Wednesday, December 1, 2010

more feathers

Carrying on with the "feathers" theme, Chuck has taken up residence in and around our back yard. As near as we can tell, Chuck is either a young male or a female pheasant. My friend Judy from church, who's a bird watcher, confirmed our suspicions when I showed her the pictures I took. I think he likes our yard because there are plenty of places to hide, and his presence satisfies my goal of having a wildlife-friendly yard. Judy said that young birds aren't always that savvy and don't always do the safest things, but I think our yard is actually a pretty good choice: no pesticides, plenty to eat, lots of cover, and chickens for company. We've been keeping a plastic bowl full of chicken feed right outside the coop for him (her?) to eat. There are some critters that I wouldn't want in my yard, but having a resident pheasant is pretty cool.

(Chuck's hiding there in the center of the picture, partially hidden by a branch of the red-berried shrub. Sadly, after the hard freeze last week, the red berries are now black. They were one of my favorite parts of winter. They ripen in November, and when they're ripe they exactly match my kitchen floor. The shrub dominates the view out my kitchen window, but this year I only got to enjoy the flood of scarlet for about two weeks before the frost zapped them. There'll be nothing for the robins to eat in January, either. Usually that shrub [a Chinese cononeaster, in case you were curious] is a bird buffet.)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

hope is the thing with feathers

So yesterday at Mass Father Christopher built his sermon around the first line of an Emily Dickinson poem, "Hope is the thing with feathers". And, because I have more nerve than common sense, I wrote a poem that refers to her poem.

Hope is the thing with feathers
flashing past the sun,
catching your eye and giving you a reason

To reach out
and flick the clouds away
fingernails smooth
since you finally learned
not to chew them.

But you can't stop your knee from bouncing
180 beats a minute
-should have one skinny leg-
it pistons away
a pop-off valve for

Your soul

gives the thing
with feathers
a place to perch
(patient haven)
while you glare at the sun
and clouds surge.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

today I am thankful for...

I am thankful for the hour in the morning before everyone gets up.
I am thankful for the best job in the world.
I am thankful that my back doesn't hurt.
I am thankful for my friends who are like sisters and my sisters who are my friends.
I am thankful that my kids put up with me and that my husband still loves me.
I am thankful that we're all still at it, plugging away, learning and laughing and loving each other.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


It's not that I am unwilling,
I'm just not ready to give up.
Don't expect to make a killing,
I just want to make the first cut.

Jim Keller/ The Fentons

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Freewrite Exercise: What have you lost?

I have lost flexibility. I'm sitting in my desk chair with my left leg stretched out in front of me, resting on a second chair, because the hamstring is tight and the sciatic nerve is twanging all the way down to my ankle. It's been irritated since my yoga practice yesterday morning. Guess I did too much down dog or something.
The yoga is important, though. It may be the most important thing I do. Lately I've felt like the area from shoulders to hips is becoming a solid block of immobility. It's painful to bend, even worse to try to get back up. This stiffness is the result of the after-effects of back surgery, the fear that I'll move wrong and blow the disk again, and a heavy helping of just getting old. The expression, "set in your ways" is starting to feel very familiar.
That expression implies a level of complicity on the part of the accused. "She's set in her ways" suggests that she has a routine that she's comfortable with and that she's not motivated to change. Speaking as "she", I'd like to suggest there may be more to it than that. If there are ways that I'm set in, likely they're the result of choices from the past catching up with me. Any lack of flexibility now has as much to do with the needs of husband and kids and work dictating my actions as it does with any age-related mental fixedness. I simply can't get up and do whatever I want.
For the most part that's ok, although at times I feel sad for the girl I was, who didn't know what she had when she had it. I hope that age has given me the wisdom to appreciate this moment in time before it passes. While the yoga practice stretches the body, it teaches patience with limits, and as the body maintains a level of flexibility, so too will the mind stay open to new ideas. My routine might not change, but I hope my ideas do.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

first yoga

Took a yoga class yesterday. Ok, it was a gentle yoga class, just a few postures done with great attention to form. It was the first movement that I've been able to do in months besides activities of daily living and walks around the neighborhood. I'd tell you it felt good, but that wouldn't cover it. The connective tissue between my clavicles and sternum tickled. My ribs felt light. The muscles between my spine and shoulder blades were humming. My jaw felt like it wanted to slide open, fall down on my chest, and stay there. The feelings lasted all afternoon.

Last week I had a massage. The massage therapist was able to work deeper than she has before, and as she worked I could feel her pull tension and tears out of the knots of muscle. Afterwards I drank lots of water to wash those feelings out of my system. The yoga class yesterday was a continuation of the massage. Following the class I had the frequent urge to sigh, to let go of the tightness I don't even realize I'm carrying. Religion may save my soul, but right now I believe yoga may save me from myself. Namaste

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Today I.... almost 48 and hate getting old. I keep waiting for the epiphany that 40-something models and actresses seem to always describe in magazine articles. "Now I feel so much more comfortable in my own skin. I don't worry so much about what other people think." Or thereabouts. Actually, now I feel invisible and fat and it's expensive to keep from having grey hair. Not that I'm whining. Other people can think what they want. compulsively reading all the Stephanie Plum mysteries, all of them, in whatever order the libarary can get them to me. Gives me something to do while I wait for the next Sookie Stackhouse book. A good book has to have romance and laughter. A little sex and the occasional succinct observation about human nature are ok too. my work, almost always. tripping on the fact that my 12-year-old can look me in the eye. amused by the fact that my 10-year-old was able to figure out part of the theme to the movie Halloween on the piano....although if I hadn't learned that fact at noon when I was asleep after working the night before, it would have been ok.

....can walk with very little discomfort, and I only needed tylenol twice. I'm still not past the "oh my God I'm so thankful I can move" stage.

....would like a date with my husband. Maybe for my birthday?

Monday, March 29, 2010

better now, thanks

I've walked around knocking on wood all weekend. The stiffness in my low back and left leg is much better. I honestly don't think I've felt this good since we were in Australia. Even working two shifts hasn't been that big a deal. I don't know what's made the difference. When I talked with Dr Lee, the Neurosurgeon, earlier this week, he basically said that my leg was likely to hurt, maybe forever, and some days more than others. So I've been trying to get my brain around this new reality, and reset my expectations to this new normal. And now I feel better. Go figure.

Did I mention I'm very very grateful? I sat for a few minutes in my favorite big orange stuffed chair and watched basketball this afternoon (Duke vs Baylor....hate Duke...). Dear Daughter walked into the living room and said, "Wow Mom, you're sitting up. Haven't seen you do that in a while." It didn't last long, but it was fun. Every time I get up out of a chair or out of bed I say "thank you". Even if my new normal does involve periodic stiffness and leg pain, at least I'm walking. Amen.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Acca Dacca Back-ta-back-a

Not really sure how to spell the title. It's Aussie-speak for when the radio DJ plays two AC DC songs in a row. Acca Dacca (sp?) is common slang for AC DC, and they've been in concert here in Melbourne so we've heard it used quite a lot. We're learning all kinds of Australian slang....bathing suits are bathers, Aussie-rules football is footie. Chili-bin is a New Zealand term for a cooler. (I think it would make a great band name, btw, The Chilibins.) I'm sure we sound like big dorks trying to work some of these terms into conversation with our blatently American accents, but there you go.

I'm used to being a dork, having spent a great deal of my life convinced that's what I was. Heidi was always the cool one. She was the leader, the one I looked up to most when we were kids. We're close in age, only 16 months apart. That made us pretty competitive, and as a survival strategy Mom encouraged us to persue different interests. Heidi was the dancer, and I was the swimmer. Heidi was the cute one, the boy magnet, and I was...well....not. I remember once when we were in high school in Guantanamo Bay, one of my friends told me about an assignment that had been given to the Junior year English class. They were to write about the person they respected most. My friend said Heidi wrote about me. I couldn't imagine what she'd found say.

We haven't spent two weeks in the same house since Christmas of 1985, when I came home to Seattle from Honolulu for Christmas break. That week was a blur of getting dressed up and driving in the snow to different dance clubs. We played pretty hard. Honestly, we've played pretty hard this week too. Heidi still likes a party, and I've been happy to go along, but it's felt like daily life, not like a flashback to our wild youth. We've gotten on much better than I anticipated. I guess age does have its benefits.

When Heidi comes home to Seattle, it's always a big dramatic event. She's a flash of neon running crossways to our misty Seattle grey. Now that I see her real life, though, she makes more sense to me. The amount of energy she throws at life, her caring, her generosity, her discipline, is astonishing. She and Kevin together are providng the platform from which their oldest son is developing his national and international swimming goals. That means one of them gets up at 4am to take him to practice, then Heidi picks him and 4 other swimmers up at 7:30 to take them to school. Then she drops her younger son off at school. Then she goes to work. She's second in command for a company that has offices in 16 cities in Australia and New Zealand, and has 44 people working in her Melbourne office alone. Her focus is strategic development and HR, and the work I've seen her do this week is brilliant. I've heard her end of several conference calls, and she's been been clear, kind, and confident; all the things you'd want in a good leader.

After working all day, she knocks off at 6ish, goes for a run, then picks the swimmers back up at 7 from their afternoon work-out. That's the Monday through Friday routine. Weekends are more relaxed, though Swimmer Boy has a three hour workout Saturday morning and usually finds some reason to swim on Sundays as well. He's golden, handsome, and awsomely, incredibly driven. His younger brother is wrapped in the stormclouds that 16 year olds find for themselves, but has a sly blue-eyed grin that speaks well for his future.

The only time Heidi and I have come close to an arguement was standing in the butcher shop. Kent asked us to buy some thin-sliced steaks to saute. Usually what we get at home is from the cheapest cut, sliced very thin to disguise how tough it is. The only thin sliced beef they had was labeled weiner schnitzel, and was $20/kg. That was twice as much as any of the other steaks, and Heidi's like, "Give me a kilo." I'm freaking, "Wait, that's too expensive", and she's like, "Get over it. That's how we do things here." So we bought 1.5 kg of this weiner schnitzel and Kent sauted it in garlic and onions and a little red wine and it was lovely. That's how she works. She and Kevin have more money than they have time. It seems extravagant, from my more tightly-budgeted perspective, but having seen a little of her reality, I understand better.

Yesterday Kevin's brothers came over with their families for an afternoon of fun and food. Kevin's older brother's wife is from Thailand, and they'd been to the market on Friday to get stuff to make dinner. They brought chicken, beef, shrimp, vegies, and sauces and spices for seven different Thai dishes. We had pud thai, yellow curry vegetables, cashew chicken, spicy beef salad, thom yum soup, way more food than we could eat. I've heard so much over the years about all of Kevin's family, so it was beautiful to finally attach faces to the names. We ate, we swam, and we watched cricket, which is a sport I'm only beginning to sort of understand.

Seeing them yesterday afternoon, it was clear that Heidi's Australian family loves her. She's part of the fabric here, and while I miss having her nearby, I understand better why she chooses this life. It might feel weird to sort through these ideas on a blog, but there are people who I want to see this, to help me process. My sister is one of the most powerful, complicated figures in my life, and its been too long since we've been this close. I love you, Heidi, and I'm in awe of what you're doing here. As usual, you are the cool one.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Aussie Rules Football

Here we are, over half way through the trip. Good times! On Sunday we went to Mass at St Patrick's Cathedral. It's an impressive, no, imposing place. The architecture is Gothic Revival, and while you all know I like me some goth, this place makes Blessed Sacrament look like a bright and airy space. (Well, it is for a Gothic church, but that's another discussion). The exterior is black stone with tan spires and roof. Don't think I've ever seen a black stone church before. The interior is all narrow nave, high arches, dark wood and gilding. It's beautiful but somber.

The acoustic was wonderful, although whenever I opened my mouth to sing Ruby elbowed me and told me to be quiet. Wow, I'm looking forward to adolescence. We went to the 9:30 Mass so that we could get to Max's swim meet, and there was only a cantor rather than a whole choir. He had a beautiful voice, although it was a bit of a disconnect to hear him go from singing perfect round vowels and diction to announcing the hymns with a flat vowel Aussie twang. They must have a pretty good choir, though. Their bulletin listed the music for all the Masses, and the later Masses used Mass parts by Victoria and a closing piece by Couperin. In my experience, you don't sing Couperin unless you know what you're doing. We won't likely make it back to Mass there next Sunday, although it would be cool to hear the choir.

Monday's big event was the Super Bowl. It was broadcast live at 10am. We made a big pot of chili w/ guacamole, shredded cheese and cornbread (Yum, Heidi!) for lunch, which we ate during the 2nd half. My brother-in-law takes Super Bowl Monday off from work every year, and he spent the whole game sending text messages to one of the kids one the swim team, keeping him updated on the score while he was in school. According to my sister, if you asked 10 people on the streets of Melbourne if they knew what the Super Bowl was, fewer than 5 would know, which makes Kevin and young Harry the exceptions, not the rule. Most of us were honorary New Orleans fans, so we liked the outcome. We missed the commercials, though. They didn't broadcast the US commercials, so instead we watched quite a few bits advertising life insurance, then long stretches showing highlights of previously played games accompanied by music. You guys sure got to watch a lot of commercials, especially towards the end of the game. Sorry we missed them!

Tuesday we practiced with the bus system, riding the 301 into town to the Fitzroy district. It was fun to poke around in the little shops and restaurants. Got some great pictures, then spent the afternoon by the pool at Chez Halson. Wednesday we got bolder and went by bus and tram to the Melbourne Zoo. It's one of the oldest zoos in the world. It's set up with naturalistic exhibits, but the emphasis is on creatures from the southern hemisphere. My son needs to write an article for his class newspaper as homework while he's here. He hasn't come up with anything yet, and I kept suggesting potential topics as we went along. Like, how about the Philippine water crocodile that's an endangered species, and the Melbourne Zoo is part of an international effort to preserve the species. Maybe the Woodland Park Zoo is part of the same effort, which would give the story a local angle. He didn't like that one.

Then I read aloud the sign by the pen holding Mary the wombat, who was rescued from the fires that burned throughout the states of Victoria and New South Wales this time last year. That topic was also a nonstarter for the school paper, although we've heard a lot about the fires since we've been here. Last Sunday was the one-year anniversary of Black Saturday, when 173 people died in the fires. The sermon at church last Sunday was in part a commemoration of Black Saturday, and we've heard mention of the fires on news stories over the last few days. You can really feel the strength of the shared group memories. Heidi says they only thing that affected them was that they could see ash raining down into their yard, which is probably closer than I'd want them to be to something that horrible.

Both of our tourist days have been somewhat limited by the 35C temperatures. (XC x 2 + 30 = YF; X = the math). We've been saved by the pool here at Chez Halson. Last night the kids went for a swim after dinner, practicing with their boogie boards for the beach today. The grown-ups sat by the pool sipping wine and watching the fruit bats fly over the backyard. Every night they fly over on their way to the Botanical Garden in Kew. Not a bad way to live....

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Aloha from Melbourne

We've been here two days now. My sister and her husband have been so gracious. Their home is lovely. Heidi must have memorized the Martha Stewart chapter on how to welcome guests. She's done many many Good Things. There were thick robes and slippers and little samples of shampoos and lotions in our room when we got here. The whole house is so open and clean; lots of windows, lots of light.

They live down a country lane, one with large and lovely homes all around. It reminds me of New England, the suburbs around Boston where Kent's Aunt Caroline & Uncle Dave live. The view from her back yard suggests Italy...or at least pictures I've seen of Italy. They're surrounded by hills that roll down to the Yarra River, with stucco homes settled on their flanks. It's very much what I'd imagine Tuscany to look like, except for the gum trees and eucalyptus.

The yard itself is huge. Green grass flows down hill to a triangle point, lined with trees along both sides. Heidi has a vegie bed that's bigger than my front yard. They say they lost a number of trees and shrubs to last summer's drought, and she had to completely plow under the vegie bed because there was no water to spare for it. It's raining more regularly this year, and Kevin says their reservoir levels are up over 35%. The grassy areas along the highways are still brown, but their yard and the hills around them are generously green.

Last night we sat outside and had dinner by the pool. The cicadas were loud, which Heidi says means it's going to be a warm day today. They don't come out when it's cool. We've seen lorakeets and cockateils and kookaburras, and yesterday morning we hiked down toward the river to see the kangaroos. Even more unusual for us Northwesterners, in the afternoon we walked through downtown Melbourne to see AC-DC Lane and Batman Avenue. Go figure.

This morning we'll go to Mass at St Patrick's Cathedral. My nephew has a swim meet, so we'll go see him swim this afternoon. Apparently the meet's being held in a complex that has both indoor and outdoor pools, and there's a wave pool that we'll all be able to swim in when we're not actually cheering on the Surrey Park swimmers. This is where I wanted to paste in a couple paragraphs written by the kids describing their experiences so far. Funny, I can't get them to sit down and write anything. They've been too busy. Maybe later today.....

Monday, January 18, 2010

idea for a poem

teaching the kids to jaywalk across Broadway
good job Mom

making dinner out of pasta and pastry and cheese
with vegetables as a condiment
laughter as a sauce
strong work Dad

letting them listen to songs with 4-letter words
in the lyrics
they know Gramma would have a fit
if she heard them use those words

daughter passes me in the kitchen
"that cookie dough is good"
Wait, I think
you know you're not supposed to eat
raw cookie dough,
and her eyes sparkle
she does know
but dares me to say....


Do I really want to raise my kids
in a world where you can't eat
raw cookie dough?
(truly one of the finest things in life)
where you can't
(after looking both ways twice)
cuz it's raining and you need the shortest path
from A to B?
and swearing? no swearing?

a world where you Must Always Eat Vegetables
or suffer the wrath of
The Parent Police?
The endless pain of knowing you weren't the perfect parent?

Oh, that.