Friday, April 27, 2018

We got by ... with a lot of help from our friends

Odysseus and Argos

It was a time of perpetual strangeness, like Odysseus in his long attempt to get back home to Penelope. And of course, his faithful dog, Argos.

First, there was the flood. Early one Sunday morning, my wife, Linda, woke me crying: “Tom, we have a problem – the hall bathroom is flooded.”
The fates had conspired to make this problem worse than it had to be. Linda recently had hip replacement surgery and couldn’t reach down to turn off the spigot to the bathroom toilet. And I had a number of health woes that made springing into action impossible. By the time I sloshed down the hall and into the bathroom, several rooms were flooded.
Since then, we’ve had many visitors at our house. Plumbers. Water damage restoration companies. Insurance adjusters. Carpet installers. It seemed like half the subcontractors in Tucson visited our house at various times.
The roaring of the dozen blowers and dehumidifiers drying out our place made sleeping there impossible, so we had to stay in a hotel for a week. Then, we were able to return to a dry home while the restoration and carpet installers did their things.  
Meanwhile, friends had to help Linda get to her rehab treatments, and keep us supplied with groceries and other necessities. Fortunately, we had a lot of help, because of our wonderful and caring congregation, St. Mark’s United Methodist Church.
 I’m going to name those helpers here, feeling like an Oscar winner trying to thank everybody before they run out breath or time: Chris Bahnson, Kathie Barrett, Jeff Blackburn, Susan Gerstad, Linda Girard, Sandi Heilman, Martha Mazzolini, Sally Mettler, Vicki Minger, Maryanne Nucholls,  Gil and Kathy Parrish, Marcia Rostad, Connie White and Marlyce Wright.
By now I’m gasping for breath, but there are still more. Our neighbors, Maryannette Bednar and Jim Lopez, who help us every day. And my Hospice Family Care team: my nurse , Angela Lineberger and her husband, Mike, who does volunteer work for us; and my wonderful hospice assistant, Blanca MontaƱo.
And finally, our grown children, Michael Walker and his wife, Remy; and Christina Walker Rowden. And, of course, our grandchildren, Niko Walker and Cait Rowden. I also want to say a special thank you to Michael Schapker, the Tucson claims adjuster for USAA, our insurance company.
Meanwhile, the strangeness has continued. Gnawing into a slice of stiff-crust bread, I managed to break a front tooth at the root. Fortunately, I didn’t swallow the tooth. Also fortunately, the broken tooth doesn’t hurt at all; it probably had been root-canalled-out long ago. So right now, I have a serious gap in my smile. Maybe I'll say that I've joined the Tucson Roadrunners Hockey team. Or maybe I just won’t smile very much anymore.                                                               
Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, doesn’t find very much to smile about either, these days. In a column that ran April 10 in the Arizona Daily Star, Reich warned that, under President Trump, our country may be tweeting toward a dictatorship.
Trump recently noted that Chinese President Xi Jinping was now president for life. “Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday.”’
“Some thought Trump was joking,” Reich says. “I’m not so sure.”
I’m not so sure, either. All the checks and balances seem to be crumbling, except for the Fourth Estate. And Trump has it under siege, too.
Argos? Good boy. Our poor old blind, flea infested press may be our best hope in this strange time of flooded houses, missing teeth and wanta-be dictators. That, and our network of friends, businesses and agencies like Medicare and Hospice Family Care.
Long may they run.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Right now there's a hole in my heart.

Nikola Trumbo
She died on April 23, 2018.  I found out about her death just as I was sitting down to write her an email.  She started out as my therapist and eventually I was honored to call her my friend.  She and her partner moved from Pasadena to Seattle and I clearly understood that we could have no contact for two years because that's the way it has to be between therapist and client.  However, she did give me her address and a photograph to serve as transitional objects and to be available in case of emergency primarily because during the several years I was her client I had quite a few emergencies.   I also understood that she would not contact me.  If contact were to be made, it would necessarily come from me.  I didn't contact her for over two years and then I reached out just to say hello.  She responded just to say hello back and then we began to correspond.  She commented on my writing and so it went until the morning I sat down to write what would have been my last email.  Maybe I should have sent it anyway because I don't really understand how these things work - these life and death things.  Niki Trumbo stood for things and spoke out on behalf of things.  She was a fierce advocate for social justice.  It seemed logical that she would be because her father, the writer Dalton Trumbo, was blacklisted during the McCarthy era and spent time in prison. She knew first hand the price paid for political gain. She also knew first hand that this country has been through hard times before.  She consulted on the recent film "Trumbo" and ultimately felt pleased with the result.  She was also a fierce advocate for saving the planet because, after all, it's the only home we've got.  I learned so much from her  and hopefully I have been able to share some of those learnings with the people who come to me for help.  And in the words of Niki Trumbo, what's the use of learning something if we don't share it.  Just knowing she existed was a comfort.  After the sadness leaves and the hole in my heart fills with all the joy surrounding me, I will take comfort in remembering her voice and the wisdom given to me by that voice.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Double Clutching

It's true.  I still drive my 1996 Jeep Cherokee.  It has almost 300,000 miles on it. I'm hoping to get it to at least 400,000 miles or more.  It doesn't like to get into second gear. It's  made one cross country trip and after Arkansas carried the our wheel drive shaft with the rest of the luggage.  I see no reason to replace it with something new.  I only get one radio station but that's okay.  I can always sing my own songs if that station stops coming in.  I'm good.  So is the Jeep.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Wandering Tax Documents Wander No More

Our CPA is every the voice of calm reason.  As my hysteria grew she kept reassuring me that everything would be fine.  She also pointed out that the United States Post Office delivers millions of pieces of mail each day with high success and that while it was unfortunate that our envelope to her got snagged very few of those snags happen.  Today I mailed our tax documents off to both state and federal.  Despite the wear and tear of this experience, I have to agree with the CPA.  The Post Office came through for us.  However, ever cautious, today I paid a little extra for proof that I had mailed all 4 envelopes today. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

So This Is Spring

The high today was in the upper thirties.  The wind howled while an icy rain fell.  Thunder could be heard first far away and then nearby and then far away again.  The daffodils, I'm sure, regretted their decision to bloom.  On the other hand St. Paul had a blizzard.  And on still another hand, I am a big fan of stormy weather.  So it is all fine with me.  The daffodils see things quite differently, though.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Our Blooming Magnolia Tree

Magnolia trees are really old.  Fossilized magnolias date back to well over 20 million years.  These trees, or at least their blossoms, predate the existence of bees.  One theory has it that the blossoms evolved just for the bees.  Proving that to name something is to claim it, magnolias were named by the French botanist Pierre Magnol who was presumably not alive 20 million years ago.
We are the care takers of a magnificent magnolia tree.  It lives in our backyard.  I don't know its age.  I do know that this tree is a bit of a mystery.  For starters, I thought Magnolia trees lived in the Southern part of this country.  New Jersey winters seem a bit cold for them but there's that tree thriving in our backyard.  The second mystery is that at least this tree gets its blossoms before its leaves.  That seems to reverse what I perceived to be the natural order of things.  But then who am I to declare a natural order to anything.  Nature is a daily miracle.  Enjoy!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Torah Thoughts on Shemini

In this week’s Torah portion, God tells Moses and Aaron to tell the Israelites what species and sorts of animals they may eat.  Land animals must have split hooves and chew their cud, sea creatures must have fins and scales, and birds of prey are not permitted as food.  These prohibitions form the basis for the laws of kashrut; keeping kosher.  Keeping kosher is important to many Jews for different reasons.  Some people feel that it is a holy act, some a spiritual exercise. Some keep kosher to identify with the Jewish people and some simply because it is what God told us to do.
People who keep kosher have to pay attention to what they are eating.  It makes us think about where our food comes from and what is in it.  Rabbi Harold Schulweis writes that “for animals, eating is a matter of instinct; only human beings can choose on moral or religious grounds not to eat something otherwise available.”  This attention may also bring us to be grateful for the food we eat. 
Keeping kosher may be an important mitzvah, but it isn’t the only one.  Rabbi Israel Salanter writes, “Only twice in the Torah are we commanded not to eat pork, yet every Jews knows that it is forbidden.  The Torah commands us many more times to refrain from gossip and harmful speech, yet many observant Jews do not sense that they are violating the Torah when they speak ill of others.”  Or, to paraphrase my friend and colleague Marc Kline, perhaps God cares less about what goes into our mouths that what comes out of our mouths.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Our Wandering Tax Documents

About the same time that we moved to New Jersey our CPA moved to the Pacific Northwest.  Go figure.  Anyway, we stayed with her and every year we Priority Mail our tax information to her and every year we meet with her via phone to go over stuff and every year we file our taxes in a timely manner.  Not so this year.  I mailed our tax documents on March 23 with an expected delivery date of March 26.  So far so good.  In early April the our CPA sent us an email asking if we would be needing her for our 2017 taxes.  ?????!!!!!&&&&&%%%%#.  Clearly she had not received our information.  I entered the tracking number in the USPS web site and learned that the envelope had not yet left New Jersey.  I went to the Post Office the next day and was told by a friendly human that he would look into this and get back to me.  Two weeks later I returned to the Post Office to basically say, "What's up?"  A woman named Jan because her parents wanted a son helped me and seemed much more efficient than the nameless guy of two weeks earlier.  Besides, I knew nothing about the gender expectations of his parents.  Anyway, Jan said someone would call me today and someone did call me today.  Today's caller had been able to even track down a picture of the envelope.  It was on the scanner address side down and so it didn't know where to go.  Like so many of us, it just felt lost.  Apparently there's a post office bar code on the back of the Priority Mail envelopes that allowed this type of detailed tracking.  Anyway, as of today the tax documentation has left New Jersey and is on its way to the Pacific Northwest.  Our CPA has remained calm throughout all of this despite my growing hysteria.  And the Post Office has hopefully come through even without snow or wind or heavy rain.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Day 30 - Unseen Miracles

Miracles are all around us.  Most of the time we either ignore them or don't see them.  Either that or we assign logical, scientific explanations to the events.  I wonder why it seems to hard to just say that a miracle happened.  Perhaps it's because we rely a lot on logical explanations.  Exclaiming an event a miracle perhaps reeks too much of mysticism or spirituality.  I'm going to go looking for daily miracles.  I'm willing to  bet that I find them.  Join me in the search.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Days 21-29 Opps Again

Is that the right count and have I missed that many days?  At least I am still aware of the days on which I write nothing.  Here's the thing.  My daughter celebrated her 40th birthday and for whatever reason that hit me hard.  I was literally speechless.  And then her husband gave a pretty big party for her and the grandkids spent the night with us.  Good times but quite distracting.  Climbing back in the saddle is never easy but at least I know how.  I've done it many, many times.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Day 20 - He Had A Dream

And fifty years ago his dreaming ended.  It ended for him.  Now it's our job to keep that dream alive even though such pursuits seem impossible right now.  He told us that, "Faith is taking the first step even when we don't see the whole staircase."  I'm going to try hard to have the faith to take the first step.  Join me.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Day 19 - Life Is Like An Old Radio

Remember those?  We had a battery powered radio.  The battery was almost as big as the radio.  Generally that radio was for our father's use.  He got up incredibly early and listened to Lyn Ingerbritsen and radio station KOY.  Lyn was clearly a guy who saw no use for stage names.  Anyway, Daddy listened to the weather reports and whatever other news Lyn felt the need to broadcast.  The weather in Phoenix seemed to have little relevance to the weather on our ranch tucked under the Mogollon Rim but nevertheless that's what Daddy got up early to hear.  During the summer he listened to Vin Scully broadcast first Brooklyn Dodger games and then later Los Angeles Dodger games.  That radio sometimes lost its station and Daddy would carefully adjust the tuning knob until he got the station back again.  Living takes a lot of adjusting, too.  It's all too easy to lose our station -- our direction.  We just have to keep turning the knob until we hear "It's time for Dodger baseball," so clearly we believe for just a second that we're in the broadcast booth next to Vin.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Day 18 - And The Snow Is Back

So here it is officially Spring and it's snowing.  This particular snow storm seems to have taken everyone by surprise despite the fact that both my mobile weather apps were screaming snow snow snow.  The streets weren't plowed and traffic stopped.  It's stopped snowing now but the weather did get in one last beautiful storm.  Yesterday I was outside taking pictures of our magnolia blossoms.  In a bit I will trudge outside, boots on, and see how many stayed on the tree.  I think the plants must be quite confused.  Oh, and yesterday I put my boots away.  This morning I took them back out.  And so it goes.  It's all very, very good.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Days 16 & 17 But Who's Counting

Oh, I'm counting.  That's right.  Preparing a Seder dinner for 20 takes a toll and a lot of time.  At least when I skip a day I now know it and feel it.  Still not quite a habit but trending that way.  Thanks for sticking with me.