Monday, April 29, 2013

Audrey Catherine, Welcome to Our Tribe


The newest member of our family is Audrey Catherine, born on April 24 to Laura Maher, daughter of my sister Kate. Audrey is now in this world, fit and strong and just home from the hospital.  If I'd stayed in Seattle for another week, I'd have seen Audrey during that small window of time when she is newborn, an infant, that short and precious time before she will imperceptibly grow into a baby.
I am taken back to the days when I gave birth to my three daughters, a time when dads were banned from the labor and delivery rooms, when mostly male doctors made the decisions and nurses were brisk.  A laboring mom was very possibly in this birthing process alone. I certainly felt alone. Birth was a medical event, not a family affair. I remember nurses looking askance when I said I would be a nursing mom. What, no shot of hormones to stop my baby's milk from 'coming in'?
Throughout my labor for Caroline, I remember thinking that giving birth was by far bigger than the nurses and my doctor, bigger than the small labor room, bigger than the hospital, and way bigger than me.
I knew intuitively that a birthing mom is overtaken by the tilt of the earth and the flow of the tides. I felt absolutely at one with the universe, in concert with its rhythms. The energy of the universe is what's big and I was a definite part of it. This is how I remember giving birth. Overrun by a great and good tsunami.
When Kate gave birth to her two children, a few things had changed. She could invite me into the delivery room to photograph the birth of her son Chris and a few years later, to take a video of the birth of her daughter Laura. Denny was there and so was Mom. Families were beginning to participate by their presence.
I think now of the days when Caroline and Jeanne gave birth to each of their four babies. Birthing rooms are family rooms. We are there, giving encouragement, watching.

So many happy tears, such pure love, rush into a birthing space. Every birthing is filled with deep currents of emotion, flowing from the entire universe into the new mom, her baby and then, out into the rest of the world.
So here’s to Audrey Catherine. Welcome to our tribe.


Synchronicity, Serendipity, Similarities

Call it what you will, circumstances are sometimes synchronous. During the week in Seattle when my blood pressure was plateauing upward between 150 and 160/ 86 and 92, I spent a morning with my 96 year old dad going through family papers that he had carefully cataloged shortly after his retirement.  We have four generations of letters, cards, invoices and papers of interest, all of which I love to pour over and which I hope Mary B will someday give even more order by filing in archival boxes.
Some papers and cards escaped Dad's cataloging and fell into Mom's domain. Mom tended toward stacked piles and in her later years, hid noteworthy and precious papers in with junk mail. As my father spent a morning perusing letters he'd filed over two decades again, I sifted through a candy box of great assortment, stuff tucked away, secured, saved, whatever by Mom.
Found an envelope with my Grandfather Jim Bain's handwriting and a postmark of November 28, 1951.  Inside the envelope were two letters, one from my Grandfather Jim and the second from my Grandmother Della, both handwritten on thin onion skin airmail stationary. My grandfather speaks of feeling unwell, unable to eat his supper. Della gave him a dose of Castor Oil and then some boneset tea. He didn't sleep well. He was lonesome for his daughter, who in September had moved so far away to Aruba in the West Indies. He was so lonesome he called his son Wilfred and wife Mary in Indiana, just to hear their voices.
Also in this envelope were two folded pieces of orange paper, each dated December 2, 1951, four days after the two letters. They are cables, which when received in Aruba in the 1950s always meant life altering news, like death and birth. These cables were sent by my Thompson grandparents and the news was not good.
Grandfather Bain dead by stroke. Funeral arrangements awaited my Mother's response and flight plans back to the States and Canada. The dates on the cables and those two handwritten letters make it clear that Mom never received that last missive from her father until after she'd returned from his funeral. Airmail letters took almost a week for delivery.
As I digested the contents of this envelope, I was reminded that high blood pressure runs through the Bain side of my family. Uncles died of strokes. My mom had thrombosis in a leg when I was in high school. No one wanted that clot to move to her heart or brain, so she stayed in a hospital bed for six weeks, almost motionless until the clot dissolved.
Then, just days ago, Kellye, a friend of mine who is my daughter Caroline's age, read my recent blog post about feeling over medicated for high blood pressure. She called for an update and we ended up talking about the relationships between and among high blood pressure, strokes, preclampsia, pre-term births and thryoid issues. All are conditions that run in my family and hers.
I developed preeclampsia preceding Caroline's birth. Caroline gave birth to Charlie almost a month early because of preeclampsia.  Just days ago, my niece Laura was diagnosed with preeclampsia as she gave birth to Audrey Catherine, the newest member of our family.
Could we prevent or better manage these 'conditions' in our families, if we and our doctors shared ever more detailed intergenerational histories?
Back to elevated blood pressure readings. The nephrologist I visited late last week (on advice from my cardiologist) declared my kidneys in good shape, declared I am over-medicated and that 'folks my age' with average blood pressure readings between 130-140 are the new normal. If those numbers are my new normal, that is good news. I just need to move the meter down about ten points.
Now, I will turn my attention to stroke deterrence. Am I simply taking this blood thinner through the afib procedure healing process? Or forever? That is the newest question. I am ever wondering about Caroline's thyroid symptoms which remain untreated because...because she is in the 'normal range'?
It is curious how an envelope filled with a bit of family history has the potential to open a new family dialogue and perhaps better treat these 'conditions' that aren't really diseases, but can sure mess up one's life. Here's to families and synchronicity.



So Many Stairsteps, So Seattle

Seattle is a city where one climbs stairs. There are lots of them. Houses are often set high above the street. Approaches to a front door often include a rockery and a flight of stairs.  No measly two-four steps to an entryway. Some stairs have hand railings, many do not. Funny thing, I never see families lugging bags of groceries up those steps or hefting baby strollers. Do they all have back entrances? Doubtful.
Right now, I think that climbing towards one's house is an extra bonus, especially if one is working toward 10,000 steps a day and searching for stairs to climb for cardio exercise. Stairs are part of daily lie. Healthy living.
However, watching Mom and Dad's physical decline in this hilly city, I wonder what all older folks do when stairs to their very own homes become tiresome or a real problem for elder knees and hips. Do folks move across the street where the hill flattens out and doorways are level with street right-of-ways or do they move in with other family or into senior communities? I'd like to know.
In the meantime, I find the aesthetics of these stair steps, often covered with moss and succulents, reaching upward to decks and doors, mysterious and seductive. I could live in one of these homes.



Sunday, April 28, 2013

New Baby In the Family

We have a new member of the tribe. Audrey Catherine Maher arrived in this world on April 24 at Swedish Hospital in Seattle. Audrey is my sister Kate's first grandchild and this brand new person looks remarkably like her mom Laura. My sister writes that she has 'fallen in love again'. This is what happens when we hold a new baby who 'belongs' to us.
This first image of Audrey Catherine came by way of a text. More followed, but the first one tells the story. Welcome to our world, little one.

Show Goes On Even With Six Inches of Rain

Houston and Harris County were deluged with six inches of rain last evening. I knew it was a serious storm when just a dozen friends appeared during the first hour of The Raven Grill's reception for Encounters: Mary Margaret Hansen and Earl Staley Collage. We began to get reports of hail and flooding. There were phone calls from folks unable to leave their houses because cars couldn't make it through high water. One friend abandoned her car and walked back home during the storm. Incredibly a friend arrived from The Woodlands. I have no idea how she and her friend made their return trip.
(Photo credit: David Gray)
Houston needed this rain and the strength of it reminded me of what rain used to be like before we were overtaken by drought.  Feng Shui regards rain a blessing and signal of prosperity, so I am taking this downpour as a very good sign. But I sure did miss see all those friends who'd expected to be there.
Thanks to Sara and all the staff at Raven Grill for good eats and ever more glasses of wine for everyone who made it through the rain.
One very nice thing about a smaller crowd? There was time for real conversations. None of this minute and a half chat and then moving on. Great to see everyone who braved the wet and stormy weather.
(Photo credit: David Gray)
Nineteen of us sat down for dinner together just after 6:00. All in all, a very lovely evening, even though we also missed every single person who wasn't there.
(Photo Credit: David Gray)
One last thing - my magnificent necklace (which I was wearing for the first time) received as many or more comments than the collages. And from where did this necklace come? Pure Harwin Drive plastique. I love it and plan on wearing it often.
Do go by The Raven Grill, 1916 Bissonnet, to see Encounters: Mary Margaret Hansen and Earl Staley Collage through June 9.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Encounters: Mary Margaret Hansen and Earl Staley Collage @ Raven Grill

The day after we arrived in Terlingua last January, a blizzard swept into town. The guests staying at Mimi's La Posada Milagro, up the hill from our casita, were forced to change their travel plans because the town and indeed, most of West Texas and Big Bend were immobilized. ES and I got to meet those snowed-in guests in Mimi's living room and it turns out, two of them were the Rogers sisters, travelling with their families and friends. They recognized my name from decades ago when they and my three daughters attended Poe Elementary School.
Sara Rogers Cromie and her husband now operate The Raven Grill, a neighborhood cafe (as well as several other enterprises), and we spoke about showing our work there. Sara and I followed through on our casual conversation and this afternoon at 3:00, ES and I will greet friends and show off Encounters: Mary Margaret Hansen and Earl Staley Collage.
Last summer, ES taught me how to apply acrylic paint to canvas and what was possible using acrylic gel and Golden satin varnish. I'd always wanted to mix up my photo collages with fabrics and paint. With gel and varnish, one can do that.
All last fall and right through the Christmas holidays, ES went on a tear painting small works that he called 'bouquets' and 'stripes.' We've put both of our collages together to make a show. Very different work, but I guess the two of us and the word 'collage' hold it all together.
We installed at Raven Grill yesterday and went back again this morning to rehang a wall of ES's small collages. Last night we agreed that they were hung too tightly and they'd lost their bounce. These little paintings need to burst out from the wall as a bouquet might burst from its vase.
In two hours, we'll be ready to greet friends and have a very good time.
Show is up through June 9.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Lots Happening in Seattle

Even within my drug induced haze, I had good visits with my three daughters, four grandkids, my sister and my dad. Never long enough, but I certainly got a sense of what is going on in their lives.
I went to Meridian Park for Charlie's soccer practice and watched Lulu climb a tree or two, saw Jeanne's scrimmage with Rat City Roller Girls team members and then went with Caroline and kids, Jeanne, Lauren and Mary and Queta to watch two Rat City Roller Girls games at Key Arena on Saturday night, April 13. Jeanne goes to practice several times each week and would love to be called up to a team at the end of this month or at the end of June. She knows she is among the oldest who could be chosen. Most contenders are in their twenties and thirties. Whether age makes her a liability or not, who knows? As a mom, I almost hate to see her play. Who wants a daughter to be injured? It's tough out there.
One of my favorite players, NiHi Nightmare, is a team member of Grave Danger. NiHi must be under five feet tall and over and over, she jams through any line because of her petite size and great agility and speed. Click on this link on You Tube to see NiHi's fleet of foot skating, dodging and finding a pathway through a line of much bigger - but probably not tougher -  women. NiHi  is a joy to watch. She took a few falls that night, but she righted herself quickly and never stopped looking for that gap in the line so she could plow through.
Ok, so there was more than Rat City Roller Girls games. I walked around Green Lake a couple of mornings with Caroline. Beautiful and it's about 7000 steps, so it's healthy too. 
Caroline ordered me a FitBit One after I told her I'd wished for a pedometer in Paris and I'd certainly like to take one to Rome. She owns a FitBit, wears it constantly and said I'd like that better than a pedometer. She's right. I love mine. It tracks steps taken, stairs climbed, calories burned, hours slept and times awakened. I am sure does more, but those are the things I am tracking now. This little gadget is wonderful and it's wireless and synchs with my iPhone and laptop. With the FitBit and my plug in blood pressure machine, all info is possible. Sally told me this morning there is also an app to track the taking of medications. I may be downloading that too.
Charlie Bean, my very first grandchild and Mom and Dad's very first great grandchild, had his ninth birthday on April 15.  Nine years since we all spent the day in Swedish Hospital where Caroline delivered. She was surrounded by Steve, her two sisters, her mom, assorted nurses and her doctor.  A crowd, but that appears how it's done these days. By the way, Caroline made a gluten free chocolate cake filled with zucchini - very healthy and covered with fresh strawberries. Then on his actual birthday, we went out for a supper of hamburgers and shakes. Charlie was a happy boy. 
I bought Charlie a small aquarium that he will fill with fish when he moves down into his very own bed room later this spring. A birthday party with his school friends is this Saturday. So his celebrations will have lasted over a week.
Visited Dad every day but one. Took more file boxes of old letters and photos, yearbooks and newspaper clippings for us to look at together. Gives us things to talk about and often he simply reads one letter after another or thumbs through yearbooks or calendars. 
A day or two after I arrived in Seattle, after leaving Dad, I drove south on Roosevelt Avenue toward UW. Wanted to eat lunch at Thai Tom.  My favorite bar stool in front of the flames heating those woks was empty. I sat and ordered an eggplant dish over rice. The same cook was there with an assistant and a third guy who washes the woks. the trio smile at one another and work so smoothly, they could be dancers. Near 2:00 p.m. folks stopped coming in and so, the cook turned off the gas, the flames died down and he went out on to the sidewalk for a smoke. How many meals must he prepare in a day?
After lunch, I walked several blocks to the UW bookstore to buy a copy of Henry James 'Portrait of a Lady.' The reason I purchased this book? Well, I've read a dozen Donna Leon mystery novels in the last several weeks and the Venetian detective's wife teaches literature at the university and reads Henry James. There were enough mentions of James that I went on line to read more about his novels. Many  are set in Florence or Rome. As one of the great 20th century writers, it's high time I read his work.
I am quite undone with 'Portrait of a Lady'. Find it wonderfully dense and filled with similarities to my grandmother's life, my mother's dreams, my own ambitions. The character Isabel Archer knows that marriage and attachment may well be 'the end of things' and she finds this hard to articulate. Don't we all?  I've not gotten far enough into the book to read about her eventual marriage, but the 1996 movie version directed by Jane Campion with Nicole Kidman and John Malkovich was frightening.
Enough. I know there is more to write about, but this post has been in draft form for a week and I am forgetting the details. Suffice it to say that I spent half of my nights in Jeanne's guest room and the other half at Caroline's.
I left Seattle three days early - leaving these two sweet grandsons, along with everyone else - because I became so very weary. Weary and overdrugged too, as my cardiologist's nurse and I traded info for a week, tripling one blood pressure medication and adding another. They didn't lower my blood pressure one bit, so I flew home.  How long must I work on this with my various doctors?


Monday, April 22, 2013

Seattle Days Complicated By Drugs

What a complicated trip to Seattle this time. Complicated for reasons that appear to be health related. I continue to be post-atrial fib procedure recovery mode. Did I expect such on-going low energy levels post procedure? No, I didn't foresee that all the meds that keep my heart rate steady, thin my blood and conquer blood pressure would sap my energy and delete my daily upbeat enthusiasms. I am most often in a semi-drugged state. I wait for those hours when the fog temporarily lifts and I can think creatively, write - not often - and empty the dishwasher. Most often, I undertake daily activities on sheer will or I opt to I fall back into bed. Some days when the irregular heart beat arrives as a literally stunning side effect, I can't even read a book, a magazine. Maybe I can spend time on Facebook. Mostly, I simply wait, unable to focus on anything at all.
On this trip I brought along a blood pressure measuring device that hooks up to my iPhone. Blood pressure has been a bit high since the procedure. However, the day I arrived in Seattle, blood pressure readings went way UP.  I consulted with Houston and my dose of Lisinopril was tripled, yet blood pressure remained well over 150/78 every single day. Not good. Was high blood pressure simply the Seattle routine or some new high unexplained plateau? Did the higher readings stem from my usual round of daily family visits, the loud exclamations of sweet grandchildren, the loneliness of my 96 year old dad, the daily sharing of family news and business and always, the daily driving from home to home? (I now wonder if my blood pressure might have been off the charts during Christmas holidays also and I wasn't aware of it because there were no measurements.)
When the new triple dose of Lisinopril didn't change things - except to make me more tired, short of breath and prone to some irregular heartbeats - all side effects, if you read the fine print - my doctor in Houston added yet another medication. I've taken it for two days and blood pressure numbers are coming down. I believe, however, that there are two variables here - the newest medication and the fact that I've returned home. Which is the more effective? We won't know.
Then, there's a third issue that complicates Seattle trips. Last summer we sold Mom and Dad's house in Magnolia as they'd not lived there since August 2007. It was time. However, after the bustle of each day, I loved spending the nights in that still and empty house. I'd open that door to silence, a decent bed and a stove on which to cook combinations of veggies and meat that didn't involve gluten or dairy.
It's different now. I sleep in Jeanne's small and comfortable guest bedroom and Kelan and Lauren are instructed not to open the door if it's closed. At Caroline's, I sleep on a padded cot in the basement playroom where it is reasonably quiet and I don't share a bathroom. Perhaps by staying at Caroline and Jeanne's houses, I have 'more.'  I see more of my daughters, have opportunities for more conversations and more unscheduled time with my grand kids.
Perhaps when I am not taking so many meds with debilitating effects on my energy levels, we will all find a new normal and Seattle days won't be quite so complicated.