Friday, June 27, 2014


My mother volunteered.  She was extremely compassionate, but not in a “oh isn’t that sad” kind of way.  No, she saw someone sufferings and did something about it.  She started many organizations to help folks who had fallen on hard times, particularly women who had to leave their homes because of abuse.  And hungry people.  She just wanted to feed every single hungry person she encountered.  I suppose this is because she had grown up poor and knew what hunger was.

Service was the culture of our home and I learned from my mother’s influence that I got a huge  benefit from helping others.   My siblings tend to write checks for causes, which they can well afford to do.  But I was always more like my mother - not having a lot of money to give but wanting to DO something, concrete and tangible to make someone’s life a little easier.   It is a kind a feel great, spiritual uplifting that can become very addictive.

Over the years I have volunteered for many service organizations.   In the most recent years I concentrated on a local organization that helps people, mostly the elderly, with rides and chores to help them stay independent.  I had my regulars who I took grocery shopping and banking weekly, one man I took for his dialysis twice a week, many times I drove people to their chemo or radiation appointments.  But then I got sick myself and it became impossible to commit to weekly needs.  So I began occasionally substituting for other volunteers when I felt well enough, and then eventually stopped doing anything.

I always told myself that I would get back to it as soon as I felt better.  But I have felt better for quite a while and I still have not called and asked them to give me new assignments.   I think in many ways I burnt out.   Taking elderly people shopping and doing errands is fun and I have learned invaluable life lessons from my elders,  many of whom I became quite attached to.  But it always ends.  They become too fragile and have to move in with their children somewhere else.  Or they die.  It has been hard on me to constantly lose the folks I had become so fond of.  

So I am thinking that I might try something else, but I don’t know what.  I am trying to remember those activities that have given me the most joy - although I know that that is not, or should not be, my motivation.  

By nature of my job I used to sit on way too many boards and committees but gave all of those up as being a waste of time.  I don’t want to sit around talking about getting things done.  I want to do something.  

I used to love working for Habitat for Humanity.  I love building things and that also satisfied my need to do physical work to control my anxiety issues.  But Habitat has become wildly popular and now there are many organizations, with lots of skills and younger backs, that do the work much more efficiently than my poor arthritic body can.  I am now in the way.   I used to help them get their building approvals, but now even that has become routine and they don’t call on me very often for that.

Through my job I often I occasionally encountered people who I know needed help and I would get involved with their lives to try to help.  But recently I got so burned by a woman who trashed my every effort and then also harassed every person I had contacted for specific help.  No matter what we did to help, it was never enough.  For example, she told me she needed a fence for security reasons.   I  installed the fence with materials I got a friend to donate, but then she didn’t like the style and started calling the person who donated the fence and harassing him, questioning why he wouldn’t donate the 10 times more expensive vinyl fencing.   One builder friend I had called on to help offered to do a significant amount of labor for her if she purchased the materials.  She started calling him 10 times a day, saying he was greedy.  It became unbearable and for the first time in my life I had to call her and say “sorry, I can’t do this anymore.”   Now I am extremely  wary of extending myself, and especially my contacts, in the personal lives of others.  Maybe that is an excuse, I don’t know.   I wonder if my mother experienced this.  Most likely, although I never heard her complain about it the way I am now complaining..  

And then, as I was writing this, I also came to the realization that I did the most volunteering at times when I was most busy - when my kids were young, when they were involved in sports, when my work was the busiest, etc.  Now that I am semi-retired and have more free time for myself, I have become a slug.  It reminds me of that old saying - “if you want to get something done, ask a busy person.”  

Looking back I know I have just come through two difficult chapters in my life.  First was the hardest (and most fruitful) therapy of my life, and then all the emotional and physical challenges of breast cancer.  While I was going through them I was in survival mode and not thinking about much else. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.   But now I also clearly see that so many other areas of my life got neglected - physical, emotional and spiritual.  

And so I am trying to rebuild and the need to get back to service is looming.   Volunteering, much like sleeping under the stars, is what feeds my soul.  I know this to be true.  Yet on the other hand, I am feeling very selfish and don’t want to do things that bore me, that gift me with attachments that inevitably end in death (how do people emotionally survive working in hospice????)  or work with people who are so emotionally needy that it becomes soul sucking for me.  

Okay, I just read that back and realize that my attitude may need a little adjusting.  Maybe a LOT of adjusting.  I remember when I used to grocery shop for a homebound man who was the grumpiest person I ever met.  Nothing I did was right - the bananas were too soft, the eggs too large, I bought the wrong brand of this or that.   Then he would go through the recipe and argue about the price of everything.   I wanted to give up, like every volunteer before me had.  But when I complained to my mother she simply asked me what my motivation was - was I doing this for him or for me?    Crap.  

Well, I have long ago realized that I will never measure up to my mother.  So I guess it is my hope to find something to do that will satisfy both.  So I will put this question out there - have you ever done some service work that you found both helpful to others and enriching for yourself?  Something that made you soar and didn’t eventually drag the joy out of you?  


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Full of Grace

1.  Feeling wonderfully happy and healthy.

2.  Going to a meeting where they had make your own sundaes.  Why aren't all meetings like this?

3.  Beaner's college crap is finally out of the garage. Of course, we moved it all into their old playhouse in the back yard so it is not gone.  But at least it is out of sight.

4.  A string of absolutely gorgeous weather.  Every day it is in the mid 70s with very little humidity.  The skies are the deepest blue and the clouds white and puffy.  It is starting to make people forget the winter that would not end.

5.  And last, but certainly not least, I got tickets to see THIS!!!!

I am so fortunate to live near enough to New York City to take advantage of great cultural opportunities. Ms. Blanchett performing at Lincoln Center.  Live.  Limited engagement.  And I will be there.

Can you see me doing my happy dance?

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Golden Glowing

"The mountains are calling and I must go."  
-John Muir

Oh, how I know this feeling!  And finally, finally I went.  

The weather was gorgeous. The forest still lush and damp from recent rains.  The critters were out and about with their young.   The birds were particularly joyful.  The vistas breathtaking.   The starry nighttime sky cloudless.  

I am now home.  My back is so sore I am walking bent over.   My left foot, which was once smashed and now has considerable arthritis, is swollen to almost twice its normal size.   My blisters have blisters and are still filling with fluid.  My knees are screaming.  It is difficult to walk.   I have so many bug bites that I’m surprised I have any blood left.  And I have bites in places that only very intimate relations have ever seen.  I am desperate to scratch.    Martha is calling me Igor because this is pretty close to how I look:


And yes I am smiling just like that!  I feel exhilarated!  I am giddy with both energy and calm.

I am never more alive than when I am surrounded by and interacting with nature.   I never feel as connected with the awesome energy of the universe as when I lay under a canopy of stars.   It is both humbling and empowering.  My soul soars.

This time I had something to prove to myself - that I have successfully overcome cancer and all the meds and surgeries and treatments I have endured these last couple of years.   I needed to prove that I am stronger than they are.   I trained hard for this trek and I conquered it.  Physically I am exhausted, but I will recover.   Mentally I am higher than the mountain I climbed.  

But it’s all still there in my heart and soul. The walk, the hills, the sky, the solitary pain and pleasure—they will grow larger, sweeter, lovelier in the days to come, like a treasure found and then, voluntarily, surrendered. Returned to the mountains with my blessing. It leaves a golden glowing on the mind.”

I am tired but I am glowing.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Full of Grace

1.  With the girls home from school and working regular hours, we are once again enjoying family dinners.  And even nicer is that we can eat together outside.

2. Even though I have been nagging Martha to get her boat out of the driveway and into the water, it was fortunate that she has ignored me.   We share a dock with our neighbor and this is what it looked like on Saturday after a massive rain storm.  I have never seen the lake water this high.  It did make for great kayaking though as I was able to explore much farther down the little creeks around the lake.

3.  It's been just about 10 years since my father died.  I don't seem to mention him much as he was a man of few words but he taught by example.   I am grateful to be able to spend Father's Day enjoying warm memories and recognizing more and more what a positive influence his quiet strength was in my life.

4.  My baby girl turns 21 this week!   We made it  through raising two daughters to adulthood without pregnancies, arrests, or addictions. Well, at least that we know of.  

5.  Summer fruit.  All of a sudden the markets are teeming with berries and melons and oh I am a happy girl.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


Well, the backpacking trip has been postponed.

We would have left early this morning but there was nothing we felt we could salvage from this forecast.   I don't mind backpacking in some occasional rain, in fact I like how a forest looks and smells after a good rain.   But it has been raining for days which would make the trails slippery and two full days of nothing but rain and mud is less than pleasurable.  So, rescheduled for next week.  The nice thing about postponing is that I had cleared my calendar so now I have two full days with no commitments.  

In other news-

My children are driving me nuts.  Beaner's stuff is still clogging the entire garage, which means four cars in the driveway, which means someone always blocking someone else in, which means a lot of irritation for everyone.

Too many people vying for the bathroom in the morning.

They keep taking my charging cords, my deodorant, my favorite foods, my car, my money, my space, my sanity.   Who are these people and why do they keep calling me mom????

I obviously need to get away for a bit.  Praying to the sun gods for decent weather next week.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Full of Grace

Binge watching Orange is the New Black with my daughters.  Although how very strange, and a little uncomfortable, to watch scenes of lesbian sex with them.  

Spending a day with a woman from our Dept. of Environmental Conversation looking for evidence of female Indiana bats in the bark of trees.  Walking around the local woods on a beautiful day and getting paid for it.  I live a charmed life.  

A no work and all play weekend at the lake.

The new steps and beach are complete at the cabin and I am very happy with them. We tried to have a beach slope down gently into the water but the wake from passing boats just eroded it away and it became a big mess.  I think this will last for a very long time and the steps are gentle enough for me to easily slide my kayak up and down.

That cable/internet has arrived at the lake and my family voted unanimously not to get it.   We get extremely limited phone service and Wifi there.  We get maybe three television network channels - if someone is on the roof playing with the antenna.  I thought my kids would be begging to get the cable. But they all agreed it was nice to disconnect digitally and to play family games and read and just enjoy the lake. There is hope.  

Friday, June 6, 2014

Back into the Woods

I have often been asked how I can go deep into the woods for a few days with only another woman, and no means of communication.  People wonder why that is not the most triggering of experiences for me, being that Daphne and I were alone in the woods at the time of our assault.  

I am often puzzled by that question as well, but I really don’t have an answer for it.  

Perhaps its because my love of the woods was deeply ingrained long before the attack.  Perhaps because I have always felt such a spiritual connection to nature that that overrides the anxiety.  More likely because of when and where I go, there are seldom any other people around to fear.

I mostly hike in the Adirondacks mountains where the trails are rated by difficulty, 1 being very easy, 7 being for experts.  I generally stick to the difficult trails but that was not always the case.  In fact, one of my favorite places to go is a short, gentle hike in.  And because of that, it attracts lots of people,  many who carry alcohol in.  Years ago we made camp there and late at night we could hear a group of very intoxicated men, although it was difficult to tell how far away they were.  That was a very triggering experience for me and we wound up packing up and hiking out in the dead of night.  Definitely not recommended.  I would only return there now in the off, off season.   Maybe.  Okay, maybe not.

We usually choose trails rated 5, 6 and sometimes 7 (when we were younger).   These are not for day trippers.  Forest rangers are usually at the trail heads checking your equipment and making sure that you are prepared and capable for the hike.  This generally weeds out any people who are out in the woods to party or create a problem.  These trails are for serious hikers and it is rare that we even encounter anyone else in these remote wilderness locations.  And when we do, they generally share a greeting, some advice if they have been where we are going,  and continue on.   It is very rare that I have felt frightened in the woods - at least by people.  In fact, the farther away from people I get, the safer I feel.  All the anxiety, the hyper vigilance, all disappear as soon as I am away from civilization.   Perhaps thats why I love it so much out there.  I am instantly calm and at peace.

We are still planning our 2 night trip for next week.  We have a date.  We have our food and supplies.  We are ready EXCEPT we still haven’t decided where we are going.  Neither of us is in great hiking shape yet, in fact, my hiking partner is still not fully recovered from ACL surgery.    Challenging trails are physically out of the question but easy trails scare me for the reasons mentioned above.   As much as I feel like I have gotten control of the PTSD, anxiety about possibly putting ourselves in danger is growing in the background and my mind is wandering to places I don't want to go.   I think I have finally put the trauma behind me, but I find it still has this power over me. I hate that.  I want to go back into the woods, but not back into the dark wood.

Still, I am very excited.  It has been too long since being out there.  I need the physical challenge of it.  In many ways it feels like a capping of all the health problems of the last few years.  And spiritually I am in great need of a long quiet commune with nature.  There is nothing better than sleeping under a full canopy of stars to get my spirit soaring.  

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Full of Grace

1.  Much has been written this week about Maya Angelou.   She touched so many people. My personal gratefulness centers on her poem "And Still I Rise" which was, and continues to be, my inspiration for every time I ever fell down that rabbit hole of anxiety, fear and despair.  Her words gave me strength. Every. Single. Time.  How do you thank someone for that?

2.  That one of my dearest friend's father has been gravely ill.  So ill that he was told to get his affairs in order.  And then he recovered.  He credits all the prayers that were sent his way, so I am grateful for all those prayers.  And that he feels better.

3.  Spaghetti squash.  One of the nice things about your kids going to college to live with other kids is that they learn all sorts of new recipes.  I had never had spaghetti squash and probably would have never tried it since I generally don't care for other squashes.  But my daughter made it and I really like it.  It's a good thing to be able to add new vegetables to my rather limited veggie repertoire.

4.  Power tools.  I've been doing a lot of work around the house and cabin.  Reciprocating saw, miter saw, table saw,  Dremel thing,  jig saw, all sorts of drills, lawn tractor, rototiller - I have them all.  I can't even imagine the labor that was necessary to build a shelter or clear fields before we had all this powerful help.

5.  Mondays off.  Yesterday was 84 and sunny.  Not a cloud in the sky.   And I got to enjoy every moment of it in my garden and lounging on the grass.