Saturday, August 10, 2013

In Search of Sea Otters

I love otters.  The flippers.  Their noses.  The soft, dense fur.  The speed and elegance with which they move through the water despite their cuddly appearance.  

And so, when we dropped anchor and floated near Sitka, I convinced Mom to de-boat, as she called it, on a tender and we boarded a smaller watercraft for a pricey fee but with a guarantee that we'd see wildlife.  An otter, whale or bear or we each would get $100.

And so we set off on the Sea Otter Express.  Settling inside the heated cabin, we arranged ourselves with binoculars and cameras and sighed over the beauty - the shades of blue, the multitude of islands, the forest.  

I smiled every time someone would gasp over a sighting - the fin of a whale or flight of an eagle or jumping of a random fish.  I soon grew antsy, impatient with the barrier between the animals and my camera, and zipped my sweatshirt and climbed up the narrow steps to perch on the open deck.  

There was a certain sort of wonder up there.  Of whimsy.  Of peace.  Breathing in the air that was the perfect cool-not-cold.  Feeling the wind tangle my hair as I sighed and searched the horizon for bumps on the water.

"That's an island," our guide noted when people took too many pictures of a small rock jutting from the water.  "We sometimes confuse it for a critter, but it isn't."

When we frowned our disappointment, he smiled and promised we'd find something alive to photograph.  And we did, slowing to follow an orca as she swept across the water near the surface, emerging so we could admire her white markings that just barely broke the surface.

We watched people fish for salmon in a sheltered cove.   I pondered the jellyfish - the giant gelatinous masses floating below the surface - and wrinkled my nose at them.  I focused my attention on the orange starfish that rested just below the surface.

"They're very tough creatures," our guide noted.  "Sometimes under water.  Sometimes above.  Sometimes hot in the sun.  Often frozen from the cold.  Subjected to salt in the ocean and fresh water from rain.  They just adapt."

So I admired that resilience until we sped away in search of the treasure - the otters I'd so wanted to see.

 "There they are," our guide noted.  "See those dots in the water?  There's a raft of them resting over there.  We'll try to get closer and hope they don't mind us watching them."

So we did.  And they didn't.

Utterly (otterly!) charmed, I took upwards of 40 pictures that are all a bit blurry.  You have to want to see the otters to truly appreciate these photos.  But they napped as they floated, occasionally one would grow curious and pop up to look at us.  Finding us acceptable, they would return to their supine position, tucking furry chin to sleek chest and resting once again.

 We floated there for long minutes, leaving only after we'd alerted the other tours and not wanting to form a crowd and cause the otters to depart.

"It's a humpback," the guide cried a bit later and we paused in open ocean in hopes of watching it dive.

And that's when I grew queasy.  The bobbing motion of the boat at odds with the gentle sway of the cruise ship to which I'd adjusted.  I blinked rapidly.  Focused on the horizon.  Sipped some peppermint tea while sitting back inside with my 'having a lovely time/not sick at all!' mother.

But as we lingered and rode the waves up and down and up and down, I swallowed against the nausea.  And when the kindly tour people offered salmon for a snack, I had to escape to the aft deck again.

"Salmon?" the guide asked as I stood there, clinging to the railing and trying to think of the otters who'd  made me so happy such a short time before.

"I will throw it up all over this boat," I replied and he looked closer and told me I was a bit green.  Patting the hand that clung to the railing, he promised it would pass and departed.  Leaving me to give myself hiccups in an attempt not to vomit.

"I was fine," Mom offered happily when she helped me up the ramp on the dock as my head was still swimming.  "I had a great time!"

I made a noise in response, found a soda and found that I rapidly felt better once the world stabilized around me.

A sea star, I am not.

But I do have otter pictures.  And because I want to see that they're otters, I do.  So now you can too.

Friday, August 09, 2013


(This is a photo from the aft deck en route to Alaska.  It has nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of this post.  But look!  Pretty!)

When I was in 3rd grade, we hung projects in the hallway that described what we wanted to be when we grew up.  I still recall mine - the wide-ruled notebook paper beside a hand-drawn picture upon which we posted a school photo of our faces.

Crayon-drawn Katie (with actual-photo head) was standing in a courtroom, emerging as a victorious lawyer from some undoubtedly critical case.  I had, after all, seen lawyers on TV and that's what I wanted to do.  Aid the downtrodden.  Give voice to the wrongfully accused.  Fight the power.

Then I grew up.

And met some actual lawyers.

And quickly adjusted my goals.

Now, some 25 years later (crap - can that be right?), I find myself with a fondness for most of the lawyerly with whom I'm acquainted.  They know big words.  They think with a certain clarity.  They ask interesting questions and can often distill complex situations into the most relevant points.

But have you met a corporate lawyer?

I have.  A few of them.

[Q: Are you able to define 'a few'?
A: I don't remember exactly.
Q: Do you know more than 1 corporate lawyer?
A: Yes.
Q: More than 2?
A: Yes.
Q: More than 10?
A: Probably not.
Q: So less than 10?
A:  I think so.
Q: More than 5?
A: Yes.
Q: More than 7?
A: Yes.  Eight, OK?  I've met eight corporate lawyers.
And that's why you want to stab yourself or others with a pencil during a deposition.  Because who cares?]
I will admit that sometimes that attention to detail - that application of knowledge and definition of fact and separation from opinion or interpretation - can be exquisitely useful.  When I have a complicated problem and need direction?

I call counsel.

Ah, but then...  They trick you into thinking they're lovely people.  Bright, funny, wonderful conversational companions!

So you start a conversation and ask for a simple contract to be drafted.  And even if you're not feeling super-great because August 13 is next week and you really, really miss your dad, you're trying hard to focus on work and get stuff done because that's a nice distraction.

And Lawyer 1 says, "Wait.  I don't think this is in scope of the procedure."

So you say, "No, no.  It is.  Blah, blah, explanation, blah, blah."

And Lawyer 2 (helpful tip from Katie - Never Let Lawyers Form Groups) gets all concerned and wants to Stop Everything while you look up the procedure and discuss the contract and examine the request and start from the very beginning again so we're sure we really understand.

Growing impatient, you look up the formal document and read it to your lawyer friends that you're starting to hate a little bit.  You explain the situation again.  In the middle of your explanation, maybe you use the wrong word.

And they pounce - both of them - voices going accusatory while they chortle between them in their lawyerly way and - even though you watch Law & Order reruns and know not to get upset or otherwise emotional - you do get upset and emotional.  And start to think you're wrong.  You're a terrible person.  Oh, this is awful - how you've willfully attempted to break the rules and ruin everything!  And you're sorry.  You'll start over.

But you keep thinking about it - on the drive to and from work, on your walks with your blind dog - and you realize that you're not wrong.  You may have misspoken but they're wrong.  And this wasn't on the record or written down.

So when you - well, when I - pushed back, I pushed back hard.  Explained my request again.  Indicated that if they thought I was out of order, they could prove it to me.  And until then - since we run a business - the time it took to escalate and get a decision (as corporate lawyers seem to really struggle to make decisions, bless their 'let's debate this some more' hearts) was going to be measured as 'legal delay.'

So now I feel mean - as they pointed out that it was uncharacteristic of me to 1) push back with such vitriol (my word - not theirs.  I know big words too!  I looked it up to make sure I was right but I had the general idea) and 2) demand others do work that I otherwise would have done myself.

I also feel ineffective as these lawyers will take months (and months) (and more months) to make this decision and I'm effectively halting my project because I'm pissy.

There's no good conclusion here - I'm standing my ground even if it is a bit shaky underneath me.  But I have two points.  1) If I had been a lawyer and ended up working for a large company, I would be much better at it.  And 2) I would like to request independent counsel.  I just need to find out how to  make sure said independent counsel if viciously efficient and effective.  I shall try to find someone from a television show.

Thank you.  Please see irrelevant photo of a glacier below.

Sunday, August 04, 2013


Preparing to mow the lawn yesterday, I wandered my main floor.  Smoothed sunscreen on my face.  Located my flip flops.  Informed Chienne that I would be outside.

It was then that I noticed a creature hopping around the white tile of my kitchen floor.

"Oh," I said, startled.

For while I have a dog and cat, I have not - in my long absence - added a bird to my brood.

Sprout, however, on an accidental (on my part - quite purposeful on his) adventure Friday night had apparently added to our family with his hunting treasure.

I believe the bird - little and gray - fought back and escaped my vicious feline and hid until he went to catch a nap in the sunshine.  Chienne and I have no killer instinct of which to speak - quickly scurrying from the house and closing the door, leaving the bird inside.

"That's not going to work longterm," I told my loyal hound before she abandoned me to sit outside in her yard.  I set about opening doors (with an absent hope that no other birds came in) and arming myself with a giant storage container and long stick to convince the bird (who may have had an eye dangling from its socket - I didn't look closely enough for definitive confirmation) to fly out the door he deemed most convenient.

I tapped the plastic container on the ground as I held it before me and may have said, "please go away, Mr. Bird."  But apart from that, I was quiet - sighing with relief after he took flight into the morning sky and going about to close the doors again.

I talked much more on the cruise to Alaska I shared with my mom (and 2,000 other older people - half of them Southern Gospel fans).  And I meant to post of it - at least to share some stunning photos of water gone green with glacial sediment in Tracy Arm or sea otters napping off the coast of Sitka.

But I came home and returned to work.  I click in different locations on different screens.  I sign and date and review and approve.  I have flashes of amusement or anger or general interest, but they soon pass and I drift back into the monotonous contentment that defines me of late.

"The ambition is gone," I told Sibling when she returned to visit last week.  "I keep waiting for myself to bounce back.  To awaken and feel strong and purposeful and like Katie again.  But I don't.  I haven't.  So I don't know what comes next."

So let's try photos from Alaska.  And see if I can at least find a less-silent rhythm here.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Making Up Stories

She stood just before the road curved to go uphill.  Unmoving on the sidewalk without a dog to accompany or umbrella to shelter her.

Watching her for no more than than a moment - the time when I came downhill around the curve from my house perched atop, traveling at a gentle 25 mph through the neighborhood.

Her hair was dark and fine, slipping from the grip of a ponytail holder as the rain dampened it to the deepest shade of black.  The multi-hued t-shirt was incongruous with her expression - the rainbow colors happy below the sad droop of her facial features.

Standing there in a sullen drizzle, she stared at the house across the street - one of my favorites in the neighborhood with its cedar siding and bright clumps of tulips and new rough-hewn fence to contain a big boisterous brown dog.

I've seen the couple residing there, I'm sure, but recall the dog best.  There may also be a child or three, I considered, furrowing my brow in an attempt to aid memories.  Discarding the attempt, I wondered what had so captured the sad woman's attention.

Perhaps she once loved him - the man who lives there with his new family.  I do know how heartache - the regret that can sweep gently or stab viciously - can linger.  How sometimes you peer at old letters or visit old places.  Close your eyes against the memories of old songs or scents.

Perhaps she pictured herself living there, I mused on my commute.  Letting out the dog and laughingly scolding his friendly barking.  Tilting her face to kiss the man before he left for work.  Asking if he had preferences on take-out that she could pick up on her way home.  Thinking how she might have planted lilies rather than tulips.  Maybe a rosebush there at the corner of the fence.

Wishing for something that never was.  And never will be.

She lingers in my thoughts, that melancholy woman, as I wade through piles of paperwork at the office and struggle for sleep amidst my mounds of pillows.  As if she is the ghost of dreams lost - left to spend the present stuck at the curve between the past and future, unable to take the next steps uphill.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Amphibious Admiration

I mowed my lawn earlier this week, entering the mild afternoon sunshine to clip at the overgrown grass in Chienne's fenced yard.

I was going downhill near one of the pine trees when I yanked the mower toward me in order to cover all the grass near the pointy needles waiting to gouge me when I saw the frog huddled closely to the ground amidst the roaring noise and swirling clippings of grass.

I gasped but had already started the forward motion and between the self-propulsion of the mower and downhill gravity outweighed my alarm over harming the creature and I mowed the patch of lawn in which he huddled.

Having closed my eyes against the potential carnage, I opened the right one slowly and sighed in relief when I didn't see pieces of mutilated frog.

Peering into the grass once again, I noted the concave shape of his back and nodded in admiration.

"I'm not sure I could have stayed so still and hoped for the best," I admitted to a colleague when I told the story.  "With all that noise and pressure, I'm afraid I would have attempted a panicked escape directly into the swirling blades."

As I consider it more though, I am quite frog-like of late.  Keeping the lowest of profiles.  Answering calls from Mom and speeding home for visits.  Absently noting the tulips in bloom and budding trees with the knowledge that they'll all die sooner or later.  Trying to remain unnoticed as I wait for the next bad thing to happen.

"It's fine," I told a different colleague when she asked about a silly project I'd been asked to lead.  "I'm fine."

"You say that a lot," she noted, looking at me with concern.  I shrugged, swiveling my chair back to regard the monotony that lives in my work laptop.  It keeps me busy.  Distracted.  For when I think of things, I'm often sad.

I miss Dad.  I want so much to talk with him.  Make sure he's OK.  I worry over Mom as she hates being alone.  I fret over disappointments and hurt feelings - whether of the Ones or colleagues or friends.

But it's fine.

I'm fine.

Just quietly huddled for a bit.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Love & Loss

I vaguely remember being infatuated.  That glimmer of wonder when he seems to like me in return.  Where - regardless of the action or distraction - where the very thought of him curves my lips into a silly smile.  When - even in the middle of a meeting stressful or boring - there's this fluttery hope and happiness.

My life of late has been the opposite of that.

I started to feel better.  We knew Mom's cyst was normal, though painful.  I had returned to work, busily filling in files and approving plans, when Aunt called about an hour after Mom's mammogram had been scheduled.  And I frowned as soon as I heard her voice.

"The cyst is fine," she said and went into detail while I waited with stomach clenched.  "But there's something abnormal in the other breast."  I remained silent while she said it was small and likely a calcification.  Eyes closed, I waited and willed myself to process this.  To say something hopeful and encouraging and loving and strong.

"Katie?" Mom finally spoke.  "Are you OK?"

"OK," I confirmed.

Aunt talked of biopsy dates and times and I assured them I'd be home for it.  So Chienne and I packed up and headed south a day later.  And at every turn - every other thought - there was cancer.  Tentacles reaching from the malignant core to entangle every breath and memory and hope.

Brother traded with Aunt in the waiting room - I released her hand for his while I waited for Mom to emerge from Radiology.  Brother and I took her for breakfast and chatted.  Then I took her home and snuggled her under multiple blankets on the couch, settling into Dad's recliner and keeping watch while she slept and I took conference calls.

I was driving north - Mom and Chienne in the backseat - the next day when I called Radiology for the third time to inquire about results.  Thinking of how I'd wept at Sunday School when I realized that God doesn't hate me - sometimes bad things just happen, I begged him - the breathless please, please, please, please, please kind - to let it be a calcification.

Voice shaking, I gripped the steering wheel and gave praise and thanks after the doctor confirmed it was benign.  No cancer.  Not this time.  And I listened to Mom make calls and giggle her relief while continuing the commute to my house.

So when yet another friend lost her job yesterday, I sat quietly while the remainder of the team expressed their outrage and shock.  Bad news seems to have lost some power over me, at least for the moment.  But I've grown somewhat skilled at listening to the too-long pauses after I ask how friends are.  The uncertainty.  The unfairness of it all.  The thought that all the work - the learning and practicing and extra hours and minor victories - being in vain.

But when this friend didn't answer her phone, I frowned.  And found myself in my Jeep, searching for her apartment to be sure she'd not hurt herself.

She hadn't - buzzing me in and answering the door with a sweatshirt unzipped over a black bra.

"I can't do it," she told me, gesturing at her front and beginning to sob.  I prioritized hugs over proper attire and we stood there - me in my coat still cold from the bitter winds and her warm from where she'd been curled up under covers and misery.  And I whispered that it would be OK.

I helped her zip her sweatshirt and joined her on the couch, looping my arm though hers and holding her hand while she cried.  And I looked at the spots on her cheeks - visible without make-up - and thought of how very delicate we all are.  How frail we must seem.  How a mere puff of bad luck can topple us.

"I don't know what to do," she finally said and I nodded.

"You grieve," I finally replied.  "And you find your balance again and decide what you want and try to get it.  I know you feel alone.  Rejected.  Afraid.  But you have people who love you and talent and opportunities that haven't been revealed just yet.  And I'm sorry - so very sorry - this happened.  It's not your fault and you don't deserve it and it's terrible and awful and wrong.  But you will battle back.  As soon as you've rested and cried a bit more."

I left after a little while when another friend appeared, driving back to work and settling in to type on that laptop between glances at places I've been and people I've loved.  And tonight, quite frankly, I ache - head, body, heart.  Because we are resilient as we are fragile.  And I continue to have hope, I suppose.

But it all seems terribly difficult of late.  And that silly giddiness seems to have faded into memories as I find myself waiting for the next disaster to strike.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Long time...


I just did some laundry - retrieved my clothes from Europe from the dryer.  Placed a mound of pajamas in the washer.  And realized time has escaped me somehow of late.

I was sick when I got home from Europe.  This should be no great surprise since I cramped and limped and vomited and sniffled my way across the continent.  Mom patted my head, covered me with a soft blanket and went shopping.

"Here's $75 worth of cold products," she told me as she unpacked bags on my counter.  "I'm going home so I don't catch your disease."

I nodded and opened a new box of Kleenex while I waved at her departing car, settling into the comfort of home while I rested and healed.

I coughed when answering the phone two days later, Brother patiently waiting until I finished dealing with mucus.

"Mom found another lump," he said gently when I was quiet so I stayed that way, letting the knowledge absorb as I closed my eyes.

I went home, of course, staying for 11 days.  I was simply present for the first few days - we went out to eat, cleaned up the house, admired the remodeling Mom had done in the basement.

I asked for prayers on Sunday, sitting in the glow of sunlight in our sanctuary and wanting confirmation that the lump was merely a cyst.  I prayed and grasped for peace and comfort and received it.

We went for the appointment on Monday, asked her oncologist why he was so impatient and angry (he did calm himself under my severe frown and threatening words) and proceeded to the aspiration I'd hoped to avoid.

"Don't leave me," Mom asked as I stood at the head of the table, my hand in hers and foreheads together.  So I looked in her tear-filled eyes and promised I wouldn't.  We sighed with relief when it was over and I stood, watching the two punctures on her breast form a perfect heart of blood on the bandage.

So though she urged me to go home when she was back under control, I doubled my 5 day trip with nary a single complaint from work and Chienne and I settled in for a longer stay.

I called for results - cytology was clean so we cried again over the lack of cancer cells.  And the cultures failed to grow anything so she didn't have to continue taking anti-biotics that were making her so sick.  (I'd let her stop several days before - I somehow feel qualified to make medical decisions.  So I do.)

Yet the cyst refilled.  So we're still worrying about the little sucker.

"I didn't realize how hard you worked," Mom said one evening as she settled on the couch at 7PM.  I'd finally released my control on the living room, sitting in Dad's recliner with my iPhone earbuds and laptop as I'd joined meetings and made slides and sent documents and drafted emails.

We went to run errands on Saturday with plans to have me leave on Sunday.  We shopped for groceries.  Picked out flooring for her new basement.  Stopped for breakfast.  Then we went to renew her zoo membership.

"The tiger cubs are out," the attendant told us so we braved the bitter wind and wandered out to look at them, cooing over the cuteness.

"It doesn't seem like they have enough room to run around," I finally noted, feeling sad at having them penned in.  (This is not uncommon when I visit zoos.)

"No," Mom agreed.  "But you play the hand you're dealt."  I nodded my agreement and urged her along so we could see the zebras before declaring defeat to the cold and returning to the Equinox.

She cried before leaving for church as I packed the last of my things.  And we held on for a long time before separating again.

Work has been busy but I'm doing well.  I remain happy with this position.

Friend is going through some work stuff.  So send her happy-research thoughts if you have extras.

I feel a bit like I'm waiting for the next horrible thing to happen, but I'm not overwhelmed by it.  It's a gentle awareness in the background that allows for contentment in the foreground.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013


I opened my eyes, blinking twice as I tried to snuggle into my warm, borrowed bed and return to sleep.  I frowned when I could not, turning all my attention to my head and deciding that, yes, it did indeed ache. 

With a sigh, for my body has not served me particularly well on this European jaunt, I rose to acquire tablets, swallowing them with some Coke Zero I had leftover from my train journey.  I returned to bed for mere moments before hurrying to the bathroom to begin what ended up being about 120 minutes of illness. 

I have thrown up in places somewhat exotic, I decided.  Seoul, looking out over the Korean city as I dipped my head over the air conditioner to try to cool my fever-heated head.  Montreal, using the bathroom phone to beg for medication that would stop my misery.  And now Paris, perched in an adorable room with slanted ceilings and throwing up salmon tartare and gambas with risotto that I'd eaten to be polite the night before.  (French food is not my forte, I'm afraid.)

 The spasms would ease for blissful moments, giving me a chance to clean the bathroom and myself, to try in vain to swallow another tablet, before returning to misery until my eyes watered pitifully and sides ached mightily. 

I managed to alert my colleagues that I would miss the morning's meetings.  Finally was able to climb in the shower and wash.  Then tugged on the dress - forgiving and lightweight - that I'd planned to wear to the office and climbing back under fluffy covers to sleep fitfully once again. 

There is - for me - something visceral about travel.  Life reduced to the basic needs - to sleep and eat and breathe - while surrounded by someplace strange and wonderful.  That my body responds with sickness in some cases (5-10%, I'd estimate) should not surprise me.  Nor does it when my left calf cramps after carrying luggage a mile across Paris between train stations.  (Worth it.)  When I gulp (still) water with more appreciation than I'd have for the finest of wines.  When I'm dazzled with delight and subsequently felled by migraines and vomit. 

There is another constant - much as I love spending time here, sorting out accents and apologizing that I don't speak the local language - I'm always ready to return home. 

Sunday, February 03, 2013


I decided, clinging to the handle of the gondola with both hands as we ascended both smoothly and alarming little dips, that even my meager adventures may be overrated.  

"Fifteen minutes," my friend chirped as our boat docked and we set off on our walk to our up-mountain transport.  I followed dutifully in hiking boots I'd borrowed from her, stopping short only when facing one of the steepest hills I've ever seen.

"I thought we were finding this dangling glass box to avoid climbing the mountain," I offered, head cocked suspiciously at the climb ahead.   

"Katie," she scolded in her elegant accent, tipping her head toward the senior citizens moving up the sidewalk, some of them dragging luggage.  I recalled my embarrassed terror when hiking with Friend, seeing tiny children scampering down hills that had me clinging at trees.  

Huffing and puffing enough to blow a house down, we arrived at the station, 15 sharply-uphill minutes later.  We proceeded to climb in a box made mostly of glass that rapidly fogged as humans crammed into it. 

"Happy thoughts," I whispered to myself, remembering the morning.  On the ground.  Which was flat.  Surrounded by quaint buildings bearing international flags.  Under the covering of a wooden bridge while icicles dripped from its eaves.  The photo of me there - leaning around a nearby pillar - looked so brilliantly happy even as the snow fell softly around us.   The swans shared space with ducks, gliding smoothly through the inky water - clear and clean up close but ill-illuminated under the snow clouds that hovered above.
"We could walk up to the top," PrettyHair said when we climbed about a million stairs on our safe (thank God) arrival up the mountain.  

"Absolutely not," I replied, though I promise I was the epitome of a lovely guest other than in this story.  So we caught a crowded train that made its way up into the snow cloud.  We wiped condensation from the windows with our sleeves, admiring the snow clinging to the trees and making calculations of 2 meters into feet.  (The snow was deep.)  We watched the skiers laugh as they juggled their gear in the small space.  And after a couple of stops at adorable little structures we could barely see through the cloudy windows and falling snow, we arrived at the final stop near the summit.  We climbed on the path and looked at each other, peering for a walking trail.  (I find walking downhill more acceptable than up.)  I found myself drawn toward the safety of the train though, having almost fallen in the 10 steps I'd taken.  So we boarded again amidst giggles at our failure but decided that experiencing the top of a mountain as it was shrouded in a snow cloud was rather worthwhile.
It cleared as we descended - sharply but steadily.  And we caught glimpses of blue sky as we boarded another boat bound for PrettyHair's house.  

"I had the best time," I told her, beaming over our coffees and pastry as we moved along the lake once again.  And it really is stunning here - I highly recommend Lucern.  And the boat and mountains beyond. 

Saturday, February 02, 2013


There is something awakened within me upon seeing new places.  Even when miserably jetlagged and crampy, feeling grimy from the lengthy flight and tired from lugging my luggage from train to train to uphill sidewalk, there's a certain spark of... discovery? adventure? novelty? to encountering cities nestled upon lakes near the Swiss Alps. 

It leaves me - just for a moment - breathless.

I've come early to Europe to meet a friend who is hosting me at her lovely home overlooking the city.  I dutifully followed her from the airport, arriving to coo over the elegance of her living space before freshening up while she made a lunch of bread, cheese and fruit.  (Oh, the bread... And cheese... And fruit...)

We set off to explore the city - beaming at the sunshine when it sparkled and reaching for umbrellas during the light sleet.  I took photos - admiring architecture and floral arrangements and breathing in the scent of chocolate - in what is undeniably a charming locale.

Tomorrow, I climb a mountain.  (By train.  But still!)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


 "Aw," I cooed when I got to work on Monday.  I'd been off-campus on Friday so my birthday tulips had opened prettily and my balloons still floated happily above my desk.  "That's so sweet of you," I grinned at my colleagues when I went to give hugs.

The moral of my story - or one of them, perhaps - is that life works out.  It dips and twists and sometimes crashes and burns.  But it always manages to level out - bounce back - and leaves me stroking the petal of a tulip with the tip of my finger while considering its simple beauty.

"I'm glad you're on that team," my former partner said when I saw him on Monday, a departure from his initial dire warnings of killing my career.

"Me, too!" I cried, linking my arm with his and grinning when he squeezed me affectionately.  "I'm so happy."

"I don't care much about that," he teased and I sighed at him.  "But I do think we need someone smart and talented in that role.  It's good for the teams."

"Thanks," I offered.  "I'm glad you got our job," I continued sincerely.  "I wanted it - desperately, really - but it wasn't the right path for me.  And I think it may be the right path for you."

He shrugged and we both went quiet, thinking of the meeting we'd just left.

There was a project I'd championed for years - I think - no, I believe - that it's truly groundbreaking.  Elegant.  Meaningful.  A real weapon in the battle against disease.

And we're killing it.

"It's brilliant," I emphasized, leaning across the table in a tiny conference room and maintaining eye contact with the lead designer.  My heart broke when I noted the tears in his eyes but I continued to tell him what amazing work he'd done.

I looked at my former partner - the decision-maker in this hideous game - and his mouth twisted with momentary regret but he straightened in his chair and continued with discussions about resources and priorities and some activities that were high risk/high reward that we just couldn't support in the current climate.

I nodded because he's right.  We've reduced our force, asking talented employees to pack their belongings and leave.  Those are terrible decisions - ones that make my stomach ache - and I've tried to connect those people with links in my network and sag with regret when they must uproot their families to find work elsewhere.

I have not the strength to crush dreams.  I just don't.  I know it's best for business in some cases.  I understand the rationale and hurt for those men (for they're typically men in my world) who must decide and deliver those messages.  But it's not something I can do right now, even with the knowledge that the world eventually rights itself and balances.

Instead, I return to my support role - organize items and communicate strategy rather than participating in its formation.

And I smile at my tulips, silly as that sounds.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


I have taken to decorating with lanterns.

"I love that lamp," I sighed when looking for new furniture for Mom.  Something about the curve of the  base.  The dangle of the light source.  The point of illumination in the darkness, protected by intersecting swoops of metal.

We left the store without said lamp - the store charged exorbitant fees for delivery - (of the sofa, not the lamp).  (The lamp can be carried.)  (It sits on a table - it's not exorbitantly heavy.)


It was one of my Christmas gifts - the pretty silver lamp that I didn't need but loved.  It sits perched on the table across the room, near the vase with my dying roses and new WalMart tulips.

On the opposite wall of my cozy living room stands a floor lamp.  Another lantern.  In a different finish that clearly does not match its companion lighting device.  This one I purchased - selecting it from amazon and piecing it together when it arrived, fishing the cord through the supporting pieces, screwing them together (righty tighty) and arranging it by my couch clad in a tan chenille.

They both glow this evening - as they do most evenings when Mom and I reside here - and it provides me some modicum of comfort.  The glow seeming softer and gentler on sleepless nights or grumpy mornings or hopeless evenings.

"You are so cute," Mom tells Sir Sprout and she's right.  He's such a pretty guy.  "I wish you weren't so weird," she follows up and I grin for the feline is spooky.  He is startled by most anything.  Runs from his own shadow.  Literally.  And rebukes any efforts to scoop him up to cuddle.

But - for now - Chienne snores on her corner of the chenille couch.  Sprout bats at Mom's yarn as she knits it into some odd creation.  And I plan my week, considering emails and arranging meetings.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


"Hello," I heard a voice call when I followed Mom into the small floral & gift shop.  "Welcome to my mess."

"Did someone say something?" Mom asked, for her hearing is terrible.  "Did you hear it?  Where'd it come from?"

"I don't know," I murmured, inching toward the door in order to reverse our journey and return to the car.

"I want to buy you flowers," Mom had insisted before we had dined at the Chinese restaurant next door.  When I said we could stop at WalMart on the way home (I'm very suburban), she insisted that we should do something more special on my birthday.  Flowers from a florist.

We both blinked at the piles of crap - scraps of fabric, balls of styrofoam, dried flowers and plastic blooms.

"I still have to clean up after Christmas," the proprietress offered cheerfully and we peered around glass shelves so heavily laden with stuff that they formed an impenetrable wall of sorts.

"Hello?" Mom offered carefully, taking careful steps around the overflowing boxes on the creaky floor while I watched, gathering my coat closer to me so that it didn't knock over the perilously stacked papers on the three card tables with overlapping corners.

I spared a moment to admire their defiance of gravity - no table had all four legs touching the floor and the tops nearly bowed under the weight of their burdens.

"It's Katie's birthday," Mom was explaining to the rather large woman seated in a different nook of the terrifying shop.  "She likes flowers."

The woman smiled and I took a moment to notice she was wearing only one shoe before obediently turning at her direction and squinting through the dirty glass of the cooler.

"Blue carnations, yellow carnations, red roses," she recited and Mom and I exchanged meaningful glances.  "I think there are some pink and white roses in the back there," she said and I shrugged helplessly.

"Roses," Mom decided and I offered that I'd prefer pink or white.  

"May I get them for you?" Mom offered when the woman rose - with no small amount of effort or noise - from her chair.  She refused though, moving slowly toward the cooler and emerging with 3 roses of each color.

We watched, making polite conversation that I mostly carried as Mom looked confused and kept whispering to me that she couldn't hear.

"Don't get old," the shop owner advised as she carefully removed thorns and removed dead petals from the elderly blooms.

"There's not a good alternative," I replied easily, wishing with futility that she would hurry in her task.  I was starting to feel claustrophobic.

I was unsure of the source of my discomfort though - while the environment was uncomfortable, perhaps belonging on Hoarders, it has become relatively common for me to feel breathless with panic or grief or this awful blank depression that sometimes settles over me.

We finally departed and I carried the flowers - wrapped in a sheet of yellow tissue paper stapled at the side - with me to the car.

"They're pretty," I told Mom with a smile.  "Thank you."

"They'll be dead tomorrow," she replied, looking concerned.

"Maybe," I decided, looking at the brown edges of the pale petals.  "But they're pretty today and we provide 30 minutes of company for a lonely lady in an awful shop.  So I think we did OK."

Age 33 was mostly misery - cancer diagnoses and treatments.  Professional failure.  Losing Daddy.  Working through grief remains as sharp as the memories that overtake my consciousness at times.

34 must be better.  Though the roses Mom bought me yesterday are definitely drooping, they make me smile each time I glance at them.