Friday, July 24, 2009

Hail Storm

A neighbor's house the morning following the hail storm.

An exciting storm came through last Monday night. I woke up at midnight to flashes of light from the north window of the bedroom. As I heard no thunder I assumed the distant storm would soon pass to the east. Meanwhile I enjoyed the fireworks and soon drifted back to sleep. It seemed like seconds later that a howling wind arose and hail pounded the house. A chill invaded the previously hot summer air. Water streamed through the windows as they banged and shook and James and I raced around to close them. The flashes of lightening now enveloped us and seemed to occur every two seconds as they revealed a wintry looking landscape. I have lived in Colorado over twenty years and I have never experienced a hail storm that was so loud—and long—a good twenty minutes. Fortunately we were privileged to experience the thrill with little damage; a few decimated flowers and shredded shrubs. Later I heard the news that suburbs near Denver suffered smashed windows and the crushing of houses and cars by huge trees.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Post Exertional Malaise

Every time I exercise I pay. Most people feel good after they exercise—they’re invigorated…but not me. I feel worse. This challenges my motivation but I persist because I really want to get back to doing the outdoor things I love.

Since my forced discontinuation of Surmontil last fall (it is no longer manufactured) and the cessation of most of my fibromyalgia symptoms, I am not home free yet. Surmontil did keep my insomnia at bay and without it my sleep problems are back. And the one fibromyalgia symptom that did not go away is the mysterious post-exertional malaise. PEM is a period of intense, debilitating fatigue in reaction to seemingly harmless activity from which it takes an inordinate amount of time to recover. It is also known as exercise intolerance. I don’t have it all the time but I have recently experienced a particularly bad episode.

So between insomnia and occasional post-exertional malaise it is no wonder that I am tired all the time. I fear that in addition to my already reserved disposition my fatigue only makes me seem more aloof. Perhaps I should wear a button, “Please excuse me, I’m not a snob, I’m just very tired.”

However, in my constant quest for answers I have found hope. It comes from a book I’ve discovered, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fighting Fatigue by Nadine Saubers. The book describes exactly what I’m going through. It provides good, practical advice about pacing, graded exercise, and maintaining a healthy energy bank account.

Good health is such a glorious thing. For those who are blessed to have it, it is easy to take it for granted. Some of us have to fight for it but it is worth the battle.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Japan in me

A 95 year old man living in Tokyo recently asked me to contribute to a book he is writing. This is how it came about.
Four years ago I learned about the John Manjiro Whitfield Commemorative Center for International Exchange. It organizes trips for Japanese people to visit America and vice versa for the purpose of friendship and cultural exchange. On a given year a group of Americans travel to Japan and on the alternating year a group of Japanese travel to America. Volunteers on both sides provide activities and experiences for their guests as well as arrange for two to three day home visits. James had a lot of interest in Japanese culture at the time, partly motivated by his interest in Nintendo and Anime. To me it seemed like a wonderful opportunity for travel and a good educational experience for my son. We made the trip and loved it. Although I anticipated that James and I would be together for the homestay, we were not. At age 16, he stayed with Japanese strangers by himself. Although initially very anxious about it, he thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

On the following year, the host city for Japanese guests was Colorado Springs. Eager to return the hospitality shown to me, I volunteered to host Japanese visitors in our home. At first we were told that a 78 year old man would be staying with us. Then I received a request to also take in a man who would be traveling with our guest as an attendant. The 78 year old's physician (also his friend) insisted that he not travel alone and arranged for her husband to accompany him. When the time came to meet our guests, we discovered that the 78 year old was actually 92. We heard rumors that he feared being excluded from the trip if he admitted his actual age so he fibbed on his application!

We had a fascinating visit with this man. When he was younger he worked as a journalist for one of the large newspapers in Tokyo. During World War II, he covered a battle in Korea where the Japanese were overwhelmingly defeated. He was beaten for reporting the truth about that battle and is deaf in one ear from the injuries. In addition he also described interesting aspects of his childhood in Kyoto.

There was a shadow of sadness over his visit however. He was grieving the recent death of his wife. He wore her photo around his neck and would discuss the circumstances of her death with us.

Mr. Konno holds a photo of his recently deceased wife

The next year I went to Japan again with my friend Diane. We visited the Noto Peninsula on the western side of the country. It is an enchanting area of mountains, sea, and rural landscapes. We experienced the pleasure of staying in a ryokan. My homestay was in the quaint little town of Hakui City with a woman named Masago and her mother. Masago took me to see to the beautiful gardens in Kanazawa. She also took me on a hike up a mountainside of lush bamboo and pine to the site of the burial place of Moses. How did that story ever develop? Fascinating!

Masago gave me a kimono.

At the Moses Park

At the end of the trip we spent two days and one night in Tokyo before flying home. My former Japanese guests invited me to have dinner with them, the younger man's wife and three additional friends. The younger man came by the hotel next to the Tokyo Dome,a huge baseball stadium, in a taxi to pick me up. It was a bright early summer evening as we drove through the vibrant canyons of Ginza. After driving by the grounds of the Imperial Palace we stopped by one of Tokyo's newspaper buildings where we picked up the elderly man. There he presented me with several copies of a book he had written. It was written in Japanese but the title was translated into English, My Sunshine in Colorado. What a surprise to look inside the book and see photos of our family, our house, as well as other photos of his trip to Colorado.

What followed was one of the most amazing dining experiences of my life. They took me to a chic restaurant many floors high that overlooked an expansive vista of city, waterways, bridges,ocean, boats, and distinctive landmarks such as Tokyo Tower. The meal was exquisite, a traditional style of Japanese cuisine known as kaiseki. Every morsel was delicious and served with the most beautiful presentation. My hosts overwhelmed me with their generosity and hospitality.
A few months ago I received word from the elderly gentleman that he is writing another book and he requested that I contribute to it. He asked me to write about my thoughts and plans for the future of the world from a female perspective. I responded to his request and I may be published in Japan! I hope nothing is lost in translation. As far as I can tell, his books are self-published and their circulation is limited to his circle of friends and acquaintences. But it has been fun and all part of this greater adventure of becoming acquainted with Japan and its people.
I strongly recommend to anyone who would like to travel to Japan that the John Manjiro Whitfield Commemorative Cultrual Exchange is a great way to go. I would love to know if there are similar cultural exchange programs with other countires. The small bit of research I have done has failed to yield any but I assume they must be out there.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Thunderbirds

Photos by Kim Carlson

One of the great things about where I live is being able to catch the Thunderbirds air show that follows graduation at the Air Force Academy. The whole front range area of Colorado Springs is their stage and they captivate all who live here with their breathtaking display of power and precision. Yesterday, Kim and I found a spot for lunch that made a good vantage point and we settled down for the show. I feel like a little child when I watch them as their magificent feats fill me with wonder,awe, and admiration.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Soloist

There are few movies, especially at the theatre, that I can embrace completely. Many I can enjoy for one reason or another but it is rare that a film has the power to engage me totally. Last weekend I saw The Soloist and it met the above criteria. I experienced a deep sense of catharsis after watching it.

The Soloist is an uplifting movie but not a feel good movie. It does not have a happy ending in the traditional sense. It tells a story honestly and openly. The acting of both Robert Downey Jr. as Steve Lopez and Jamie Foxx as Nathaniel Ayers is excellent. The sweet sounds of the soundtrack left me longing for more beautiful classical music.

Good art depicts life as it is in a beautiful, aesthetic way. Director Joe Wright is a master at making a movie pleasurable to watch from an artistic standpoint. Woven throughout the film are these amazing scenes of cityscapes and so forth that ordinarily would hold no appeal but he captures them in such a way that creates beauty. There are aerial views of crisscross designs of freeways or parking lots with pigeons flying over. Pigeons are not considered the most beautiful of birds but they look graceful as they flitter across the screen in this context.

I think good art also upholds the dignity of human beings. Not only are the scenes aesthetically pleasing but they hold a deeper symbolic meaning. In the midst of the horrors of homelessness and mental illness, there is beauty in the lives of those suffering people. Sometimes it is obvious as in Nathaniel Ayer's talent even though for him it can never be fully actualized.

The film underscores the value of friendship; that it can matter more than anything when trying to help someone. It is a great film for anyone involved in Stephen Ministry. It illustrates the importance of grace and simply being present for somebody struggling with life.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Our Spring Break

Frigid Bass Harbor, Maine, isn't the usual place that comes to mind when one thinks of spring break. But that is where Kim and I went a couple weeks ago. We needed a grandchild fix and because Sarah and Andrew has time off from both their job at Gordon College and Sarah from Waring School, it was an ideal time to visit them.
We spent our week at our condo in Bass Harbor. It was cold but we had some bright sunny days. I loved being on Mt. Desert Island more than I thought I would. It was peaceful and quiet without the tourist crowds, yet some of the businesses were opening up again after a winter hiatus.

It was wonderful to spend time with Henry and deepen our bond with him. Of course we loved being with Sarah as well. Andrew stayed home for most of the week due to some important meetings he needed to attend but we were fortunate to have a couple days with him too.

Highlights included:
1. Catching up with Sarah and Andrew
2. Watching the sunsets over Blue Hill Bay every evening
3. The lovely, deep silence of the starry nights
4. Good times in the Southwest Harbor Public Library
5. Treats from Sawyer's Market
6. Discovering the Cranberry Island Kitchen
7. Brisk walks overlooking the harbor
8. Lots of time enjoying the cuteness of Henry
9. Spending an evening at Margi' and David's house
10. Observing Sarah's creative endeavors

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sarah in the Media

Our dear daughter Sarah was quoted in The Salem News amidst "taking time from chasing her determined toddler, Henry."

Monday, February 9, 2009

Grace or Bust

I was raised in an atmosphere of shame-based Christianity. Although, I believed that only God’s grace could save me and I was unable to merit God’s salvation on my own, I failed to live as though I was walking by grace. My spiritual walk was crowded with shoulds and “dos and don’ts” and all manner of legalism.
Shame-based Christianity is fed by a tiresome round of “I’ve got to do better…I must try harder…I’m not doing enough.” It promotes the temptation to believe that I am better and everyone else is worse. Shame-based Christianity is suffocating; it chokes the life out of you. It is like stumbling around in gloomy places with a ball and chain. I can’t bear it.
There was a difficult time in my life when God seemed absent. I was entrapped in the dark pit of depression. But through that experience, God taught me that He not only saves us by grace but helps us to live by grace as well.
Grace-based Christianity is so wonderful. It is freeing and joyful. Grace-based preaching/teaching is like soothing balm for the soul. It celebrates love and mercy. You live your life motivated by love. You can be yourself and God works through you as an individual, yet you also find joy in community. It is like frolicking on a mountain meadow full of wildflowers under a warm sun and bright blue sky.
I cannot tolerate going to a church that emphasizes shame-based Christianity over grace-based Christianity. Our family spent an entire year looking for a church home several years ago. My chief criterion was a church that communicates grace or at least is led by people who communicate grace. It is amazing how difficult that is to find. We finally found such a church. Now we are contemplating being part of a church plant from this church on our side of town. I hesitate to be a part of it because I fear the possibility of the absence of grace-based leadership. If that is how it ends up…I just can’t go there…literally and figuratively.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Joy of Skiing

Kim and I had a wonderful time in the mountains last week. Our friends, Kevin and Diane, joined us for a couple days. We skied together on one of the most beautiful days at Keystone ever.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Maturity and Tenacity Prevail

I am an avid figure skating fan. As many people like to watch football games, I love to watch figure skating competitions. The combination of athleticism and art draws me to it. I recall delightful times of skating on ponds and rinks when I was young but I never had the opportunity to go beyond that. Nevertheless, following the sport of figure skating is a hobby that I enjoy.

Ice dancing is my favorite event. The art and romance of it create a beautiful drama on ice and of all the figure skating disciplines it showcases more maturity and expression. The ice dancers tend to be older than the others. Continuing with my predilection for romance, pairs is my second favorite. Also, their stunts are risky, exciting and breathtaking. The men's event is my third favorite because I think men are interesting. My least favorite, ironically the most popular, is the ladies event. It seems that the women tend to peak at a very young age, around 15, and although they are very good, they lack the maturity of expression that makes figure skating so satisfying to watch.

Therefore, I was delighted to see twenty-one year old Alissa Czisny skate well and win the Ladies US national competition. I have admired her skating over the past five years or so but it has been painful to watch her struggle to rise to the top. Thus it was gratifying to see her win the fruit of her perseverance last weekend. Her quote in my local newspaper inspires me.

Throughout the years there 's been a lot of disappointments and hard times. I think I've been able to take all of them and learn from them. It's made me a better person, it's made me a better skater and I've learned a lot, a lot about life.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Historic Inauguration

This month my book club is reading a classic; Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Every third month we read a classic. In between we read a fiction book followed by nonfiction. Anyway, it is extremely painful to read about the cruel and inhuman practice of slavery. It made the historic inauguration yesterday so much more poignant for me.
I am probably repeating the obvious but I am optimistic that Barak Obama’s Presidency will cause a dramatic decrease in racism in this country. I believe that it will gradually fade away without a lot of fanfare. The widespread reality of having a black president will infuse people’s consciousness and sub-consciousness leading to a breakdown in prejudicial thinking.
Part of the reason I believe this is because of something that happened to me when I was a young girl. It may be frivolous to compare my situation to the profoundly difficult experience of many people. However, when I was young, kids teased me about my name. I disliked being singled out and scorned for any reason so it hurt me when kids taunted me saying, “Jackie is a boy’s name.” However, when John F. Kennedy began his race for the White House and he and his wife grew in popularity, kids ceased to make fun of my name. It just never came up anymore.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Reading the Bible

I prefer to read the Bible in short passages, chewing over them meditatively and thoughtfully. However, the leadership at our church has challenged us to read the entire Bible in a year. It has been presented as a project that we can do together as a community. So I have resolved to take on the challenge. I have discovered that Holy Trinity Brompton in London is doing the same thing. I have become acquainted with Holy Trinity Brompton through the podcast, Godpod. The reading schedule that they have chosen coordinates with the one I am following. On their website, Nicky Gumbel, is offering comments on each daily reading. I love the way, Nicky, the facilatator of the Alpha course, presents God's good news in a simple, modern, clear way. I have only been reading his comments for a few days, but I have discovered that he is able to unify several not necessarily related passages to draw out a satisfying spiritual concept. There are interesting comments by others as well on the HTB site.

In addition to using the hard copy of my NIV Bible, I like using this site. It gives me the option of listening to the passages being read. One drawback, however, is that I don't particularly like the reading voice. He makes God's voice seem too harsh at times.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Christmas Memories

Christmas 2008 is quickly receding into the past. It went by too fast but I am enjoying the memories of it. It was such a delight to have our family all together for a week. Sarah and Andrew and darling grandson Henry flew from Boston to spend the week with us.

Check out these photos is you want to see something of our week together.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Fibromyalgia is gone

I have neglected my blog the last few months but I wish to resume it and pick up where I left off. My sudden cessation of Surmontil has resulted in the most amazing thing. After suffering withdrawal and dealing with the physical aftermath of an automobile accident at the end of October, I noticed that I was no longer experiencing fibromyalgia symptoms. My friend's suggestion that there might be a connection between my long term Surmontil use and my fibromyalgia symptoms was prophetic. Gone is the end of the day excessive exhaustion to which I had become accustomed. Gone is the stiffness and pain that followed the slightest physical exertion. I am free to workout again and enjoy it. I look forward to skiing now. I have more energy and can actually stay up later than 9 PM!

The downside is that I struggle with insomnia again. The Surmontil did do a great job of keeping my insomnia at bay. However, if given a choice, I'd take insomnia over fibromyalgia any day. I just feel bad that none of my doctors were aware that there may be a link between the drug and my fibromyalgia symptoms. It was a good medication for me short term but I really wish one of my doctors would have seen the wisdom of discontinuing it after say--five years or so. Instead, the doctor who first prescribed it told me I could safely be on it for the rest of my life. I guess physicians really don't know pharmaceutical agents that well. I feel sad that I inadvertantly poisoned myself for all those years thus dimishing the quality of my life during that time.