We did it! Last July, John and I took an amazing, long-awaited 2 1/2 week-long camping trip in Iceland to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary though we had to postpone the trip a year. (We took our 25th anniversary trip on our 27th anniversary. We seem to be getting into a pattern of delayed trips.) The delay, however, did give me time to do a lot of planning. I knew that we would not have a lot of room for food storage when camping and further, from what I read, we would not have a cooler large enough for ice. I also read that it was hard to get food in remote areas of Iceland. Iceland allows people to bring up to 3 kg of food into the country. So I did a lot of food dehydration and purchasing of powdered/shelf stable food. Behold, this is the 6 kg of food that John and I split between our luggage.

Dehydrated and powdered stuff including marinara “leather”, pulverized homemade hummus, and more. I also brought olive oil and balsamic vinegar so I wouldn’t have to buy a large amount in Iceland, which we wouldn’t be able to use up. We ended up eating about 2/3 of this food on the trip.


Departure and Arrival to Reykjavik.

We began our journey on July 10th with a 7 1/2 hour long overnight flight to Reykjavik. Visiting airports and being on a plane during the Covid-19 pandemic was stressful, even with both John and I vaccinated and wearing good masks. If I’d known how stressful it was going to be, I may not have gone. Given that all went well, it is probably better that I did not know. Although we did not get a view of Greenland from the plane (too cloudy), we’d been thrilled with a sight of the North Cascades and Baker Lake near the beginning of the trip, as we flew over our own state, Washington.

The North Cascades through the plane window. Oooooooh!



We arrived in Reykjavik, the capital and largest city in Iceland at about 6 am on July 11th. We picked up a rental car and drove into the city. Iceland’s total population is only about 350,000 so their big city is not so big. It is beautiful, however, with excellent restaurants and shops. When we arrived, their Covid rates were extremely low (zero) and they have a high vaccination rate. After walking around the city for several hours, we decided to eat at a restaurant, something we haven’t done in the U.S. since our 29th wedding anniversary in March 2020. Reykjavik is a great city for people like me, who have celiac disease and can’t eat gluten. Lots of restaurants label things, yay! We had an excellent brunch with beautiful, interesting, and tasty food, served on hand thrown plates! Here is one of my courses.

Look at the glaze on that plate! All of the plates at Kol restaurant were different and hand thrown. Oh yeah, the food was good, too!

Scenes from Reykjavik. The blurry sculpture in the top left is Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat, Magnús Tóma, 1994. There’s rye bread ice cream in John’s cup. He got it from Lokki Restaurant. John claims that it was good. The glass building is the beautiful concert hall, Harpa. The other photos are various scenes of the city, including an image of Bjork!

West Iceland

On the 12th, we started our camping adventure! We spent the day picking up a camper van we’d rented, learning how to use the wireless hotspot (it worked amazingly well all over the country), loading our luggage, and shopping for groceries. From the Bonus Grocery parking lot, we headed to West Iceland, ending up at the campground in Hellissandur, on the NW tip of the Snæfellsnes Penisula, which John and I quickly named, “Snuffleupagus Penisula” because Icelandic is hard and we grew up with Sesame Street. I used my dehydrated, powdered green curry paste, powdered fish sauce, dehydrated coconut milk and some of the groceries to make a tasty dinner of green curry chicken.

We encountered public art all over Iceland, even in a small fishing village like Hellisandur. Hellisandur is further known as the “Capital of Street Art” with over 30 murals. This sculpture overlooks the harbor. I am pretty sure that saw a fin of a pilot whale out there. Exciting!After spending our first night in the camper van during an Iceland summer (24 hours of daylight), we found that we did not need sleeping masks. We soon got used to sleeping with a little light peeking through the window curtains. We got up and had a breakfast of fruit, coffee, and skyr (Icelandic style yogurt, which is much like Greek yogurt except that in addition to being strained, it also includes vegetable rennet and is traditionally made with nonfat milk.) We checked our GPS and hit the road!

The beginning of our trip was one of the rainier parts of the trip. The rain in Iceland wasn’t heavy but with the wind, which is often blowing and at times, extremely hard, it soaks right through you. I learned after our first short walk of a little over a mile, that rain pants are to be worn at nearly all times. Even when it is not raining, wearing rain pants over my hiking pants was a good wind breaker. We also learned to check the wind forecast in addition to the rain forecast whenever checking the weather report. The high most days there was about 13 degrees Celsius, which is not that warm for summer. We do a lot of hiking in local alpine areas in Washington so we had lots of layers, which we packed. I never had to wear my long underwear but on many days, I wore my t-shirt, a light hoodie, a lightweight puffy coat, a raincoat, a wool hat, gloves, rain pants, hiking pants, wool socks, and waterproof hiking boots.

I learned the rain pants lesson on day 3 of the trip, driving around the Snæfellsnes Penisula. We stopped for a short hike to Djúpalónssandur Beach in Snæfellsjökull National Park. During the short hike back, it was raining sideways and little water needles of rain soaked my hiking pants in minutes. I took a couple of photos, because Iceland (!), and we hightailed it back to the camper van to change pants and put on a rain pants layer.

We continued along the highway to the much-photographed Kirkjufell Mountain and Kirkjufellsfoss (foss=waterfall). Apparently, this mountain figured prominently in seasons 6 and 7 of Game of Thrones. I’ll have to trust Wikipedia on that one. I’ve never watched the show. The rain and wind were still kicking up a storm so we stopped in the small parking lot for the site and waited for the weather to change, which it did, several times until it stopped raining. The wind still seems near gale force but we ventured out, cameras in hand. As the clouds were rolling by with impressive speed, I managed to capture the mountain, the waterfall, and a rainbow. Yay!

I hope you enjoy the photos! Next stop, the beautiful and remote Westfjords!

Kirkjufell Mountain, Kirjufellfoss, and rainbow!

Nancy Stordahl of Nancy’s Point has once again invited me to her summer blog hop. This year I am actually doing it! Here are Nancy’s questions and my answers:

1. Who are you? Tell us your genre, how long you’ve been at it, who or what inspires you or whatever you want us to know.

I am Elizabeth MacKenzie, a psychologist, wife, and mother who loves to make things, hike, take photos, and live live as authentically as I can. I started my blog in 2012, the day I was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. The blog started as a way to let my family know what I was doing and morphed into musings about life, death ( also had 2 heart attacks in 2017, due to a rare cause of heart disease), mindfulness, art, and travel.

2. What’s been your biggest blogging roadblock this year and did you come up with a way to get around it? (If you didn’t, that’s okay too. We’re here to support you.)

My biggest roadblock this year is that I just didn’t feel very motivated to write even in “these unprecedented times”! Basically, I wanted to want to write. Usually, ideas come to me when I am outside walking, something I do almost daily. During the Trump administration and throughout the pandemic, things have been different. It also occurs to me that another time ideas come to me is when I am working on ceramics and I was unable to do that for over a year due to our studio closure. I’ve just found a new studio for my husband and I to do work at and we’ve been members since about June. Stay tuned.

3. What’s something you accomplished with your blog this year that you’re proud of?
I may not have written much, but I’m still blogging after all of these years!

4. What are a couple of your best blogging tips?

I recommend that you write your blog to suit your goals. This is a personal blog and I am grateful that some enjoy reading my thoughts, learning about my life, and looking at my photos. I’m not a professional memoirist or social media writer. Consequently, I don’t edit my entries and frankly, I don’t even outline then. I typically start with an idea and see where it takes me. This means that entries have typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors. People keep reading so I figure that they are tolerable. Blasphemous, I know.

5. How do you handle negative feedback or comments?

An advantage of my relative obscurity is that I don’t get negative feedback about my blog. One exception was when someone said something negative about my then teen-aged daughter. I deleted the comment and didn’t let it show on my blog. It was very upsetting.

6. Share a link to a favorite post you’ve written RECENTLY (since last year’s challenge perhaps) that you want more people to read.

I wrote a post about grief exactly a year ago. It was the kind of post that I thought I might write more of during the pandemic. These are truly historic times for many reasons and we are all working our way through it. Here is the link.

I owe it to myself to write up a separate travel post on our epic trip to Iceland in July! I hope to do that this week. I have some days off and was planning to go through my photos again. In the meantime, here is a photo of an Arctic puffin, who I met on the Látrabjarg Cliffs in the Westfjords region of Iceland.

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Just now, I visited my blog. I was shocked to learn that it has been nearly five months since I wrote my last post. How long ago was that? It was, my friends, during the Trump administration. That period seems both very long and not long enough ago. I suspect that the Trump administration will always seem like not long enough ago.

It was also before my second covid vaccination. It was also before both of my mother’s covid vaccinations. On Easter, my mom will get her first hug in over a year from me, her fully vaccinated daughter. Today, she made her first trip in over a year, to the grocery store.

Tomorrow, I am getting my hair cut for the first time since August and before then, the most recent time was January 2020. In other words, I am getting my hair cut for the third time since the beginning of 2020.

Last week, I did a school observation for work, my first in over a year. I saw kindergarten students doing a good job masking, seated six feet apart, in the gym of their Catholic school. They played at recess, still masked, but like normal happy children. It was beautiful. Our public schools have been out for over a year. It is hard to trust the scientific advances since the beginning of the pandemic. I get it. But I see families on the edge of desperation in my psychology practice. I know that there are untold numbers of families who lack emotional, logistical, and economic resources to see me. I worry about those families a lot. Some of their members have died over the pandemic in quantities that exceed the numbers that we typically grieve and hold dear. Our children will have the opportunity to return to school if not already offered, next month, due to our governor’s emergency action. We will need to continue to be careful but it is good for kids to return to school and there are ways to balance the risks and benefits. There is never zero risk but that is a topic for another post.

At my work, I have been doing a combination of telehealth and in-person visits, the latter for testing procedures that cannot be done via telehealth. In my office, I take a lot of precautions, masking, handwashing, distancing, a true HEPA filter, and the door open to my outside balcony. I have a carbon dioxide filter and make sure that it shows lower than 600 ppm. I only schedule people when I know I will be the only one working at my office. Work is busy and currently, my earliest appointments are in late August. I continue to schedule according to my pandemic protocol, a combination of Zoom appointments in-person appointments. With the current rate of vaccination in my country, I may not have to do this once August comes. But I continue because the future in uncertain.

I have been in a holding pattern of pandemic life and I will continue to do so, to a certain extent, until its end. Many will suffer between now and then and for many suffering will continue. Suffering and loss are like that. This pandemic has been horrible and I have been among the ones least impacted.

For now, I will appreciate the fact that the northern hemisphere is still here after the winter of 2020/21, a winter that began with the Trump administration and ushered in the Biden administration.

Things are changing and in some important ways.

Be well, friends. Happy Easter.

-Elizabeth

Pulsatilla Vulgaris. European Pasque Flower.

A summer or two after my breast cancer diagnosis, we hosted a party for John’s work group. They had just finished up a big project and it was time to celebrate. His manager at the time, Hugh, arrived to the house with a bottle of nice red wine. It was not a typical hostess gift. He handed it to me and explained, “I was diagnosed with Hodkin’s Lymphoma many years ago. It took about 10 years until I didn’t think about it every day.” I am not explaining the context well, but it was a gracious gift of wine and comfort. I had been thinking of my breast cancer daily and it was reassuring to know that some day I would not.

It’s been about 8 1/2 years since I was diagnosed with and subsequently treated for breast cancer. I do think of it often, perhaps not daily. I’m not really sure how often I think about it and the thoughts I have, by and large, are not distressing. They are just there. The hearts attacks I had caused by SCAD occurred nearly 4 years ago. I don’t remember the last time I thought about having a rare heart condition every day. Oh wait, I remember, it was at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. I didn’t know whether SCAD put me in the medically vulnerable group. I was trying to make decisions about how I would run my psychology practice without putting myself, my family, or my patients at risk, while keeping my business afloat.

During the pandemic, there are few breaks in thinking about COVID-19. The hygiene and masking practices require a daily memory dance. My schedule is not the same every day. On most days, I work from home. When I go into the office to see a patient in-person (I do psychological testing and some parts of that must be done in-person), I wear different masks, a KN-95 with a friendlier cloth mask over it. When I get to my office, I go through my cleaning of high touch surfaces, turn on the HEPA filters, turn on my supplemental heater, and crack open the door to my outdoor balcony, to increase the airflow.

When I go to the grocery store, which I try to limit in frequency and length of time in there, I wear a cloth mask with a filter in the pocket. I check the My Covid Risk app from Brown Medical School about once per week to gauge the risk of my patient contact or trips to the store, both of which require being indoors with people outside of my household. So far, I am able to keep my activities in the “low risk” zone with the current rate of community spread. Nonetheless, based on the increase in cases over the fall, I decided to add a filter to my “running my errands” mask. When I go for walks, I make sure I bring a clean mask. My neighborhood is not crowded or busy but sometimes I need to put it on.

Disease and fear of disease can be a daily companion. On top of this, as I wrote in my last post, there is the daily companion of “What is Trump doing today? What will he do? We he do all of the things he is talking about doing?” Thankfully, he lost the election. However, there is a daily horror show put on by a minority of the government, which has a lot of power, to overturn the election. What. The. Hell.

Between my personal history of serious diseases, the pandemic, and the daily attempts to overturn democracy, it would be like having a life full of demonic house guests who will never leave. I’m not going to lie and tell you that I embrace my demons but I will tell you that they are not the only companions that I keep.

Every day there are thoughts, feelings, sights, sounds, tastes, interactions, and so much more to notice. Hundreds, thousands of things. All of them are real. I recently read Michael J. Fox’s latest autobiography, No Time Like the Future. I appreciate his writings and he is typically optimistic. Michael has faced some serious health challenges on top of Parkinson’s Disease. He took a long look at his mortality as well as his increasing dependence on others to get through basic aspects of daily life. A thought that has provided great comfort to him is “With gratitude, optimism is sustainable.”

Gratitude is the intentional act of noticing the positives, not just the big ones, but the little things, the daily companions. They are also the company I keep.

Be well, friends.

-Elizabeth



High Rock Lookout, September 2020. It was scary at the top, all huge boulders instead of trail. But I made it!

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was a Swiss-American psychiatrist who developed a stage-model of grieving, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The original model was developed in the 1960’s and over time, she refined it, noting that not everyone goes through the stages and that further, the stages are not in sequence, and finally, a person can be in a stage more than once during a grief process. A wisdom that comes with life experience is that grief can at times, span over decades.

Much has been written about grief in the breast cancer community, for example, whether cancer is a “gift”, whether one can “move on” from grief, whether cancer can be a “battle”, and whether cancer is simply, 100% bad, pitch dark without the tiniest sliver of light. I propose that the experience of having cancer can be all of these things, not to all people, but sometimes, even to the same person, at different times. One problem occurs when someone tries to define grief for another. Another problem is when the grief state interferes with important treatment decisions, for example, people who believe that they do not need cancer treatment other than positive thinking or dietary changes. Maybe they are incapacitated by fear and depression and don’t take any action at all. Humans are social animals. We depend on each other emotionally and instrumentally. We don’t want a loved one to die through unclear thinking even if the grief, the denial, the anger, the depression, are understandable.

2020 has left a great many in the world in grief about the COVID-19 pandemic. Getting the disease involves loss as does trying to prevent the disease. We’ve lost people, jobs, contact with friends and family, and the freedom to travel. In the U.S., we have a president with questionable legitimacy, unquestionable incompetence in leadership in respect to the pandemic, clear hatred for oppressed groups, who has made repeated statements that he may not leave office, if defeated by former Vice-President Biden in the next presidential election, which occurs in less than two months.

The pandemic has impacted the safety of voting in-person. For those of you outside of the U.S., states have different laws about how voting happens. In my state, for example, voting is done by sending ballots to the county election office through the mail or through secure ballot boxes. Other states allow in-person, by mail, or early voting options. Some states allow ballots to be mailed but not put in ballot boxes. The president is trying to undermine the safety of the U.S. Postal Service by trying to 1) get rid of it (it is part of Constitution so hard to pull off), 2) make it dysfunctional, 3) telling everyone that mail-in voting is fraudulent, though that’s the way he and his family vote, and 4) telling people to vote by mail and also in-person, which actually is a felony a) to tell people to do that and b) to attempt to vote twice.

Meanwhile, and not unrelated, between late May and the end of August, there have been nearly 8,000 demonstrations related to the Black Lives Matter movement in this country, not counting ones that have been held in other nations. Although by last credible estimates, 93% of these protests have been non-violent, the president and his supporters have painted a picture of mayhem in Democratic-majority cities, including my own, Seattle, WA. And oh yeah, the climate crisis did not stop during this time. There have been wildfires, severe weather crises, all the while, especially during the summer.

We are all grieving, too. This election has potentially dire consequences and not everyone agrees as to what candidate’s election would create those dire consequences. We are united as a nation, however, that our way of life will be lost, if our desired candidate loses.

Up is down. Down is up. The U.S. is a shit show and this shit has stages, too. “My shit doesn’t stink” is denial. “Shit storm” is anger. “My life is shit” is depression. “Shit got real” is acceptance.

After Dr. Kubler-Ross died, David Kessler, also a grief expert, colleague and friend, released the book they had co-authored together, On Grief and Grieving. In 2019, he published a book on the 6th stage of grief, meaning.

Meaning is made. Meaning is constructed and re-constructive. Meaning is “the shit”. Speaking for myself, my life, even now, has something beyond the the sadness, the fear, the pain, the anger, and the suffering. My life has the meaning of now, it has the meaning of my breath, and it has the meaning of my determination. It has action. I heard the singer and actor Janelle Monae interviewed recently. She was asked if she had hope. “I have action. Action is my love language.”

May action be your love language as well as mine.

About ten years ago, a friend went through successful treatment for a cancerous tumor on his tongue. He was not yet 40 and the treatment was horrendous. In addition to radiation treatment, part of his tongue was removed and reconstructed from his other tissue. One of the short-term side effects of treatment was that he lost his sense of taste. He also had to eat a liquid diet so his food also lacked texture. The preparation of all of his meals ended with a trip to the blender.

He has recounted to me at least a few times, the day he experienced, “the most flavorful” meal he had experienced for a long time, as his sense of taste began to return. It was a salmon meal I had made and brought to him, his wife, and his then young son. And yes, it had been prepared in a blender.

A salmon smoothie sounds like a really bad idea. It sounds like it would taste terrible. But as was regaining a lost sense, he noticed what he had gained rather than the fact that it did not taste like salmon he’d enjoyed before cancer.

Eight years ago, when I went through cancer treatment, so much changed in so little time. One of the changes is that I spent the summer, a glorious Seattle summer, in and out of surgery. There was no hiking or camping that summer. However, the following summer was an absolute delight. I hiked. I camped. I’d enjoyed it before, very much so, but I felt a keen sense of joy after the previous summer. The experience was dialed up in intensity.

And now, along with the rest of the world, I find life having changed all at once. We have all lost something in this pandemic. It has been challenging for us all. For some of us, it is harrowing. Fortunately, I am healthy and I am not forced to work in dangerous situations. My family and friends are healthy. I am not so worried about potential death. Yes, it could happen, but it is likely that I will be alive when the COVID-19 pandemic is ended by effective treatment and a vaccine.

I am allowing myself to wonder about what it will be like to savor the experiences that I will again have, to venture about the world more freely. I think about the first time I will be able to give my mom a hug again.

The waiting is hard but the waiting is necessary.

Be well,

Elizabeth

And I don’t need any of this. I don’t need this stuff, and I don’t need you. I don’t need anything except this. And that’s it and that’s the only thing I need, is this. I don’t need this or this. Just this ashtray. And this paddle game, the ashtray and the paddle game and that’s all I need. And this remote control. The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that’s all I need. And these matches. The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control and the paddle ball. And this lamp. The ashtray, this paddle game and the remote control and the lamp and that’s all I need. And that’s all I need too. I don’t need one other thing, not one – I need this. The paddle game, and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches, for sure. And this. And that’s all I need. The ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, this magazine and the chair.
-Navin (played by Steve Martin),  The Jerk.

So much has changed for all of us in an astonishingly short amount of time. In the U.S., we’ve watched a wave flow across the globe. A trickle of newspaper stories turned into a deluge. A suburb north of my city, Seattle, Washington, a nursing home, was hit first. My brother teaches at a high school, down the street from the nursing home. Late last month, we decided that he should not visit our mother, who is 85-years-old. Another brother, who is married to a flight attendant, decided the same. I stopped visiting in person, as well. Mom is in good health and we want to keep it that way.

You have no doubt seen the buying frenzy of paper goods and disinfecting products. My husband, who typically does minimal grocery shopping, brought home survival food, on two separate occasions, less than one week apart. I learned that Spam, something I have maybe eaten once or twice in my life, is an essential tool for survival. I asked John to stop going to the grocery store. We argued about it for a bit and then it dawned on both of us that it might be more effective to actually look at what we had. By the time we’d reviewed our pantry, refrigerator, freezer, my homemade dehydrated backpacking/hiking meals, the food that he’d bought, and our stash of non-perishable food for emergencies (we live in earthquake territory), he estimated that we had enough food for approximately 72 days, not counting the approximately 30 pints of homemade preserves I have on my canning shelves. An overly sweet existence, but we would eat for another couple of weeks, without buying another single bit of food.

To be fair, I’d also been stocking up on items, just different ones. I had an irrational fear of running out of fresh vegetables and fruit. I still keep a good eye on my canned tomato, chicken broth, and dried bean supply. I have been making and dehydrating chili and soups. I hope that I will be using it for backpacking and camping, which is why I started using a dehydrator in the first place.  I had a rational fear of not having enough cleaning supplies for my psychology office, where up until a few days ago, I saw patients. Every morning, I had been disinfecting all “high touch” surfaces, light switches, thermostat knobs, door knobs, table tops, desk tops, pencils, pens, the control buttons on my office equipment, my cell phone, my cell phone charging stand, and all surfaces of my laptop computer.

I worry about my business. 80% of it is doing psychological testing, which has to be done in person. Last Monday at 11:00 am, right after testing a young teen, the Governor of my state made an emergency order and recommended a minimum of 6 feet distance (a bit less than 2 meter) between people who do not live in the same household. There’s no way for me to do that. On top of that, with having had SCAD, I have a rare heart disease of unknown origin. Who knows how my body would react to COVID-19? By noon, I had cancelled the rest of my scheduled testing patients and transitioned the rest of my business to telehealth, from my home. I knew that in two weeks, once I finished up all of my remaining report writing, my income would drop about 80% for who knows how long.

Two days later, I took my first virtual yoga class, from my favorite yoga teacher, Aubrey. She is calling the class, “Zoom Sangha yoga”. “Sangha” is a Sanskrit word for “community”. It was so nice to see everyone’s familiar faces to to practice yoga together. Yoga ends with a meditation. As I listened to the sound of my breath, I thought, “I have all that I need, in this moment.”

In this moment, as I write this, I have all that I need. I have my breath. I have my mind. I have my family. I have friends. I have shelter. I have clean water and good food. I have the nearby woods in which to walk. Not all moments are like this but right now it is.

I wish you many moments of having all that you need.

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Yesterday, John and I returned from a winter adventure in Arizona. For most of the trip, we hiked in beautiful Sedona. On the last full day of our trip, we drove to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and the only one in the U.S. Between the other-worldly wonder and the briefness of our visit, five hours, it was like a dream by the next morning.

The dream is settling into the reality that I was there and the memories and musings have built up to this bit of writing. When I was a girl, I learned that the Grand Canyon was formed by erosion from the Colorado River, which still flows thousands of feet below the rim of the canyon. When John and I looked at the canyon, we mused aloud, “There’s no way that little river could have made this.” I questioned my memory of my elementary school teachings and possibly, the quality of my public education. I hypothesized that the river must have been much wider and then dwindled in flow bit by bit until it’s current width. Then we got re-educated at the Geology Museum at the park. “The Colorado River has been the same width for the last 5 million years.” The river’s path caused fissures, which led to further erosion by the river’s tributaries. (Or something to that event. The Grand Canyon was right next to me. Turning away from it to read the additional explanation of how it got so wide was lower priority.) The canyon was described as perhaps the best example of the power of erosion in the world.

The primary reason for the Grand Canyon is stream of water that ground away at the strata of rock for 5 million years and counting. That erosion, the gradual diminishing of land, is considered, rightly so, one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

Loss is such tricky business, whether it occurs slowly, like the Grand Canyon, or more suddenly through the plate movements that created volcanoes and earthquakes in my native Washington State. There is loss of life, habitat, and the literal earth under our feet. And yet there is great beauty. I stand in awe at the power of Earth, at what she can do, all by herself, and instead of feeling frightened, I feel more connected. Yes, I will die. Yes, things will change. But there is a larger context that holds my little life, which is part of the great wonder. Then I am distracted by the beauty and I stop thinking about myself and my mortality.

Loss, as we all know, can cause trauma and grief. It can develop slowly or all at once. There have been much written about it and loss is generally perceived as negative, and often it is. But loss is much more than that, even the really sad losses. John and I have been listening to the podcast, Dolly Parton’s America. (Click on the link after you’ve read this post and you will not be disappointed.) One of the episodes is about how she ended her business partnership with Porter Waggoner. He had helped make her a star but over the years, he was working against her, possessive of her talent, and envious of her building success. When she left she felt “a sad freedom.” That’s acceptance in three words.

Loss can be an education, an acceptance of a reality and the loss of a reality that is no longer or never was true. Loss can whittle away what we want but don’t really need. Like Southwestern ceramic artists have done for centuries, loss can be intentional through the use of a stone to burnish a pot to gleaming black.

Loss can hurt and devastate. It can illuminate, teach, and result in greater wisdom. Holding these truths at once can elicit a sad freedom, joy, awe, anger, and every possible experience in the mindful moments of life.

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Diane and I met over seven years ago. We went through breast cancer treatment at about the same time and we both blogged about it. We’ve stayed in touch through social media. Yesterday, we met face-to-face, for the first time.

That’s the short version of the story. The larger truth is that Diane and I joined a group of breast cancer bloggers who provided and continue to provide much needed connection, understanding, thoughtfulness, compassion, joy, and humor during the most vivid technicolor aspects of our lives from the traumatic, the ridiculous, the ecstatic, the sublime, and all of the places in between.

Some of us from that original group are still connected either through continued blogging or interaction on social media. Some of us have died in the past seven years from metastatic (stage IV) cancer. Others have left social media for reasons, perhaps, related to the progression of disease. Quite a few of us don’t blog anymore or like myself, write much less frequently, and when I do write, it is usually no longer about breast cancer.

Diane lives in Florida now. She traveled to Seattle to pick up a new Golden Retriever puppy, who she has named, Yukon. Those of you who know Diane, know about what her dogs mean to her, how much she loves them and her talents in training them to be prize winning bird dogs. As of this writing, Diane is still traveling around the area before she picks up Yukon.

Diane and I both love the outdoors, so last Wednesday, the day of our meeting, was spent hiking in Mt. Rainier National Park. We had great conversations during the four hour round trip of driving, as well as during the hike itself. Diane is a skilled photographer. This is something I knew about her. What I didn’t know is that she has studied visual arts pretty seriously. I learned a lot from her on the hike. She shared her knowledge of composition and photographic technique. Diane loves to take photos, as do I. It was so wonderful to share our love of photography as well as our love of nature.

Diane and I had a daylong conversation with easy-back-and-forth. Speaking for myself, I felt not even one moment of awkwardness. We had a wonderful time. I’ve long admired Diane’s tenacity, humor, generosity, no nonsense honesty, and intelligence. I admire her even more now that I’ve learned more about her and had the privilege of sharing a day in the mountains on a truly glorious fall day.

There is something really special about these cyber relationships. We’ve had years of supporting each other and cheering on each other’s health and happiness. I am really happy to have Diane as a friend as well as to have the love and support of this community.

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Last week, part of my family and I cruised to Alaska and back. It was my brother, John’s idea. My mom has long wanted to go to Alaska and my dad did not want to go while he was alive. So on 8/31, the five of us, John, his wife, my John, and Mom, boarded a big cruise ship in Seattle, bound for Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, and Victoria, BC.

Going on a cruise is not something I’m naturally inclined to do. It sounds like a lot of time on a boat with not a lot of time to explore the land. But this was a way for a group of us to travel and an Alaska cruise is rather scenic from the boat. Like Mom, I had not been to Alaska so I was very excited for the trip, as well.

I was less excited for the gambling, games, shows, formal nights, and selling (auctions, jewelry shows, etc) on the cruise. Nonetheless, some things sounded like they might possibly be a little fun, so I did some of them. And I didn’t just watch, I participated. I found that team trivia games were silly but really fun, even if it meant doing the YMCA dance in front of an audience. (Actually, that was extra fun.) It was fun to dress up for formal nights. Not having to cook for a week was really fun. I managed to eat well without blowing my fitness plan. Speaking of fitness, the treadmills faced the ocean and nearly every time I worked out, which was almost daily, I saw humpback whales.

My mom sang karaoke. Even with what my friend, Charlie, aptly described as “cheesy accompaniment”, she sang like the accomplished singer of 79 years that she is. She got some nice compliments from other people on the cruise, even a couple of days later, when we were in Victoria, BC. A woman gave her a hug, “You have a gift!” Finally, when given the invitation to join a group of dancers from the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian tribes, I accepted it. It was a lovely experience to connect with other people, sharing their culture. One of the dancers was a one-year-old, Kayla. She was a little marvel. Not only did she sing, dance, and play a drum (with a few breaks to act her age), but her mother explained to us that Kayla is an accomplished learner of Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian.

In addition to singing, which is something my mom does every week at church, she had a return to hiking. My parents were avid hikers and campers until my dad’s Parkinson’s disease got the better of his mobility and balance, when he was about 81. When we were at Mendenhall Glacier, located on the edge of Tongass National Forest, near Juneau, Mom decided that she wanted to do the 2 mile hike to Nugget Falls. John had suggested it but misread the sign, thinking it was a .3 mile walk. I protested, he didn’t get my concern so I dropped it. I didn’t think Mom could do it but she wanted to try and I said to myself, “Shut your pie hole. Mom is the captain of her own ship.” It took awhile but we all made it there in back despite the steady rain. Mom had really missed nature walks and was thrilled. I noticed that she was walking faster the next morning and she explained, “I got broken in.”

A consequence of my mindfulness practice is that I enjoy things more because I worry less about things that are not really important. I used to avoid doing things that I wanted to do because I was wrapped up in self-consciousness. I was holding myself from participation when the worst that could happen was embarrassment.

Throughout the cruise I thought to myself, “carpe diem”. I had a fantastic time and I was gobsmacked by the beauty. The rain did not ruin Juneau. We had a good time, anyway. Glacier Bay National Park/Reserve had stunningly sunny weather. It was like being in another world. But I had gotten there starting with the Puget Sound bordering my own city, following the Salish Sea and the Pacific Ocean north to Glacier Bay. I felt connected to that beautiful land by a common thread of saltwater. I was thrilled by the awe of the fellow passengers. People were stunned and gobsmacked by the beauty, even the man who wore his MAGA hat each day. I saw him sitting at a table for hours, watching the sea and the landscape with his binoculars. It reminded me of our share human connection. Just that reminder, alone, gave me some comfort in these challenging times.

As I’ve written before, I sometimes wish I could coast or cruise through life. It is just a fantasy. But cruises, literally and figuratively, happen. I intend to participate.

Peace, friends.

-Elizabeth

Mom brought Dad on the cruise so he wouldn’t miss out.

Juneau: Nugget Falls and Mendenhall Glacier. We saw lots of orca and humpbacks on our whale watching tour that day, too, but I tend to just watch instead of take photos with animals.

 

Mom and I looking snazzy for one of the formal nights. (My blogging friends may recognize my dress from my 25th wedding anniversary from four years ago. Like the comedian Tiffany Haddish and her white formal, I will wear a good dress every time the opportunity presents itself.) Note: I’m not sure why this photo is so big. Oh well, fun with technology.

Skagway and Haines. We saw four bear! For extra credit, try to spot the brown bear who is blending in with her surrounding.

Was Glacier Bay really this beautiful? No, it was one million times prettier!

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Saxman Village, Ketchikan.

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