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Freedom to Be

The purpose of freedom is to create it for others.
- Bernard Malamud

The news media has been bursting at the seams lately with ambitious, sometimes disturbing stories that feature those nicknamed "helicopter parents," i.e. the hovering parent that supervises, directs, plans and all but executes every living, waking moment of their child's life. Talk about your "Tiger Mom" (I know what's best for this kid's success) to the "Sports Dad" (No way anyone will cut my kid!). Some of this is natural protective instinct taken to an extreme (after all it is a BIG, and indifferent world out there). But a great deal of it is ego extension, or child-as-me. The kid cut from the soccer team is not so much the kid, as the parent. The child that applies to elite colleges and is not admitted to any is not just a statistic of limited openings and intense competition, but perceived as a failure by the parent to produce a smart enough child. Worse yet, helicopter parents are writing top-selling books about their programs for success, outlining the keys to "making it in."

When did we become this nation of ambitious parents driven not by the dream to have our kids lead better lives with more opportunities than those afforded to us, but this club of prideful adults demanding our kids reflect well on us? We want our bragging rights fully fueled: ready to head-line our kids' accomplishments at the grocery check-out line, in the annual holiday card update, the after school science fair, the April college acceptance swell. Not that we aren't thrilled for our kids, who are often just relieved that they got in or made the grade so that we're happy, but deep inside, their success makes us feel better about ourselves. Living vicariously through the lives of our children is the new American past-time. It is a do-over for adults less than wowed by their own accomplishments, or who feel their luck or hard work is at last cemented into a genuine legacy through the clear superiority of their children.

Let's stop the insanity. We can end the hovering, the suffocating direction, the "hurried child" syndrome, by paying better attention to the needs of our children to choose their own path. I do feel we are doing our level best as parents when we help our children along, provide information to guide their choices, point them toward opportunity... but the freedom for our kids to quit soccer, choose a professional skill and not a college degree, wander for awhile to "find themselves" - this is nurturing, the antithesis to hovering. It is not the child-as-me, but embracing the unique independent spirit of each child to become a self-defined adult.

We could begin by ending the toddlers and beauty pageants nonsense. Open the dress-up trunk and let their imaginations play.
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Almost Perfect

Getting 85% of what you want out of work, real estate, or love is about right. Aim higher and you're likely to find yourself self-employed, living at home, or single.
- Glenn Byron Waugh, my grandfather

It's strange how as I grow older, the words of advice imparted to me along the way have come to mean more. My gandfather, a cheerful self-made man who left school in the 8th grade and rose to become the successful advertising director for a national retail store, was full of good Scotch advice; pithy, unsentimental truisms that he imparted to me along the way. Particularly after I left college and began my career at the State Department in Washington DC: Real Life 101. One of his favorite bits of advice was the saying I included in my memoir, THE GEOGRAPHY OF LOVE, "If you don't like it, get out of it. If you can't get out of it, get into it." A fabulous way of pointing out that we first have choice, and then we have perspective. Use them both, and make any less than ideal situation work as best you can. I have imparted this particular saying to my adult children several times in the last year as they have navigated college, work, graduate school. Life is all about both goals and compromise, dreams come true and imperfect outcomes.

Married to a sweet and artistic German girl, the only girl and youngest of three, my grandfather was fond of quoting one particular phrase from her father, Willhelm Gerhauser. Great-grandfather Gerhauser was immigrated to America: a resourceful and hardworking man, he established a homestead farm in the West. Roughly translated, the folkism my grandfather imparted to me means, "All is good, nothing is not good." A perhaps slightly fatalistic, but optimistic belief that everything is meant to be, even if it takes awhile to understand (or accept) exactly how or why. Very helpful in the uncertainty of drought, war, an unfamiliar culture. Being twenty-something in a fast-paced, changing world.

The "85%" quote of my grandfather's most recently came up at a wedding. The sage, often expressed sentiment that unique differences are both the spice of interest and the frustration of compromise. We are not clones of one another, and that individualistic element is the final 15% in someone we may never quite get, accept, or particularly like. But life is about awesome "mostly," not totally. We are mostly successful, mostly happy, mostly on track, mostly healthy, mostly satisfied in our careers, mostly content with our kitchens, mostly a good fit with our spouses.

That is, if we're lucky. Mostly is pretty damn fine.
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Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends,
Mmm, gonna try with a little help from my friends...
Yes I get by with a little help from my friends,
with a little help from my friends...

- from "I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends," The Beatles

Recently we have been up at the lake in the panhandle of North Idaho, not far from the Canadian border. We have done our usual favorite things - swim, hike, run the trails, pick huckleberries, read and relax under the pine trees. But midweek in our vacation, my daughter, 23, drove the 100 or so miles back into town to support a friend of hers she has stayed close with since high school who was undergoing an unexpected surgery. During the time she was gone, I reflected on the strength of their friendship: that her friend even confided in my daughter about her upcoming surgery, that my daughter immediately made plans to be there for the early morning procedure, to be with the family, and sustain her friend with her simple presence. They are both remarkable young women studying in the life sciences. I paid quiet attention, watching the way my daughter marshaled her resources, worked family professional contacts at the hospital to find the perfect way to support her friend and her family. Her determination to rise early, make the drive through the mountains alone, wait with the family and help with the medical debriefing and explanations, to be with her friend post op. These are the characteristics of a mature and responsive adult. A person who cares.

I think one of the gifts of any youthful friendship that grows and endures, lies in the exposure to adult decision-making that accompanies any life journey. From confronting experiences that require understanding, tolerance, and forgiveness, weathering confusion or disagreement, to believing in the best of one another, accepting the distortions and complications of time, dating and marriage, distance... Young people who develop close attachments experience the challenges and rewards of adulthood in the companionship of that very same friendship. I do not personally know how my daughter's friend feels about her presence with her at the hospital, but I know from talking to my daughter that she experienced a profound awareness of herself and her friend, that even young as they are, they nonetheless live in the shadow of mortality, must endure the angst of waiting through the unknown, seek to optimize the power of information, skill, and in this case medicine, and lean on faith and one another. I think the gift of youthful friendships is that they become the pillars of a much older, weathered wisdom.

We love and learn together...with a "little help from our friends."
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A City

And where
there was chaos
it was graven in strokes of righteous angularity:
bolus of a city inscribed by giant needles,
nexus of highways, tangle of vectors on crumpled papyrus,
power lines across the pine forest, fate line
engraved in the lithosphere
of the palm...

- from A City in the Clouds, Campbell McGrath

This weekend, my daughter, 23, and I, loaded her red Jeep with as much of her future life as we could stuff in and drove the nearly 300 miles from Spokane to Seattle. She is beginning her first year as a medical student at the University of Washington Medical School. Kate is setting up shop near the U District with a new roommate in a modest two bedroom apartment- in the words of Campbell McGrath, "A new land, a new sea. A new world. A city." Her home for the next four years has as it's main advantage, proximity to the medical school; and its main attraction, a balcony set within a canopy of maple trees. We are nothing, my children and I, if not people of the trees.

An interesting paradox, new beginnings. My daughter left a small, tightly-knit east coast city, New Haven, for a west coast life in Seattle, a sprawling basin of twinkling lights nestled deep in the steep pine forests above Puget Sound. A shift in cultures, geography, climate... And a marked new chapter in her life. The process of moving in and furnishing a small space efficiently and inexpensively - after all, funding this professional education is her nickel - immediately and inevitably meant navigating the Renton Ikea warehouse, and tools in hand, cross-legged on the floor of an empty apartment, building assembly furniture channeling all the inspiration available from memories of childhood Lego builds with her younger brother. We took a break for margaritas and fresh Mex, basking in the warm sun dockside on the waterfront at a laid-back bistro on the Montlake Cut. Sweaty, fatigued, bemused, I gazed on the face of the happy adult young woman opposite me and realized my daughter was under full sail: out on open waters, underway toward a future chosen by her, earned by her, and solely in her hands.

It is one very special experience to raise a child; to be given the spiritual and physical fiduciary trust and responsibility to nurture another's unformed body and soul. It is another blessing entirely to see that child, grown, step from the protective circle of your arms and into the world with confidence and commitment. I raised my glass. I toasted to her future. I let go the child. Released the burdens and privileges of decades of guidance and care and accepted the new-found graces of friendship, pride, and gratitude.

From an end, a beginning. A new land, a new sea. A city. A life.

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Coffee at Midnight

The very best part was rowing out onto the small lake in a little boat:

James and I taking turns fishing, one fishing while the other rowed
the long sigh of the line through the air,

and the far plunk of the hook and the sinker -
lily pads, yellow flowers

the dripping of the oars
and the knock and creak of them moving in the rusty locks.

- Marie Howe

I awoke in the middle of the night last night having a conversation with my dead husband. He and I were sitting in an open air cafe and just talking. His teeth flashed in the sun in that large, whole-body laugh of his and his eyes twinkled in amusement. And there was something else in his expression - a particular fondness, the familiarity of long love, the ease in any gathering of familiars. His smell, of tree bark and sun in the pines, and the warm pulse beneath his skin as he placed his hand over mine, pulled me from delight in his company to an awareness of detail my sleeping mind found improbable. I was startled and thrilled by the completeness of his presence, the vividness of this moment of recollection, or visitation, whichever it might be. We don't lose that fulsome sense of "the other" in the empty years after death? No matter how long the absence? I rejoiced in wonder, looking at the sun shining in his hair as he stirred his coffee. Nothing faded or implied about his presence, Ken was somehow in my life, even if only in a dream.

Thinking about all of this, I went for a run before breakfast, and as I sometimes do, found myself mentally talking to Ken. Updating him on the kids, running the questions of my life by him, and often as not, including my mother in the conversation as well, always somewhere in the background. But as I ran along the ridge of the trail overlooking the yaw of the ponderosa valley below , I abruptly stopped the rambling thoughts and asked one simple question - Are you there?

It hadn't seemed to matter before. Ken was gone physically, and the spiritual essence of our togetherness, of the man, was firmly in my heart; whatever more might be true of existence would be revealed on my own death I was certain. But our shared coffee at midnight, the slow, sensual tangibility of sitting together and talking had left me edgy, unsettled. There were things I now needed to know that I asked as I ran the dirt trail - his thoughts about my remarriage, his knowledge of the wondrous journey of our children, the uncertainties of work, the next move in my new life... If Ken was there, more present than commonly accepted, then please, I invited, come back and be my friend. How deeply I missed his light chuckle, the easy toss of head when he found something amusing or incomprehensible, the jut of his jaw when he was frustrated or determined, the warmth of his hand.

The path seemed to disappear beneath my feet as I talked and talked to the man in my head. When I came to the end of the trail and stopped, winded, I felt the answers in my body. We nest within those we have lived with, those we have loved; and these ghosts, our familiars, coil within our days and nights, just as we knew them. Vivid as our imaginations, sturdy as memory. And yet there was something more than the poetic or philosophical that settled into the aftermath of my run - concrete answers I did not expect. Questions, that now had answers. Answers that floated home from a place other than my own well-worn thinking. But like coffee in the midnight hours, nothing is certain but knowledge of experience itself.

Good enough.
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Memories on Memorial Day Revisited

And still it is not enough, to have memories. One must be able to forget them when they are many, and one must have the immense patience to wait till they are come again. For the memories themselves are still nothing. Not till they have turned to blood within us, to glance and gesture, nameless and no longer to be distinguished from ourselves - not till then can it happen that in a most rare hour the first word of a poem arises in their midst and goes forth from them.
- Rainer Maria Rilke

A year ago at this time on Memorial Day Weekend, I wrote an essay on this blog about the power of memory. Memorial Day is for some a weekend that kicks off the summer holidays, and for others, about remembering the loved and lost, and most especially, the honor and courage of our soldiers. Here is that original essay from last year, and then I will update the year for you at the end. Enjoy!

My husband is buried above the wild and tumultuous Spokane River, down from the high train trestle bridges we call the "wishing trains" because we so often whisper secret wishes as we cross under the train cars suspended high above. They thunder overhead on their way across the continental U.S., great diesels hauling container goods, crops, oil and chemicals, slatted stock cars swaying down the tracks before they disappear through granite cuts into narrow pine valleys. My husband quite liked the idea that he would have a view of the river and the trains. Nature and commerce. Chaos and fortune. Our lives are ruled by them.

Today, cemetery breezes wave ribbons of color along narrow paths that are lined with the stars and stripes. Families with lost looks on their faces and clutching plot grids, wander the acres under the ponderosa, looking for the buried but not forgotten. Children's hands are tucked in those of parents - in the little fists more small flags, bouquets of lilacs. America does not forget its loved ones. It does not forget its soldiers. The green shade seem to be a continuous sea of monuments. A new engraved stone, a simple bench, stands next to my husband's - a nineteen year old boy, lost in Afghanistan. Somebody's son, someone's brother. There were two flags flying in his honor, and the gift of a baseball mitt. Was it his, I wonder.

Bending low, I place a flag in the ground a boot length away from my husband's marker. A Vietnam era Air Force Veteran, Ken was proud of his service. He met men in those years who became friends and mentors. I couldn't help but think of our own boy, now twenty, at the US Naval Academy. His life is at a crux point as well. What direction will it turn? How will he think of his service, years from now? National service opens us to community beyond family - opens us to the identity we share as Americans. Whether serving in the military services, the Peace Corps, Teach for America, the USO, the Red Cross - take a moment to thank the next young or old person you meet giving of themselves to all of America.

This fall my daughter will run her first half-marathon for Team USO - proud of our soldiers, her brother, her father, and all those whose names she does not know who came before her and follow her now. Service requires only that we show up, hands open and ready to do whatever work needs doing. Let the poems of your memories carry the day.

As I think of my son and how proud his father would be of him, as I wonder about his future, I think of Eric Greitens, the decorated Navy war hero and author of "The Heart and the Fist - The Education of a Humanitarian, The Making of a Seal." Eric penned a personal note to my son on the title page - "Follow your heart and continue to live with courage." Words that might inspire us all I think.

That was May, 2011. And now it is May, 2012. How right Eric was! The months after writing those words have been difficult and, unexpectedly rewarding. For my son, a challenging illness at the beginning of his junior year at the Naval Academy lead to an honorable medical separation from the Navy. He had just signed the upperclassman's seven year commitment to serve, and instead found himself unexpectedly lost - the Academy dream, his friends, his education, his health... interrupted, perhaps broken. In the face of disaster, this young man "walked the talk": He had the courage to follow his heart, redefine his dreams, kept his old friends as well as made new. He has recovered his health, completed an interim semester of classes, earned a prestigious internship at a national science lab, and matriculated to Stanford University, continuing in his intended major. His year has been about accepting loss, finding center, and moving forward. He has grown up a resourceful man, dealing with life in its complete unpredictability.

My daughter has successfully completed 5 half-marathons now, and was recently asked by Team USO to run the 2012 Washington DC Marine Corp Marathon and the 2013 New York City Marathon in support of the USO once again. She will begin her medical education at the University of Washington Medical School in August. Her year has been about setting goals that were big reaches (distance running) and making wise long-term life choices (which medical schools reflect her goals, budget and intentions?). And becoming an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church Monastery, she married my sweetheart Greg and I on Haleakala Crater on Maui this past April. A big year!

There is an old saying that we never forget the ones we love when we love anew, we simply add more room in the heart. I am happy to have found love again, and happy with the memories of all that has come before. Memories are the foundation of the soul. And so I take a moment this weekend to celebrate and revisit the wonder of life and all its surprises.
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Morning Has Broken

April 22, 2012 Sunrise on Haleakala

Last Sunday, April 22, 2012, my sweetheart Greg and I drove the long winding road from the seashore on Maui to the 10,023 foot summit of Haleakala Crater. We were on our way to view the sunrise from the rim of the dormant volcanic crater overlooking the gleaming Pacific. To begin our new life together alongside the rise of a new day.

Our wedding entourage met not in flip-flops, summer dresses and Hawaiian shirts, but in fleece and jeans and mittens in the dark hotel parking lot at 3 a.m. The intimate party of six included my daughter from Connecticut (our officiant), my sleepy son (our classical guitarist and photographer), and Greg's eldest son and fiance from Seattle (readers of poetry for our ceremony). We drove inland from the sea to the national park entrance and slowly snaked up to the summit in a string of gathering headlights, white pearls rolling up the side of the black mountain. We reached the top of Haleakala slightly before 5 in the morning: the couple in the back seat climbed out of the rented Town & Country van green at the gills after two hours of stomach-churning switchbacks up to the rim. The volcanic desolation, blasted by wind, was truly cold in the darkness at that altitude. Everything that could be worn was piled on, including a pair of pants tied around someone's head for warmth. Dawn would not be for another hour.

Quietly the parking lot filled - no car engines allowed to run, all vehicle lights off. With a small group of sunrise pilgrims we climbed the stone steps to an observation deck and gazed out over a white sea of roiling cloud beginning to glimmer at the horizon. The horizon turned metallic ruby and then the clouds a fiery red, followed by an explosion of color that illuminated the world from the hot disk of a new sun. Sunrise gilded the vast ocean and touched Haleakala in a bowl of gold. We stood in awe. In a cathedral of such immense natural wonder no one spoke. An instrumental hymn set to an old Scottish tune my son would play later for our ceremony swelled in my thoughts, "Morning Has Broken."

As the crowds dispersed, we followed a short path along the ridge until we found ourselves on a knoll overlooking the islands and clouds below us. We faced our beaming officiant, newly licensed by church and the State of Hawaii. My son uncased his guitar and began to play Bach, blowing on his fingers to thaw them. Grateful for the warming light, Greg and I spoke our vows to one another on the red soft rock of Haleakala, which in Hawaiian means "House of the Sun."

There's more to this story, and bits and pieces will find their way into the blog to amuse you (enter a flinty-eyed female Park Ranger stage left, packing a pistol with an eye on enforcing signage). But we wanted to share with you here our official wedding announcement, submitted to the New York Times Sunday Styles section. With half the family residing in New England and my publishing life out of New York, we had felt very connected to the Sunday Styles readership. Alas not. Our announcement was not printed. Snubbed love. (Thus the Sunday Styles dreams of one middle-aged bride are crushed. All that work to tell our tale in Times Wedding Speak! That strange, formal Town Crier language. Admittedly we were a business day late hitting the six-weeks-in-advance due date. Who knew. Sigh.)

So friends - our wedding announcement is included below. Just for you. Enjoy.

Glenda Burgess and Gregory Scotford Miller were married Sunday at dawn at the edge of Haleakala Crater, Haleakala National Park, on the Island of Maui. Katherine Grunzweig, daughter of the bride, officiated as a member of the Universal Life Church Monastery.

The bride, 55, an author who goes by her professional last name of Burgess and whose most recent work, "The Geography of Love," a memoir, was nominated as a finalist for the 2008 Books for A Better Life Award, met the groom, also 55, an anesthesiologist with Physicians Anesthesia Group of Spokane, Washington, on a blind date set up by mutual friends. The bride, a widow, is keeping her name. She has two children, Katherine Grunzweig, aged 22, a graduate in Art History from Yale University attending the University of Washington Medical School this fall, and David Grunzweig, 21, who attended the US Naval Academy in Annapolis and is continuing his studies in computer science engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston this fall. The bride’s former career was with the U.S. State Department where she began her career as a Presidential Management Fellow, following a stint working for Senator Warren G. Magnuson on the Senate Appropriations Committee. She is a graduate of the University of Washington Evans Graduate School of Public Affairs. Her parents, Mrs. Louise W. Burgess, and Thomas K. Burgess, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF (Retired), both of Washington State, divorced in 1972 and are deceased.

The bridegroom earned his medical degree from the University of Utah, followed by residency and fellowship in North Carolina. Dr. Miller is the author of a monograph on anesthesia techniques for robotic heart surgery. An avid salmon fisherman and outdoorsman, trekking frequently to Alaska and Canada, Dr. Miller grew up in South Dakota where his parents, Dr. and Mrs. Maclynn Miller, still reside. Dr. Miller has three sons. Daniel Miller, 27, a graduate of the University of Washington, is employed in the web/internet industry in Seattle, WA. Matthew Miller, 25, is a third year medical student at the University of Texas, Houston, and Jonathan Miller, 20, is a chemical-biological engineering major at Rice University, also in Houston. Dr. Miller's previous marriage of twenty-five years ended in divorce.

Ms. Burgess met Dr. Miller in June of 2010. They were introduced by married friends, physicians, who knew the couple individually and felt they would be “perfect for one another.” Ms. Burgess had not dated since the death of her husband seven years prior, focused on raising her children and her writing. A blind date, the first for either of them, seemed both intimidating and simultaneously care free. “I mean, why not?” Ms. Burgess laughed. “I’d love to enjoy a meal out and meet someone great to talk to.” As for Dr. Miller, a cyclist, he recalled thinking Ms. Burgess, a runner, was beautiful and fun to be with. “We were both so different and yet we hit it off spectacularly. There was a great deal of chemistry.” After a whirlwind courtship involving a symphony picnic in the park and an autumn trip to New York City to visit with Ms. Burgess’ publisher and attend both the opera and theater, Dr. Miller proposed to Ms. Burgess in their favorite Spokane restaurant, saying at her look of delighted astonishment, “Yes, I’m serious!” As they share the 22nd of the month for their birthdays in September and July, they chose the 22nd as their wedding date.

The wedding ceremony took place outdoors at Haleakala National Park following a spectacular sunrise overlooking Maui and the Pacific Ocean with a view of the surrounding islands. The bride’s son performed Bach on the classical guitar and his mother's favorite hymn, "Morning Has Broken." Daniel Miller and fiancé Becca Allen both read poetry in honor of the couple, and Ms. Burgess followed the couple’s vows with her own poem, written to the groom. After an al fresco breakfast at a local coffee house in the crater valley, the wedding party celebrated that evening with a surfside candlelight dinner. The couple will follow their wedding with a June trip down the Rhine by boat from Amsterdam, and then by train into the Alps, exploring art museums, historical sites, and outdoor recreation. The couple will continue to reside in Spokane, Washington.
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Snow Day

If you think this is a big snow storm, you're right.
- my son, manning the snowblower for third time that afternoon

Nature is an amazing leveler: all our industrious and self-generated activities come to a standstill in the midst of a snow cloud of enormous proportions swirling over our heads. Six inches in as many hours, on top of yesterday's and ahead of tomorrow. And this is nothing compared to the dump of white blowing across the dormant wheat fields of the Palouse...

Winter has a way of putting the world on pause. Travel becomes challenging. We man the snow shovels, check candles. Power goes out, silencing our smart phones, e-readers and iPads; the work force trickles home sliding down the roads, the kids wake to a day off school. All caution and worry aside, I love these days. It was perfectly silent when I awoke this morning, the quiet of a thick blanket of snow. Hours later the neighbors were out blowing snow, kids shrieking in the streets with sleds...a chance to say hello and how are you. A great moment for catching up with ourselves - from sleep to those power-off activities like reading and letter writing. The letter carrier trundled by, chains chunking the snow around his wheel wells as he waved cheerily. Yes, not even snow stops the US Postal Service.

I plan spending my day beside a cozy fire, baking bread and making soup, reading a favorite book. Thank you, nature, for a snow day.
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Bye My Friend

McDuff 11/17/2001 to 12/17/2011

McDuff was our "wheaten" Scottish Terrier, born eleven years ago on Canfield Mountain. A beautiful cream-color dog with a bearded mailbox head, perky ears, and expressive chocolate eyes - two splashes of cappuccino cream over both shoulders. McDuff lost his battle with cancer Saturday. He leaves behind his adoring family as well as the backyard squirrels, who have for generations taught their young to run fast and jump far over the head of the barking "white terror." He is missed by the quail families he protected from the marauding cats of the "dark side" of the fence and missed by his beloved pet sitter Suzanne, with the home baked treats. Duff leaves behind the dusty winding bluff trails he knew and loved to ramble, his snooze spot by the back door, and nose prints on the car window. We will forever look for his face at the kitchen table window, waiting for us to come home.

Goodbye, my friend. You were there for me after Ken died and the whole world lay on my shoulders. Beside the kids as they clung to you through uncertain nights. At my side as first Kate, and then David, headed out across the continent to school. (You were certain I was losing the herd!) There in the nights, and for shoveling snowy mornings, sunny backyard days lazing by the barbecue, our long daily hikes wherever the whim took us. You were our scout with your amazing nose for hunting huckleberries at the lake, underfoot at Thanksgiving waiting and hoping for a tasty morsel to drop from the carving platter. Just a pup, you decided to "eat" new dental molding into the baseboards around the dining room...bored and awake on your own at night, you raked your teeth down David's bedroom wall like a kid with crayons. How patiently you wore the pumpkin costume at Halloween as the little kids loved on you, and listened to the "little white dog" ditty as you boys shared "last call" in the backyard. You had a tail wag for all the souls that crossed our front door. Duffy, Duffers, Mackleduff, Doofers, Duff. We will miss your snores at the foot of David's bed, from behind the couch and under the coffee table, from wherever you caught a nap. Your presence anchored this house with love and devotion. Your absence has dimmed the light of our every day.

I hope you're romping the fields with crazy Scooter now. Your collar hangs on the hook with his. Best dog, ever.
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First light
to last star at night
place me in your pocket
toss me with your keys beside
your coffee
drop me on the papers
under crooked glasses.
Use me find me lose me use me again
in the spaces of the days
you live in.
What continents of meaning
sleeps in the naked word
in the crook of your arm
in the tangle of hair and feet
the heart roots
breathes in and out
of this room
we lie in.

- Glenda Burgess

This entry today might as well be titled "Courage," or perhaps "Second Chances." I settled on "Beginnings" to express the sense that who I am at this moment in time is not just a retread of who I used to be, doing old things in a new way, but someone refreshed from within, rebuilt in cellular layers by life and erosion, growth and design. To tell you I am me, but I am also a me I have not been before, about to embark on a new adventure.

Love in Middle Age! Friends, I am happy to share with you that I am engaged to be married. In love. And that is no small feat given the life journey that has been mine, my love's, or for that matter any old soul among us that has made it thus far by luck or determination. Magic and bravery, kindness and fortune, destiny perhaps, and a dash of boldness... All the spices of life were required for one blind date arranged by mutual friends to become an affair of the heart. Limning the new green, a mid-story beginning for both. My sweetheart's name? Gregory. He is a physician with three grown boys. Added to my grown son and daughter, that gives us five between us. All are in the sciences (medicine or engineering) with the exception of me, lone Defender of Humanities in dinner debates. Vino Scrabble, playing words (real or convincing) fueled by imagination and wine, is hilarious and challenging with this crew.

Gregory and I stir up pretty spicy blends! Our votes cancel. Vegetarian meets carnivore. Twenty year old blood donor t-shirts versus the silk scarf. The pacifist and the hunter. The two of us are Greenacres to the max - cityscape versus country quiet. Chance and destiny. The Discovery Channel flips to Turner Classics. Hockey or MythBusters? Old wine dates the single malt. And it is so fun.

The nearly year and three-quarters it has taken to this moment, formalizing a growing relationship, is in itself an epic story. I promise you tales of the journey as we talk of adventure, reinvention, commitment, fear of loss, courage, independence, blending, solitary work, life lived loving. But for today, the word is beginnings: The instinct to move forward that dwells at the core of us all.
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