Friday, April 15, 2016

Lost in a Good Book

I looked up from my book a little disoriented for a moment as the bus pulled out of the tunnel and the sun hit the side of my face.  I had been deeply engrossed – so much so that I felt a little lost as I was pulled back to reality.  A moment before, I had been in England circa 1920, curled up in a chair in the Greene Library at Justice Hall reading a book by a fire with Mary Russell in the chair across from me.  The November rain had been pelting the window and the faint smell of rosemary was in the air.  Suddenly, I was on a bus in Seattle one stop away from where I needed to get off on a sunny April afternoon in 2016.

As I stepped off the bus, I smiled at myself, I had become so lost while reading that I was completely immersed in the setting and plot.  It doesn’t happen to me very often anymore.  One of greatest gifts a book can give is to draw you in so deeply that the present fades and you step into another world.
 
When I was growing up books did that for me a lot.  I wandered through Avonlea with Anne, through the fields of New Moon Farm with Emily, along the paths of 1800’s New England with Lousia May Alcott’s characters and I stood shoulder to shoulder with Jane Eyre at Lowood School and Thornfield Hall.  I rode the wagon across the Great Plains with Mary and Laura and trailed Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson through London and the English countryside.  The Hound of the Baskervilles still makes me shiver when I think about the first time I read it. 
 
I have always like Holmes – first in book form and later in movies and T.V. series.  I love Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett, Robert Downey, Jr. and, most of all, Benedict Cumberbatch as the great detective.  For a time, I attended The Sound of the Baskervilles club that read a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story each month and then met to discuss it.  I also have enjoyed books by other writers that borrow Sherlock Holmes as a character – especially the children’s series about a mouse detective that lives at 221B Baker Street and studies Sherlock’s methods to solve crimes in the mouse world.  (See Basil of Baker Street)
 
Then I went off to college and traded reading for pleasure for reading to learn to such an extent that I lost my taste for reading almost altogether for quite a while.  I still read for the fun of it but less and less.  I had a busy and demanding job and I was often too tired to concentrate on a book.  Occasionally, I still read something that completely immersed me.  Memoirs of a Geisha and the Harry Potter series come to mind at the moment but it became a rarer occurrence with each book I read.  Eventually, I joined a book group to keep me reading and to stretch myself to read things I might not otherwise consider.
 
Then my dad and my friend, Dawna, both highly recommended the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series by Laurie King.  It took me a couple of years before I finally picked up the audio book of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice at the library.  It is the first book in the series.  I have now buzzsawed my way through six of the books and I am reading a seventh Justice Hall. It was this book, for the first time in longer than I can remember, where I once again left reality and stepped so completely into the story that I was lost in a good book.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

When Life Gets in the Way


I was reorganizing the favorites on my Internet Explorer today and realized that I had a blog.  A blog that I have neglected for the last three years.  I haven't neglected it on purpose.  Life got in the way.  Three months from today, my husband and I will celebrate our wedding anniversary.  Looking back, so much has happened in those eight years.  John has changed jobs three times, had shoulder surgery, taken a course in appliance repair, turned 40 and put up with me.  I have been at my job for fourteen years and I have not committed a major crime anytime in the last 8 years which is a win as far as I'm concerned.  Together we have purchased our first home, bought a travel trailer and a truck to pull it with, acquired a cat, a dachshund and an Olde English bulldog, changed churches and had many adventures together.  We've had good times, we've had tough times and we've had fun times and boring times.  What can I say, we've been busy.
 
So why the picture?  I don't know about the rest of you out there but sometimes, you have those days -- those days where you drag yourself out of bed and through the week, those Sunday nights when you seriously discuss running away and joining the circus, those weekends full of chores and household repairs and yard work.  My dear husband struggles with this even more than I do but we both have "those" days.  You know what we say to each other?  "Okay, it's time to be grown up." or in other words "Time to adult."
 
When you're a child, you can't WAIT to grow up.  You whine about your chores, you complain about your mom's cooking and you and your friends have the "when I'm a grown up I'm going to . . . " conversations.  Usually this phrase ends with things like "eat Cap'n Crunch for breakfast everyday" or "stay up all night and play video games" or similarly childish desires.  People are always telling you that you have it SO good as a kid and you should enjoy it.  You don't believe them -- ever.  Then you grow up and find that it isn't quite so carefree and fun as you thought it would be.
 
Perhaps you're wondering why I said I haven't committed a major crime in the last 8 years.  Truth is, I've never committed a major or minor crime but after you fall in love and marry someone that you would do anything to protect, the possibility of it can come home to you.  I do work at a job where I am confronted with other people's crimes daily.  It makes you realize that every day we all have the potential to do harm, steal, lie, cheat, have a road rage accident (ugh to city traffic) and kill someone -- even accidentally.  Every day that I don't do that, I consider it a win.  I successfully adulted today.

 
 
 

Friday, May 31, 2013

In Loco Parentis

I know the first time I heard the Latin phrase in loco parentis was sometime in my early days of working for a small law firm in Port Angeles.  The law is one of the few arenas where Latin is still tossed around willy nilly.  Amicus curiae (friend of the court), de novo (anew), duces tecum (bring with you), ex post facto (after the fact), habeas corpus (have the body) and lis pendens (suit pending) are still in common daily usage where I work.  In the beginning, I was constantly asking the meaning of Latin terms.  Now, if I don’t know them already, I can often puzzle out their meaning from the Latin I do know. 
  
In loco parentis means in place of the parents and is often used in describing the role of school in a child’s life.  This week, however, it was the phrase that popped into my head when we were asked to stand as godparents to two children who are very dear to us.  My husband and I have not been blessed with children and we have left that in the hands of the Almighty.  I have found that I cannot write about the subject easily and so have left it on the shelf to simmer until now.
 
As I looked down at the two sweet faces that had no idea what we were discussing with their parents, I was first and foremost filled with the thought that I hoped the guardianship would never be necessary.  Believe me, John and I will be praying with all our might for the health and well-being of their parents to ripe old age.  The second thought that moved my husband and me both nearly to tears was the humbling amount of trust and love that was being bestowed on us.
 
I turned 37 two months after we married.  We allowed ourselves some time to settle into marriage and talked at length about children both before and after we married.  We decided that we would try to have children but that we would take no extraordinary measures to do so.  After a time, it was clear that it wasn’t what God had for us and we quietly put that dream away.  That being said, I don’t know if you will find two people that value and honor what it means to be a parent more than we do.
 
I think especially after we knew that we would not have children of our own, I began to look around at those in my circle of family and friends that are parents.  I will say that I cannot think of a single one of them that doesn’t realize what a tremendous amount of work it takes to be a good father or mother.  I would also say, that without exception, I think they are doing fantastic jobs raising the ones to whom they have been entrusted.  I know there must often be days when infanticide seems a real possibility after a difficult time with a child but I also know that they see how greatly the blessings outweigh the problems.  I think they also realize what a brief span of time they will have with their children before they are grown up and flying the nest.
  
In my line of work at the Court, I regularly review cases that involve the physical or sexual molestation of a child.  As much as humanly possible, since it is not my job to do so, I avoid the facts of the cases because I found early on that the disturbed me to such an extent that I could think of little else.  If anything will turn you into a vigilante, it is child abuse cases.
 
Recently as I was setting aside several briefs that had been returned from the printer, I realized that attached to the copy of one was series of color photographs.  The first one caught my eye because it was a picture of a cell phone text message.  As I turned to the next one, there was a photograph of a little girl of about two years old.  She had big brown eyes and soft curly hair the color of honey.  As I continued to flip through the photographs, I went on to find a series of photos taken at the hospital of her little body which had been horribly abused.  There are some things that cannot be unseen.
 
I will not bore you with overmuch with what had to be done next.  The photos were an exhibit in the case that had been provided as a courtesy by the prosecutor’s office and should not have been attached to the brief nor added to the printed copies.  Another co-worker and I quickly rectified the situation for the case manager that had made the mistake since she was out of the office.  Both of us spent the rest of the day feeling quite ill over the photos.  The little girl survived her abuse and her abuser, if there is any justice in the universe, will never be outside a jail ever again.  He does not have a very good basis for an appeal from which I take a good deal of comfort.  I also take comfort that child abusers do not fare very well in our prisons.  My last source of relief is my belief that someday in the future, that man will stand before God and answer to Him for what happened.
 
Why am I telling you this?  Confession is good for the soul.  Also, I want the parents of all the children John and I stand as guardians for to know that both of us would give our very lives to keep their little ones safe should that ever be necessary.  If you have children of your own or children that are dear to you, give them an extra cuddle after you read this.  Not all children are as fortunate as yours.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Memories

“Memories light the corners of my mind,
misty water-colored memories of the way we were.” 
Alan & Marilyn Bergman

“Already old Fred’s face was creasing up in the soft expression
of someone who has been mugged in Memory Lane.”
Jingo by Terry Pratchett

Memories are funny things. Sometimes they well up at the most inconvenient time and you find yourself in tears or angry and sometimes they bubble up and you find yourself laughing or blushing. All sorts of things can trigger a memory. One of the strongest triggers for memory is odors. For instance, the combination of stale cigarette smoke and diesel fumes takes me straight back to being 12 years old and waiting for the bus to school in England. Don’t ask me why but it does. I know that 40 years from now if I get a whiff of Estee Lauder’s White Linen perfume, it will always remind me of my mother getting dressed for church.

Part of what steered me towards this subject was a particular memory that came up recently and has stayed with me for days now. It is of my elderly grandmother demonstrating the Macarena. Every single time I think of it, I hoot with laughter almost without meaning to do so. It would help if you knew my father’s mother. I have talked about her on this site several times. She was born in England in 1920. She survived World War II there and married my Canadian grandfather and eventually ended up here in Washington State.

She embraced American citizenship wholeheartedly as did my grandfather. They settled down, worked hard and eventually retired to a lovely old apartment in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle. In July of 1992, my family moved back down to the Seattle area from the Olympic Peninsula. I got a job in downtown and went to live with my grandparents so I was close to work. They were very good to me that long hot summer and the only time I felt a bit put upon was during the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. My grandparents watched every minute of both of them. It was agony. I spent every night of the conventions out on the stoop of the building.

Four years later in 1996, I was still living in the apartment on Capitol Hill and my sister had joined me there while she was going to the University of Washington. My grandparents were living close to my parents south of the city in order to get the extra care they now needed. As I blissfully watched everything but the conventions that summer, my grandparents were once again glued to the television.

As I am sure you are all aware, goofy things happen at the conventions. It is a red letter year when some bizarre event from one convention or the other hasn’t made the national headlines and 1996 was no exception. “Macarena” had spent 14 weeks on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in 1996. The song was everywhere along with the corresponding dance and at the Democratic National Convention, “was frequently played between activities, and large groups of delegates and other attendants would be seen doing the Macarena dance.” [Wikipedia]

Enter my grandmother. In the summer of 1996, she was 75 years old. She also had suffered from a slow progressing form of Parkinson’s disease for several years. As a result, she shuffled when she walked and she had a pronounced tremor. She had sat watching the convention for a week. She heard the song over and over and saw the delegates doing the dance so that when my sister and I arrived home to spend the weekend with our parents, she was ready for us.

We went over to see her as we always did when we came home for the weekend. She practically met us at the door and she was FULL of gossip about the Democratic National Convention. But mostly, she was determined to show us the dance they kept doing. So she stood up and proceeded, “Now they keep doing this dance and they put one arm out like this.” A right arm was shakily thrust out at shoulder height. “And then they put their other arm out like this.” A left arm did the same. “And then they put first one arm and then the other arm behind their head like this.” She almost overbalanced with both arms bent and her hands grasping the back of her neck. “Then they put one hand on their hip like this.” A right arm trembles all the way down until a right hand is resting on her right hip. “And then the other one.” A left hand joins the other but on her left hip. “AND THEN they waggle their hips about.” My 75 year old grandmother managed a hip waggle that would have been the envy of any of the girls in the Macarena video. At this point, all of us are laughing and laughing hard. It was just as well none of us had a full bladder because odds on that one of us would’ve had an accident.

Nearly twenty years later, I can still see in my mind’s eye my gran doing the Macarena and it makes me smile every time. Thanks for the memory!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Motivation

I was listening to NPR on my way home from work recently and they were doing a piece about the Berlin Patient.  He was diagnosed with HIV in 1995 and in 2007 he received a bone marrow stem cell transplant from someone who was immune to HIV.  It turns out about 1% of white people are immune to HIV.  Since his transplant, the Berlin Patient has tested negative for HIV ever since.  They test him regularly and the interview with him was about how they are hopeful that they may have finally found a road that will lead to a cure for this dreadful disease.

What I found intriguing and made me go down a long and winding side road of thought was this: when they asked the man why he continued to participate in testing which was intrusive and time consuming, I anticipated that he would answer something to like "so I can help others who have HIV and hopefully find a cure for the many people around the world stricken with this awful disease" or something along those lines.  Something noble and worthy, that's what I expected his answer to be.  Instead, in a moment of naked and frankly disturbing honesty, he said "I am motivated by guilt."  I actually gasped when he said that.  Instead of a great thankfulness to be alive, he felt guilty.  He carried a huge burden of self-loathing that he had lived while others had died and that was why he continued to participate in testing.  He wasn't motivated by anything good or noble, he was motivated by guilt.

I was flabbergasted and vaguely disappointed by his answer largely because I could not even begin to understand it.  I have heard of survivor's guilt and while I kind of "get it" at the same time I don't.  Obviously I have not walked a mile in this man's shoes and have no idea what brought him to a point where he was motivated by feeling guilty for being alive so I decided to do some hard self examination and look at what truly motivates me.

I finally came to the conclusion that the thing that gets me out of bed everyday was love.  The reason I get up, stagger around while feeding a dog, a cat, packing a husband's lunch, getting cleaned up and off to work was because of the love I have for my husband, my family, my home and my faith.  I was a little concerned when I started down this road that I would find out that I was motivated by something really foolish like money or "stuff" or discontent or even fear.  One never knows when one delves into the depths of one's soul what one will find lurking in a dark cupboard under the stairs.  The more and more I thought about it, the more I realized that the thing that mattered to me was a happy life and that happy life is because it is filled with those I love.

I thought further about what if I didn't have some of the people and things I do have in my life, would I still be so motivated by love and I don't know the answer to that question.  I hope so and I think so.  I thought about if I were to have health trouble and had to rely and be a burden on other people, would love still motivate me.  Again, I like to believe that it would.  I gave further thought about the people I have lost and realized that the memory of the love I had for them and they for me continues to be a driving force in my life.  I thought about why I obey the rules and laws of the land and while fear of punishment is certainly part of why I do, the thought of disappointing or hurting the people I love is the truer reason why I do.  Lastly, I thought about what a large part faith plays in my life and that when one is forgiven much, one loves much.

When I finally came up for air after so much deep cogitation, I felt better about things.  The mundaneness of day to day life can weigh us all down at times and to know what keeps me getting up everyday helps me continue on even when my spirits flag and the flesh is weak.

I am also motivated by a good laugh but that's another story.

Friday, December 9, 2011

How Christmas Got Its Shine Back

Doris Waud is one of the most remarkable people I have ever known. Born in 1920, she grew up in Aldershot, England. She was a young woman when World War II began and she lived through the war years in the military town where the troops were amassed for the D-Day invasion. She used to go up on the hill above the town and watch the Nazi bombs fall on London.

She met and married a Canadian soldier during the war much to her mother’s chagrin. Her mother said, “You could’ve married an English soldier or a Welsh soldier or a Scottish soldier or EVEN an Irish soldier. Why do you have to marry a Canadian soldier?” It wasn’t because the man was objectionable in and of himself. It was the thought of her dear daughter living so far away that bothered her. Godfrey Waud was a good man and he made sure that somehow, they scraped together the money for her to go back and visit at least once every five years while her parents were still living. That was quite a feat on their income.

Fifty years later, she was quite prosaic about the war and I always got the impression that it hadn’t fazed her that much. I was wrong, of course, but my grandmother always seemed to take life in her stride. Doris was my grandmother. I use the past tense because she is past now. I could fill pages with my memories of her and of her memories of her life. She would freely tell my sister and me about it, sometimes because we asked her to and sometimes just spontaneously. I am so glad now that she was so forthcoming with her memories because they are so precious to me now. My little English Gran (the diminutive favored by English children) left a huge hole in my life when she died.

My Gran loved Christmastime. After spending Christmas in England once, I truly understood why she loved the season so much. England does Christmas tremendously. The food, the music, the decorations and everything about Christmas in England is terrific. They celebrate good and proper and most of the country seems to shut down from Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day. We spent just about every Christmas I can remember with my grandparents and very often both sets of grandparents. They were friends before my parents ever got married and my American grandmother would often include them in all the holidays because they didn’t have much family in the United States.

I don’t really remember actual Christmas gifts from my grandmother. What I remember is going to the beautiful apartment on Capitol Hill in Seattle and having Christmas tea on her best dishes. I remember the little artificial tree decorated with bird ornaments and eggs that had been blown out and decorated. I remember her Nativity set which I have always loved. It decorates my home now. I remember how much my grandmother reveled in the season. She loved the carols, she loved the decorations and she wouldn’t for worlds have missed seeing my sister and me in the Christmas play at church every year. Christmas had a shine on it for me because of her.

After her death, Christmas lost some of its bloom for me. I was in my twenties and single. I would still decorate the beautiful apartment on Capitol Hill where I now lived. I would still make cookies and candy and go see A Christmas Carol or The Messiah or The Nutcracker. I would still sing the carols and enjoy going to church and hearing the Christmas story. Each year that passed though, I seemed to be less and less enthusiastic about Christmas. Even now, this time of year brings a little heartache because I miss my Gran with every carol that’s played and every decoration I see.

How did Christmas get its shine back?

His name is John. We have known each other since we were children but five years ago he came back into my life. Four years ago, we were married. Christmastime has always been hard for him. His father died when John and his twin brother were about 8 and their brother Jeff was only 3. It was close to Christmas when they lost him because one of the memories John has of the funeral was that the Christmas decorations were up in town as they drove to the cemetery. Once I was in love with him, it became very important to me for John to have a Merry Christmas from now on if it was in my power to give it to him.

So now Christmas belongs to us. We got our first Christmas tree together the year we were engaged. When he cut the bottom off the Christmas tree's trunk to get it in the stand, he saved the disk of wood and made me a Christmas ornament the next year out of it. He has made one for me every year since. He takes the fresh cut and lets the disk dry out all year. The next year he sands it down, carves our names and the date in it. John drills a hole in it and I put a ribbon from one of our wedding or my shower gifts through it and hang it on the tree. We got a lot of presents for our wedding. Four years later, I still have ribbons from our wedding gifts.

I love to shop for his Christmas and birthday gifts. His birthday is right after Christmas. Like many born so close to the holiday, he has always felt a little cheated when it came to his birthday. I make sure I never buy “this is your birthday/Christmas” gifts. My very favorite thing at Christmas now is to surprise him with something he really wants but had no expectation of getting. He will grin from ear to ear, look at me with eyes that have tears in them and whisper “Thank You”. It makes my year and puts the shine back on Christmas for me.