Monday, November 29, 2010


A law tells us what the lawmaker considers important.

For example, Keep Off the Grass informs us that someone has put effort and expense into the green turf.

I observed such a sign. It obviously was effective because the grass was neatly kept. Bordering the grass was an island with shrubbery and mulch. A foot path had been worn next to the bushes. Branches were broken off leaving pathetic stubs proferring a few forlorn leaves. The grass was preserved at the expense of the shrubs.

A system isn’t born in a day. First comes a need that requires solution and if the need is repeated, a foot path becomes visible. Over time we walk the path so often our mind is free to wander elsewhere.

Over time our needs change. We develop new ways of walking but the old paths remain. Some become institutionalized and revered. We call them Time Honored Traditions.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


The following was published as a guest blog post on

In the Pacific NW we wear the same clothes most of the year but in more layers or less. Friday night was half-heartedly scattering rain on the roads. The temperature reflected November rather than August. I slipped out of my sandals, dug to the back of my closet and retrieved dressy flats with the “trouser” socks stuffed in the toes from the last time I wore them, probably last March. I pulled the stockings up to my knees, slipped on my shoes and rushed out the door.

In the car as I drove to the Interstate I felt an odd tickling sensation creeping down my legs.  I couldn’t reach down until I was parked at the church for my meeting. My socks had slipped from my knees to my ankles and as I moved my feet to unload my briefcase and water bottle, they kept sliding. I could feel my heels naked in my shoes, my socks bunched under my instep.

I experienced a change that brought back memories from fifth grade. I remember spending the day hopping on one foot while pulling up the other sock. Within minutes the adjustment needed to be repeated.

Friday night I did not respect the unwritten rules of transition when I changed my shoes. I did not examine my wardrobe making sure each article of clothing covered what they needed to cover before appearing in public. I made an assumption and now I would stand cowering behind a podium dreading the moment of exit with my socks pooling around my feet.

As we transition, we examine our situation, needs, abilities, assumptions. Honesty assists us in gracefully modulating the passage from one position to the next. If we don’t try them on, we won’t know that the socks don’t fit. Worse, we won’t change.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Day

In honor of the official bird of the day I am linking to my friend, Victoria Redhed Miller
and her blog, Pot Pies and Egg Money. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Every home, every organization has a working system, whether or not we can identify it.

At Adagio we have a system for cleaning that everyone has signed on to so no one feels like Cinderella. We have a system for meals. For example, Sunday is roast beef, Monday some form of piggy, Tuesday ham loaf because two residents can no longer chew spiral cut ham. Wednesday we prepare two recipes of chicken and something else for the resident who can’t swallow chicken. Week in week out, the system gives us efficiency and flexibility.

We have a system for cooking. We buy beef and pork in chunks weighing upward of 15 pounds. My husband slow roasts it and then I divide it into commercial plastic boxes for freezing. We order 30 pounds of ham ground with pork sausage from D&D Meats (great meat market in Mt. Lake Terrace). We divide it into one-meal loaves and freeze it.

If one person changes their dietary needs, that change affects the whole system. We used to bake exclusively with sugar. Now we study ways to cut sugar and carbohydrates for our diabetic.

I worked for a company that hired a new person who freely used the “f” word. She changed the atmosphere in the whole office.

We served a church where two or three families adamantly pushed for change that didn’t fit with the stated vision. When they flounced out to join a “more progressive” church in town, the entire congregation breathed a sigh of relief.

Personnel, illness, death, job loss are all changes that affect the system. Picture “Irene” with her left eye spinning. Your expectations of this blog would change. Actually, that sounds like fun.

If an element of the system doesn't work, we do not enshrine it and call it Tradition. We change. We transition.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Yes, I know the light was red as we completed our left turn from Sievers Deucy to Glenwood. But we have sat for two days at that traffic light and we took a chance. The only other vehicles were stopped at their red on Glenwood. An airport express van and a PUD utility truck are not known to accelerate rapidily (Fun to say. Try it.)

If you don’t know Glenwood, read in the intersection that makes you wait where you live. The historically worst was waiting at Ignacio Valley Rd for a full 4.5 minutes per cycle. If I was on a motorcycle I had to wait for a car to pull up behind me in the left turn lane and trigger the signal.

A system is a routine that allows function and regularity, such as traffic control. It is a collection of subsystems, such as traffic lights.

The law says Red stop and Green go. I have heard so many versions of Yellow since Drivers’ Ed days that I am unsure of the correct interpretation.

These laws have transitioned through the years from courtesy stops before the invention of traffic lights to today's fineable offenses. They supposedly keep us safe. Perhaps. But they also allow us to drive on autopilot with cursory glances at other traffic. 

They have become an accepted part of our system. We even have a name for it: intelligent transportation system. The newest addition is the traffic enforcement camera system that records our infractions and transfers the news to a machine. I don’t know who or what part of the system callously mails us a ticket.

Cameras are the subject of much debate, while waiting at the traffic light at Sievers Deucy and Glenwood is a foregone conclusion. Unless we can accelerate into the intersection while the light is still green and the airport express driver is daydreaming.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


The Cascade mountain range arches its back like a sleepy dragon from northern California to British Columbia. During the night our section of the North Cascades pushed head first up to low lying clouds scattering white precipitation onto its shoulders. This morning, between rain squalls the sun briefly highlighted this seasonal beauty.

Changing seasons means the vague purple shapes of summer become defined peaks and ridges as they accumulate a snow cap. The highest volcanic peak we can see from our home is Mt. Baker. It receives 150 inches of snow each year. That much snow never completely melts.

Short term memory loss, like the first snow, delineates aging. There is sudden awareness that we are not the same as we were ten, twenty years before. It may be a warning of seasonal change in our lives.

In I Remember Nothing Nora Ephron writes, “I have been forgetting things for years, but now I forget in a new way. I used to believe I could eventually retrieve whatever was lost and then commit it to memory. Now I know…whatever’s gone is hopelessly gone. And what’s new doesn’t stick.”

Dementia is “the general term used to describe various diseases and conditions that damage brain cells.”  Not every senior develops dementia. Not every senior with dementia exhibits the same disabilities. We are unique and remain so in our decline.

Alzheimer's disease is the form of dementia most commonly recognized, but it is not the only manifestation.

Knowing the signs of the seasons allows us to prepare for the transition. If we plan to drive through a mountain pass in winter, we buy snow chains or change our car’s tires. Or, we can take our chances.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Years before the Anno Domini calendar was instituted, an extended family moved to Egypt to avoid the drought and famine in the country where they tended sheep. The ruling pharaoh gave them their own territory where the sheep wouldn’t mix with Egypt’s cattle. In this good land the generations gave birth to more generations.

In time the sons and daughters of Israel, as they were called, were so numerous that in the current Pharaoh’s mind they threatened his power. He didn’t remember the famine, or the original Israel. His advisors suggested he look at the Israelites as a cheap labor pool and get to work on his tomb.

Through decades of hardship the Israelites began to remember the God of their great-grandfathers. They prayed that He do something to relieve their suffering. He planned their release from enslavement, and decided to transfer to the slaves the blessings Egypt had received. He instructed his people to claim the wealth of the Egyptians on their way out of town.

After enduring blood, boils and death, the Egyptians pushed their riches on the work-hardened slaves. As part of the Exodus, gold jewelry, coins, and fabric traveled with the Israelite families.

From this story came the saying, take gold from the Egyptians.  It simply means take a look at any learning and wisdom. After ruminating I can decide whether or not the idea fits with my personal credo. At least that’s the way I read it.

I attended a writers’ conference and was describing to another attendee the wisdom I had gained from an author. When I showed the book* to her, I was surprised to be chastised that Nouwen was a Roman Catholic.

Well, I knew that. What I didn’t know was the wisdom found on a particular page which I was overjoyed to learn. And share.

Shamed, I took back the book, slunk to my seat and quietly muttered, “The rain falls on the just and the unjust fella. But mostly on the just because the unjust took the just’s umbrella.”

*Nouwen, Henri J.M.  The Wounded Healer.  Doubleday.  Garden City, NY.  1972.

Monday, November 15, 2010


It had been a busy day. Two of the residents in our home sat smiling at morning visitors who arrived full of voluble bonhomie. From out-of-town they were rightly pleased to have made the effort. With more kissing and laughter, they finally left.

Grace’s daughter visited in the afternoon with new shoes. Grace’s dementia had been shaken and stirred beyond her comprehension. Her eyes were hard, expressionless buttons.

She rejected the shoes by throwing them and shouting “No!”  Her controls, stripped by the loud morning activities, reduced her to brain stem-reactivity with bad language hurled at everyone.

The daughter left in tears.

When dementia is upset, everyone pays. Her anxiety and anger caused her to physically resist toileting and any bed preparation. For more than twenty minutes I stood beside her bed waiting her out.  She finally pulled her feet up onto the bed, lay down fully clothed, and grabbed the covers from me. Holding her head with her right hand she muttered, “I will kill you.”

I tried one more time. Before closing her bedroom door I blew her a kiss. Without changing facial expression, she took her hand from her head and “caught” the kiss.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Especially on Veterans' Day we remember the individuals we know who served as protectors of our liberty.

My mother, Agnes Vander Molen served as a nurse in WWII. She was 95 in June.
Brother-in-law, Bob served with the Navy off the coast of Vietnam.
Our son, Chad served with the Marines in Kuwait and Korea.
My nephew, Jack served in the Army.
My niece's husband is serving in Afghanistan.

There are others and you can name those who represent your family unit.

Thank you to each one. We celebrate your service.
Freedom isn't free.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Newborn: We are still attached to our mother figure.
Terrible twos: We are testing limits.

Fifth grade: Until Spring Vacation this is the last good year of our lives. When fifth graders return, their teachers discover an unfamiliar group of people acting strangely.
Teenagers, as we adults choose to call them, become hormone riddled and in fits and starts cease to be human.

I know I have generalized. But these four transition points introduce the concept of learning who we are and who we are not. We define our boundaries. We develop descriptions of our “Self”.

Using the wind chime analogy, we differentiate our element’s color from the other family members as we dangle and swing.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Expressions describing reactions to anxiety or fear:

Quick to blow a fuse.  Red haired hot head. Lose your temper. Irish temper. Quick temper. Hair trigger temper.

Laid back. Slow to anger. Unfailingly patient.

We are working on our reaction time. How quickly does your family unit vibrate and make noise?

Family systems, and so individuals, handle stress and anxiety differently. Chronic anxiety circles around and through us all the time, increasing and decreasing with normal stressors. It is part of life.

But the “fight or flight” response reacts to sudden, perceived danger producing bursts of adrenaline.

Some of us see dangerous threat where others see only a curious shadow. The difference of viewpoint can cause our family wind chime to furiously jangle or gently swing.