And now a word from the author….

This blog was born in 2006 during a time I was ill with some unknown digestive condition that caused me to be nauseous 24/7, eventually and tentatively diagnosed as gastroparesis. Unable to eat solid foods, I lost weight, was no longer able to work, and basically dropped out of the world at large. For six months I traveled to doctors in Seattle for multiple tests and procedures. After being told I might need to be on a feeding tube, I went home. For two years I was home in the woods  except when going to see a variety of non-allopathic health care people and healers. My husband attained sainthood during this time and life changed dramatically for me, having always worked full time in professions that involved helping others. Now I needed to help myself.

Having written articles occasionally throughout my adult life, several months before getting sick I had begun to write more often and had several articles published. I’d hoped to continue writing more. While so ill, I looked for a format to continue writing and share photos of the natural world around me.  Almost by accident I clicked a button on my Apple computer one day and found myself creating a web site.  Mostly for friends and mom (who was understandably worried about me), I wanted people to know I was some how surviving.  Writing, photography, and Mother Nature were all part of my healing, as were the colorful “color doodles” I began to draw. (A turning point in my recovery was also reading the book “The Divide Mind” by Dr John Sarno).

In sharing this story over the years, I’ve met several very successful (in that they actually make money at it!) artists who told me they began their creative life as part of healing from a health crisis.  I believe creativity is a critical aspect of healing for everyone. Everyone has a creative muse in them, perhaps for some of us other aspects of life have to slip away before we see our muse.

After Apple discontinued their server service, I lost my original web site, switched to Google’s Blog Spot, then, in 2011, settled here on Word Press.  Though my initial intention was to share, through photos, essays and stories, the beauty and fascination of Nature, over the years, especially through the years of caring for my Mom as she declined with Alzheimer’s, the writing expanded into posts about people and life.  No specific direction, just whatever moved me to write words and share ideas.

Again I found creative writing to be a balm for the emotional roller coaster and physically exhausting demands of watching my mom slip further into dementia. Too often I felt I was in quick sand, anticipating, but never knowing, when the next crisis would occur, while at the same time staying present with mom and her care needs. It was a time when I lost touch with many aspects of my life, but by occasionally writing I found my grounding. (a poignant piece from this period of time is The Girl In The Turquoise Swimsuit)

I now face a reoccurrence of cancer, my fourth go around with the big “C”, and I find myself once again withdrawing from the surrounding world. This time that world includes the Internet, especially social media (Facebook and Instagram). Facebook has been a way to stay in touch with those far away, some of whom do not have access to email but occasionally can get on facebook, so I may go back, and Instagram has been a fun way to share with other nature lovers and creative types photos and creative projects (such as the Flora Mandalas I began to make after mom died and I had the last cancer episode)

Not certain of the role this blog  now plays in my life, or in the life of readers, I wonder if I have anything more to share of value to others.  Readership has grown, many people who read the posts I do not know personally (but deeply appreciate they’re taking the time to read!) For this reason I will not be writing about what is in store for me in the immediate future. If some where down the time line of my life some great inspiration, funny story, or useful tidbit occurs to me that might help, inspire or amuse others I’ll give it a go. I suspect I won’t be able to stop myself! 🙂

Think of me gently in your prayers, thoughts or visualizations and enjoy my previous posts, there are 174 of them, plus 30  pages (see menu above for pages) to explore! And thank you for wandering with me throughout these years on Huckleberry Wanderings!

Here are just a few of the topics you can search for a blog topic – see the menu list to the right to click and explore a topic. And don’t forget teacups and pin cushions because it is good to remember the every day pleasures of life!

Balancing the Elements

This month west coast skies have been gray, except near the fires, where they are lit with the hot colors of fire. Yesterday morning I laid in bed thinking how close the fire up the road was and the many houses in it’s path before it would have reached us, fortunately it was contained before nightfall. I had flashbacks of a wildfire that took off from a smoldering brush pile in a clear-cut behind our property 30 years ago, surrounding our property on two sides with lapping flames. I could see the fire through the trees as I tried to organize my thoughts and belongings for possible evacuation. No one had notified me of the fire, I just happened to notice before going to bed lights from police cars at the end of the driveway. Walking down the driveway I saw road barriers closing me in the fire area.

It was a different world then, management was not handled well on that fire. In the dark I walked up the road to the fire staging area and got a ride up to the fire line by a local volunteer in his truck so I could see if any of the tall firs on our boundary were on fire. It was a long, scary night, and I was angry.

What do these fires, does fire in general, have to teach us? Perhaps that is a personal question for individuals to ask, depending upon how wildfires have affected them. In Ayurveda, the ancient science of life, fire is the primary element of the Pitta dosha. Too much Pitta in an individual can cause rashes, fever and inflammation, people with an imbalance of Pitta, either constitutionally or due to dis-ease, can be ‘hot headed’, quick to anger and may express anger with aggressive words or behavior. (The secondary element of Pitta is water, as in ‘letting off steam”!)  When in balance, Pitta is the fire to “digest” food, thoughts and life experiences, it can be sharp, smart thinking, strong, have staying power and energy. When Pitta is strong people have endurance and can be “in their heads”. Like it’s element Fire, Pitta has both a negative, destructive side and a positive building side.

The other doshas, Kapha and Vata, are the elements water and earth (Kapha) and wind and ether (Vata). Kapha imbalance can be cold, immobile and needs fire to energize it, to give balance, drying up some of the sluggish dampness. For example hot spicy foods are good for Kapha, too much cool, heavy, oily Kapha foods can cause congestion and overweight, yet spicy foods can aggravate Pitta, giving it too much heat. Excess Vata, the wind dosha, can push Pitta, causing it to inflame, yet Vata is flexible and needed to balance too much Pitta or Kapha. Vata moves the fluids of our body as it moves the rivers and streams of the earth.

mandala entitled “Cooling the fires with the blues”

There are colors we associate with fire – red, orange, yellow, and these colors, while stimulating and balancing to Kapha, can be too intense for Vata and definitely raise the heat of Pitta. Pitta finds balance with cooling shades of blue and green. Vata, prone to fear and anxiety, finds balance with soft, warming shades of colors, such as soft golds. Vata needs nurturing, soothing and ‘grounding’ to calm its erratic, ‘windy’ nature.

Are we nurturing ourselves individually and in our communities during these challenging times? Or are we allowing ourselves to become too inflamed with heat and anger?

the seasons of life, the year and the times of day each are dominated by the characteristics of certain elements, making each period of time ideal for certain activities.

Summer is the hot Pitta time of year, now in late summer we are moving into autumn, the Vata time of year. There is heat, yet there is wind and transition. In the news we read of aggravation and anger in the behavior of people and often the events we read about bring up our own anger. Things seem to be moving quickly, for better or worse. There is fire, there is wind. There is imbalance. There doesn’t seem to be much groundedness. There is too much water in areas of North America and other places, not enough water in other areas. There are too many fires . The Earth, a living being, seems out of balance in so many ways. Does it start with how out of balance we humans living on the Earth are?

When there is serious illnesses, such as cancer, all the doshas are involved, they are all out of balance and a careful assessment of how to bring a person back into health and well being is needed.

Maybe one lesson of fire is our need to find our own balance – in ourselves, in our relationships, in our communities. Be patient and understanding, be kind, watch the temper. Try not to let the news ‘rile’ you up! If you are a Pitta inclined person, bring cooling calm into your life, surround yourself in cooling blues and greens, the colors of the earth and water. If you are Vata inclined, be especially nurturing, soothing and calming the winds of your anxieties and fears with meditation and walks in Nature. Maybe you are a Kapha person, grounded but immobile, lacking motivation and feeling there is nothing you can do. Taking positive action by helping others at this time could give you more energy. We can all bring calmness to our outer world by finding ways to balance our own nature. A world full of healthier, balanced, calm people will surely begin to heal this precious Earth-body. It is not easy to bring balance to such a large living being such as Earth, but starting with ourselves is a good place to start.

Are we not all calmed and find inner peace when in Nature, especially when she is dressed in blues and greens!

I’m going to imagine blue skies, blue water and coolness settling over the west coast, enveloping the fires til they smolder out, the balancing impact of Kapha on Pitta. And I will visualize everyone in the path of hurricane Lane being calm and safe as all that Vata energy moves through.

You can read more about Ayurveda and see a list of resources to learn about food and life style choices, etc. here: Mother of all Healing.

Happy Birthday Mom

Picking a bouquet of wintered over pansies yesterday, I thought of my mom, whose birthday is today. She was born 4/3/21, a date easy to remember!  Pansies were the first of many shared favorites. With her encouragement, I planted them as my first childhood gardening experience. I’ve written of mom and her love of growing flowers before, it’s a memory that makes me smile. It was a part of her that lasted until almost the end of her life, as other parts of her fell away.

I got out these favorite photos of her. One, which I never saw until I cleaned out my folks house, is her as a young, confident woman in 1942, post engagement, but two years before marrying my dad.

The other is us at Rialto Beach just after her 90th birthday. When I realized Alzheimer’s was going to take away her enjoyment of things she loved, I asked where she’d like to take a trip. She loved to travel, and traveled both internationally and throughout the U.S. with my dad and on her own after his death. Without hesitation she said “the seashore”. We made two trips to the ocean, one to Mt Rainer, and one to Anacortes.

The first trip was so much fun, she had not been to the ocean in years. She sat pointing to rocks on the beach with her cane for Mike to pick up. The three of us watched the most spectacular sunset I’ve ever seen at the coast.

I’ve written several times about my mom lately. After she died I was so worn out from the challenges of her care the last years of her life, and I had to immediately face my own challenges with breast cancer, a mastectomy, and so on. I felt little grief, just a sadness and relief.  Over the years I occasionally sort through remaining photos and memorabilia from her life and, as I mentioned in my last post, it has both brought alive a woman I did not know, pre-motherhood, as well as reminding me of who she was pre-dementia. These are not sad memories. On the contrary, they give me back my mom, the fullness of her life, the multi-faceted person she was.

My heart goes out to anyone witnessing a loved one going through any form of dementia. Keep alive memories of who they were/are regardless of how the disease is changing them. Remember always the person you’ve loved and shared life with as you adjust to this new person they are becoming, the changes that are happening, too often too fast.  I felt I was constantly establishing a relationship with someone new, yet I’d see my mom’s spirit shine through in little glimmers.

Here’s some pansies for you mom.

(header photo: Mom at LaPush, ocean trip #2, waving to us on the beach. She was soooo happy sitting and watching the ocean.)

 

Celebrating Cycles

Hellebores are a lovely blooming plant that seem to bridge winter to spring

Hellebores are a lovely blooming plant that seems to bridge the transition from winter to spring

March is a month of transitions for Mother Nature, and like humans often are at times of change, she seems unable to make up her mind…should it be spring? No, let’s have a little more winter! Two weekends ago the buds of the flowering current outside my bedroom window were swelling each day with hot pink, ready to burst open. Now, with temperatures in the low 30s at night, and staying chilly and cool all day, they seem frozen in time, waiting for the announcement – SPRING IS HERE!  The two wind storms we had recently seemed to be Nature’s spring cleaning, bringing down trees, branches, flooding and cleansing rivers and creeks, and creating ponds and streams where there were none! Now maybe she is ready for spring!

Already gone, crocus offer an early pollen treat to bees.

Already gone, crocuses offered an early pollen treat to bees.

March is also a month of celebrations. Past years I’ve written about the joy of early blooming flowers (Primrose Cheer, Pulmonaria), the celebrations of International Women’s Day, the birthday of Girl Scouts, and the many spiritual celebrations of the season (A Season of Celebrations, a Season of Forgiveness).

A sign of Nuture's consistencies, I take photos of the same blooms year after year, here our early bloom "Christmas" rhode, which blooms early March

A sign of Nature’s consistencies, I photograph the same blooms year after year, such as our early blooming “Christmas” rhododendron

Celebrations and transitions.  Nature seems both predictable and un-predictable with her annual cycles. No matter what the season, we often make comments of doubt…”will spring ever come?“… “will this rain ever stop?” or  “will this drought ever end?“. Yet even with the dramatic impacts of climate change causing unpredictable shifts in previously predictable seasonal changes…the seasons still change. The world so far keeps turning on its axis, keeps orbiting around the sun, and, triggered by the changes in light, plants, animals, insects, and probably humans in ways we’ve lost touch with, respond with the beginning of new cycles of light.

Pink and yellow seem to be the colors of early spring, with forsythia joining the daffodils as bits of sunny yellow.

Pink and yellow seem to be the colors of early spring, with forsythia joining the daffodils as bits of sunny yellow.

I’ve always wondered why we don’t celebrate the New Year in spring, rather than January 1, which here in the northern hemisphere is the ‘dead’ of winter, and in the southern hemisphere, the middle of summer.  Spring and fall are the times of transitions, the times of new beginnings or endings.  In Ayurveda those two seasons are recognized as a time of change and movement, having definite impact on human health and well-being.

Another plant waiting to burst forth is domestic Bleeding Heart, this one in our new little "chicken coop" garden, safe from deer who munched it last year.

Another plant waiting to burst forth is domestic Bleeding Heart, this one in our new little “chicken coop” garden, safe from deer who munched it last year.

Change and celebration.  We celebrate life changes we intentionally plan in our lives – births, weddings, graduations, new jobs, retirement, and we honor with celebration historic events, auspicious religious dates, etc. When the unpredictable, and often unwanted, transitions occur, we try to cope and make sense of them through celebrations, we might “celebrate” a divorce, our recovery from a serious disease, the death of a loved one (which we call a “celebration of life”, yet we are acknowledging and honoring both their transition and our own life change).

In this month of Mother Nature’s transitions and new beginnings, I suggestion we join her as she ‘celebrates’ with bright colored spring blooms, rainbows on a stormy day, bird courting songs and new births.  It might seem a time of unknown social and political unrest, you might be going through a personal and unpredictable challenge, but it is all part of our human life cycle here on this amazing little planet. Such times of unrest have occurred before, will occur again, yet we “keep on truck’n”.  It is easy to focus on that which is uncertain, yet by focusing on the certainty of Nature’s cycles, we are reminded of our own cycles, personally and collectively.PumanariaConsider this an invitation to celebrate life and light this month! You have much to choose from – St. Patrick’s Day, the Spring equinox, Easter, Holi (the Hindu celebration of color and lights), or whatever you embrace as your own celebration of transition! In celebration we learn to cope, come back to our center, embrace the inevitableness of change, and remember that, like Nature, we keep on going, cycle after cycle.

 

To view more spring flowers check out some of my pages:

Garden Flowers

Wild Flowers

 

 

A year later

Remember when you watched cartoons growing up, the good and evil thoughts of a person would be depicted as a mini angel and devil sitting on opposite shoulders of some poor, conflicted, cartoon hero? These mini-characters represented the hero’s subconscious and often got into their own little comical battles, one finally triumphing over the other, the victor kicking the loser off his shoulder perch.

A year ago today I had a real life experience with those two. I wouldn’t say they were representatives of good and evil, but definitely two parts of my subconscious…the altruistic and the self-preserving.

Dr. Claire Buchhan, her eyes smiling, take with my iTouch as I was fading away. The iTouchwas for the music I listened t

Dr. Buchanan, eyes smiling, taken with my iTouch (for music during surgery) as I faded away.

It’s been one year today since I had a mastectomy, a day I remember well. There wasn’t too much drama and trauma to my experience, just anxiety, the anxiety I feel going into any surgery, and of course I wondered what life would be like with one breast. Thanks to the wonderful support of my husband Mike and cousin Shaun, and the most personable, down to earth, skilled team of doctors – surgeon Dr. Claire Buchanan, and the anesthesiologist (whose name I’ve forgotten), I felt in good hands, literally, and well cared for. The drama and trauma I witnessed was that of another woman who also had a mastectomy that day. Here is my weird mastectomy story:

 

Shaun sent me this photo from last yr., looking pretty relaxed for pre-masectomy! I was in good company!

Shaun sent me this photo from last yr., pretty relaxed for pre-mastectomy! I was in good company!

My surgery was in the afternoon and it was dark out when I was wheeled into the tiny, pie-shaped hospital room where I was to spend the night. Mike was not there, he was in the hospital cafeteria eating dinner with my sister-in-law, hospital staff had not reached him yet. I lay alone in the darkness, still groggy, and could hear a woman screaming right outside the door to my room. (She was actually in the next room.)

“You cut my breast off!”

“I’m bleeding!”

“There’s a hole in my chest!”

“You cut my breast off!”

“I’m going to die!”

These were the words she screamed, repetitively, as loud as she could, with great horror and panic in her voice. I lay there listening, apparently no one was able to calm her or stop her fearful, angry rant.

My first thought was “I need to get up and go to her, they don’t know how to deal with her.” This is the deep-seated social worker persona in me, the one who worked with people with schizophrenia, people having manic episodes, as well as people experiencing fearful traumas, such as domestic violence.

Then the other voice chimed in “Are you crazy! YOU just had a mastectomy yourself!” Nothing practical like “you can’t even get out of bed”, just the voice of reason…why would you even think of addressing her emotional trauma when you just had the same experience she had!

My little altruistic cartoon buddy got kicked out.  Self-preservation won, I not only came to my senses (which were pretty dull from drugs), but I tried to put the plaintive screams out of my head, which was not easy…they went on until 10 or 11 that night. (I learned the next day they finally got a psychiatric doctor to order a sedative, administered by injection, to calm her.)

Flowers sent to my hospital room last year by the crew at Sunshine Propane.

Flowers sent to my hospital room last year by the crew at Sunshine Propane.

I still felt compassion for this woman, and sad her issues were not addressed better and more immediate. The next day I got a peek at her, sitting in her room, still looking angry, but subdued. She looked life-worn.

On my follow-up visit two weeks later, I asked the surgeon what it was like to tell someone who may have mental illness that they have breast cancer. (I don’t know that the screaming woman had a diagnosed psychiatric disability, her explosive anger and fear may have been triggered by the surgery and/or medications.) My doctor told me she has had people explode at her, threatening her life, when she told them they had breast cancer, and they weren’t people with mental illness.

Life is so messy, there are so many challenges for us all.

Here I am a year later. Not an easy year. A month after the mastectomy I had a skin cancer removed from my lip.  Once I recovered from the mastectomy I began the task of closing my mom’s estate, she died a month before the surgery. Like most people with one or more cancer experiences (this was my third go-around with breast cancer), I live with the great unknown. It’s like an umbrella over you, sometimes blocking the sun with its shadow, but you constantly try to close it and put it away somewhere in the corner of your mind. The preventive meds I’m supposed to be taking cause too many bad side effects and aggravate other health conditions. When on them deep muscle and joint pain cause me to be dysfunctional. The oncologist says I’m one of the small number of women who can’t ‘tolerate’ them.  I follow a protocol of supplements. I’m trying to learn better self-care.  My self-preservation cartoon-character was strong and loud that night a year ago, but I too often ignore her in day-to-day living.

It has also been a year of deep appreciation. I’m acutely aware of multiple little blessings in my life. Often over shadowed by the BIG challenges, they accumulate and fill me up.

I hope the woman in the room next door has had even half the blessings and love I’ve had this past year. It would sooth her soul.

IMG_3641Note to readers: Very grateful to those who took time to do the poll in my last post. It was very helpful to get feedback. Equal votes for Nature and personal stories, photos appreciated (sorry for that lack of in this post), a few requests for more recipes, and comments that let me know I’m doing ok and should continue to give voice to my muse! Thank you!  I have lots of December nature topics floating around, hope to catch one soon!

 

 

Fall, the time of molt

“In September the birds were quiet. They were molting in the valley, the mockingbird in the spruce, the sparrow in the mock orange, the doves in the cedar by the creek. Everywhere I walked the ground was littered with shed feathers, long, colorful primaries, and shaftless white down. I garnered this weightless crop in pockets all month long and inserted the feathers one by one into the frame of a wall mirror.” Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

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I too collect feathers, as no doubt many of you do. Forty years living with chickens and ducks, I notice not only the wild bird feathers of fall in the woods, but feathers piled and scattered throughout the coops. This shedding of feathers starts in the heat of late summer. By the October rains, Thanksgiving at the latest, fresh feathers are in place for winter.

Missing their primary wing feathers and the under feathers more explosed, our muscovies are reserved and caution, not able to fly as well. Here they are listening to a predator bird, full alert.

Missing their primary wing feathers, exposing the feathers underneath, and less able to fly, our muscovies are reserved and cautious.  Here they are listening to a predator bird overhead, full alert.

Our two Muscovies have been less active lately, choosing to stay in their coop even when the door is open. Growing new feathers requires energy. I’ve noticed in years past older or unhealthy birds often don’t grow back all their feathers.

In my recent cleaning out of ‘stuff’, I sorted my feather collection, decided to keep less, and tossed the rest. I’ve been molting too, my feathers and more.

The purpose of molting is to make way for new growth. When new feathers grow back on birds they are fresh, clean, perfect, without damage. How wonderful to have a part of your body rejuvenate itself in this manner! Our bodies rejuvenate. Some cells last only a few days, others years, (though apparently our cerebell cortex cells, cells in the inner eye, and the heart cells last a life time.) It would be nice if our rejuvenation, a more stuble process, made us look as fresh as a bird with new feathers!

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Fall, the time of the molt, is a time to reserve one’s energy resources, to nurture ourselves. Plants send their ‘juices’ deep into the ground to be stored through the winter in roots until needed for new growth, which mostly occurs in the spring.

In Ayurveda fall is the Vata time of year. From an article on the Banyan Botanicals web site about fall foods and herbs that nourish us this time of year, “Fall is a time of transition. It is evident everywhere around you. Many trees and shrubs are quietly undressing in preparation for the winter.” It is the season of the elements air and either.

Foods that help balance us during this time are those of the elements earth and water, foods of the fall harvest such as winter squashes, pumpkins, parsnips, root vegetables – grounding foods.

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Enjoy this time of harvest, fall color, molting, rejuvenation. Conserve your energies, prepare for new growth in your life!

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Note: My last post had less readers, no web site comments and only one email commenting on it. It may have been too wordy, too philosophical, maybe it just plain didn’t make sense! The famous poet John Lydgate, (a quote later adapted by President Lincoln) said “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”. My expectations are modest, some of the people some of the time would be great! I blog because I like to write and to have a purpose for sitting to write.  After 8 years of blogging, it’s a good time to take stock of what people would like to read and see here. I would love feedback on what readers enjoy from my blog.

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Reflections on our reflections

Facebook has a ‘feature’ where you can see previous year’s ‘posts’, if any, on the current date, i.e. today I saw August 28 posts made in past years . I thought I would use this feature, if at it, to delete old posts.

However, as I go through the process of ‘cleaning’ out my material life – books, clothes, household items, papers, etc., and reflect on the reasons I have kept things, I also notice, thanks to Facebook, how attached I can be to the memory of previous events, concerns and interests in my life. This is human nature, we like to remember our ‘stories’, even ones not particularly pleasant. Depending on your perspective, this propensity for re-hashing through remembering and, even more so, through story telling of past events, may be unhealthy or healthy. It depends on what you do with these story memories.

the beginnng of book sorting. About 200 books went elsewhere.

the beginning of book sorting. About 200 books went elsewhere.

A member of the ‘be here now’, ‘live in the moment’ generation, the same generation now concerned because we are ‘losing’ our memories, I ponder this topic frequently. It seems pervasive in conversations. Though some people seem to only ‘live in the past’, having little interest in their present life experiences, most of us hold on to past events more subtly, aware of them when triggered by something in the present…..or a book, an article of clothing, a photography, a household item.  Sadly, some of us will lose stories of our past to various forms of memory-stealing dementia. I witnessed this with my Mom.

In his book The Divided Mind, the Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders, Dr. John Sarno claims ‘negative’ emotions of past experiences are stored in a sort of ‘reservoir’ in the unconscious mind. The unconscious, not wanting us to consciously experience these emotions, will manifest physical conditions and disease to distract us from these painful feelings. He observed, in his years working with patient’s at the Rusk Institute at New York University Medical School, that people do not have to experience these stored feelings, but by recognizing them, even just knowing they are there, we can reverse or avoid the physical conditions caused by the unconscious mind in trying to protect us from them. (This is a grossly abbreviated explanation of Sarno’s work. If interested I recommend the book.)

'stuff' ready to go.

‘stuff’ ready to go.

The process of ‘cleaning out’ has been insightful. I frequently go through ‘stuff’ and rid myself of books, clothes, etc. but this go around I decided to try a method that might be more productive. I listened to the audio version of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, The Japanese Art of De-clutteirng and Organizing, by Marie Kondo. While the book is hands-on practical, and Kondo’s life-long passion for tidiness borders on humorous obsession, it contains, amidst practical methods and advice, profundities about letting go and the reasons we hold on to ‘stuff’. One message throughout the book is: it is not necessary to hold on to things because the value was in the experience at the time.  Examples she gives are:  we are never going to re-read most books, or training materials, etc. from workshops and conferences. Even if we cannot recall specific information, the parts of a book or a workshop, etc. that meant something to us became a part of who we are. Its value was in the experience at the time.

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An empty drawer after a clothing ‘purge’. Kondo recommends you purge by category, not by room, putting everything in one category in a pile then sort, looking at each item. Does it spark joy?

It is worth repeating that theme because it can be helpful in letting go not only of ‘stuff’, but memories/stories we like to tell over and over, whether that letting go is voluntary, or we begin to lose our stories through aging brain changes.

The value is in the experience. We may gain knowledge, experience joy, learn a life lesson through our experiences.  Our experiences become a part of who we are whether we remember them or not.  It is not important we remember the details, nor is it important we ‘hold on’ to an item because of what it represents. For example, Kondo points out the value of a gift was in the experience of giving and receiving it, not in holding on to something we may not like or use.

So why do we hold on to memories and stories and worry so much about forgetting, and fill our homes (and computers) with things we don’t need to help us remember? Do you need 500 photos to remember the experience of a trip? Would a few be adequate? Do you need to keep every wedding gift, even if half are stored in the attic, in order to remember your wedding day? Does a book you read 30 years ago, or even last year, have to be kept for you to have benefitted from the experience of reading it? Can you let go of the Spanish language tapes you never listened to and appreciate that they taught you that you really didn’t have the time or passion for learning a language?

Kondo says as we let go of ‘stuff’, to thank each item for fulfilling its purpose in our life. She also says as you sort and eliminate items, ask yourself before deciding to keep something, “does this spark joy in me?”  (she acknowledges certain things, like important documents, etc. aren’t going to spark joy, but must be kept!)

Maybe we also need to thank our stories, our memories, for the lessons they taught us and be ok with letting them go.

Sarno says he does not know why the ‘mere’ knowledge that our repressed emotions can cause pain and disease can reverse people’s pain and illnesses.  He encourages more research into what he has observed in thousands of patients.  Maybe by acknowledging it is so, we let go of the power the emotions have, without having to express or re-experience them.

As I witnessed mom’s memories fading, I was acutely aware she remembered the ‘good times’ with more acuity, and held on to them longer, than the painful ones.  Perhaps because they ‘sparked joy’ in her! Maybe our brains not only try to ‘protect us’ from negative feelings, as Sarno suggests, by causing physical ailments (an unconscious decision most of us would consciously trade for the memory), but as Kondo recommends we do when ‘tidying up’ our material lives, the brain eliminates from the conscious mind that which does not bring joy!

Something to ponder as you try to remember what you needed to do this weekend, and what you really want to do!  If you are going shopping, before buying something ask: Does it spark joy?

(Abby has been very bored with my purging activities, they do not spark joy in her!)

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Musings on weaving….

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Been putting ribbons and ‘stuff’ in some of my weavings, here there are two rows of seed beads, which unfortunately are already coming out! It’s all a learning process!

This post is truly a ramble, the ‘wandering’ part of “Huckleberry Wanderings”. Or perhaps a weaving of thoughts and reflections…

I’ve been weaving a lot lately. I do not anticipate becoming a great weaver, though I know several talented weavers and have been inspired by the emergence of a new generation of creative, inspiring weavers. Their web sites and blogs are “eye candy” for those craving the aesthetic side of life.

My goal has simply been to infuse my life with bright colors while focusing the mind on something creative and challenging that doesn’t use the computer. And to channel my obsessive nature somewhere other than worrying and playing Scrabble against “Norm”, who lives somewhere in my iTouch.

Weaving has always been part of my life. I loved weaving on the small, ‘child size’ loom I had growing up. In my late 20s I purchased a table loom and learned to weave in Eugene, Oregon before moving to the Olympic Peninsula. Life got busy, complicated and messy with health ‘issues’, challenging jobs, going to grad school, etc. Even after inheriting a full size loom that sat, crated, in the barn for years, I never wove again. Almost never. I sometimes weave like I doodle….paper scraps, grass, especially beach grass, pieces of anything that might be sitting around that’s “weaveable”. The three looms in my life have all been given away, the child size one only a few years ago. Yes, I now regret parting with it.

IMG_0919So in my thirst for color, and to put a little pleasure a in life that seems to keep throwing me and many whom I love one hard ball after another, I dug out some old funky yarn, found a discarded frame that once held my hammer dulcimer (also parted with a few years ago), and asked Mike to cut it down to a sturdy framed structure. I started weaving with a simple wrap warp. It felt delightfully primitive, basic, and as I wove I thought about the history of weaving, how primal, innate, yet elegant it is. And I thought about the weavers in Nature.

The creature most associated with weaving and weavers has always been the spider, though many spiders do not make webs. Those who do use a sticky adhesive they produce to “glue” the connection points of their web together. I question their weaving practices. The magic of weaving is creating, or ‘building’, something using only the materials used in the weave. No ‘supportive’ aides. The weave itself gives form, strength, and birth to a new item. The few times I’ve woven baskets, or watched them being made, it is not unlike watching a chicken egg hatch….suddenly there is something completely new that didn’t exist before, but came from this other item that did exist and is now transformed…egg to chicken, reeds (or bark) to basket.

Photo from University of Washington Conservation Magazine article about beavers helping out frogs.

Besides spider ‘weavers’, several bird species make remarkable woven nests, but the only mammal, besides us humans, I’ve heard the word ‘weaver’ associated with is the beaver. After one of those magical Nature encounters with a beaver on the Klickitat River here in Washington several years ago, beavers have become more intriguing to me and I’ve been feeling akin to and thinking of them as I weave. Beavers take sticks and make sturdy, complex, large homes. No nails, no screws, no adhesives. They drag, poke, push and prod into place the sticks and create something new. (Not unlike my weaving style.)  Shortly into my weaving blitz, I gathered some sticks on a beach walk and when I got home and chose one to hold one of my little samples, I discovered it had the markings of a beaver on it.

In her interesting article, The Art and History of Weaving, Susan C. Wylly Professor of Art at Georgia College & State University defines weaving, as “the systematic interlacing of two or more sets of elements usually, but not necessarily, at right angles, to form a coherent structure.” I think the labors of beavers meet those criteria. Perhaps their efforts are not beautiful in an artistic sense, but they are amazing in their intricacies. And to house clean, now and then, they un-weave, tidy up, and re-weave, replacing lost or rotten materials with fresh sticks.

(A lovely story of the beaver is James A. Michener’s The Beaver from Centennial, also found in a collection of his animal stories entitled “Creatures of the Kingdom, Stories of Animals and Nature”.)

For us two-legged ones, weaving, functional in our every day lives as fabric and other items, has long been an art form.  The two of course are not separate. Living here in the Pacific Northwest examples of both functional and beautiful weaving abound. Indigenous people of the region wove baskets to carry their children in, gather the harvest, cook food (yes, using hot rocks placed in a basket, water would heat to cook the food). They also wove bark hats and garments as well as garments made of dog and goat wool. (If you are not familiar with the weaving designs of NW Native basketry and blankets, The Maryhill Museum on the Columbia River has one of the best exhibits of native basketry, from many regions. Here on the Olympic Peninsula, the Sheldon Museum has both basketry and blankets on display.)

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My one attempt at a rag rug, using a larger frame and a wrap warp. After 10″ and several hours, my back and arms hurt too much from hand ‘beating’ the flannel into place so I cut it off. It is a mini rug, Abby fits on it, but I was disappointed in my body’s limitations, as rag rugs are functional, ‘recycle’ fabric, (of which I have a lot) and can be fun and colorful to make.

There isn’t a culture or region on this planet that does not have a rich history of the use of woven materials.  Weaving could be carried out long before the discovery and invention of other materials and tools, enabling people to create the ‘comforts’ and necessities of living.

In her article, Wylly writes, “Archeologists believe that basket making and weaving were probably the first “crafts” developed by humans”.  It was carried out for survival…for shelter, clothing, hunting and gathering food. The design and beautiful nature of weaving can be traced back to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. As Wylly states, “No one knows when or where the weaving process actually began, but as far back as there are relics of civilized life, it is thought that weaving was a part of developing civilizations.” 

IMG_1941My weavings, small, technically and artistic quite ‘primitive’, will not be providing any shelter or clothing for myself or others, or hanging on anyones walls except ours (Mike has become quite a fan, enamored by the whole process), but they help me ‘survive’ in a different manner, breathing into life the joy and pleasure of color and design. Mike made me a few larger frames and I’ve added some brass brads to guide the warp threads.  I’ve joined the ranks of ‘yarn junkies’, and though my body complains a bit, I sit mesmerized and focused on the process as I watch a pattern emerge from the threads I weave……under, over, under, over…….

(My little weaving samples are a learning process, if I ever get brave and do something large, I’ll share again………)

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This is not a love story, or maybe it is…..

Writing about an old boy friend the day before Valentine’s Day may seem strange, and it is, but it’s only the beginning of this tale…..so please bear with me……..

The theme of the 1986 Vancouver Expo was communication and transportation. In 1986, I was in a relationship doomed to fail for all the usual reasons, including lack of honest communication. The title of the then popular book Smart Women, Foolish Choices was the mantra I ignored playing in the back of my mind throughout the nearly 18 months I tried to help someone with no history of settling anywhere, settle into my life. Mind you, I was not the one who started it all. After a brief encounter over a campfire in a campground, he looked me up, arriving in my front yard unannounced a few months later.  That was early summer 1985.

When my parents gave us tickets to the Expo as a Christmas present in 1985, they apparently had faith in the relationship lasting, at least until the following summer.  Though Gary and I had some good times together, it was a relationship that made me crazy in so many ways. Gary was a hard-working nice guy, with various well hidden addictions, and the unpredictable behavior of walking away from people…..past family, jobs, and a not-so-ex girlfriend. He had already walked away from our fledging relationship when he headed south the day he was to move from eastern Washington to a rental down the road so we could see where our relationship might go if we lived geographically closer. Embarrassing to say, though his behavior and words of explanation at the time couldn’t have been a clearer sign of what was to come if it had in fact been a neon sign, I convinced him to turn around, come back, give it a try. I reminded him he had a rental agreement with my friends who owned the house.

One of the many colorful modes of transportation exhibited at the 1986 world's fair in Vancouver.

One of the many colorful modes of transportation exhibited at the 1986 world’s fair in Vancouver.

We worked at being a couple for months, but by Expo time we’d tried for over a year and knew it was not going to work…..I think we “stayed together for the tickets.”  That September we went to Vancouver and stayed with a kind, witty, elderly couple, aunt and uncle of my mom’s best friend. We mostly went our separate ways at the expo. This was pre-cell phones, and at one point, when he failed to show at an agreed upon rendezvous, I assumed he had split. He hadn’t. I LOVED the exhibits I went to. I finally “saw” the Northwest Territories I’d dreamed of visiting since I was a child, collecting literature for the trip I still had hoped to take. At an African (I can’t remember which country) exhibit, alive with music and color, I bought a little thumb piano made from recycled tin. Gary and I were both enchanted by the brightly painted buses and trucks from Pakistan. When the weekend ended he hitched back to Washington to work, I set off for a solo vacation to the Canadian Rockies.

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Which gets me to the reason for this story at this time. Clearly, though it is Valentines Day, Gary was not the love of my life. (I’ll get to him.) No, it’s because this week I am sick with one of those flu viruses that hit ya about once a decade. And in the 80s, it hit me in the Rockies.

Feeling relieved to be away from Gary, I drove northeast toward Banff. This was the year before the opening of the Coquihalia Highway which streamlined the route between Vancouver and Banff.  The older route was longer and I enjoyed the scenery as I looked forward to mountains, camping, and traveling on my own, as I had for 7 years after the amicable end of my previous, one and only, long-term “significant relationship”.

I felt a sore throat the first night I camped. The second day, after a brief stop at Lake Louise Hotel, which was nearly empty (I guess everyone was at the Expo!) for the spectacular lake view, I arrived at a campground outside Banff late in the day. A mixture of rain and snow was just starting to come down. It was cold, and I was hot. I pitched my tent, cooked a meal inside it, and crawled into the back of my Toyota Corona where stormy weather outside reflected the fury raging in my body through a sleepless night.

The next day was one of those blue sky sunshiny days where, at those higher elevations, everything seems crystal clear and so bright there’s a feeling of other-worldliness. I, determined to see something in spite of how I was feeling, rode the gondola for what was indeed a surreal experience given that by then I had a high fever and chills and aches that made dying sound like nirvana and the only possible relief.

I did not have a credit card then. I called my mom, we both consulted the same B.C. guide-book, found an affordable motel just outside the park, heading south. She called, made a reservation, and I left, driving away from my dream vacation of hiking and traveling alone in the Rockies. I was both chilled and feverish, and drove holding to my forehead a wet cloth I would “refresh” from the melting ice in my cooler every 20 minutes. I undoubtedly drove through beautiful scenery, but I was just trying to stay on the road in what was starting to feel like a fever induced delusional state of mind. It was a long drive. I do remember one roadside stop where other cars had stopped to view a mama bear with cubs. When I crossed the park boundary and found the motel, it was evening. I walked into the office, the person at the desk looked up and said “You must be Penney, you look really sick.” They weren’t offering anything more than a room, but after buying night-time NyQuil at the small, and only, nearby store, the room became my sanctuary for five days as I laid in bed, occasionally heating soup or boiling water on my camp stove set up in the shower stall.  Time has not embellished my memory of this story, I was really sick.

I survived. After a few days the fever broke, I gingerly took a few walks nearby. When I thought I could do so safely, I drove home…..it took four days. I was weak.  And I was late back to work. It was not a fun trip to the Rockies, but it was a break from a crazy time in a crazy relationship. I don’t remember if at the time I reflected on much, the flu forced me to live in the moment. In a weird way, I enjoyed and appreciated the time away with no expectations of having a great time. I was not having a great time. And though it was scary how sick I was so far from anyone and anything familiar (did I mention the nearest hospital or doctor was along ways away), I was having time away from everything and everyone in my life. In that sense it was a true vacation.

Gary left a few months later. Moving on with life, I visited friends in Sweden and Germany the following March. Gary even sent me a nice travel book as I planned the trip. In the summer of 1987 I began a Masters program in psychiatric rehabilitation.  That winter I did meet the love of my life. And our first “official” date was in fact to the Swan School Valentines Sweetheart Ball in 1988.

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Mike, a little self-conscious on our first official date to the Swan School Valentine Ball, wearing a borrowed sport coat, attire no one had ever seen him in before. He turned out to be a pretty good dancer, easy to be with, and we’ve been dancing together through life ever since.

As I lay here sweating, every cell of my body aching, coughing til it hurts, head throbbing, throat feeling like I swallowed crushed glass, voice almost gone, (you get the picture, especially if you’ve been there), I know this is one of those once a decade bugs (I hope, as I do to want to repeat this for a long time). The past two years of my life, with the care of mom as she declined into Alzheimer’s, moving her four times, emptying and selling her house, two bouts with breast cancer, Mike’s health challenges….has been the most crazy time of my life. The past several days I’ve been too sick to reflect on anything….or eat, or sleep. I still feel lousy, but the fever has broken, and as my brain begins to function again I recall this past flu story and wonder…… maybe this is a way of “burning up” the past to move on. I hope so.

Though he locked his keys in his truck tonight, my sweetheart did deliver a lovely bouquet!

Though he locked his keys in his truck tonight, my sweetheart did deliver a lovely bouquet!

As for a more seasonally appropriate love story…….I left sick bay tonight, albeit grumpily, to drive 23 miles round trip to where Mike locked his keys in his truck. Driving home in the dark I thought about the myriad ways Mike, in his sometimes bumbling, but always heart felt, genuine way, goes out of his way for me.  Every day. The past two nights he’s come home from work and made me miso soup, the only thing I feel like eating. I do not need to tell love stories for Valentine’s Day because I live a love story.

I wish you all a Happy Valentine’s Day and invite you to read previous Valentines posts. And if you’ve had any crud bugs this winter, perhaps this will help you reflect on the experience as a time of transition, a time out.

other February posts: Animal LoveA Love StoryNature’s Heart

and another love story: Love Child

Coops and transitions

IMG_9701It’s been a summer of transitions. In June we attended the wedding of one niece, Labor Day weekend will be the Washington celebration of another niece’s wedding. We missed a friend’s wedding due to mom’s unexpected ‘eviction’ and subsequent move from the adult family home where she lived. (The day after I wrote “The Girl in the Turquoise Swimsuit” we were given one hour to have a plan for moving mom that day, in spite of plans to move her the following week). Sadly, we’ve attended memorial/life celebrations of two long time friends dear to our hearts.

A summer of grief and sorrow, joy, stress…and love.

Though the rapid decline of mom, and the need to move her, has been demanding of time and energy, we managed to find time to tear down several coops, leaving behind a collection of old poultry houses. Losing our last chicken and one duck to a raccoon caused us to rethink, regroup, and ultimately, decide to rebuild. (See: ‘The Unexpected’). As with many things in life, before rebuilding, we thought it a good idea to clean up, clean out and eliminate the old.

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A temporary house in the new coop, originally built to be a dog house decades ago, was unwanted by it’s intended and always housed ducks!

If you’ve never kept chickens, ducks or other types of poultry; a cow, horse or other livestock, you may not understand the physical and mental work required in putting up a coop or fence, or building a poultry house or barn (or why someone would write about doing so). The goal is always to keep the critters in your care in, and keep the critters that like to eat them out. In the past 35 years I’ve built, with help, five chicken coops, three duck coops, four chicken houses, a smaller ‘nesting’ house, one duck house, converted a dog house into a duck house, and, for Daisy the Jersey cow I once lived with, one barn and fenced in two pastures.

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Shiny fencing, fresh paint, a spiffy green metal roof, we thought this little chicken house and coop would be our last. The house is still in good shape but the coop, needing repair, will come down, liberating another space in Nature.

I’ve worked along side, first, my friend Gene, then my Dad, and for the past 25 years, my husband Mike, digging holes and trenches, setting posts, stretching chicken wire, barbed wire, (getting poked and cut in the process), cranking necks to work above our heads to cover coops, weaving wire through all the overlaps. We’ve worked late at night by floodlights (a specialty of Mike’s and my project style) and occasionally in the rain, though we try to avoid that! We’ve hammered, stapled, cut, squared, leveled, installed old windows, roosts, various types of roofing materials, and set many cement blocks, all to make miniature houses of various shapes and sizes for feathered friends.

Old chicken coop and

Never once while building these critter dwellings did I think about when or how we’d be tearing them down. It was always about making them strong and tight to hold up against diggers, climbers, snow, falling trees and tree branches. And over the years they all have needed repairs from diggers and climbers who find the chink in our fortresses, the snow that was heavier than the previous years, and falling trees and tree limbs.

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With the building of each new coop or house we would take extra precautions, try to build a better coop, make what we thought would be a better house…easier to keep tight, clean, and maintained. Each new coop starts out with shiny silver-gray galvanized chicken wire, pungent and sweet scented reddish-brown cedar posts, yellowish white fir supports, and houses with a fresh coat of paint. As we tear them down, wire, nails, screws and staples are rusted, cedar posts, now gray with age, often rotten, fir supports, many long ago broken, have been repaired with pieces and patches. The houses are faded, some sides green with growth. But all are dry inside. There are sow bugs and ants living in the corners of every coop where two pieces of wood come together. In the houses, where feathered residents kept bugs at a minimum, there are a few spiders and moths.

Tear downs in the past were to move a coop or house to a different site. This time, tearing down was an ending. The woods will reclaim where the large chicken coop stood. If we move faster than the woods, the area enclosed by the smaller coop, yet to be torn down, will become part of the back yard. Tearing down the old duck coop opened new space with possibilities yet to be determined. Nature will decide if we don’t….and that’s okay. With each dismantling of a chicken wire enclosed space, there is a sense of having opened something up, a feeling of liberation. (For Mike it’s liberation from constant repairs of old rusting wire and rotting posts.)

And so it can be with life’s transitions. Death, often written about as liberation, frees the soul from the world, and perhaps from a body that has suffered. Marriage can bring freedom from loneliness. Commitments made at wedding ceremonies bring the freedom of knowing someone will care for, support, share dreams, life challenges, be your partner…and love you. Marriage can mean liberation from the seeking which drives many people’s lives, and inspires artistic endeavors from poems to paintings, movies and songs.

Mom, in her struggles, though freed from her own self-care and a life time of responsibilities, is waiting for liberation.

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Mama Black Duck happily moved her young duckling into the spacious new duck house. The awning over the door has removable posts, it can be dropped down and serve as a door if needed at night, but with our new ‘security coop’, we hope that isn’t needed!

The new duck house, built from the recycled, reclaimed and discarded, is made completely from materials salvaged from the old dismantled duck house and miscellaneous materials found in the barn. It is fresh and new.  Hopefully it is the best house we’ve built, in the most secure coop we’ve built. We tried to think like a duck, a weasel, a raccoon, a rat…..

I’d like to think I learned a few things in the past 35 years, at least about coops, and maybe about life transitions.

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