Perspective

Life seems to have a way of reminding me to keep things in perspective; to remember that there exists a balance between wonderful, devastating, and merely a struggle. Last night my husband and I sat down to dinner feeling as though we’d each had a difficult day. Neither one of us felt devastated, but we both felt a sense of frustration and tension. Our work days had been stressful. He had faced the rigor of sales and keeping clients happy. Me – I was faced with the difficulties of hiring new people, letting others go, and the hope of closing out a school year on a positive note for students, parents and staff. I was soon to be reminded of how inconsequential these issues are when compared with the real world.

As a ski patroller I train with other people to save lives. Certainly most of what we do is to bandage a cut or splint a possible sprain or minor fracture. But at least once a year we are faced with tending to life threatening injuries or issues. In the outdoor industry people get lost, they get hypothermic, they have severe head and/or neck trauma, and they break bones or rupture organs that can quickly become a traumatic scenario.

We train to respond to those injuries. We train as a team, and in that training we form a bond. We develop a connection to each other that is rather difficult to describe. When faced with a situation where another person’s life is in the hands of you and your fellow patrollers, you had better know and trust each other. You must have a more than excellent confidence and knowledge in each other’s abilities, and you require an assurance that you are standing together in this situation as one solid force. It’s not a pretend situation in those moments, it’s real and it’s serious.

The result of that bond makes it that much more difficult when we lose one of our own. Nowadays I get it when police officers lose fellow officers, or when fire fighters don’t make it through that catastrophic house fire down the road. It’s more than devastating. It’s heartbreaking. It’s like losing a part of oneself. After dinner last night, after our own pity parties about the difficulties of our days, I learned that our patrol had lost one of our long time patrollers of forty years. The impact of that loss is huge.

Since I’ve been on patrol we have lost three of our own, three patrollers who were not yet retired, and not yet technically out of commission. All three of those losses have left a hole in our patrol that cannot be filled. These people were still young enough to ski, to take care of others, to work with the team, and to save lives.

My difficulties, my stresses, are pretty minimal. Most of my worries are not going to make or break anyone or anything. I worry about jobs and education and how to make people happy. Losing people we love, people who impact us, help us put all of that into proper perspective. The things I worry about are mere obstructions to daily living. My thoughts and prayers go out to those who have recently lost loved ones, and to my patrol.

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Christmas at Our House

There is a poem called “At Christmas”, by Edgar Guest (recited below), that recently caused me to reflect on myself, and my own love of the holiday season. Like many people, I did not grow up in a family where one would have gotten the impression that holidays were wrought with much in the way of joyful exuberance. We were up there on the dysfunctional family rating scale. Yet somehow, as a young child, I found a way to overlook those things at Christmas time. I enjoyed our crazy family get-togethers on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and as an adult I’ve done my best to bring to my own children a sense of acceptance, love and joy during the holiday season.

Our Christmas get together this year consisted of our two daughters and their husbands, my brother-in-law and his significant other, and four students from China. In the house we also had our two cats and two extra dogs. The troops all gathered around mid-morning on Christmas Eve along with a car-full of gifts, food to share, and a variety of adult beverages.

The students from China had never been to an American Christmas before, and I’m most certain they went away with a mixture of emotions. Our seventeen foot, highly decorated tree hit them right off the bat. They were somewhat surprised that we would bring a live tree that large into our home. The cameras quickly came out and they proceeded to take photos of the tree, the decorations, and the ridiculous number of gifts crammed under the tree limbs that were drooping with ornaments, lights, and tinsel. The smiles on their faces and the excitement in their voices caused us all to chuckle.

As the day unfolded the students found their own niche in our pool room, and the rest of us proceeded to play a fairly calm game of UNO, and then moved into a more heated couple’s game of Scrabble. The competitive beasts within rose to the surface.

As traditional holds at our house, we opened gifts on Christmas Eve. Our Chinese guests joined us for a nice spread of hors d’oeuvres and drinks and each received a handful of gifts which they graciously opened with smiles and much thanks. And I think we all behaved ourselves reasonably well. No one drank or ate too much, and we all stayed awake until the end (although I quickly retired to the bedroom after the last gift was open). My husband and I do, however, have the tendency to say a few off color comments now that our kids are older – mostly to get a rise out of them and definitely to amuse ourselves. The words balls and nuts were frequently talked about in a variety of ways by all, mild sexual innuendos were cleverly interspersed into conversation when possible, and on Christmas Day my husband assured our oldest and her spouse that sex is still good, even at our age. I’m rather certain that neither one of them felt they needed to hear that comment.

Most of our holidays are similar. We have a little tension off and on, we laugh a lot, and we make a number of rather inappropriate jokes just because we can. Like all families, ours has a mix of personalities and we don’t always run like a well-oiled machine. But we all make a choice. We could cross our arms and come together in a disgruntled fashion, but we don’t. Instead we embrace the season, forgive our various idiosyncrasies, accept each other as we are, and enjoy our time together.

As an adult I fully embrace the possibility that when I was a child I chose to put on my blinders and make the holiday season a wonderland of giving and joyful banter. And I’m good with that. To this day I happily engage in the festivities of the holiday season. This is a time to put aside any selfishness and become who we are meant to be. And I would hope that as we head into each New Year we strive to maintain that goodness and that spirit of selflessness toward others until the next Christmas Season is upon us.

At Christmas, By Edgar Guest
“A man is at his finest
towards the finish of the year;
He is almost what he should be
when the Christmas season is here;
Then he’s thinking more of others
than he’s thought the months before,
And the laughter of his children
is a joy worth toiling for.
He is less a selfish creature than
at any other time;
When the Christmas spirit rules him
he comes close to the sublime.
When it’s Christmas man is bigger
and is better in his part;
He is keener for the service
that is prompted by the heart.
All the petty thoughts and narrow
seem to vanish for awhile
And the true reward he’s seeking
is the glory of a smile.
Then for others he is toiling and
somehow it seems to me
That at Christmas he is almost
what God wanted him to be.
If I had to paint a picture of a man
I think I’d wait
Till he’d fought his selfish battles
and had put aside his hate.
I’d not catch him at his labors
when his thoughts are all of pelf,
On the long days and the dreary
when he’s striving for himself.
I’d not take him when he’s sneering,
when he’s scornful or depressed,
But I’d look for him at Christmas
when he’s shining at his best.
Man is ever in a struggle
and he’s oft misunderstood;
There are days the worst that’s in him
is the master of the good,
But at Christmas kindness rules him
and he puts himself aside
And his petty hates are vanquished
and his heart is opened wide.
Oh, I don’t know how to say it,
but somehow it seems to me
That at Christmas man is almost
what God sent him here to be.”

from Collected Verse of Edgar Guest

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Get Naked

Over the past few years I’ve written a number of blogs about marriage, a topic that elicits any number of emotions from any single person. After all, marital bliss is not in everyone’s vocabulary. Some people don’t even recognize the word and vow to never enter into matrimonial bondage. Some react to it with anger or pain, having had some kind of previous nuptial experience that resulted in hurt feelings and a broken heart. And then there are those who embrace it one day and hate it the next. For them marriage is a series of ups and downs, good feelings and bad. I seem to know a good number of people in that latter category. My husband and I have been blessed with good fortune in the arena of wedded happiness. We have been married twenty-five years with minimal struggles, and we both tend to smile at even the thought of marriage. We often wonder why we are so lucky, but we can only speculate, and speculate we do.

So what is the elusive key to a successful marriage? I’ve written about marriage as a choice, the value of finding a rhythm to your relationship, the importance of hard work, romance, acceptance, the mix of marriage, and more. Honestly, I don’t know the key; I just know what works for us.

We do strive to do all of the above. We choose to love each other and forgive, we work at our marriage, we provide each other our own type of romance, we get the ups and downs, and we do our best to accept each other. We laugh together, we cry together, and the older we get the more we find joy in aging together.

The other day I heard a marital anecdote on the radio. I think it actually had to do with a mattress advertisement, but it made my ears perk up and brought a smile to my lips. In an effort to sell their brand of sleep ware, the announcer mentioned the benefit to a couple of going to bed together, at the same time. We do that, and we don’t stop there.

nakedThe bedtime ritual has been a rather fundamental component of our marriage. The only times our heads have not hit the pillows simultaneously were when one of us was incapacitated on the couch downstairs with no hope of arousal, or when one of us has been gone on a trip. We have always put ourselves to bed at the same time. When we get to bed we talk about whatever craziness comes to our heads, we laugh, we often partake in the joy of sex, we turn the light out, and we go to sleep. Oh, and let me not forget to mention the key component, as we shared with our kids as an essential when they married – we sleep unencumbered, we let it all hang out… we get naked.

I don’t know if the manner in which we crawl under the sheets has been the key to our success, but I am quite sure that it has been one of the more beneficial factors. Sleeping with another person, and sleeping sin ropa, makes you vulnerable, and what is marriage if you can’t open up to the risk of vulnerability? I’m not one to delve into the realms of rendering myself susceptible to others or even being publicly demonstrative, but when it comes to my husband – there is no holding back.

Marriage can be as complex or as simple as you make it. The tricky part involves the fact that there are two of you engaged in this potentially intricate web. To find success there must be give and take on both parts, and it certainly helps if neither one of you gets the heebie jeebies when you hear the word ‘marriage’.

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What is Wrong With Me?

It’s pretty hard to believe that the year 2013 is coming to a close.  Usually I pass from one year to the next with little thought.  My husband and I struggle to stay awake until midnight on New Year’s Eve, we generally establish a handful of personal and career related goals, and time marches on.  This year, however, brings a bit of personal trauma for me.  In a mere six months I’ll be turning the big five-o.  The year 2014 has hung ominously over my head since I was a kid who struggled to fathom how anyone that old could successfully and appropriately function in society – and that about sums up my current mental state.

A decade ago, when I turned forty, several people forewarned me about the manner in which my body would rapidly decline as the years ticked by. On a positive note, my physical being has remained fairly healthy. Only recently have I had to deal with the occasional odd ache or weird twitch.   I can still plug along a hiking trail at a reasonable pace for someone five foot one with a 27 inch inseam, my eyesight has barely declined – in fact I still don’t need readers, and the only time I ever see a doctor is when my annual exam comes due.  

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for my mental state.  And I’m wondering what  in the world is wrong with me?  In my defense I am a busy person. I work sixty plus hours a week, I am an active ski patroller, I have a husband that I enjoy hanging out with, and I have four great kids (two daughters and two sons-in-law) that I spend time with whenever possible.  So maybe it’s not my age, maybe I’m just busy????

I don’t know. Several years back I wrote any article about a day where I went to a graduation ceremony for our oldest daughter and wore two different pairs of shoes.  That was funny, and really, it was an honest mistake.  They were both dress boots, similar in color and style, and only noticeable from the heals. In fact, I made a similar mistake at work a few weeks back. Pretty goofy, but not entirely idiotic.

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Today, though, worried me.   This past week we lost one of our little farm buddies.  We live on a few acres and have chickens, dogs, cats, goats, and ‘seasonal’ pigs.  Unfortunately one out of our two goats became ill and although we nursed him and cared for him he didn’t pull through.   Goats are quite social creatures by nature, and we knew that it would be imperative to get a new friend for our one remaining goat.  We searched around and located two pygmies in need of a new home. 

These cute little guys weren’t living very far away so we quickly donned our jeans, our Carhartt’s jackets, and our gloves and headed out.  We pulled up to their farm in the only vehicle we have that will hold goats – my BMW X5 – not a traditional farm car. I’m sure that amused the home owner enough, at least until I got out and walked around the pasture with him.  We were nearly ten minutes into our visit with him and the little pygmies when I looked down.  In my haste to check out the goats, I had thrown on one grey and purple tennis shoe, and one white and orange tennis shoe.  I laughed and showed my husband.

Fortunately I had snow boots in the back of my car. I quickly changed shoes, hopeful that the gentleman with the goats hadn’t noticed my first pair of footwear.  We continued to talk goat, decided to bring them home, caught the critters, stuck them in the back of my SUV, and took off down the road. They are currently happily roaming our pasture with our other goat, and I’m hopeful that their previous owner isn’t too terribly concerned about the goofy people who adopted his pygmies.

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Fifty is just around the corner, and every day I’m thankful that in spite of whatever is wrong with me, my husband and I keep hold of our senses of humor.  We can’t be that bad off, although the other day I did find him fast asleep on our front rug naked as a jay bird.  Ah, but I’ll save that story for another time.

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!  

 

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It’s Been an Honor

Yesterday we said goodbye to a friend, a father, and a husband. The day brought an abundance of tears and periods of reflection as people shared stories and personal memories. I knew the man who passed away so suddenly on Mount Hood as a fellow ski patroller. But volunteering as a patroller in order to provide aid to others was just one of his many layers. More than a thousand people attended the service and the depth and outreach of Kinley Adams touched every one of those lives.

mt_hood_oregon_mg_4287_1-14-11A memorial service is meant to provide those of us left behind the opportunity to consider the life of the person who has passed on. Personally I have only attended a handful of services, but each that I have gone to has also caused me to consider the life I’m leading and question whether or not I’m living it to the fullest.

Kinley shared his life and his faith with a quiet humility and an air of calm steadfastness. His character didn’t change as he maneuvered through work, family, church, patrolling, music, climbing and so on. The power and honor of the legacy he left behind is strong in his wife, his sons, and the thousands of lives he touched.

Each of us will one day breathe our last breath and be laid to rest, and each of us will leave behind not just a handful of memories, but also the effect we’ve had on the lives of those around us. It’s inevitable. Our moral fiber, the very essence of our existence and the manner in which we portray ourselves to others, will remain and that is what will be remembered. Kinley will be remembered by me as optimistic, resolute, and well- founded in his faith and in his family. Those are powerful characteristics to possess, and characteristics that make me feel honored that I had the opportunity to know and work beside him.

Obviously I don’t know what I will leave behind when it’s my time to go. But I know my aspirations, and I know that I wish to leave this world and enter the next with the knowledge that I did my best to be the person God created me to be. Kinley did that. Although his death occurred way too early in his life, he lived each day with thoughtful determination.

God bless each of you, and may we consider our personal character and the effect it has on those around us on a daily basis. And Kinley – it truly has been an honor.

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Digging in My Heals

Lately I’ve noticed that life has become like a game of tug of war, and I’m starting to lose. I’m pulling hard on my end, using my weight, burrowing my feet as far into the soil as I can to gain a little leverage, but the force is just too strong. The truth is that I’m on the dark end of forty and my husband and I are approaching our twenty-fifth tug of warwedding anniversary.

I’ve written blogs before about age. I’ve talked about sagging body parts, societal changes from the 70’s to now, and I did an entire series on tumbling over the hill and the inevitable loss of mental acuity. Most of those were written at least a couple of years back, when I was in my mid-forties. At that point in time my husband wasn’t intrigued by the thought of trying that little blue pill, neither one of us required the drug store readers, and fifty was only tapping lightly on the door, not pounding with the ferocity of a sledge hammer.

Of course age is really only what you make of it. I remember pondering ‘old’ people as a child. One of our neighbors had children a good five to ten years older than me and I found them terribly intimidating. They drove cars and went to high school and college, and when they talked they sounded super smart and way beyond my years.

And adults? Any one over the age of twenty-five perplexed me. My brain couldn’t even come close to processing the dress upidea that they had ever been young like me. I couldn’t grasp that those ‘big’ people had played tag and dress-up and gone to school and that they’d had parents who’d scolded them and tucked them in at night.

Of course now I’m one of those ‘big’ people. But the funny thing is that I often still feel like that little girl, I’m just no longer perplexed. I get that we all have life stories, and we’re all in this same game of tug-of-war. We all live as children, grow up, and will at some point begin to feel the pull as the other side starts to win.

It’s possible that I have another forty-some years to live, and I certainly hope that my husband and I have at least another twenty-five to spend together. But, I know that these coming years will go a bit differently. Our body parts will continue to sag and creak, the gray hairs will crop up with more frequency, we will probably speak our minds more without worrying what others think, and I know we will do more sitting and eventually less working. When I think of it that way, not all of those consequences are all bad. And, who knows – my husband might get that little blue pill!

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Ray of Light

The other night I had the first opportunity in weeks to sit down and watch the television; to try to catch up on the events that are going on in our community, our country, and our world. I’d been feeling a bit out of touch, and I needed to reconnect. I had been reading the headlines and trying to stay current, but I hadn’t really taken the time to sit down and pay attention. So—I watched video and I listened to commentary, I paid attention to the bombing in Boston and the capture of the suspects, and I read through a couple of local articles that included the deaths of two very young children. My heart broke. In fact, in very little time my eyes filled with tears and I had to take a few seconds to collect my emotions.

As I’ve tried to process all of these events, my mind keeps returning to our children—mine, the students of my school, and the kids of my friends and neighbors. I’ve thought of what we are teaching our students, and contemplated what is truly important in the world of academia. Of course it’s necessary for our students to graduate with skills in math, with historical and scientific knowledge, with kinesthetic agility and an appreciation for the arts, and with the ability to read and write well. But for the most part those facts and figures are just that, facts and figures. They can be researched on the internet, read about in books and articles, and rediscovered in museums or parks.

The really important things to teach our students are the underlying lessons that come up in daily life in and out of school. These are found in the examples set by the teachers, by parents, and by most adults. These are the life skills that will help them make good decisions, listen well, analyze and problem solve. They include helping kids attain a good work ethic and have the capability to participate in their communities as honest, upstanding citizens with integrity and a sense of responsibility. As parents we want our kids to grow up with a strong understanding of right and wrong, and with the knowledge of how to treat people with respect and care. The academics are important, but included should be some very valuable lessons within those lessons. Lessons that include the values and characteristics that come with being a good student and a participant in a school community. Students need to learn how to dive deeper into a subject and learn how to analyze and think critically and formulate well thought out opinions. They should be schoolengaged to the point where their brains are firing at full capacity and the learning that is taking place goes beyond the facts and figures. Education should challenge kids to think more deeply. It should be meaningful, and in the end the learner should be one more step toward obtaining a set of behaviors that will benefit them and others as they grow up and move forward.

I am fortunate to work in a community and volunteer for an organization where both strive to educate and promote learning beyond the basics. Molalla River Academy recently held its fourth annual auction. This was an incredible display of a community who holds strong to the above mentioned values and life skills. Parents, teachers, community members, and students all worked together to make this fundraising event successful for MRA. The event was a great deal of fun and a lot of money was raised, but more importantly was the way our community supported each other, worked side by side, chipped in wherever a need arose, and made a difference. Every person at MRA was a part of this process.

Similarly the National Ski Patrol strives to promote strong leaders and patrollers who willingly put others first. I think of those first responders in Boston and I must admit that I am privileged to be a part of a group of people who would react just as heroically and honorably if faced with a similar situation. In fact, some of them have, just on a different scale. ray

Paying attention to the news can be disheartening. But it can also be a good thing. It can help us put our own lives into perspective, and help us focus on the important things. Educating kids is important, as are organizations that promote hard work and character building and that challenge us to better ourselves and in the process give back to others.

Rays of light do exist. The bombings in Boston, the unnecessary deaths of children, the lunacy that seems to get sensationalized by our media are heart wrenching. But instead of letting them get us down, let’s use them as catalysts; catalysts to boost ourselves up, reach out to others, utilize our brains and our hearts to make a positive difference, and provide our youth with examples of productivity and decency.

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