Tuesday, December 23, 2014


I sit here looking out the big picture window in my office.  The sky is milky gray as is the ground with it's snow cover.  The birches stand proud in this afternoon light with black spreading branches.  On one of the branches sits a vibrant red dot ... a male cardinal.  I feel awe for his splash of color on this gray day.

The air smells of snow.  But not for long.  There is warm air circulating in the south that will bend and wind it's way up to us Northerners just in time for Christmas Eve, bringing with it record high temperatures and "heavy rains at times".  I'm dreaming of a white Christmas.

This is my favorite holiday.  I don't get caught up in the buying and craziness of shopping.  My family gave up gifting years ago; we all have far too much stuff anyway.  But I love the lights, the carols and the fun of giving a gift because it's right, because I can, not because I must.

A lot of people struggle with Christmas.  It comes wrapped with memories of all the magic that once was or should have been.  Those who struggle to find that glitter and gold again end up feeling lost and lonely.  Those who never had it find themselves questioning what it's all about and feel anger and depression.

This time of year now carries a darker side for me too. I get melancholy at times and very  moody.  As much as I want to escape the beast who lays low most of the time now it constantly circles and surfaces to brush a fin on my conscious and stir up the memories of a diagnosis on December 27th and a birthday on January 3.  It doesn't last as long these days and the pain isn't as deep or aching ... more of a paper cut to the heart that is quick, shallow with some sting to it.

And just as suddenly I can look at all the grace this life has brought to me.  How lucky I am.  There are lights on the tree that we cut and hauled off our land.  There were carolers ... "out in the snow" ... one evening at our front door.  Of course Dave and I sang along with them.  And there are presents under our tree.  There is love in my heart and my life and a whole new world to explore in these mountains.
I'm blessed.

The cardinal is back. He acts as a reminder that even the smallest bright spot, if noticed, if honored, can light up the darkest day.

There is always magic in the air, and miracles too, this time of year.

Merry Christmas.

Loving you all back,

Monday, November 3, 2014

For You

A couple weeks ago Dave and I stopped in to visit with my 93 year old mother.  This woman still lives alone and needs no care.  She's a bit unsteady now, but realizes this and takes great care with canes scattered around the house in every room within easy reach, much the way my reading glasses are in my own house.  But this gal is sharp as a razors edge and amazes me with her mental clarity.

During this visit she handed me a copy of a piece by Oriah Mountain Dreamer titled, The Dreamer.  I had read this years ago but my mother handed it to me and said, "this made me think of you.  I think you should read it aloud so Dave can hear it too".

So I did:

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living.  I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.
It doesn't interest me how old you areI want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon.  I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life's betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain.  I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.
It doesn't interest me if the story you are telling me is true.  I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see beauty even when it's not pretty, every day, and if you can source your own life from it's presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver moon, "YES!"
It doesn't interest me to know where you live or how much money you have.  I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.
It doesn't interest me who you know or how you came to be here.  I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.
It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom you have studied.  I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.  

As I read this there were several times when my voice cracked and I had to take a deep breath in order to keep from crying so that I could keep reading.  When I had finished I looked up to see Dave wiping tears from his cheeks and eyes.  I gave a big sigh as Dave turned to my mother and said, "wow, Mary Lou, you know how to bring us all to our knees!"    At this the three of us laughed.

When I read this so many years ago it was before Jim was sick, before I became a caretaker to a man who would not survive, before I understood what "standing in the center of the fire with me" truly meant.  When I read this so many years ago it wasn't personal.  On this day as my mother handed this to me because it had made her think of me it was very personal.

I share this with all the caregivers who are now, have been, or will be called upon to find strength they never knew they had.
I share this with those who have lost a huge piece of their life as they've witnessed the passing of a loved one.
I share this with those who will need to live with their failures and questions of whether are doing or have done enough and yet, 'still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver moon, "YES!"'

I share this with those who have had nights of deep despair and they are weary to the bone but still get up and do what needs to be done for someone else.

It goes out to those who have been tested to the point of feeling so badly broken that they feel they can never find all the pieces again.
I share this with those who have put their own puzzle pieces back, maybe in a slightly different way now because one can never quite see the world the same again, and yet will still "dance with wildness" and seek their own truth and  live the remainder of their life true to themselves, "faithless and therefore trustworthy".

I share this with those who are "willing to risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive."

I share this with you.

Loving you all back,

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Where is Love?

Lately the people on this earth have me feeling that most everyone is going insane.  So much hate and killing in the name of God and country.  So much greed and lack of human compassion for those who are most in need. All of it lately seems to come down to one thing really ... self service.  How one - or many -  can use their religion, their God, to justify their greed and their hate. How some can use their millions - or billions - to corral more power for themselves.

I'm baffled.

As all of you know my dad was a Congregational minister and I was raised, basically, in the church.  We heard a lot about God.  When we sat down to our family dinners we always bowed our heads and had a prayer said over the food and in blessing.  Most of the time dad gave the prayer, sometimes he would ask one of the older kids to say their prayer.  And as my oldest sister came into her teen years she would say, "Ah, MEN!" at the end of the prayer.  A take on the more commonly spoken, Amen.

I know now that my dad was a biblical scholar.  What I thought, when I was younger, was that dad just knew everything there was to know about Jesus and God and how to be a good person and not mess up.  But if you did mess up, God was all forgiving and you just needed to right your wrongs.  God understood that humans are imperfect - he made us that way - and we make mistakes ... take responsibility, say your sorry and learn from the mistake and still love your imperfect self.

"GOD FEARING CHRISTIANS" was not a part of my world.  We did not fear God.  God was Love.
 We heard this Corinthian reading almost weekly:  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

And sometimes I believe I replaced the word God for Love.  For they were one and the same in my mind.  Still are.

I struggle so much these days knowing that good, honest, God loving (and maybe fearing) people who tell me the bible says that Homosexuals are a sin; that such people are not welcome in their church.  Somehow, somewhere their bible talks about this.  I'm amazed.  Right here in my own circles there are people who go to a very different church than what I grew up in, and who seem to have a very judgmental God.   I so wish my dad were still here so that I could ask him how he might respond to this.  I can almost hear him spout off a quote from the bible off the top of his head to counter what these people are saying.   But I also hear him say, "sometimes you can't change what people think or believe.  The best thing you can do is love them despite their hurtful thinking.  Love them and show them compassion and perhaps they will learn to turn and do the same ... to everyone".

I feel we need to demonstrate an ability to accept and embrace those not made in the same exact way that we are.  Because God made all the little children.  We are not all the same skin color,with the same eye shape.  We are of  different genders and we do not all love in the exact same way; some of us love the same gender, yet they still have wonderful and amazing family values; still raise amazing wonderful children who become good citizens even though they had two moms or two dads.  

How does one cast the first stone and then explain their hate by quoting the Bible?  How does one ever get to this point of feeling so righteous, so empowered in their beliefs that they can stand in defiance against someone because they are a lesbian, or they are black, or yellow or red or purple?  And how does one ever, in the name of their God, raise their sword and begin killing entire villages because they see God clothed in a different cloth?

What has happened to that simple, yet profound, concept of Love ... that endures all things, hopes all things, never fails.  How in this world has God become the power behind that automatic weapon that can destroy entire villages, ripping down children, woman, and elders because these people say their prayers differently?

And when did God begin to tell people that they must step on every little head they can in order to climb the financial ladder and hoard as much money as possible for themselves.  How does one justify being a billionaire and pump some of these millions of dollars into politics that keep poor people from earning a decent wage, or from obtaining needed health care or getting food by using stamps.  How can people who have enough money complain about paying some taxes to help provide a single mother or father with food for their family? 

I guess I am standing here in judgement and decrying those who judge ... I am as guilty as the next person; pointing fingers that should, simply, be turned back on myself.  But ... I don't understand some of these Gods.  I believe there is this great Love that exists.  I believe there is a Power that is far greater than myself or even greater than the hate that seems to control so much of this world right now.  Humans are imperfect.  We mess up.

But, I worry we've really made quite a muck of things ... in the name of God.

"Where is Love?
Does it come from skies above?
Is it underneath, the willow tree,
that I've been dreaming of?"
(from the musical, Oliver)

Loving you all back,

Friday, August 22, 2014

A New Land. A New Life

Varnum Mountain

Dave and I have bought some land in the small town of Temple.  It boasts a population of 500 (502 now!) and we're told Temple is where most of the artistic, old hippies live.  This land is something we looked for from the time we arrived in Farmington last year.

While we still lived outside of Portland, Dave and I did a lot of thinking about how to sell my house and move to Farmington.  Where would we live after the sale of the house?  How could the timing of selling my house, finding land and building a new house ever work?  How would we do this?  We started just cruising real estate on line and began to see a lot of houses in the village at very reasonable prices.  The idea to buy one of these houses that could be turned into apartments bloomed. We could live there while we looked for the land we wanted and eventually rent the place in town.  This is how we came to own an old Victorian house on main street.  We began renovating the first floor into a three bedroom apartment last October and lived at the Lovejoy camp a half hour away while we were under construction.  We moved into the apartment last December and started construction on the second floor apartment. This old house is being given new life and will become a wonderful income property for us.

Farmington has many eyes that have been watching the transformation of this house. A very pedestrian  town people are walking by the house all the time.  Many stop to view our progress.  If we are sitting outside on the porch we will frequently become engaged in conversations with people or just hear, in passing, "I love your house!"

But this is not where we want to live, on main street with the traffic sounds and the parade of people.  As sweet as it is to be able to walk to the grocery store, the movie theater, the restaurants for dinner, even to my office, we always planned to find land outside of town.  And I wanted it to have view of the mountains.  We moved up to the mountains, I wanted to be able to see them!

I went to my favorite psychic,Tracy.  Each time I saw her she would describe the land we were going to find.  At that time I had visions of seeing the entire western range with Mt.Abraham, Saddleback and Sugarloaf; the rounded peaks of these mountains with their purple ridges etched into the horizon as far as the eye could see.  But Tracy would tell me, "I'm seeing water, with moose walking down front, there are mountains, yes, but there's also a body of water!"  This was very confusing for me.

She also told me I didn't need to worry, that we were going to get this land by Spring or the summer of this year.  She would say, "this place has wonderful energy,  the house is all glass.  It's amazing and so beautiful with so much glass looking out over the mountains and the water".

I thought she was crazy and confusing someone else into my reading!

We found this property last March and explored it on snow shoes. It was damn close to perfect.  We closed on this land in July ... we now own an entire valley that overlooks 3 mountains and a lake .. and we're only five miles from Farmington.  There is an existing house with "good bones" that we have to completely gut and renovate.  As we stand in the front room there are massive windows looking out at Varnum mountain with the lake shimmering to the east where we catch glimpses of the Loons who nest on this end of the lake.  As we walk through this house we tear down walls and design it in our minds.  We are planning on even more windows ... lots of windows ... to bring those mountains into our living room and that lake into our kitchen and those fields, woods and other two mountains to the west into our den and bedroom.  We've been told there are Moose that walk down through the field in front of the house.

Yes, Tracy saw it all!

Last week Dave and I put on blue raincoats and rubber boots and went exploring on a dripping day with the intent to head deeper into the interior of this land.  There are two beautiful wooded streams that run through the property.  We stopped to admire the multitude of greens that dotted this scene with ferns lacing the sides of the stream and the deep green carpeting of moss on the rocks.  In one shallow pool Dave spied a Brook Trout!  There are small cascading waterfalls and groves of white birch trees.  There are purple trilliums and promising feathers of young balsam furs making their way towards the sun.  In one very muddy area we saw bear, deer and moose tracks.

Varnum Pond
I found myself thinking ... "and this is mine?!"   There is a deep feeling of amazement of the fact that we now own this land.  The house down South had a postage stamp sized yard, though it had woods up back that "my" crows liked to swoop into and spy on me from.  But, there was no land to really walk through, to explore, to get a little lost in.

Growing up the family spent summers by the sea in Scarborough on the farmland once owned by my grandfather and where my mother had spent her childhood.  Here I would leap onto my one speed bike and peddle like the wind on the old farm roads that ran through the fields of corn and pumpkins.  In the spring my father would take us into the surrounding woods to go hunting for Lady Slippers; at times we'd find too many to be able to keep an accurate count.  There were the tender, pink edged Mayflowers deep in the woods that had us dropping to our knees to bury our noses into the tiny blossoms for that intoxicating smell.  There was the haunting Whip-poor-will call at night whose voice would float through the open front door as we watched Red Skelton on TV with a view of the full moon dripping from the Atlantic over Richmond Island.  We had endless tide pools to explore at low tide and ocean waves to body surf at mid tide.  It was the classic summer for a kid, with hazy days laid out in front of me and no agenda except to go where my curiosity or desires led me, with enough open land and a mile long beach to escape into.  A luxury I took for granted back then.

And here I am, at mid-life with a mountain valley stretching out before me with no other houses in sight and a rekindling of this feeling of freedom.  I am, once again, filled with curiosity and a desire to explore and discover all that exists in this new acreage that is all ours.

But, you know what?  When I saw those tracks, distinct impressions of the others living on this land with us,  I realized we do not own this land at all; we are, simply, the new stewards of it.  We are moving into a valley that has already been the home to many others for a much longer time. I feel we will need to learn how to best fit into this new neighborhood, how to best do our construction without disturbing too much of these pristine woods and fields. To enter this sanctuary with respect for all those we share it with.

For the first time since living in Colorado back in the '70's I will spend my days away from the ocean and it's air tinged with salt brine.  Instead I will have the musty, acrid smell of ferns and the call of Loons on summer nights when our doors are open and we watch the moon climb over the ridge of Varnum mountain and flood it's glow into this lovely valley.

View of the western range from the top of Bald Mountain
A new land. A new life.

Loving you all back,

Friday, May 9, 2014

She's Gone

May 9th, 2014.  May Hill.  Even Ella couldn't climb this one.  What is it about May?  I find the month to be hopeful; snow is gone, daffodils are nodding their pretty yellow heads, trees are in full bloom and even showing that iridescent green of the new, tiny leaves. Why is this the month that beings who are close to passing ... do.

I took Ella down to her veterinary, Laurels,  this morning.  Back when Laurels gave me the diagnosis of cancer .. and a really good run down of how that tumor would behave over the course of the months, thus effectively preparing me well ... she had said, "Just call us.  No need for an appointment.  We will just get you in."  So when I called the receptionist precisely at their open time of 8:00 a.m this morning I was told that she would check for Ella's files and soon Laurels  was on the phone, "Mary, when can you be here?  I'll have the room ready for you."

I arrived for the agreed 9:40  "appointment" time.  The room was ready, which meant it had a puffy little dog bed covered with a blanket in the middle of the treatment room.  Ella walked right over to it and made herself comfortable.  If you've never gone through this process with an animal before it's really remarkably peaceful.  The term "putting her to sleep" is truly what it has looked like to me for the past three dogs.  Ella was no different.  At one point she did open her eyes a little wider and looked right at me, I leaned in closer, caressing behind behind her ears and told her I was right there, she was a good dog, it was all OK.  She relaxed,  closed her eyes and ... gone.  

Though we know she was not asleep.  We did not put Ella to sleep.  I have decided to say that I "released" Ella today.  Released her from her body that was wracked with pain and cancer.  Released her to that other world where we all like to believe it's all just a little bit sweeter over there.

Over the course of these last few weeks I knew I was getting closer to the decision that I was going to have to make.  I would get down on the floor with Ella and hold her and she would make her little happy noises.  I would tell her, "when you're ready we'll call to Jim and he'll be there to meet you on the other side and he'll take you for a trail run!"  Several times she would look me right in the eye with a more intense gaze and I would say to her ... I promise!

On the hour long drive down to the animal clinic I was calling to Jim, asking him to be sure and fulfill this promise I had made to this little being, "and could you give me some kind of sign that you've heard me?  That you've followed through with this please?"  But the car remained silent save for Ella's panting in the back seat.

After Ella was released I thought I might get a coffee for the ride home, it was a rough night last night with her, I hadn't slept at all and I was concerned I would fall asleep with the drive home.   As I drove down the road I started to pass an area called Twin Brooks, where Jim, Ella and I spent many hours running the trail system of this area.  I found myself pulling into this parking lot and parking my car.  I headed out to an area that is far less traveled.  A friend had termed this section the "back nine" years ago.  It's now called "the wilderness trails" ... stretching the wilderness concept just a tad I think.  But I knew it would be quite and I'd have the trails to myself.

I've never walked these trails so I had never gone slow enough to see a beautiful little pine wooded glen with pools of water and the lush green of ferns and moss.  Just off the trails and down a small incline I stood gazing at this beautiful, serene spot.  As I stood there, looking down the slope into this darker woods, a small Coopers hawk lifted off in front of me and flew deeper into the trees.  I was drawn to follow.  It was so quiet and peaceful in there.  I sat on a soggy, vibrantly green, moss covered log and broke down into cleansing tears.  When I looked up that hawk was directly over my head.

This was the sign I had asked Jim to give me.  Jim had once told me of an amazing experience he had with a hawk while on one of his Buddhist retreats.  He knew after this event that the Hawk was his power animal.  Whenever I see hawks now I always say hello to Jim.  So here was this little wood dwelling hawk sitting there with me and had led me into this dark, private space.  I knew it was Jim confirming that he was with Ella and they were both fine.

That hawk sat there for the entire time I sat there.  When I finally felt the tears were spent I stood up and looked at this hawk.  I swear that eye blink was an eye wink ... or that's how I will remember it.  I winked back.  Threw a kiss of gratitude and walked out of the woods.

I have had to release a great deal in my life in a few short years.  I'm ever grateful to have known such love, in so many different forms.  And I'm eternally grateful I was able to limp home to someone who met me with open arms.  The task was mine alone ... but I realize I am not alone in this world now.  My original little family has left me.  But I have this new family that is branching and expanding and inviting and embracing me.

I am so blessed.

Loving you all back,

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Saving For .....

Red rock country
I'm slowly reading a wonderful book, Travels with Epicurus, by Daniel Klein.  Klein is an older gentleman who has traveled to Greece and writes about one of his favorite philosophers, Epicurus, while he is living out some of this sage advise himself.  On the back of the book, where one goes to read what the book is about, is this:

Out on a walk on the island of Hydra, a vacationing Greek American comes upon an old Greek man sitting on a rock, sipping a glass of ouzo, and lazily staring at the sun setting into the sea.  The wealthy American notices there are olive trees growing on the hills behind the old Greek but that they are untended, with olives just dropping here and there onto the ground.  He asks the old Greek who owns the trees.  
"They're mine," the Greek replies.
"Don't you gather the olives?" the American asks.
"I just pick one when I want one," the old man says.
"But don't you realize that if you pruned the trees and picked the olives at their peak, you could sell them?  In America everybody is crazy about virgin olive oil, and they pay a damned good price for it."
"What would I do with the money?" the old Greek asks.
"Why, you could build yourself a big house and hire servants to do everything for you."
"And then what would I do?"
"You could do anything you want!"
"You mean, like sit outside and sip ouzo at sunset?"

I was sold on the book at this point!

I have written about this before but I am thinking on it again today.  I seem to know quite a few folks who are working hard and running in circles as they save all their hard earned dollars for their retirement.  When I ask what retirement looks like to these friends their answers all seem to be the same .. "to do anything [I] want" ... which they don't seem to feel they are doing right now.  Right now they are working so that they might really do what they want when they are old.


I recently met a man who has a five year plan which includes quitting the job - that is hated and making his life pure chaos right now - paying off debts and then being able to live the life that is most wanted.  I told this man that five years sounds too long for me, but I hope it all works out for him.

Bigelow range from Flagstaff lake
Today I am remembering my dearest friend, Patty.  If I somehow ever ended up in prison Patty would be in the cell beside me saying, "damn that was fun!"  She and I would go off on adventures together into the wilds that more often felt like something out of a Carlos Castaneda story detailing his shamanic experiences with Don Juan the Yaqui sorcerer.

Patty and I were teachers in the same school at the same time together. One year we took our April vacation week and backpacked the entire Bigelow range.  There was little snow in Portland that year, but there had been record breaking snow fall in these western mountains.  Because she and I were so determined we managed to post-hole our way across 16.3 miles of steep, rugged terrain with an elevation gain of 2,850 feet and the top elevation of West Peak summit at 4,150 feet.  With our loaded backpacks and my dog, Maya, we swore, stepped and sunk and pulled each other out of hip deep snow as we scrambled up and over all six peaks of this range.  We had said it would take us four nights and five days, and that's what we did it in.  A lesser pair might have turned back, but that was neither one of us back then.

We both quit teaching the same year.  I headed to acupuncture school and she headed west to Colorado with her Jeep and her big, sweet, German Shepherd.  I found a new career, she found a new love and got married.   I headed to Colorado one spring to go down to the Canyonlands with her to camp and mountain bike the White Rim Trail.  This was a powerful trip for both of us out in that red rock country.  On this trip my tent almost got blown off the cliff ... with me in it!... when an epic storm came roaring across the desert and slammed into our high plateau campsite.  And Patty learned how to really drive a 4-wheel vehicle while navigating a steep, boulder laden road with a drop off on one side that would surely have been the death of both of us should she make one tiny mistake.

Patty had two or three master degrees in chemistry and engineering.  She secured a job with HP where her new husband also worked.  Together they made a good income.  Patty would tell me how JW was determined to save for retirement and insisted that she do this too.  He had his eye on a certain figure that they needed to have before they could begin to "live".  She and I would joke about this saying, 'this is great, providing everybody stays healthy until you have enough money to start living!'

Within two years of this Canyonlands trip Patty was diagnosed with colon cancer and died nine months later.  She said to me,"tell everyone how hard I fought this!"  There was no one who could have been braver or fought harder, except for maybe Jim Daniels, who got his diagnosis within three years after Patty died. And then my amazing brother-in-law, Jerry Sanders, also leaving this earth due to cancer, two years after Jim died. All of these people were incredibly vibrant and healthy with a big thirst for life and a big love for seizing the day.

So, if you didn't understand this about me before, perhaps you see now, when someone tells me of a five year plan for when they can be happy it feels too long for me.   Or why I have such an aversion to needing some future stash of money to be big enough before I can enjoy today.

I have been touched far too many times with losses that have been huge for me.  But here's the thing, with each one of these deaths has come the gift of life.

If I can afford that glass of ouzo now I won't wait until I can buy the whole bottle.  I want to be that gal who raises her glass at sunset and says, "damn, that was fun!"  I want to
know I rode it hard for however long I may still be in this rodeo.

Loving you all back,

Thursday, March 6, 2014


The dictionary has many definitions for this one little word: you can have a stress fracture (broken bone), you can stress, or emphasize, a point in a discussion, it can be a force applied to a body that can deform it or it can be a mentally or emotionally upsetting condition in response to some external
influences or perceived danger.

Hmmm. Which one did you immediately think of when you saw this blog subject?  Me too.

And the mental or emotional response triggers a host of reactions in our physical body.  Biologically it puts us into the "flight or fight" mode;  releasing the "stress" hormones adrenaline and cortisol that triggers us to run faster and jump higher.  A fabulous response when facing down a mountain lion or escaping a burning building.  But over time, if these hormones remain surging through our system they become harmful to our health and begin to actually break down internal organs.  We become moody, depressed, anxious with loss of memory and other bad stuff!

Lovely, aye?  And who isn't "stressed" these days?  I was diagnosed with hives just before Jims' tumor took over our life.  I was told it's stress.  I was told I could get rid of it by reducing my stress.  Sounds so easy!  But four years later I still have the hives even though I thought the stress causing them had been taken away from me. 

Recently I was diagnosed with Rosacea, a skin condition that they don't really know what causes it or how to heal it.  They do know there are "triggers" that flare it up; red wine, chocolate, spicy foods ... all of my favorite things!  And they don't know how to cure it.  I was prescribed a cream that costs a billion dollars (OK, I may be exaggerating a little bit, but honestly, it's so expensive it feels like a billion dollars to me!).  Even though at this price it feels like it should last my entire life it won't.  It does seem to help with this condition though.  My older sister said to me, "Mary, it's your FACE!", as in, do whatever is necessary to deal with it.  So I buy the cream and use it sparingly.

I can't help but wonder if one trigger for this condition may also be stress.  But what the heck is this stress anyway? What is the imaginary danger that we are needing to flee from?  Why is it so difficult to remove all these mountain lions from our lives?  Don't we have all this technology to make our lives easier, to do things faster and to allow us more free time?  And as one of the wealthiest countries in the world we must have lots of free time since we all make a lot of money and thus we don't have work 24/7 like many other people in poorer countries.  Right?  And free time will reduce our stress.  Right?

Why is all this so wrong?

As an acupuncturist I have a lot of people who come to me with anxiety, depression and .... stress.  For one hour out of their week I give them permission to lie down, to simply stop all the busy-ness and to let these little needles work some kind of magic for them to relax and rejuvenate their biological systems ... until they go back out into their world.

As I put this billion dollar cream on my face I sometimes remember the blog I wrote about Looking Up (March 2010).  I remember sitting out on the deck in the warming sun with my sick husband, who was napping.  We were wrapped up in blankets against the chill and leaning against the gentle giant of an oak that towered over our house in Falmouth.  During those months of caring for Jim there were these occasional moments that I could just stop and just sit out in the sunshine.  The blog talks about all the small things I noticed while sitting still.  All the life around me that could easily go unseen in my usual fast paced life. 

Why is it so difficult to just stop sometimes?  To just sit outside for no reason at all.  To look up and see that cardinal or nut hatch or swelling spring bud?  To turn the computer, television, radio, cell phone off and just exist in our world in it's purest form? 

Our response to stress is a biological reaction.  This natural world that we've disassociated ourselves from is our biology, our essence, our nature.  To turn towards it and become part of it is the very stuff we are truly made of.

This March, as the sap begins to flow through the Sugar Maples, as the song birds become more active in response to the higher sun, and the world around me begins to know that warmer days are coming even though I don't feel it in my bones yet, I vow to myself to just stop at times.  To look up and see my world and take some time to be a part of this life that is all around me. 

I vow to stop my response of fighting some unseen danger and to take flight from a world made crazy by being so out of touch with what is truly real.

Loving you all back,

Saturday, February 1, 2014


I think it would be a rare person who doesn't have a visceral reaction to this title.  It seems every one  has had a close association with this word, this diagnosis, of either a friend, family member or oneself. For me today it's my sweet, thirteen year old dog, Ella.

She had a tumor on her belly that blossomed when Jim was sick.  I said it was her sympathetic tumor.  Her Veterinary said it was probably a fatty tumor and benign but if I wanted to biopsy it? I didn't.

After Jim passed I would lie down beside her and speak softly to her as I massaged her belly, "we don't have to try and heal him anymore.  You can release these tumors now."

For two years there was no sign of any other tumors.  I could feel some bubbles under her skin, but they weren't getting any bigger.  I thought we were good.

In October of this month the little bubble on her right shoulder began to grow.  It was the size of a marble at first, growing to a golf ball .. then an orange ...soon a softball ... now it's close to a football in size, though not in shape. It gives her no problem at all.  I touch it frequently to see if it hurts her, it doesn't.  But it's hard and it's hot.

I took her to the Vet this past week.  "How long has it taken for this to grow?" ... "Three, maybe four months?" ... "That kind of speed in growth tells me this is probably malignant.  We can biopsy it if you'd like?"   The fact is, Ella is 13, has two different strains of Lyme disease that, although treated, has become a chronic problem with her mostly as hip and joint pain. She has arthritis in her front legs and that discomfort is evident also.  What would validating that this is cancer do for us?  I'm not going to go into any kind of cancer treatment for her; that would be far too traumatic for both of us!

The Vet agreed.  She tried to aspirate the tumor, hoping it was filled with liquid and extracting some of it would take the weight out of it.  She wasn't able to really get anything, it's a dense mass.  She said to me, "We need to talk about your future plans for Ella." ... gulp.  "This tumor could continue to grow and become quite massive."  She held her hands too far apart in demonstration.   "When it gets much larger it's going to become really uncomfortable for her and put a lot more strain on her joints increasing that pain as well."   You're going to have to make a decision about the quality of her life at that point."  Sigh.

The Vet called me today to just inform me that as this tumor grows it may split open.  WHAT?! 
"I wanted to just tell you this Mary so you aren't alarmed if it happens.  If Ella bumps it or scrapes it you  may find that it splits open so you will need to be prepared to deal with wound management and care."  It was so good of her to call because I certainly might freak out a little bit should this happen!

Cancer. Seems it's never pretty and, more often than not, it's damn messy!

I've had to put three other dearly loved dogs down in my history as a dog owner. This is my first one to go because of cancer.  I know that look in their eyes when they are tired and done with this world.  I have always listened to that message when they have told me it's time.  I know I will recognize this in Ella too.    
But, damn, it hurts!

I recently saw my favorite psychic, Tracy.  Every time I go to see her she mentions Ella, though she's never met my dog.  She describes her perfectly and always says what a wonderful little being she is, how this dog and I have gone through a lot together and that Ella is very bonded to me.  This last time she said, "Well, there is still a little bit more time with this little gal.  But when it's time, you are going to need to take a few days to be with her.  I know this sounds luxurious, but she is going to need this from you and you will want to be there for her.  So I really think you should plan on having time off in order to spend this time with her."

And, I guess it's coming sooner vs. later.  The Vet didn't feel we needed to give Ella any of her vaccinations that she was due for this season.  We only gave her a rabies shot, and this, only because it's a state law.  I respect our Vet for being this honest and encouraging me to not do the shots.  She never put a time line on it but I think we've only got a few months.

This little being has, indeed, been there for me.  She stayed close to Jim when he was sick.  He would get upset sometimes that she wouldn't come over to him when he called to her .. but I would point out to him how she always stayed close.  I reminded him that sometimes she wouldn't go on errands with  me, backing away from the door and turning to go lie in the living room with Jim.  He would smile at this and say, '"yes, yes, yes."

When Jim died and  I was left alone Ella was there for me.  She was a warm spot on the other side of the bed, her snores comforting.  I began to feel very vulnerable because at night I remove my hearing aids and I became aware that I probably wouldn't hear the smoke alarm or someone breaking in or whatever sounds might be important to hear at night when one is alone.  I would look at Ella and think, she might just pull through for me if anything were to threaten me/us in the night.  So, I would fall asleep with this thought.

She was my trail running buddy and motivation to get out there when I really didn't feel I could.  She needed to to go ... loved to go. So out we went, both feeling so much better after the joy of being on the trails.
Tumor on her right shoulder - softball size

And now, she wants to lie where all my clothes are; wants to be at me feet where ever I am; doesn't want me to leave, even if Dave is staying home.   Jim demonstrated this same desire to be with me  .. I know, that sounds weird, but near the end he wanted nothing more than to spend as much time with me as he could.  I think he knew he would be leaving sooner than I was ready to accept and so asked me to be with him as much as possible.  Ella seems to be doing the same thing these days.

And I will be with her as much as possible for the duration of whatever time we still have together.
She has gladdened my heart so many times ... so I know she's going to break it into many pieces too.  But it's all a part of this thing called life and being willing to  love, even when we know how painful it will be to lose that love from this world.

The Buddhist tell us that loss and it's  pain is a gift to us, for it is what life is all about.  There can be no joy without grief, no life without death. 

You cannot open your heart to love if  you are filled with fear of the potential loss.

I would not want a life without love.

Loving you all back,

A very young Ella with Jim and I


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Comfort Zone

The Battleship, Grand Canyon
On our second date Dave showed up with a magnet for my refrigerator that said, "Life begins outside your comfort zone."  I identified with this immediately.  But lately I've been thinking, what does it actually mean to me?

I was in a comfort zone for 34 years while I was married to Jim.  That kind of depth and time in a relationship certainly has you pretty comfortable.  And living in the same house and town for 24 years was also very comfortable.  We had our routine, our friends, our family and a schedule that fit and was very comfortable.

Jims' illness took me far beyond my comfort zone.  Set me into the stratosphere of discomfort actually.  Losing him so early whirled my little zone into a complete chaotic state. Like a once serene woodland after a microburst has hit; the rampage and intense energy of this wind storm can explode and topple trees into a jumbled mass of toothpicks.  As I looked at my life in the after math of my storm, the landscape was completely changed and I realized there was no longer a familiar zone at all .  It had been blown to smithereens.

On the Battleship, Grand Canyon
I guess we could say a whole new life began outside my comfort zone.  Being at mid-life and embarking on a brand new relationship isn't easy!  But certainly the connection Dave and I had from day one started to set up a new set of cones for this new "zone".  But he has pushed me beyond the barriers of comfort many times in the two years we have been together.  He has challenged me to rock climb in the canyon of the Colorado river as well as the Grand Canyon.  He always assured me I was safe, and I knew I was with him.  But it didn't mean I wasn't scared, and I was pretty uncomfortable when I clung to a rock and struggled to find that next hand hold.  Speaking to the rope that was tied around my waste, ascending up in front of my face and disappearing over my head, "I can't do this!"  And the rope responded, "I'm here, I can help you! Grab the rope and just walk up the rock using the rope" ... and then I felt that rope tighten and begin to pull and lift me.  As Dave hoisted me up I grabbed the rope and my legs scrambled to find a toe hold and then I was able to find the next hand hold too.  Feeling more secure I was able to keep going on my own power.  But that rope remained taught and comforting.  At the top of this rock formation the view of the Grand Canyon was amazing.  It had not been easy getting there, but I have always understood that this is where the biggest rewards come from; that not-so-easy climb.  On that outlook post, I felt alive and exhilarated having pushed beyond my comfort zone.

Terri, Alice and me, bushwacking
Recently two girlfriends came up to visit us in our mountain town.  We had promised them that we would take them out snowshoeing if the weather held.  I had warned them that snowshoeing with Dave means bushwacking ... that is, never following a path, only a ridge line with a destination in mind.  OK, they had said.  While we sat in the truck and viewed the dense forest of Evergreens we listened to Dave explain that we would snowshoe up into this area ... could be steep ... and from there we would be in open ground and could get up to that ridge and have some great views of the Bigelow range, Mt.Abraham and Sugarloaf mountains. 
There was silence in the truck.  Then Alice said, "it looks pretty dense right there."  I added, "and steep!"  Dave turned to all of us and said, "Well, we could go back a half mile and take that logging road up into the same area.  It will be longer and, frankly, boring. We can always turn back if we aren't comfortable with this ascent."  Silence in the truck again. I sat quiet as I didn't want to push anyone to do something they didn't want to do.  The big difference between Dave and I.  And then Terri said,  "OK, let's give this a try, if we can always turn back!"

It was a challenging climb.  There were moments when the steepness of the slope, the ice and sliding crust under foot defintely asked a lot of the three of us at times.  At crucial moments it seemed Terri or Alice would turn to me and say something that would get me giggling ... and as I lost the grip I had on a tree or watch as my snowshoe lost it's grasp in the ice I'd get laughing harder.  We all would get laughing and thus delighting in this moment.  As we came out into the clearing on the ridge and those mountains blossomed in front of us with their white peaks standing in contrast to  a robin eggs blue sky, Terri turned to Alice and me and said, "damn, he was right!"

On the Colorado River
I guess this is what the saying on that magnet means to me, that I am one who is more content demanding more of myself and my life than what is comfortable and familiar.  I want to be asked to reach deeper and climb higher.  I accept the risk of tying a rope on and starting to ascend a rocky pitch, or throwing things into a box and making that move to change my job, my town, my entire life.  That all of this keeps me alive.  My life can be altered to become an empty canvas and it is possible to make it whatever I want it to be.   I can begin to throw new splashes of colors into this new life. I can step off the old canvas, step out of those familiar shades that are comfortable and choose to grasp for those brighter more brilliant shades that life has to offer.  It's not easy.  I challenged my family and some of my friends by all these changes that I embraced so quickly.  I have to wonder if my new life was taking them outside of their comfort zone?  And this is OK.

I know now that all the times Dave has pushed me beyond my comfort zone that this has been my response ... damn, he's right ... this is where life begins.

Loving you all back,