I am thankful


I am thankful for so many things this year. I’ll focus on my top five, the top five from 2019, because of course I am always happy for family, friends, freedom, health, wealth, and the American way.

physical therapy
Image from wistechcolleges on flickr.com, some rights reserved

Number 5: Physical therapists.

Three years ago my husband and I took a trip to England. I could barely make it up the stairs each night.

Just before we left for England, I saw a doctor about a pain in my groin which I concluded was the result of three separate falls while I was walking in the morning. Each fall seemed identical: I tripped on something I couldn’t even see, twisted my right ankle, and fell forward, landing on my hands, which were sore for a couple of days each time but that pain eventually went away. The pain in my groin did not.

The first doctor determined it must be my hip. She sent me away for an x-ray and a referral to an orthopedist for a possible hip replacement. The vacation to England took place right after this visit, before the visit to the orthopedist. The only treatment available on the trip was taking extra strength Tylenol, but not too much.

While at the orthopedist’s office, I mentioned a pain in the knee of the same leg as well. That triggered her to think the source of the pain might be in my back. The x-ray didn’t show anything to explain the hip pain, though it did confirm developing arthritis. The second doctor sent me away with a referral to a physical therapist to address the hip pain and a recommendation that I come back if I could no longer stand the pain.

The physical therapist treated the hip joint, and things got better for awhile. But two years later, the pain was still there. When I asked for an appointment with the same orthopedist I had seen before, I was told I needed an MRI first. The MRI didn’t show anything that would explain the pain in either my hip or my knee, so this time she sent me away with a further referral to a physical therapist, just in case something could be done.

Wow! Can physical therapists do magic! Once we all concluded the pain in my groin was really from the muscles and tendons in my groin–what I had thought in the first place–work began. In my first session, Adam, the physical therapist, pressed so hard on the troublesome tendon that I thought I was going to pass out or throw up or both. But when he let go, the pain was gone. It was temporary, of course, but for the first time in years I experienced no pain there.

Eight weeks later, after two sessions per week to stretch and then strengthen the tendons, it no longer hurts to bend down, to get up from a bent position, to sit down, to get up from a chair, to roll over in bed, to go up or down stairs. I feel my mind prepare for the pain when I’m about to make certain movements, but then the pain doesn’t happen.

I am grateful for physical therapists.

Happy Birthday
Image by Annie Spratt

Number 4: Birthday Parties.

Not mine, of course. I could have given up having birthdays, or at least celebrating them, years ago.

But our grandson turned six this year, our oldest granddaughter turned five, and our youngest granddaughter turned three (though she insisted that she was going straight from two to four because she is just as big as her older sister who was at that time four).

And they all still insist that we come to their parties. That’s what I am so thankful for.

I wonder how many years will pass before they stop inviting us to their parties, when having their friends as guests will become more important than having grandparents around.

Until then, I am grateful for birthdays.

Image by Matteo Catanese

Number 3: Rain

California recently experienced several dry years. Not long ago, we were advised to take shorter showers and not to wait until the water turned hot to begin them. Cold water showers were always short.

We bought rain barrels to collect the water and then tried to figure out what to do with the collected water since it didn’t drain with any pressure behind it so the only way to use it to water plants was to drain the water into sprinkling cans–repeatedly.

But rain finally came this past winter. In the spring that meant wildflower super blooms in the deserts. Today, Thanksgiving, the rain is pouring down. And I love it.

I am grateful for rain.

statue of a nurse
Image by Graham Ruttan

Number 2: Nurses

I am blessed to have a number of nurses in my life.

Our daughter-in-law is a nurse. When either my husband or I wonder if something we are experiencing is severe enough that a trip to the emergency room or urgent care is needed, we have a nurse to turn to. We trust her advice. Even more importantly, we know that our son and our three grandchildren have the best in-home medical resource possible, so we worry less about them.

My sister-in-law is a nurse. When I learn something medical is going on in the life of someone else, I know I can get a straightforward explanation of options and advice on what to look for from her.

We’ve had plenty of reasons to turn to both of them in the past year–wait until you get to #1 to see why.

Whenever we need to see a doctor–whether for a routine matter or something more serious–we see more nurses than doctors. I am thankful for every one of them.

I am very grateful for nurses.

doctor performing surgery

Number 1: Successful surgery.

Several important people in my life had surgery this year. I had three surgeries myself–two to replace cataracts and one to remove damaged parts. All successful.

My brother-in-law had emergency surgery in England when he presented symptoms his doctors had never seen before. The positive change in his life has been amazing according to his wife. I am thankful for that outcome.

The most important successful surgery this year was not one of mine–it was our son’s. Two months before, he went to the emergency room because of pain in his lower abdomen. It turns out his appendix was leaking. Surgeons removed it.

That sounded like good news, but there was some less good news tucked in that removed appendix–a 1 cm tumor that was cancerous.

That dreaded word: cancer.

So more surgery was scheduled. But first, a few more tests: an MRI and that invasive exam that so often just goes by the euphemism, “the procedure.” He was too young for that procedure to be part of his routine medical testing, but it was essential to make sure the cancer hadn’t spread beyond the appendix.

His surgery was on the same day as a friend also underwent the first step in her treatment to address a large and aggressive cancerous tumor on her liver. Both our son’s procedure and my friend’s treatment were successful.

Our son’s surgeon found no evidence of additional cancer. He may still have to undergo additional treatments to ensure no recurrence. That leaking appendix may have been good news after all. If the small and well-defined tumor hadn’t been found when it was, we may not have known what was lurking invisibly.

I am extremely grateful for successful surgeries.

Featured image from Pro Church Media

Bucket List

Last month I ticked off an item on my bucket list: take a ride in a helicopter.

I have wanted a ride in a helicopter since I first saw the 1950s TV show, The Whirlybirds. I didn’t care about the plots and stories of the series. It was of no importance to me that the main characters were usually brought in by the police. They could even have been the bad guys for all I cared. All I knew was that I wanted to fly into the sky with a huge bubble window to look out at the land below, just like the stars of The Whirlybirds.

Finally, on a trip to Sedona, Arizona, where my husband and I met up with my sister and her husband for a week’s holiday, I got my wish to ride in a helicopter with Sedona Air Tours. For 35 minutes we rode over the red rocks of Sedona, seeing sights that are not accessible by road and would require serious hiking and climbing skills to reach. We snapped photos and recorded videos of  the cliff dwellings of the former Sinagua natives as the helicopter hovered high above the trees and valleys below. At least my brother-in-law and I did. My husband sat behind me clutching the back of my seat until his knuckles turned white.

Sights of Sedona

He told me he didn’t want to go, but the way he said it always gave me an excuse to rationalize it away. Or at least that’s how I heard it. First, my sister wasn’t feeling well when the time came, so she decided to stay back. Let’s not go, he said. Maybe they wouldn’t fly with just three of us. Well, let’s go find out, I said. Then when a group that arrived after us was called forward to go out to the field before us, he again said he didn’t want to go. We had to wait too long, he said, implying that the company was stalling us. It was my fault, I said, because I thought the time on the note we had was our appointment time, not the time we were advised to arrive at the airport. The cost was too high, he said. But it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to see the beauty of Sedona, I said.

Sinagua cliff dwellings
Sinagua cliff dwellings

I had the front seat view, right next to the pilot. The second set of pedals that control the aircraft were right at my feet. (I promised not to touch them.) There was no floor there–just the pedals above air. I was thrilled. My husband wasn’t.

But he survived. And for the days and weeks since then, when he tells people about our trip, he says they should definitely take the helicopter tour. The scenery is stupendous, he says.

I’ll remember that if we ever end up back in Sedona. Sedona Air Tours gives a 10% discount to repeat travelers.



Chocolate cake with cream

Wacky Cake

Yesterday my grandson, James, helped me make a chocolate cake. He calls it funny cake. The recipe we used calls it wacky cake. I know it as crazy cake. The recipe we used can be found below.

My dad’s sister made crazy cake for me when I was about the same age James is now. I asked her for the recipe once, but she didn’t remember the cake or making it for me. Yet it’s one of my clearest childhood memories.

I remembered that the cake was chocolate and that preparing the batter involved making three holes in the dry ingredients and pouring in three different liquids, one into each of the holes. I was delighted when I found the recipe for wacky cake in a cookbook prepared in the 1950s by the ladies of First Lutheran Church of Fargo, ND. Friends we met here who went to high school in Fargo found the cookbook among items from their parents and shared the book with me because they knew it contained recipes for some Norwegian foods. Finding the wacky cake recipe in it was a bonus.

I’ve since found the same recipe listed as an eggless, milkless cake, perfect for vegans.

I assume the recipe came from depression days, when prices were higher than many households could afford. Or maybe from World War II when food items, among other things, were rationed. During such times, the eggless, milkless cake recipe may have been normal. But later, as the economy improved and rationing ended, the recipe would become what it is for James and me–a funny cake recipe.

Having succeeded at making the chocolate wacky cake, I now wonder if I could alter the recipe for other flavors. Maybe a lemon version would work with lemon juice substituted for vinegar. I found a white cake recipe online that also calls for apple cider vinegar as an egg replacement, so I’m sure other flavors would work.

Besides, even if there are easier vegan cake recipes, I’d love to discover another one I can make with my grandchildren.

Wacky Cake

Quantity: 9×13 pan Time: 35-40 min Temp: 350o
3 cups flour 2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups sugar 1 tsp vinegar
2 tsp soda 2/3 cup oil or melted shortening
1/2 cup cocoa 2 cups cold water
pinch of salt
Mix first 5 ingredients and put into a greased and floured cake pan. Make 3 holes in the dry ingredients. In one put the vanilla, in another put the vinegar, and in the third put the oil or melted shortening. Over all pour the cold water. Mix well. Bake.

Mrs. Ruth Radcliffe

Buying Barbie

My oldest granddaughter turns four at the end of this month.

I have always tried to pick out presents for children, even before my life was blessed with grandchildren, that are not gender-specific. Or that cross gender lines. Girls should have fun with toy trucks and train sets. And boys should be comfortable with stuffed animals and toy tea sets.

Very often I settled on books as gifts. Or toys, like Legos, that can lead to adventure and creativity.

Her mom told me she wants a Barbie. She also told me they already bought a Barbie for her, but it would be fine if we also bought one so she would have two dolls to play with.

I have given her a doll before, a cloth doll with yarn for hair that probably fits the definition of a rag doll. It was part of a project to help her figure out how to use snaps, zippers, velcro, frogs, and buttons. I made clothes for the doll and included all those closures on the dresses and coats. So it’s not like I gave her a doll then. I gave her an educational opportunity.

Am I ready to give my granddaughter a real doll?

I was born too early for Barbie to be part of my childhood, although my younger sister had one, and I enjoyed making clothes for her doll. So the idea of making clothes for my granddaughter’s Barbie is appealing.

In the end, I decided to choose a present I know my granddaughter wants–Barbie–instead of something educational.

Who knew what a chore it would be to pick out an appropriate Barbie!

Barbie is no longer only fair skinned with choice of blonde, brown, or red hair color being the only option. There’s a brown-skinned, brunette Barbie in her quinceanera dress right alongside the fair-skinned, blonde Christmas edition Barbie.

Barbie also is no longer only a vehicle for displaying fashion items. I definitely do not want a Barbie that displays no ambition. I want a Barbie who works, not one who just sits around on a lounge chair outside her Barbie RV or around the pool outside her Barbie mansion. Fortunately, there are plenty of career-oriented Barbies available so I didn’t think it would be difficult to choose one.

The one I really wanted was the Barbie physician, which comes with two baby dolls, appropriately sized for a Barbie-sized doctor. But that Barbie looked more like nurse than a doctor. (Or am I allowing my own gender-biased upbringing to impose that judgment on the doll?) She was wearing scrubs, as both doctors and nurses do, but she didn’t have the white coat that I expect doctors to wear.

My granddaughter’s mom is a nurse, so I nearly picked up that Barbie anyway, but I have to admit that a second reason dissuaded me from buying it. That Barbie has very dark skin. My granddaughter is light skinned, blue eyed, and blonde. So this Barbie doesn’t look like my granddaughter. I consider it progress that dolls now come in all shades of skin color and all types of hair color, but I realized that picking out a doll that my granddaughter could identify with is still important to me, just as it is to most moms and grandmoms and aunts and great-aunts everywhere. But I cringed at the feeling in my gut that my choice evidenced values regarding skin color that I don’t believe–at least with my words.

I kept looking and finally found a pair of Barbies, a chef and a waiter. One is fair skinned and blonde. The other is dark skinned and brunette. The blonde Barbie is the waiter, a word-choice I was pleased to see on the box since it ignores the silly -ess ending used in the past when referring to occupations when women fill the positions. The brunette Barbie is the chef. If there is a hierarchy between these two, the chef’s status is higher. That feels good.

Last Christmas my granddaughter received a play kitchen, complete with pots and pans, an oven, a sink, and a stove-top with dials that turn the circles representing burners red, but without the heat. We gave her a plastic assortment of fruits and vegetables that can be “cut” apart at their velcro seams to prepare them for cooking on her stove. So the chef and waiter Barbie option is an extension of that theme. That feels good.

The only lingering, niggling thought left is this: I wasn’t sure I was ready to buy her a Barbie. Now, we’re giving her TWO.



One Hundred Years of Solitude

Two things I love, the book, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and the educational outreach arm of Technology, Education, and Design (TED-ed), have combined to make the audiobook version of the novel available for free. (Well, there’s a catch–the free offer comes with a 30-day trial of Audible.com.)  Check out the YouTube video even if you don’t want the attached offer:

The Baghdad Clock

I used to review books here. I don’t anymore.

But when I came across The Baghdad Clock by Shahad Al Rawi, I decided I couldn’t let the opportunity to share a few of the author’s words with others. So, this isn’t a review; it’s just random thoughts about an amazing book written by a woman who still isn’t old enough to capture so much wisdom in a thin novel.

I love this book. Maybe it’s because she refers to another book I love, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez. Or maybe it’s because she writes poetic thoughts in prose format that is easier for me to appreciate. Or maybe it’s the neighborhood the narrator and her friends inhabit, though different in many ways from the one I grew up in, where communities are made up of not just those who are related by blood, but by those who are connected–related in that sense–by common experiences. Just like the neighborhood I grew up in.

But mostly I think it is because I am in awe of her ability to share profound thoughts from the point of view of such a young woman.

The Baghdad Clock, not surprisingly, is set in Baghdad where the protagonist, a young Iraqi girl, meets Nadia, her best friend, when their families take shelter together during the 1991 Gulf War. But it isn’t a story about the war. It isn’t even about the shelter where they met. It’s the story of childhood friendships and first loves, of becoming adults and of loss: the loss of childhood innocence on one level and the loss of memories through the obliteration of neighborhoods on another.

The author was born in 1986. She wasn’t even as old as her protagonist when the 1991 Gulf War broke out. The book was published in 2016 when she was only 30. How could she have become so wise in fewer than 30 years? Let me share why I think she is wise.

At one point the narrator meets a soothsayer who answers her questions about friendship, an especially important topic at a time when both girls know it is likely one of their families will leave Baghdad, leaving the other behind. The soothsayer says,

You and Nadia do not love each other just for the sake of the deep friendship between you. You love your memories, too.

Both of you, but especially you, are afraid for these memories, because their passing means ripping up the solid ground under your feet. For those who fear the future, the past is a merciful cave in which people seek shelter when they turn away from the cruelty of the present.

How could someone so young have learned so much in so little time?

The soothsayer answers more of the narrator’s questions, “What if there had never been a war? What if the sanctions had not been put in place? What would our lives have been like, and what would Baghdad have become?”

Listen, my dear. I know you want to say, ‘Were it not for the war and the sanctions, things would have been better for us.’ That might be true, if we were to ignore geography and history. For you are a victim of geography in the first place. Your country isn’t on the Mediterranean where it might breathe the sea air, nor is it in the desert, where it might live on the luxury brought by oil. You live between them, where the bright light of the sun shines down on you all year round . . . Geography is a fate that cannot be escaped, but history is made. Adapt to your geography and change your history . . . [w]eave from its cloth a new garment. Gather the good islands together and leave out the painful ones. There, make a fresh memory, a good space for joy. In short, change the entire culture. Or at least some of it.

When I read this section, I couldn’t help but think of how it describes the incivility that continues to creep into our lives, especially in social media. The soothsayer explains that those who fear the future turn to the past and see efforts to recreate it as desirable. Yet the soothsayer’s advice is that we need to adapt and change. What brings fear to some is the solution to others. The result–conflict.

In one of the more contemplative passages, the author says,

In our neighbourhood, we would describe the best people as being ‘good and shamefaced,’ and whenever I came across someone who did not feel a sense of shame, I would secretly think he was dangerous and wicked. Shame is not a religious or pedagogic quality, nor is it moral principle. It is rather one of the gifts of existence that prevents us from committing travesties against the rights of other people.

I love this passage because it reminds me of one of the differences between the center of the moral compasses carried in life by Westerners compared to Easterners. As an oversimplification, I repeat what I heard when I first moved to Iran more then 40 years ago: behavior in the West is guilt-based; in the East it is shame-based. We, in the West, think of guilt as something to be avoided, something we don’t ever want to feel. Elsewhere in the world, shame is to be avoided, something others don’t want to feel.

If I substitute the word “guilt” for “shame” in the above passage, most of us might object to the thought that the best people are “good and guilty.” But if we thought of feeling guilty as a gift, as the narrator describes shame to be, we might all be a bit more compassionate towards one another. It would still be better not to be guilty, just as it is better not to be shameful, but feeling the weight of either guilt or shame should lead us to better behavior.

Every time I open the book to a random page, I find something I want to share. Instead, I encourage others to read the book.

I love this book.

Happy Independence Day

I didn’t know what a privilege it is to live in the United States until I left to work in other countries. The first one was Iran, governed at that time by the Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, and his loyalists in the Iranian parliament. The second was Romania, governed then by Nicolae Ceasescu and the Romanian Communist Party.

My observations of how people lived in fear at least part of the time in those two countries under those leaders made it clear that I had more than an opportunity to get involved with my government, starting at the local level–it was my duty–because I could when so many others cannot. Living overseas opened my eyes. Our system of government makes it possible for any citizen to get involved and voice opinions, with passion, in order to change society for the better.

Well, we have plenty of voicing opinion–with passion–these days. But that fact still fills me with optimism. So long as no one voice, or set of voices, is totally gagged, even one with which I do not agree, we are living up to the challenges outlined by those who signed the Declaration of Independence and framed our Constitution.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.1

“That to ensure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

That’s what was missing in Iran and Romania. That’s what I wanted to be part of–discussion leading to consent of the governed. That’s why I took part in Minnesota’s caucus system, where neighbors meet and declare which candidates they support or admit that they don’t yet know which candidate is preferred. To begin dialog, to meet together, and in the end to vote.

That feeling on a visceral level of what it means to be an American also led me to pursue joining the US Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer. It’s why I encourage family and friends to travel to other countries, to get to know what it is like to live under different circumstances, in order to come home to understand what a blessing it is to live here.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.2

“. . . to form a more perfect Union, . . . .”

The fact that the framers of the Constitution included a comparative–more perfect–instead of an absolute–perfect–shows both their humanity and their foresight.

These are among the thoughts I will keep in mind on Independence Day as our son and his family join us on Wednesday for grilled hotdogs, hamburgers, salads, and probably way too much to eat and drink. Because we can.

Happy Fourth of July, Independence Day.

1 https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript

2 https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution-transcript

Image credit: Shireah Ragnar