Oh tubby me — oh!

The tune for this blog name goes along with the fine and impressive aria O sole mio.

As a token of my appreciation of the new ear worm in my head, I give you, for three minutes and twenty one seconds, Signor Luciano Pavarotti, no twiggy build himself.

My unexpected area of focus on the day of my breast cancer surgery (June 13) was — embarrassingly — my weight.  A scale in the surgical prep area was the first one in a dozen years that I’ve been able to stand on, crutches and braces along for the ride.  It had a broad, non wobbly base and a strong railing around it.

My moments on the device disclosed that I am some twenty pounds heavier than I thought I was.  Er… pretended I thought I was, if we are being honest.  And what would be the point of fibbing to my blog?

Photos taken of me on such occasions as my daughter’s wedding and a pleasant trip to Fresno’s Japanese Garden gave me to speculate that I might be reaching more of a barrel shape than the woman shape I previously thought I had.  The surface mind poo poo-ed the notion that these images depicted the actual Emily.

The Inner Emily, nonetheless, was deep into panic mode.  Because, well, how DOES one shed weight when so many hours a day are spent in a lovely power wheelchair?

Here, for your studious picturing of me lounging around in my upcoming new, attitude-laden wheelchair is the manufacturer’s image of it and its capabilities:

Quantum Tru-Balance 3 Edge 2.0



Twenty pounds is a great deal of extra personal real estate for a very short person to cart around.

me in the recovery room
Here I lie in the recovery room, groggy and fuming…  Feeling like a dirigible.  My daughter took the photo.

Thus about the time I groggily noticed that the world was still there as the anesthesia wore off my mind began plotting means of dropping the excess Me.

The problem has not been that I eat too much.  My vegetarian diet has included almost no refined grains, little fat or sugar, lots of fruit and veggies, for years.   So maybe there’s been rather too much cheese, but who was counting?

Never slim because that’s not my body type, with or without the polio, my okay weight began shifting into bad three and a half years ago when my shoulders started with severe issues.  The doctor thought this would be either rotator cuff injuries or the wear and tear of walking around with wooden crutches for sixty five years.  Or both.  Didn’t make any difference to me what the cause was — I was, due to the incapacitated shoulders, quite unable to push myself up into the cab of my faithful pickup truck and get myself to an Albuquerque medical center for an MRI.

So I pampered the shoulders for a few months until they stopped with the hurting.  However, once recovered they were weak and unable to bear much weight.  Or allow me to walk around for long before my arms would start to go numb.

That sort of thing took away much of my ability to do things like yard work that had once given me pretty good workouts.  Less walking around is an obvious calorie enhancing activity.

So here I am.

For now I am doing the Dr. Fuhrman Eat to Live diet, which helped in the past when I also wasn’t equal to much exercise.   It’s vegan, with very little fat or sugar, tons of veggies fresh and cooked, plenty of fruit.  Legumes, a few nuts and such are encouraged.

I’ve been at it for over a week now and my clothes feel slightly looser.  Wahoo!

Meantime, Fresno temperatures have been in the range of 108º for days, rather quelling even the dogs’ enthusiasm for outdoor exercise.  But we have managed to record a few of the lovely flowers and trees around us.  Very healing enhancing, these lovely things are.

On being a polio survivor finding new ways to travel, and live

No photo possible as we whizzed along the road, so here is my rendition of the slightly tattered Bald Eagle who flew straight at us across golden hills.  This is, a long time area birder friend told me, an unusual place for this bird to appear.  We were a bit south of Stanford.  Drawing by Emily A. Lee


A reason exists behind each thing that happens, though two people seeing the same event side by side may have two very different ideas about the reason.  At the moment I’m talking about subjective interpretations of natural events.

Perhaps half buried associations trigger such interpretations?

Like my father I tend to react in certain ways when seeing particular birds and animals.  Bobwhite quail meant things were okay when he was worried about someone.  Blue herons flying close by suggest the same thing to me.  Bears convey the sense of earth based strength, and so on.

But eagles?  In the places I’ve lived they have never been common enough to bring a strong intuitive sense apart from amazement.  Thus when a gorgeous, if slightly tattered, Bald Eagle suddenly flew from golden hills towards our car on the highway I was stunned.  In a good way.

For nearly three months now the peninsula south of San Francisco has been home.  Time for exploration is limited since my chauffeur — my daughter — works during the week and has frequent obligations on weekends and evenings.

Which doesn’t prevent me from longing to get out and discover what kinds of things the now wheelchair-bound me can expect to do:

In case I either do or do not get another vehicle to carry a power chair around in.

In case the decision is that I can or cannot afford a wheelchair van.

In case the part of me that wants to reduce my carbon footprint determines that I will live with no van or car at all.  Whatever the wheelchair situation.

The oddball thought — I feel so incomplete without a set of car keys to carry around that I don’t know what to do with my the two building keys.

Visits to the theatre in San Jose, with friends, to Baha’i events in several of the city’s wonderful parks — full of huge, glorious trees and lots of grey squirrels — began the exploration.  Easy enough to get to such places with a manual wheelchair tossed in the back of Jericha’s little Mazda, and her pushing me around much of the time.

Tall regal palms lining streets once again take my breath away.  What fun it would be to spend days on end just driving around.

But…  This section of California is replete with magnificent places to explore, many of which need better mobility than a manual wheelchair provides.  It seemed wise to check out a few spots for wheelchair friendliness.  A way to focus down on what to do about all these glorious things around that I cannot get to alone, any more.

There is, after all, so very much of California, could it be possible to content myself with seeing small bits of it here and there, as another person’s schedule allows?

Lesser experiences have been conducive to creativity for some people.  Creativity is at the heart of life, to me.

The fact is that my introspections the last couple of months have been stale due to so much time at home, awaiting power wheelchair repairs.  Elf and Opus are dogs who love their outside activities dearly, but who are old enough to also enjoy snoozing gently alongside me.  We get along well.

I’ve been realizing what a major driver of my life’s big changes the accidental encounter with the polio virus at the age of five — at exactly this time of year, back in 1953 — has been.

It’s not easy to look back over the years, the stages of life, when this thing has pushed my earthly life in a direction that otherwise would not have been my choice.  But, I remind myself, there is probably no other person of my age — 68 — who can say much different about their own lives, although the drivers may be dissimilar.

Now there’s no reason to fool myself, it’s important to be clear on how I’ve ended up as I am.   Not to explore excuses or shuffle perceived failures off as though they’d happened to me, rather than me being involved in causing them to begin with.  At least partly.  One can bring failures  (and, happily, good things) on oneself by merely thinking a bit more about them than the opposite set of possibilities. In assessing what happened, later, allow that not every intention you set is going to work out.  This is how we learn…  Failures needn’t go down as such when reviewed.

Meanwhile — off we drove, pottering around the Googleplex, a city in itself.   Also endowed with abundant magnificent trees.  Building after building, in glass with concrete or stone.  The style tells you they’re together despite how far-flung they are, how separated by wooded swaths.

It’s the empire that search built, the urge to discover things comfortably at the kitchen table or in an office, minus the need to haul heavy books around.  In the mid-1990s Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who met while at Stanford, teased out a particular binary method of fulfilling that drive for faster information. In 1999 they plunked their fledgling operation down in Mountain View, a little city that has been going out of its way to welcome silicon semiconductor technology  (and its many offshoots) since the 1950s.

The very name of Google is a tribute to the mathematics that contributes to refined searches.  (A googol is the number 1 followed by a hundred zeros.  Binary.)

Colorful bicycles sit in racks every couple of blocks, waiting for employees or visitors to grab one and tour the area.  Google — or is it Alphabet?  owns much of the land between US 101 and San Francisco Bay in Mountain View.  Lots of sidewalks to roll around in any kind of wheelchair — though Google’s far-flung headquarters are readily explored by car until one has reason to lunch with a friend who works in one of those buildings.

Google is friendly towards its neighbors.  My daughter and others were able to gather a Baha’i youth group in one of its buildings regularly for evenings of music making — instruments were already there.

Curious  about how the company/ies will handle the name change?  We rolled around the campus without ever seeing an Alphabet sign.  The familiar Google logo is everywhere, in the trademark colors.

Next to Google is Shoreline Park,  700 acres along the southern San Francisco Bay. It’s built on a former landfill for that city’s rubbish.  At present sailboats ply the bay while scores of visitors  bring gear for windsurfing or kayaking.  For me the primo attraction is birdwatching.  We didn’t do any of that during our short time there, but I discovered that there are lots of paved paths along the shore, accessible to either manual chair — with a robust person to do some of the pushing — or the power chair, which would get me  further.  Without a workout for my companion.

Another time we toured Stanford’s campus and downtown Palo Alto.  Stanford for its history and current status as one of the world’s great universities, the downtown for its peculiar style that ranges between eclectic and fusty.  A famous ice cream sandwich shop that serves up products out sizing than the biggest burger I could think of.  There’s  an art museum at Stanford for a later visit with either type of wheelchair.  The place is pleasant…  Amongst all those  big trees.

Though by choice I now live in a city, I’m an outdoor person at heart, so it’s taking a while to feel grounded in this new place.  Getting out to study birds and other wildlife, the golden hills, mountains and native trees is important to my psyche.

All the more in this period of strident national divisions, and an election that is like a carnival of meanness.

A full complement of raucous crows and  bright hummingbirds flit around these condos.  Crows wake me up at dawn, hollering their opinions from a roof across the way.  Feisty hummingbirds challenge one another ferociously for balcony feeders.

Touching on the matter of California’s magnificent array of trees, the fearful drought that’s gripped the state for a few years now is affecting them.  Frightful wildfires go on in other parts of the state with the big Grizzly Bear on its flag.

None here, which is a very good thing, if you study the trees, with their die offs.  We spot stands of pines — different varieties , but each dying groups seem to be of the same species amongst others— either yellowing or bare down to pitiful skeletons.  Some of these tower so high and spread out so far that I wonder how they can be removed without harm to nearby homes, businesses and power lines.

So yes, the big drought is affecting this area, right in my face.  A sobering observation during our tours.

Bringing these various thoughts into coherence for me was that one bird, the large and unmistakeable one, who flew straight at us over richly gold colored hills — the Bald Eagle.

Right at that moment I knew that I am in the right place.  Eagle is a spirit between the heavens and humans on earth, amongst some Native Americans.  To nearly anyone Eagle seems the symbol of avian power.

To me the startling appearance just then meant “You make what you will of this thing, your life, in your own different way.  You are not alone.”

I’d like to share with you couple of wise quotations helping my thinking along at present:

“O SON OF MAN! My calamity is My providence, outwardly it is fire and vengeance, but inwardly it is light and mercy. Hasten thereunto that thou mayest become an eternal light and an immortal spirit. This is My command unto thee, do thou observe it.”

~The Hidden Words

Question. — Is man a free agent in all his actions, or is he compelled and constrained?

Answer. — This question is one of the most important and abstruse of divine problems. If God wills, another day,…. we will undertake the explanation of this subject in detail; now we will explain it briefly, in a few words, as follows. Some things are subject to the free will of man, such as justice, equity, tyranny and injustice, in other words, good and evil actions; it is evident and clear that these actions are, for the most part, left to the will of man. But there are certain things to which man is forced and compelled, such as sleep, death, sickness, decline of power, injuries and misfortunes; these are not subject to the will of man, and he is not responsible for them, for he is compelled to endure them. But in the choice of good and bad actions he is free, and he commits them according to his own will.

Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions (Wilmette: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1987 Edition). p. 248. E-text from Ocean Library, http://www.bahai-education.org

Polio blogs 5: In which my reintegration into life lurches along

When Boston’s Children’s Hospital deposited me and my small bag of belongings onto the  sidewalk with my mother I was about to leave a place where all the other kids had handicaps like mine, and the adults had the job of equipping us to get around in our new state of paralysis.

Nobody asked questions about “What happened to you?” or “How come you can’t walk right?”  Everybody knew and everybody had their own stories.  We were equal opportunity story tellers.

These were pre-highway days, when this thirty mile trip was bumpy and twisty — perfect conditions to induce car sickness.  As my mother piloted our way home in an old black Pontiac through Boston’s twisty streets, then out onto state roads where the speed limit was no more than 40 mph, I sat beside her, being not-so-quietly upset.  In between bouts of retching I looked at the various homes and small businesses we passed, feeling entirely ready to set out on my own changed terms.  If my stomach would just behave with all the stops and starts, my mother’s uneven foot on the gas pedal.

Too bad I couldn’t get into the back seat of the two-door sedan.  I would have been less carsick there.  And too bad for my hungry mother, who had missed breakfast and wanted to stop at a shiny silver diner for a tuna sandwich.  “No, NO!” I screeched at the sight of the parking lot.  The thought of food smells was intolerable.  The poor woman went on with her long fast a good while more.

Now the memory is almost surreal.  Us in the ancient two door Pontiac, Mother bravely coaxing the best performance out of it that she could, this tiny, noisy me beside her clutching a bowl to my chest.  It should have been a joyful occasion.  Maybe it was, on some level, but her nervous driving and hungry, brain fogged condition coupled with my stomach upset and imperious behavior suggest, now, several excellent reasons why she was so happy once I’d grown up.

In looking back I’m struck by how different a six-year-old’s views are from those of my current age group — the folks with silvery hair and lots of crinkles in their faces.  Or maybe not so different for some of us.   The only thing I feared then was getting carsick again. Now I’d probably fuss about how people would react to my new status as a mobility challenged individual.  Or — more likely — I’d just want lunch.  Having conquered car sickness.

It wasn’t long before I learned the respect of dry, dust free floors, how much safer they were for wooden crutches than floors with slippery things on them.  It wasn’t long before I learned how to pick myself up via chairs with my new, rigid legs in the metal braces that you couldn’t bend when you were standing, or trying to.  And it wasn’t long before I got tired of displaying my latest black and blues from my various splats to the floor.

For outdoor exercise it was now my job to plod, in a wobbly way, down the street where I had formerly flown, leaving my slower grandmother behind.  Now she was speeding ahead of me, frequently pausing to let me catch up.  Donny simply ran circles around and around us.  Back and forth, ahead and behind.  Up and down the hilly spots — daring me to follow him.

Barking dogs and vicious ones were something I had to learn to handle, there was no getting away from them.  Somebody’s big grey goose waddled through a fence to bite me.

I took the whole thing as it came, figuring that I just had to get the walking thing under control and the good adventures would recommence.  Don’t look at the dogs, keep plodding.  Imagine fresh goose eggs, or roast goose for dinner…

Happen they did, speedily, since the hospital had released me soon before I was due to start first grade in the town’s elementary school.  And there lay the place where my rubber met everyone else’s road.

I became the novelty in short order when my mother chauffeured me to the school that her architect father had designed.  The teacher, Mrs. Hastings, was aware that I was coming, that special adaptations would become necessary, and she had gathered the entire class in the parking lot to greet me.  It was quite something for me to see how perfect they were, no  crutches or wheelchairs, legs moving, standing on their own.  To them I was a wonder in leg irons and Buster Brown shoes.  What I remember is smiling at them all with true bliss because I was thrilled to be back in the “real” world once again.  The fellow handicapped children recently so close receded.  This, before me, was the world I had been so much longer accustomed to, what I had been longing for over the past  year spent mainly in hospitals.

March of Dimes poster
One of the many March of Dimes posters that were around when I was seven or eight years old

Yet it wasn’t long before I was rather missing my peers at Children’s Hospital, wondering how they were getting along.


At first I was to be allowed only half days on the grounds that it was fairly difficult to get up and down from the hard little wooden chairs in the classroom, and that using the bathroom — nothing was handicap friendly back then — took about fifteen minutes and a great deal of effort.  A room “mother” had to stay with me.

The thing about leg braces when your legs are paralyzed is that you can’t bend your knees in getting up and down — or you will simply go down all the way to the floor — so you wind up shoving up hard with your arms.  This takes not only practice, but developing serious arm muscles in a hurry — and my arms had also been paralyzed for a while, and were slowly regaining to near normal.  You also need to fine tune your sense of balance, to keep your mind on it a whole lot more than you did before.

Recess was the highlight of my time in the first grade.  It was fun to leave the stuffy classroom in favor of brilliant autumn days, to share stories with a few friendly kids, and wonder why it was that some others were careful to keep as far away from me as possible.

And so my re-introduction to “normal” people and places became gradual rather than sudden immersion. My time in school was cut short that first year.  For the reasons above, as well as for frequent trips back to Boston for checkups that took entire days out of my learning schedule.  Plus I was growing fast enough to need new braces and crutches, and that process also took much time.

A couple of experimentally minded doctors decided to invent a back brace, and I became an early guinea pig.  I was duly suspended by the neck from a hospital ceiling to be casted, then a couple of weeks later presented with a hideous wrap around of solid brown material that covered my hips, had rods with screws to adjust their length running up from that lower piece to two arms that wrapped around my ribs.  Tightly, very tightly.  Sitting down in that thing was well nigh impossible.

That back brace squashed my rib cage for life.  Its purpose was to prevent later scoliosis that would result from the few working abdominal muscles being stronger on one side than the other.  The brace failed miserably in that respect.

Back to the beginnings of my bizarre elementary school education:  The school principal, an old family friend, volunteered to come to our house a few days a week to tutor me.


Barr-Buschenfeldt brace
This is similar to my brace, although mine was an earlier prototype.  This is the back of it.

These arrangements were fine with me.  Nobody was bringing me flowers and toys any more, my brother was happier and it was awfully good to be home again.  Miss Lillian Dunn was lively and fun when she would look at the work I’d done for her, and she never got tired of answering my endless questions about anything from hand writing to how tadpoles shed their tails and where were the stars, really?

But her endless patience could be hard on her — once or twice she passed out during our sessions in the living room.  Miss Dunn had diabetes and she did not always remember to eat something before heading to our house.  I have memories of my mother rushing in with glasses of orange juice for her.

Which all was of much interest to me — adults also have trouble with physical challenges, and they don’t all show.

By the time second grade began I was more than ready for the school’s physical challenges, and had been brought up to speed about why it was that some of the kids had been avoiding me.  They were being firmly indoctrinated by parents in the imaginary perils of being around someone who had had polio.  They thought I would give them the disease.

My mother, the public health nurse, had spent quite a bit of time, while I was at home during the first grade, in contacting and visiting some of the families who thought I was still contagious, explaining how once a person had gone through the acute stage of polio the virus became inactive, and would remain so.

For my part I adored hearing the stories she brought back from some of these visits.  Never a gossip or a bit malicious, my mother shared key explanations of people’s backgrounds, what contributed to their misunderstandings.  And no doubt to other things they thought.  She had compassion for those who had little education and a lot of hard work in their lives.

And then there was the German woman, who had a daughter in my class.  I will call her Mrs. J…  My mother merely noted that Mrs. J had once “taken care of the German soldiers during their off time.”  And let drop the fact that, in company with a German officer or two, she had gone skinny dipping in the Rhine during Allied bombing — glasses of champagne at the ready.

I wondered what kind of care of soldiers that was, exactly, but Mother never answered with more than a glare.  It was obvious that science was not something that mattered to Mrs. J, and that was the reason for her daughter giving me a very wide berth at school.

Decades later, when I had my first newspaper job, some long-time fire fighters told me about how visitors to the J family home were sometimes shocked on approaching to see a bare butt sticking out of a kitchen window, the owner doing her business.  That was, evidently, Mrs. J.

What a crazy town I was trying to re-integrate into!  It’s a good thing that I didn’t know the half of it at the time.

Emmie and Donnie in Maine
Here’s a photo of me a year or two after I got out of the hospital, visiting Maine with my brother, Donald






Onto a new path

’Tis another washed out, grey day dawned in the high desert.  An anticipated big snowstorm failed to have its way with us.  Cheers for that.

Firing up Apple Music on my iPad Mini first thing this morning, my fingers found their way to an album from my long ago folk music names.  A Joan Baez collection called Farewell Angelina.  Bob Dylan’s song.

Listening to Joan B’s Spanish music makes me happy, while her early music sends me off into a time warp when the struggle of life was to assert myself in an unaccepting world.  As soon as I could find whoever myself was under all that surface manner.

It was a time of bravado, over reacting to slights from would-be employers and landlords who openly denied me opportunities in fear of my very visible handicap.  It was a time when I smoked cigars in places such as Boston’s Symphony Hall, wearing a safari hat and sacklike granny dress.  One day while I was doing that a blue-haired, mink-wrapped woman glared at me at muttered, “I particularly detest people on crutches!”

It was a time when I listened to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s brilliant oratory in Boston, when I bought a 12-string Martin guitar at a street corner at Boston Gardens, and thundered away on it with and without others.  I carried my guitar on my back at the Newport Folk Festival, where I ran into Joan Baez and her husband, David, again.  The first time was while I was at Boston University.  She had dropped out of that school to pursue her music and was considered a radical at the time.  Her message to us who considered the radical path for ourselves was, “Drop out.  Do it.”

I didn’t drop out and I never followed anyone else’s political agenda.

That said, back to today’s slo-mo doings which will have far, far reaching effects upon my quiet little life.

No sooner did local radar show the last clouds slipping completely past than something way up there tossed mega tons of hail upon us.  White covered all there is to see out the windows.  Street, roofs, open land, driveway, bushes.

Thirty minutes later it was gone.  Two hours later, flaming sunshine.  Quirky!

Today I set in motion the process of selling my house.  Just before we got that hail.

I’ve done this before, with some good fortune. though the summer before last it was all but sold, when, days before closing, the buyer was denied her mortgage.

house for sale
In the summer of 2014

I liked my realtor, and she comes to meet with me again next week.

Farewell, Angelina, the sky is folding

and I must leave fast

My dad’s family set foot on the East Coast of what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts when the Mayflower landed.  From that day forward they made themselves into landowners by means fair and foul.

To this day my father’s people have owned homes, businesses, land enough to comprise an entire town.  Less is known about my mother’s people, other than that there were a lot of Quakers, some of whom were wealthy.  They were also homeowners and both families had plenty of politicians over the centuries.

The American way.  My families were big on that.

So here I go, selling the last house that I will ever own.  Launching a new phase of life as a renter, most likely of a corporately-owned, way over priced little apartment somewhere in the Silicon Valley.

This is to be near my daughter, my only close living relative.  She and I both look forward eagerly to the change, whether we can afford it or not.

Those old views from the 1960s will fly through my mind like so many mosquitoes.  Fight the greedy establishment, stand for the rights of the little people, don’t believe a thing a politician ever says.  Live lightly on the land, love the people, share flowers.

In doing this I’m saying farewell to the way of life practiced by all those forebears of mine.  Given the financial output required to live in the Silicon Valley — and me with Social Security for income — what I’m selling is the last house for me.

I’m pretty sure that will be just fine.

When I think of the years my late ex husband, Yakov, and I spent in apartments in New Mexico, California and Massachusetts what comes to mind is how carefree we felt.  No leaky roofs to fix or lawns to mow.  We spent more time out and about, doing things we loved.

Farewell Angelina…  A vivid memory from Carlsbad, New Mexico, 1977, where I first explored the famous caverns — learning that nearly five hours plodding up and down the underground world with crutches and braces  stretched my capacity to sacrifice sunshine.

In Carlsbad I also learned to shoot.

…Perched in the sun

Shooting tin cans

With a sawed-off shotgun

And the neighbors they clap

And they cheer with each blast

Hey, I did that in the wide open desert!  And it, too, was a bit of bravado by me.  My chosen religion strongly discourages ownership of weapons.  If a life is being threatened you may do what is necessary to save that life, if it be another’s or your own.  If you live in a place where a gun is necessary because of genuine threats (large carnivores come to mind) they are alright.  Well, my young self decided, I may never own a gun but I will for sure learn how to handle the things.

Today I can only marvel at my neighbors, a man with a herd of young male relatives visiting him most of the time.  Regularly a few of these fellows trot out of the house bearing big guns, in camo.  Off to shoot at deer and bears…? To me an AK-14 seems like excessive force against animals.  And I  don’t object to ethical, efficient hunting for food.

Dylan, though, he was a prescient song writer way back there in the 1960s:

The machine guns are roaring

The puppets heave rocks

The fiends nail time bombs

To the hands of the clocks

Call me any name you like

I will never deny it

Farewell Angelina

The sky is erupting

I must go where it’s quiet

These days I have friends of my age who are packing a few belongings and selling everything else, leaving the USA for more economical and friendly nations.  Like Panama.  Evidently countries that have felt the sting of revolution in the not distant past feel safer than home in the US, where just about anyone can own as many assault weapons, handguns and other weapons as they can find room for.

In California I became an avid bird watcher, and when a newspaper job failed to materialize in my vicinity I set up shop in my living room as a carver of birds and animals.  Yakov hauled them to about a hundred craft shows and galleries, where we sold them, then later paid our bills.  Rent wasn’t so impossibly high in those days.  While doing this I formed a life-long love for the Golden State.

There’s no need for anger

There’s no need for blame

There’s nothing to prove

Everything’s still the same

Just a table standing empty

By the edge of the sea

Farewell Angelina

The sky is trembling

And I must leave

And so, an adventure begins!

New Year’s Eve is for creating…

New Year’s Eve:  In which I muse about a long awaited change of venue…

If transformation is the norm, then spiritual transformation falls into place as an extension of where life has been going all along. While still remaining who you are, you can bring about a quantum leap in your awareness, and the sign that the leap is real will be some emergent property you never experienced in the past.

~Deepak Chopra

Carolina Wren 1
A Carolina Wren I carved some years ago.  The base is from an oak tree my great-great grandmother planted at our home in Pembroke, Massachusetts.  I became a full-time wood carver while living in California in the late 1970s.

Most every New Year’s Eve here is spent in a similar manner — me sitting at home with dogs, working on something creative, thinking of the coming year as if it were a fresh canvas, just about quivering with  potential to become a masterpiece.

This evening is no different — Elf the Corgi is sprawled beside me, while Opus the Dachs-Terr snoozes in his crate,  wrapped snug in his favorite thick towel.  Now and then he raises his head and snorts at us.  We shared some popcorn earlier.

I’m here with the blog, preoccupied with inspirations.

On New Year’s Eve I’m done with reflecting over what’s been done in the past and on to themes for what’s ahead.

In 2015 things happened to me far more often than I went out and seized the day.  I got tired of being retired, weary of fussing with Medicare, fed up with feeling chained to my pretty, cozy little home that I foolishly bought at the end of 2009 for twice what I can get if I sell it tomorrow.  The problem with it. for me,  is that, though in a neat little city in a part of the country I love, it is far from my daughter — who thinks that renting an expensive apartment in  the Silicon Valley with a few roommates is a better way of life.  For her, it certainly has been.

These things would be simpler if she weren’t my sole close living relative.  Her looking after me from a thousand miles away is an awkward business…  What, me, needing to be looked after?!!

Sigh.  There are some nasty falls, some days when I can’t get myself into the truck to go places and such.

And then — oh, heck, it’s just more fun to have somebody else to do crazy things with.

There’s a lot more going on there than there is here, she observes.  Undoubtedly, I think, with little green licks of envy running around in my head.  For one thing that is important to both of us, there is a much larger Baha’i community.

So this is the year when we try once again to sell the house and find out if I can join her in the Bay Area.  That would save her a world of worrying about Dear Old Mom, along with a lot of airfare.  For my part I want to share the roads with driverless Google cars  — you can trust them, right? — and ogle Apple’s doughnut building now under construction in Cupertino.

Is there good reason to anticipate many, many years more of svelt iMacs, sleek tablets and iPhones?  Enough good years ahead for this futuristic circle of a building to fund an ever bigger fruity empire?

Perhaps Google autos will be driverless Alphabet cars soon?  I, along with the multitudes, am waiting to find out what Google’s new holding company is going to make of itself.

It would be pleasant to be done with cold winters and occasional snow shoveling.  I could go admire the white rocky mountains of Yosemite.

Hello, earthquakes…

Greetings, drought…

How’ve you been, higher prices?

Actually, I love California.  In the late 1970s and early ‘80s I spent a few years in the Central Coast area, where I refined the art of carving birds and animals enough to pay some bills.  It was a lot of work mixed with twice as much fun, and I miss that.  Times change, nonetheless, and the effect of polio on my arms and hands since then means my carving days are over.   Living on Social Security has a definite crunching effect on the bank account.

Still, life is what you make it, yes?

We’ll come up with something.  Stay tuned.  Meanwhile:

Never give up no matter what is going on

Never give up

Develop the heart

Too much energy in your country is spent

Developing the mind instead of the heart.

Be compassionate not just to your friends but to everyone

Be compassionate.

Work for peace in your heart and in the world.

Work for peace and I say again

Never give up.

No matter what is happening,

No matter what is going on around you, 

Never give up.

-His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Becker St with frozen fog
Becker Street in Belén yesterday morning.  We had frozen fog, which turned the large juniper all white,  between the pub and Judy Chicago’s feminist art building.  The old brick structure used to be the Belén Hotel.  Whipped cream clouds drape the distant Manzano Mountains.

Polio Blogs 4: Little brother and gifts

You can only wobble around hospital corridors, showing off your new skills with leg braces by kicking your popular young doctor in front of his peers, for so long.

Children’s Hospital discharged me just before I was due to start first grade, at the age of six.  Oddly, I remember almost nothing about the event, in contrast with clear recollections of leaving Haynes the previous year.

What I do vividly recall is our family’s registered nurses — mother and grandmother — pulling and pushing the heck out of my legs as I lay on a high, hard table they’d acquired just for physical therapy sessions.  And, since the only bathroom the old farmhouse had was upstairs, I remember a bedside commode (which I hated) and taking baths in the kitchen, in an antique metal tub that people filled by hauling containers of water from the sink.  Later it was emptied by the same timeless method, but out the back door.

Before writing about my truncated elementary school career — evading twits, nits and kids demanding to know “Can you still have babies?” — there are two side-themes to the life of an athletic girl sideswiped by paralytic polio that need mention.  My tow headed younger brother, and certain problems with gift giving.  Gifts showered upon me, that is.

Donnie and Mother at beach
Donnie and our mother at Duxbury Beach soon after my release from Children’s Hospital.  That was me in the hole behind them, shucked out of my leg braces for a pleasant change.

Donnie and our mother had also contracted polio during our pond swim on Cape Cod in August, 1953, and though bad-flu sick, both recovered well.  At the age  of three Donnie — whom my mother, at moments of stress in coping with me, unfortunately revealed was a child she had not anticipated and, in fact, had not wanted at the age of 43 — was used to his big sister taking care of him.  He arose from his sick bed after ten days and his main companion was still gone.  Dire stories, frightened remarks about her, the fears of both father and mother over her future — these things wore heavily on him.  And at that age he didn’t have words to share his feelings.

It was a state of mind from which he never recovered in his short life.  All the more because when he was seven and I was nine our grandmother, his mainstay during my absence and the person who called him “my best friend”, died as an apparent suicide.  She threw herself in front of a speeding car one dark July night.  Family whispers had it that she felt she was becoming a burden on two of her three children.

I’m grateful, now, that she was there for Donnie during the first years of our family’s adaptations.  In many ways those were the best years of his life, as he got a lot of attention from her.  He needed that.

People have some pretty twisted ideas about what being a burden truly means.

On the morning when my aunt and uncle carried me off to Haynes Memorial Hospital thirty miles north Donnie, sick though he was, hid behind a big chair and would not come out for Grammie for hours.  She herself was “worn to a frazzle” after days and nights of tending  three extremely sick family members.  Her only sleep had been in a rocking chair during that long period.  Our father, who hadn’t joined us for swimming, went off to work nearly every day, as usual.

Even the family doctor, also exhausted from the many home visits he was making in this polio epidemic, refused to come the night my fever passed 105º.  So Grammie, seventy four years old, under 5 feet and below 90 pounds, kept me in cool water in the bath tub upstairs all night.  She had to carry me upstairs first.  Her efforts saved my life.

When I made my semi-triumphant return home a year later, Donnie was still hiding behind things.  We learned quickly that much had to change in sibling relations.  Rather than me leading him around by the hand, or even carrying him, now he had to help me with things.  I think, now, that might have been a positive thing for him except for:

The advent of the gift givers.

The front door had barely closed behind me before hoards of people — mostly “ladies groups” — were pounding on it, wanting to personally deliver special gifts to the little girl who’d survived that awful disease.  Being shy, Donnie would hide behind something as they entered whatever room I was in.  True, his behavior did nothing to suggest that at least some bit of attention should be given to the cute little boy over there.  Mostly they left without even a smile for him; for that my heart hardened towards them.  Not a good word, nor a present in recognition of his efforts as a helpful little brother.

Possibly our mother was still too shocked and wrapped up in her many new responsibilities to tactfully work in a mention of Donnie to these gift bringers.  Whatever the reason, a smoldering began in my heart, though I could not verbalize reasons for this.

Mission accomplished, they’d given the little girl a nice doll, another stuffed animal, a beautiful pin.  They left feeling pleased with themselves.

My mother later told me that I met the onslaught of curious visitors “like a queen”, sitting straight up on a chair with my braced feet sticking out at right angles, rather than hanging down like regular feet, dark brown knee pads prominent below my skirts.  What I remember about it was, perversely, a growing resentment with each new beautifully wrapped box that was placed in my hands, with reams of ribbons, cards to be opened and saved for later thank you letters.  I would look at my little brother, look at my mother, anywhere but at these people who seemed determined to swamp me in saccharine comments such as “How beautiful you look!” and “What an angel!”.

These were some of the same people who had kept my hospital rooms overflowing with lovely flowers and various “girl toys” like dolls, more dolls and stuff for dolls.  Evidently no one asked what kinds of things I liked, or had been informed that this particular girl preferred matchbox vehicles and plastic action figure horses to sock monkeys and blue eyed dollies with golden ringlets, smelling of talcum powder.  Hence, while my mother thanked everyone on my behalf, I wasn’t as grateful as I might have been.

The gift I received with love and exclamations of joy was from my grandmother, and I have it still — a small Golden Guide to insects.  I would make up stories about the most fantastic looking of the creatures in that book.  Later, when I could once again get around outdoors, it was fun to figure out identities of some bugs.

I guess I was still acting out against my new condition, though what I remember is being eager to get on with life and done with the emotionalizing business.  What I wanted was to be outdoors, wandering along the earthen dam by our favorite stream, visiting the big draft horses over at my great-uncle’s barn, watching birds and squirrels in the forest … Climbing trees!

What I got was:  Time to get ready for school!  Which involved not so much getting new clothing and lunch boxes as it did hours of painful physical therapy, and my mother’s endless conversations with future teachers.  Fuzzy Wuzzy was also frequently contacted.

And Donnie…  He never really got over the need to hide when troubled.  But his is a different story.  I will say that he died in a car wreck, with a good friend, a month after he turned twenty.  As with our grandmother, a possible suicide.  Our mother felt quite sure he had decided not to care what happened to him when he, and his equally Vietnam-draft-bothered friend took Donnie’s new muscle car for a 100+ mph drive one rainy May night.  On a tiny, winding road in the forest a few miles from home there was no shoulder, only big trees to crash into when the car skidded.  It was a spectacular accident, with the engine flying over phone lines and starting a fire in the woods, rain and all.

Me, I just suspected both guys believed that they were not subject to ordinary laws of physics.

We were, of course, not foreseeing these events when it was time for me and my squeaky, pinchy new leg braces with the hideous brown lace-up shoes to make my appearance in the town’s single elementary school.

The three-and-a-half years I spent there brought on all sorts of challenges. ranging from learning to climb stairs again to parents who gave firm orders to their children not to have a thing to do with Emmie Lee — “She’ll give you polio!”

Good thing my mother had had a long career as a public health nurse from coast to coast before she married my dad.  … Wasn’t it?

Emmie in backseat of car
Here was I in my chauffeur driven vehicle, getting ready for my first day at school.  I always got to sit in back.

Polio Blogs 3: She learns to walk again

The last blog in this series left my six-year-old self lying in an old hospital bed with chipped enamel railings, devouring two bowls of vanilla ice cream smothered in mustard.

That bizarre meal — following a hunger strike — marked the end of my sullen rage at what paralytic polio had done to me.  For a time at Children’s Hospital I became the picture of puzzled cooperation.

Gnomish looking men began showing up at my bedside and they had an inexplicable interest in my motionless legs.   Tape measures and calipers took measurements that were carefully noted down.  All this began to make sense on the day when a gnome appeared, bearing a set of metal leg braces.

leg brace
A leg brace similar to the ones the gnomes made for me.

Image:  https://www.pinterest.com/emilylee1919/polio/


I had never seen such things before and had no idea what they were for.  A pair of Buster Brown shoes attached to one end of each brace was a clue.  Me, who favored sandals and sneakers, was I supposed to stick my feet into those ugly things?

Evidently I was.  At first the uncomfortable braces were put around my legs as I lay in bed, but quickly I found myself being plopped into a wheelchair and rolled off down long hallways till we arrived in a large room where a few other paraplegics were clumsily maneuvering along parallel bars.

Herein began a serious re-education in the fine art of ambulation.  Somebody picked me up, ordered me to grip a set of bars, then gradually let go of me.  Splat!  My arms, not long recovered from several weeks of paralysis themselves, were no match for gravity.

There were quite a few splats accompanied by howls from me.  A set of eyes belonging to a tall, youngish man on a nearby set of parallel bars began attracting my attention.  He had a man-sized set of braces strapped on over his pants and was struggling along the bars.  As he looked at me taking my tumbles tears began to run down his cheeks.

This was despite his pleasant face, where smiles seemed to belong.  I was perplexed.  A woman, obviously his wife, hovered around him.

Back in my obnoxious bed, I thought about him and these uncomfortable “leg irons” that bound us together.  He was the first person I’d ever seen trying to get around in the awful things.  I had the idea now of what was expected of me — and also that I was not going to make him cry again.

And I didn’t.  Slowly I began to be able to stand, hands on the bars, on my own, then to lean back and forth, to move each leg in turn.  From there I moved on to wooden crutches and slow, rigid legged marches up and down hospital corridors.

I found myself the personal pet of my new doctor.  Although his name was David Grice, I called him Fuzzy Wuzzy for his head of curly hair.  He was actually well-known for his work with polio patients in those days.  Some of his work remains available online.  None of this would have mattered to me just then.

He was sort of nice, in my opinion, but also troublesome when he would come round my bedside in the mornings with a dozen or so young doctors, residents, hanging on his every word.  He used unintelligible language, such as “latissimus dorsi” in describing the nature of my paralysis on these occasions.  He also developed a nasty habit of plucking my hospital johnnies off, poking some muscle or other with a pointing finger and describing its lamentable condition to the hovering residents.

Not then or at any time since have I liked hearing that anything about me was unfortunate.

I determined that a program of doctor education by Emmy was now in order.  During my early morning washing up I spat toothpaste into my bedside water pitcher, followed up with a bar of soap and all the hair I could pull out of my hairbrush.  That wasn’t impressive enough, so I thoughtfully tossed in the brush.

When I heard the gaggle of doctors moving in my direction I got my hand near the pitcher’s handle and waited for Fuzzy Wuzzy to come close to my bed, talking in rapid fire Greek and Latin terms to his gang of doctor thugs.  Just as he began reaching for my johnny up came my hand with the pitcher — which I dumped all over his head and shoulder.

Fuzzy Wuzzy may have taken that and my scowl in good humor, but the nurses — who all seemed to worship the man — did not.  Never again was I permitted a water pitcher.

I wasn’t done with him, though.  My progress at wobbling around the hallways pleased Fuzzy Wuzzy enough that he determined I would be the ideal patient for a demonstration before an amphitheater full of doctors.  I found myself deposited up on stage with him, wearing just a johnny.  He jabbered away in the usual foreign medical language as he began fumbling with the ties on my johnny.  “Oh, no, you don’t!” was the thought rising in my mind when he turned to me and said, “Go ahead and kick me, now!  Show everybody what those legs can do!”

I got myself lined up beside him, putting all the force available into one solid kick … between the legs …

And so ended my career as a demo patient.


Look in the Polio Category for earlier blogs about paralytic polio and me.