Vancouver Welcome

The world’s worst photographer strikes again.

Karl and I flew into Vancouver yesterday.

The day got off to a rough start. We had decided to spend the night at Helen’s new apartment in Syracuse because it was closer to the airport, so Bud drove us up the night before.

I set my alarm for 4:20 AM, but woke up at 4:12 on my own. Got dressed. Stuffed my pjs back in my suitcase. Gathered my belongings.


My wallet was NOT in my bag.

My wallet — which contained my passport and driver’s license and credit cards and cash and everything I needed to travel with except my clothes and my toothbrush.

(Well, I forgot my toothbrush, too. Helen had a spare which she gave me.)

My wallet. I knew I had it when I left Greene. I had double-checked. I must have left it in the car.

Panic panic panic panic — I couldn’t even dial my home phone correctly — panic panic panic panic — “Calm down,” said Helen.

I called home. It took forever for Bud to answer (or so it seemed) but I’m sure he was sound asleep.

Helen was thinking clearly. “We still need to get Karl to the airport,” she said, and kept moving in that direction

Finally Bud answered. I explained the problem. He went to see if he could find it. Yes, it was in the car. He would meet me at the airport.

At 4:43 AM we left Helen’s apartment. “Are you feeling anxious?” she asked.

“Um. YES,” I replied.

I was worried about the fact that travelers are supposed to be at the airport 2 hours before an international trip. I knew that was impossible.

Okay — I would be at the airport — outside.

I asked the woman at the ticket counter. “They’ll start boarding at 6:30,” she said. “As long as you’re at the gate, you should be fine.” It was then 5:10 AM.

I gave Karl the papers he would need if I didn’t make it. He rode the escalator alone to the security checkpoint. As I watched his back disappear onto the second floor, I prayed a little prayer for him. Surely he was feeling anxious about this too.

IMG_7482Outside, on a cold red metal bench I waited for Bud. Nearby smokers were catching up on nicotine they had missed or were going to miss. I waited and prayed.

A coracle moon reminded me that I was not unmoored. I was glad I could see it from my bench.

I pictured Bud screeching around the corner and zooming up to the curb, but he didn’t. He calmly pulled in and put down the window so I could grab my wallet and run. I didn’t do that either. I thanked him and leaned in to kiss him. He was my hero.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. Flying to Chicago. Going through the space tunnel. Flying into Vancouver. Then waiting in long, long lines to get through customs and get a student visa for Karl.

I was exhausted.

Which may explain the lousy pictures.

As we finally entered the main lobby of the airport, we walked a broad gauntlet of suited men holding signs with people’s names on them, trying to connect with expected arrivals.

And there was Sam, holding a sign for Karl and me.

First attempt

First attempt

Yes, I covered the lens with my finger.

Second attempt

Second attempt

Yes, his eyes are closed.

I didn’t try to take another snapshot.

Until this morning. And I still cut part of the picture off.

The sign

The sign

A family nickname for Karl is Juicebox. I’m not really sure why.

Not really sure why that wine box is there either. ;-)

But I’m glad we made it to Vancouver.


Isaiah 56: 3-8

“Here’s the thing,” says God.
“Don’t you go saying that you don’t belong to My family,
And don’t you go thinking that because you don’t ‘produce’ I’m going to throw you out.
I don’t work like that.
At all.
If you love Me
If you embrace activities and ideas that please Me
If you hold fast to the promises I have made to you
Then I will give to you something better than any fame, fortune, or power you might receive from the world for something you did
What I have to give you is better than a large family or even one successful child
What I have to give you is a name —
A name that will forever tie you to Me.”

“And if you think you don’t belong in My family,
let Me ask you this —
Do you love Me?
Do you serve Me?
Do you help others because you know Me?
Do you set aside time
when you aren’t working
and just think about Me?
Do you lay in a grassy field on a Sunday afternoon,
look up at my blue sky, and utter a simple thank-you?”

“My door is always open to you
because you are family.
Mi casa es su casa.”

“You are family.
You are welcomed with great joy
and big bear hugs
(even though you say you don’t like hugs).”

Sit with Me in the quiet.
Whisper to Me.
I am always listening.”

“You may think that you’re an outcast,
but I am gathering you in My arms
and holding you close.”



Best Numbers and Peas

“Hey, Mom, do you know what the best number is?”

Karl asked this at dinner because we were discussing numbers.

For the record, I did not know what the best number was, nor did I even know there was a best number.

I mean, I do have a soft spot for primes and squares. Doesn’t everybody?

But I don’t have a favorite number.

And I didn’t know there was a best number.

The discussion had started with the number four.  I don’t remember who said it, but someone brought up the fact that four is considered unlucky in certain countries like Korea or China.

“It’s like thirteen in this country,” I said, “but I don’t think thirteen is that bad. It is, after all, prime.”

That’s when Karl asked the best number question.

“Seven?” Bud guessed.

A lot of people really like seven. It’s a prime. And considered lucky.

“Nope,” Karl answered. “But it has a seven in it.”

I started mentally running through the numbers ending with seven. “Seventeen?” I guessed.


I knew it couldn’t be twenty-seven. It is a cube number which makes it interesting, but not the best.

“Thirty-seven?” I guessed.

“It’s seventy-three,” Karl said. “It’s the twenty-first prime and the mirror of thirty-seven which is the twelfth prime. Twelve and twenty-one are mirrors.”

Kind of cool. For someone who likes prime numbers. And symmetry.

How we got from there to spitting peas I don’t know.

Laurel and Karl

Laurel and Karl

Really. The next thing I knew Karl was challenging Laurel to a pea-spitting contest.

They each took a few peas from their dinner plate and headed to the back deck to see who could spit them farther.

“Mom,” Mary pleaded, “they’re spitting peas.”

“I know,” I said, “but Karl leaves for college soon.”

Would I have allowed this years ago when Philip was heading off to college? Probably not.

But I’ve learned.

At the end of the day, the things we remember aren’t the quirky discussions of numbers but the spitting of peas and the accompanying laughter.

I so want my children to look back at their growing up years and be able to laugh.

Smashed Potatoes

IMG_7440I made potatoes out of a pouch for dinner.

We call them fake potatoes because I am more than a little skeptical as to what is in them.

But Laurel had four teeth taken out and needs to eat soft foods. And I had a busy day.

On top of that I bought a rotisserie chicken to go with the instant potatoes. Once upon a time I had a rotisserie chicken that tasted good, but now their texture seems mealy and unappetizing to me.

Fake potatoes with fake chicken. Yum. I wonder what my mother was served at the nursing home.

Our conversation made up for the sad meal.

I asked Karl to pass the smashed potatoes.

“Do you know the difference between mashed potatoes and smashed potatoes?” Mary asked.

“Alcohol,” I blurted out.

Karl laughed until I worried that mashed potatoes would come out his nose.

“That’s a good one, Mom,” he laugh-snorted, which, I suppose, is a chortle.

“I don’t get it,” said Laurel.

“But there really is a difference,” insisted Mary.

“I don’t get it,” Laurel said again.

“I’m going to tell that one to my friends,” Karl said.

I was busy laughing and wondering if chefs like Lewis Graham ever played around with such things. Alcoholic mashed potatoes actually sounds pretty terrible.

“Do you want me to tell you the difference?” Mary asked.

Clearly she wanted to tell us.

“I still don’t get the joke,” Laurel said.

“Smashed is another term for drunk,” I explained. “Now Mary can tell us the difference between smashed and mashed potatoes.”

“Smashed potatoes still have the skin on,” Mary explained.

But Karl was still laughing and shaking his head.

I guess even a lousy meal can be good if there’s a little education and a lot of laughter.


At the Nursing Home

We could hear him far down the hall.

“Help me! Please, God, help me! Help me!”

The staff continued their tasks, unaffected by the cries.

My father wanted to speak with a nurse about some issues with my mother. We reached the lounge area from which the cries emanated. An aide was giving nail care to an elderly woman while a man a few feet away continued to cry out.

“Oh, God, help me! Help me!”

I thought of Mrs. White, a patient I had taken care of in 1980 when I had been a nurse’s aide at the Meadows, the county nursing home. The very first time I walked onto B wing, my area, I could hear her crying out.

“I want to die. I want to die. Please, God, let me die.”

“Don’t pay any attention to her,” the aide training me said. “She says that all the time.”

And she did.

I was often assigned to her, to give her a bed bath, to feed her, to clean her when she messed. I couldn’t ignore her pleas. They tugged at my heart.

So I just talked to while I was doing my duties. Like she was a person.

It didn’t make much difference. She still wanted to die. She begged me all the time.

This man today, he changed his words when he saw us.

“I can’t get up,” he cried, but he was sitting upright in his wheelchair.

“My arm is cut real bad,” he called to me. Both arms were exposed and appeared injury free.

“Help me! Help me! Please, God, help me!” he called after us as we left the area.

Such are the sounds of a nursing home.

My father sat in a small sitting area and spoke with the nurse. I went upstairs to bring my mother down from the hairdresser.

Linda, the hairdresser, is perfect for her job. She laughs and jokes with the white-haired ladies while she puts curlers in their hair or brushes it out afterwards.

My mother was sleeping under the dryer and Linda was brushing one woman’s hair and telling stories to the other six ladies in attendance. Another woman with curlers in her hair and eyes closed called out, “Stop the story!”

Linda laughed. “She thinks I can’t work and talk at the same time,” she said, then added in the direction of her heckler, “Don’t worry. I’m working.”

“Stop the story!” It cropped up almost rhythmically, like an alarm going off at regular intervals.

Linda kept laughing and talking and curling and brushing.

“Cancel it! Cancel the story!”

The alarm changed.

Linda didn’t.

When my mother’s hair was done, I brought her down for lunch. My father joined us. Goulash and carrots. Yum.

A few minutes later, Stop-the-story joined us.

Initially she was quiet while she ate. Then, it started with a new refrain.

“Time to end this!”

Like the rumble of thunder, her herald was a little unnerving.

“Time to end this!”

“End what, Annie?” asked the big man in the corner in his booming voice.

A few minutes later, she cried again, “Time to end this!”

“End what? What are you talking about, Annie?” he boomed.

“End it all,” said a lady dressed in fuchsia, quietly, as if to herself. “Good-bye, cruel world.”

“Time to end this!”

“Knock it off, Annie,” boomed the man.


Annie was wheeled away for her afternoon nap. Big man sat in the corner. My mother finished her carrots. Fuchsia lady ate a single-serve chocolate ice cream cup. My father and I talked quietly.

Fuchsia lady set her spoon down. “No matter how bad the meal,” she said, talking to no one in particular, “chocolate ice cream helps.” She paused. “It makes you forget.”

I thought again of Mrs. White.

About ten years after I had cared for her, my father said to me one day, “You know who asks for you at the Meadows? Mrs. White.”

“Is she still alive?” I asked, amazed.

“You wouldn’t even recognize her,” he said. “She’s up. She’s pleasant. They changed her meds and she’s a whole new person.”

Well, what do you know?

I wonder if they gave her chocolate ice cream.


As Others See Us

I was sitting in the waiting room at the oral surgeon’s office. Laurel was having some teeth removed.

A texting mom sat opposite me. She was called to the back by a staff person with her surgical mask pulled down on her chin telling her, “She did great.”

I waited, alternately reading a book on my Kindle, playing a word game on my iPod, and people-watching.

Another mom with a teenage daughter came in. The girl wore a black t-shirt with huge words emblazoned on the front. I didn’t want to stare to read them, so I turned my eyes back to the Kindle. Milo was being thrown into prison in Dictionopolis.

“I’m here to get my wisdom teeth out,” the girl announced to the receptionist.

“Have a seat,” she was told.

I closed my eyes and prayed for Laurel. She was probably right at that moment in the throes of tooth-yanking. I always remember my husband’s story of the dentist standing on a chair to pull one of his teeth out. I had four teeth pulled when I was young but don’t remember any of it.

Two older women slowly came through the door. One had a cane, the other was pushing a walker. I could see their car in the closest handicapped spot, a Buick similar to the one my mother had driven. Ms. Cane sat down, while Ms. Walker went to the window. She was a very large woman, and was huffing and puffing from the exertion of coming up the ramp and entering the room.

“I. Have. An appointment. With the. Doctor,” she said between breaths.

I studied my book. Milo was meeting Faintly Macabre, the not-so-wicked Which.

Ms. Walker was handed a clipboard with papers and somehow maneuvered the walker while holding the clipboard to a spot in the waiting room with several chairs that did not have arms. It was near where Ms. Cane was sitting in a captain’s chair. Ms. Walker needed the extra space. She huffed and puffed heavily.

I kept glancing at her, wondering if she needed help. Several people had told me that my brother, in the days just before his heart attack, could barely walk across the parking lot without becoming short of breath.

I switched to the word game, trying to occupy my mind with the challenge of only finding 6, 7, or 8 letter words.

“How does. Jerry. Spell. His name?” Ms. Walker asked her companion, scribbling out the answer as it was told her.

“What’s. Ginny’s. Work number?”

“Why. Do they. Always ask. For email? I. Don’t. Have one.”

It was hard to concentrate. She spoke in a loud voice with so much gasping for air that it was disconcerting.

Then Ms. Walker asked Ms. Cane, “Am I. In. Good. Health?”

Ms. Cane was unsure how to answer. “I – I – I guess so,” she stammered.

I rummaged in my bag for something else to distract me.

The lady with the surgical mask under her chin came out and called for me.

Laurel survived, a little giddy from the laughing gas. She had a mouthful of bloody gauze for the ride home.

I thought about Ms. Walker, though, as I drove. She was morbidly obese and struggling to breathe, yet she asked her friend if she was in good health. She couldn’t see the one thing that was most clear to me about her.

In a recent argument, someone had said to me, “You don’t know how you come off to other people. I wish you could see yourself the way others see you.” I wish I could, too. I’m sure I would make a lot of changes.

Robert Burns put it this way:

O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us.

As Laurel sees me (photo by Laurel)

As Laurel sees me (photo by Laurel)

Stuck in a Hole

Ryan North’s story of being stuck in a hole has been on my mind. If you haven’t seen or heard it, you can read it here: Storify, or watch it here: Global News.

Recently someone read me this story/poem from Portia Nelson’s There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk:

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes me a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in. It’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault. I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

I walk down another street.

We live in a world of holes.

Ryan’s problem in the hole wasn’t that there wasn’t a way out. It was that he needed to get both himself and his dog out.  He couldn’t climb the sides holding onto Chompsky.

I spent a lot of time the past few days thinking about Ryan and Chompsky in their hole.

Mostly because I’ve been feeling stuck, like I have no good options.

Like Ryan, I don’t want to leave anything behind in a hole.

So I sit there, lost and helpless.

But Ryan’s adventure changed my prayers.

No longer am I looking skyward and saying, “Get me out of this hole!”

Now I’m saying, “Okay, Lord, where do I let go — what do I put down — so I can get out of this hole?”

Letting go can be the hardest thing.

But it can also be the thing that helps the most.