Sunday, December 17, 2017

Tweede kop vrij

I visited the Netherlands some years ago, when my parents were stationed there with the Air Force. This was during the Cold War. In the Netherlands, if you order a cup of coffee in any eatery, they bring you a cup—not a mug—of coffee, on a saucer, with a cookie on the saucer. The wait staff do not wander around, as they do in the States, with a pot of coffee to “top off” or refill anyone’s cup. If you order another cup of coffee, they will bring you a new cup, on a saucer, with a cookie, because you have place a second order. When the bill comes around, you will pay for each cup.

My parents kindly travelled with me by car from Soest, the Netherlands, to Chartres, France, on this particular visit, and, along the Dutch freeway, there was a restaurant, something akin to a truck stop in the States, and a sign on the freeway advertised that here you could have a “tweede kop vrij”—“second cup free.” We stopped there for lunch and when we wanted our “tweede kop” we got in line with a lot of Dutch people eager to enjoy this bargain.

Nowadays, when I get up Monday through Friday, I generally have a cup of coffee with my breakfast, but I am watching the clock, mindful that soon I have to hurry out the door and go to work. But on Saturdays I can leisurely have coffee with my breakfast, then have another cup comfortably seated in my living room, with my dog on my lap and a book or some knitting to occupy me. I love it. I remember that phrase and say to myself, “tweede kop vrij.”

Thursday, November 2, 2017

My home away from my home away from home

So a couple months ago I mentioned some plumbing issues, just an off-hand phrase. But it turned out the issues were serious—damaged floors and drywall. I started an insurance claim. A company came and packed up all my belongings, except my piano and the few things I took with me, and tore up most of my flooring and quite a bit of the drywall up to four feet high. This is a sample of what my home looks like now:

My insurance company found me a home away from home: Marriott Towneplace Suites in Bellingham, Washington. Ever since I got back from Ashland, I've been living there in a studio-type room that has a bed, desk, couch, and "kitchenette." My dog is with me:

Tonight, however, I am at the Salish Lodge, in Snoqualmie, Washington. (My dog is at the Hyline Hotel for Dogs, in Everson, Washington.) I am spending one night here prior to attending a work conference tomorrow. Our company got a deal because the Lodge either is or recently was renovating and had unbooked rooms. When the conference ends tomorrow evening, I'll drive back to my home away from home.

Right now, my home away from my home away from home is lovely. My co-worker and I got here around 5:00 p.m. and checked in. I have a room to myself that has a door to a little balcony outside, from which I can hear, though not see, the Snoqualmie River and Falls. The Salish Lodge is a spa, though I won't have a chance to do the spa-type stuff. But in my own room is a deep tub with jets:

That's practically like a spa already. When I joined the conference-goers for dinner, we were all expressing excited anticipation of going back to our rooms and taking baths. What's more is the rooms have wood-burning fireplaces, and you can open sliding screens to be able to see the fireplace from the tub.

I came back from dinner a few hours ago. The co-worker I came here with had advised me that she had asked if a hotel employee could light the fireplace for guests, and the answer was yes. I was glad to hear that. The instructions about opening the damper, lighting a rolled up newspaper, and holding it up the chimney to warm it up so it would draw were quite intimidating. So I called the front desk and shortly a friendly young fellow knocked at my door. He came in bearing a blow torch, and he used it to blow flames up the chimney and warm it up, then he used it to light the fire. I thanked him and he departed.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

That first cup of coffee

Just a brief note from Ashland, Oregon, where I am visiting the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Note: The B.C. smoke eventually blew away from Lynden, but here in Ashland, nearby wildfires are creating smoky air. Every evening at about 6:30 a "smoke committee" at the OSF has to determine if air quality permits the outdoor performance in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre. They have had to cancel several shows in the recent past. My sister-in-law and I have tickets for the performance there tonight of The Merry Wives of Windsor. If it gets cancelled I'll receive an email.

Anyway, today's episode is about my coffee dependency. When we checked in two days ago, there was a packet containing a coffee pod for use in the tiny automatic drip coffee maker in our room. I used it yesterday. This morning, I slept past the complimentary "Continental" breakfast offered by the hotel and, having no coffee in the room, decided to drive down the road to a Dutch Bros Coffee stand I noticed yesterday. My sister-in-law came along.

Walking to the car, I veered into a bush beside the sidewalk. Under the best of circumstances, I veer when I walk. It's a family trait. We don't walk a straight line. We zig-zag. My in-laws have all learned when walking with their spouses to expect him or her to bump into their arm every nine or ten paces before reeling off again to a distance of up to a yard away. For the most part, we avoid crashing into objects lining our path, but this morning, pre-coffee, I walked into a bush.

We got in the car and I backed out of the space, put the car in drive, and gently pressed the accelerator. No action. Eventually I realized I had the emergency brake on, loosed it, and we drove out of the parking lot onto Siskiyou Boulevard. I drove a little ways before my sister-in-law suggested I pull out of the bike lane into the lane of traffic. I did.

I made it through the process of pulling up to the coffee stand, ordering, paying for, and receiving coffee without undue mishap. I got a drip coffee with cream, my sister-in-law a white chocolate mocha. We drove back. Before getting out of the car, I fished in my wallet for the room key, which is a card, not a key. You wave it in front of the door handle and the lock clicks open, a green light flashes, and you can open the door.

We got up to the door and I waved my card around to no avail. I looked more closely at it to see if I was holding it in the right direction and saw that in fact I was waving my Kaiser Permanente insurance card at the door. My sister-in-law came to my rescue and opened the door. We came in and I was finally able to drink my coffee and return what passes for normalcy.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Dry days

What's there to say today? We continue with the smoky skies. It would be nice if it would rain, but I don't see any rain in the forecast for the foreseeable future, just hot, dry weather. July and August are the hottest, driest months in the Pacific Northwest. The rest of the year, it's pretty reliable to get either a mixture of clear and rainy days or mostly rainy days. It's only this time of year that we get dry weather, and we don't get that every year. It is tradition that during the Northwest Washington Fair, which is always the 2nd or 3rd week of August, we get at least one rain shower. This year the fair is August 14-19, so we'll see.

This afternoon I took a long, deep nap. My plumbing issues have disrupted my routine. I don't like disruptions, and I do like routine. Anyway, I think I sat down to give my dog some one-on-one time. Petting and cuddling with a dog relieves stress. In my case, my stress was so relieved I sank into a deep sleep for several hours. It was a good sleep.

Apply as needed for stress relief.

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Twilight Zone

Yet another day of gray-white sky, no distant views, and yellow atmosphere. Last night I slept at my sister-in-law's house (plumbing problems at my home) and when I came outside in the morning, the sun was a red disk through the haze. It really was like that song line, "The morning sun is shining like a red rubber ball." Maybe the person who wrote that lived in an area with a lot of pollution in the atmosphere. It was like this:

I did not take this picture. I downloaded it from Fox News. When I saw the morning sun shining like a red rubber ball, it was higher in the sky and looked smaller. But it was just as red.

This atmosphere gives a sense of weirdness to the day, hence the title of this post. The light is like twilight, and it's weird like the Twilight Zone.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Blowing smoke

Well, the smoky skies continue. Now there's a fire in the Chuckanut Mountains, about 30 miles south of where I live, in addition to the fires north of here in B.C.  Here is a map where I've circled my town, Lynden, and the part of Chuckanut that is in Skagit County (I live in Whatcom County):

I got the map by doing a screen shot of Google Maps' topographical image of the area, cropping it a bit, and using Paint to draw circles. Most of what's known as Chuckanut is in Whatcom County, but the news says the fire is in Skagit, so that leaves just that little triangle I've circled as the general location.

The air quality is bad, but I've spent the day indoors, breathing air-conditioned air. Nice.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Not a cloud in the sky

The other day, I saw a news item warning of excessive heat—telling people to stay hydrated (isn't it interesting we say that now, instead of "drink lots of water") and talking about the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Yuck, thought I.

So this morning, knowing we were in for hot weather, I was expecting glaring sunshine. But when I drove my car to work, my first thought on pulling out of our cul-de-sac and driving east was, "What a weird sky." It was overcast, but not in a way I had ever seen. I thought it must portend some bizarre weather. It was hazy, just hanging at a certain height, obscuring the hills.

On my lunch break, I saw on the internet that smoke from wildfires in British Columbia is blowing into western Washington. That's why the sky looked different from anything I'd ever seen in Washington before, because it wasn't cloud cover, it was smoke.

I downloaded this satellite image, so I could mark about where my town is, but the original is here, and the caption for the photo says, "Photo from NASA MODIS satellite taken on Aug. 1, 2017 showing wildfire smoke spreading south into Western Washington (Photo: NASA/MODIS)":

Sunday, July 16, 2017


I was going to go see Sherman Alexie at the Mount Baker Theatre in Bellingham. He was on tour promoting his latest book, You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, a memoir about his relationship with his mother. His mother died in 2015, and he wrote this book as part of his grief process. I ordered it and read it in preparation for going to see him, but then he cancelled the majority of his tour. He explains why on his website.

Some weeks ago, I saw a book on my co-worker's desk called H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. At my co-worker's invitation, I picked it up and paged through it. Chapter 2, "Lost," starts out with her account of the phone call from her mother telling her that her father is dead. I also saw references to her reading Elizabethan and other-era treatises on falconry, a literary touch that appealed to me. She wrote well. I gave it back to my co-worker and said it looked like a good book. My co-worker offered to loan it to me after she read it.

After I read the Sherman Alexie book, although she had not yet read the Hawk book, my co-worker told me to go ahead and read it, as she would not get to it for a while. So I have started it. I'm in Chapter 3, "Small Worlds." In it, the author is reading The Goshawk, by T.H. White, an author I like, though I haven't read this particular book by him.

Sherman Alexie, in his memoir, mentions a number of visions and feelings of encounter with his mother that he has after her death. Ironically, he claims not to believe in life after death. He says that, even though he doesn't believe in ghosts, he sees her ghost. In the letter I linked to above, he recounts more mystical experiences of his mother's presence, and he says:

As I write in the memoir, I don't believe in ghosts, but I see them all the time.

As I also write in the memoir, I don't believe in magic, but I believe in interpreting coincidence exactly the way you want to.

I don't believe in the afterlife as a reality, but I believe in the afterlife as metaphor. And my mother, from the afterlife, is metaphorically kicking my ass.

It's frustrating. I do believe in the afterlife as a reality. I don't believe in magic, but I believe in miracles, prophecies, and visions. And I don't believe in ghosts, but I believe in the eternal life of the soul and the coming resurrection of the body. But I never hear from my parents now that they've passed on.

Sunday, July 2, 2017


So I was getting into my car this afternoon according to my usual method, which is to put my right foot into the floor well, keeping my left foot on the ground next to the car, sit down in the driver's seat, then pull my left leg into the car. Well, as I sat down, angling my left leg as necessary, I suffered an agonizing twinge in my knee.

As I sat recovering from the pain, a light bulb turned on over my head. Actually, it was already on—it was just the dome light in my car. But, in a completely unrelated event, I had an idea. Maybe the way I've been getting into my car is the root cause of my knee pain. Before the popping event on Friday afternoon, I had wondered what was causing my knee pain as I so seldom exert myself. It's not like I play contact sports. But I do bend my leg awkwardly getting into the car.

So now I'm going to see if a new method makes the pain go away. I shall sit down on the driver's seat with both feet outside the car, then swing both legs in.

A few years ago, I had a similar aha! moment with the plantar fasciitis I had been suffering. Plantar fasciitis is an excruciating pain in your heel. It bothered me most when I first got up in the morning, but I felt it at various times. Then one day I parked in a strip mall parking lot and, as I walked to the place of business I had come to visit, I walked across a grass median. I noticed that walking on the pavement hurt, but walking on the grass did not. If I had been in my car, the dome light would have turned on. I realized that, living in a basement apartment, my floors were basically cement, I walked my dog on the sidewalk, and just in general trod hard surfaces either in bare feet or thin-soled shoes. I bought thicker-soled, more cushioned shoes, including Birkenstocks to schlep around in in the house, and voila! my plantar fasciitis disappeared and never came back.

I confidently expect the same for my knee pain.

On my knees

I'm thankful that my knee is much improved today. It's not completely healed. It's still a little tender, and I still have to be careful how I move and walk, but it's much improved.

Saturday, July 1, 2017


My knee hurts. My left knee. For a while, recently, it has felt not-good, as though I had hyper-extended it. It felt stretched-out and often painful in the back of the knee. I felt like it was improving, though, until yesterday after work. I was jay-walking across Cornwall Avenue in Bellingham to get to my car to go home. The way was clear, except there was a car, far off, to my right, that would be coming through a green light into that further lane, so I walked quickly. Mid-way through that crucial lane, I felt something pop—I may even have heard it pop—in the back of my knee and the sensation was extremely unpleasant. I still had to hurry the last painful three steps to the sidewalk, and then I stood realizing the discomfort.

Writing this, I just remembered how, when I played Barbies as a little girl, my brother would occasionally rush in, bend the Barbies' legs forward at the knees, and then rush out again. My knee feels like I did that to myself.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Holding hands

A little while ago, I saw a picture online of a little boy holding a parent's hand, and it made me think of my dad. We clasped hands often. I had a special grip for helping him get up from a chair. When I left him to go home, we would press each other's hands.

In his final illness and on his deathbed, my sister-in-law, sister, and I held his hand as much as possible. When we brought my mom in her wheelchair to see him, he would put out his hand to hold hers.

When he was past the point of speech, he would sometimes pull the hand holding his to his lips and kiss it. He loved us all tenderly to the very end.

It's a painful realization that for the rest of my life on this earth, I can never take his hand again, never hug him hello or kiss him good-bye. Just gone.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mother's Day

Well, about a month after her 85th birthday, my mom died. She passed just two and a half months after my dad. I felt like this time we knew the drill because we had just done it. Back again in the funeral director's meeting room. Same coffin as my dad, same schedule of viewing on Wednesday evening and burial and memorial service on Friday afternoon. Similar emails with the church office, same order of worship for the memorial service—different hymns and Bible passages. Meeting again with the pastor to go over the service. Siblings flying in again for the obsequies—but not so many of my folks' grandchildren, as they had used up their money and time off just a couple months ago coming for my dad's service, and we also felt that their seeing my mom at that time, while she was still with us, and comforting her then, was more important than coming to her funeral.

Different weather. The day of my dad's graveside and memorial services, in early February, was the beginning of a severe winter storm. At the cemetery, a freezing wind blew ice crystals against us, and some people who would otherwise have come to the memorial service stayed home because of the driving conditions. The day of my mom's graveside and memorial services, in mid-April, was a lovely spring day, mild air, trees in bud, flowers in bloom.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Abide with us

But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them. — Luke 24:29 (KJV)

It has been 51 days since my father died. I wrote at the time how I woke my mother up and told her of his death. She came in her wheelchair to the room where he lay, and she saw his body. She came to the viewing of his body at the funeral home, and she was at the graveside service and the memorial service. But she has not really been able to take in the reality of his death. Almost every time I see her, she asks where he is.

This past week, we celebrated her birthday with family and friends. She was in her wheelchair, and for some time I sat next to her to watch over her during the party. I told her who all the guests were, and she asked me, "Where is Lou?" As usual when she asks this question, I said, "Dad passed away, Mom. Do you remember? You were at his memorial service. He's in heaven now." As usual, she accepted this and seemed to remember that it was true once she was reminded.

My sister was here from out of state for the celebration. After her last visit before going home, she came back to my house in tears. When she was leaving, my Mom had asked her, "Where is he?" "Who, Mom?" "Lou."

They were married for 64 years, five months, and eleven days. No wonder she can't comprehend life without him.

When I knew my mom's mom in her old age, she loved the hymn "Abide With Me." If I fiddled around on the piano, I could be sure of a grateful comment if I played that hymn. It is the beautiful prayer of one approaching death. I pray it on my mom's behalf.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
earth's joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
change and decay in all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need thy presence every passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter's power?
Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless;
ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still if thou abide with me.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Words: Henry F. Lyte
Tune: "Eventide," William H. Monk

Sunday, February 5, 2017


Today is Super Bowl Sunday, I gather. For the past number of years, I've watched the Super Bowl with my dad, just to keep him company. I would buy some snacks and beer and we would partake fairly moderately while watching the game and the commercials. I'm not really interested in football for its own sake, and in recent years the commercials have been disappointing, but I usually had fun talking with my dad and posting my thoughts on Facebook.

Today my father has been dead for more than a week, and his funeral was two days ago. I don't think I'll watch the Super Bowl. My brother is staying with me, post-funeral. If he wants to watch the game, he's welcome to put it on and then I might watch it by default. But I have no plans about it. That's my "new normal," as the saying goes. I can no longer think of little things for my dad to enjoy and then do them.

Emily Dickinson expressed it well:

The Bustle in a House 
The Morning after Death 
Is solemnest of industries 
Enacted upon Earth – 

The Sweeping up the Heart 
And putting Love away 
We shall not want to use again 
Until Eternity – 

Friday, January 27, 2017

The longest day

It has been a long day. It started at about 2:30 a.m. I was in my father's room at the skilled nursing facility where he had been under hospice care. I was spending the night to monitor his safety. At some point I was so tired I told him (though I was not sure he heard or understood) that I needed to sleep for a little while, and I did sleep in a chair. I don't know what time that was. At about 2:30 a.m., I woke up and his previously stertorous breathing was silent. He had died while I was asleep.

Now it is about seventeen hours later. I have brought my mother the news of her husband's death, said good-bye to his body, told relatives about his death, drafted an obituary, assisted in sorting some of his papers and information, signed other papers, and been part of a meeting concerning his memorial service.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord.
And let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace.


He was the best father in the whole world.