Independence as defined by a founding mother!

“If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or representation.” Abigail Adams

These words (and many more!) were written by Abigail Adams to her husband John Adams when the Second Continental Congress was formed and its (all male) members debated and deliberated over the writing of the Declaration of Independence. She argued in many letters to her husband that the creation of a new form of government was a chance to make the legal status of women equal to that of men.

The quote above is prefaced by “remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could…..”

Abigail’s influence and advise to her husband during the Continental Congress, as well being both a wife to one President and mother to another, resulted in some historians referring to her as the “Founding Mother” of the United States. But her ideas of freedom and independence were more inclusive than those of the founding fathers.  Not only did she advocate for women’s rights, she also opposed slavery, stating in a letter that most Virginians, as slave owners, did not have such a passion for Liberty “as they claimed they did, since they deprive their fellow Creatures” of freedom.

When a freed young black man came to her home in Philadelphia asking for her help in learning to read and write she helped him enroll in a school.  Her response to a complaining neighbor was:

[he is] “a Freeman as much as any of the young Men and merely because his Face is Black, is he to be denied instruction? How is he to be qualified to procure a livelihood? … I have not thought it any disgrace to my self to take him into my parlor and teach him both to read and write.”

She also wanted women to be given equal opportunities for education:

“If we mean to have heroes, statesmen and philosophers, we should have learned women.

“you need not be told how much female education is neglected, nor how fashionable it has been to ridicule female learning.”

painting by Gilbert Stuart

She continued to be John Adam’s closest advisor and confidant through his presidency and in her later years continued her political interests by following the career of her son, John Quincy Adams,  though she did not live to see him become president.

Oh Abigail, you were ahead of your times, but your spirit lived on in the early suffragettes, and lives on in the wave of women who have risen to the occasion to run for political offices locally and nationally in the past few years. Called “Mrs President” (meant to be derogatory) by a journalist at the time for her “meddling” in her husband’s presidency, perhaps in the near future that title will be carried by someone with pride as women gain more representation, a dream of her’s over 200 years ago!

Happy Independence Day for all…….regardless of gender, race, religion, nationality!

A little floral color for your 4th

Celebrating Friendship

March was Women’s History Month, celebrated since the 1980s as a time to honor women and their influence on….well, everything!   Cleaning out old photo albums, reducing my collection of snap shot remembrances down to take up less space, and only keeping those which bring smiles, I’ve been thinking of the many women in my life, especially those I have some personal “history” with! Some are long gone, their life journeys taking them elsewhere. Many I see once in awhile, always an enjoyable connection, they are the ones whose lives take them in other directions but who are still carried in the heart.  Then there are the golden threads, friendships woven through 40+ years of life experiences, women I met when we were young and with whom I have ‘grown old’. The ones I’ve witnessed go through, and have often shared, birthings, deaths, marriages, divorces, broken hearts, graduations, kid’s lives, aging parents, our own aging.  Each came into my life, and I theirs, in different ways. There are, of course, outstanding women who are ‘newer’ friends, oh, maybe 25-30 years! And a few special friends I’ve had the pleasure and honor to meet in recent years. I’ve been blessed to know marvelous women, more than compensating for not having had a sister! Let me introduce you to a few.

Among the long-term ones is my friend Ke who I hired (sometime in the late 70s?) when she was a single mom, living in a log house (where she still lives), the teacher at the local pre-school. Needing a second job, she became the cook for the Senior Meals program at the Community Center where I was director. We quickly became friends, both with a weird sense of humor, we seemed made for one another. We became a comedic pair in the kitchen of the Community Center, if only to entertain ourselves. The laughter and wit bonded us in a friendship that has lasted through decades of personal challenges in each of our lives. It is a friendship that has at times drifted apart and yet over time grown deeper and closer.  Ke also does not have sisters (we each have two brothers), so we easily fill that role for one another, which includes not only love and support, but also the disagreements and differences that sisters have! Through it all, the laughter has held tight the bond.

Anne, who I met when she was pregnant with her daughter Kate, with Kate’s daughter.

Anne I met around the time she was pregnant with her second child (who became my god-daughter). Because her husband could potentially have been called to a forest fire at the time of the birthing, I became a birth-coach back up. Fortunately he did not have to be away, so my role was that of photographer, and baby-carrier as Anne was whisked from the operating room to make room for someone else (no birthing rooms ‘back then’!) That was the beginning of watching their family grow and grow up.  Anne and I gave moral support to one another when, fortunately at different times, we both went back to school and changed life courses.  My partner in many community schemes when I worked at the Community Center, our grandest venture together was organizing the first Community Fair, a tradition that has been carried on for decades since.  Our most meaningful collaboration was providing safe shelter and services for victims of domestic violence. She and Ke, both creative and talented, were my wedding party decoration committee!

Marsha and me at the Lavender Festival.

Marsha and I met when I first moved to the Olympic Peninsula and I owned a Jersey cow, one of many friends made through selling milk. Our friendship became closer when she moved into “town”, she being the only person I knew in “town” when I started to work there. Over lunch time visits, as her bookbinding business grew, we shared the changes and challenges we both were facing in our lives. Though she moved away for a period of years, life taking her on many different paths, Marsha, who still keeps in touch with her childhood Camp Fire girlfriends, easily rekindled ‘old’ friendships when she returned. Our mutual love of Nature, color, art, and history gives us much to talk about. She is a mentor and role model for aging with grace in a challenged body.

A rare visit a few years ago between two ‘soul sisters’.

Terra (Marsha’s cousin) also came into my life as a milk customer and neighbor. Soon we were both following the same spiritual ‘path’ and practice.  When I began a meditation group in 1979, she was my partner in getting the fledgling group going.  She was also my job replacement when I was out of work at the Community Center for months due to mononucleosis. A spiritual sister, though she moved away, our common life goals have kept us close through decades of life changes. Also ‘sisterless’, we bond not only as sisters with a deep sense of spirituality in our lives, but we both live with the challenges and benefits of ‘tallness’!

Shaun and I at my 50th birthday party, 2000.

The woman closest to being a biological sister to me (though with 3 sisters, she certainly wasn’t looking for a fourth!) is my friend and cousin Shaun, with whom I share half my genes! Shaun and I did not grow up on the same side of the country, she was just a toddler and I was 5 when my family moved from Washington. Though we visited her and her family in 1962 when we came to the Seattle World’s Fair, it wasn’t until we were in our late 20s  and I returned to Washington that we really ‘met’.  We quickly became close friends, maybe it’s in the genes! Our lives have followed different and diverse routes, yet having many shared values there is little we have not talked about over the years, from boy friends, jobs, family, politics, our passion and concern for Nature, our fears and joys. We’ve even played music together (see photo below!), she an accomplished fiddle player, me a novice ex-autoharpist! She was my last-minute bridesmaid, she was there two years ago when I had a mastectomy, she painted the faces of my other women friends at my 50th birthday celebration, she puts up with me talking too much on the phone! That is a sisterly quality!

I have tremendous admiration for these women.  All strong, intelligent, quick-witted women who do not suffer fools, have compassionate hearts, and are talented and creative. Women I’ve watched get broken-hearted, heal, grow. They are my mentors and teachers.

Carolynn

This is not the end of the list of remarkable women in my life, these are the ones found in my 40-year-old album! My friend Carolynn, (who also has two brothers, no sisters) is another spiritual ‘sister’ with whom I’ve shared many of life’s ups and downs over 25+ years, and who I admire for her strength under-fire. A strength that has been tested too many times.

My sisters-in-law, Linda and Ginny, are both woman I admire and love (among the good things about brothers is they give you sisters!) This post would be too long if I wrote of all the outstanding women I’ve been blessed to know. Most the older ones are gone from this earthly place, and though I’ve no daughters, my nieces and younger women friends fill my heart with joys and heartaches as I watch them grow and go through their own challenges and delights in life. A month is not long enough to celebrate women and all they have accomplished in the world, in our countries and communities, it certainly is not long enough for me to celebrate and write of all the exceptional women I have known! Who do you have history with?

(click photos to read captions)

An election baby grows up in a changing world

pj-2-mos-001-2I’ve been hesitant to post this, but after Mike said “You are reflecting on your participation in history as a woman.”  I decided I would share, because yes, that is what I am doing.

November 8 isn’t just Election Day, it’s my birthday. If you are weary of hearing about political candidates, let me indulgently tell you some stories about me, and my family, that hopefully will seem relevant to this historic time. (the politics comes later.😉 )

I came in with the returns, born in Seattle at 3:05 Wednesday morning following Election Day in 1950. It was not a presidential election year, Harry Truman was in office.

family portrait before me, two cute boys!

family portrait before me, two cute boys!

The daughter mom wanted (dad thought two was enough to support), I was “willed” in by a woman who married her high school sweetheart because he was handsome, hard working and they’d survived their teen years during the depression together. Her father left the family because of shame he felt after trying to “commit” his wife to an asylum. The stress of the depression had made her bitter, anxious about food on the table. An osteopathic doctor, Grandpa was more often paid in-kind rather than cash during the depression. Sometimes the in-kind was food, sometimes not. Unhappy in his marriage, a colleague told him how easy it was for a husband to commit his wife to a mental hospital.

my maternal grandparents in happy days, Frank Merrithew & Emma Jo Penney on their wedding day

Frank Merrithew & Emma Jo Penney, my maternal grandparents, on their wedding day.

Grandma, who got wind of the plan, crawled out a window with her two children and went to a neighbor’s house on the day the plan was to be carried out. Grandpa left. Though he contributed money when he could, grandma, who worked at Boeing, became a single mother in the middle of the depression. A profound life experience for mom, she wanted her children to have a different life.  She never resented her father, an otherwise kind man who buckled under pressure. And she forgave her own husband the times he was unkind. They were a team, through thick and thin.

Mom and me, age 5

Mom and me, 1955

I was born in the post-WWII era, when working women were encouraged to be stay-at-home-wives, a campaign aimed to remove women from the work place so soldiers returning from WWII would have jobs. Mom always worked, it was how my prudent parents afforded family summer vacations, a second car, etc.  She paid for the “extras” in our lives, especially the expenses of raising her daughter – my clothes, dance lessons, scout camp, etc. were her responsibility.

My dad, home from WWII, met my brother, his oldest son for the first time when he was 1 yr. old

The Korean War began in 1950, a war too soon for war-weary people recovering from WWII, putting war-interrupted lives back together. The day I was born the first jet-to-jet dog fight in history occurred over North Korea.  North Korea, considered to be the most authoritarian regime, was (is) ruled by a totalitarian dictator, a sociopath narcissist. The war, the fighting, the dictator, was too familiar to those who lived through WWII and the horrors and stories of Hitler. A war, and a country, mostly ignored, except by those in the military who were sent there to fight.

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While going to college in Washington DC, I marched against the Vietnam Nam war and attended the first Earth Day event.

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Fast forward a few decades. I went off to college in Washington D.C. during a time of demonstrations and political unrest. Later I moved to Eugene to finish my undergraduate degree at the University of Oregon, where I co-organized a West Coast Woman’s Conference while working at the campus YWCA, and where I taught a controversial course on Women and Religion through the religion and philosophy department. Later, department heads decided the topic wasn’t “relevant”, and the sociology department, where “women’s studies” were just coming into vogue, welcomed the course under the sponsorship of a tenured professor, one of the few feminists on the faculty.

Of nine paternal female cousins, I was one of three to graduate from college, the only one to later go on to graduate school.  After achieving my Masters degree in Psychiatric Rehabilitation, I received congratulation cards from my aunt and most of my cousins. These are not women I grew up around or knew well, but somehow my accomplishment was noteworthy to them.

Skipping ahead again. While working as the director of the Quilcene Community Center, after a friend was lost in the woods over night, I started Jefferson County Search and Rescue. When our co-ed group of volunteer rescuers attended a state training conference we were the only search and rescue team with women participants.  Slide shows shown at training workshops included random slides of naked women in pornographic poses and instructors used many sexual jokes. The slides, a technique used in military training, search and rescue being based on that model, were apparently meant to keep men awake and interested. It was uncomfortable. Some of the men were embarrassed, realizing the inappropriateness of the search and rescue culture toward women.

Why do these personal and family stories that reflect attitudes toward women in our culture come to mind as I approach my birthday, a day that will be historic no matter what the outcome? Perhaps because the status of women in our society has gone through so many changes in a “mere” 66 years.  People younger than myself are one or two generations removed from the memory of a time when it was acceptable to marginalize women and women tolerated such treatment because it was the ‘norm’ in the society they grew up in.  Women adapted and learned to forgive to fulfill their own dreams.

My grandmother’s generation was the first to vote, women were ‘given’ the right to vote in 1920, when she was 27, one year before my mother was born.  My generation was the first generation of women to talked about our bodies and decided we should make decisions about them. Women in my mother’s generation needed their husbands permission to have a medically necessary hysterectomy. (Sadly, body shame is still part of being female in our society). We were the first generation who went to college in large numbers, went into professions previously not seen as “women’s work”, to realize marriage is only one option, and if chosen, that option could be a partnership of equals.  The feminist movement of the 70s partially grew out of the sexism in the anti-war movement of the 60s.

But the work is not over for women or other marginalized groups.  As a society we are still struggling with many of the same civil rights battles fought in the 1960s.  Being gay has come out of the closet to be celebrated – but there is still homophobia driven violence and discrimination. Though women’s social status has come a long way – rape, violence against women, workplace discrimination and sexual harassment, though no longer condoned, still exists. Do we want to lose the gains or do we want to keep progressing forward to a society where all people are celebrated and the differences between us do not divide us but enrich us?

Here’s my political punchline.  The more I learn about Hillary Clinton, not just the rhetoric in media, but through my research, I find she is a woman much like myself.  She grew up in the same culture, with many of the values and ideals that grew out of the 60s and 70s.  She has great perseverance when lambasted with sexism, discrimination, shame and blame while following her passions. As Secretary of State she was the voice of, and changed the lives of, girls and women throughout the world. Scrutinized like no male candidate has ever been, many journalists have judged but rarely praised her for what she has accomplished as a civil servant. I’ve watched and read candid interviews of her and found her to be sensitive, a decent human being highly qualified to be president. She has screwed up, made bad choices, changed her mind on issues. She has her flaws, like the rest of us. And she may represent a political system that needs changing. But she does not have an agenda of undoing progressive gains of equality in our society.

And if she doesn’t win?  A man who fits the criteria for narcissistic personality disorder, with dictator tendencies, so unqualified it is astounding, becomes President. Someone who has bullied people for their religion, berated women for their appearances, been accused of rape, discrimination against blacks in his businesses, refused to pay people who have done work for him, proudly does not pay taxes, is seriously uninformed about the world, creates his own reality, and incites violence, becomes President. (Yes, he is a symptom of bigger issues that will not go away after November 8, regardless the election outcome, but that is another discussion.)

voteWhen you read this you will likely have voted, if not, please don’t waste your vote. There is no “perfect” candidate, I don’t recall there ever has been, considering one person can’t reflect the ideals and ideologies of millions of unique individuals in our country.  I dedicate my vote for Hillary to the women, and men, of all races and religious, who have had the courage to stand against sexism, discrimination, homophobia, racism, bigotry.  Their work needs to continue. It won’t happen under a Trump presidency.

Blessings to us all for how this election turns out.

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1954 – You can tell who the birthday girl is.

My Mother’s Pincushion and other Notions about Sewing Notions

 

 

on the right is the empied pincushion, middle in the back side, like new, and having always loved her sweet little pincushion, I turned it over and decided to use it

on the right, the emptied pincushion, middle the back side, like new!

210 pins, 18 needles, and one safety pin were stuck into my mother’s pin cushion last Saturday when I, needing to distract my mind from the funk I was in due to physical discomfort, absent-mindedly picked it up and decided to take them all out. There was a practical purpose, if you could call it that, as I wanted to decide what to do with it. Likely it had more of each when it came into my life a few years ago, I’ve used both pins and needles and a few safety pins from it.  There was quite a range of pin sizes, both in length and thickness, and of course needles of various kinds and sizes.  Many needles, and a few pins, were sunk in deep and had to be teased out as I pushed and felt around, searching for sharp points. Mike could not believe how many there were, it is a small pin cushion 3″ square. Like “junk” drawers, closets, garages, the ‘back room”, or a storage shed, pin cushions are tiny spaces for collecting anything that has a sharp point, but unlike those other “catch-alls” (of which Mike has many, though not a pin cushion!) you can easily see what you have, find what you need, and it’s portable!

IMG_0353This mind distracting activity got me thinking about the history of pins and needles. I could write about what I found, but there are wonderful internet sources for both…..as the history of pins and history of needles are not the same! Anyone who has gone to a history museum and seen collections of artifacts has noticed, among the more eye-catching, larger household items and tools, samples of needles made from bones, hard woods, shells, etc. Early pins were even made from thorns. Although there is an interesting history of the early metal pins, like weaving, no one knows for sure when people first started to use needles or pins. It seems we’ve been trying to hold things together and fashion something out of something else for as long as we’ve been around!

IMG_5828As for my mother’s pin cushion, (which having always loved, I turned over to the unused side and decided to use), it represents only a fraction of her sewing notions, in fact only a fraction of her pins and needles, especially needles. I’ve been amazed, since bringing home her sewing basket, at the number of packets of needles she had! I don’t think even the most avid seamstress could use in a life time what she possessed! Why? Did she forget she had them? Not likely, until her last years Mom’s mind, and memory, was pretty sharp, and many of these packets go waaayyyy back! There’s no doubt an explanation I’ll never know.

IMG_5825There is a certain nostalgia to having mom’s sewing basket. Sewing notions, bits and pieces of this and that, packages of binding, snaps, hooks, spools of thread, etc. that collect in the life of anyone who sews is a personal collection of creative endeavors and accomplishments, as well as unfinished or never started projects (I’ve  given away or sold at garage sales fabric and notions from my own stash that were never used).  Like most sewing baskets, her’s has packages of binding never opened, as well as left over bits and pieces of this or that held on to….just in case. This collection of her sewing history is personal, yet so universal.

sewing stuffMy own sewing basket is a smaller version with an almost identical collection, though with my own unique sewing “signature”. Like mom’s, whose sewing history spilled over to the sewing machine stool, which had a deep storage area and contained more bits and pieces of notions, my basket is only a piece of my history, which spills over into drawers and boxes. (I sold mom’s table Singer machine, with the stool contents intact, to a very pregnant young woman who wanted to make baby clothes and couldn’t afford much. Needless to say, I came down on the price and she got a good deal!)

my thread collection, some inherited, all representing a project of mine or someones! The little green box was a thread box of my mom's.

my thread collection, some inherited, all representing a project of mine or someones! The little green box was a thread box of my mom’s.

Decades ago a friend’s mother died and my friend gave me a large box of sewing paraphernalia, including a lot of thread, all on wooden spools. There were little bits of decorative lace, lots of binding, etc. The friend said she didn’t sew and didn’t want it, but wanted it to go to someone she knew. I’d never met her mom, but through the years, felt like I was given a “legacy” collection, a collection of stories from this woman’s life. There were notions I used and many I never used, but only recently, in my “get-rid-of-it-all” phase of life have I let it go.

Some of the sewing notions from my mom's sewing basket.

Some of the sewing notions from my mom’s sewing basket. Including a well worn, very old, but never replaced tape measure. What’s in your sewing basket?

A new spool of thread represents a project afoot, something about to be created….pins used over and over for projects, needles that pull together pieces of fabric to make something new, or patch something old, all hold stories and connect us to an ageless tradition.  A tradition sometimes passed on from mother to daughter, sometimes learned anew by sons and daughters wanting to do something creative, or for practical, functional reasons, maybe to make clothes, sails, bags, fishing nets, quilts. We’ve been sewing things together to create something new for a long time!

And I haven’t even mentioned buttons and button collections! For another time!

International Women’s Day

There no doubt will be many blog posts and articles written today about the state of women throughout the world. It ain’t easy being a woman in so many ways, and in so many places, but the world, and my life, is full of awesome, remarkable women of all ages and in all places. I share my facebook post for the day with my blog readers……for all the amazing women of my life! (As for the men among my readers, I know you have raised remarkable daughters, loved extraordinary women, appreciate your own ‘inner female’!)

International Woman’s Day…..To my woman friends, nieces, soul sisters, sister-in-laws, cousins……celebrate yourselves today!

womenYep, this is one of my doodle girls. I have a series of cartoonish character’s, doodling seems to be the upper limit of my artist talents, I’ve come to accept that! :o)  For more doodles you can check out my Doodle Page!

To read something a little more ‘substantial’ about International Women’s Day check out last year’s post. International Women’s Day, 2012

Waiting

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Snow bells, though I like to call them snow drops! :o)
Always an early, brave, bloomer.

Many friends have written me the past few days asking how I am doing. It is wonderful how connected we all are in this web of humanity.   Without knowing, folks are checking in with me at the time I must learn a new dance step in this cancer dance.  Thank you all, and excuse me for using my blog to respond, it may seem impersonal, but it is, after all, my blog  and it seems personal to me!  And you know how I like to add pictures to what I have to say! :o)

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Early blooming “Christmas” rhody

I have been waiting, healing from surgery.  And today the wait ends. I see the radiation doctor.

I am holding my breath.

How have I been? I’ve been going to too many appointments.  I’ve been tired. Been visiting my mom and doing things that need doing in her life. Been reading more about breast cancer than I wanted to, though the information has been interesting, and provocative. Been searching for healthier ways to support my body in preventing cancer.  I’ve been more anxious than I wish, given the tumor removed from me was small.  I’ve been learning about recent research that shows many new potential ’causes’, or contributing factors, to breast cancer. Many are factors in my own life, such as chronic insomnia – women with low melatonin levels are more likely to get breast cancer.  I have had insomnia all my life  (No, I can not take melatonin, I am in a ‘subset’, as one doctor put it, of people for whom supplemental melatonin has a reverse effect.)  This melatonin connection just one of several pieces of information leaving me feeling ‘damn if I do, damn if I don’t’.

As does radiation therapy.  There is recent research showing, yes, woman exposed to a lot of radiation through mammograms and other sources may be more likely to get breast cancer.  I began at a very early age due to breast pain, no one told me I shouldn’t, doctor’s would order the tests. Mammograms every year since I was 29.  Plus many many x-rays for other health challenges.

So  today is a challenging day as I go meet with the “radiation doc”.  I hear he is a good guy.  I hope so. My body has many existing challenges that make radiation provocative.  My mind set isn’t helpful either!

It is amazing how breast cancer is talked about, researched, analyzed, studied, yet it is increasingly becoming diagnosed more in younger women.  I urge young women to learn about ways to improve diet and lifestyle to decrease your risk.  I would like to write a blog post just about this, but there is good information on the internet, and I am not quite ready to become a proselytizer, though I may become one!

The statistical jargon both amuses and offends me.  It seems so impersonal.  Increased ‘survival rates’ (don’t you love that term?  Why not just say : “women who live vs women who died”) are waved as flags of how successful ‘cures’ are, yet we are talking years which often include recurrences, more treatment, years of taking medications with side effects, including other cancers and serious health problems.  Yes, for an individual woman who 50 years ago might have died of breast cancer, living 5 more years, 10 more years, is HUGE. (though some of the longest living ‘survivors’ were woman who had breast cancer 50 years ago, when there was only one treatment, mastectomy).  But a cure means a condition goes away and a person does not have to think of it, worry about it, and potentially die of it or a related complication ‘down the line’.   One reason I support The Breast Cancer Fund is their focus on finding the causes of breast cancer.  Eliminating causes and learning prevention means the thousands of women diagnosed every day do not have to have their lives irrevocably changed, and challenged.  At the same time woman are counted as ‘cured’ after 10 years, new research shows more women are having their cancers return after 15, even 20 years.  I know there is value in statistics, but when doctors rattle off statistics to me as I struggle with difficult decisions, I say to them “I am not a statistic”.   Each woman diagnosed with breast cancer is a unique person with so many complexities that need to be understood, at least tried to be understood, by her doctors.  One doctor said to me “who cares if it recurs”, to which I answered, “I do”. Later she acknowledged her flippancy.  The three doctors I have seen thus far have all been wonderful in their own way, yet all have left me feeling like I am an anomaly (definition: “something that deviates from what is standard, normal, or expected”) due to many factors, including other health ‘issues’, lifestyle, etc. yet the more I read, the more I learn many women are anomalies in that they all have unique, challenging considerations when facing breast cancer decisions.  After all, cancer is an anomaly!

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I would like to be writing of spring as it tries, some days against the odds, to make an appearance.  I admire the bravery of  crocuses, shining, tiny, bold color sprites, opening in the sun breaks, closing tight in the cold, gray, rain. They are the center of activity for hungry bees waking from groggy dormancy.  I’ve not yet decided this spring how I feel about celebrating ‘new growth’!  But there is healthy, vibrant new growth and I try to imagine my body as a garden growing new healthy cells to replace the ones ‘offed’ by radiation or removed by surgery.  I try to imagine any new cancer cells dying off, unable to thrive in a place that nurtures only ‘good cells’.  I try to find ways to create in my body nutritious soil for healthy cells only (by treating the immune system).  I have no wisdom to share about this process, the mind is as challenging to me right now as the IMG_5477body!

Stay tuned, I will know after today what help I may need for this next dance step.  Mike has a few medical test to go through first, I will be waiting  a bit longer to start, unless convinced other wise!  I deeply appreciate each email, card, or phone message I receive letting me know someone is thinking of me, and will answer when I can between appointments, when the energy is there.

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Another bright early bloomer

Note: The Breast Cancer Fund has useful educational material on their website about chemicals known to be carcinogenics and ways to reduce your risk. They have been instrumental in many studies, political action, and sponsor the annual “Climb Against The Odds”.

Lila

Lila is the Sanskrit word for cosmic play, or creative sport. I use it here to mean a little dance, a little play, a drama between two people – the players are myself and the radiology doctor I met this week. 

This is the story of my breast biopsy.  I’m aware that some readers may not want to read it, and that is understandable.  I  don’t even know why I write it.  Except that it is a story of how people can change, and interactions shift, if we better understand the other person. No matter what our own drama is at the moment, it is beneficial to remember this simple concept, too often forgotten.  On this day it was critical for me to remember.

IMG_0179The Doctor and Me

Early morning drive to biopsy.  White frost everywhere, bright sun low in the January sky.  It is beautiful.  I can think of a million things I’d rather be doing.

I have danced around the roller coaster of fears, anxiety, even moments of calm acceptance, for a week, since the dreaded call telling me my mammogram has something ‘suspicious’ on it, an area of  ‘concern’.  A ‘call back’, what every women with a history of breast cancer dreads.  This was my second in three years.  All these carefully chosen words that beat around the liability bush, as if those vague words will calm the fears and anxieties.

Responding to my asking again (our conversation Monday did not go well), the doctor reaffirms she believes the lesion is cancerous.  She starts the biopsy procedure after telling me I’m likely to bleed and develop a hematoma because of a large blood vessel at the site. The pressure on my already painful breast is excruciating and I flinch.  The doctor tells me I can’t move and says she won’t start something she can’t finish and maybe I need to be anesthetized and have a surgeon do the biopsy (she is a radiology doctor), she knows I have a reaction to anesthesia, have almost died from it.

What the hell am I suppose to do, lying there all prepped for this vacuum assisted needle biopsy?  We have a tense conversation, I’m in tears telling her I can’t help it if I live in a painful body (the breast pain, at the site of the lesion, has been particularly bad lately).  She is being contrary, I am ready to get up and walk out and tell her I will come back when I can have a different doctor.  But I don’t, that inner voice is overridden by something else in me that knows I need to go through this with her and it will be okay.  Since Monday that voice has told me this lila with her simply is, don’t let it get to me.  I convince her to go ahead, I will do the best I can and expect her to do the same.

Something shifts, after a self-disclosing remark that makes me realize this doctor has poor self-esteem, as a woman in a male dominated field (radiology docs) I am not surprised by her defensiveness, and nervousness about doing a procedure on a body that is an anomaly.   After she starts with the local anesthesia needle, she cracks a joke and then says she has a bad sense of humor, and mumbles something about how she isn’t creative, or good at gardening either. This unintentional exposure of her vulnerable, “underbelly” side,  shifts her energy.  She starts asking me what would help with the pain, a warm blanket? (again she is self disclosing, “I’ve had lots of surgeries and I like warm blankets”), something to grasp in my other hand? (Out comes the smiley face squeeze ball).  We are working together now.

The procedure went perfect, the blood vessel “amazingly” contracted and was not in the way.  I joked a bit with her. Afterwards she was surprised at how well I did. I told her I would tell her my ‘secret’ some day, she said, why not now? I told her about taking oral Arnica, did not get around to telling her about Rescue Remedy,  the Ayurvedic herbs for balancing the nervous system, or the homeopathic Calms I took right before she came into the room. (They wanted me to take Valium.)  I also didn’t tell her about focusing on the “third eye”, and using breath.

She left the room with a smile, a softer person than when she walked in.

Overweight, rather pale, a woman in early middle age, she identifies with her work, it is where she feels good about herself, she clearly is experienced and tries to do a good job.  Some of my questions Monday, I believe, she took as challenges – questions like “would another doctor read this the same and recommend a biopsy?” or “Is this a gray area?”, none of which were meant to challenge, only to inform me, the ambivalent patient who had just been told she needs a breast biopsy due to a ‘suspicious lesion’.

Now, with ice packs on my poor poked boob, I recover…….and I wait.

The doctor, by now, is on to another biopsy.  What is a routine day for her is a life-changing day for me.

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View of Olympics from the parking lot.

The Oak Lady of San Juan Island

Mature Garry Oak trees, once abundant on San Juan Island, became rare, but now, thanks to restoration efforts, will thrive for future generations.

From the San Juan Island National Historic Park website:

“…native peoples collected foodstuffs such as acorns, camas roots, and bracken ferns…and burned the forests regularly to create habitat for game animals, promote the growth of weaving materials and food such as camas, and maintain an open prairie…lack of fire in recent years spurred an increase of Douglas fir trees, which have deprived the oak trees of sunlight, water, and nutrients.”

Through prescribed burns, the park has initiated a program to bring back the native Garry Oaks, an important tree in the unique-to-western Washington prairie ecosystem of the island.

Elsewhere on the island, on a mountain hillside, lives a remarkable woman equally dedicated to re-establishing native Garry Oak forests on the island.  She has supervised the demise of hundreds of Douglas Firs and personally planted hundreds of oak seedlings.  As she walks the land she shares with her partner, she points out each young plant, tenderly planted, caged and cared for.  She is distressed when she can’t find one, or finds it has died.  With determination she voraciously pulls out fir seedlings, an ‘invasive species’ in the island prairie habitat.  The oaks are her ‘babies’, though the slow-growing trees will barely be out of childhood and into their adolescent years in her lifetime.

In her own words, excerpted from an article she wrote in 2009 and published by the Garry Oak Ecosystem Recovery Team in Vancouver, Canada, she describes the property:

“….[it] is comprised of 20 acres..…a south-facing slope divided by micro-habitat types into thirds…ranging in elevation from approx. 600 – 400 feet. The top third is open grass meadow with a few [mature] Garry Oaks and minimal rock outcroppings; the middle third is mainly rock outcroppings, shrubs of Snowberry and Nootka Rose, wildflowers, Arbutus, Garry Oaks and ancient Douglas-firs; and the bottom portion is primarily a dense Douglas-fir forest with trees ranging in age from 300 to 20 years old. Our restoration project is concentrated in the top two sections of the property.”

Her article continues to describe the flora of the land, project objectives and challenges, the different methods used to remove the firs, and how she encouraged other native plants to become established.  It is not a paper written by an arborist, or biologist, or nurseryman, it is written by a person in love with a piece of land she is honored to steward, a love that grows from a passion for Nature and Place.  It is a privilege to know this special Lady of the Oaks.

Mike, the tree-planter, helping the Oak Lady plant her oak babies

Cousins by birth, friends by Nature!

Shaun, a paternal cousin and close friend, is the closest I have to a biological ‘sister’.  Though we did not grow up together, my family having moved east when I was 5, she 3, the sister title comes through a familial friendship which grew when we “met” after I moved back to the NW in my 20s. When I was living in Oregon we had an annual tradition of  “double dating” to the Joffrey Ballet when it was in Seattle. Once I moved to the Peninsula there were long phone conversations over the woes of relationships, jobs, life, once we had a ‘crush’ on the same guy; another guy, who was my dance partner, fell head over heels for Shaun.  She unequivocally filled the previously empty sister-role in my life.  She was the last-minute-brides-maid at our wedding in CA, and played my favorite waltz at our wedding party in WA a week later.  I have contra danced to her fiddling in Seattle, Port Townsend, and at Deception Pass, where I played along on my autoharp and called out the dances.  She provided me retreat and respite when, after 2 years of serve illness, I took my first car trip alone and headed to her island home, and when plans for my 60th birthday trip fell through due to new health challenges, she again was the place I turned for Mike and I to have a November get away.

Shaun, (who has 3 fabulous ‘real’ sisters) as any sister might be, is different than me in myriad ways.  We rarely see one another due to full lives and differing lifestyles.  There are too many ferries between us and our paths rarely cross.  But our strongest bond, besides the shared genes, is a mutual passionate love of Nature…especially Nature in its native garb here in Washington.  She is the only person I have ever talked with for an hour, on the phone, about noxious weeds, looking up pictures on the internet and sharing woes and knowledge of different plants we battle in our differing habitats.  In the spring we are both out photographing the tiny new blooms showing up in our respective environments, sharing the photos and the joy of seeing them, as if for the first time.  We speak of Spring Beauty and Star Flowers.  She sends me pictures of Mt Baker from her island home; I send her pictures of the Olympics and my trips to Mt Rainier.  We are Washington women!

Why do I write of this Nature loving, fly fishing artist, photographer, musician and world traveler on my blog?  Because she, my ‘little sister’ and friend, turns 60 this week, a life event she will commemorate with her partner Harold and their friends at various social events.  I sent her a modest gift for quiet moments back in her island home after the festivities, but  I write, and writing of her life is my gift, my tribute to her.

Besides restoring the Garry Oaks to Cady Mountain on San Juan Island, Shaun also has been involved in the Western Bluebird Reintroduction Project to bring back bluebirds to the island.  She has hosted a breeding pair for several years.  Her support of the project has been bittersweet, with successes and disappointments.  But with Shaun’s persistence, I belief there will be a time, perhaps by the end of this new decade of her life, that she will look out her window to see and hear bluebirds singing in her oaks!

Shooting Stars flourish in the prairie atop Cady Mountain

Until then a newly awakened prairie of shooting stars, camas, chocolate lilies, and other wild flowers will greet people who walk the proposed nature trail to the Cady Mountain Preserve owned by the San Juan County Land Bank.  Those flowers, the growing oaks, the wildlife that enjoys the newly formed habitat will all have a home far into the future, as the land that Shaun and Harold now steward eventually combines with the Land Bank’s  Preserve.  Thanks to Shaun’s vision and hard work, future generations will see what island prairie hillsides looked like in the past when Shaun’s maternal ancestors were among the earliest white settlers and the oaks were big and plentiful.

Happy Birthday Shaun, you are a mere 60 and you have already created a legacy, made a difference, and changed the world where you live.

Girls Scouts turns 100!

Yep, that's me 'modeling' the new 1963 Cadette uniform for the local paper. From the article: "the new look...represents a recognition of the changing needs of young people in a changing world." Not sure how it does that!

On my honor I promise..…to try not to write so much in one week!  But Monday the 12th marks the 100th anniversary of Girl Scouting and as a blog (mostly) devoted to expounding on Nature, I wanted to express gratitude for an organization that nurtured my love of Nature. It also nurtured a young girl named Ruth.  Mom did not have many opportunities growing up, church activities and Girl Scouts were her primary social outlets.  At school she felt the  self-consciousness of not having the latest style skirts and sweaters other girls wore, or being able to go places they went, but in Girl Scouts she worked diligently on badges that gave her knowledge, experiences, and a quiet pride.  If you ask her now she may laugh nervously and tell you she only got a few badges, or she may tell you that everything past 125th street (in Seattle) was woods and that’s where they went hiking. One of the many things she learned in Scouts was identification of plants. She says in high school she didn’t want to take a language course, but took instead botany and through that got her plant badge.  Home life was not easy, her father, and osteopathic doctor during the depression, often was not paid in cash, but in trades or not at all, creating sparse meals and tensions at home and resulting in a divorce that was difficult on a young teen-age girl.  Though she always worked full-time, later in life she found time to be an active adult Girl Scout.

It took awhile for me to realize how much Mom knew about plants, maybe because we moved east when I was five, away from that which was familiar to her, though on family camping trips she would casually mention the name of this or that plant.  Living back in Washington, she seemed to know more names of the local flora.  Several years ago she asked me to give her a sheet of pictures I’d taken of wildflowers, with the names. I think she wanted to hold on to that knowledge she gained as a Girl Scout and which gave her a sense of accomplishment.  Today, it is I who am telling her the names of plants, forgotten in her mind, but taught to me by her.

Girls Scouts was founded by a widow, Juliette Low, whose husband died while she was on the verge of granting him a divorce after he moved his mistress into the their home. He left his estate to the mistress, with an allowance to Low, managed by the mistress. Talk about a woman ‘done wrong’!  Low fought back and received her widow’s inheritance.  She then turned her attentions to establishing Girl Guides in the United States, having started a group while living in Scotland after meeting Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of Boy Scouts.

Daisy (Low’s nickname) called her good friend and cousin one day and said “Come right over! I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all the world, and we’re going to start it tonight!”  And she did!  From the beginning Daisy saw Girl Scouts as an organization for girls to experience the outdoors, learn to be self-reliant, learn about the arts, and prepare for working in different professions.  Perhaps due to her own deafness in one ear, at a time when people with disabilities were often excluded, she saw no difference between them and those without disabilities. Girl Scouts has always been inclusive – race, religion, nor sexual orientation prevents girls, or women, from being active in scouts.  This inclusiveness has caused some to criticize Girl Scouts.

cover of the 1980 edition of GS handbook

My first Girl Scout Handbook is the 1953 – 55 edition.  I’m sure then I did not think about how young the organization was!  When mom was a Scout I’m not sure she had a handbook. By the time I was an adult Girl Scout one book had become three.  These guidebooks changed over the years.  As the role of women became more complicated, scouting responded with deeper, richer programs and guidebooks with more information.

Girl Scouts is not about this month’s ubiquitous cookie sale, it’s about opening worlds, especially the world of Nature, teaching self-reliance, nurturing self-esteem.  Thanks Daisy, not just for my memories of summer camps and camp songs, but also for guiding a young girl through her difficult years during the depression.  You are still guiding girls through difficult times while teaching them to grow into successful women.

Do you have Girl Scout memories? I’d love to hear them!  Share them in the comments section below, or perhaps you were a Camp Fire Girl, or Marine Scout!  How did these impact your life?

You Are Remarkable! International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day, now a UN sanctioned multicultural event blended into many cultures, yet started as a socialist political statement.  There will be events honoring women in science, history, government, and various other professions.  There will be joyous celebrations to simply bring women together, and serious discussions about the plight of women worldwide. In spite of this annual celebration of women, women still struggle throughout the world for equality in the workplace, basic human rights, and often for their lives.  Women are exploited everywhere.  It is a bittersweet day if you look closely.

However, I pondered this morning about the women in my life, a long list covering a broad range of ages, social-economic backgrounds, political leanings, religious beliefs, education and professions, moms and non-moms.  To be honest, it takes my breath away when I think of the women I know.  If they were in a room together it would be a room of power, energy, healing, multidimensional experience, love and compassion. Most of all of laughter!

Having not had my own children, I’ve been privileged to know many remarkable young women as friends, including my nieces. I have an ‘official’ goddaughter, but there are other young women I consider ‘goddaughters’ in that they are a blessing in my life. This group of women beam with energy and light, have creativity that is boundless, are full of hopes and dreams.  I stand back and marvel!

There is a cadre of women in my life a bit younger than me; I guess they might be considered in ‘mid life,’ who balance lives of motherhood, entrepreneurship, professional jobs, etc.  I am astonished at the vitality and intelligence of these women.

Then there are the women I have ‘grown older’ with or met at this time of life, women with a depth and richness to their very beings that comes with experience, hardships, joys and disappointments, heart aches and hearts that are full.  I notice many of them growing more open, more honest, with themselves and others.  They are my peers on this journey but they are also my mentors.

Sadly, my list of ‘elders’ grows shorter each year, and includes my mom, who, even with her changing mind, still exhibits a resiliency and strength that is awe-inspiring. There are a handful of elderly women I am blessed to know. They teach through example that in acceptance there is peace and strength.

Most the women I know will not be reading this, but those who do, (and I know who you are!) you should take this personal and know that I find you beyond remarkable, you are my role model, my inspiration, you play your part on whatever stage of life you are on with grace and aplomb I find awesome!  You have a story I would be honored to write, a story that would inspire anyone who reads it.

(Footnote: A few years ago I wrote a short bio for my friend Marsha, who needed a bio for her web site and press releases about her art.  I have interviewed and written about people for articles I’ve written, but the process of a focused interview with a friend, was something we both enjoyed.  I really would like to write your story, let me know if you are open to it, I would like to start a collection of short bios on the women I know. You can read Marsha’s bio on her web site: The Art of Marsha Hollingsworth)