Tuesday, July 28, 2009

::santa cruz::

David and I spent last weekend in Santa Cruz; the trip was his birthday celebration. David has traveled all over the world and seen every kind of music, but he hadn't seen his favorite female singer, Gillian Welch. So when he turned 50 back in May, I told him that we were going to go see her, somewhere, this summer. When she announced her tour dates, we jumped on tickets to see her in Santa Cruz as neither of us had been there and it seemed like a cool little town to stay for the weekend.

I have never seen so many cruisers in my life. I was in heaven. But none even came close to being as cool/cute as mine.

We stayed at a brand new place called the Pacific Blue Inn; it was fabulous. It is a "green" hotel, meaning they built it using recycled/re purposed building supplies, low-VOC paint, bamboo flooring and they use non-toxic cleaning products. It is a beautiful little inn (just 6 rooms) and the decor is simple and lovely. They served fantastic breakfast and brought us a bottle of wine to enjoy at our little patio table and the manager was helpful and charming. It is also within walking distance of the beach and all the cafes and shops downtown. If you're going to Santa Cruz, this is the place to stay.

The concert was fantastic; just Gillian and her partner David Rawlings with their guitars. They played almost all our favorite songs plus at least 4 new ones. The venue has been around forever and hasn't seen a fresh coat of paint nor a mop since at least the 70s, but we had a great spot from which to see them and met a great couple from NY who had lived in SC for 20 years.

We totally enjoyed the downtown area, which reminded me of Eugene: skateboarders, lots of dreadlocks, street musicians, aging hippies riding bikes and people of every color. It has a great feel to it and we spent hours wandering in and out of the cool little shops. There were actual RECORD STORES on every block; we had just been talking about how record stores are pretty much a thing of the past. As you wander along, you smell pot, patchouli, and food of every ethnicity. I miss college towns.

The next day we spent some time at the beach in Santa Cruz. There is a boardwalk there that is supposed to be the "Cony Island of the West"; I found it dirty, extremely cheesy and depressing as hell. I was itching to get away from the hoards of tourists, so we took a drive up the coast to a beautiful little beach near Davenport. It was nice to get out of town and cruise up Highway 1.

We also went up to the University of California Santa Cruz and we've decided where Anna is going to college. It doesn't matter what she wants to study or where she wants to go. This is the place. It sits high on a hill overlooking the Pacific and is unlike any campus either of us had ever seen; it feels like a big hill-top ranch that is owned by an eccentric artist or Jerry Garcia. There are big open fields overlooking the ocean, groves of redwoods and buildings with views like this:

This mural is on the side of one of the buildings. Why there is a mural of naked mermaid woman with a baby in her womb, I don't know. Perhaps if I were as stoned as the artist probably was, I wouldn't need to ask why.

I had to take photos of all the amazing succulents; they grow everywhere there and are bigger than my head.

We decided that when we win the lottery, we will buy a little beach cottage in Santa Cruz. We will ride our cruisers to the beach where we will lay in the sun listening to the waves and sea-lions and then have dinner at a little open-air cafe that serves Mexican beer and Thai food.

Santa Cruz, we'll be back.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


I usually hear her before I see her.

As I sit on the front porch, I hear the wheels of her walker scraping along the road. She is out there, walking, in the rain, the snow, the hot hot sun of summer. Always by herself. She circles our block once, sometimes twice every day. And she always, always has the most beautiful smile on her face.

She lives on the block behind us, in an immaculate little white house with pink shutters protected by tall Ponderosa pines. She is, I found out, 99 years old.

I think about her as I run, when it feels hard and I would rather be somewhere else, doing anything other than running. I think about her and how happy she is just to be outside, to be walking. To be ABLE to walk. It makes me run faster.

I am working up the courage to talk to her. To maybe walk beside her for awhile, to ask her about her life. I'm sure it's been full of joys, surprises, sorrows and grief. I want to tell her thank you for reminding me that I am lucky to be healthy and able to walk, to run, to jump and play and that I should do so, every day. Thank you for your beautiful smile that reminds me that life? Is good.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

::failed, part 2::

(to read part 1, click here)

As I stand near the door, paralyzed, David leads the firemen into the room where my niece is staying. She is laying on the couch, her eyes almost completely closed, with her phone up to her ear. As the firemen begin to ask her questions, I take the phone. On the other end, her friend is frantic, worried. I tell her that I am A's aunt, that help has arrived, and thank her for calling 911. A. is completely limp, mumbling almost inaudible answers to their questions. She looks at me groggily and mouths "I'm sorry."

My niece, after our argument, sent text messages to her friends, telling them good-bye and that she loved them. This friend, in Boise, called back and asked what that meant; A. explained that she had just taken all of her sleeping pills. The friend had the presence of mind to keep A. on the phone while asking her what my last name was and for our address was in Spokane. A. didn't know if I'd changed my name after I re-married last year, nor did she know my address. The friend somehow convinced A. to get up and look around the room to find something with my address on it. Thankfully, Anna had re purposed one of my amazon.com boxes as a bunny condo; A. found the address there. Her friend gave the address to her mother, who called 911 while she stayed on the phone. It makes me sick to think that all of this was happening while I was standing on the back deck, talking to David. If the friend hadn't called A. and then called 911, I would have assumed my niece had simply gone to bed and I wouldn't have checked on her until the morning. This friend literally saved my niece's life.

Soon the paramedics arrived and it was all a blurr from there. David was amazingly calm and focused; he and a paramedic took the two bottles and determined how many pills had been left based on the prescription date. I was asked if she had intended to hurt herself; it seemed like a foolish question given that she'd just swallowed approximately 12-15 sleeping pills. I was informed that because she had tried to hurt herself, they would have to do a psychiatric evaluation. That actually came as a huge relief; I knew that she needed help, real help, not just anti-depressants.

In the emergency room, nurses and doctors rushed in to get her hooked up to machines to track her vitals. The nurses were so cold and treated her like she was a slab of meat. It made me sick. She was forced to drink liquid charcoal to absorb the pills she had taken. It was nasty black sludge, that ended up around her mouth and splattered on her hands and pillow. I began the series of phone calls to her parents, my mom and other sister. I never in a million years thought I'd be calling her mother to tell her that her daughter had just tried to kill herself on my watch.

As David and I waited, she gradually began to become more lucid. I sent David home knowing that it was going to be a long night. I sat with her for almost 5 hours, rubbing her back, stroking her hair, telling her how much I love her and that if anything had happened to her, I would never forgive myself. We talked, a lot, about everything that had happened. She asked what the black stuff was on her hands. We talked some more. She asked what the black stuff was on her hands. She closed her eyes for a bit, woke up and asked what the black stuff was on her hands. It began to get funny; I would explain in detail that it was the stuff she'd had to drink to absorb the pills. She'd say "Oh" and then not 2 minutes later, she'd ask again. By then we were laughing and teasing each other; I'm sure the nurses thought we were crazy. But it was all just so fucking absurd and surreal. Finally, after almost 4 hours, the "psychiatric triage" doctor or nurse came in; he was a huge bald black guy with a gorgeous smile and a calm demeanor. He asked her a lot of questions, ending with "So tell me what your dreams are." She said that she wanted to go live in Japan. He said "I lived in Japan for 4 years!" and they began speaking Japanese to each other. It was very sweet and she LOVED that he could speak Japanese too. When she'd arrived in Spokane for her visit, she'd said that one of her goals for the week was to get to practice her Japanese. I teased her that this was a pretty desperate measure to take.

He recommended, based on what she'd shared with him, that she be admitted to the psychiatric ward for evaluation. I said that we needed to get her home to Boise, closer to her family and the friends that are so important to her. There is a hospital there that we had already looked into for her. We all knew that if "Camp Kate" failed, that was the next step.

I still can not wrap my brain around the turn of events and if I think about it much, I cry. I am so grateful that her friends handled the situation with the determination that they did; they literally saved her life.

She spent the weekend in the hospital in Boise; they changed her medication but accomplished nothing else. She shared a room with a woman in her 60s who cried all night, and the group therapy sessions were populated mostly by ex-convicts and drug addicts. That was not the place for her. She is back in the care of her father, with my sister and mom checking in on her regularly. The search continues for a place for her that is for young adults who are struggling with emotional and psychiatric challenges. She is such a bright, shining star, with so much talent and a beautiful, loving, forgiving heart. I just so badly want her to be happy and healthy.

Help. If you have any ideas, please share them. We are at a loss, but we will NOT give up.

Monday, July 20, 2009


It's almost laughable to read my last post, given the turn of events at the end of last week.

I can not believe how naively optimistic I was about my ability to help my sweet, troubled twenty-year-old niece. I thought it would do her good to spend a week with us in the "sunshine house"; if I could just get her to eat enough and rest enough and to get outside her own mind....if I just loved her enough I could "fix" her.

It so did not turn out that way.

The week got off to a rough start. Part of her problem is that she hasn't been sleeping properly. She has, for years, had no regular sleep schedule at all: she would stay up for days on end, on the computer or playing video games, and then eventually give in to her exhaustion and sleep for 20 hours at a time. Her body did not recognize day or night, so it was, of course, impossible to go to school or to keep a job. Her doctor had, just a few days prior to her visit, given her Ambien to help her sleep. The first night with us, she took one for the first time and, a few hours after David and I had gone to bed, we heard my niece stumbling around downstairs. The drug was causing her to hallucinate and she was completely out of it. She's tried to come find me and had ended up in the shower stall, tripping her brains out. I got her back in bed and lay with her, spooning her and rubbing her back, answering questions and talking calmly with her until finally she fell asleep. I stumbled back to bed myself and got up a few hours later to go to work. When I got home that evening, at almost 6pm, she was still in bed. She got up when I got home and said she'd woken up off and on during the day but had been "afraid" to get up. Why, I asked. "I don't know. I just know that I felt afraid."

The next several days also did not go as we'd hoped. She had, just before leaving Boise to come up here for 10 days, run out of her Paxil (an anti-depressant). It hadn't occurred to her to get the prescription filled, even though her father specifically asked her, two days prior to leaving, if she had enough to get her through the week. She didn't realize, she said, that she'd only had two pills left at that time. So the second day of her visit I frantically made phone calls to get her prescription filled at a pharmacy near our house in Spokane. For 3 days she could not manage to walk the two blocks to get the pills. Finally, on Wednesday, she walked to the store. Once there, she called me and said "Do you ever think that people are talking about you? Because I was just at the store and I think everyone was looking at me and whispering about me." "Well, honey," I said, "That might be because you've gone a few days without your pills. Now that you have them, you'll start to feel better." "Oh," she said. "I forgot to get my pills. I got to the store and I looked around and I bought some snacks and a sketchbook...but I forgot my pills." Breathe in....breathe out...stay calm.... "Ok, well, go back in there and get your pills. You really need them, sweetie." AAAarrrgggghhh.

During the days I was at work, I'd arranged for her to spend time with Anna and Anna's nanny (who is close to my niece's age and a total sweetheart.) My niece had been so excited about the plans: to go to Silverwood and then, the next day, to go to Cat Tails (she has always been obsessed with tigers, and this is an entire zoo for tigers.) Both days she backed out, at the last minute; the first day because she was having anxiety attacks, and then the next day, an hour before they were to leave, she called and told me she didn't want to go because she had "heartburn". Both days she made Anna and Chandra wait around for hours before deciding she just couldn't go. Both days I had to console Anna, who has been waiting for months for my niece's visit.

I was getting very frustrated. During this time period, my niece would text me several times throughout the day, with messages saying "I don't feel good." "My stomach hurts." "I'm scared." "I just heard a strange noise." To be honest, I felt like she was being melodramatic and that she needed to just "buck up." I was ready to strangle her.

By Thursday, it all came to a head. She had told David she wanted to go with him to the gym after work. I hadn't received a single text from her all day, which I took as a good sign. Then, just as I was leaving work, she sent me a text that she "didn't feel good". I didn't even reply. I spent the hour drive home from work feeling helpless, pissed and manipulated as hell. By the time I got home, David had convinced her to go, but she was moping around and I could tell she wanted me to get her out of it. I didn't. Except for the brief walk to the store, she had not left the house since she'd arrived 5 days prior.

I was at the end of my rope, and I'd asked David to talk to her. David is a very, very calm, fair and gentle person. He really should be a therapist. So he was going to share some of his personal experiences with her and urge her to force herself outside her "comfort zone" in order to be more engaged in life.

By the time they got home, I had been brooding for an hour or so, and she, apparently had already had enough of being "lectured" about having to make an effort if she is going to achieve the things she wants to in life. She sat down across from me on the porch, and I started in on her, saying "Honey, we'd agreed that you were going to come up here to try new things. You agreed that you needed and WANTED to have new experiences. And yet you haven't done anything other than exactly what you do at home: sleep all day, spend your time on the computer in a dark room....and every time an opportunity arises to go do something, you come up with an excuse not to do it." She glared at me and said "I didn't want to be left alone all day!" That pissed me off, because I had arranged for several things for her to do that I knew she would love. And I'd been very clear, before she came, about the fact that I would be at work many of the days she was here. The argument escalated from there, both of us frustrated by the way things were turning out. I thought she wasn't trying hard enough to get out of her comfort zone and she thought I was "dumping" her on Anna and Chandra. She didn't WANT to spend time with Anna, she said. She wanted me to herself. Well, that touched a nerve, my lioness-mother nerve. "I can't just make Anna disappear for a week so that you can have me to yourself! She lives here. You know that. Anna is my daughter. Do not make me choose between the two of you!" With that she stomped off to her room, slamming the door. I needed to cool down, so I put on my shoes and went for a walk. I thought about how maybe our upcoming trip to Leavenworth would help, that maybe getting outside, in the fresh mountain air would do us BOTH good.

I was gone only about 20 minutes. When I came back, I stopped to talk to David briefly, trying to get back to a place of feeling compassion for her. As we were talking about where to go from here, the doorbell rang. David and I gave each other an "Are you expecting someone?" look.

When I opened the door, I saw 4 firemen standing on our front porch, their gigantic red truck idling directly in front of our house.

"We got a phone call that someone at this address has taken an overdose of sleeping pills".

to be continued....

Thursday, July 16, 2009

aaaah, summer

I promise I'll have stories and photos early next week.

My niece is here this week, visiting from Boise. Tomorrow we are going out to see my friend Jane Cantwell, who runs Birds of Prey Northwest. Janie does amazing work rehabilitating injured raptors who come to her from all over the area. One of her most amazing challenges has been Beauty, a bald eagle who had her beak shot off (!) and was found in Alaska, malneurished and on the verge of death. Janie happened to be up there (on vacation, if I remember correctly) and heard about Beauty, who was at that time being cared for but still struggling. Jane brought Beauty home and has worked tirelessly to not only bring Beauty back to health, but she found an engineer to build a new titaneum beak for Beauty. To read the whole amazing story, click here. There's a Pay Pal link, if you are interested in/able to donate to the cause. Jane's work is completely privately funded so every little bit helps. I'm really excited to take Andrea and Anna out to Jane's property; it's always an unforgettable experience.

The next day we're going over to Leavenworth; Andrea has never been and it is, of course, one of my favorite places! It's going to be a gorgeous, fun-filled weekend.

Happy weekend to you!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

music to a mother's ears

Every morning when Anna comes downstairs, I stop whatever I'm doing and we spend a few minutes snuggling. This morning she said "Mama, lately whenever I wake up I am just so happy that I want to run around and spaz out and stuff!"

I know what you mean, sweetie. I know just what you mean.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Bea came to live with us in September and from the moment she arrived, she knew she belonged to us and that we belong to her.

The thing about Bea is that she literally can not be close enough to the people she loves. Every morning as I deliver David's coffee to him, she races up the stairs in front of me, hops up on our big bed (using the step-stool that is there for this purpose, of course), runs up the length of his body and flops down on his chest, her nose right in his face.

She did this to Anna the other day as we lay on the bed talking. We laughed and I said "Bea doesn't understand the concept of personal-space bubbles." "Yeah," Anna said. "I think she just POPPED mine!"