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Bob took this photo in the Grand Tetons area. It’s a rugged place, but like many places that are challenging to get to, and difficult to get through, it has a special beauty worth the effort.

AFTER THE RAIN: THE BEAUTIFUL WEATHER, PART TWO

The evolution of my marriage with Bob has been a blink in the universe of time. Thirty seven years and we’re still evolving, finding out what makes the other tick.

Emotionally, we stand taller together now, but physically are more bent. Perhaps arthritis is just the outward manifestation of burdens borne and cares that ran too deep. But I believe that love lightens the load and faith rebuilds  us, or finds what was supposedly lost.

We cannot bring back our lost children, our deceased parents, our absent friends. They dine at another table now. We will be reunited, but Bob and I have business to attend to here, promises to keep to ourselves and others, the fulfillments of our raison d’être.

I have had opportunities to leave the planet on quite a few occasions. Two direct angel interventions kept me here, one when I was five, and one when I was twenty seven. (I will give the account of those experiences at a later date.) I am also certain that Bob and I have been blessed by behind-the-scenes heavenly help many times.

I don’t remember the exact date, but sometime after the new millennium I discovered I had a severe kidney problem. The doctor  informed me I had a GFR of 25%. I learned a GFR (glomular filtration rate) was the measurement of how well kidneys worked. I thought I just had a 25% reduction in function. I was shocked to learn that 75% was gone.

Where had it “gone” and why was the doctor saying it would get worse? I had very little understanding of why I had been  switched from lithium to another drug to treat my bipolar illness, and why I’d been referred to a nephrologist. It was a medical wakeup call for me and my husband.

As the function went down to 20%, I learned all I could about “mighty nephrons,” the little parts of the kidneys that do the work. I even had a song I sang to them. We prayed. I visualized good health.

Bob and I went to the dialysis classes together in preparation for the getting the shunt. We discussed my options for types of dialysis. When I went to Loma Linda for the evaluations to be put on the transplant list, Bob was my faithful companion. I got on the list in 2007 and was told it could be years before I got a donor.

I was taken off the list the following year, but did not get the transplant. I had gone over the weight limit and kidney function had gone UP too high, too good, to be on the list. I never even got a shunt or put on dialysis. I told my nephrologist that there was a higher power than Kaiser (my medical HMO) and that I’d get to 30%. I did.

I had the goal of 40% by Christmas of 2012. Bob and I had released our Christmas CD, Carols for the Christ. We had concerts set up, but I started to feel more and more “funky heart rhythm.” We had to cancel our bobandkathi performances after I went through a catheter ablation which didn’t work. The six hour heart procedure, done while I was awake, established my electrical misfires were in the septum, an area that could not be fixed.

After a hospital stay two days later to try a new drug, I was sent home because it was too dangerous for my kidneys. I got a new combination of medicines and my rhythm got better. My kidney function went temporarily down. I am thinking it will be up to 40% by next Christmas.

Bob was usually the one taking me to medical adventures. When he turned sixty in 2009, he had a full physical. An elevated PSA score (a prostate screening test) led to an evaluation by a urologist. Another blood test showed an increased level. Next came the biopsy and we came back to hear the results.

Bob was positive he did not have cancer. POSITIVE. But the results were positive, too. The good news was that the cancer was in the early stages. The doctor went over the different options, complete with colorful pictures. He explained risks and side effects. He said Bob could think about it and get back to him. Bob replied, “I’ve made my choice.”

It was my turn to be surprised. I thought we’d discuss it first. He had chosen the least invasive procedure, radioactive seed implantation. I wondered if a more intense surgery would give a better chance for a longer life.

We did talk about the choice later. Bob got a wonderful radiation oncologist. Unfortunately, the doctor had his arm in a cast. We waited for him to heal, so he could do the surgery.

It was the right choice. In December, the doctor made the “template” for where the seeds of iodine 125 would be implanted. Bob had the procedure done in January of 2010. I drove him home the same day as the surgery with his list of instructions.

There were interesting precautions. He could not be around pregnant women or have a child on his lap for a while. There were sexual and urinary issues to heal. He was given a paper to carry to show doctors and X-ray screeners. He jokingly referred to himself as “radioactive man” to our friends. It was a small price to pay for an extended life together.

Now he volunteers for the American Cancer Society as a “Road to Recovery” driver, giving free rides to patients for their chemo and radiation treatments. Sometimes I have complained about the time it takes from our schedule. That’s when I forget what it means to Bob and to the ones he’s driving. I am very proud of him for his dedication.

As for the beautiful weather of life, BRING IT ON!

Here is Bob Haine at Mono Lake, California, on one of his photo trips.

Bob Haine at Mono Lake ©2013  Nancy Speaker

Bob Haine at Mono Lake
Photo By: Nancy Speaker

Sagres, Portugal, is the setting for this beautiful rainbow. Bob and I went to Portugal for my 60th birthday. I had broken my foot earlier, but refused to cancel the trip. After pushing my wheelchair over cobblestones in the rain, my husband was glad to relax and snap a series of gorgeous sky shots.

AFTER THE RAIN: THE BEAUTIFUL WEATHER, PART ONE

So much of my early life had turmoil. It was a blessing to find the “rainbow of my life,” Bob Haine. Or maybe he found me. Either way, after the first week of school, we met at a T.G.I.F. party sponsored by the local teachers’ union.

It was probably not a meeting to go into the history books, but the details carved a place in my heart. First he impressed me by knowing my correct shoe size. During an economically lean time he had supplemented his substitute teaching income by selling shoes at Bullocks. It was not his favorite job. He probably never dreamed it would lead to a fateful pickup line.

Bob had been fired from his first teaching job, as fifth grade teacher in a catholic school. His crime was passing gas after eating lentil soup, and then explaining to the students  that “farting” was a natural body function. The head nun did not appreciate him using an “F” word. This firing led to being  hired by the Chaffey High School District. I was hired that same year. This is another example of how a setback can lead to a positive outcome.

Our first date was not without difficulties, but they were fun ones. Bob was having the passenger seat in his Toyota reupholstered, so I sat on a pillow on the floor. After dinner we went on a spur-of-the-moment trip to Will Rogers State Beach, near Santa Monica. We were having a great conversation when he pulled into a gas station on the Pacific Coast Highway.

I got out to use the restroom. When I came back outside I saw his car driving away, my purse inside, and me not sure if this was going to be a very long night. He did come back and picked me up. It was his first, but not his last, attempt to get me to see the lighter side of life.

In a few months, Bob asked me to marry him while at our special spot, lifeguard station 14. That was over thirty seven years ago. He always jokes about the musical reason he married me: I was the first woman he’d met who could harmonize with him, in more ways than one.

We have been harmonizing together ever since that first date, singing Beatle songs at two in the morning. Now we perform as the married duet of bobandkathi. Seven music videos and three CDs later, he is still the melody singer and lead guitarist. I am the harmony and the background mandolinist, as well as the songwriter.

The music of my married life has not been without dissonance. I was diagnosed as bipolar in 1985, some months after the loss of my first pregnancy. It was a difficult time for both of us. Losing the next two pregnancies was not much easier.

It was fortunate I married a “rock,” because the breakdowns led to very rocky times. I am reminded of a line I wrote in a song for a wedding: “You will be the rock and I will be the flower that blooms through the stone.” And I did bloom, although I think of myself as a late bloomer. It took awhile to ground myself. It took awhile to pull out the two hundred songs I had written, the almost forty years of journals and poetry I’d saved, and realize I might have something worthwhile to say.

My breakdowns were breakthroughs as well. But I didn’t see that until much later when I had a grander vista of life. I reread and reviewed my life from a different perspective. I could see that the good weather had come from the storms. No rain: no rainbow.

My photographer-singer husband (a former French teacher) has always liked the optimistic phrase, “Après la pluie, le beau temps.” The translation: “After the rain, the beautiful weather.” Our weather has gotten progressively better, but we have passed through more rainy seasons as well. Some have even been life threatening.

 

This picture of an archway in the Alabama Hills of California was taken by my husband on a recent photo expedition. It suits this particular blog because it is a natural bridge. I see “no” as a bridge leading to “yes,” when the proper intention is applied. Although the arch is stone, it seems softer in the early morning light.      

NO: IT’S THE NEW “YES”

In spite of what Webster’s Dictionary has to say, I don’t view “no” as a negative answer when the question or situation does not have a positive energy. I have been a people-pleaser most of my life. My therapist told me that this behavior is typical for childhood abuse victims. I have volunteered (and been volunteered) for thankless jobs that no one else wanted, agreed to do time-consuming projects for others at the expense of my own time, and have even considered suicide on more than one occasion when one simple word would have saved me: NO.

I am a changed woman now. I still maintain a compassionate heart, with one strong addition; my compassion now also extends to me. It is not healthy to hangout with energy vampires or people who have no intention of helping themselves. Being an enabler does nothing to help either party, if either person is not making independent choices and accepting the consequences of them.

I have also had to learn to say no to myself, the ego part of me that would love having a piece of chocolate cake, skipping yoga or a walk, watching reruns of Murder, She Wrote instead of meditating. Sandy, a dear friend, said it best: “Never give up your power to food, another person, or any idea.”

I do believe in surrendering to God, because that is saying no to the part of myself I would like to cast off in favor of something greater. Some of my best friends are angels, which I will blog about at a later date. When I listen to their advice, I find I don’t have to say no as much to others or myself.

It’s hard to make a Heaven on Earth if I don’t feel it myself. I like to grow my own “Garden of Eden” and invite others to join me. (I even wrote a song about it.) I can accept some unpopularity with popularity, because this is a dualistic world. I also allow others to say “no, not interested in joining at this time.”

Recently I found that I was overbooked for my life. I had too many writing contests to enter, too many singing engagements to do, and too many events to attend. Instead of losing control, I took charge and made some choices. I chose which contests I really wanted to win, what gatherings I felt happy to join, and I left the rest for another day. I even postponed my blog for a couple days. There rarely is a “one and only” time to do something, and seldom a “one and only” person to meet. That is a grace I am grateful for in life.

This week, I also learned that when doors say no to me, I have options. Do I have the right key for the door, or do I need to learn something more? If it’s an unfriendly keyhole, can I find another like-minded door that is already open? Even if I have a handful of keys, how do I know what doors they unlock? Are they doors I wish to enter?

Closing some doors may also be necessary to get to the vista I wish to see, the person I wish to become. Sometimes saying no is saying “go” to the person, the situation, the plan that is not working anymore. While this can be a step into the  unknown, it is the only way I know of to get to the new “yes” for me.

 

 

 

Bob’s photo of the pelican captures the moment when the bird leaves Earth for some place higher. 

 

MAYA ANGELOU: THIS BIRD HAS FLOWN HOME 

When I read the news of Maya Angelou’s passing last week, I started to cry. Although I was sad, I hadn’t even cried at my own mother’s death. I began to analyze what touched me so much now. Was it words she might still have written? Was it the words she had left behind? Was it her grandmother-like embrace of the world that I felt was forever gone?

I reflected on my own maternal grandmother. There are no replacements for wise old grandmothers, at least not the ones that weave love into the discipline and disappointments that life gives them. My grandmother kept a family together during the challenges of the Great Depression, made my growing up more pleasant, and ignored her “terminal” cancer for almost forty years. Maya Angelou and my grandma, Ethel Lucille Potter, were two beyond-strong, super women.

The autobiography of Maya Angelou is beautifully expressed in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Her self-imposed silence lasting for years, following her childhood rape, was an unnecessary punishment for the murder of her violator. Silence in a social setting can be a slow form of suicide. It can also lead to an epiphany from the dark night of the soul.

Maya Angelou definitely had epiphanies throughout her difficult life. There were strong lessons of survival. But to transcend survival mode, a person needs to balance life’s blows with beauty and compassion to be found and fostered. She had a definite gift for that, which she willingly shared in her words and actions with others.

I said to a friend after Angelou’s death that the main reason I felt so sad was that there was a hole that no one could fill. My wise friend reminded me that there are many undiscovered or little known people like Maya Angelou all over the world. Perhaps they are even in their silent mode and are just waiting for the right time to speak.

I am hopeful my friend is correct. I like to think that our beloved grandmas leave a nest of words for our eggs … eggs that will hatch into fledglings, never to be in a cage, always to have something to sing.

 

 


This photo of Bob’s is one of my favorites, because I love the green hills with the backdrop of the California coastline. My mother, who is the topic of this week’s blog, dearly loved greenery. She never got used to the fact that she lived in Southern California, not wet Washington. Tacoma was always in her heart, if not under her feet.

 

HELLO, IT’S ME: GOOD THINGS ALWAYS HAPPEN WHEN IT RAINS

 

Last Monday was Memorial Day. I did the usual honoring of the all the male members of my family who served in the wars. I also thought a lot about my mother, her private battles. She never got much recognition for the heroic efforts on her part to raise two children as a single mother after three marriages. She was already battle-scarred and wasn’t emotionally or economically prepared to raise my older brother and me on her own. Fortunately, her parents let us move into their home. I was six at the time.

The house had lots of idiosyncrasies. The electricity worked in strange ways. The plumbing had its own style and rhythm. I am sure the attic was haunted, if not by spirits, then by old dusty memories. I didn’t care. It was home. It was a relatively safe place to live. My mother must have thought so, too. She died in that house, in her favorite chair, during the early morning hours of October 2006.

Mom had lived in a few other places in Monrovia, but she came back home to take care of Grandpa when he was ill. She moved back in permanently to help Grandma, until my grandmother passed away at the age of 92. I would call Mom every day, several times a day. The conversation always began the same way: “Hello, it’s me.” It was a comfort for me to be able to say that without her ever wondering who “me” was. Her mind remained sharp until the day she died, a major blessing these days.

My mom was a lady (she liked that word) of contradictions. She always wore a dress, but deserved the name “mechanical mama” for times when she would try to fix things herself. I remember her crawling under the car on a desert road, banging away trying to fix “vapor lock”. I still don’t even know what that is. She was churchgoing, but believed in ideas that were definitely not mainstream.

She liked to tell me about the happiest time in her life, when she lived in a tent by a stream in a Washington forest. She was a little girl then during the Great Depression. Grandpa would fish every day. Sometimes, they ate fish for every meal. Nobody complained and Grandma would add something to change the flavors. Mom told me the best part was playing in the forest with the fairies. I think it was a great disappointment to her that I never saw them. My life is not over yet, and I still keep an open eye and mind.

Unlike others who live in Southern California, I am happiest when it is a gray day and raining. I inherited that from my mother. One of Mom’s favorite sayings was, “Good things always happen when it rains.” We walked for miles in the rain when I was young. I miss that. I could still do it, but I think about the mess of getting wet. I need to revive the part of me that could care less about being muddy. Mud washes off. The joys of rambling in the rain linger in the mind. Those joys are the “good things.”

 

 

 

Above is another Morro Bay scene with a solo fishing boat and a sunset by the rock. It sets the tone for Part Two and parting from my father, who loved to fish. His ashes may even have made their way to this beach where I stood to reminisce of sunrises and sunsets gone by.

SUNRISE OR SUNSET: IT’S ALL IN YOUR POINT OF VIEW, PART TWO

The best part of the day, as far as I am concerned is the sunrise. Since I am not always awake for that, I will settle for an equally beautiful sunset. Sunrises and sunsets, however, seem to be the most fleeting times of day. That does not diminish their beauty. The shortness of time makes the moment more precious, and the light becomes ever so much more special. Such was the relatively short time I had with my father on this Earth.

We did not talk much about the past concerning why he and my mother had separated. (Neither of my parents ever said anything bad about each other.) He did like to tell stories about his adventures in Bolivia, some appropriate (and not-so-appropriate) memories of France in World War Two, and some tales of his side of the family, including details about my sisters. The stories about my grandmother shooting at rattlesnakes from a stagecoach may have been embellished, but I laughed anyway.

He had sad stories, too, about being homeless for a while after his second marriage did not end happily. Perhaps it was some of his less than happy memories that made us connect at a deeper level. He was philosophical after the loss of my first pregnancy and the subsequent nervous breakdown. He was just as comforting after the next two losses and other breakdowns. He would pat my head as if to impart some kind of secret knowledge into it. Perhaps he knew at some level that he would be the one to raise my family when he went to Heaven a few years later.

It was not a total surprise when my father got lung cancer. He had smoked for years. I would come up to Palo Alto and take him for the radiation treatments. We would have bouillabaisse at my motel. He had trouble eating but could still talk about poetry and politics. Sometimes, he would strum his old guitar, the one I now have in my bedroom, and he would sing French ballads. He got better, but he did not quit smoking. Perhaps that was the greatest lesson he inadvertently taught me: if you keep doing the same things, expect the same results.

I think I was the only one who understood why he did not want to go through chemo and radiation for the brain cancer. True to form, he read all about it and knew what was coming. I had wanted to take care of him, but was too ill myself. His sister kindly took him in. The hospice care was not long, just long enough for my sisters and me to say goodbye. One day, I leaned over and gave him permission to die on my upcoming birthday. I would be forty. As if to honor me, he died the night before.

We read parts of The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, at his simple service. I was playing the part of the fox, saying goodbye. He had to go Home to take care of “my three roses,” which I know that he did. It was a sunset for me that I will never forget. It was a sunrise for my children. Either way, the sun is still shining.

The photo for this week was taken by my husband Bob at Morro Bay, California. It’s a quiet little fishing village with artistic overtones and friendly people. We are celebrating my sixty-second birthday here.

SUNRISE OR SUNSET: IT’S ALL IN YOUR POINT OF VIEW, PART ONE

The picture is of a west coast sunset, and some might consider sixty-two a sunset. For me, it is a sunrise. The sunrise or the sunset on the ocean looks the same. It just depends upon which direction the viewer faces. East coast, west coast: the light is still the same.

The Little Prince (my favorite fictional character) loved sunrises and sunsets, too. There is one point in the book where I always cry. It is the goodbye scene with the fox. “You become responsible forever for that which you have tamed…. You are responsible for your rose.” The wild fox, now tamed, reveals this and other secrets to the prince. Fictional truths can be real truths. I made it my truth when I found my real father in 1982.

During my turbulent childhood, I never knew I had a father somewhere who actually loved me. My mother loved me, but parts of the puzzle were definitely missing. Secrets were a way of life in my family. (They often are in an abusive home.) I had assumed my brother’s father from my mother’s first marriage was my father, too. I did not really want to meet him. I knew my stepfather was no blood relative. I would rather not have met or lived with him. It wasn’t until I needed a birth certificate in my twenties that I realized I did not exist! At least I was not who I thought I was.

After some digging, I unraveled my story. I was the product of my mother’s second marriage. I had a father who was still alive. They had divorced when I was two. I went on a secret search to find him. I did not get any support in this venture until I got married later to Bob.

I remember in my early marriage being awakened by some mysterious force every night at 11:11. I’d look at the clock and say, “Okay. I see.” But I didn’t. It wasn’t until searching in a hall of records that I realized a personal connection to this cosmic number. My dad’s birth date was November 11th! With that information, and with help from ALMA (Adoptees’ Liberty Movement Association), I was able to locate my father.

When I timidly knocked on his door, I did not say who I was. After a pause, he opened the door, holding a bath towel around his waist. He said, “You must be my long-lost daughter, Kathleen.” That was the gateway to one of many new relationships.

I learned I had two half sisters and met them the next day. I had an aunt, cousins, and an elderly grandmother nearby my home in Southern California. My dad’s best friend had a father who had been one of my professors in college.

With the possible exception of my husband, I have never felt such an instant connection with a person as I did with my father. We were on the same page of a book I didn’t even know had been written. His favorite book was The Little Prince, too, and he spoke French with my husband about it. (Bob was a French teacher.) Dad also spoke five other languages and read books as fast as I do. We had similar affinities in spiritual matters and in our love of music. While I did not have his technical and scientific abilities, I loved learning about his inventions and seeing where he worked at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC).

As far as my feelings are concerned, the sun rose and set in my father’s eyes. I know he felt the same way about me. He had not had an easy life since we had been separated, either. We caught up on what made us who we were. We reorganized the universe to have some time together. It was a time that was all too brief.