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23 August 2010


Thirty followers! I love even numbers, multiples of 2 and 5 and 10. Thank you and welcome!

I even removed myself as a follower (a sad effort to boost my numbers.)

At left, the jewel from my 6-mile run on 26 August 2010: a greeny lump of glass, sanded and plump and probably old because glass this color isn't made anymore—can you see the glimmery light it puts on my palm?


The top image is a collection of today's finds from our 4-mile run. A fat agate, a tiny lavender agate just above it, four bits of glass, and two limpets.

I don't often walk on the beach these days. These days my pace is swifter. Gary and I go out for runs four times a week in the early morning. In theory, I am watching where I'm going, but in fact I am watching what passes under me. Along the way I notice things on the sand—limpets, smooth stones, beach glass, and agates. I can't resist taking them home. I slow, snatch them from the sand, and continue on my way as I wipe sand from them. These pauses don't usually slow me down much, and when they do, I just run a little faster till I've caught up with Gary. When he stops or slows I run loops until he catches up. Sometimes he runs loops for me. We don't always run side by side, just in the same direction. It's pretty much what we've been doing for the past 41 years.

In our lives we've collected some great memories, worked some interesting jobs (including those "Interesting" jobs that would fit under the category of the Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times."), seen beautiful places, risked our lives, raised two fine people, made music and art, read great books, cleaned the house, gardened, slept late, gotten up before dawn, danced to our own crazy music, and we're not done.

There are times when I, at least, feel there's something I've been missing, that I've failed to catch on to something or left something out. This brings to mind another joke: What are the two saddest words? "What party?" The first time I heard that I couldn't stop laughing. I recall that feeling from when I was a girl—the reason it was so hard to go to sleep at night—I might be missing something! But most of the time I know that this is it. Picking up a shell on the beach, finishing my run strong, breathing hard, watching the water lap the shore. This is the party.

We're all invited to the party. And I, for one, do not intend to miss a thing.

Tomorrow is our 36th wedding anniversary and Gary has the day off. We'll go out for a run—a minus tide at about 7am—and then we'll come home, take our showers, eat breakfast, and do something to the house. Varnishing the kitchen floors looks like it might be a good idea. Later we'll barbecue a silver, pet the dog and cat, and call that good. Because it is.

At left you'll see five dozen or so limpets I've found this summer, lined up from large to small. Some are well worn by the sand, most are broken along one edge or another. It's interesting to me that the least likely place to be broken is the hole. They are chipped, cracked, worn away, but the center feeding hole is still there. I'm quite certain that's a metaphor for something.

Below are floats I found this winter. The larger one on the right has a hole punched in the side and it's amazing to me that it survived intact long enough for me to pick it up. The glass is less than 1/16" thick.

15 August 2010


In many flocks, illness triggers a survival instinct and sick birds are driven off or pecked to death. This is why most birds mask illness, pretending to be healthy until the brink of death. Even among domestic birds it’s common for a keeper to detect sickness in an individual chicken only when it’s too late to do anything to help it—the bird continues to behave as a robust hen until moments before she dies.
            Because we live on the Pacific shore, my husband and I come upon storm-battered birds each winter. Caught unprotected in winds they didn’t have the strength to resist, too weak to fight any longer, they leave the flock and settle alone on the shore, resigned to death. Over the years we have attempted rescues of gulls, grebes, cormorants, and murres. Sometimes they respond to our care. With the guidance of the local wildlife agency we fed an unfledged rhinoceros auk for two weeks and then turned him over to the experts to complete his rehabilitation. Other birds survive after resting a few hours sheltered in our yard. Mostly they hold themselves together, wings folded, heads erect or huddled, until they die. 
            My mother behaved like that. Smiling, cheerful, her optimism concealed her weakness. Although I talked to her daily and was present several times when Mom fell, she hid such events from me when she could. I learned of her colonoscopy only after the polyps were removed and found benign. The breast biopsy was revealed only after tests proved the lumps were “nothing to be concerned about, but I thought you should know.” She didn’t expect to live to see the year 2000, and by then she’d outlived every relative of her generation. Determined to maintain her independence and unwilling to hand over any sort of control, she would not move in with my husband and I and almost never accepted help or took advice. When someone suggested what she should do and why, she would do the opposite. My father used to tease her about asking for but never taking his advice.
            None of this seemed to me a problem until May of 2002, when Mom drove to the local post office to pick up her mail and realized she didn’t have the strength to get out of the car. She drove home and had to crawl from the car into her house and the phone. A week later she had back surgery in Portland and shortly after that was moved briefly to “Long Term Care” at the local hospital. Once she returned to her own home again, she needed help to do almost everything, but she accepted assistance only under her terms. From her chair in the living room she would shout instructions to my husband and me about preparing toast or coffee, sorting her laundry, sweeping the floor. Twice a week, visiting physical therapists gave her lists of exercises she would not do. Thursdays the occupational therapist cleared her floors to save her from falls and by Friday Mom had put everything back. She would not use her walker. She would not take her pain pills. Although she tracked her vitamins and bowel movements, she would not eat the recommended diet or drink water at all. Every couple of weeks she went to the ER for constipation. Her back surgery healed slowly but when she became strong enough to move unaided, she fell and broke her hip while running to answer the phone before the third ring. She concealed facts from her doctor—which I know because she invited me to go with her for check-ups and I heard her lie about everything from exercise to eating habits. She smiled, she batted her eyelashes, she flirted and joked with her handsome doctor. He thought she was suffering from dementia. No, I explained. Just stubborn.
            During the next five years, Mom fell many times. She broke her nose, suffered a concussion, broke her arm and her other hip. My husband and I checked on her several times a day, lifted and carried and listened and called 911 and drove her to the ER and sat in the waiting room while X-rays were evaluated and talked to doctors and nurses and held her hand and walked her dog and urged her to eat and drink and brought her funny stories and books and groceries and moved her in and out of assisted living. We were there when she needed us, whether she asked or not, doing whatever she told or allowed us to do. She still tried to keep injuries secret, but bruises gave her away or nurses and friends called me without her permission to let me know about a fall or a bad night. Caught between her determination to be independent and her inability to drive herself to the hospital, she hated to ask only slightly less than she hated to pay for an ambulance. When she called for help, it was an emergency. The emergency was most often constipation and dehydration. But because he was rarely around, my brother believed her on the phone when she sounded strong and confident, and when he visited she concealed visible signs of frailty.
            The last Thanksgiving before her back surgery we drove Mom to my brother and sister-in-law’s new house for dinner and she hustled unaided up a flight of stairs. In her real life she was slow walking to the bathroom, and she climbed the three steps to her back door one at a time. But for the evening she was vigorous and cheerful. It would be her last time away from the coast except for ambulance rides. She maintained the illusion that she was stronger than she was so that my brother wouldn’t worry.
            Often, a day after a visit from my brother and his wife, my husband and I would be with Mom in the emergency room. She exhausted herself proving to my brother that she was fine, nothing to worry about. Like a mother who lifts a car off her child and the next day discovers she has torn muscles and ligaments, she found the strength for the moment and paid for it later. One disastrous week she went to the ER three times: on Wednesday for constipation, back on Friday after a visit from my brother, and again the following day after a fall in the kitchen.
            She was careful not to reveal any of this to her son. 
            Mom didn’t think her children would turn on her for her illness, but she wanted us spared. Whether from pride or embarrassment, she carried on, insisting cheerfully to everyone: “I will be fine—nothing to worry about” even as she lay on her back with a second broken hip. Determined to remain in control, she would be the one to decide when she needed help. Again and again she resisted our concern, perhaps expecting to die before she needed it, and surprising us all with her tenacious grip on life. She lived past her 82nd birthday, long enough to fall in love again, long enough to see her grandsons settled and prove to everyone who was in charge.
            During those last years of my mother’s life, I kept my own secrets. I didn’t share my troubles at work, mounting bills, the death of our dog, the trouble between me and my brother. I wanted to spare my mother when she had so many pains already, but I also closed a door between us by not allowing her to help me. She was always happy to help.
            We mask our pain even from the ones who love us—especially from them. Like birds, we sometimes alter our behavior to make ourselves appear strong and healthy in our moments of greatest vulnerability. But unlike birds, we’re not afraid of our loved ones turning on us; we’re reluctant to impose our weakness on another.
            This is why the furniture salesman in the Pearl district doesn’t cry when I admire his cockatiel. He smiles, ha-rumphs. This one is new, he says, a replacement for his “baby.” He describes finding his seventeen year old cockatiel on the bottom of her cage. The yellow and blue bird had masked her illness from the person who cared for her, who would not have pecked her or driven her away—would have cared for her, stayed up through the night to hold her through her last moment. If only she’d let him know.
            My mother sheltered her children, and I tried to shelter her from my sorrows as well. But the truth I’ve come to understand is that to carry the heavy pain of a loved one is not only a burden, it’s a blessing. I wish my mother were alive so that I could tell her that.

08 August 2010


I woke this morning and realized that I didn't have to run today, the weather is perfect, and I've spent my entire summer reading to prepare for the new school year and making jam. The jam is tasty, but I like making it more than eating it. The dog is not pregnant. The bathtub for the bathroom remodel is still in the garage. I haven't written a story. I didn't attend the Bellevue Arts Fair. I didn't attend my 40-year high school reunion (that's another thing, I'm getting old). We didn't go to Lisbon. We didn't go anywhere on vacation. I have two weeks before school starts up again. 

I'm already tired just thinking about it, but I also look forward to getting back to work, to feeling useful and occupied. It feels good to be working a job I love. 

A series of studies Dan Pink describes at RSA finds that once basic needs are met and people aren't worried about money, money ceases to be a motivator for higher performance. It actually works in reverse—offer them more money and their job performance goes down. Yeah, weird. The study began at MIT but has been replicated all over the world such as rural India. Same thing. Extra monetary incentive for high performance doesn't work when the work requires thinking. Assembly line tasks—more money, more work. Ask people to problem-solve, be creative, or think... and the whole scenario begins working in a way that seems counter to reason. 

So pay people enough that money is not an issue anymore, and then if you want them to think harder and achieve really great things, you need a better motivator. 

Instead of money, what motivates thinking people who aren't worried about how to pay the babysitter or their overpriced medical care are three things: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. 
  • Autonomy: Give us a challenge and just get out of our way—let us make our own choices about what to do. We want to be self-directed. 
  • Mastery: It's fun to do things well. That's why we often work so hard at our leisure activities. 
  • Purpose: Humans want to feel useful. We want to make a difference in the world.
What's the lesson to be learned from this? Some of our traditional beliefs about leadership and motivation are turned on their head. Top down direction and money rewards work for the most simplistic tasks, but fail to address the need for creative and intelligent work in a modern society. To be fair, they aren't working well for traditional cultures either, which include autonomy, mastery, and purpose in every job from cooking a meal to weeding a field. It's the industrial system that has caused us to lose sight of the value of work because the end-game tasks are so divorced from the control and skill of the individual worker. 

I have two weeks where I can wake up in the morning and decide what to do, practice doing it well, and look toward being useful. I guess that's how I've spent my summer vacation. 

ABOVE: Today's blueberry-peach pie. My family is of the opinion that a pie is done once it's bubbled out of the crust. Yesterday I made pesto and apricot-gooseberry jam. Tomorrow... carrot-ginger jam. 
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