10 Years

10 years.

It’s been 10 years since my last Mother’s Day with my mother. It was a poignant day, as we both knew she was dying.

Sometime in April, her doctor called to say the chest X-ray showed a tumor on her lung. Maybe more than one; I don’t recall. 86 years old, she decided not to pursue treatment — surgery, chemo, or radiation — that would likely deplete her energy and reduce the quality of the remaining time she had.

I flew to Reno to spend Mother’s Day with her. We went to church, the first and only time I visited the small Baptist fellowship she faithfully attended. After, we lunched at Marie Callender’s. I don’t remember much else, except for the photo I took of her when we returned to her house, which I still considered home.


10 years later, her gaze still bores through me, as it did that day, expressing her equanimity facing the end of life. She was independent and strong, with a deep and abiding faith in her God, a satisfaction with her life — all the challenges notwithstanding.

I miss you, mom. Much has happened since you’ve departed, much that would fuel our endless emails and conversations. You have not been here to see your grandchildren pass through adolescence to become young adults. I wish you could have a conversation with each of them, listen to their dreams, and share your own life experience.

Robert Frost admonished us that life goes on. We do go on. Yet we can never truly fill the voids or heal the scars from the losses. Mother’s Day is a bittersweet reminder: a day of gratitude for all you did to build the foundation of my life, and a day of sadness that I can only touch you through the memories and distant echoes of your voice.

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Warmth of the sun

lawn in the sun

Sitting in the sun in the back yard, a cool breeze blowing across my face, hearing the rustle of the leaves overhead.

It’s not often that we allow ourselves a few minutes pause to absorb the warmth of the sun and hear the rhythm of the neighborhood: a few birds, cars braking at the stop sign down the hill, a distant lawn mower.

Mostly, we’re consumed by the need to be doing something — or feel like we’re doing something productive. It’s good to make a positive difference. Yet it’s nourishing to pause occasionally, allowing ourselves to feel the warmth from our nearest star, the coolness of a dry breeze, to hear the bird songs.

We need that perspective to give us meaning.

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Morning gratitude

Several years ago I started occasionally posting photos on various social media sites — Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest — using the heading “Morning Gratitude.” Usually a flower, sometimes a cloud formation, the shots are typically taken during my morning walk with Strudel, the family dog.

This act has become a habit, both an opportunity to cultivate the art of photography and develop a discipline to see and appreciate the world within which I move.

I recommend it as an intentional practice to step outside the oblivion of daily life and witness the subtle wonder of nature.

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A season of waiting

These weeks of March are taking a toll.
The spirit yearns for the snow to melt,
For green shoots and flowers to sprout from frozen ground,
For warm breezes to tickle sleeveless arms,
For the vast ocean to reveal the lost hopes of so many,
For signs that people can live in peace, with love,
For decisions made and new journeys begun.

May I have the presence to breathe, not fret,
To see possibility and hope,
To be grateful, even, for the waiting.

—Gary Lerude

Sunset on Route 3

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The last of a generation

It’s December 31, the last day of 2013. This also happens to be the day my mother was born in 1919.

Yet I’m not thinking about birthdays today. Just the opposite: death, specifically the passing of my mother’s generation. Tom Brokaw called this group the greatest generation and profiled their sacrifices and contributions to American society in his book titled the same.

After leaving home for college and to forge my career, I kept in touch with three of my mother’s friends, maintaining those links for decades. Mary Ann lived in Dublin (CA), Blanche in San Francisco, and Audrey lived in Colorado Springs until her husband died and her son transplanted her to Bend.

My efforts to stay connected weren’t much, usually a letter during the holidays that recapped news of the year, occasionally a call if I were in the area and had time before a flight. A few times, when my travel schedule permitted, we were able to have lunch or dinner.

My mother appreciated my effort, though I didn’t really do it for her. Although infrequent, my contacts rekindled fond memories from childhood.

Earlier this year I received a call with the news that Mary Ann had died. The last time I saw her was when she visited my mom, shortly before my mom’s death in 2006. They had gone to high school together, where they formed a life-long friendship. I don’t remember the last time I spoke with Mary Ann, probably sometime during 2012. I do recall the sound of her voice and how interested and supportive she always was.

Preparing to mail out this year’s holiday letters, I deleted Mary Ann from the mailing list. And I wondered about the others.

Googling San Francisco obituaries, I found the notice of Blanche’s death, last March. She was 95. The short obit described her as “an independent woman of indefatigable energy, always ready to do business.”

Indeed she was. I recall her infectious laugh and the energy that seemed to lift everyone in the room. I loved visiting her office on Geary Street, where I could look down from the windows to see the sights in Union Square, in the heart of San Francisco. My  first memory of Blanche was her trying to teach me how to play craps, rolling the dice on my kitchen floor. I was just 6 or 7.

Another entry deleted from the list, one less letter to mail.

Googling for obituaries in Bend revealed nothing. Relieved, I remembered that I had Audrey’s phone number and decided to call, realizing that I hadn’t spoken with her in over a year. A man answered the phone, which I thought might be her son Quentin.

“Is Audrey there?”

“I’m sorry. There’s no one by that name here.”

I verified that I had correctly dialed the number. Yes, he confirmed, but reiterated that no one named Audrey was associated with the number.

I’ll mail the letter and hope that it doesn’t come back “return to sender.”

Sadly, it seems that my living connections to this generation have nearly passed. Yet I do have the memories of the times we spent together and their influence upon my life. I can still vividly hear their voices. For that, I’m grateful.

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Welcoming summer

On this second day of summer, the family is scattered: Andrea back at Wheelock, Grant at work, Lori engaged in a project at El Colima this morning and then off to an afternoon wine tasting with her POT group (it’s not what you think).

Left alone, I decided to enjoy this gorgeous summer Saturday by hiking up Pitcher Mountain, a part of New Hampshire that I’ve not seen before. Once out of Nashua and Milford, the scenery was bucolic and the drive meditative. High clouds diffused the sun’s heat, the open sunroof circulated the still-cool air. I turned north out of Peterborough and, with hardly any traffic, made my way through Hancock, a quintessential New England town, and Stoddard, charming in its own way, to the parking area adjacent to the trailhead.

Had I known that the ninety minute drive would far exceed the 10 minute walk from trailhead to peak, I probably would have chosen another location. I’m glad I didn’t know. Despite the haze in the air, the views are amazing, and the setting provides perspective.

Sitting on a large granite rock at the peak, below the man made fire tower, I pulled out a little-used journal and put my thoughts to paper:

The view is expansive, yet hazy, as though pieces of the high clouds extend all the way to the ground. The undulating mountains extend all around, fully wooded except for one farm south and a lake to the east. A nice breeze keeps the sun’s warmth from being overbearing.

Why am I here? Why do I like to climb to the top?

Not really for the exercise, certainly not today given the surprisingly short walk.

Rather, it’s the view: the grandeur of the earth with an expansive 360° perspective. These granite rocks are timeless. The mountains underneath tell part of the story of the earth’s creation. Over millions of years, compared with under a hundred for me. This contrast provides a good dose of humility. And calm.

Life is all about perspective. And mountain peaks are a good source of that.

The undulating mountains

More photos from the hike here.

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A new year

Winter Limbs

When I was a kid, I wondered what it would be like to live to the year 2000, which seemed far, far in the future. What would my life be like? Where would I live? What type of job would I have?

I recalled those wonderings this morning, as I considered the first day of this new year. 2013. More than a decade beyond that childhood horizon. My early questions have long been answered. Yet, on the doorstep of a new year, I feel a sense that not all has been answered, a sense of the possibility for new direction, a sense of potential.

2012 was challenging for me. I began the year expecting I would be out of a job by summer. Fortunately, when summer did arrive, I had been offered a part-time position doing work I enjoyed, retaining critical benefits. The pace of the role was slower than the frenetic tempo I had lived with for years, allowing for reflection and actual enjoyment of the summer season.

Ironically, and so typical of the vagaries of corporate life, the CEO decided to merge two business units and, by the middle of the fall, I had a new boss — someone I knew from past lives, when both of us were at different companies — who wanted me back full time. The core of my role remains the same, yet is likely to evolve under this new management.

2012 was challenging, mentally much more than economically, as it turned out. I’m still processing the impact to my self esteem and self confidence of losing a significant leadership role. Without a clear understanding of what occurred and why, I’m trying to move beyond the need to write that narrative, to just accept what happened and move on.

While I’ve spent a lot of time pondering the negative, stepping off the treadmill provided time to reflect on what is important in my life. I’ve concluded this forced change is also a blessing. Approaching my 60th birthday, my perspective has shifted from career-take-all to seeking more balance, more simplicity, more time to explore my “one of these days” list, more time to give back.

Fueling my reflections, someone (I don’t recall the source) characterized three  stages of life: learning, earning, and returning. I’m definitely feeling the need to move from earning to returning. While not motivated literally by earning, my earning years have been consuming. My career in “high tech” has been a continuing series of time-driven challenges, typically doing something that hasn’t been done before, in a time that turns out to be too short, and usually costing more money than budgeted. The environment, especially for one motivated by the work, leaves scant time for other interests.

Forced to step off the treadmill, I lost the adrenalin rush and, through the withdrawal, came to see the corporate, market, and technical challenges repeating in an endless loop, year to year, decade to decade. Each success is replaced with a new challenge — as it should be. But at this point in my life, I want to step back from being consumed by the process.

I gave up New Year’s resolutions long ago. Yet it seems fitting to vest 2013 with the goal of a new framework for my living; not necessarily a totally new path or new direction, but at least more balance, more simplicity, more intention — in the spirit stated so well by Thoreau:

 …I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.


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The leaves from the last tree to ignore fall’s advance have fallen, hiding the green grass that had been raked clean of the other trees’ contributions. The gray skies of morning have passed. Blue skies overhead, sunshine now warms the afternoon.

Stepping into the house, my nose is embraced by the telltale aromas of Thanksgiving. Nothing like a turkey in the oven, joined by the stuffing and sweet potatoes.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, defined by family, feasting, gratitude — and always an undercurrent of sadness. Everything which makes me grateful reminds me of those who are not as fortunate, who face challenges that should be erased on this special day. If only.

And on this day of tradition, I remember those who should be here but aren’t: loved ones, no longer living, who shaped my life and gave so many Thanksgivings the fond memories I now carry.

At times, I can almost feel the transcendence of life, the deep connection that links me to our shared humanity. Thanksgiving usually provides a palpable moment or two, amidst the clatter of dishes and conversation.

The call comes to carve the turkey. Let the feasting begin. And may transcendence envelop us all.


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Stopping by a cemetery on Memorial Day

The cemetery is adjacent to a busy street, one of the  shopping arteries of the city. CVS and Walgreens pharmacies anchor the nearest street corners, and a Best Buy is just down the street. Driving by, you’d never see it. Perhaps you’d notice the small brick building, a one-room school house once. Today it would strike you as a storage shed of some sort.

Unless you parked and walked onto the grounds, you wouldn’t notice the trees, their calming shade, the creek that defines one border, or the obvious: the gravestones, most weather-worn to the point of being unreadable, a number tilting precariously, a few flat on the ground.

On this Memorial Day, a few are marked by small American flags, recognizing those who served the country. Fewer have a circular commemorative plaque. These souls amazingly served in the Revolutionary War, when this country was simply an untested idea, more a protest against an unfeeling and increasingly oppressive government across the ocean.

So much water has gone down this gurgling creek, under the peaceful shade of the trees, since these first veterans were laid to rest. Except for this singular spot, the quiet countryside has largely surrendered to a mercantile landscape. And many more veterans have followed the bodies buried under these gravestones, to maintain our liberty and allow the nation to polish this American dream.

Unfortunately, this process is never finished, neither honing the vision nor defending our liberty so we have the freedom to do so.

Simple words of thanks seem meager and shallow. Perhaps a few moments quietly reflecting in the shade of the trees, surrounded by these gravestones, will help me truly feel and appreciate the sacrifices made by so many — especially those who gave their lives. Sacrifices that allow me to live the life I do.


More photos of the cemetery here.

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