Extreme Caregiving 8: Learning to Be Satisfied

New post on Daughter on Duty

“The man is in the grassy parking strip again, under the trees in front of the Buddhist monastery, when Elliot and I walk outside to wave a wrenching goodbye to Mommy. The man flows through the slow, rhythmic movements of tai chi as Elliot watches gulping air as he calms himself, his face red at the betrayal of being left.” [read more]

Love Letter from the War on Memorial Day

New post on my blog: another of the hundreds of letters my father wrote to my mother during WWII.

This is a composite of the letters written the day before and the day after Memorial Day, 1943.

Bronx, N.Y. to Spokane, Washington

Stellajoe darling —

…For some reason or other, I haven’t been able to look on the bright side of things. There’s so much complaining (bitching) among the fellows that I guess it’s catching. Though I sit by and don’t say anything, I hear complaints about the food, the quarters, the studies, the regulations, etc., etc… It makes it so much worse to add to it the petty, inconsequential, passing things that in the long run can’t hurt anybody.

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And the Beat Goes on…and on and on

New post on Daughter on Duty.

“It’s only 9:00 and already there have been irritation, disappointment, concern, and dismay. A multi-recipient email for work, which had already caused irritation, zooped out into the beyond without benefit of my hitting send. Nothing embarrassing, there were no unfinished sentences or dangling participles. It just wasn’t complete and I had to apologize and resend it. I’m over it. The disappointment will dissipate with yoga, if not before. Watching Mama trying to fix her breakfast concerned me. I was in her way, so I left her to it, hoping it ended well enough. I passed a transport truck on the interstate carrying what looked for all the world like six torpedoes. It dismayed me.”

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The Changing Face of Mt. St. Helens


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Thirty-five years ago today, the mountain I observed from my home every clear day for ten years of my childhood, changed her face when a cataclysmic eruption blew out her north side. Fifty-seven people lost their lives that day. There were several eruptions during the spring and summer of 1980 that snarled traffic on one side of the state or the other, plunging drivers into darkness in mid-day, clogging engines with ash, and rendering wipers useless. The ash cloud eventually swept around the world. It was epic. I wasn’t there; I was living far, far away. But I wept for the loss of our beautiful mountain.

My family camped at her base, paddled canoes on her Spirit Lake, ate our tuna sandwiches and picked huckleberries on her grass and pumice-covered slopes. Mt. St. Helens, Lawetlat’la to the indigenous Cowlitz people and Loowit to the Klickitat, was known as the most beautiful of all the northwest peaks because of her perfect symmetry. Did I mention Helen is my middle name, making her my mountain? I don’t remember that we took visiting relatives there—no star power. They wanted to see the mighty Rainier. The demure St. Helens was a quiet, private lover.

She is a young volcano, only some 40,000 years old. But that day in 1985, she lost her youthful beauty, and a third of her height. For years only scientists inhabited the blast zone. That’s what they called it: The Blast Zone. Roads, bridges, and railroads had to be rebuilt; and her fragile habitat had to heal. Then the owners of the timber were allowed in to salvage what they could of the billions of board feet that lay prone. But she’s making a comeback, and she’s changing again. It’s hard to keep a good woman down.

There is a plastic washtub full of ash under the shed at the back of the carport along with a two-pound Maxwell House coffee can full; other containers of the stuff occupy shelves in the shed and a space in the basement. My father collected it when he shoveled tons of it off our flat roof. Under moss and layers of bark in the trees, if one were to dig down, there is a layer of the gritty gray stuff. Yesterday, as I was digging a hole under the big leaf maple in my Garden Where Nothing Will Grow to put in a sword fern I dug out of the middle of a trail I was building, I swear I dug into ash and teeny tiny gravel that shouldn’t be there. I’ve been digging in that patch of yard for the past two springs, and hadn’t encountered that soil composition before.

Everywhere are reminders of that spring—most notably out the window and across the valley.

I have been hiking at St. Helens since I returned to the PNW. She’s a different mountain than she used to be, and she still looks like a not-so-long-ago disaster zone; but she isn’t lost after all. We all change. But we are still beautiful, strong, and resourceful; or at least interesting. Betty Friedan said, “Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.” I guess it applies to mountains, too.


Sunrise from the deck of our home in the 1970s.


Gretchen, Rebecca, and Jo Ann “resting” after a hike. 1964.


My mother at Spirit Lake; mountain in the clouds. 1964


Photo by my mother from our deck during one of the lesser volcanic events that spring and summer of 1985 (possibly October).


Her changed face. 2011


Spirit Lake; mountain in the clouds, log jam in foreground. 2013


Sunrise from the deck of our home. 2014

The Burden of Anxiety

New post on Daughter on Duty.

“I’m anxious to see you,” Mama told a friend on the phone the other day. It’s a word she has always used to mean both uneasy and excited, but it’s been since living with her I have realized I don’t like the connotation that all of life is anxious, and I’ve begun stopping as I’m speaking to remind myself to say “eager,” the positive word, instead. As I learn to find the right word, I realize that “anxious” almost never applies to what I’m feeling. Read more.


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