Tuesday, May 29, 2012

All in a Day's Work....

Sometimes I look at what I have “done” during the day and chastise myself for not doing more.  Since I am retired, I can always do whatever needs to be done “tomorrow” if I want.  Ah, but tomorrow never comes, does it?

So, what did I have to do today that didn’t get done?  Truthfully, nothing.

Maybe I feel guilty because he spent so much of the day outside, mowing the lawn and working in the yard.  I don’t have nearly as much to show for my efforts today….. Let’s see: I have done two loads of laundry, cleaned up the kitchen, put some things away, and worked on my scrapbooking.

Is that enough to do in one day?  Does every day have to have monumental results?  Is there really anyone who would be impressed if I did more?  Or less?

Actually, there is more that I did today.  I was online, finding out more about Harald Hardrada.  He was the King of Norway and my 33rd great grandfather, on my mother’s side.  Funny thing, he tried to conquer England in September of 1066 but died trying.
He was known as the last of the Viking warriors.  After King Edward the Confessor (of England) died, there were three men who claimed the throne: an Englishman, Harold Godwinson, a Norman, William of Normandy, and Harald Hardrada, King of Norway.

After defeating Harald Hardrada at the Battle of Samford Bridge, Harold Godwinson marched his army to Hastings to meet his other foe, William the Conqueror, husband of my 33rd great grandmother on my father’s side, Matilda of Flanders.  Exhausted from the previous battle and forced march, Harold’s army was defeated by the Norman.  What my maternal ancestors couldn’t accomplish, my paternal ancestors could.

No wonder I’m so tired…


Monday, May 28, 2012

Forgotten Heroes...

On Memorial Day, we honor those who died in service to our country.  To all of them, throughout the history of our country, I am grateful.  And to a special group of veterans who are near and dear to my heart, I am especially grateful.

Vietnam was my generation’s war.  Every corner of this country was touched by the loss of sons, brothers, sweethearts, fathers, and husbands.  Some 58,000 Americans gave their lives in the Vietnam War.   They were drafted, or enlisted.  They were America’s future, the generation that would lead the nation into the next millennium.  They were my friends…

Some who went to Vietnam did not carry weapons.  They did not go through Boot Camp.  They didn’t jump out of airplanes, rarely walked through jungles, trying not to be ambushed, didn’t fly choppers, or build bases.

They were the registered nurses who went to Vietnam to care for the troops, to treat the sick and wounded.  They were volunteers.  Whether they felt a patriotic duty to serve, or not, they were committed to caring for those who needed their help and expertise.

As the choppers landed, those nurses rushed out and triaged patients, deciding who could be saved and who couldn’t.  Performing tracheotomies, starting IV’s, infusing blood, giving pain medications and dressing horrific wounds, they spent long hours living with trauma, death, and dying.

Moreover, they became mothers and sweethearts to young men whose lives were cut short.  “Yes, I’ll be right here with you.  Yes, I’m holding your hand.  Yes, I’ll tell your mother that you were brave, and your sweetheart that you love her.”   They saw too many young men die, holding their hands.  They promised too many young men that they would write to their mothers.  They cried more tears than the oceans could hold.

Some died when hospitals were bombed.  Some came back to the States and suffered the consequences of exposure to Agent Orange.  Some woke in the night, sweating and hysterical, as they lived the war in their dreams, all over again. Some came back and furthered their nursing education.  Some quit nursing altogether.  And all of them were/are heroes, too.

To those who ministered to the sick and dying American soldiers serving in Vietnam, I am eternally grateful for your service to your country and to your fellow man.

God Bless all of you!


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Another Birthday...

Another year has passed.  I’m another year older and, hopefully, another year wiser…

I remember my mother’s last birthday: she turned 65.  I was in a real quandary, trying to think of something to give her for her birthday.  She had everything she wanted, so there wasn’t much left for me to give her.
After spending a very long time wandering around the mall, hoping something would inspire me, I went in the Hallmark store.  On the end of an aisle, perched among other photo albums, was the perfect one.  It was a lovely white, leather-like material with seashells embossed on the bottom, right corner.  Eureka!

I had found the perfect gift to give a woman who had everything, and was leaving on a cruise to the South Pacific in just a week or so.  It was a little pricey but I decided to get it anyway since it was such a perfect gift.

My parents went out to dinner for her birthday, and then stopped by my house to see us and have cake and ice cream.  I proudly presented her with my carefully-selected gift, nearly unable to contain my enthusiasm.  It was going to be so great to see her smile and exclaim over that beautiful album!

She opened it, looked at it, and without expression on her face or in her voice, she simply stated: “I already bought albums for the cruise…..”  I was crestfallen.  Crushed.  And  hurt, too.  I had tried so hard and failed so miserably.   She did realize what she said and hastily said “thank you!” but it was too late…

So, on my birthday, now that I am of a certain age, I worry about my children putting too much effort into trying to find me the right gift.  After all, I DO have everything …..already.

Not to worry: I received gift cards for my birthday from each of the kids.  “Buy something for yourself” was the phrase that went with the gift, spoken or unspoken.  And that was fine with me…

You see, they each gave me much more than a gift card.  Their present was their presence.  Their presence in my home, on my birthday, and their presence in my life every day.  My daughter only had one day off before working the weekend, and a million things she needed to do at home.  Instead she drove to Podunk and spent the day with me, even taking me out to lunch.

My son stopped by after work, before going home.  It was Friday night and I know he was tired and anxious to get home and relax, yet he spent nearly two hours with me, sitting around the table and chatting about his life and his plans and his interests…

When the day was over, I was very tired and very happy: It was one of the best birthdays ever.  In this frenetically-paced life we live, two of the most important people in my life took the time to be with me and just visit.  Giving me the gift of their presence speaks volumes to me.

Whatever I am, or am not, I am loved…


Thursday, May 24, 2012

First Voyage

Recently, when cleaning out boxes in the closet, I came across a treasure.  No, not savings bonds, or rare coins, or the deed to a gold mine.   I found a story written by my father.  And hand-written by him in calligraphy….

On the cover, he wrote: To my beloved daughter….From Daddy, Christmas 1979

I couldn’t remember seeing it before, yet I obviously did.  I suspect that, since I was working night shift at that time, and had to leave his home to go to work on Christmas Eve, I probably didn’t give it more than a cursory look after he gave it to me.  I know I didn’t read it….

It was a different time then.  He was alive and well.  I was a fairly new RN, working the night shift, married, and raising three children.  Daddy was always in my life, and I couldn’t imagine his being gone from me any time soon, so there was no rush to read his story.

How things have changed.  Daddy has been gone for almost 15 years now.   And somehow, this booklet, with his story, has surfaced again.  What was once a simple Christmas gift has taken on much greater meaning: it is no longer just a story, it is Daddy’s legacy.  To me.  From him. 

I was shaking as I opened the booklet.  On the first page are the words “First Voyage”…..  I was intrigued.   As I read the next page, and the next, I was enthralled.  It is a story of my father’s first trip to Europe, as a young man, and it is a delightful recounting of a trip, yes, but also of a young man who later became my father.

His words make me smile:

"Other eight-year-olds had toy ducks floating in their bathtubs.  I had a wind-up scale model of a World War I battleship.  I wore navy blue “sailor suits” in the winter, and white in the summer.  Both came from Brooks Brothers in New York, where my dad bought his clothes."

There was never any question in my mind as to what I would be when I “grew up”: I would be either Captain of a big liner, or Admiral-in-Chief, U.S. Navy."

He relates that his father met Lord Louis Mountbatten, and through him, Captain Arthur Rostron, RNR, captain of Cunard Line’s HMS Mauretania, “fastest liner in the world”….  He was Captain of the Mauretania when the Titanic sank and was awarded a special Congressional Medal for rescuing the survivors…

As his parents became fast friends with Captain Rostron, they had lunch with him every other Saturday when the Mauretania was in New York.  "I had complete run of the ship; I knew Mauretania from keelson to truck."  Captain Rostron became Sir Arthur Rostron when my father was a teenager. 

The rest of the story is about his first sea voyage.  He was 23, footloose and fancy free.  "Despite youthful dreams of a maritime career, a shrinking Navy, limited berths in the Merchant Marine, and—above all—the Great Depression—made nautical openings hard to find."

So, in 1935, he embarked on the S.S. Black Tern (“a Hog Island single-screw well-deck cargo vessel, built in 1919, and refitted in 1930 with an oil-fueled GE steam turbine, multiple gear power plant.”) He worked his passage as an Ordinary Seaman.  For the grand sum of .01 cent, he worked his way from New York City to Antwerp, Belgium.

In his story, he recounts the tasks he was assigned while aboard ship: polishing the “bright”, chipping paint, and painting, battening down the hatches, and coiling wire cargo halyards, among other things.  The captain took a liking to him and let him stand watch on the bridge. 

As he recounts his voyage, I learn more about my father as a person.  I read his words, first scribbled in his journal, during the journey.  I feel as if I have met my father as a young man.  A man who worked hard and had the respect of his shipmates.  A man who enjoyed the beauty of the ocean and the stars and wasn’t afraid of hard work. 

As the voyage came to an end, he writes:

”For the first time in more than a week, the sea is calm.  No rolling, no pitching, whatsoever.  The water is almost an emerald green.  All about us are ships and birds. To port, we can see the chalk cliffs of Cornwall.  We steam past Penzance, and a thrill runs up my spine at the memories the name evokes of high school operetta days when a certain work-away sailor was Major General Stanley in ‘The Pirates of Penzance.’”

The adventure ends at a restaurant in Antwerp: four shipmates met for lunch and then split the check four ways: 45 cents each.  Daddy was leaving for Brussels and the World’s Fair the next morning.  As he said goodbye to his shipmates, they went off in one direction and he went in another….

The voyage was over, and a new adventure was about to begin…..


Wednesday, May 23, 2012


No, not the nameless faces in a movie crowd scene or the toppings on a pizza…… I’m talking about people, and the little things they do, every day, for others.

Today was the day we had an appointment at the DMV.  We rushed through a smog inspection first, and then off to the land of wait-in-line.  It’s not the first time we have attempted to register his Honda in California and get new license plates.  The last time, our DMV was closed, so we went to another nearby town.  As we pulled into the parking lot, the line was out the door and around the corner…..we went home.

As he was talking to a man behind the counter, another employee told me to “move over” so she could help another customer.  I was taken aback but then remembered where I was and obediently moved over….

We sat in the sea of people and listened to a variety of languages being spoken, and sob stories about misplaced pink slips or “undeserved” tickets….  When it was our turn, the gentleman who waited on us was very courteous and helpful.  He even loaned us a screwdriver to get the license plates off the car: no new plates without turning in the old plates.

As I stood at the window, writing the check for the registration, he went out with the screw driver to get the plates off the car.  The look on his face when he came back in told me that it didn’t go well.  Not only was the screw driver not the appropriate tool to get the plates off, but he locked his keys in the trunk….

Now it was my turn to go outside and call AAA.  The very nice woman I spoke to told me that she would have someone out to help me “within a half an hour”………I explained that we were at the DMV, being waited on, and could it be sooner?  She said she would make us a priority call….

I went back inside with the DMV clerk to finish the paperwork while he stayed by the car to wait for the tow truck driver.  He came back in after only five minutes: the tow truck had already been there and retrieved the keys. 

We made an appointment to come back in an hour and a half, with the license plates, and then went home to try to get them off.  No luck….  So, I called the only person I could think of who might be able to help us soon: the contractor who is remodeling our kitchen.
And yes, he came over within half an hour of my call.  And with a few attempts to find just the right tool, he got the screws off and our license plates, too.  It didn’t hurt that we squirted WD-40 around the screws before he got there….

We rushed back to the DMV, paperwork and license plates in hand.  As we stood in “Line 1”, waiting to get a number, the man who helped us earlier spotted us and motioned us to come over to his counter.  Within five minutes, the paperwork was complete and we had our California license plates and were out the door….

I honestly believe that we get back what we give out.  I think it’s human nature to be kind to those who are kind to us.  I’d like to think that kindness is contagious, truly….  I do appreciate the smog guy, the DMV guy, the AAA guy, and our contractor, for turning a difficult situation into a positive experience….



Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Holding On....Letting Go...

(Written a couple of months ago…)

My daughter is a scrapbooker.  Online and “for reals” too….  She called me today and asked me about this photograph and what I might remember about it…

Not much, since I was less than two years old.  I did know where it was taken: at the Santa Monica Pier….  I don’t remember the stuffed animal at all.  Or the circumstances of the visit to the merry-go-round.

I have shared photos with all my children.  I load them onto my Photobucket account and have allowed them to view what is there.  In return, I am a “guest” on their photo accounts and can grab pictures that they have posted.

It’s funny:  when my father died, my brothers divided up the pictures.  Some of the ones I wanted to have were kept by one or the other of my brothers.  These days, they could just scan them and load them on the internet and we could all have copies of the special pictures.

Special pictures.  That’s what I need to remember and hold close.  Those memories and photographs that will forever be in my head and my heart.   No one can take them away from me.  Of course, Alzheimer’s would take them away but I wouldn’t care, would I?

I spoke to my brother last week and got some disturbing news: it seems that there’s a remote possibility that, when my stepmother dies, I could lose my home.  I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut.  I have put more than $200,000 into purchasing this home and repairing/restoring it and I would hate to have that all be in vain.  I am going to hire a real estate lawyer to help me sort things out.   It won’t be easy, but it’s necessary.

In the meantime, I will enjoy what I have today, as it might be gone tomorrow.   My daughter’s scrapbooking project brought me back from the brink.  Nothing can happen that I cannot handle.  I will do what I need to do to keep my home, yet prepare for the worst, too.

And I will remember that what matters in life are those people in those photographs.  They will live in my heart forever, if not in my mind….


Monday, May 21, 2012

Ordinary Days...

Today was just a day.  Just like any other, more or less.  For me, anyway….

Yet, as I think about it, I can’t tell you how many babies were born today.  I do know that we have surpassed 7 billion people on this planet….  And I don’t know how many people died today, but quite a few, I’m sure.   So my own, ordinary day, was somebody’s birthday.  And someone else passed on from this veil of tears.

Perhaps it was the actual birth day of someone’s long-awaited baby.  Or perhaps it marked the end of suffering and pain for someone else’s beloved family member, or friend.

And today, somewhere, somebody moved into their new home, making their dreams come true.  And someone else was forced to leave his home, after fighting foreclosure.  And still someone else lost their home to a fire, or a flood, or some other natural disaster.

Today, somebody ate too much, and promised herself she would go on a diet tomorrow.  Someone else has an aching emptiness in his stomach, from day after day of not having enough to eat.  And somewhere else, a teenage girl looked in a mirror and saw a “fat pig”……and won’t eat anything at all.

Someone is recovering from surgery today.  Some surgical procedure was done that was not even heard of twenty years ago.  A life saved.  And somewhere, the organs were harvested from someone who lost their fight for life, and in return, their organs will save the lives of countless others.

Somewhere, a father hugged his child today.  A mother picked up her children at daycare and took them home and fixed their supper.  And somewhere else, a mother sobs unrelenting tears, frightened and separated from her child.  Somewhere, a kidnapped child is living the terror that no child should ever know.

Today, a child received an award in school for being the best at math.  Or language.  Or sports.  And elsewhere on this little blue ball, another child sits in the dirt and longs to be able to go to school and learn.  Today, a teacher inspired a young mind to grow up to be a scientist and discover the cure for cancer.  And today, a scientist in a research lab got one step closer to a cure for diabetes.  Or muscular dystrophy.  Or asthma.

As I sit here, complacently, thinking that I had a good day but an ordinary day.  People all over the world are proving me wrong.  Life is not ordinary, even on the most ordinary day.  It is a fascinating dance between us and this thing we call Life.  It is as much, or as little as we make of it…..

There are no ordinary days….


Sunday, May 20, 2012


Yesterday, as I got out of my car and started walking towards the entrance to Walgreen’s, there was a woman standing at the Red Box movie rental kiosk.  She looked familiar.  Very familiar.  I didn’t say anything to her because I knew it couldn’t be who I thought it was.  Paula moved to the coast a couple of years ago, so she wouldn’t be in Podunk on a hot Saturday afternoon, would she?

I went to the photo counter and picked up the photos from our trip to Monterey.  We weren’t going to stop at Walgreen’s today but, it was on the way home…..

As I came out of the store, I was disappointed to see a young kid at the Red Box kiosk.  I had missed my chance to see if it was Paula, I guess…  And then I noticed the gray SUV pulling out of the parking space right next to mine: the lady at the kiosk was driving it.

She looked right at me and I knew it was Paula.  I pointed a finger at her.  She grinned and pulled back into her parking space.  Hugs, grins, tears, and a lot of catching up ensued.   I was her mentor when she came to work in the Home Health Agency.  We spent many work days together, seeing patients, helping her conquer the computer program, and laughing.  Sore stomach kinda laughing…

She still comes back to Podunk once a month to work a weekend in Nuclear Medicine at the hospital.  This was that weekend. And the time I decided to pick up my photos was the exact, same time she decided to look for a movie.


As if that wasn’t wonderful enough, when I got home, the mail had arrived.  There were the usual things in the mail, and there was a magazine: “Coastal Living”.  I couldn’t figure out how I had gotten it, I didn’t subscribe to it, but there was my name on the mailing sticker, so it’s mine.

This morning, when I was reading it, I showed it to my husband and told him I didn’t know how I got it. “That’s easy: I ordered it for you.”  Another surprise: he’s ordered another magazine for me, too.   I quickly admonished him to not tell me what it was.  I want to be surprised! Another smile…

And earlier this afternoon, he went out and washed my car.  My poor, little Prius was filthy and now he’s clean and shiny!  I didn’t ask to have him washed, but I do appreciate the effort and the results.

Just a few minutes ago, I found a friend on Facebook.  I invited her to be my friend and she accepted.  We IM'd each other, via FB, for several minutes.  I hadn't been able to talk to her in awhile, so finding her on FB was another pleasant surprise...

Little, positive surprises.  That’s what makes getting up each morning such a treat.  What will the day bring?  What’s in store for me?  And mostly, will I be aware, and in the moment enough to appreciate it?

I surely hope so!


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Comfort Zone...

(Written in February of this year….)

I just put a batch of brownies in the oven.  It’s a cold, rainy Saturday afternoon and a little dessert after supper tonight sounds good. 

Ah, but working in a partially demo’d kitchen presents interesting problems.  The ingredients for the brownies are in the cupboard in the laundry room.  The wooden spoon to mix them, in the family room.  I have choices, too: bake them in the oven, which still works, or bake them in the toaster oven, in the front bathroom.

I chose the oven.  In the kitchen.  Habit, I guess….

The mixing bowl and brownie pan were both still in the kitchen, but both needed to be washed before using them: plaster dust.  We are mostly through with the plaster dust now.  But some still lingers in the cupboards and drawers.  But that’s nothing new: the drawers, over sixty years old, rub wood on wood when I open and close them, so anything I use out of a drawer has to have the sawdust washed off of it…

Having traveled extensively in an RV, I know that it doesn’t take much space to cook a meal, or wash the dishes.  I also know that food containers can be squirreled away in any nook or cranny, if need be.  So, having a kitchen that only partially functions is not such a big deal.

It’s nice to be able to function outside of my comfort zone.  How many people can do that?  How many of us have to have things “just so” in our kitchens?  In our lives?  How many of us are uncomfortable when things vary from the norm?

Well, I think it’s a good thing to wander beyond the limits of our comfortable place in life.  That’s how we learn new things.  And see new places.  And meet new people.  If we stay put, in that comfort zone, we are cut off from the possibility of new and different adventures, aren’t we?

Besides, at our age, we ought to have enough self-confidence to know that we are capable of doing things we have never tried.  Or eating something new and different.  Or participating in an activity we have only watched before….

Of course, there are times when we have to have our ducks in a row, most certainly.  As a nurse, I could never give a medication until I had verified that I was giving the right medication, in the right dose, to the right patient, by the right route, and at the right time.  No deviation from that was tolerable, period.

But this is life, not work.  This is trying sushi, not giving medications.  This is fun, not a chore.  Trying something new is an adventure.  Failing at something new is okay.  At least you tried.  Well, failing at bungee jumping, or skydiving might have consequences, but not most things…..right?

So, are you willing to step out of your comfort zone?  And try something new?


Tuesday, May 15, 2012


I really identify with that.  And I’m a survivor, too….

I think creativity in our lives is as important as eating.  One nourishes the body, the other nourishes the soul.  The id.  The ego.  The identity.  The survivor in all of us.

There are as many ways to be creative as there are people on this earth.  Writing a journal or blog is one way.  Painting masterpieces is another.  But then, so is arranging one’s memories into a scrapbook, or decorating a mailbox.  Or cooking something special for supper.

Writing, drawing, painting, photographing, paper-folding, baking, arranging, stirring, putting, etc.  It’s all active, not passive.  Taking something imagined and turning it into something visible.  Or audible.  Or tactile; that’s creativity. 

Yes, creativity is not about BE-ing, really.  It’s about DO-ing.  It’s about rising above the mundane into a world limited only by our imagination.  A world colored with crayons of our choice.  A world cut and pasted and smashed into a scrapbook we fondly refer to as our Life.

Creativity is one of those things that puts smiles on our faces.  The joy of creating something out of something else, or from nothing, is truly addictive, in a good way.  Being able to see beyond something’s intended purpose and making it something much more wonderful and joyful, is quite an accomplishment, I think.

Sometimes, being still and quiet and enjoying the beauty all around us is enough.  Other times, it is the doing that inspires us….

How about you?  Did your child survive?


Monday, May 14, 2012

Common People...

I hear frequently about the common people and I had to look it up.  It means what I thought:  “The terms common people, the masses, or commoners denote a broad social division referring to regular people who are members of neither the nobility or the priesthood.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_people

I hear people say that this or that is “not of the common people.”   It made me wonder if I am common.  Ordinary.  Part of the group: The Common People.  I am.  And I am not.  Mostly, I am.

Common in that I was born and raised by people who were born and raised by people who were not nobility.  Or priests.  I went to school, graduated, got married and had children.  When they were small, I went back to school and got my RN degree.

Those children grew up and now I have grandchildren.   I pay taxes.  They pay taxes.  Until this past June, I worked for a living and filled out my time card.  I worked holidays, weekends, nights and overtime.  I was a staff nurse, a charge nurse, and a nurse manager. 

I vote.  I grocery shop.  I drive to the coast.  I go to the gym.  I am now familiar with Social Security and Medicare paperwork and have filled out my fair share.  I own my own home.  I pay property taxes, school taxes, sales taxes and all the rest of the taxes levied on me.

I participate in my community.  I give to charities.  I spend time and money in my hometown.   I enjoy the mountains and the coast and go there as often as I can.  So, am I a common person?  I think I am, based on what I have said here.

Others say I am not.  Why?  Because I live a “charmed life”.  I have a home, two cars and money in the bank.  I am not suffering financially.  Nor can I go out and spend an exorbitant amount of money on something that I don’t need.  I manage.  I manage well.

I took advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves.  I didn’t settle for a short vocational course; I took the hard road and became an RN.  It wasn’t easy, but I did it.  With that diploma, I opened doors to greater earning potential.  I earned more money in my pension.  I earned a greater amount of Social Security.
And I worked hard.  Nothing about nursing is easy: mentally, emotionally or physically.  So why do some not consider me a common person?  Because I have more education, got a better job, and was a better steward of my money?  Or maybe I was just lucky…..

To have others chastise what I am, or what I have, as being beyond the realm of “common” irritates me.  Creating a caste system of “haves” and “have nots” does nothing to mend the ills in this country.  Each of us made our choices and each of us is reaping the rewards of those choices.  Good or bad, we made those choices.

What makes this country great is the ability of each of us to make the most of the opportunities that present themselves.  That doesn’t mean that there won’t be obstacles, or that they will be easy to overcome.  Those events that do not kill us make us stronger, and those opportunities that we take test our mettle at times.

If you have less, that doesn’t make you less.   If you tear yourself up, envying what others have, you won’t increase your own stature in any way.  Learning to recognize that we are where we are as a consequence of the choices that we made takes courage.  And maturity.  And a willingness to own our own course in this life.

It’s what makes us who were are: common people….


Sunday, May 13, 2012

To Honor My Mother...

It’s here again.  Mother’s Day.   And I am remembering my mother….

In working on my family tree, I have traced both her biological parents and her adoptive parents.  The former were immigrants from Germany.  The latter were an older, childless couple: he from an old St. Louis family, and she a German war bride.  He was a surgeon serving in the Army during WWI and she drove an ambulance….

My mother was orphaned at 8, having lost her mother to cancer and her father to the bottle.  He couldn’t manage 3 children, so they were put up for adoption.  She found a home within a year, but her older sister and younger brother languished in the orphanage for a couple more years after she left.

I remember her smell.  She wore “Evening in Paris” and I loved its fragrance.  I remember her soft skin as I rubbed my hand along her arm, waiting to ask a question.  I remember her voice, gentle as a breeze, but with sharp edges when I had misbehaved.  Fortunately, that wasn’t often.

I remember her clothes.  She had a lovely figure and the clothes to go with it.  There was a gray, wool suit, with red flowers on the shoulders, like epaulets.  She looked lovely in that suit, with her hat and the netting in front of her yes.

I remember her handwriting: each letter perfect.  When I asked how she could write so beautifully, her answer was simple: “Catholic school.”   She wrote letters to me, infrequently, and they are full of her perfectly formed cursive writing.  A treasure, to this day….

I remember her laughter.  It wasn’t quiet, or “lady-like”…..  When she finally “got” Daddy’s jokes, she would laugh and snort until she cried.  No one in the room was able to keep from laughing with her.  I remember one hot and ugly summer day: she took us to the movies to see Lucy and Dezi in “The Long Trailer.”  The movie was funny, but Mother’s laugh warmed my heart.

I remember her tears.  They filled her eyes and languished there, afraid to run down her cheeks.  She cried as quietly as she laughed loudly.  Deep, deep tears of sorrow, shaking her body and making her sick.  They didn’t happen often but, when they did, they cast a pall over the house….

I remember the last time I saw her, as surely as if it was yesterday.  She was having trouble getting ready to go on a cruise.  She couldn’t think of what to pack.  Only in hindsight did I realize that she was suffering from memory problems.  And I can only conjecture what actually happened to her, as she was 8000 miles away, on a cruise ship, in international waters.  A stroke or an aneurysm is my best guess.

And I remember the day Daddy came home on the plane from that trip.  We were all there to greet him.  Somehow, I didn’t believe that what was true…..was true.  With my two older children on either side of me, I kept my gaze glued to the open door of that airplane, till every last person had disembarked, waiting to see my mother.  And then, I nearly sank to the ground.  And would have, if my children had not caught me.

I remember how it felt to know that truth.  That she was not ever coming home again.  And now, nearly 30 years later, it still stings….  And yet, life goes on.  I am now older than my mother lived to be.  Of course, I didn’t smoke for 50 years, either…..

So, today, I have to say: “Happy Mother’s Day, Momby”…….  You are loved and missed, dearly.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Lady with the Lamp...

She was born into a wealthy English family, on May 12, 1820, and given the name of the city in which she was born: Florence,  Italy….

In Victorian England, women who were “high born” were not educated, nor did they pursue a career.  Their “career” was to marry well and birth and raise children.  Imagine her mother’s horror when Florence told her that she had been called, by God, to undertake a nursing career.

Not that there really was a profession of nursing at that time.  Or schools of nursing.  Or registered nurses.  But there certainly was a need for nurses.   With support and encouragement from the British Secretary of War, Sidney Herbert, Florence and 38 nurses she had trained went to Crimea to provide care for the sick and wounded soldiers.

Most of those soldiers didn’t have a chance to die from their war wounds.  They died of typhoid, typhus, cholera or dysentery.  Massive infections were rampant.  Conditions were primitive and unclean.  And every night, after lights out, a lone female figure walked through the hospital corridors, checking on patients and ministering to their needs.  The Lady with the Lamp….

The London Times: “She is a ‘ministering angel’ without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow's face softens with gratitude at the sight of her. When all the medical officers have retired for the night and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds,”

Almost two hundred years later, the nursing profession is thriving.  Schools of nursing produce new graduate nurses every year.  State Boards of Registered Nursing administer testing, and license those who pass the test and the background check.  State Nurse Practice Acts govern the body of work that we perform, deciding what we can do and what we cannot do.

And we can do so much more, two hundred years after Florence Nightingale.  Nurses become Nurse Practitioners, Registered Nurse First Assistants (in the operating room), Certified Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and more…

Yet, we owe what we are and what we do to the vision of that young Victorian English woman, a woman with a calling, and the gumption to make it work.  The Lady with the Lamp.  As I sit here, looking at the nursing pin I received so many years ago, I am reminded of both the dignity and the humility of nursing.

And I am reminded of Florence Nightingale.  On her birthday, May 12, we will once again celebrate the proud heritage of our profession,  International Nurses’ Day.


A few old photos for you to enjoy:

And a few more current ones:

Friday, May 11, 2012


Sunday afternoon was hot and muggy.  The air quality was poor, so we stayed indoors.  Not much to do but look around on the internet.  And I found some interesting things.

I found my best friend from childhood.  She went away to a private high school and then on to college but, up until the summer after the eighth grade, we were inseparable.  When she was home from high school in the summer, we would hang out and go waterskiing frequently.

By the time she got married, and had her wedding in our local church, I was already married and had two children.  After the wedding, I didn’t see her again for almost five years.  She came to visit, spent the night, and we talked as if we had never been apart.  She was in the process of getting a divorce and wanted to know what I had done to make my marriage work.

I had no clue….really.  But we had a wonderful visit and promised to keep in touch.  I didn’t see her again for almost 25 years.  I was invited to attend her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration.  It was bittersweet.  Our lives had changed so drastically.  We were both in a second marriage, and both had children.

She had gone to divinity school and become an Episcopal priest.  I went back to school and became a registered nurse.  She lived in San Francisco.  I was still in Podunk.  The bonds of the past were broken….  Yet, we exchanged addresses and phone numbers and promised each other we would keep in touch.

It didn’t  happen.   Not her fault, or mine, really.  We live in different worlds, that’s all.

So, yesterday, when I found her written up on Wikipedia, I wasn’t really surprised.  She has gone on to become an Episcopal Bishop: only the 12th female Episcopal Bishop in the United States.  Moreover, she is the first Latina bishop in the Episcopal Church. 

As I said, it wasn’t surprising at all.  I always knew she would do big things.  She had the intelligence (she majored in calculus in college, for Pete’s sake), the drive, and the spirituality/calling necessary to get where she is.  I am so happy for her, and proud that she is my friend.

I looked up another friend: Yale Law, class of ’74.  And another: professor emeritus at UC Santa Barbara.  Oh my, what happened to me?

Is that the little green monster speaking?  Perhaps.  And, although I am thrilled for them, I have to compare them to me.  What happened?  I never left Podunk!!

And there’s the rub.  Choices.  I sabotaged my own future, in a way, by getting married and having children when I was still a teenager myself.  Ah, poor me?  No.  My choices.  My doing.  And I have to remember that.  Always.

Another very close friend of mine, from kindergarten through junior college, is a PharmD.  She went to pharmacy school in Stockton, right after junior college.  I remember one day, at the end of summer, she came to visit me at my apartment.

We had a wonderful time catching up on what each of us was doing.  Again, it was as if we had never been apart.  As she got ready to leave, she asked me if I would like to go with her to shop for clothes for school.  Looking down at my bare feet, I had to tell her “no.”   She was footloose and fancy free; I had a baby asleep in the other room.


I worked several years ago with an LVN who became a good friend.  She lamented that I made “so much more money” than she did, yet she worked just as hard as I did.  At first, I didn’t know what to say.  And then I just said “it’s choices, Rena.  I chose to become an RN.  You chose to become an LVN.”   She told me that the RN program was “too hard” with children at home.   Not true, but it’s the choice she made.

So, I’m not an Episcopal Bishop, or a lawyer, or a Professor Emeritus in the UC system.  I’m just me.  I am the product of the choices that I have made.  I am not “published” nor do I have a body of work that is summarized on Wikipedia.  I never won a lawsuit or approached the bench.

My claim to fame, such as it is, is being the best possible me.  No excuses, no regrets, no jealousy even.  I wish my friends all the success in the world. 

And I have achieved mine….


Thursday, May 10, 2012


I have a little rock on my desk.  It’s painted gold and has “Believe” carved on it.  It was a Christmas gift from my very best friend.

Believe.  What does that mean?  The dictionary says it means “to have confidence in the truth, the existence, or the reliability of something, although without absolute proof that he is right in doing so ….”

Whether the belief is psychological or religious doesn’t matter.  Holding that confidence in the truth of something is what matters.  Knowing that I don’t have to “prove” anything matters, too.  I am free to be me…..and to believe what I believe.

The things most of us believe are a product of the years we have been on this planet.  Our experiences, our education, our environment, and those who have been in our lives have influenced both our beliefs and our ability to believe in anything or anybody.

Beliefs form the basis of our self-evaluations and our self-confidence.  If I believe that I cannot do something, I will probably, subconsciously, prove myself right…  But, if I believe that I CAN do something, I will prejudice myself to succeed.  At least, that’s what I believe.

And I don’t believe in resignation, for the most part.  To resign is to accept what might not be acceptable.  To settle for less than we want, or need.  To put upper limits on our abilities.  To believe, falsely, that there is no room for better ways or better days.

I am not resigned to living a lesser life.   I am dedicated to the belief that, no matter what comes along, I will be able to make the best of it.  And survive.  More than survive….thrive.  I believe in the power of the human mind and spirit to overcome supposedly insurmountable odds.  I believe that, given an opportunity, I can make the very most of it for myself and for others.

Call it what you want: belief, stubbornness, stupidity, or maybe just hope….  I will continue to do everything in my power to make my life all that it can be.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

An Officer and a Gentle Man....

It was October, 1929.  As the Stock Market crashed, a young man, not quite eighteen, was finishing high school and looking forward to going to Columbia University. 

He worked summers, during high school, as a soda jerk.  With the fall of Wall Street, the money he had in savings was taken by his parents to cover living expenses.  He told me that he only found out the money was gone after they took it.  Starting at Columbia in September, 1930, he worked at various jobs to pay for school.

Unfortunately, working when he could and going to school didn’t work.  He worked as a golf instructor and his grades suffered.  He attended school in the fall of 1930, but had to take the spring semester off to earn more money.  At some point, he gave up on going to Columbia University and just worked to help support himself and his parents.

Older and wiser, that same man enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1943.  Even though he was too old for the draft, he wasn’t too old to serve his country.  And that’s what he told his young wife who was pregnant with their first child.

Newly enlisted in the Marines, at the age of thirty-one, he was hoping to become an officer.  On his application, he wrote: ”Although I have regretted always not having been able to finish college, I feel, nonetheless, that I have managed to acquire an equivalent education.”   With his application, he included several letters of recommendation.

From his employer:  We can unqualifiedly endorse his character, intelligence, initiative, and dependability.

From the general manager of a company that he had dealings with: He always impressed me as being honest and trustworthy, a patriotic citizen, a person who had the ability to accept responsibility and to command the respect of others.
His work has always been such as to require initiative, imagination and leadership, and I unhesitatingly endorse him as an applicant for a commission in the armed services.

A half dozen more letters of recommendation were sent on his behalf from people in the business world who knew him and knew what a good officer he would make.   By July of 1943, the recommendation for commission as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps had been approved.  By the time the war was over, he was a Captain.  And before he resigned from the USMC Reserves in the early 1960’s, he had attained the rank of Major.

This was all new to me when I read it last summer.  I sent for his military records and found out he never graduated from college.  I always assumed he had, yet he never said he did.  He talked of his college years with fondness.  Little did I know that the Great Depression, which changed so many lives, had changed his, too.

It doesn’t change how I feel about him.  He was the best father anyone could ask for.  Always finding time to teach his children the things he thought they ought to know.  I will never forget the stories he told, the books he read to us, the encouragement and support he offered, and the kind words that he shared always…

He was, and always will be, my Daddy!


Monday, May 7, 2012

From Podunk to Windsor Castle, Oh My!

How many presidents have served our country since Elizabeth II was crowned Queen of England?  Can you remember all of them?  Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan,  George H. W. Bush, William J. Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama…..to be exact.

Eleven presidents, a lot of history, and sixty years have come and gone since a young Elizabeth II was crowned Queen in 1952.  Amazing, isn’t it?

I suppose I am distantly related to Elizabeth II, considering that Matilda of Flanders, wife of William the Conqueror, is a relative of mine….  It’s a connection too far-removed to even consider, really…

Ah, but a there is another connection between the Queen and me.  Well, not me, but my hometown, Podunk.  You see, the Queen wants REAL cowboys to participate in the celebration of her Diamond Jubilee.  Real horse-riding, trick-roping, standing in the saddle cowboys.  Actually, cowgirls.  Or, as their group is known: The Riata Ranch Cowboy Girls.

I remember Riata Ranch from my teenage years.  Several of my friends and acquaintances from school were members of their riding group.  They used to “barrel race” at the annual rodeo.  I remember that they even appeared at Madison Square Garden a couple of times…

And now, they are getting their six minutes’ of fame, appearing at Windsor Castle, along with a stage coach and all the accoutrements of cowboy life, in jolly old England.  For the Queen….on her Jubilee.

Is that cool, or what?


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Paint Your Wagon...

It’s not the best movie ever made, by a long shot.  Not even in the top ten, for sure.  So, why is “Paint Your Wagon” my favorite movie of all time?  And why am I blogging about it?  Well, this one’s for Ben.  He mentioned it to me in an email, so here goes:

After careful thought, most of this afternoon, I think I know why it’s my favorite movie.  There’s plenty to like about it, believe it or not….

There are the scripted lines:

Mrs. Fenty: You should read the Bible, Mr. Rumson (Lee Marvin’s character). 
Ben Rumson: I have read the Bible, Mrs. Fenty. 
Mrs. Fenty: Didn't that discourage you about drinking? 
Ben Rumson: No, but it sure killed my appetite for readin'! 

Legend has it that Lee Marvin didn’t take a sober breath during the filming…..  Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t.  Either way, he was very much in character…..

There is the scenery: an 1849 mining town in the California Gold Country……..that was, uh, filmed in Oregon. 

There’s the sheer numbers of extras: all “hippies” from Oregon.  It was 1969, you know….

There’s a young Clint Eastwood, the “hunk” in the movie.  Of course, he wasn’t as famous then as he later became, as Dirty Harry.  Or even as the mayor of Carmel, CA…..

Sometimes the stars just line up in a fashion that makes things magical.   I was a lot younger, then.  And I had two small children.  My husband and I couldn’t afford to go out very often so I didn’t see that many movies on the big screen. 

Ah, the big screen.  And the sound.  And the music.  And the chorus listed in the credits only as “the Chorus”…….And Harve Presnell singing Maria.  And, and, and…….Lee Marvin singing I was born under a wandering star……

That’s it.  That’s what I loved about it.  The music and the haunting chorus.  It was a benign, feel-good movie, shown at a time in my life when I needed to see it.  With songs I can still hear in my head…

And I saw it at the Fremont Theater in San Luis Obispo, CA…..on a Saturday night, 42 years ago.