International Marathon on Sunday, his fourth. I've now done four of the weekend's distances: the 21-mile run (called the Power Walk when I walked the distance in 2001); the 9-mile loop around Point Lobos, and the 10.6 miler (twice), which starts (usually) at a restaurant 10.6 miles south of the marathon’s finish line in Carmel. This weekend the 10.6 miler start was slightly south, at an historic farm, making the actual course 11 miles.

The Big Sur races are classic, the only day all year that part of Highway 1 is closed except to runners and walkers. It's a destination race, certainly, with runners from 49 states and many countries. You will not break records on this course but you might see whales and cows, hear early morning song birds, and break into a smile (or even dance) at the musicians and performers along the route. The community of Monterey County is engaged and involved, with the proceeds of the runs supporting many non-profit organizations. You'll see the Boston 2 Big Sur runners (yes, two marathons in 12 days, on opposite coasts), some elite runners (Michael Wardian was the men's winner), and hundreds of locals walking the course instead of their daily jaunts around the neighborhoods of Carmel and Monterey.

Monterey Bay: Friday morning walk complete with mother and baby Harbor seals

Monterey Bay: Friday morning walk complete with mother and baby Harbor seals

I loaded one of the school buses at 5:45 a.m. for the drive to the start. The logistics of the various races are complex, as all runners (except for the 5k and 12k) are bussed to the start before the 6:45 a.m. or 7:00 a.m. starting times. Within minutes of unloading from the bus (I was on one of the last ones, so only time for a quick bathroom break before the singing of the national anthem), the race began. Within the first five feet, we started up our first hill, with 12 more to come after it! The weather was cool with a slight breeze, a perfect day for a run on the "ragged edge of the world.” The sun peeked over the hills to the south of us, finally hitting the road about mile 5. Along with 13 hills, the camber of the road wreaked havoc on my left hip, as all the running was north toward Carmel on the ocean side of the road. There was never any purely flat road to give my legs and lungs/heart a rest, only up (756' gain) and down (839'). The numbers seem small in hindsight, but as I clicked mile after mile they were constant reminders of powering my way through this morning run.

Carmel beach: barefoot walking in the sand before the race

Carmel beach: barefoot walking in the sand before the race

I'd hoped to best my half marathon time (yes, crazy, but sea level course, training at some altitude, a slightly shorter distance made this seem a possibility) until I came to my senses when walking around Carmel on Saturday...the Big Sur International Marathon and its ancillary races are billed as destination events; I couldn't treat the 10.6 miler as a typical race. I needed to enjoy the course, run by feel, listen to the sounds of the early morning, smell the trees and flowers, and figure out the hills. Hard for me to do, I vowed to savor the morning, not beat myself up, emotionally or physically.

I finished with almost a smile on my face. I successfully absorbed the blue of the ocean, the music, the stillness, the birds, and the soft sound of my feet hitting the pavement. I didn’t push myself harder than what I could do with the terrain, remembering my vow of the day before. Again, lessons learned about approaching and, sometimes changing goals mid-stream during, these events continue to challenge me.

Finish line!

Finish line!

Doug’s marathon run was successful, perhaps not as well as he’d liked, but wonderful stories to tell of other participants, the various countries and states from which they come, their running history, their stories. We are so fortunate in the ability to do these things together, but separately, and reminiscing about almost 31 years of visiting this slice of California in all its glorious beauty.

Existential Thoughts on a Tough Morning Run

Pride Run Half Marathon (Phoenix) 3/25/2017

Pride Run Half Marathon (Phoenix) 3/25/2017

The existential question: Does a PR count if the effort was so tough that at each mile marker I wanted never to run (or at least race) again? My husband says the outcome or results (1:47:52 or 8:13 min/mile pace), my best half marathon time, ever, justify the pain and agony of running--hard--through 13.1 miles. My younger son said I was amazing. My older son said not to make any decision based on the outcome of one run. We all have good and bad days, and there are so many factors that determine how we'll do, whether it was waking up at 2:30 a.m. (two hours before the alarm), walking too much around town the day before, having guests for the weekend, not drinking enough in the days before and day of race, my general nutrition habits, general race anxiety (goodness, I get anxious when I have a long training run planned), etc., that an outlier race (I hope) shouldn't dictate the rest of my running life.

I used every ounce of energy I could muster, dug deeply to find some spring in my legs, lamented how slowly each mile marker seems to come. I have residual biting glutes/hamstrings, a twinge in my right knee, and entire body tiredness. I spent almost two hours debating with myself on an early Saturday morning, knowing I could do the miles but wanting to do them well. The result, yes a PR, first place (only place actually) in my age group, and included within top 10% women overall. I'll keep track of this new record, but I don't feel deserving of it. 

The comments from running friends: (1)  tough runs make us better; (2) if it isn't hard then you probably aren't running to your full potential; (3) in my opinion, personal records (PRs) should  only come from an all-out run; (4) you gave it everything, you deserve it; (5) you should be proud of your efforts; (6) getting to the finish line is a win; the PR the frosting on the cake; and (7) amazing job!

Post-run walk through Paradise, Arizona neighborhood

Post-run walk through Paradise, Arizona neighborhood

My First Fourteener--Mt. Whitney (August 2009)

Pitch black, 1:30 a.m. I park the car, making sure there are no candy wrappers or lipstick or lotions whose smells might entice bears to break in a window. We cross the darkened road and walk the hundred yards to the sign, “Mt. Whitney Portal”. We weigh our packs on the grocer-scale hanging below the sign. Barb and Robin each carry almost twenty pounds, most of it water. Mine, at ten pounds, will likely feel heavy by the end of the day. We attach our miner’s headlights to our caps and begin the steep incline. It is dark but for the tiny spots of light shining a few feet in front of us like fireflies greeting us in the summer night.

Mt Whitney Hike 022.jpg

It is cool but not cold. I do not need my gloves or heavy jacket. I feel groggy and off-balance, the result of the Tylenol PM I took trying to catch a few hours of sleep before the midnight wake-up call. I walk unsteadily across the log walkways placed over some soggy bogs. I slip on rocks poking above the gurgling water of the still-dark stream crossings. I will myself to concentrate, not wanting to let a tiny pill spoil months of hard labor and expectations.

The five of us track the trail in the darkness, comforted by twinkling lights of hikers ahead of us. We briefly chat with those on their way down the trail, seeking confirmation in what we are doing. Some summited the day before. Others are turning back, the altitude or the steepness too much. We silently entreat the gods of the mountain that we will not be one of those groups later.

My legs slowly become steady, my euphoria controlled, my stride even. We are quiet, in our own cocoons, hiking together. We do not want to lose a companion or be selfish of our desired pace. We share beams across uneven boulders, steps carved in the granite, and unexpected hairpin turns. As the sky lightens, we pause and watch the multi-colored sunrise from various angles as we bend and weave our way up the mountain.

At base camp, the brightly colored tents of those with two-day passes dot the landscape. I am reminded of the bright flags of hikers from many nations together in the rarified air of Mt. Everest base camp. I eat an English muffin with peanut butter, fuel for the next stage of the hike. I absorb the kaleidoscope of pink, orange, red and finally burnt yellow color of the “needles”, the sheer granite rock formations in front of us. I refill my water bottles, enough for almost six hours on the trail, wondering how tiny iodine tablets can rid the water of dangerous bacteria.

Anxious to continue, we slowly separate, each in her own rhythm tackling the soft ground between the bulky rocks of the increasingly steep grade, the unmarked entrance to the infamous switchbacks, our nemesis. The switchbacks are deceptive; the ninety-seven turns with almost 1600’ elevation gain will take us almost two hours. The three men ahead of Barb and me, visible at every other turn, are counting; finally with relief, they yell out switchback number seventy-five, almost there.

The extreme physicality of the day hits me—this is arduous. My body is working, the goal is ahead, but the pure joy of being in the stark beauty of the Inyo Forest is fading. Finally, Trail Crest, the final marker before the two and a half mile push to the summit, greets us. Barb and I nod silently to one another. Our relief is evident. We drop our backpacks alongside others, easing the load for the final ascent. We will retrieve them on the return trip.

Unencumbered by the dead weight, I feel free of the earth, light in stride and spirit. I do not think about the trail ahead or the descent back to the portal. I am present here and now, no before or after.

The ridge to the summit leaves us totally exposed to the beating sun, the thin air, and the rocky almost hidden trail. The steady stream of hikers gives some security to our mission. Yet, each step gingerly tests the stability of the rocks; a fall would be deadly. Up and down, over and over, the exhaustion wears on us.

We pause to catch our breath and soak in the spectacular vista. The town of Lone Pine is two miles below, Sequoia National Park is to the west, the John Muir Wilderness with its imposing peaks is to the east, and miles below, and we see Consolation Guitar Lakes. The yards tick away when suddenly Barb stops.

Mt Whitney Hike 058.jpg

“I can’t do it. My legs hurt. I can’t take a deep breath.”

We step off the trail, allowing other hikers to pass us on the narrow ledge. The rocks are uneven and bulky, the incline steep. A precarious place to stop, I need a moment before responding.

“You’re being silly. We only have a mile to go.”

Barb is strong. She kayaks as soon as the rapids are navigable in the spring. She bicycles over logs and boulders. She chops her own wood for heat. She is mentally determined, indefatigable and forthright.

“We’ll summit by ten o’clock, take pictures and have a snack. Your kids will be so proud of you. We’ll be back off the mountain well before any chance of bad weather.”

“What if I can’t?”
                  “Barb, we’ll just take one step at a time.” 

“I don’t know.”

“We’ll do it together. Okay?”

We start again and continue slowly but steadily, one foot in front of the other. Another thirty minutes pass as we slog through stone fields when we round yet another edge of the backside of the ridge and catch sight of a gently sloping plateau covered with gigantic granite boulders. Brightly clad hikers, resplendent in fire-engine red, sunshine yellow, and emerald green, dot an area the size of several football fields. Barb and I look at one another, somewhat perplexed and then, joyous. Although I had imagined a peak where only two or three hikers can stand at a time, we’re at the summit. The 1909 Smithsonian stone hut is in the near horizon. Hikers laughing and posing for photographs are on the ledge near the southeast ledge.

Barb and I hug one another, tightly, and continue to the precipice. A white-and green-lettered National Park Service sign heralds us to 14,496.811 feet. The marker, installed in the mid-1930s, marks the trail as the highest in the United States. We laugh, lamenting the granting of statehood to Alaska in 1959 with its Mt. McKinley taking over the landmark honor.

The vastness of this perspective on the world, the varying shades of blue, the clarity of the air, and the sting of the wind, makes me smile. I sit for a moment away from the crowd, drinking in the enormity of this place, not fully comprehending that I’ve made it to my own mountain top.

Strangers take photographs of us with the empty sky as our backdrop. We sign the guest book at the tiny stone cabin. I eat my once-frozen Snickers candy bar, still firm and delicious. Our stay here is short, only twenty minutes or so. With a last glance, Barb and I begin the descent to the portal.

Our euphoria does not last long. The descent is difficult. My knees and thighs rebel. My left baby toe sports a huge blister that is rubbed with every other step, the pain excruciating. My heart beats rapidly as I slip a few times on the switchbacks. The free-fall is unimaginable.

Is this how an astronaut feels tethered to his space station? Totally free and absolutely frightened? The snaking trail among the rocks and boulders is endless in front of me, the summit too far back to remember the triumph.

The trail in daylight is a wonder, though. Crystalline lakes nestle at the foot of magnificent granite peaks. Soggy bogs and ponds are laden with brilliant green lily pads. Spectacular panoramas of craggy peaks and deep valleys shaped by glacial and river erosion meet us at every turn. The shimmering green of the trees in the distance stand in stately contrast to the monochromatic granite rock beneath my feet. I wish I were a painter able to capture the evolving colors and lights. I am afraid my memory will not hold all that I am seeing and feeling and sensing.

I lean heavily on my poles to deflect the pressure off my knees, perking up with the congratulations of hikers still ascending. I focus on each step, deliberately, judiciously, and tenderly. I stop more frequently for water and snacks. I lose Barb in the distance as she gathers strength, like a homing pigeon fixed on its shelter.

One final bend, the portal is just ahead. Fourteen hours ago I stood here with butterflies in my stomach. I am exhausted, spent, yet exalting in the sweetness of having reached the sky. Maybe, just maybe, I even hear my father’s voice whisper in the breeze, “You did it. You only had to have faith in yourself.”

A Brief Retrospective: Books Read in 2016

Books about Nature

Books about Nature

My intended focus during 2016 was to read about nature (as a precursor to writing about nature) while learning from non-fiction works and seeking enjoyment and perspective from fiction writing. In retrospect, my list of books read reveals some surprises: my non-fiction reading was centered around four areas: nature, health/sports/nutrition, autobiography/biography, and history. My fiction reading included several of my favorite authors (Ian McEwan, Per Petterson, and Colm Toibin), a trilogy (“The Last Hundred Years” by Jane Smiley) and a quartet (“The Neapolitan Novels” by Elena Ferrante), several works of short-stories, and a play. Sprinkled among my chosen books were book club choices, spur-of-the-moment reads, and recommendations from friends and family.

My non-fiction works were varied, but several nature books stand-out as brilliant writing combined with fascinating subjects (“H Is for Hawk,” by Helen MacDonald; “A Natural History of the Senses,” by Diane Ackerman; “The Best American Nature and Science Writing 2015); several autobiographies were less about the person writing the book than about universal themes that forced me to think more deeply about the issues presented (“When Breath Becomes Air,” by Paul Kalanithi; “One Hundred Names for Love,” by Diane Ackerman; “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel (my first graphic memoir)); and two history books delved into subjects with intense historical but also current application (“Bloodlands, Europe between Hitler and Stalin,” by Timothy Snyder; “Five Days at Memorial,” by Sheri Fink).

I prefer fictional works that convey intriguing stories with excellent writing and thoughtful and unique perspectives, often selecting works from Pulitzer Prize, Man Booker, and Orange Prize award finalists. This year I was disappointed in some of my readings, either not well-written (in my opinion), trite, or not compelling, reminding me that I need to keep these goals in mind. A few of the highlights, though, were “The Secret Lives of People in Love,” by Simon Van Booy; “A Little Life,” by Hanya Yanagihara; “The Book of Salt,” by Monique Truong; “A Tale for the Time Being,” by Ruth Ozeki; and Smiley’s trilogy and Ferrante’s quartet. Anthony Doerr’s “The Shell Collector: Stories” and Lorrie Moore’s “Bark, Stories” were both substantive and satisfying short story collections.

Non-fiction (mostly) Works

Non-fiction (mostly) Works

The complete list, compiled by genre but within each genre in no particular order, follows:

NON-FICTION

Nature:

H is for Hawk, Helen MacDonald

The Best American Nature and Science Writing 2015

Bird Cloud, Annie Proulx

This Incomparable Land: A Guide to American Nature Writing, Thomas J. Lyon

A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman

The Hidden Half of Nature, David R. Montgomery and Anne Bikle

The Soul of an Octopus, A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness, Sy Montgomery

Health/Sports/Nutrition:

The Obesity Code, Unlocking the Secret of Weight Loss, Jason Fung, MD

My Marathon, Reflections on a Gold Medal Life, Frank Shorter

How Bad Do You Want it? Mastering the Psychology of Mind over Muscle, Matt Fitzgerald

The Way of the Runner, A Journey into the Fabled World of Japanese Running, Adharanand Finn

 Autobiography; Biography

The Science of Leonardo: Inside the Mind of the Great Genius, Fritjog Capra

When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi

One Hundred Names for Love, Diane Ackerman

Life in Motion, Misty Copeland

Fun Home, Alison Bechdel

Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance

Diane Arbus, Portrait of a Photographer, Arthur Lubow

History:

Where Men Win Glory, Jon Krakauer

Bloodlands, Europe between Hitler and Stalin, Timothy Snyder

Five Days at Memorial, Sheri Fink

Dirty Old London, The Victorian Fight against Filth, Lee Jackson

FICTION

A Spool of Blue Thread: A Novel, Anne Tyler

Miller’s Valley: A Novel, Anna Quindlen

The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah

Brooklyn: A Novel, Colm Toibin

Nora Webster, Colm Toibin

The Blackwater Lightship, Colm Toibin

Last Bus to Wisdom: A Novel, Ivan Doig

Fates and Furies: A Novel, Lauren Groff

The Price of Salt, Patricia Highsmith [Carol, movie]

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia: A Novel, Mohsin Hamid

I Refuse, Per Petterson

A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki

The Secret Lives of People in Love, Simon Van Booy

A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara

The Door, Magda Szabo

Circling the Sun, Paula McLain

The Marriage of Opposites, Alice Hoffman

Black Box, Amos Oz

A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman

Commonwealth, Ann Patchett

Nutshell, Ian McEwan

A Slant of Light, Jeffrey Lent

The Book of Salt, Monique Truong

The Piano Lesson, August Wilson [play]

Short Stories/Essays

Bad Feminist: Essays, Roxane Gay

The Shell Collector: Stories, Anthony Doerr

Bark, Stories, Laurie Moore

Trilogies/Etc.

My Brilliant Friend; The Story of a New Name; Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (The Neapolitan Novels, 3 of 4), Elena Ferrante

Early Warnings: A Novel; Some Luck: A Novel; Golden Age: A Novel (Last Hundred Years Trilogy), Jane Smiley

 

 

 

Surfer's Point Half Marathon Race Report: November 13, 2016

Sunrise at Ventura Beach

Sunrise at Ventura Beach

I was awake at midnight and at 3:00 a.m., mesmerized by the super moon sparkling on the Pacific Ocean outside our motel window and the high waves crashing against the sandy beach. The alarm sounded at 5:00 a.m., the sky pitch black after the orange orb slipped beneath the water. Two hours and fifteen minutes until race time, my first half marathon since the Portland last fall (which itself was my first half marathon in five and a half years).

That early morning, I was surprisingly calm after weeks of anxiety, questioning my readiness and fitness level; most of all, I suppose, wondering whether I’d be pushing my legs beyond what I should or could do. The several 10k races I’d run earlier in the summer had been difficult, legs sluggish, breathing labored, the miles too slowly passing. Earlier in the spring I’d reworked my running form, starting with one coach and ending with another. I’d followed religiously his prescribed training program but I still had doubts. Was I too old for this sport? Should I lower my expectations of running a decent pace? Could I run 13.1 miles without being competitive, with myself mainly? So many questions; disappointments; temporary recoveries; perhaps too much time and attention to this thing that I love? I knew, however, that I had to run this race for myself, to gauge my running fitness, to understand what I still can and cannot do with this body. I had to shake the monkey off my back.

I ate my whole wheat energy bar with almond butter, drank a large coffee (decaffeinated), and gobbled a few peanut butter M&Ms. I’d tried to fuel better the past few weeks, difficult for me to purposely eat more than what I normally do, but I’d been admonished (and knew) about bonking and its relationship to adequate food and hydration intake the days and weeks before a race. I didn’t need my long-standing love/hate relationship with eating to upend all my training, so I tried not to count calories, but to think about protein, good fats (yikes!), and healthy carbs.

Doug, Pat and Alex: Ojai, California

Doug, Pat and Alex: Ojai, California

Doug and I chose the Surfer’s Point Half Marathon only because we’d seized the opportunity to visit Alex and Glory in California; the weekend coincided with Alex’s fall marathon plans. Since we’d cancelled The Other Half in Moab, Utah, a few weeks before due to work conflicts (and my concern about trying to run a good race at altitude with several crucial hills), this race also seemed a good fit. The course was a figure-eight loop, run entirely along the Pacific Ocean at Ventura Beach. Billed as “flat and fast,” in fact there were a few hills at the northern part of the course. The well-documented ocean breeze was missing, portending a potentially slower race due to heat. I rarely wear short-sleeved shirts in November but the almost 60 degrees at the start and likely 75 degrees two hours (or less, I hoped) later at the finish made the decision for me.

Ventura Beach and Pier

Ventura Beach and Pier

I’d inquired about pacers, having difficulty knowing exactly what my pace would be at sea level, since all my running except for the few weeks in Berlin has been at 5500’ altitude. I’d been assured that there’d be plenty of pace times from which to choose. As we lined up at the start, though, there was a gap between the 1:45 and 2:00 hour pacers, my hoped-for 1:50 pacer non-existent. I’d have to rely on myself.

Pre-race day stroll around Ventura Harbor.

Pre-race day stroll around Ventura Harbor.

My coach had given me the race day plan: run first five miles at a controlled pace, 8:50-9:00 min/mile, then slowly increase pace, if I felt good, perhaps 5-10 seconds faster each mile. With those paces, though, I wouldn’t hit my “A” goal (to equal last year’s half marathon PR), but I also knew the principles were sound: negative splits, get the feel of the course, let my legs loosen up, hydrate well with the warm weather, focus on the present. And then, if all is going well, pick up the pace the back half of the race.

I started with another woman whose goal times were slightly slower than mine, but given the small number of runners at the front of the pack (in larger races, we’d be at the middle), it made sense to run together. I didn’t push the first miles, reminding myself that I’d have to report to Darren how his strategy worked, and I didn’t want to blow up the race, reminding myself that I’d started too fast on the 10k's this summer and had to stop several times mid-race to catch my breath. I needed to run smarter.

The flat course surprised me with some hills, but the view was exquisite: along the ocean the entire course, watching surfers catching and riding big, long waves, the sun continuing to rise higher above the Palm trees. The participants quickly spread out, a disadvantage to a small race, but I kept a few runners in my sight line, trying to pace myself with them. I kept in mind my family, how fortunate to be running the same race as Doug while Alex attempted the marathon (unfortunately thwarted yet again by a sore ankle). 

I ran more by effort and feel than by the time on my watch, steadily, carefully, not gasping for air, feeling strong. Clearly, training at altitude even if only 5500’ has advantages when racing at sea level! Stopping at every other water stop to down a little water or Gatorade, I tried to stay hydrated. I focused on the key mileage markers, the first turn-around at 5.13 miles, past the start/finish at eleven miles, and the final turn-around at twelve miles. I looked at my watch with just a little over a mile to go and realized that I could make my secret A+ goal (to PR) so I kicked up the pace, swerving between walkers, strollers, roller-skaters, and other runners (the start/finish was at the promenade at Ventura beach so lots of people besides us runners were taking in the sunshine and unusually high surf), and crossed the finish line with Doug, Alex, Glory and her mother cheering me on. The clock read 1:48:37, a PR by almost a minute.

1st F(60-69): Did I say there wasn't much competition at the AG?

1st F(60-69): Did I say there wasn't much competition at the AG?

That Sunday morning everything worked: my mantra throughout the 13.1 miles to be strong, to stay at a comfortable pace, to enjoy the beautiful scenery, to watch the spectacle of being on a California board walk and bike trail on a sunny day in November, to reap the benefits of all the training, and to appreciate that I WAS running despite the starts and stops of the past almost seven years. That day, I rediscovered the joy in running that the months of training and false starts had diminished. I am so excited to be able to do this sport that I've loved since the first time I started running many, many years ago.

Big smiles! And not too sore!

Big smiles! And not too sore!

 

Our Father's Gift to Us; Our Promise to Him

On March 7, 2006, my father died. Only weeks before, amidst the deep throbbing pain of colorectal cancer, his mind wracked with morphine-induced hallucinations, and his voice raspy, Dad dictated a note to my next older sister, Janet.

The message was eloquent in its simplicity: “We promise to take care of Mom in the manner in which Dad would have done.” Following the brief sentence was space for each of us to sign: Anne, Janet, Patricia, Bruce, Robert, the order only significant when one considered our chronological age or when our parents wanted our attention. Then, it was a mish-mash of run-together words, “annejanetpattybrucerobbie.”

This was the mantle that our father wanted, frantically, to pass on to us. We each solemnly signed the note, yet did Dad realize what he was asking of us? Or was the pain medication taking him back to the childhood days of three towheaded girls, giggling, dancing, and twirling, in close synchronicity; and later the boys, fraternal twins who abhorred the assumption of oneness, running, jumping, and grabbing toys? We definitely hadn’t shared that closeness for many, many years.

We five might go for months, even years, without seeing one another. We relied on our parents to make the connections, to soothe the perceived slights, to pass along news. Like the children’s game where one person whispers in the ear of another, around the circle, until the last person says aloud what she heard, often a gross distortion of the initial whisper, our stories changed in the telling. The alterations may have been intentional: “I got you” moments; hurt childhood feelings spilling over into adulthood; tests of who remembered best the details of some long ago adventure. Maybe the misunderstandings were normal, nothing sinister or ill-toward intended, inadvertent. The key was appreciating the nuances, which we didn’t necessarily do well.

I thought about the differences that now disconnected us from the intimacy of childhood. I could argue nature versus nurture, epigenetics, birth order (the oldest, the middle girl among three girls, the true middle child, the youngest child, who was also a twin), or individual choices made. Although I struggled to find the similarities among the five of us, I could see the reflections of our parents: my father’s love of teaching, even the tenor of his voice, in Bruce, the pragmatic one; my mother’s organization skills in Janet, the one in charge; Dad’s humbleness and kindness in Robert, the widower; Mom’s insecurities, even for all her accomplishments, in Anne, the oldest; and my father’s strong belief that women could achieve as much or more than men, no matter the difficulty, in me, the “smart one.”

Ultimately, I put aside this line of questioning to focus on Dad’s needs. I joined my sisters and brothers in assuring Dad that we could do this; after all, there were five of us, only one mother. We would lovingly care for Mom, despite knowing that independent, opinionated, and strong, she would not heed our advice or tolerate our hovering easily when the time came.

For the next eight years, Mom bicycled and played bridge, attended concerts and plays at the local college, volunteered at church, traveled to the northernmost Norwegian Islands, attended grandchildren’s college graduations. She was indefatigable, smart, admired, always planning her next journey.

We each spent alone time with Mom, no family reunions for us. The activities matched our personalities, our closeness to her, our ability to withstand her sometimes-harsh opinions without a quick, but hurtful retort, and our sense of adventure. And then in May 2014, a change in Mom’s health, slow at first but soon precipitous, affected how we sisters and brothers related to one another and to our mother.

Mom fell off her chair while watching her nightly dose of Jeopardy! She waited two days to call Janet, by then desperate with pain. My sister quickly threw clothes into a bag, drove the five hours to Mom’s house, and accompanied her to the hospital’s emergency room. The physician on duty noted cracked ribs and, from the x-ray, a large lump on Mom’s lung. Oh, no, had her several-years-in-remission colon cancer returned, perhaps spread to her lungs, metastasized?

Janet instantly took charge, trying to understand Mom’s medical conditions, her daily needs, how she would manage in her condo, alone. Our mother was certain that her setback was temporary: she didn’t want to be coddled; she didn’t want a stranger coming into her home; her nurse friend could take her to the doctor. None of us lived in town. Keeping watch over Mom would not be easy. How would we manage her needs from afar?

My sister started the daily emails about this time, easier to reach all of us without the heart-wrenching oral repetition of reporting on Mom’s health and prognosis (let alone her actual diagnosis). The subject line wasn’t so much intentional as practical: “Team Mom Update.”

June 9, 2014, 7:00 a.m. (Janet):

Today we wait for confirmation of appt. with pulmonologist and the next procedure, hoping for some relief in breathing. I’ll renew her pain meds later today, get balls to put on the bottom of the walker so it doesn’t scrape (Bruce, I could of [sic] used some old racquet balls but none handy) and a couple dowels so we can safely open windows at night.

 Do encourage the kids, and friends to send cheery notes or cards. She doesn’t have much stamina to talk on the phone right now, and tires easily but her mind is sharp. Her eyes are giving her fits but that’s for another day.

June 16, 2014: 6:00 a.m. (Patricia):

[Janet and I] had conversations with [Mom] about a myriad of topics, including the assisted living apartments, having the home health care assessment on Monday (Robert, you'll be here but Janet is willing to help with plan), staying in condo with assistance, all sorts of things.

She so wants to stay here, so we are being informative and gentle, no pushing, as she internally processes so much stuff. It's her decision and financially she is able to stay here, just need to make sure the services are appropriate and comfortable for her.”

A pattern emerged to the messages, each taking on the personality and focus of the sibling at our mother’s side, bathing her, cooking her meals, reading her letters, driving her to one of her numerous doctors’ appointments, sleeping on the tiny couch in her office, organizing appointments and medications, sitting quietly with her in the late afternoon sun on her small porch, just being with her as she became more internal, shutting off communication with friends and extended family.

June 28, 2014, 9:07 p.m. (Robert):

My heart aches, because Mom, I’m sure, feels like a bouncing ball being passed from one player to another. But still, we’re a team, and without player support, Mom will never make it to the end gracefully.”

 July 1, 2014, 8:00 p.m. (Anne):

 “She had her breakfast - took a shower - then her short morning nap - I got the kitchen floor washed (J-if mom is adamant about not having a housecleaner - she has got to invest in a regular mop-I did the floor on hands and knees) - got all of the rooms vacuumed - then I got cleaned up and just did little things - she got up at 10 and had an instant breakfast but not excited about any nourishment…

By early July, Mom’s condition had deteriorated significantly. She slept most of the day. She stopped going outside. She couldn’t see with her left eye, the good one. We agonized over an arrangement for her until Robert agreed to take a leave of absence to be with Mom until she stabilized and could be on her own. This was magical thinking on all our parts.

July 6, 2014, 9:00 p.m. (Bruce)

"We went to Mr. Ed's for dinner. I had tacos and Mom had pork ribs cutlets, those were so meaty and she had about six, she really liked them and eats them all, she also had a salad. We went out to Klickers and picked up some strawberries. We drove around for a little while and saw the park, Pioneer, then just around for about 15 minutes and she was getting tired.

July 9, 2014, 3:55 p.m. (Janet): 

Mom is very low today, has been in bed or sleeping on the couch 90% of the day. The eye news has really gotten to her, and her aches throughout the body (shoulder, back, neck, tummy) make her feel this last journey is too slow and making life miserable.  

Besides medicine and hating how things are just now, she was/is not wanting visitors. That was instigated when she saw all the various plans we are making to add ourselves onto the calendar… She said if anyone comes to visit, she prefers one day, period. That’s enough.”  

July 24, 2014, 10:00 p.m. (Robert):  

It was an all-day elbow day with mom (needed to be steadied all day as she walked to and fro)… Oh, that little lady makes me chuckle! She pushes forward each day and you have to admire that.”           

July 27, 2014, 8:08 a.m. (Robert):

Mom only wants family members (A, J, P, B and F) in the cottage, not spouses.  If you're thinking, he/she (Spouse) just wants to be polite and say "Hi Eleanor," DON'T!  It's about what Mom wants, not about want we want.

August 5, 2014, late afternoon (Robert via SMS):

Mom died a few minutes ago. She gave one last sigh, then was quiet.”

***

The rest of that day was silent: no telephone calls, no emails, no text messages. During the next two weeks, we divided up various activities and chores as if Mom (although now it was Janet) were directing her quintet: Anne worked with the church to find needy families for most of our mother’s furniture; Janet planned a celebration of life dinner for her children, grandchildren and best friends; Robert cleared away Mom’s most personal items, keenly sensing her need for privacy even after her death; Bruce packed the remaining items from the condo and loaded them onto a U-Haul truck to take back to Colorado; and I met with Mom’s accountant, trustee, and attorney to settle her affairs. And then we dispersed to our own homes and families, resuming life without our mother or father as backstop and facilitators.

I didn’t appreciate the connections among the five of us that might have portended how we rallied together during the last months of our mother’s life. But our father must have instinctively known, even in the moments of his greatest pain, that we five could work together. We could be a team. After all, he’d been a coach; his basketball and tennis teams still fondly recall so many stories of him. He would have relished the symmetry: his five children becoming a team for his beloved Eleanor. It struck me one day then, shortly before Mom died: our promise to our father, in the form of a simple sentence signed eight years before, was his gift to us, not our promise to him.

Today, we five no longer share the intense closeness, the daily communications or the worries about Mom. We do, though, have the bonds nurtured over decades of being siblings, rediscovered during those three months during the summer of 2014 when we realized—and acted upon—how dearly we love one another.

 

Open-Air Contemporary Art in Medieval City

House originally built in 1555, updated mid-nineteenth century.

House originally built in 1555, updated mid-nineteenth century.

We scheduled a weekend visit to Görlitz, the easternmost town in Germany located on the Lusatian Neisse River along the border of Germany and Poland, to see its architectural heritage. With a rich history of being conquered and held by various kingdoms, emperors, and states, the village was first founded in 1002, becoming a town in the thirteenth century, along an ancient and medieval trade route.

Over the next almost one thousand years, the government of Görlitz changed many times; the town prospered with its rich farm lands; the Protestant Reformation was responsible for most of the population becoming Lutheran; later and in succession, the Thirty Years' War, the Napoleonic Wars, and World War I impacted the town's government. Görlitz, the city, survived relatively intact during World War II, although manufacturing was converted to munitions factories. The eastern boundary of the city, along the Oder-Neisse Line, divided the town after the end of the war. Görlitz, on the left bank, became part of East German. Zgorzelec, on the right bank, became part of Poland.

Pedestrian bridge to Poland from Görlitz, Germany.

Pedestrian bridge to Poland from Görlitz, Germany.

Our interest was in the historical buildings, undamaged physically by the various wars but often decayed and in disrepair until a campaign to restore many to their colorful magnificence started in the 1960s. The site of numerous films (think of the inside of the hotel in "The Grand Budapest Hotel"), the city takes one back in time to what many other towns and cities in Europe would have been like without several wars and hundreds of years of weather and other environmental issues.

Görlitz train station.

Görlitz train station.

Immediately upon disembarking from the train from Berlin, we became enmeshed in the historical feel of this town. The various town squares (or markets), the narrow streets, the pastel-colored houses, the medieval wall still partially surrounding the city, the numerous churches and monastery, the winding river dividing the city, commanded our attention and awe.

Typical city street.

Typical city street.

But then, we unexpected saw a huge metal sculpture, looking to us like a woman with horse legs. Upon closer examination, we'd stumbled upon "Görlitzer Art," a ten-piece, year-long, contemporary art installation around and about the city. The pieces, conceived, created, and installed as a project by the Capital of Culture 2016/Wroclaw and Breslau, were unique, evocative, and distinct. While we saw all ten installations, I was only able to capture eight of them on my camera. My comments or impressions of each named installation are my own, perhaps not exactly what the artist(s) intended.

"Maske," depicting the effects on humans and animals alike of the changes in environment.

"Maske," depicting the effects on humans and animals alike of the changes in environment.

"Pulse of the City," showing the connection between nature and manmade elements of the city.

"Pulse of the City," showing the connection between nature and manmade elements of the city.

"Border," asymmetrical blocks of flat black and white paint on several sides and reflecting mirrors on others. Borders can signify limits or permit infinite possibilities. 

"Border," asymmetrical blocks of flat black and white paint on several sides and reflecting mirrors on others. Borders can signify limits or permit infinite possibilities. 

"Clock," electronic time-keeper attached to abandoned factory building, technology continues to change the world around us.

"Clock," electronic time-keeper attached to abandoned factory building, technology continues to change the world around us.

"Cloud Swing," a playful image that permits children and adult to interact physically with the art, exploring their imagination.

"Cloud Swing," a playful image that permits children and adult to interact physically with the art, exploring their imagination.

"Herd," conceptual images of horses, perhaps, once a primary mode of transportation, sport, and work, now conceived as old-time remembrances.

"Herd," conceptual images of horses, perhaps, once a primary mode of transportation, sport, and work, now conceived as old-time remembrances.

"&" the world continues apace.

"&" the world continues apace.

"Tower," a contemporary expression juxtaposed against numerous towers used for defense, storage of grains, and hiding throughout Europe.

"Tower," a contemporary expression juxtaposed against numerous towers used for defense, storage of grains, and hiding throughout Europe.

The two remaining installations comprised several life-sized crystal boxes and a yellow-blue-grey colored cobbled street. I found messages of the present and future tied to the past; the evolution of the city due to profound changes in our environment; and hope as we move forward toward the unknown. I am so glad one of my searches for "places to visit outside Berlin" highlighted this area.

 

Playing in Berlin: Parks Galore

I knew that being outside and finding parks were key to my duties as "grandma/nanny" (aka "PB") while taking care of sixteen-month-old Solomon in Berlin for three weeks this August. I'd read the travel guides about child-friendly activities in the area and a recent article about the 1800 parks in Berlin, and saw some of the innovative and creative play spaces spread throughout the city.

Solomon and I quickly found a rhythm to our days while his parents worked. We often started with a short walk either before or after breakfast to the nearest park with duck pond and slide before returning to the apartment to plan the longer stroller walks to bigger and better play structures.

Soon enough, Solomon would grab an assortment of shoes in the closet and put on his hat, signaling to me that it was time to get going! Christopher or Kate would prepare the diaper bag, containing a few treats in case he got thirsty or hungry, and then we were off. Solomon discovered his favorite activity, sitting (although always a little hesitantly) on the big blue net swings; climbing up and sliding down slides and playing in the sand with his new bucket and shovels were close seconds. 

I was amazed at the variety of play structures, situated every few blocks, with plenty of variety to spark the imaginations of different ages of children. Most of them were made of natural materials, tree trunks, ropes, wooden cars, sand boxes (one had a water spigot so the children could make sand castles as if at the ocean or lake), towers, pulleys, zip lines, etc.

I loved watching the kids play with one another, often strangers, often speaking to us in German and not caring that we responded in English, sharing or playing side by side. There was an independence, an openness to their play that is not so prevalent at parks in the U.S.

The kids got dirty, sometimes fell, maybe squabbled over whose shovel was being used to fill a sand bucket, but left to their own devices, they worked things out. Sometimes, however, the play structures were a little intimating to our young one!

Solomon contemplating Thiel Park ropes.jpg

Here are some of my favorite pictures of some of the parks we visited and Solomon doing what little boys do--play!

This park was closest to the apartment and the duck pond. As the days passed, Solomon eventually also wanted to swing on the "hands' free" swing, watching two brothers fly ever higher before jumping off!

We couldn't figure out this blue rubberized circle but it seemed to work well for hiding and shoveling sand.

Several highlights of our stay were trips to the Berlin Zoo (where he would jump into my arms when he saw the bigger animals like the elephants and giraffes, whereas he was content to watch the chickens, roosters, and big birds without my help) and Aquarium (very child-friendly, letting kids even touch the carp). We could sit almost against the glass aquariums, which was fine until a hammer-head shark (or something as ugly) swam up close to us. Baby quickly jumped up and grabbed me for protection, turning over the stroller in the process. Some kind young men helped put us back together...and we were off for more exploring.

Thiel Park near the Institute was probably our most-frequented venue. The block structure was perfect for a little boy to practice his "high steps" while also letting him explore with bark. Another small backyard park with a car with moveable steering wheel and gear shift gave him more minutes of pure joy.

We visited Domane Dahlem Farm, a working farm in our neighborhood. The multi-generational play structures, e.g., elliptical machine, old tractors, swing sets, were fascinating. We didn't stay long enough for the carousel to start but we were intrigued by the very old animals.

The park in Spandau along the river where the bigger kids used these logs for their forts.

Rope courses were all around us. Baby tried several times to figure out how he might play on them, but the rungs were too far apart...until Dad came along (below).

On my last day with Solomon and his parents, we visited Spandau, where he climbed (with our help) ALL the stairs to the top of Julius Tower AND convinced his father that he could play on the spider ropes, usually meant for the older kids. 

I didn't see many museums this trip but learning about this city through a toddler's eyes was pure delight. Even water fountains around the various cities (here, Gorlitz, a medieval town in southeast Germany that crosses over into Poland) could be the subject of much amusement. Dogs, one of his first words, were a hit whether bronze or real!

Gorlitz fountain with dog.jpg

A Surprise: Friends and Family Together

Glory and Alex ready for the fruits of their several months' labor.

Glory and Alex ready for the fruits of their several months' labor.

My son and daughter-in-law planned an utterly surprising (to me), belated birthday (cum retirement) gathering for me in San Francisco with long-time friends on Saturday July 23. I was overwhelmed to say the least by their thoughtfulness and love.

Molly (we're in almost matching dresses), who I've known since my first year in law school, flew in from New York City. We've shared so many wonderful and sad times but like all my friends, we have always been available for one another wherever we may live.

Molly and me channeling forty years of friendship.

Molly and me channeling forty years of friendship.

Eileen, Panda (who couldn't attend the actual event but stopped by with some wine), Mara and Dennis, Ted and Marlene, Linda and Claude, Karen and Brian, invitees from other times in my life, were also welcome guests. I so enjoyed my different friends meeting one another.

Alex and Glory planned this night amidst their crazy schedules, wedding, new jobs, honeymoon, etc. looking up my friends, coordinating with each one, inviting each personally. Linda and Claude graciously hosted us at their lovely SF Victorian house in lower Pacific Heights. Doug kept the secret as we "just" happened to make this weekend work in the Bay Area.

Thank you to my beautiful friends who came to share this time with me and those who sent their regrets. You cannot imagine how special that evening was and will remain in my memory.

The day after the event, we showed Alex and Glory the wonders of Rodin at the Legion of Honor.

The day after the event, we showed Alex and Glory the wonders of Rodin at the Legion of Honor.

This birthday year has been tough at times (one of those calendar stepping stones that chronicle your age but belie your self-worth and perceptions) and emotional, with various life changes (retirement, moving, making a new community) but my friends and family have made, and continue to make, this year meaningful and so hopeful.

Pictures of a Perfect Hike

Today turned out to be a perfect day for a hike.  I unexpectedly had a block of five hours mid-day, the right amount of time to drive to the trailhead of Brainard Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness area, hike several miles, and return home before late afternoon events. 

The smokey air from the recent Cold Springs fire near Nederland had evaporated, leaving stunning blue skies. The thunderstorms forecast for later morning and into the afternoon held off, only puffy white clouds occasionally blocked the sun. The weather was temperate, after several hot days.

Indian Peaks_Mitchell Lake 7-2016.jpg

I discovered  Indian Peaks Wilderness area several years ago; the relatively moderate hike from Brainard Lake to Mitchell Lake and onto Blue Lake at the base of Mount Toll (12, 979') is lovely.

This year, the late spring snows and heavy rains contributed to colorful wildflowers, intense new green growth in the dense conifer forests, and heavy water run-off into the streams that spill into the lakes. The trail is packed dirt with some rocky areas, slightly rising from Brainard Lake to Mitchell Lake (with a log bridge crossing) and then a few steep, narrow areas, like giant stairs, up to Blue Lake.

The meadows were awash in flowers and butterflies and dotted with surely very cold ponds. The upper peaks of the surrounding mountains still had patches of snow, stark white against the grayish rock. The intensity of the cerulean skies contrasted with the greens and browns and grays of the earth. Not even pictures can convey this magic of being in the mountains.

To me, the serenity and peace and wildness of a place so close to civilization is wondrous and amazing. I wish we all could step back from our lives and soak in the quiet beauty of nature, especially in these chaotic, uncertain, and unknown times.

Indian Peaks sign 7-2016.jpg

This hike was perfect: the right distance, not too hard, a break in my day, and unexpected but hoped for high-altitude flora and fauna!

Integrating Three-dimensional Movement into Two-dimensional Running

Curls and tucks on Pulley Tower.

Curls and tucks on Pulley Tower.

“Move, move! Stay light on your feet!” My father’s exhortations while we played tennis (he taught, I learned) during the summers of my college years are etched in my mind, his voice too cheerful for the 6:00 a.m. sessions, my frustration at missing lobbed balls evident. My tennis days were mostly practice, a time to be with Dad without competition or spectators, never expecting to be more than a casual player.

Today, I am a runner, sometimes moving with grace and ease, other times injured and side-lined, still other times, diligently reworking the mechanics of my body to allow me to continue this sport that I love so much.

I’ve spent more time during the past six years recovering from injuries (and never entirely) than actually running. Visits to academic sports medicine doctors, physical therapists, massage therapists, acupuncturists, and chiropractors are too numerous to count. Pilates sessions, swimming, bicycling, hiking, all alternative forms of exercise, all types of movement other than running, filled my calendar. Yet running is the movement that I most enjoy and have gone to great lengths to do. This spring, I decided to formally engage a running form coach to determine what, if anything, I needed to do to break the cycle of too many off days, weeks and months from running, and to gain a consistency that has been missing for too long. 

The coach captured my running form on videotape during our first session. Good news first: strong core seemed apparent (thank you, some of the tedious exercises worked!). But my body was “stiff,” my foot strikes heavy, my lateral movement, especially in my pelvic area, almost non-existent. Oh, Dad, I thought, I am still not light on my feet!

 And this is when I was introduced to GYROTONIC® training, a three-dimensional movement system taught on unique weight and pulley-based equipment. GYROTONIC® is a method of movement designed to lengthen and strengthen muscles while improving circulation, coordination, and joint mobility. The movements are made up of repeating circular, spiraling (from the tips of our toes to the top of our head, our natural movement should be to spiral), and three-dimensional flows on various pieces of equipment—or on the floor—that we coordinate with breathing.

Think about running or swimming or bicycling: all are basically two-dimensional movements forward in space and time. But our bodies are three-dimensional, bones, nerves, muscles, cardiovascular systems seeking balance and alignment. It makes sense, then, that we need to engage all of the body’s systems in a non-impactful way to decompress the spine, to fire the nerves and muscles, to reteach ourselves how to move naturally. This, then, should help prevent injuries, make us stronger, suppler, and more flexible—less stiff, in my case, or while running, dancing, playing tennis (Andy Murray), you pick your movement of choice. People of all ages, abilities, and levels, including many with physical disabilities such as scoliosis and Parkinson’s, can use this form of exercise.

"The Curtsy" stretching hamstrings and pelvic twist.

"The Curtsy" stretching hamstrings and pelvic twist.

I spoke with Jennifer DePalo-Peterson, a former principal with the Martha Graham Dance Company, who owns two GYROTONIC® studies, 212 GYROTONIC® in New York City and Gyrotonic Bodhi in Boulder, where I take lessons. She emphasizes the organize approach to movement, incorporating and integrating health and movement to elongate, stabilize and rejuvenate the mind and body. The essence of the “movement in motion” is using stabilization through oppositional forces to “dig deep” to connect muscle to bone, to decompress the spine, to stimulate organs and systems, to energize the nervous system. Think of being a marionette with an invisible string pulling one’s spine straight from your feet to the top of your head, opening up so many pathways and systems. Sit and stand tall, well-balanced, all systems synchronized.

Dominika Borovansky Gaines, a master trainer at Phoenix GYROTONIC® describes how the system can work to promote health and longevity:

 1.     Emphasize stability through contrast to decompress the spine and joints to counteract the effects of gravity;

2.     Mobilize the spine to stimulate the nervous system;

3.     Use gentle spiral motions to keep the fascia pliable;

4.     Move and stretch the entire body to stimulate the cardiovascular system;

5.     Stimulate the vestibular system to enhance balance;

6.     Coordinate breathing patterns to increase oxygen levels throughout the body; and

7.     Use safe, fluid movements to maintain and often enhance range of motion in joints.

As for the impact on my running? I have a history of misalignment of my pelvic bones, tightness in the hip flexors, a tendency for my left knee to turn inward, and a “stiff” torso. Over the past three months, I’ve increased my rotational ability, worked on spiraling from my feet to my head, opened my chest and shoulders, strengthened my abdominal muscles (lots of tucks and curls), and overall become more flexible (or maybe flexible as I wasn’t very supple when I started lessons). I savor the positive energy of the studio, men and women moving their bodies in circular, three-dimensional forms, reaching, stretching, and smiling. I often feel taller, lighter, looser, a “lightness of being” to paraphrase, somewhat incorrectly, from Milan Kundera’s novel.

The Arch, using deep abdominal muscles to lift body.

The Arch, using deep abdominal muscles to lift body.

Is this form of movement for you? Do you have access to GYROTONIC® trainers (certified by Juliu Horvath, the founder of this technique) in your area? Do you engage in two-dimensional physical activities? Do you want to capture the incredible feeling of freeing your body, becoming stronger, and developing long, lean muscles? Give it a try. You may be surprised as you walk out of the studio after even one session having that lightness of being, too.

 

  

Going Home Again

Blue Mountains view from Walla Walla

Blue Mountains view from Walla Walla

I had visited Walla Walla once when my parents weren’t home many years ago. They were traveling in Europe on a long-planned trip but I needed to determine if that corner of southeastern Washington could become a new home for my barely two-month old son and me. I couldn't wait for them to return and didn't want to interrupt their vacation. I found I wasn’t prepared to make a commitment to move from northern California to the comforting home of my childhood. I had too many friends and a potential job in Eureka that would tide us over until I could regain my emotional strength and make more reasoned, long-term plans for the two of us. I wasn't ready to claim Walla Walla as our new home.

It was with some trepidation, then, that when I visited my childhood home in early June of this year, ten years since Dad passed away and almost two years since Mom died, I was hesitant. My sisters had each visited a time or two, with the consensus that “There is something missing, an absence.” They enjoyed seeing friends and attending concerts but they didn’t feel the pull of home. I wanted to learn for myself how I’d react to time alone at my “first home,” without the excuse of parents with whom to share time, reminiscences, and conversations. Would I feel the absence of our parents? Would I find the town a lovely spot to visit but without an emotional connection? Or would the pull of the physical sense of place that I often felt when I returned to Walla Walla remain deep within me?

Sycamore Trees: Pioneer Park

Sycamore Trees: Pioneer Park

Many years before Mom and Dad passed away, they took the five of us children to Mountain View Cemetery on the southern edge of town, with long-range views of the Blue Mountains in northeastern Oregon. They surprised us by showing us two niches they’d recently purchased in the mausoleum there, side by side and close to several pre-deceased friends. My mother’s family had plots at a cemetery in Brooklyn, which had been set-aside for my parents. Yet, after living most of their marriage in this corner of Washington, raising us children, finding successful and fulfilling careers, establishing deep friendships, and yes, learning to love the area’s hot summers and foggy winters, they’d decided this would be their forever home.

Walla Walla Downtown

Walla Walla Downtown

Early morning after my arrival I walked over to the cemetery, before the sun was above the horizon. The grass was slightly over-grown and richly green, the result of recent rains. The silence of the cemetery, such a contrast to what would have been the case if I’d visited the plots in the middle of noisy, soot-filled Brooklyn, was a perfect prelude to my visit. I ran several miles from the cemetery along Howard to Hood Road, watching the sun burst above the mountains, smelling the growing wheat, waving to farmers driving past me to start their day’s work. The magic of the endless, wide-open skies, the slight rustle of the rows of wheat, and the delicate trumpet-shaped white morning glory spread along the side of the road reassured me of this place in my heart.

Thistles along Mill Creek Recreation Trail

Thistles along Mill Creek Recreation Trail

Another walk took me past my childhood home where my parents had lived for over fifty years. The red-and-white shingled house with the corner oak tree (perfect for tree houses), the large vegetable garden, and almost a half-acre of grass (the bane of our existence when it was our respective turns to mow the lawn), was disappointing. Only a few years before the new owners (well, ten years ago new) had caringly added more children’s outdoor play structures, had converted the garage to an office, and had opened up the inside (why didn’t we think of that?). Now, though, many of the houses on the street, along with our childhood home, are in slight disrepair, with needed paint jobs, brown lawns, and disabled cars along the side yards.

Our Carl Street house as I remembered it.

Our Carl Street house as I remembered it.

 The town has grown in population, vineyards have replaced many of the wheat and pea fields of my youth, subdivisions are being built outside the city limits with 360 degree views, and the downtown is bustling with wine tasting rooms, unique restaurants, and boutique shops. Now a destination spot for wine aficionados, parts of the population continue to suffer. Perhaps the effects of the sinking of the middle class, the result of immigrants now living full-time in town, without having to travel from place to place to find seasonal jobs, even the presence of gangs, have changed the city’s essential character. I wondered about the longevity of this phase of development, and whether the mostly family-owned vineyards and wineries would survive and thrive.

Marcus Whitman Hotel and Rainbow to the east.

Marcus Whitman Hotel and Rainbow to the east.

 I visited friends: some I’ve known since kindergarten, even though we haven’t stayed in touch. Others I visited when I was in Walla Walla to see my parents. Still others I hadn’t seen in perhaps fifty years (yes, hard to believe!). Each and every person was welcoming, appreciative of my visit, hoping to continue our reconnections. Some have lived in Walla Walla their entire lives; others returned here after living in other places; some, like me, return to visit family. I learned so much about our times as children in this magical place, where we played kick-the-can in the streets until dark, slept in sleeping bags on the grass almost every night in the summer, rode bicycles to the swimming pools or deep holes in various creeks, caught crayfish (we called them crawdads) with bacon on strings, experimented with nail polish and lipstick before our mothers allowed us to do so publicly, skied at the local ski area, defied our parents, and relished a life of spontaneity, independence, and trust that isn’t so present for many children today.

Pioneer Park pond, the site of so many hours of play

Pioneer Park pond, the site of so many hours of play

My emotions were high: coordinating time with friends; immersing myself in the lush green of the parks; taking walks along Mill Creek and “the cuts;” walking the old neighborhoods; having tea with one of Mom’s best friends (who at 93 years old perhaps knows me the longest of my childhood acquaintances); meandering around the Whitman College campus, our childhood “second home,” where thousands of hours were spent when Dad coached his teams, taught physical education classes, and dreamed of, and helped coordinate, the building of Sherwood Center, along with taking piano lessons at the Whitman music conservatory; and feeling, always, the expanse of sky, the luminous clouds, and the familiar changing colors from the shadows of threatening rain.

I did/do miss my parents, having an anchor there even as I relished the time to myself when I traveled to see them. Yet, still, the sense of place remains strong, independent of family. I find this feeling in many of my friends who had their formative years in this tiny piece of the world. They verify my remembrances, my emotional attachment, and the physicality of the geography that translates into almost a longing, a need to reconnect with the earth, here, from time to time.

Evening light along Mill Creek

Evening light along Mill Creek

I will return to my first home. I will visit the cemetery. I will run/walk/bicycle the roads stretching out to the wheat fields and vineyards and up to the Blue Mountains, those purplish, blue and brown-hued hills in the near distance. I will make time for those long-ago and refreshed friendships. However, I may not walk past the red-and-white house on the corner of Carl and Gladys Streets, preferring to keep my memories un-shattered by its physical change.

Reflections: Thirty Years

Happiness and joy at Alex and Glory's wedding in April 2016.

Happiness and joy at Alex and Glory's wedding in April 2016.

On this day thirty years ago, Doug and I planned a very small wedding ceremony (with my not-quite five-year-old son, Christopher, our only guest) on Martha's Vineyard. I envisioned standing on a windswept hill with a lonely lighthouse overlooking the sound, Doug and I reciting simple vows before the local justice of the peace, and Christopher standing between us holding our hands. The day didn't go as planned. We woke to pouring rain and heavy winds. The justice wasn't willing to trudge up a hill to satisfy my romantic notions. Christopher only wanted to play. I was a little frantic until the justice of the peace offered his quaint Victorian house in the small town of West Tisbury for the ceremony. Given we had no guests or other plans to re-arrange, it worked. I suppose that simple ceremony with the last minute changes presaged much of the past thirty years as we've savored adventures, grabbed opportunities, included our boys in most everything we've done, and continued forward together.

Several people asked Doug what we were going to do to celebrate this milestone. We reflected on the question, as we've never really planned big celebrations. So it was not unusual that nothing special was planned for today; we did what we often do on Sunday mornings. We hiked about 6 1/2 miles roundtrip from our house to 8100' elevation at the Green Mountain summit, with spectacular views of Boulder to the east and the snow-covered Rockies to the west. The hike, amidst a deluge of wildflowers, tumbling streams, and pine-filled scent, was tough but rewarding.

Being able to walk out the door and immediately be immersed in nature, to contemplate and reflect on what is going on in the world, to remember friends and family, to share in our sons' lives, this is what we celebrated on the thirtieth anniversary of that small wedding ceremony. It's also what we cherish and celebrate every day of our lives. We are indeed fortunate.

Another Sunday walk: Mesa Trail wildflowers

Another Sunday walk: Mesa Trail wildflowers

A Differential Diagnosis: My Journey to find Cause of and Treatment for Running-Related High Hamstring Injury

Success Finally: Water to Wine 10k (2015: five years post-injury)

Success Finally: Water to Wine 10k (2015: five years post-injury)

I am a female runner with left deep buttocks and thigh pain, the result of a running-related high hamstring injury. My quest (or differential diagnosis, as I feel like one of the young doctors on “House,” trying to glean a patient’s diagnosis from bits of history, a plethora of tests and trial and error treatment) to find the accurate diagnosis of the cause of the injury was the genesis for this article.

My running history is unremarkable. During my late twenties and early thirties, I ran thirty to fifty miles a week. I ran in local half marathons and 10-k races. I was the “rabbit” for friends training for marathons. I ran for the pure joy of the sport without much thought to cross-training, hydration or nutrition.

During the next almost twenty-five years, my running was sporadic. I might run consistently for a year, then life would interfere and I’d only hit the pavement at the Thanksgiving Day charity run. I remained active, however, by bicycling, hiking, walking (or trekking on family vacations) and swimming. 

I vicariously remained involved with the sport, encouraging my sons’ participation in cross-country and track. I cheered when Alex finished his first half marathon, winning his age division and a lovely handcrafted giraffe. My husband and I watched Christopher as he finished his marathon debut in the magnificent Olympic Stadium in Athens, soaking wet from the rain, a bright smile on his face.

Through the years, I missed the friendships forged while running, the delight of loping along forested trails, the chill as I pierced the morning dawn before work feeling the miles under my feet. My sons encouraged me to try again, so in January 2009, I started jogging the one-mile hilly loop of my neighborhood. My body adapted within a few weeks, albeit slowly, as I found a rhythm after my almost ten-year running hiatus. I completed a local 10-k race in May, coming first in my age group (there was clearly no competition). I was inspired to set my sights on a longer goal: I registered for the July 2009 San Francisco Half Marathon, and began training in earnest.

We had typical summer San Francisco weather during the race: cold, damp and foggy. The grids on the Golden Gate Bridge were slippery. The famed sunrise over the East Bay Hills was lost in the dark clouds. The hills seemed steeper than when we walked to and from the bridge. Despite the impediments, I completed the race just under my projected time. As I described the details later that day to my older son, he nonchalantly inquired about running a marathon.

My only attempt at a marathon had been interrupted by the pregnancy of that same son who now motivated me. The opportunity to revive this almost forgotten goal was enticing. I didn’t presume that success would come easily at my age (then 58) or with my time constraints. I could think of many excuses, but I realized quickly how much I wanted to try. With little fanfare (and keeping the goal secret from all but the closest friends and family), I registered for the December 2009 California International Marathon.

CIM is perfect for an inaugural marathon. The course directors would enthusiastically concur. The course is a fast point-to-point, net-downhill marathon. The weather is generally good. And, as an added bonus, the start is just miles from my house.

I had four months from registration to race day to train. I focused on steadily increasing my mileage, guided by an online training program. I had negligible time left for cross-training or core stability and strength exercises. In hindsight, this was the most glaring hole in my training; I didn’t listen to what I clearly knew about endurance sports.

Race day was cold, 31 degrees at the start, only warming to the mid-forties amid threatening skies and wind at the finish. I worried about fuel. I worried about the weather. I doubted my stated goal of finishing under four hours.

Despite my anxieties, I ran as planned, without undue effort, until the dreaded mile 21; my left knee and ankle started to buckle and wobble, torqueing in opposite directions. I struggled, stopping several times, until I realized I might not have the strength in that leg to continue. I coaxed myself (having fallen behind the pace group) with the mantra “You have to do this. You may not have another chance. This may be your only marathon.” The definition of “prescience” immediately comes to mind.

I forced my legs to work together as I neared the finish line banners. Somehow, I crossed the tape in 3:49:34, sufficient to attain the lauded “BQ” status and to qualify for New York. I was pale and stiff, tired and cold; yet, I couldn’t wait to run again!

That afternoon, I noticed a bright red streak from my inner left ankle to the mid-calf as if a child had taken a thick marker pen to the area where my ankle and knee decided to go their separate ways. It disappeared but remained a mystery. None of my healthcare providers seemed to take much notice of it.

Within six weeks, I was running six to eight miles several times a week. My legs felt heavy, but I figured I was still in recovery mode. Undeterred, I ran the Austin Half Marathon on Valentine’s Day, placing third in my age group (a PR of 1:50.03). I had some pain in the left buttocks, but with my son watching (having already finished the run), I sprinted the last quarter mile around the Texas capitol building to the finish line. Another mistake: sprinting, like intervals, can accelerate hamstring injuries.

I thought about my next goals. I had missed too many years of running during my prime years to be of masters caliber; however, if I trained with a coach, focused on intervals, hill repeats, endurance, core strength and flexibility exercises, all those things I should have done the previous fall, I wondered if I might be competitive at local or regional events. This was clearly magical thinking.

In anticipation of a coach-led running class, I practiced a few 4x200 intervals. One evening, only a few strides into the first interval, my left thigh was squeezed with a sharp, vise-like pain. I broke down in tears, as much from the pain as from the disappointment. I instinctively knew something was very wrong; I needed a professional opinion.

            In March 2010, I presented to a sports medicine specialist at an academic medical center. I described my running history and the pain, six or seven on a ten-point scale. Not debilitating, as I could walk, but not much else.

I had several range of motion and strength tests, but nothing to detect any biomechanical or structural deficits. Based on my unproven differential diagnosis, the failure to note hip or pelvic issues was a critical factor in my slow recovery efforts.

MRI results showed “normal pelvic MRI. No evidence of fracture, bursitis or hamstring injury.” The diagnosis of “proximal hamstring strain” related to overuse from running was vague.

I started a course of physical therapy, two times a week for ten weeks, consisting of exercises focused on strengthening the gluts and stretching the hamstrings. The circulation in the injured area was massaged to try to reduce any inflammation. Once the stabbing pain subsided, the physical therapist focused on soft-tissue mobilization using the Graston technique. A butter-knife shaped stainless-steel tool is rubbed along the thigh to break up adhesions and scar tissue and increase blood flow. I’m not sure it helped as I felt like a carrot being peeled!

I diligently performed my exercises and tried to rest the injured area. I iced the deep buttocks and thigh area, elevated my legs and swallowed untold milligrams of ibuprofen. Over time, I slowly added light indoor spinning and lap swimming to my regimen.

The intense pain in the deep buttocks area lessened over the ensuing months. My physical therapist released me to start using the treadmill to build to a walk/jog combination, preliminary to running. Unfortunately, the impact from even this light jogging impact retriggered the hamstring pain. My constant sitting in front of a computer at work (in a non-ergonomic desk/chair situation) ensured persistent pressure on the strained hamstring. My lifestyle was crosswise with my rehabilitation efforts.

The ramifications of my injury grew out of portion to the initial trauma. I could not safely contemplate running across the street if a car were coming. I could not comfortably sit at my desk or on an airplane. The psychological impact of the injury was insidious, placing pallor over my daily life.  Before the injury I did not think twice about bicycling or swimming or hiking. Now, I contemplated a disability that would not only prevent me from engaging in activities that are vital to my physical and mental wellbeing but are also important cornerstones of my relationship with my husband.

I had a second MRI in anticipation of a corticosteroid shot to ease the pain. Once again, the results were inconclusive: “unremarkable lumbar spine” with normal alignment and only mild disc bulge at L5-S with no significant nerve impingement. I scratched another potential diagnosis from the list.

The corticosteroid shot was administered just above the hamstring attachment point. The pain eased sufficiently so that by the end of August, I was running five to six miles around the local dirt track at my pre-injury half marathon pace. I deliberately scaled the mileage slowly, incorporating stretches during the runs while continuing the glut and hamstring exercises. I did not want to repeat or aggravate my seemingly dormant injury. I even harbored thoughts about running the NYC Marathon in November.

 And then, Labor Day weekend arrived. I savored the early dawn, ready for a run. With the first stride, as soon as my left foot struck the ground, deep pains radiated down the hamstring as if it had been ripped from the attachment point. I was devastated. Nothing relieved this new, intense and severe pain, even a second corticosteroid shot.

It was now late October 2010, almost eleven months after CIM and seven months after the interrupted interval training. My recovery was stalled; another perspective seemed prudent.

This time, I presented at the UCSF Sports Medicine Clinic, which uses a multidisciplinary approach to assess injured athletes. The physician spent almost an hour reviewing my clinical and running history, the initial diagnosis and my current course of treatment and MRI results. He performed a number of biomechanical and structural tests, immediately noting pelvic instability and weakness.

His diagnosis was “hamstring chronic insertial tendinosis.” The physician said my localized pain was likely related to weak core debility, which activates the hamstring. Basically, my core was not strong enough to provide the proper alignment among the muscle groups that are triggered upon movement. I was caught in a vicious circle: any movement further irritated the hamstring, impeding recovery efforts, but movement was inherent in my daily life.

Was this the Eureka moment that I was desperately seeking? Until now, the hamstring injury was considered in a vacuum, without consideration of potential hip or pelvic issues. The priorities of the differential diagnosis were evolving. During this next phase, physical therapy focused on core and hip strengthening as well as hamstring and quadriceps stretching. We discussed improvement in eight to 12 weeks. My hopes for running the NYC Marathon were dashed; Boston in 2011 was looking less likely, too.

 My exercise list continued to grow, including hip and glut strengthening protocols (the “monster walk,” single-leg squats, hip adductor and hip abductor exercises, the “hip hike,” “clam shell” and “scorpion”) and a more robust core strength and flexibility program (crunches, plank, superman, lunges, bridge and “quadraped” exercises). The names of the exercises were almost as convoluted as what I required my body to do. I was overwhelmed with the regimen, but I was determined to do what was needed. I could not abide the constant pain or limited physical activities.

I consulted a chiropractor, who confirmed the posterior left hip rotation and pelvic rotation misalignment. He explained that my neck shifts in order to allow my body to walk forward in a straight line. The torque placed on the hamstring from this misalignment was apt to cause or perpetuate the injury.

I commenced three-times a week chiropractic treatment with the goal of structural improvement and integrity. After five months or so of manipulation, the needle-like pain in the hamstring attachment area diminished. The deep buttock pain also lessened.

I increased my deep tissue massage therapy sessions. The massage therapist also noted the misalignment of my left and right pelvic bones (as I lay on her table, the pointy bones made this very clear). She also commented that my left hip was much looser than the right (eventually this was added to the differential diagnosis in the form of weak external hip rotators). She focused on soft-tissue mobilization, at the hamstring attachment points. She slowly massaged the layers of muscle until reaching the innermost hamstring muscle, almost bone-like in its stiffness.

In early spring, I jogged a few hundred feet. A victory in some respects: I did not experience the sharp, stitch-like pain at the hamstring attachment point on the first step. The bad news: the pain had shifted to the left hip joint, sacrum and piriformis area. My doctor assured me that the shift in the pain’s location indicated improvement, which may be true; still, the pain persisted.

I was dismayed at my slow progress. Although my chiropractic sessions were reduced to once a week, a subsequent visit to the orthopedist was dispiriting. The left hamstring remained weak, the quads were tight and my single-leg squats were wobbly. My planks were great, though! I left the building deflated and discouraged. 

To add insult to injury (pun intended), the physician suggested I consult with a sports dietitian due to my low body weight. (I am 5’ 5 ½”, and, at the time, weighed about 107 pounds.) I likely had a calorie deficit during training, which may have impacted my endurance, strength and power. It can also affect recovery. My husband, who bicycles and runs (and whose focus on nutrition is legendary in our family), would confirm this part of my self-diagnosis.

I discussed my diet (not quite vegetarian) with the dietitian. She recommended steps to increase my caloric intake and to adjust my eating habits to ensure the appropriate combination of carbohydrates, protein and fat. I am fully away of the need to add specific nutrients and calories to my daily diet; unfortunately, my neuroticism (not quite anorexia) towards gaining weight counters the objective facts. I keep a daily log of food consumed and calories burned through exercise. I strive for the proper balance, but it is difficult as my aerobic exercise is limited due to the injury. So many running articles focus on using the sport to lose or maintain weight, but those were the least of my problems!

My current rehabilitation regimen is comprehensive; strengthen my external hip rotator muscles and hamstrings; stretch the hip flexors; increase core flexibility and strength. In parallel, I continue massage therapy for soft-tissue mobilization and eccentric muscle lengthening; chiropractic treatment to maintain the structural alignment; Pilates to supplement the physical therapy; and swimming, bicycling, elliptical training and walking for my sanity.

Some days, I believe that discipline, focus and willpower will prevail over the injury. That is, after all, how I was able to complete the marathon. Other days, I doubt a full recovery. My last successful run was on February 14, 2010. My qualifying period expired for the Boston Marathon. I did not roll over my registration for this November’s NYC Marathon.  I cannot fathom, today, running 26.2 miles, as I cannot yet run a quarter mile.

At this point in time, my differential diagnosis confirms the high hamstring running-related injury. I strongly believe, though, that the physical assessment should have focused on why the hamstring overuse became so debilitating (and not merely due to the high mileage requirements of training for and running a marathon).  My weak external hip rotators and pelvic misalignment magnified the hamstring overuse. The pelvic torque and weak muscles stressed the hamstring whether I was walking, bicycling, swimming, running or sitting for extended periods of time. I may have further damaged the hamstring when I started running again after the first corticosteroid shot, resetting the time to recovery.

I have learned several important lessons from this journey: the accurate etiology of an injury is critical before rehabilitation can be truly effective; and hamstring injuries are very painful and heal slowly.

I chide myself for not being a better advocate. I should have questioned more at the outset, but I didn’t know what to ask. This is the third and possibly most important lesson learned over the course of the past almost year and a half. It applies not only to running injuries but also to one’s overall health. We ultimately are responsible for ourselves, no matter how many doctors, therapists or friends we consult. We must take this role seriously.

For all the analyses and diagnoses, the simple truth is that I miss the freedom, the joy, the solitude and the beauty of running in the Sierra Nevada foothills. I miss the all-out tiredness at the end of a long run. Even though my recent stint at running was limited in duration, it filled every fiber of my being. My heart aches as I slowly forget how the lightness feels, how the miles slip by on a Saturday morning run, how the joy permeates my daily life. How will I fill the hole if I am required to forego this beloved activity?

 

Facebook and Mothers

I so enjoyed reading the posts and seeing the pictures of friends' mothers and friends as mothers these past few days, celebrating women in our lives!

I thought of my mother, who passed away two years ago, as I walked around Boulder, the last place she visited before she could no longer travel. Her soul lives within me each and every day.

I beamed as both my sons called to update me on their days, their families, and their lives (Alex and Glory leaving today for three weeks in Portugal for their belated honeymoon, job promotions, and new summer gigs, and Christopher, Kate and Solomon having three weeks left in Washington, DC, as he finishes his fellowship at the Center for Hellenic Studies).

I was here alone as Doug was with his mother and family in California (he had pre-arranged a long bicycle ride in Sonoma with a friend this weekend). He sent the standard flower arrangement, welcome and brightening for my kitchen table.

I read an article (so funny but I must vouch that it hits true) about "grandmother hormones" as I thought about this past year as "PB" (aka "grandma") to now one-year-old Solomon. This truly has been a shining time in my life.

How fortunate so many of us are and have been with mothers who were/are role models, strong, independent women who also gave so much of their heart and time to raising us children. And those of us who are more than fortunate to have children and grandchildren to whom we would give every ounce of our being, if necessary.

We don't need to physically be together--although I would have loved that--and we don't need to celebrate mothers (and fathers) on any particular day. Sunday was only a reminder of what we have and what so many do not.

Mom and us five kids c. 1955

Mom and us five kids c. 1955

Alex Goes for Glory

Alex and Glory: We're official!

Alex and Glory: We're official!

Saturday April 23, 2016: Alex and Glory’s wedding day. Shadow Ridge Ranch: a country bed and breakfast hide-away seven miles southeast of Placerville in the California Sierra Foothills. Close to Glory’s childhood home: creating and installing decorations, cooking, baking and catering numerous meals, identifying local wines, champagne and beer for the festivities, and introducing urban friends to the rural beauty of northern California seemed to foretell this as an ideal location.

Glory’s creativity went into high gear last fall as she envisioned almost a Christo-like art installation centered around the two huge open air white tents, one for the ceremony, and one for the reception, where the dinner, speeches, and dancing would occur. Her color scheme focused on purple and gold hues, with large paper flower chandeliers in the ceremony tent, a quote from “The Little Prince” (with personal meaning to Alex and Glory) on the backdrop for the actual ceremony, and a wide purple ribbon lining the isle between flanked rows of white chairs.

The reception tent filled with friends, family, and delicious food!

The reception tent filled with friends, family, and delicious food!

Large white light bulbs were strung from the center of the reception tent to each corner and then, each bulb had a huge white balloon attached. A circle-within-a-circle concoction of smaller white balloons anchored the center. Crinkly gold pompons were interspersed among the white globes. The u-shaped dining table was decorated with a mixture of Kathleen’s china and silverware, an assortment of brass pots filled with purple and red flowers, gold menus, a delicate lace heart attached to each champagne glass, and two tiny shots of moonshine (courtesy of an errant uncle?). Very festive.

The man in the moon: Christopher, Kate, and  Solomon trying it out.

The man in the moon: Christopher, Kate, and  Solomon trying it out.

Glory and her uncle worked for months building her creations: a smiling “man in the moon” for photo opportunities, the Little Prince backdrop, the flower chandeliers, brown and white paper bells and stars over the entry way, and all the little details that I couldn’t even imagine. Alex, meanwhile, a pie baker by passion, became an experimenter and baker of wedding cakes, trying a number of recipes over the preceding three or four months until settling on a pistachio/chocolate ganache cake for the rehearsal dinner and peanut butter and jelly cakes for the wedding dinner (not your mother’s PB&J but delectable four-layer cakes with alternating layers of peanut butter crème frosting and blackberry, chocolate and strawberry glazes). Kathleen, Glory’s mother, was caterer extraordinaire, making her own specialties of baked salmon, marinated lamb, orange-flavored polenta, and spring salad with goat cheese for the main dinner, and a variety of appetizers to hold people over for the big feast.

The meadow at Shadow Ridge Ranch.

The meadow at Shadow Ridge Ranch.

This year’s wetter-than-normal late spring rains turned the area a lush green, with bright-yellow dandelions, popping pinkish-purple ornamental plum trees, and delicate lavender-colored wisteria on the wooden fences. Even without Glory’s decorations this spot was perfect. We were scheduled to start decorating at noon on Friday so we intently focused on the weather outlook, which seemed to change, almost daily, during the two weeks leading up to the event. Two inches of rain fell steadily on Friday, with hail, lightning and thunder in the late afternoon. Installation plans were re-arranged and delayed, concerned that the wet weather would ruin months of hard labor. Still, the balloon lady starting hanging the globes late in the day, not finishing until after 1:00 in the morning. The sound system guy brought the speakers and microphone after dinner, delaying the rehearsal until Saturday morning. Christopher, meanwhile, who was leading the wedding ceremony and in charge of making sure all the pieces were timed just right, was getting anxious. With the delay in putting up the decorations and finalizing all the food, Alex and Glory weren’t focused on the actual marriage event. Yet, the license was obtained, Christopher was sworn as Deputy Commissioner by someone at the El Dorado County courthouse, and we could see the magic start to come together.

Christopher (the officiant), Solomon (the ring-bearer), and Patricia (mother of the groom).

Christopher (the officiant), Solomon (the ring-bearer), and Patricia (mother of the groom).

By early Saturday afternoon, the programs and confetti guns were placed on the chairs for the guests. Christopher and Alex practiced the timing of several different playlists. Solomon ran down the isle, practicing (as only a barely-one-year-old can do) for his ring-bearer duties. Chris, the flower “man”, freshly anointed to this task, gathered confetti in a basket for his short walk down the isle. Food arrived in huge Styrofoam ice chests. The bartender organized the beer and wine. Glory and her mother disappeared for make-up and dressing.

 Guests started to arrive: immediate family and close friends, a few from Alex and Glory’s high school and college years, but mostly current friends and colleagues, the “LA crowd,” urban and sophisticated! What fun to see the mixture of people coming together to celebrate our son and Glory. As Alex said to me before the wedding and in a brief talk after the wedding dinner, he was humbled that so many people wanted to share this day with them. Truly, their friends are kind, bright, funny, and caring people.

The Little Prince quote (backdrop for wedding vows). We're told this had some part in Alex's proposal.

The Little Prince quote (backdrop for wedding vows). We're told this had some part in Alex's proposal.

 Glory’s surprise for her husband-to-be: Slamson, the Sacramento Kings’ mascot, walked her down the isle, high-fiving the guests, prancing in his lion’s outfit, adding humor to the start of the ceremony. Kate and I held Solomon’s hands as he ran down the isle, so adorable in his linen suit, light blue shirt, colorful tie and pocket square, the ring-bearer who wasn’t entrusted with the actual rings. Christopher’s wedding speech, about marriage, deep friendships, and commitment, was heart-felt and wise. Oh, how proud I was that my younger son chose his brother to officiate. The bride and groom’s vows were light in tone but profound in the evidence of their love for one another. And then, it was time for them to kiss and walk together as husband and wife, showered by the colorful and shine confetti from 80 or so confetti guns!

The evening shone: the setting sun backlit the reception tent through the pines. The balloons glowed and fluttered in the breeze. The voices of the guests swelled with stories, meeting old and new friends, congratulating the bridal couple, and making toasts. Soon enough, formal pictures taken, Christopher invited everyone to take a seat, to listen to some speeches, and to enjoy the repast.

Doug and I had planned, struggled, and debated about what to say about our younger son. We didn’t want to spend too much time recounting familiar stories, but we wanted to share why and how much we love Alex. We discussed at the last minute how much time to take given the other speakers. In the end, Doug spoke of how proud we are of the rambunctious, sometimes impossible to handle, little boy who has matured into the creative, imaginative, determined and loving man he is today. We reflected on Alex’s choice of Glory as his partner, a true marker of our son’s character.

The first dance: Alex and Glory as husband and wife (with big brother and baby watching)!

The first dance: Alex and Glory as husband and wife (with big brother and baby watching)!

The dancing started after the dinner plates were cleared, with invitations to enjoy the cakes and pies. Again, we enjoyed watching friends from near and far dance singly or in groups, splitting off to catch up with someone else, taking a sip of wine, even gathering left-over shots of moonshine for one final toast to this lovely couple. By ten o’clock, the shuttle bus gathered the last guests to drive them back to their hotel. We retreated to our cottage to reflect on this day and the change in our family, a new daughter-in-law. Meanwhile, the catering crew spent several more hours cleaning up the tables, putting away all the extra food (concerned about deer and other wildlife), leaving the picking up of confetti and popping of balloons to us, the morning-after cleanup crew.

Cakes and Pies, oh my!

Cakes and Pies, oh my!

Sunday morning was cool but sunny. We did the final cleanup, hugged Alex and Glory good-bye, and spent the afternoon in Old Town Sacramento with Christopher, Kate, and Solomon before we all returned to our respective homes. Today, five days later, there’s still a glow, remembering different details of the celebration, impressed by our sons, looking forward to our next family gathering, and receiving so many heartfelt congratulations on the marriage of our second son.

 

 

Washington DC Through the Eyes of One-Year-Old

Washington Monument (Washington DC)

Washington Monument (Washington DC)

My primary task was to spend time with Solomon in Washington DC while Christopher worked (fellow at Harvard's Center for Hellenic Studies) and Kate traveled (moderator at a panel for an Asian Studies conference in Seattle). I would have four to five hours a day alone with our almost one-year-old grandson in DC where I'd last spent any time other than business trips 28 years before. Not quite a replicate of my trip to Taiwan as Christopher and I shared baby duties while Kate worked except for an occasional hour when Solomon and I were on our own--and then, only in the apartment.

I stayed in a hotel close to the Center's apartment that Christopher has for this spring term. Little did I realize when I made reservations several months ago that my hotel would also be the site of hundreds of Chinese virtually camped out waiting to catch a glimpse of that country's president, Mr. Xi's motorcade taking him to/from the nuclear security summit. Each time I entered the hotel area I was required to show my room card by friendly but imposing DC police, secret service and/or homeland security people. Meanwhile huge welcoming flags in red and yellow draped the fences cordoning off the area, accompanied by golden dragons, pounding drums, and busloads of tourists. The walk, though, from hotel to Christopher's apartment was along Rock Creek Road to Massachusetts Avenue then up Whitehaven Road: part of the embassy row area of Washington. Mansions with flags and signs of various nations, the decor often matching the state of the country's wealth at the time it was built or purchased, were interesting to see. The blossoming cherry and plum trees, the brilliant yellow, white, red, and orange tulips, and the greening of leaves on shrubs and bushes, welcomed me to a city bursting with spring.

National Cathedral (Washington DC)

National Cathedral (Washington DC)

Kate was still in town on the first day of my visit so we gathered Solomon in his stroller and walked to the National Cathedral, taking the "highlights" tour. There were several young ones in strollers to distract baby along with the play of sunlight on the marble columns. We were surprised that although the designers of DC planned for some type of national church, it wasn't until 1903 that construction of the Cathedral began with completion in the early 1990s. The sweet smell of left-over day lilies from the week before Easter services tinkled our noses and wafted through the high ceilings. Elegant yet inviting. 

Wednesday evening was an experiment in eating: Eritrean food! Great for baby as he devoured his scrambled eggs while we waited for the main course of injera (Ethiopian-type unleavened bread) covered with spinach, spicy chicken, and numerous vegetables quite foreign to me. We used the bread to pick up the food, no forks allowed. Fun to eat at the level that works for all ages. Very messy though.

Cherry Blossoms (a little post-perfect) near Cathedral.

Cherry Blossoms (a little post-perfect) near Cathedral.

Solomon chatters non-stop as we wonder what's going on in his active brain. He walks (well, more of a quick take-off to get from one  spot to another) about ten steps by himself, but loves to take one of my hands to steady himself and then lead me to whatever catches his eye. He is quite certain that I will go with him--and I do! He is a very busy boy, up, down, crawling to a different toy, learning the fundamentals of rolling a ball to another person who just might roll it back in his direction, lifting himself up to eye-level with a table to grab a magazine or newspaper left open by one of his parents.

Thursday was Smithsonian Air & Space Museum morning. Crowded even on a mid-week day but the vintage planes and parts of space ships were intriguing to all of us. Lunch in the food court (seriously, a huge McDonald's) was noisy and brief as Kate had to catch a bus to Dulles airport--and then we were on our own! Christopher, his friend, Matt, Solomon and I walked around downtown, our intended path to a coffee shop (expresso with gelato!) waylaid by all the barriers being put into place for the 50-nation nuclear security summit scheduled for the next day.

Later that day while the men went for a trail run, Solomon and I met the two-year-old French girl who lives downstairs. Nora was enthralled by baby wanting to play with him, sing to him, and talk with him (in French!). When she finally realized that Solomon's only responses were babbling, she said "Goo goo bebe!" So precious.

Solomon is hesitant about grass as his awareness of the outside world has been winter--snow and mud. We sat in the play area where he tentatively touched the grass; immediately his hand came off the tickley stuff, stopped mid-air, then floated down to try again. Walking on uneven ground whether grass or sand was another new experience but he soon mastered it--or at the least, falling down didn't hurt.

Mesmerized by Sloth Bear at National Zoo.

Mesmerized by Sloth Bear at National Zoo.

Friday we were on our own: he napped some in my hotel room between the big bolsters on the bed (conveniently while the rain stopped) then back into the stroller to the National Zoo. He was mesmerized by the Sloth Bear, probably because it paced at his eye level and in some respects looks like a much larger version of their black dog, Laska. The brightly-orange flamingoes, the Emu, the common sparrows hopping around near the picnic benches caught his attention, too. I saw a sleeping panda, lazing cheetah, huge elephants and the back-end of a zebra, but Solomon was distracted by pushing the stroller himself (with a little guidance from me). He is definitely persistent in getting what he wants!

By evening Grand-Doug had arrived, Christopher had finished his work, and dinner was at a local diner. Garlic mashed potatoes for the little guy were a hit: eating them by hand was even more intriguing than the scrambled eggs the night before! And then, night-time as we departed to meet again in the morning.

Doug and I were in charge on Saturday: viewing the monuments was on schedule. It was raining a bit, a complete change from the near 80 degrees at the zoo on Friday. We walked along Rock Creek Park for a ways, then stopped for brunch (scrambled eggs and blueberry muffin for the little guy), before heading out to see the sights. A slight detour as my purse fell off the stroller (unbeknownst to us), was found by a good samaritan who gave it to a security officer of an apartment complex, who called me (I happened to have a business card (usually don't) with my cell phone number in the purse). We back-tracked about six blocks, I identified the purse, the very kind man refused a tip, and we continued to Constitution Park. (Dare I say how fortunate I was?)

Korean Memorial (Washington DC)

Korean Memorial (Washington DC)

My primary goal was to visit the World War II Memorial as I've seen the Lincoln Memorial (still a favorite), Washington Monument, Vietnam Memorial and Korean Memorial. Each is evocative in its own way, but the depiction of soldiers slogging their way through the Korean hillside is haunting and intense. Baby was drawn to the common ducks playing in the Reflecting Pool, the fountains at the WWII Memorial, and the colorful, aerodynamic kites swooping and diving near the Washington Monument. We met Christopher near the Monument then walked and walked (12 miles that day) through the city, stopping for coffee in Georgetown near the old locks part of the C&O Canal, getting Solomon new shoes, stopping for a few groceries, then down the trail to their apartment for an early dinner. Doug and I were tired but so thrilled to share a tiny slice of life with our grandson.

Sunday was cold, blustery (27 degrees with wind chill), and clear. Solomon and I played while Christopher ran (he is very used to this weather), then we gathered everyone together for a walk over to Connecticut Avenue for brunch. Baby once again explored the nooks and crannies of a renovated old brick building with uneven steps, hidden corners, slanted walk-way. He spied a stroller so of course had to check it out along with the "baby-owner's" toys. What a curious little guy.

C&O Canal and locks (Georgetown)

C&O Canal and locks (Georgetown)

And then it was time to head to the airport for us to return home. Once again, Solomon took everything in stride, riding in the back seat of the car with me, getting into his stroller to go into the airport for hugs and kisses and then....waiting for his mother to return!

 

 

 

 

Record-breaking But Not a Blizzard

3:23:2016 #3 Creek.jpg

Early Tuesday morning March 23, 2016 the incessant beeping of one of our many carbon monoxide detectors woke me. The old-fashioned alarm clock on the dresser blinked "12:00," the default position when power has been interrupted. Oh, no! Electricity off. I rose and looked out the upstairs bedroom window and was surprised (snow had been predicted but the almost balmy Monday belied any possibility that it might actually happen) by the patterns of the trees, trellis, and bird feeder in our backyard, created by snow already six or eight inches deep. I wandered the house trying to find the culprit beeping, the sound bouncing off the tile floors, misleading me to the detector's location. Finally I was drawn to the master closet, where the beep stung my ears. I removed the detector, took out the battery, put it in a back room just in case it came alive again, and returned to bed. The power flickered on and off for another two hours, each time accompanied by the soft humming of the ancillary heating system signaling "I'm here!"

Full dawn revealed an ongoing downfall of snow, steady, soft, wet. Unlike snows in the depth of winter, which are delicate and dry, this stuff built up slowly and steadily, no end in sight. The roads were barren of traffic except for one mother pulling her two bundled children on a sled down the middle of the street. The neighbor boy's igloo, which at nearly eight feet high had almost collapsed in Monday's warmth, was hidden beneath the clean, pristine, new snow. No one was yet shoveling the sidewalks, the accumulation too steady to be able to make a dent in it.

3:23:2016 #5 bench.jpg

A meeting was cancelled, my colleague in Denver not daring to make the drive west. Meanwhile my car is stuck in our garage, the alley too deep to venture. I'll be able to drive out today or tomorrow but driving back up the slightly-steep rutted way and make the sharp almost ninety-degree angle into the driveway will be a challenge. Yet I can't park on the street until the snow melts--our road is not on the "list" for the city to clear unless an emergency. I'll walk instead to downtown appointments today.

3:23:2016 #1.jpg

The deep snow is a conundrum: the undeniable magic; the unexpected depth in now-spring; the photo opportunities; the silence of the community, most of us cocooned in our houses, not able or desirous of being outside, contrasts with the damage, delays and inconveniences: stores and offices closed; airports shut down and passengers delayed; branches of trees broken, falling on cars, blocking streams, pulling down power lines; the homeless cold and wet. Yet, still, nature is in charge denying us the freedom to come and go as we think we should be able to do.

The weather gurus tell us the snowfall was a record 16.4 inches in Boulder but it was not a blizzard--even though at times I couldn't see beyond my hedge while the wind blew snow on trees and buildings heavily to the ground, near-misses as I walked around the neighborhood surveying the scene. Tell people with snow to shovel, buried cars to find, precious trees in shatters, no power to warm their houses or cook their meals that yesterday's snow event was not a blizzard. "A dry, driving snow with high winds and intense cold" is one definition. We didn't have intense cold (that will come during the next few days), and  the winds were not as high as we've experienced the past several weeks with wind gusts and blusters up to 70-80 miles per hour. But still, "March Blizzard" has a certain ring to it, an adage of the childhood poem, "March roars in like a lion and goes out like a lamb." This year it may be reversed, the lion hiding in waiting until spring arrived.

Wednesday night's waning full moon streamed light into my bedroom window, the snow's reflection amplifying its brightness. And now this--sunshine on snow, magic yet again!

3:24:2016 sun on trees.jpg

Blooming Cacti in March

The Desert Botanical Garden, established 75 years ago in Phoenix, Arizona, is a living testament to generational foresight. Cactus grow very slowly. Desert winds suck the slightest moisture from the air and ground. Hot dry summer days wilt less extreme flora and fauna. Gustaf Starck, one of the inspirations for the Garden, wrote of this oft-desolate place, the desert: "...[A] world of thrills, excitement and beauty [filled with] weird-looking plants which produce flowers of beauty impossible to describe."

Cactus and dusty pink flowers.jpg

The Sonoran desert and the desert plants are blooming with life. What might look like a dead plant in other months bristles with tiny green leaves, trumpets its bright red and yellow flowers, or spills its dainty, delicate pink blossoms onto the brown earth after the rains of winter and early spring. Bees hover from plant to plant, savoring the nectar of Mexican poppies. Caterpillars camouflage themselves on broken branches, waiting to swell into colorful butterflies in August and September. Lizards stealthily approach the unshaded sand and gravel warming themselves in full daylight. Birds fly easily from a green-tinted Palo Verde tree spouting leaves to match its bark to a vernal pond surrounded by grasses and cottonwood trees.

%22Camelhead%22 cactus.jpg

You might be familiar with barrel cactus or your local nursery's succulents and tiny indoor potted cacti. In the desert, though, the Boojum tree (really, a huge cactus with thick trunk and prickly stubs along the trunk), the Palo Verde tree (the "tree" of the state of Arizona), the Chainfruit Chollo cactus (resembling scrambled ropes looped around one another), the snake cactus (long and low, edging along the desert floor beneath upright growing species), the hedgehog cactus (small with woolly spines), and too many other types to count (or remember) dazzle with their hardiness and yes, weirdness. I found familiar visages in these strange plants, like the camel-face or a wizened old man. I walked among towering cacti lining the desert sidewalk, tall and soldier-like, solemn and hardy. I marveled at the delicate flowers, perhaps in color for only a few days, brightening the monochrome desert surroundings. 

And finally, the ironworks cactus, resembling and giving life to real cacti as iron has been used to create boxes and barriers to protect cacti from development, from erosion, from humans.

The beauty of the desert environment captures the most lush-loving naturalist.

Ready to Leaf

Boulder Creek Trail 3-10-2016.jpg

The weather has warmed this week teasing us with spring. Our experience tells us that we could have several more bouts of snow, maybe into May. Today the sun was bright, the sky pure blue, the tiny crocuses poking purple among the brown twigs and dry ground cover. The crab apple trees have barely perceptible buds here in Boulder in contrast to my friends' photographs of colorful yellow and pink trees in full bloom in California.

I walked along Boulder Creek Trail, watching the huge noisy road graders re-arrange the boulders and fallen logs in the creek, preparing for snow's run-off in another month or two. The ice has melted. The ducks, even a few ducklings, backstroke quickly in the eddies to the safety of quiet pools. The aspen are not yet ready to leaf, their stark white and cream bark outlined against the cerulean sky. The rock outcroppings along the trail beckon climbers, their shapes and cracks and shadows more distinct than they'll be in another month or two, without the profusion of wildflowers to hide their slopes.

Birds are beginning to inhabit our backyard, chirping in unison, pecking at the richly flavored seeds in the bird feeder, standing on the edge of the fountain drinking water. Soon we'll have bees and butterflies flitting here and there, once the bulbs shoot up from the cover of their large, curled leaves and the sweet-smelling vines return to life. 

This in-between stage entices me to the out-of-doors, to new trails (although some are still covered with ice or deep mud on the north sides of the mountains), to working the dirt of our yard, excited to discover what lies beneath the dry grasses and wintered shrubs, and to lift my arms in glory to the rebirth around us.