Loss, Grief and Life.

I have somehow stumbled into a Sunday evening without feeling like I had a weekend. Sue was on a retreat and I was home with the girls. Except when I wasn’t. Two assignments yesterday, one today and a number of other smaller things I had to do kept me hopping.

Sleep is always a bit difficult when Sue goes away and so Friday and Saturday night were mostly broken bits here and there. I also had to attend yet another funeral yesterday and while it was a fine remembrance of the man, it was an open casket funeral and that always unnerves me–to the point where I had a great deal of trouble sleeping last night, succumbing like a child to primal and basic fears and sleeping with my light on.

Combine that with the simple loss of Carl Thompson, a retired colleague with whom I worked for a few years, and you get a bit of unhinged. I fought through it as best I could–but while Carl was 76 years old, he was still young, still vital. In December, he was diagnosed with two types of leukemia and he succumbed last week. His wife, Susan, was a close colleague of mine with whom I worked very closely for more than a dozen years. She’s sad, though not broken, thank God-and I have faith she’ll be alright.

I understand that there are traditions and that people have unique beliefs and I want to value those and hold them sacred. I really do. But all of this stems from 1973 when my grandfather, Ora K. Doney, passed away. We traveled from our home in Chicago back to Ohio and my grandmother insisted, apparently, or at least asked with serious intent, that all three of us boys go to the funeral home to “see” him. I was 8 years old.

I. Was. 8. Years. Old.

And it was too soon. So my memory of grandpa, the guy who used to tell me he was going to jump down my throat and dance on my liver–the guy who used to buy me play power tools and taught me how to enjoy building things (and I’m sorry, grandpa–I never did get really good at it)–who used to feed my fascination with trains by playing with trains with me down on the floor and who used to let me light the fire when he burned the trash-my last memory of him? Hands folded over his dark suit, eyes closed, ubiquitous glasses nowhere to be seen and the smell. I remember a chemical smell that I have since aligned with the smell of formaldehyde, though I don’t know that that’s what it was. I just don’t want that to be the last memory.

Maybe it is closure for some people, but for me-it’s more like ignoring the opportunity to celebrate life. Instead, it makes death final-gives death the final word, so that we sit in the church, a gathering of people staring in morbid fascination at the lifeless corpse, with nearly no reference to the risen Christ, who tells us that death does not have the final word.

That’s what I want to focus on, I guess. Life. Even when death happens, it’s the life that counts. Both now-and forever.

Amen.

Onward.

 

Flying through February

Letting go of the weekend will be difficult. Three days where I didn’t honesty work that hard. I did a story on Saturday, one today–and I graded about 70 papers for school today, but it went quickly and it wasn’t taxing.

Sleep was in short supply last night. My own fault. Oh, I’d love to be a good writer/blogger and write about my harrowing dream state allowing you to think I’m bordering on some sort of cool neuroses. For some reason, writers have a pathological need to be under appreciated, as long as they’re talked about. I gave this up years ago. Note that I did indeed feel it–and on occasion, when I’m at my most pitiable, pathetic and self-loathing worst, it rears its head–but it’s then that I go silent, now. I will not share my self-loathing with the world. Except when it’s funny.

No, this was not lying awake staring at the ceiling contemplating “the law’s delay, the insolence of office and the spurns that patient merit of the unworthy takes,” or anything like it. It was chocolate. Yessir, it was chocolate and I ate some and ate it after 7 p.m. and so, around midnight, fell asleep only to pop awake around 1:30. Then 4 am, then 6:30 and then up at 7. All because of the chocolate. That, and because that’s what happens when you get into your mid to late 40’s. Things like that bug you. I remember college so well, still. At least the memory’s not gone yet. But those days are past, friends–and now, if I eat anything after 7 at night, it had better be in pill form or I’m not sleeping.

The rest was deliciousness on a grand scale and I’m blessed to have experienced it.

Back to the classroom tomorrow and at least one story I’m pursuing for the week. I must say, I’ve enjoyed two three-day weekends in a row. Huzzah! Let’s have more of them, I say.

Onward.

Chile Chili

I have not added up the photos and sound yet for the rocket launch. That’s largely because I’m lazy–or rather, I’m swamped with 100 other things and by the time I get to the computer, the last thing I want to do is….well….work.

So the weekend comes with Conni off in Hawaii for a few days with her foreign exchange group. Sue wasn’t feeling well today, so I handled meal preparation, though I admittedly didn’t handle clean-up. Aunt Laurie did that and Sue did a bit this afternoon.

Breakfast was scrambled eggs with veggies and cheese. Broccoli, spinach, carrots all mixed in with a nice scramble and a bit of cheddar topped with salsa and a dollop of sour cream. Coffee, too. Good stuff.

Lunch, which Sue didn’t partake of, was whole wheat tortillas topped with aforesaid veggies plus red bell pepper and mandarin oranges. I put down a bit of bbq sauce, a bit of cheddar and then the veggies. Top that with some turkey breast, crack some ground pepper over the top of it and drizzle a bit of olive oil. 400 degrees, 10 to 15 minutes and voi la.

All the while I was making lunch, I prepared a batch of the Superbowl chili-easiest recipe I’ve ever used, too. Olive oil in the pan with diced onions, shallots and garlic. Brown some lean ground turkey after the veggies are translucent and then add a jar of tomato sauce (or a can). From there, I go with a packet of chili seasonings because I’m easy like that. But you could go with chili powder and salt and pepper, I suppose.

From there, throw the mixture into a crockpot. Here’s the hard part for the purists and I feel your pain, I really do–though you were probably already a bit squeamish at the ground turkey rather than ground chuck or pork and the seasoning packet didn’t help you either. But I defend myself with the knowledge that my health has improved, I have dropped pounds and the fact is, this tastes yummy. As yummy as ground pork and all day prepared tomato sauce? Well–maybe not. But good.

OK, so where were we? Right-crockpot. So, the mixture in the crockpot is now the base of your chili and what you do is add a big can of diced tomatoes. Don’t forget that, it’s important. Add in a can of chiles and then the beans. Again, I know-the purist doesn’t allow beans in chili. But beans are really the healthiest part of this meal, the fiber being really important and if you do it right, it tastes good.

So, what’s doing it right? NO KIDNEY BEANS. I can’t imagine why anyone would eat them. Textured sandpaper wrapped inside tasteless cardboard, that’s the kidney bean. Don’t go there. This is three-bean chili and it relies on flavor. It’s all about flavor, the base of which was put down with the onions, shallots and garlic and built upon with chili seasonings and green chiles. Good stuff. So, a can of garbanzos, a fine bean with good firm texture. It adds a nice starchiness, without being overbearing. Then, a can of black beans. These guys bring flavor and color to the party and they’re awesome. Finally, in place of the dreaded and awful kidney bean, a can of white cannellini beans is in order. Don’t drain the beans, just put them in.

The directions I read called for putting it all on high for 6 to 8 hours, but I found that was too much. I put it on low for 5 hours and turned it up to high for the last hour. Serve with cornbread or whatever you’d like and it’s awesome. Perfect dinner. The beans add enjoyment for hours, too. Heh.

And that’s what I have to write about tonight, people. Chili. It’s a three-day weekend and I did a bit of work today. I have some writing to do and there’s church tomorrow–so that’s why I wrote this, you see? Because while the other stuff may bore you, it’s what I dream about. Speaking of which, it’s time to go do some of that now.

Onward.

Skyward

In 1981, my friend Kim Neufeld and I went with his dad, Quent Neufeld, a CBS News producer, to Edwards Air Force Base to watch Columbia land on the dry lake bed after its second mission. Like John Adams’ election, the first peaceful transfer of power in the west, Columbia was returning to earth for the second time-the very first spacecraft to have been manned by two different crews and be re-used. I stood with Kim at the CBS News RV on the lakebed in the cold November wind while directly above us, Walter Cronkite broadcast the day’s events. We spoke with Mrs. Cronkite, a delightful lady.

I’ve been to Cape Canaveral, but I’d never seen a launch. Truth be told, I counted myself lucky to have seen what I saw at Edwards. And when Columbia was lost in 2003, I remember crying and being physically moved when I heard. I’d heard the sonic boom as Columbia floated in over California and turned on the news just then, only to learn that something had gone dreadfully wrong.

But I wanted to see a launch. Manned launches now being things of the past, I knew that it wasn’t likely. Even if it was, manned launches occur in Florida. But about 80 miles from our home is Vandenburg Air Force Base and on that base are the west coast operations for NASA’s satellite and unmanned space launch program.

It so happens that my pal Keith’s wife, Tina, works for NASA at the base. She was in the U.S.A.F. herself and took a job with NASA when she got out. She’s in charge of launch day protocol and events and she invited me up for today’s launch of an Atlas V rocket carrying a satellite called Landsat or LDCM, Land satellite data communications mission. For 40 years, these satellites have been mapping, providing data for preservation, planning and land use activity.

Launch was incredible–I’ll have photos and sound to follow–but I’m waiting to get those uploaded. Meanwhile, NASA does a better job of it than I do. I was there for the launch, driving up the coast at 6:30 to Buellton where I got on one of 25 buses taking us to a viewing site adjacent to the base.

The sound of the rocket, ripping through clear blue as it increased in speed was something I’ll never forget. In seconds, the Atlas was a tiny gold speck of fire against the sky as launch control declared that onboard systems were responding normally. By the time I drove home 80 miles, LDCM was 365 miles above the planet establishing an orbit to begin looking at the planet.

It wasn’t the shuttle and I didn’t get to see astronauts ride the rocket. But I got to see a launch and I feel pretty lucky.

Rising Up

A three-day weekend is always cause for celebration and this is no different. But this weekend seems even more poignant.

jarv:ern:jean:meThat’s Jarvis Streeter in the tan jacket. He’s my friend, a professor of religion at California Lutheran University. He married Sue and me and his wife, Susan took the shot. That’s Ernie and Jean Sandlin with us. I’m interviewing Jarvis here because he and Susan, Ernie and Jean and quite a few others are about to do a 5K at the Westlake Village Pancreatic Cancer Walk/Run. Here’s the story I wrote based in part on this interview. Simply put, it’s writing stories like this that make being a journalist worthwhile-and meaningful. That it pertains to my friend who is going through this suffering, makes it all the more so.

Jarvis was diagnosed with the disease 17 months ago. He’s alive now–and he’s fighting, that’s what counts. How long? Who knows? Can they cure it? Not yet. But soon? Maybe. Hope so. I’m not saying I hope so–though I do. I’m asking you to hope so too.

It’s a quiet weekend around with the family other than some reportage. Tomorrow, a real treat as I travel north early to Vandenburg Air Force Base. My friends Keith and Tina live up in Santa Maria and Tina works for Nasa. She put me on the VIP list for an Atlas V rocket and satellite launch. I was privileged and thrilled to witness the Space Shuttle Columbia’s second landing at Edwards Air Force Base in 1981. I’ve always been a bit of an aviation buff, including a short-lived stint in the Commemorative Air Force here in Camarillo. Tomorrow, however, will mark my first witness of a rocket launch–that is to say, of a rocket launch which will result in a vehicle leaving the earth’s atmosphere.

Cooked dinner tonight, slaving away at roasting beets, potatoes, carrots and then peeling and quartering them. I sauteed up some onions, shallots, ginger and garlic along with rosemary and thyme as well. Into the food processor with the roasted veggies and the sautee as well as some chicken broth–and then into a large stockpot to cook. Ladle into a bowl, top with goat-cheese and voi la–roasted beet soup. Served a charcuterie board of fresh turkey, roast beef and cheese as well as a bowl of baby mixed greens and that was dinner. I’m exhausted now, too. Cooking for the family, which my long-suffering wife has done for a very long time, is hard work. But rewarding, too.

Cold night-and in need of much sleep as I’m up rather early, gentles.

Onward.

 

 

Diets

Mild skies, fretted here and there with clouds and temperatures reminiscent of spring-time, not winter, have settled in for February. The rhythm of the year rolls into the second semester of teaching, a few writing assignments to keep me busy and a bad cold. Pressure, coughing, wheezy–but better than I was two days ago.

Conni, our student/daughter from Austria has also settled in and become a part of the family. It’s as though she’s always been here. She’s our second exchange student and is as much a pleasure as Sofie was. We miss Sofie, but now we get to dote on Conni as Shannon grows into a fine young lady.

Wistful these days as I consider what is coming. As I predicted early on, 2013 in the large lens is going to be pretty much the same, possibly worse. The economic news indicates I was right. Those things are not going to turn around tomorrow. But in the personal vein, I’m happy. Like so many Americans, I am having to reconsider my financial picture. The long-term view of something called “retirement” is as vaporous as the clouds that swing by in the mornings and are gone by noon. I’m better off than most as teachers have a pension. But the pension is weak and in the macro sense, it too is in trouble. Time is the only remedy for that–who knows what will happen? I no longer harbor resentment toward President Obama and Senator Reid. I’m just overwhelmingly disappointed in them. Saddened even.

But, life is how one reacts to it and I’ve decided to react with positive energy, not negative. Shannon will be 12 at the end of March and that’s a milestone of proportions I used to dream about. That seems like yesterday. She’s a fine student, a kind young lady and she has friends and love in her life. In the long measure of things, that counts more than anything else.

Speaking of daily life, I’ve made real changes to my own. A recent diagnosis got me into eating more fresh food and more veggies and fruits, fewer meats, very little processed food if any at all and in the two weeks I’ve made that change, I’ve lost more than five pounds and I feel better. Now, five pounds isn’t a lot, granted. But we’re talking about two weeks and we’re talking about a radical change that, for whatever reason, wasn’t all that hard to make. I simply allowed myself to do it. Sue is a creative cook and she’s happy to cook more fresh and healthy food. Spinach has replaced green lettuce and fresh fruit servings have replaced desserts. Lean meats like chicken, turkey and pork, all organic and naturally raised, have replaced beef and baking and saute have replaced frying. Fast food is largely right out unless time is of the essence and then, it’s a salad, not a burger and fries.

Like I say, the change was easy–but the results are dramatic and I feel good about them. Now, if I could just convince the President and the senate that maybe they really do spend too much, print too much money and are hurting Americans across the country, I’d feel like I accomplished something.

Onward.