Fado, Tempura and Tulips

January 14th, 2012 by Karen

We’ve been back from Vegas for a couple of days and, with the exception of a profoundly upsetting dream (so fun!), it’s been a great week. We had a lovely time with our entire team in Vegas, we’ve landed two new clients since January 1st, and it was great to see all my friends. I do wish that everyone lived closer to each other, but I suppose that if we saw each other more than the handful of times every year, all our livers would explode.

Today we took the kids to the movies which was great fun, mostly because we had them convinced that we were NOT going to the movies. (It’s our M.O. of course with them…though they’ve been more and more interested in actually gong to Alaska of late, so maybe we’ll have to change that up a bit.) Now, I’m sitting in the kitchen, listening to some glorious fados, watching my sweet hubby make tempura for dinner and enjoying the tulips I treated myself with today.

Oh how I love tulips! They’re definitely in my top 5…along with daffodils, lisianthus, heritage roses, and wisteria. It’s a bit early for tulips, so these are probably hot house, but they’re still very lovely. Now I just have to clear my desk of the things I brought back from Vegas to make room for them!

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Holiday Ruminations

December 29th, 2011 by Karen

I think today is the day that everyone finally caught up on all the work they had slacked off on over the holidays as I saw a flurry of facebook and twitter posts about the age old question: what did you get for Christmas/Hanukkah?

I found the answers very interesting on a personal level. This year has not been a flush one for us and our meager resources made us a little more creative this time around and I think that was a very good thing for us. I was blessed to receive an early gift of a working dishwasher from my brother (he got it from some friends who were moving and didn’t need it at their new place), help ripping apart our bathroom from my parents and brother, a lovely pair of gloves from my sister, a movie night with the hubby (though the movie was downright awful :P), a handmade necklace from our oldest daughter, and a pair of socks and a book I bought myself at Powell’s.

If I was to look at this with an ungrateful heart, I got this: a used dishwasher, an unfinished mess of a bathroom, a pair of gloves, a crappy movie, a glass bead necklace, socks and a book. How awful!

Happily, I love every single thing I got because the most important thing I received was time with my family. This year, we lost several family members and their absence I felt keenly. I’m so very happy that I got to spend so much time with all our family members this December. So what that our children didn’t get us anything storebought, or much of anything overall…I had much more fun having hot chocolate with them and snuggling on the couch. So what that the movie my hubby bought me was awful…I got to spend two hours cuddling on the couch with him while we laughed at it, a luxury we rarely allow ourselves. So what if the dishwasher I have is used…not washing dishes by hand for the first time in four years is AMAZING and it’s an enormous gift of time back in my life.

I found myself saddened by posts from several people today…complaining that they didn’t get what they wanted from a specific person, that something was the wrong color, or that they didn’t get what they had explicitly requested. Oh my dear friends…this is not the reason for the season. We are celebrating miracles! Whether it’s the birth of Christ or the oil lasting for eight days, it is a time of joy and happiness. The presents are nice, sure, but they’re not the most important.

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Valentine’s Day

February 21st, 2011 by Karen

My Grandma Kay passed away a week ago today. It was peaceful and mercifully fast…and lest you think I’m being callous about it, my grandpa Bill suffered grievously for years and it was heartbreaking over and over and over. She passed away on Valentine’s Day, the same date she had married my Grandpa Bob 64 years prior, holding on until their anniversary.

She had been married once before and, being Catholic, couldn’t marry in the church until her first marriage was ended by annulment or death. Her first husband John passed a few months ago and she mentioned to me that she had always wanted to be married in the church. It was just a small thing mentioned in a much longer conversation about other sundry things, but I plucked it from the threads and started making plans, holding the details in my head until they coalesed into something feasible. I figured their anniversary would be good, or perhaps a bit further into the spring when it was warmer and her beloved roses blooming. Christmas came and went and she wasn’t feeling well. I drew family members into the planning, remonstrating that this was a secret…I wanted to surprise them both with something simple yet elegant. A small ceremony in the chapel where my parent wed, him in a suit, her with a large orchid reminicent of the one that graced her shoulder in their own wedding picture and surely grown by my Uncle Vince, followed by a reception with a re-creation of their own understatedly elegant cake from the same photograph. A child’s fantasy perhaps, but I wanted to give her that much. But she began to fail.

There was nothing to be done for it. Too many factors weighed heavily in the decision and in the end solace only came in the form of morphine doled carefully out by an angel named Jaime. My father caved in the end and revealed our plans to them both. I’m grateful he did.

On the evening of Friday, February 11th, with my parents and aunt as witnesses, my grandparents were married. My grandfather said that she said her vows crisp and clean and far better than he did, stumbling over the words with emotion. I wish I could have been there myself, but life never goes quite according to plan. I did get to see her the following day, and though I looked in several florist shops along the way, with Valentine’s Day hanging in the balance, I couldn’t find an orchid corsage to save my life. It didn’t matter.

I stood in her room, with the sun streaming through the large bedside window and carefully rubbed her shoulders and back of her neck, her skin smoother than I expected, as she slept in her wheelchair struggling to draw each breath. My oldest daughter came with me, not a decision I made lightly, but because I knew over the next week, she would need the experience. I was right. She wandered in and out of the room, staying a few minutes at a time for the hour we spent and showing me the koi fish she had discovered in her perambulations as we made our way out. She was silent for most of the drive home and for the day following. When the call came from my dad on Monday morning, she knew and with a quiet grace witheld the knowledge from her siblings until that afternoon when we told them properly. They have all grieved in their own ways as have I, yet for them, they have little experience of death and dying and in their own independent ways, they are picking their own paths over the sharpened shards of grief.

I on the other hand…I am floundering.

I can’t say that anything in particular is wrong…just that I feel off balance. There have been, nor will there be, the traditions that I find I have come to expect as the capstone to life. There was no rosary, no funeral mass, no graveside service, no gathering of family that I haven’t seen in years to mark the moment and say “Here was someone we all loved”. There will be a memorial at some undetermined point in the future, but it is not soon or set. It was her request to have only that and to go out to dinner to remember her, requests we will and have honored. I find myself drifting with some odd sort of malaise, unable to focus properly on much of anything. It simply seems unfinished.

Today, though a holiday, I planned to treat as any other day and get up early to start work. Instead when I awoke, I was surprised to find my alarm off and the clock reading well past 8. Joel rarely lets me stay abed past 7 even on the weekends, his urgency for the day both a blessing and a curse. I laid there for a few minutes listening to the house only to hear one of our children admonish another who was getting loud “Shhh! You’ll wake mommy and dad said to let her sleep”. So this morning, I laid in bed and simply read the end of a favorite book I’d been re-reading and stared out our window at the clouds in the sky that had been ever present since my grandma passed along with a fair amount of rain. As I watched, they finally gave way to bluer skies and I find my head slowly clearing.

It is a small comfort, but a comfort nonetheless.

Kathryn Churchill -March 9, 1926 to February 14, 2011

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True Friends

August 7th, 2010 by Karen

I’ve been dealing with some medical falderal the past two weeks and I’ve been tired, incredibly irritable and exceedingly impatient to the point of downright rudeness. You know that horrid little inside voice that you keep clamped down internally because its monologue is so amazingly critical and nasty that you’d never ever say any of those things out loud? Yeah. Mine was on a rampage this week. In public.

I honestly felt like I was losing my mind until my doctor pulled me off the meds he had insisted I needed for my blood pressure. Yikes. I’m still really jittery, but my mind is starting to clear, the anxiety is fading, and I’m not some catty she-witch out to insult total strangers.

In any case, the one thing the past two weeks have taught me (besides not to listen to my doctor about medications, tyvm) is who my true friends are and I was honestly a little surprised.

  • I discovered that my husband is more of a God given saint that I already knew.
  • I discovered that the person I would consider to be one of my best friends was too busy to be bothered with lending me an ear or offering a bit of sympathy, despite all the times I’ve been there for them in the past several years.
  • I discovered that a nearby acquaintance was a far better friend than I had previously realized.
  • I discovered that an online gaming friend I had previously given short shrift to because of their brusque attitude was incredibly sympathetic and helpful.

So after a fair amount of strife, frustration and tears this week, I’m finally starting to feel like myself again and today I found this on another aquaintance’s blog and felt it summed up how I was feeling fairly well:

Simple Friends vs. Real Friends

A simple friend has never seen you cry.
A real friend has shoulders soggy from your tears.

A simple friend doesn’t know your parents’ first names.
A real friend has their phone numbers in his address book.

A simple friend brings a bottle of wine to your party.
A real friend comes early to help you cook and stays late to help you clean.

A simple friend hates it when you call after he has gone to bed.
A real friend asks you why you took so long to call.

A simple friend seeks to talk with you about your problems.
A real friend seeks to help you with your problems.

A simple friend wonders about your romantic history.
A real friend could blackmail you with it.

A simple friend, when visiting, acts like a guest.
A real friend opens your refrigerator and helps himself.

A simple friend thinks the friendship is over when you HAVE an argument.
A real friend knows that it’s not a friendship until after you’ve had a fight.

A simple friend expects you to always be there for them.
A real friend expects to always be there for you!

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July 6th, 2010 by Karen

Saturday was like most days around here, just with a bit lighter work load. We got up, had breakfast, made plans to do some yardwork before it got hot then go out for some ice cream in the afternoon with the kids to cool off. Perhaps we would even make the trek to Grandma & Grandpa’s pool down in Sacramento.

The hubby mowed the lawn while I did some minor weed pulling and some major raking for about an hour while the kids enjoyed their summer vacation morning cartoons. Now, we have these trees around our house with tiny little white flowers that are just massive pollen bombs. They make hubby’s allergies flare massively and since we’re trying not to run the AC much (it’s old and needs replacing) the windows are open a lot and that makes him worse. Not fun.

Since the trees are along the fence line, the neighbors and I have been hosing the tree down occasionally since that stuff gets _everywhere_ and while we enjoy the shade, we all hate the pollen. We finish up the yardwork, hubby goes inside to shower all the pollen off and I stay in the yard to hose down the tree.

I’ve been at it for only a couple of minutes and I suddenly feel a stabbing pain in the outside of my thigh, about 6 inches above my knee. I look down and the world stops.

I’ve been stung.

Creeping up my leg is a bee, its stinger firmly embedded in my leg, rather then where it should be on the tail end of the evil beast. I take one deep breath not knowing if I’m getting another and scream for my husband. Our oldest comes to the back door with a concerned look and I holler at her to get my purse. For once, she doesn’t ask questions and just blessedly does as she’s told. Hubby comes running as I’m slowly hobbling in the house trying to remain calm and hands me a credit card. The oldest comes with my purse and I pull out a second card because the stinger’s in too deep for just one. I get it out and he hands me my epi pin as I sink onto the couch.

I’m afraid of needles and I really, really don’t want to do this.

I flick a glance at the instructions, but I know them by rote even though I haven’t had to do this in more than a decade. I pull off the safety cap, I take quick breath to brace myself and slam it against my thigh. The needle fires. We count to 10. (I count to 12 for good measure.) I pull the inch long needle from my leg and press the spot to stop the bleeding and lay back against the couch waiting.

The oldest sits with me while the little ones find their shoes and Joel finishes getting dressed in case we’re hospital bound, and I’m deeply sorry for the worry etched on her young face, but there is little I can do to make her feel better at the moment. I want to tell her everything will be ok, but I can’t promise that and she already knows it. The lie never leaves my lips and I just tell her I love her and she did a good job instead. I can feel the medicine racing through my veins and my heart is beating so hard I feel it’s going to leap from my chest Indiana Jones style.

Five minutes pass, then ten.

The feeling I’m expecting…the tightness in my chest, the struggle to breathe, the feeling of slow strangulation…this time it doesn’t come. Instead, my hands are shaking like mad, I’m sweating bullets, I feel like I’m going to faint when I sit up and like I’m going to lose my breakfast when I lay down…all side effects of the epinephrine.

I’ll take it.

I spent most of the rest of the day on the couch, simply exhausted. I’ve been taking antihistimines the last two days since then to stave off the dinner plate sized rash on my leg, but all in all, I dodged a very large bullet.

I’ve spent the last two days being a little more contemplative than normal…and while I don’t want to sound trite, I really do feel like I stared death in the face. For a single moment, I realized what I had gained in the last 15 years that I stood to lose.

  • A husband that I love more deeply every day. (Yes honey, even when we argue about dumb stuff.)
  • Three beautiful children.
  • My chance to see my brother (eventually) and sister (sooner) get married.
  • My chance to see my children grow up, graduate, get married and have children of their own.
  • A thousand day to day delights, moments with family and friendships.

I think my hubby realized it too…this morning we began the long overdue spring cleaning of our room. It was time to clear the clutter and pare things down to the essentials. Us. The whole event is still weighing heavily on my mind, but today as I sat at my desk, I realized how much time I spend chained to it. I mean, I like my desk and all, but I had to ask myself “Do I really need to be at it 14 hours a day?” As the laughing, unspoken “no” echoed in my ears, I set my chat windows to away and went to play with my kids for awhile…they may not have appreciated it, but I know I certainly did.

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November 21st, 2009 by Karen

Today, was a difficult day. By far one of the hardest days of my adult life.

Today we buried Stephen.

He was my brother’s very best friend, so much so that Stephen was the brother he never had and vice versa. They brought out the good in each other and he’s been around for so very long that it’s hard to believe he’s really gone. Last Thursday evening, with his beloved wife Rosemary by his side, Stephen lost a long, hard fought battle with cancer. He leaves a hole in so many hearts…a testament to his undying and unwavering love for others.

Personally, I’ve always had a difficult time with my tears. I admit it…I cry easily. Part of it I’m sure is inherited from my mother, but part of it is that I can feel the grief of those around me profoundly. At times, I have set foot in hospitals and simply burst into tears from the overwhelming emotion that washes over me. Sometimes this is a blessing…I can tell when people are hiding their grief, but sometimes the constant tide dashes me against the proverbial rocks and I find it difficult to maintain my composure for any extended period of time.

This morning at the graveside, was one of those moments…from the first second I saw Rosemary until I got back in my car, there were tears on my face. I cried for her…for the loss of her beloved husband, that she won’t be able to grow old with him, that she has to experience widowhood at such a young age, for her broken heart. I cried for his mother and father, Marlene and Dave, that they had to bury their only son who brought so much joy to their lives, that they would never again go golfing with him or be able to hug him tight. I cried for his little sister, Christina, for the loss of her big brother, her hero. I cried for his grandparents, who I’m sure never considered that they would ever be burying a grandchild. I cried for his in-laws, who grew to love him as a son and a brother, for he filled a special place in their lives too that will forever now be empty. I cried for his adorable nephews, E and Marsh, who are so small that their memories of their uncle will be smudged by time. I cried for his friends, Charlie and Kate and Andrew and Daniella and Nathan and Eric and so many others, that they have lost their friend and confidant and with his illness and passing, some of their own innocence. And finally, I cried for my little brother, for his loss of his best friend, his brother by choice, his golf and baseball buddy and for his own unexpressed bottomless grief that I can see in his eyes and for my inability to do anything to fix it.

After Stephen’s funeral and memorial today, I had the long, quiet drive home alone in the dark to think. Upon reflection of this morning’s chilly mourning, the following words filled my heart and brought me a modicum of peace…I know Stephen is home. And in time, we will see him again.


Stephen’s Goodbye

widow’s weeds
of grey and tears
glide quietly through the crowd of somber faces
weeping silently for vanished years

of tea and coffee
of crooked smiles
of grass and sky
of embraces
of growing old
as so many do
and some may not

grief etched deep
sleep lost
and ache more plentiful than clouds
heaped on empty bellies
and broken souls

Angels weep soft tears of their own sorrow upon
wife, mother, father, sister, brother, family, friends
and icy wind rips the unspoken scream
from dashed hearts

resounding across the empty sky
with a whispered wail
tempered only by the final sound

of God’s soft breath on chimes
carrying him home
on a single sweet tone

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Adjust this!

September 16th, 2009 by Karen

Ok, it’s not that I fear change, so much as I’m stubborn. My mother will back me up with this one, I’m sure. If I find a way that something works for me, then it will take a lot of convincing for me to change my ways. Now, this doesn’t really apply to work concepts, since I love to check out new techniques and apps and such, but more to my everyday living.

When we go out to eat, I tend to get the same meal repeatedly. When I go to the grocery store, I always make the same path through the store…if I don’t, I always forget something. I have a morning ritual and an evening ritual. If those get interrupted (like by hubby shouting from downstairs for me to get up 30 minutes before my alarm has gone off), the rest of my morning is spent getting back on track with varying degrees of success.

When we moved here, I had a difficult time adjusting. It’s not my home, it’s unfamiliar, and filled with people that my hubby knows and I do not. People who greet me in the store by my first name when I have no clue who they are and tell me “Oh, tell your hubby I said hi.” Five years we have been here and if I were to count the people I knew well enough to call to go out for coffee, I wouldn’t run out of fingers. I haven’t adjusted to living here.

Recently, my youngest started school. This means that for nearly seven hours a day, I can work basically uninterrupted. I’m having to adjust to it and it’s been more difficult than I anticipated. There are times when I get a ton of work done and it’s only 11am and I’m suddenly stymied as to what to do with myself. I’m going through to-do lists like they are going out of style.

I’m liking the results, but it’s disconcerting to actually be able to crawl into bed at 10pm, long before I used to go to bed and be able to say “hey, I got all the housework done today.”

I’m sure, eventually, I’ll adjust.

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April 15th

April 15th, 2009 by Karen

100_0483Today is not just Tax Day when everyone over the age of 18 frets and worries and writes angry checks. Today is not just a day for Tea Parties and raging against the government that mismanages our money in such a way that would land an individual in jail. Today is not just the 97th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.

Today is my sweet little boy’s sixth birthday!!

Six years ago, at 3 in the morning, I got out of bed and quietly sat in the kitchen, desperately trying to finish our taxes between contractions. About 4:30 am, Joel realized I wasn’t in bed and came looking for me. Let’s just say he was pretty upset that I was doing the taxes in labor without letting him know!! Luckily, I was pretty much finished and my Dad saved the day and finished them up for us and took them to the post office while we were at the hospital.

Suddenly, he’s a kindergartener, the class clown, reading beyond his ken, creating fractal patterns of anything he can get his hands on, and playing the World of Goo where he creates bridges to his little engineering hearts content.

100_0483 I have no idea where the time has gone…my only regret with him is that it passed so fast. My girls will still snuggle into my lap but Alex has already started the eyeroll and the “moooom” when I try to kiss his cheek in front of his classmates.

You can’t wait for them to grow up and be independent, but it still smarts a bit when they do!

In any case, today he is six and beyond the blue cupcakes for class, his only request is to go out to dinner someplace they have calimari.

That’s my boy!

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April 15th, 2009 by Karen

This past week, Stephen has never been far from my thoughts. Because of the amazing generosity of so many family, friends and strangers, he and Rosemary were able to travel to Houston last week for the battery of tests to once again battle the Hodgkins and Non-Hodgkins lymphoma still attacking his body.

If all goes well and he stays healthy, he will go back in another week or two for the medication and treatment to finally kill it and put him squarely in remission.

Knowing Stephen and his profound affect on my little brother and all his friends, the fact that this travel occurred during Easter Week is well, nothing short of symbolic. The last three years Steve has traveled a long road with his friends by his side…being their rock when they doubted, sharing his own fears and being lifted up by them in turn, losing faith and rediscovering it over and over. Taking chemo and radiation treatments, bone marrow and stem cell transplants with short lived success. And then this solitary chance arose, a place that has done so much good for so many in his situation. An opportunity to overcome the death sitting in his chest. He took this journey to Houston akin to Christ’s own trip to Jerusalem. It’s a trip he knows will change everything. His friends celebrated with him and rejoiced, but I know that in each of them is that deep rooted fear that none dare voice…the fear that he is slipping away where they can not go.

Everyone who knows Stephen has high expectations that he will finally be safe and free and he and his friends can go back to joking and playing and being the young twenty-somethings they are and talking about baseball and barbeques instead of these suddenly somber men who use multi-syllabic medical terms in their everyday chatter.

That medicine they are making this week in Houston for Stephen will make him violently ill and so weak he will not be able to have visitors. He won’t be able to see his family or cling to Rosemary’s hand for comfort. He will be denied the creature comforts of home in the interest of sterility and his decimated immune system. He will be completely and utterly exhausted from the retching and the pain of feeling his insides torn apart.

In that IV bag is liquid death.

But in its plastic confines is Stephen’s final chance for rebirth in this world.

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Saving Stephen

March 2nd, 2009 by Karen

The last couple of weeks, I’ve been working on a side project to help out one of my brother’s best friends, Stephen.

Stephen is a 28 year old young man, husband, uncle, and brother. He is a musician, a friend, a God loving person, and overall a very good man.

Since 2006, Steve has been battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He has gone through countless chemo and radiation treatments with little success. He just finished a 20 day stint in the “bubble” at the hospital where basically he was in total isolation as they killed off his immune system once again with two different kinds of chemo.

There is a place in Houston, Texas called MDAnderson that has had great success with treating hard to cure cases like Stephen’s and it is our sincere goal to send him there. Only problem is that it is out of network for him and just to walk in the door is nearly $42K. Add on travel for him and his wife Rosemary and other expenses and it is nearly an insurmountable cost. As his friends and family, we feel it is our duty and our priveledge to help Stephen with this part of his journey.

“…during your times of trial and suffering,
when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”
~Footprints in the Sand

There is a high probability that Stephen will need a bone marrow transplant, so a drive has begun for that in addition to the drive to help him get to Houston for additional treatment.

Please visit SavingStephen.com to help.

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