Continuation of our motorcycle accident on Memorial Day, in gratitude to the first responders and medical staff at Harborview Medical Center
When Rich and I met, I was living in cute three-bedroom house in Sherwood, Oregon with a yard full of flowering bushes, spring bulbs, ornamental grasses, creeping pyracantha, and a giant rose bush, Cecile Brunner, locate in the far corner of my front yard. Once it took root, Cecile Brunner grew profusely, needing to be aggressively trimmed every year to prevent it from cascading over the sidewalk.
Year later, when we moved to Kirkland, Washington, I purchased another Cecile Brunner to commemorate our anniversary. This plant, however, wasn’t particularly healthy. I kept it in a pot, which probably contributed to its lack of vigor. Nevertheless, it finally took off, growing two or three branches, which were four to five feet in length.
In the fall, not wanting thorny rose branches stretched across the deck, Rich wielded a pair of clippers. I was devastated, believing Cecile Brunner represented our relationship, and by cutting off the branches Rich was dampening our lives together. Adding to my belief, the bush barely grew the next year.
Disappointed, I brought it to our Mount Vernon house, sticking it in the ground, and placing little faith in its survival.
I placed the same faith in the roses we transplanted from my mother’s house. She always had dozens of rose bushes. When we lived in Tarzana, California (San Fernando Valley), she’d purchase experimental roses from Jackson & Perkins. They were identified by a number on a metal tag. Occasionally, she’d learn that one of the roses was given a formal name and released to the public. One of these was French Lace, which was bred from R. Dr. A. J. Verhage and Bridal Pink™.
When she moved to Sherwood, Oregon, she dedicated the front of her house to roses and bulbs. She prided herself on keeping them trimmed, but as the years passed, they were neglected, and incorrectly pruned by numerous gardeners who haphazardly hacked off the branches. In addition, because the gardeners “raked” out the weeds, the front year turned into a mish-mash of straggly rose bushes, rampant sedum ground cover, bloomed-out bulbs, swatches of miscellaneous, unkempt plants, and bare soil.
After she moved out of her house, we tidied the yard, laid bark dust, and hoped the tenant had an interest in gardening. She didn’t, and two years later, implored us to remove the rose bushes and plant grass.
In December, we showed up with boots, shovels, clippers, and tarps. We crudely trimmed and dug out the roses. Some we had to leave because their roots were intertwined with those of a large maple tree, which the tenant wanted cut down because of the amount of leaves it dropped in the fall.
Sliding in the mud, with rain pouring down, we dug out over a dozen full-sized roses, and around two dozen miniature roses. The latter, my mother had probably purchased from grocery stores, and plunked in the ground after they bloomed.
We had to wait a week to plant the roses, which were in horrific shape with large, gnarled bud unions (at the bottom of the main stem), hacked off branches, and ripped up roots. Like Cecile Brunner after Rich had chopped off the branches, they were essentially death row roses with little probability of surviving.
With jaded optimism, we planted the roses against the back fence of our Mount Vernon house, heavily fertilized them, trimmed out unnecessary and dead branches, and waited. As the weather warmed, little petioles started to appear on the bare branches. By spring, most of the roses – including the miniatures – were showing positive growth. In May, to my surprise, they started to bloom.
Like Cecile Brunner, once placed in the ground, and given nutrients, they thrived. Today, Cecile Brunner has grown up our two-story deck, and annually rewarding us with sprays of petite pink roses. I suspect the other death row roses will continue to flourish.
When faced with challenges and setbacks it’s easy to throw your hands in the air, and give-up. It’s human nature. We want to continue to move forward in our job, relationships, quality of life, and reaching our goals. When we’re deterred, it hard not to feel defeated.
However, like a struggling rose, we have the potential to once again bloom, given time, persistence, and nourishment. Sometimes, we need to temporarily lean on others to help pick us up, draw our attention to other opportunities or point us in a different direction.
Often, it take longer than expected to bounce back. But, if we recognize the power of revitalization, then we can start to realize the possibilities, growing, blossoming, and reaching new heights.
… yes, the photos are of Cecile Brunner, and the blooms are from several of the rose bushes from my mother’s house.
Nearly every week, when we go to our Mount Vernon house, Rich points out Mount Baker, noting the amount of snow, ability to see the summit through the clouds, craggily slopes, or desire to see if from inside our house if we punched a hole in the dining room wall.
A week ago Monday, on the afternoon of my mother’s death, he commented, “We should go there.”
So on Sunday, to the mountain we went.
A 140,000 year old active glaciated andesitic stratovolcano in the Cascade Volcanic Arc, Mount Baker is a ruggedly mountain, covered primarily with scree and snow, with evergreens and lakes at the base. It’s one of the snowiest places in the world, and in 1999, set the world record for most recorded snowfall in a single season.
Because, I’m fonder of beaches, our trip up to the mountain was met with hesitancy and dread by me. In my opinion, “You’ve seen one mountain, you’ve seen them all!”
Nevertheless, I welcomed the break in our routine, especially after an emotional week. As we approached the mountain, it had a different vibe than other mountain ranges. There were large open spaces between the mountains with huge valleys and summits. You don’t feel as if you’re in a forest, and emerging periodically to see the sunlight. Instead, there’s spaciousness about the area. It feels more European than Pacific Northwest rainforest.
Our first stop was by the Galena Chain Lakes, which is set in a meadow with walking paths around the lakes. It would be a delightful place to cross-country ski in the winter. Plus, it afforded panoramic views in all directions of snow-capped mountains and peaks.
Across from the lakes was a retreat center with a turquoise snowcat parked in the back. I snapped a photo of Rich through the cat, and was fascinated by the clouds reflected in the windows of building.
Our next stop was Heather Meadows. We didn’t know what to expect, but saw many cars in the parking lot so surely there was something picturesque to see. Five minutes on the trail, and I was mesmerized. The easy-to-walk trail, through an alpine meadow, ambles around the Bagley Lakes, which are more like ever-changing rivers. In some places, the water is calm, lapping on the shores. In others, it rushes over boulders, under a bridge, and through a small dam, which you can walk over.
As you walk, you pass by small waterfalls as snow continues to melt, and drain down into the lakes. What was green foliage and wild flowers in summer was awash in golds, oranges, and browns. We passed by people with bags of huckleberries, and kids with blue lips and teeth, their hands also stained from the picking and eating the huckleberries along the trails. After identifying which bushes were huckleberries, our fingers were soon equally blue, grabbing at the tasty berries, lingers on the tips of delicate branches, free of leaves, which had already turned and fallen.
It couldn’t have been more idyllic.
Hesitant to leave, but hungry, we returned to the car, and drove up to Artist Point, where we enjoyed our lunch while overlooking the valley below, and the glacier-covered Mount Baker.
With the snows coming, hiking trails and meadows obscured, and cars of skiers arriving soon, we’ll have to wait until the summer to return to Mount Baker.
I usually don’t post what others have written, but I found some of these excerpts so touching I thought I’d share them. The images are from Las Vegas, one of my favorite places to have a camera.
Today, I interviewed my grandmother for part of a research paper I’m working on for my psychology class. When I asked her to define success in her own words, she said, “Success is when you look back at your life and the memories make you smile.”
Today, I asked my mentor – a very successful business man in his 70’s- what his top 3 tips are for success. He smiled and said, “Read something no one else is reading, think something no one else is thinking, and do something no one else is doing.”
Today, after a 72 hour shift at the fire station, a woman ran up to me at the grocery store and gave me a hug. When I tensed up, she realized I didn’t recognize her. She let go with tears of joy in her eyes and the most sincere smile and said, “On 9-11-2001, you carried me out of the World Trade Center.”
Today, after I watched my dog get run over by a car, I sat on the side of the road holding him and crying. And just before he died, he licked the tears off my face.
Today at 7 AM, I woke up feeling ill, but decided I needed the money, so I went into work. At 3PM I got laid off. On my drive home I got a flat tire. When I went into the trunk for the spare, it was flat too. A man in a BMW pulled over, gave me a ride, we chatted, and then he offered me a job. I start tomorrow.
Today, I kissed my dad on the forehead as he passed away in a small hospital bed. About 5 seconds after he passed, I realized it was the first time I had given him a kiss since I was a little boy.
Today, in the cutest voice, my 8-year-old daughter asked me to start recycling. I chuckled and asked, “Why?” She replied, “So you can help me save the planet.” I chuckled again and asked, “And why do you want to save the planet?” Because that’s where I keep all my stuff,” she said.
Today, when I witnessed a 27-year-old breast cancer patient laughing hysterically at her 2-year-old daughter’s antics, I suddenly realized that I need to stop complaining about my life and start celebrating it again.
Today, a boy in a wheelchair saw me desperately struggling on crutches with my broken leg and offered to carry my backpack and books for me. He helped me all the way across campus to my class and as he was leaving he said, “I hope you feel better soon.”
Today, I was feeling down because the results of a biopsy came back malignant. When I got home, I opened an e-mail that said, “Thinking of you today. If you need me, I’m a phone call away.” It was from a high school friend I hadn’t seen in 10 years.
Today, I was traveling in Kenya and I met a refugee from Zimbabwe. He said he hadn’t eaten anything in over 3 days and looked extremely skinny and unhealthy. Then my friend offered him the rest of the sandwich he was eating. The first thing the man said was, “We can share it.”
The best sermons are lived, not preached.
A few days ago, Rich and I watched the movie Mud, featuring Matthew McConaughey and two young actors in a drama set in De Witt, Arkansas. Wanting to learn more about the town, and the actors, I want online.
One actor, Jacob Lofland, grew up Briggsville, Arkansas, 180 miles northwest of DeWitt. Unincorporated, Briggsville, is located in Yell County, which had a population of 22,185 in 2010, and per capita income of $15,383, making nearly 12% of the family and 16% of the population below the poverty line.
Briggsville, and Yell Country, however, is flush compared to De Witt. The county seat for Arkansas County, De Witt had a population of 3,292 in 2010 with a per capita income of $3,408. That’s not a typo. The median income for a household was $2,545.
A quarter of De Witt residents live in poverty, including a third of kids, and nearly 22% of seniors (age 65 or older). Arkansas County is slightly better off than Yell with the per capital income being $16,401 and only 18% of the population, living below the poverty line.
This is America.
It’s not a fictional, award-winning movie or some imaginary place. It’s the despair, and generation-upon-generation of poverty that exists across America in towns and cities of all sizes.
According to the website Poverty USA, one in six Americans live in poverty. To put this statistic into perspective, the number of people living in poverty is around 46.2 million, equal to the combined population of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Nevada, and Nebraska.
The organization’s interactive poverty map, shows Arkansas has an overall poverty rate of 19.8%. Mississippi, on the other hand, has the highest rate with 24.2% people living below the poverty line.
Think about it. One in four residents of Mississippi probably run out of money by the end of the month, even if they’re working full-time. Earning $7 per hour equates to $14,560 per year or just $1,213 per month, which needs to be stretched to cover housing, utilities, transportation, healthcare, childcare, clothing, household supplies, and food. Earning a dollar more per hour, equates to a paltry extra $173 per month.
Now imagine living on $3,408 per year like people do in De Witt.
Poverty in America isn’t something you can switch off when the movie ends. It’s the stark reality of what 50 years of self-interest economic and social policies have wrought.
This morning, like all workdays, our alarm went off at 5:45. Rich rolled over, shutting it off, and dozing back to sleep. I willed myself awake knowing, I needed to go to the gym. I try to work out at least 4 days a week.
Half an hour later, I found myself, doing leg lifts with 90 pounds of weight. Wow! When did I go from lifting 50 to 90 pounds? Didn’t matter. There were other exercise machines to do, followed by planks, sit-ups, abdominal exercises, and finally, the dreaded Stairmaster. The only thing worse than the Stairmaster is running. At least with the latter, I can read while huffing and puffing up flights of stairs.
After the agony ended, it was time to shower, change, and zip to work. While sipping my first cup of coffee, I absentmindedly tore off the next page in my Mary Engelbreit 365-day calendar. It showed a woman opening a wooden box with a red heart inside. The quote was:
The greatest treasures are those invisible to the eye but found in the heart.
I paid little attention to the saying, returning to the tasks-at-hand. Then a few minutes later, I glanced at the calendar, February 7th.
And then it dawned on me.
Six years ago, while driving to Dell on a rainy Thursday morning, I slammed on the brakes to make way for a car getting on the freeway. I should have downshifted, but was used to driving my automatic Honda and not Rich’s manual Kia. Instead of slowing, the Kia swerved and spun across two lanes of the freeway, coming to a stop when a large box truck slammed into the driver’s side of the car.
It took several minutes until I gain consciousness. By then, the driver of the truck had slipped into the passenger side of the car, and was holding my hand. A nurse who was driving to work stopped to assess my condition… and strangely, a short-time later, an off-duty paramedic showed up, followed by emergency personnel and an ambulance.
Because of two very quirky happenstances, I sustained relatively few injuries. First, the lap belt in the Kia was broken so I was only wearing a shoulder belt, which enabled my entire body, except for my left leg to be thrust into the passenger side of the car when the Kia was struck by the truck.
Secondly, a friend at Dell had given me a super heavy black, leather coat, which I was wearing that day. The coat deflected the flying glass from the windshield, and also prevented the shoulder belt from cutting into my body.
In all, I fractured my left pelvis in four places because my left leg got caught under the driver seat while the rest of my body went the other direction. I also cracked two ribs, and had minor abrasions on the top of my head. No doubt, I was outrageously lucky.
I was immediately taken to the Brackenridge Trauma Center in downtown Austin, where my clothing was cut off, needles inserted, and body prodded. After x-rays and a CAT scan were taken, pillows placed under my left leg, and morphine administered, I wondered why they didn’t just slap a cast on my hip, and send me home.
Instead, I was admitted, given little to eat (in case I needed surgery), and told an orthopedic surgeon would see me the following day. The surgeon, Drake S. Borer with Austin Skeletal Trauma Specialists, waltzed into my room late Friday morning. A tall, trim, attractive man, he had an air of confidence and cavalry detachment.
He explained to Rich and me that “we” had two options. He could pin the pelvis, sharing he was pretty good at missing major blood vessels and nerves as he drilled and pushed a pin through my pelvis. Or I could put no weight on my left leg for eight weeks, and allow the bones to knit together. The no-surgery option, however, required that get out of bed by the next morning, balance on my right leg, and use a walker to get around.
Rich chose the latter.
I had my doubts. As the morphine wore off, and I switched to hydrocodone every four to six hours, I realized every aspect of my body was connected to my pelvis, and the slightest movement caused surges of pain. Moving my left leg even a fraction of in inch caused blinding pain, not to mention the agony of sitting up.
My broken ribs added to the misery, making it painful to lift my arms, let alone pick up anything or use them to move my body. Nevertheless, Saturday morning, I was eased out of bed, my catheter removed, and a belt placed around by waist by two physical therapists, who then proceeded to help me onto my right leg.
I thought I was going to pass out, but managed to grasp a walker, hop on one leg out of the room, into the hallway, and then back to the bed.
Sunday morning, I walked a bit further, and by that evening, I was wheeled over to a rehabilitation center to start a week of intensive physical therapy. By the time I left, I could get in-and-out of the bed by myself and into a wheelchair, race down the hallways in my chair, dress myself, tend to my personal needs, and even use the walker, but for short jaunts. It would take weeks before I could go any distance using a walker, mainly because holding up my left leg, using muscles attached to my fractured pelvis was astonishingly painful.
Eight weeks after my accident, I was cleared to start putting weight on my left leg. I visualized immediately walking.
Even though I’d spent the prior few weeks doing physical therapy in a pool in preparation to walk, my first few steps were horrifically painful, and I immediately plopped down in my wheelchair.
While Dr. Borer had mentioned the first year after my accident would be painful with the pain decreasing every year after; and by the third year, I’d be nearly healed; he neglected to mention two little words, “leg cramps.”
Yes, leg cramps. Like CONSTANT leg cramps. Like horrific leg cramps that wake up from a sound sleep if you happen to flex your foot. And he also didn’t mention it would be at least six months before I could lie on my side for more than 30 seconds. I slept on my back with my hips flat on the mattress for close to a year. Rolling over was painful and not worth the effort. It was even uncomfortable to lie on my right hip because my left hip wasn’t being supporting.
When I moved to Washington in late June, a few months after the accident, to accept a position with Microsoft, I made a point to walk as much as possible. Until we purchased a house in Kirkland, I lived an apartment, which was a mile from Microsoft so I could easily walk to-and-from work. And on weekends, I took long walks or visited area parks to build up strength and mobility.
Many of my walks ended in tears with my hip hurting, leg cramped, and exhausted from the exertion.
There was no denying the first year was challenging. Year two was much better, and by year three, I nearly forgot about the injury, except for the occasional leg cramp in the middle of the night!
And today, I’m whining about twenty-minutes on a Stairmaster, oblivious to the fact six years earlier I couldn’t wiggle a toe or shift in the bed without wincing in pain, and the only relief was a beautiful, white hydrocodone pill.
I had a remarkable recovery, considering what happened. I need to be more grateful for the opportunity to not only be able to walk, but hike, bike, kayak, gardening, torment Rich, and yes, work up a sweat at the gym.
Last weekend, I went to the Temple B’nai Temple Sisterhood Retreat at Camp Brotherhood in Mount Vernon. I debated for weeks about attending, reasoning I knew only one person – Shana Aucsmith, the first vice-president on the temple’s board of directors. A few weeks before the event, however, following a performance at the synagogue by Vagabond Opera, I walked into the Judaic Shop.
While browsing the shelves, and wondering whether I should buy Rich his own Hanukah menorah so I wouldn’t be competing with him to light the candles on mine, I was unexpectedly inspired to ask the women in the shop about the retreat. I had no idea whether they’d ever attended, let alone knew about it.
I can still visualize, Norma, who I later met at the retreat, smiling and explaining it’s an amazing experience and I should go. I was intrigued by Norma. Her bright smile, laughter, and cool earrings. I also noticed her cane, and sensed she may have difficulties walking long distances.
Learning from Norma that around fifty women would be attending the retreat, I concluded I could easily hide if I didn’t feel comfortable spending a weekend with women I didn’t know.
On Friday, I started to wonder why I’d signed up to attend the retreat. The weather was going to be splendid and I felt an obligation to help Rich set up our raised vegetable beds in Mount Vernon. Plus, Rich is my rock and anchor. He makes me strong and keeps me focused on what I need to achieve. Without him, I’m lost, aimlessly drifting through life, doing what’s necessary without any direction.
Before I married Rich, I lived day-to-day, convinced my life was little more than going to work, occasionally going to social events, and catering to my mother’s perpetual needs. I had many acquaintances, but few friends, having consumed decades of weekends doing what my mother wanted instead of creating a life for myself.
To a certain extent, I’m in the same mindset so when Rich dropped me off at Camp Brotherhood, late Friday afternoon, my overriding aim was simply, “get through the day.”
After getting my packet, with the key to my room, I quickly dropped off my bag, and raced down to the see the farm animals; it was less intimidating than going into the dining hall and introducing myself to others at the retreat. As expected, I was enraptured with the animals: Four curious emus that grabbed at my rings, several bossy geese, dozen or so cows including calves, several sheep and two alpacas that had no interest in interacting with a human, three miniatures horses, one mule, and a magnificent ivory-colored angora goat who welcomed being caressed. And at one end of the pen where the emus were kept was a box of bright blue-green eggs.
After enjoying the animals, I wandered up to the dining hall and was greeted by Julie M (also attending the retreat was Julie K, and I, Julie L.). Not knowing who she was, I rambled about my background and how I was surprised when during Friday night services the rabbi started accompanying the pianist and singer… his wife…
“Wait,” I suddenly thought. The rabbi’s wife is name Julie… ummm… Julie M… Muriel!
“Jeepers, how will I ever extract my foot from my mouth,” I regrettably pondered. There was nothing to be done aside from take a deep breath and excuse myself to meeting another person and once again commit a faux paux.
Dinner was pleasant with many charismatic women who shared humorous stories about their travels – our assignment to share later that evening. Energized and satiated from dinner, we walked up to the camp’s chapel, a simple, yet spiritual building with tall windows that look out onto the forest below.
Our chairs in a circle, we started the Shabbat services, specifically written for that evening with passages of importance to women. Were also given a pen with one word on it, meant to signify our focus for the weekend. Mine said “cherut,” which means freedom in English.
Using our pens, we were asked to write our autobiography in six words. I wrote, “Stopped breathing. Rescued. Now breathing freedom.”
Those six words were all it took to plunge me into a downward torrid of tears. Towards the end of the service, when we were asked to stand and create a healing circle, I was too overcome with emotion to continue. I rushed outside and cried, and cried, and cried.
I cried because I miss my dear grandmother, Rose, who comforted, encouraged, and love me after my father died. As a sensitive nine-year old, who dissuaded from spending time with friends, I was constantly berated and belittled by my narcissistic mother who half the time saw me as an inconvenience, and the other, as a minion to cook, clean, garden, and cater to her escapades.
My earliest memories were of being scolded, told to stop crying, and then passing out because in an effort to curtail my crying, my tongue would curl back in my throat cutting off my breathing. It happened many times until I learned to put my hand in my mouth to prevent my tongue from cutting off my breath.
Whoa. I can’t believe what I just wrote. I hadn’t thought about cutting off my breath for so long… I need to resume writing about the retreat at another time. The emotions it aroused are still too fresh.
For the Microsoft Day of Caring, I volunteered to teach basic computer skills at the Kirkland location for Hopelink, a non-profit organization that offers more than 40 services to help homeless and low-income families, children, seniors, and people with disability become more self sufficient.
I started writing this blog while waiting for others to arrive. In the background, I could hear the clatter in the food bank, which is at the back of the building. I peeked through a door where other volunteers from Microsoft were sorting donated goods.
My heart is pounding because I remember helping at a food bank in Austin, Texas when I worked at Dell. It was heartbreaking to sort through and clean discarded and donated goods that would be given to those in need. From high-end grocery stores came canned white asparagus, petite peas, and other esoteric gourmet foods.
Most canned and packaged goods, came from everyday grocery stores. Boxes of dented cans, returned items, meats and dairy products with dates nearing expiration, droopy or excess produce that couldn’t be sold… torn bags of dog and cat food, opened or dented boxes of feminine goods and cosmetics… virtually anything that couldn’t be sold to consumers with money in their pockets.
The horror of food banks isn’t the food. It’s the realization that the donated foods and goods are often not enough to meet the needs of the low-income, homeless, working poor, elderly, and others who don’t have the means to feed themselves let alone their families.
Although, Amy Arquilla, a senior manager with Hopelink, commented that she believes the Kirkland food bank fulfills the needs of most people in the area. In addition, it’s open extended hours and set up like a grocery store to make it easy to “shop” for food.
She had noticed, however, that for the past fourteen months there’s been an increase in people coming to Hopelink and the food bank. "Many people are a paycheck away from having to seek help," she explained. Others – the working poor – have paychecks, but they’re insufficient to cover basic needs from housing to transportation, insurance, utilities, healthcare, and food.
According to Amy, a livable wage on the east side (Kirkland, Redmond, Bellevue, etc.) is $22 per hour. The minimum wage in Washington is $8.55.
The least expensive apartments in the area range from $785 for a 506-square foot studio in Redmond to $995 for a 784-square foot one-bedroom in Bellevue. If you work 40-hours per week at $8.55 and are in the 25% tax bracket, after paying the rent on a $750 apartment, you’d have $69 per week for food, transportation, gas, utilities (i.e. phone, cable), insurance, healthcare, and other necessities.
Amy further elaborated on the working poor, mentioning that the Redmond Target and Home Depot allow people who live out of their cars to sleep in their parking lots as long as they leave by morning. Unaware that the Day of Caring party was schedule to be held at the Purple Cafe and Wine Bar in affluent downtown Kirkland, Amy commented that the homeless spend the night in places one wouldn’t expect, such as the parking lot behind Purple!
I’m intrigued and horrified to take Amy up on her invitation to cruise around Kirkland, Redmond, and Bellevue at 2 a.m. and see the parking lots where the homeless are sleeping in their cars. As she spoke, I recalled that a large white van has been parked towards the back of our neighborhood Safeway. Inside lives a woman and her small dogs.
Just three miles from our house, and close to Hopelink, is the Holy Spirit Lutheran Church where one of the largest tent cities in the area is erected. Every few months, the tent city moves to another church! Looking on the Internet, the church unabashedly announces on their home page that the tent city will be located in their parking lot from August 1 – October 31, 2009.
I don’t know if I can sit idle. They’re asking for volunteers to serve meals… I need help…