Thursday, November 4, 2010

Comfort Ye

I've been spending a lot of time listening to classical music lately. This is a new thing for me, I've always loved classical music and listened to it frequently, however, it's all I listen to lately. The primary piece I have been listening to is "Messiah" by George Frederic Handel.

This was my mother's favorite music and we listened to it several times during the week she was dying. I'm usually not a maudlin person that holds onto things because they 'belong' to something or someone that isn't with me any longer, but lately, this music is providing me with a lot of comfort. “Comfort Ye My People” indeed.

The "Messiah" is an Oratorio. Similar to an opera, an Oratorio has a libretto; however, an Oratorio is usually associated to a sacred theme such as the passion of Christ. An opera is a theater piece with characters, a story as well as an orchestra, choir and arias and have more typically secular themes. An oratorio is usually suitable for a church. Protestant composers typically focused on biblical themes and Catholic composers tended more towards the lives of saints as musical inspiration

George Frederic Handel was a prolific oratorist, with "Messiah" being the most well known today. Composed in just 24 days, it's said that the patron that requested the piece was not happy with the result created by Handel. He felt that Handel had ruined the intent of the libretto he gave him with the music he composed. Little did he know about that this would become as beloved as it it has over the past 300 years.

There is no "authentic" arrangement of this production as Handel would change the arrangements of the music to suit the instruments he had available for the production. In my opinion, this adds to the beauty of the piece as it is able to evolve based on the current modes of instrumentation rather than being constrained to a vision that was popular three centuries ago. This allows us to enjoy such productions as the Silent Monks singing the Hallelujah Chorus without a hint of sacrareligiousness. (so worth watching when you need a good laugh.)

When I listen to this music, my heart swells with the majesty of it. The instruments speak to each other, questioning and answering, providing their own track of wordless lyrics. When the Hallelujah Chorus plays, it's all I can do not to jump up to listen to it when I'm at work. I did once without thinking and ended up with a welt on my face from the backlash of my ear bud cord.

I love the way the word are pronounced. The suffix 'ed was pronounced separately in the music. "Call-ed" and "Despise-ed". From my research, this was common for the time, in both music and poetry. I love how the words are matched by the music. Handel was known for "word Painting" which was matching the notes to the meaning of the words (i.e. the word 'high' would always be a high note and a low note would accompany the word 'low').

Speaking of phrasing, up until I was in my 30's, I couldn't figure out why it mattered that the chorus liked sheep. I didn't understand that the phrase was "All we, like sheep, have gone astray" not "We like sheep and the sheep that we like have gone astray". I giggle every time I hear this part now, even though I know it's a serious topic.

The music brings my mother to me. I feel her presence when I listen; knowing how she felt about the music has helped me to appreciate it even more than ever.

Consider attending a production of the Messiah, either as audience or participant in a sing-a-long, this year. The beauty and meaning of this music is moving and helps reconnect us to the Annunciation, the Passion, and the Aftermath of the life of Jesus Christ through a vehicle that can be meaningful to everyone. I have found one here in Chicagoland that I hope to attend the first weekend in December. I know that I will attend with the brush of my mother against my heart.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What I Will Miss...

My mother, Ann Lucille Kelso Culbertson, passed away last night, August 23rd, 2010. She died peacefully after a ten years of contending with Parkinson's Disease and in the last few years, Lewy Body Dementia. I was fortunate to be there with her during her last days and I will always treasure that time.

My mother was born February 6, 1938 in Wallace, ID to Elva Lucille Rock Kelso and Weldon Lowell Kelso. Due to family moves, she lived in several places in Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho while she was growing up.

She attended the University of Montana where she met my father. They fell in love over games of double solitaire while she was recuperating from mononucleosis in the hospital. Dad proposed on her 22nd birthday in February and they were married just after she graduated in June. They were married June 19th, 1960. My mother was 22 and my father was 21. They had a small wedding in a Presbyterian church in Spokane, Washington.

My sister, Kris (short for Kristine) arrived in 1961 and I followed in 1965. My earliest memory of my mom was when I had the chicken pox when I was about three years old. I remember sitting on her lap watching The Beverly Hillabillies on TV. I was a somewhat sickly child and my mother nursed me through two bouts of mumps, the chicken pox, scarlet fever and numerous bouts of strep throat and tonsillitis before I was five.

Some of my favorite memories are of walking through the woods on a girl scout outing and my mom pointing out the wildflowers and finding beauty in the mundane parts of the coast range forests. She also taught me to sew, cook, and call spatulas "rubber giggers" (I didn't learn until I was much older that no one outside of my family calls them that).

My mother was a librarian by profession. She was organized as the job requires, but also saw the creative part of the job which I think escapes many people. She was not the stereotypical librarian shushing people, instead, she wanted people to have access to the books and the treasures within. I have many fond memories of going to the library after school and "helping" check the books in, mend them, sort them and, later when I could read, hiding in the stacks to read my favorites. My mother is the one that led me to series such as Cowboy Sam, The Happy Hollisters, The Boxcar Children, Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, The Little House series as well as gems such as Stuart Little, The Trumpet of the Swan and Charlotte's Web.

Due to my mother's influence, I'm still an avid reader and find my escape in books. When my dad teased me for re-reading some favorite books, my mom said "Re-reading books is like finding an old friend". I still frequently re-read books and always hear her in the back of my head saying that.

My mother and I didn't always see eye-to-eye but I have always loved her without reservation. While I haven't lived close by for 15 years or more, I always knew she was there and available and part of my life. I will miss that most of all.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Back in Colorado....

Well, back in Colorado, under protest, way earlier than planned. I went to Washington on June 10th with the intention of staying there through the end of August, however, due to someone at my corporate office that is unhappy because she can't work from home complaining that I wasn't at my assigned "remote" location, I'm back in Colorado a bit earlier.

I feel for this woman on many levels. It must be torturous to live that way, always jealous of what other people have. Rather than setting an intention to get what she wanted and working towards that, she went out of her way to take something away from someone else. I suspect that her whole life is missing the things she thinks she should have.

I had a great time in Washington. I love the weather, sitting on the deck in the evenings with my dinner looking out over the pond, spending time with my parents. I really appreciate the time I got to spend with them. I had a lot of time to myself and rediscovered voracious reading which I haven't done in a long time. I was back to my old 2-3 books a week standard. Now that I'm home in the thick of things with Alex, Jeremy and Lucille, I've slowed down again.

We have a new family member, Ranger. He is a 7 month old boxer/lab mix. He is very cute, but if he chews one more cord (two keyboard cords, a laptop power cord, and an ethernet cable so far, along with a pair of shoes and the corner of my living room rug) he may be banished to the outside.

A 900 square foot house with three adults, an almost three-year-old, three dogs and two cats is not peaceful. But - I love the controlled chaos of having my family with me.

Monday, May 31, 2010


I know it isn't the first official day of summer, but Memorial Day always feels like the start. I alternately dread and look forward to summer for various reasons. In the past, I dreaded it because I had being too hot. Being 100+ pounds overweight was not conducive to being comfortable in weather in the upper 90's. In the northwest, it wasn't so bad because the upper 90's were the exception but here in Colorado, it's the rule for most of July and August and frequently September as well. And don't tell me "It's a dry heat" - once you pass about 85 that doesn't make a difference in my book.

Last summer after my by-pass surgery, I had the best summer since I've lived in Colorado. Granted, it was an unusually cool rainy summer, we still our share of 90-ish days. Being 75 pounds thinner made a huge (pun not intended) difference in my comfort level.

Regardless of the weather, I love the pace of summer. When I was in college, I always took classes in the summer. I loved the laid-back pace of the classes and the short terms (anywhere from two-eight weeks instead of the usual nine week quarters). My favorite summer class was an intensive French class that went for six hours a day for four weeks. I think I got 12 credits for that class and then still had about eight weeks of summer vacation before fall classes started again.

Now that I'm part of the workaday world, I still love the slower pace. I've worked as a salesperson or in sales operations in technology companies for most of my career. Summer quarter (July through September) is usually slow for the first two months from a sales perspective so it's a great time to work your day and then go home and enjoy the long sunlit evenings.

This is where I need to pause and mention how much I miss twilight. Because of our proximity to the mountains here in Boulder County, we don't have a twilight. Once the sun starts to dip behind the mountains, it goes from being day to night in what seems like minutes. When I lived in the Fourth Corner (NW Washington State), the days lingered for seeming hours. The sun would sink down below the horizon but the light would linger, giving us the illusion of day pausing to recollect the preceding events before giving away to the night.

I'm fortunate that I have a job that allows me to work from any location, so this year have decided to spend the summer in the Blaine Washington area in order to spend some time with my parents, my sister and attend a wedding in Oregon in August.

I'm really looking forward to the change of pace and seeing my family. However, I'm not sure what I will do without my daily hugs and kisses from Lucille. She is growing so fast and changing every day and I'm loathe to miss it. Thank goodness for cell phones and digital pictures across the internet. I will miss her every day.

I'm dreading this summer less than most and looking forward to it more than most. About the time I am ready for change it will be fall and I will regret any time I spent dreading the season. While I know that I won't be able to stop missing Lucille and her parents, I hope I can embrace the days and twilights I will have while in the northwest.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lost Cow Here

In the mid -90's, I lived in the farm town of Snohomish, Washington on Lord's Hill outside of town in a small farm house. I loved living in a small town and hope to live in a town like that again. One of my fondest memories of my time in that town was driving home from work one evening and seeing a 12 or 13 year old kid along side the road with a cow tied to a rope and a sign penned on a piece of cardboard. He obligingly held up the sign he had made when I drove by so I could read it's message: "Lost Cow Here".

My dog, Chewbacca also known as Chewy, disappeared sometime on Sunday night. We are not sure how he got out of the yard yet, but did patch several possible escape routes. We are suspicious that perhaps a neighbor opened the gate for him. I have a couple of neighbors that would not be above doing that (my neighbors are a post all to themselves).

We searched the neighborhood on foot and by car and didn't fin
d him. I checked the Humane Society to see if he had been picked up, we checked 9th Avenue (which is a fairly busy street) to make sure there weren't labradoodle remnants (egad!) anywhere. At about noon, I got the call from the company that makes the locator chip installed in Chewy's back. They had a call from someone that had found him. She had the presence of mind to take him to a vet to be scanned and was able to get the Pet Link contact information who then in turn contacted me with his location. He was only about 4 blocks away.

I am completely sold on the microchip technology for pets. I thought it was a great idea before, but probably wouldn't have invested in it if the Denver Dumb Friends League hadn't provided it as part of the adoption fees. I plan to have a chip put in my other dog, Snoopy's shoulder before leaving to spend the summer in Washington state (alas, not Snohomish). We will be staying at my sister's home in Blaine Washington. Their five-acre lot is not fenced. While Snoopy stays close to home in general, I think I will take this step to protect him just in case. It's a quiet area with minimal traffic, but I will feel much better if I know that Snoopy can be easily identified should something happen to

While the effectiveness of "Lost Cow Here" signs may work great for livestock (although I have no idea if the lost cow ever found his way home like Little Bo Peep's sheep), I like knowing that my pets can be identified and I can be notified that they are found no matter what the circumstances are.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Monday would have been soon enough....

When walking through the airport last week, I overheard a phone call between a doctor and patient. In the midst of a noisy airport with announcements, people talking, swearing at their luggage, crying children tired of traveling, the doctor asked if they had an oncologist lined up. Based on the doctor’s silence after his question and his follow-on comments, I gathered that the patient had not had the news broken to him/her yet. Cancer. Lung cancer. The doctor stumbled over the news and apologized that the patient hadn’t heard the news as of yet.

To his credit, the doctor continued the conversation and tried to reassure the patient while advising him that he couldn’t make any prognosis without having more tests such as an MRI completed. After about three minutes, the doctor finally interjected and asked to call the patient back later as he was in an airport and couldn’t write down the information he needed to notify the patient’s primary care physician.

So many thoughts and feelings came rushing in for me; I had to sit down in order to process them all. My heart broke for the person on the other end of the phone. Anger at the doctor’s callousness for breaking the news in such a manner. Sadness at understanding that another person would be victim to the worst possible news. Sympathy for the doctor that had to break the news. Overwhelming fear that I could be at the other end of the phone again someday.

I heard the news of my cancer in a phone call. It was 4:00 on a Friday afternoon at the end of April. I checked my cell-phone voice mail and heard my GYN’s voice on asking me to call back for the test results from the biopsy she had performed earlier in the week.

We had scheduled the biopsy simply as a check-point leading up to an ablation procedure I wanted to help control the heavy periods I had had since I was a teenager. With a grandchild on the way and being over 40, I gave up the tiny hope that I would have more children and asked for the procedure that would likely end my child-bearing years.

My doctor had wanted to perform the biopsy just as a cautionary check-point as due to my weight I was at an increased risk for cancer. When she performed the procedure, she said everything looked healthy and we would be in touch soon to discuss next steps for the ablation.

When I hear her voice on my voice mail, I simply thought, how nice, the doctor called me personally to discuss the next steps for the ablation. I called her office; they initially said that she was in with a patient so I said I would leave a message. When I gave my name, she asked me to hold and a few moments later, my doctor’s voice came over the phone.

Still unsuspecting, I said hello. She said I’m sorry to tell you this over the phone, but I didn’t want you to wait over the weekend to get the news and told me that the biopsy had returned cancerous.

I was sitting in a conference room that was being used by myself and two other people as an office. They were getting ready to leave for the weekend, as I didn’t know them that well, I fixed a smile on my face and said “Wow, didn’t expect that” in a bright cheery voice. The doctor paused for a moment, not sure how to respond to me. I waved good-bye to the people leaving the office and got up and shut the door.

I took a deep breath, willed myself to keep talking and told her I was now alone in the office. I don’t remember what questions I asked, and what she answered back other than the fact that I would have to have a hysterectomy sometime in the next three weeks and that she had made an appointment for me with a gynecological oncologist in Denver.

I hung up the phone and sat for a few minutes. I couldn’t make sense of anything I was thinking. I felt the sobs start to well up. I took several deep breaths and walked out to the main part of the office. I found my friend, mentor, and one-time manager’s cube and walked in and asked her to come talk to me. She said “What’s up?” and looked up from her computer. The look on my face must have told her everything because she grabbed me and pulled me into the ladies room. I sat down on a chair and started to sob. I gasped out the news. It was the most horrible thing having to say it out loud. At that moment it became real. Cancer. Horrible, deathly, dark. Hanging over my head like a shroud. I could feel growing inside of my body as I sat there paralyzed with fear. I wanted to rip out my innards, destroy them for betraying me. My hands curled into claws, wishing I had the strength of will to just do it myself.

Kristy guided me out of the restroom and took me to the office of our Human Resources director. I continued to cry as Anita and Kristy comforted me. They told me not to worry about the surgery; they would help me navigate the leave process. Kristy asked who she should call for me. I couldn’t think so she and Anita decided to call Nancy.

Nancy and I had planned to meet later for dinner. She got in her car and drove the 25 minutes into the office to pick me up. As I waited outside for her, the enormity began to settle on me. I thought about my daughter and how much I loved her and decided I wouldn’t tell her until I knew more about what was going to happen. I thought about the rest of my family and how they would take the news. I wondered if Donna was having a good time in Minneapolis and briefly considered calling her. I decided to wait until the next day to talk to her in person when I picked her up from the airport. I thought about losing my hair to chemo and had a wild fancy that it would grow back in thicker and curlier like I had always wanted. I wondered what color ribbon stood for uterine cancer.

Nancy took me out to dinner, to the book store and home. We made plans for breakfast the next day so I could go pick up my car. I went home and sat in the silence and wondered how I would get through it. I called my sister and left her a message to call me. I called Amanda and told her. I made the mistake of getting on the internet and looking up uterine cancer. I found lots of information, none of it comforting.

It was late Friday night by now and I couldn’t call anyone. There was no one for me to go to, no one for me to ask questions of, I was simply alone with the internet and my thoughts. As someone who really enjoys a being by myself, this was the one time I couldn’t find any comfort or joy in solitude. The tears started to flow and didn’t stop for a long time. I find myself wiping tears from my eyes just remembering those moments.

This brings me back to the doctor in the airport. While I appreciate that he was in a rushed situation, trying to balance his travel process with the phone call from his patient and accidentally breaking news he thought had already been broken, I honestly wonder why he was having that discussion at all. News like that should not come over the phone. I would have rather had a nice weekend, enjoyed the good weather, finished painting my hallway (which had been my plan) instead of spending the time wallowing in my self-pity and fear. Monday would have been soon enough to hear the news.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

One Year Plus

I've spent the last month thinking a lot about how things have changed for me in the past year. The anniversary of my gastric-bypass surgery was February 2nd. I had wanted to post a wonderful retrospective of the year but every time I tried to write it, I couldn't come up with anything that felt worthy.

On my last trip to Chicago I saw something that made me realize how many small things have changed that I hadn't really internalized yet.

At the end of my trip, I returned my car to the rental agency, gathered my things and headed to the bus shelter. The driver kindly helped me load my luggage. I boarded a bus about three-quarters full and found a seat facing the door and the waiting shelter. There were about 4 single seats left at this point.

A gentleman of some size approached the bus. He poked his head in, scoped out the seating situation and backed away from the bus. The driver approached and offered to load his luggage, he declined and said he had forgotten something in his car and headed the other direction. He got as far as the other side of the shelter then stopped.

The driver then closed the doors and moved the bus away from the curb. I turned to watch as the gentleman then turned around and boarded the following bus.

It broke my heart. On so many levels. I recognize that behavior as a former extremely obese person. I see the frustration in having to scope out every situation to decide if your butt will fit and to decide if it's worth the embarrassment or not.

I've lost many of my "fat" habits but they are always lurking in the distance. I don't know if I will ever be entirely free of them, but it's nice to have them on the sidelines.

While I haven't lost as much weight as I had hoped I would be this point, I have to say that if I didn't lose another pound at this point I wouldn't feel like I had failed. Just maintaining what I have lost so far is a win as far as I'm concerned. I feel so much better and am treated far better by most people. I haven't been oinked out when I'm out walking for a good year. (I used to get jeered at or oinked at at least once a month before. I mean really, did they think I didn't know I was fat?)