Poem: Happy Again

The Backstory

Other than the months surrounding placing my dad in the care home, I’d only been persistently sad, day after miserable day for a period of months, one other time in my life. It was my first year in college, my first experience away from home. I was living by myself in a drab apartment, in a new town, taking difficult math and science courses.

I was lonely and overworked and overwhelmed. It rained incessantly. A beloved grandmother-figure died.

I struggled hard to find my usual sunny disposition, and eventually gave up. I resigned myself to numbing unhappiness in a joyless world.

Calendar days marched by. I went to class, I came home, I studied. I lived in a dreary grey cloud of unhappiness and hard work.

And then one day, as I trudged down the sidewalk towards the bus stop, head down, eyes unseeing, I suddenly realized I was humming a song.

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Poem: I’m Trying

The Backstory

After we placed my dad in the care home, I expected my cheery mood to bounce back. After all, the acute trauma was over: all those months of sleepless nights, constant caregiving, frustration and anger (and its accompanying guilt), the exhaustion of always being on edge and on alert, all finally culminating in the exquisitely painful need to move him out of the house – it was all over. Dad was safe and looked-after. I had my life back. I could be happy again!

But I wasn’t.

I settled into a grey and joyless world. I went to work, took the dogs on walks, talked to friends. I struggled to find my usual sunny disposition. I tried “to be good to myself,” tried to snap out of the funk. I tried and tried!

Nothing seemed to work.

It turned into a difficult winter.

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Poem: Sorrow

The Backstory

We had to place my dad in a care home.

Just a few simple words, holding nearly unbearable pain.

My dad had Parkinson’s disease. We helplessly watched his inexorable decline, from a strong and fiercely independent do-it-yourselfer to a frail and unsteady man whom I barely recognized as my dad.

He became confused at night, getting up frequently and often aimlessly, sometimes staying in bed only a few minutes at a time. My brother and I started taking turns being on “night duty.” We assisted him to the bathroom and made sure he didn’t do anything weird, like fill up all the waste baskets in the house with water, or decide to pull down a ladder to paint the house at 3 AM.

It was constant. All night.

Our sleep was completely disrupted.

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The Polling Site: My First Day

It was my first election as a poll worker and there I was, sitting next to this little old lady who had been a poll worker for years. Her job was to find the voter’s name and have them sign the roster. My job was to cross the person’s name off the secondary street index, and hand them their ballot.

So here comes a voter:

“May I have your name?” the old lady asks sweetly.

“Katherine Stanton,” the voter says.

“Huh?” the old lady says, cocking her head. “What was that? Sampson?” Her hands hover uncertainly over the roster.

Stanton,” the voter repeats, more loudly.

“Phantom?” the old lady asks incredulously. “Your last name is Phantom?”

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Poncho Likes the Good Stuff

Poncho had done it again.

My friend Carol had taken her two chocolate labs, Poncho and Lefty, on their daily river walk, and Poncho had pulled one of his classic disappearing acts near a campsite full of trash. He was slow to return when Carol called him; when he finally trotted up, he looked very smug.

Very pleased with himself.

Carol glared at him. Poncho had likely stolen some food from the campsite, which wasn’t polite. On the other hand, the guy was camping illegally and trashing up the place, so maybe it served him right to have his food eaten by a dog. Clean up your campsite!

Carol, Poncho and Lefty all happily swam in the river, chased tennis balls, romped around the beach, and returned home, tired and satisfied with their summer day.

But that night, Poncho became very subdued.

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A Nursing Story: Code Blue!

I was a nursing student, doing my summer internship on a Labor and Delivery floor. Patients were generally-healthy young women who were either in labor or had given birth to generally-healthy babies.

It was a happy place, and I found myself in tears nearly every day.

“This is such a beautiful moment!” I would sob each time a baby was being born. The new mother might be panting, bearing down, possibly screaming. The father was likely hovering anxiously nearby. And there I was, the supportive little student nurse, happily gripping the groaning mother’s knee. Tears spilled freely down my cheeks, as did the words from my trembling lips: “This is so wonderful! This is the best day ever! I’m so happy for you! I’m so honored to be here!”

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Trouble Along Snowbird Creek

My husband Martin, our two-year-old Golden Retriever Holly, and I were backpacking, and it was pouring rain.

Of course it was. That’s what happens when Martin and I travel. Rain, torrential at times, followed us on virtually every vacation.

We were living in North Carolina. The South was in the grips of a severe drought when, six months earlier, I had requested vacation time from work for this trip.

“Plan for rain that weekend!” I quipped.

Everybody laughed. We hadn’t seen rain in months.

But driving to the Appalachian Mountains near the North Carolina/Tennessee border, the road led us towards an ominously dark sky. As we pulled into the parking lot of the trailhead, fat rain drops began to fall. We sat in the car, windshield wipers flashing furiously, as the sky opened up and rain poured down.

It was classic Beebee backpacking weather.

The latest forecast, checked the night before in those pre-cell-phone, pre-know-everything-all-the-time days, was for “scattered mountain showers.” And sure enough, thirty minutes later the rain abruptly stopped.

We climbed out of the car and hoisted our backpacks. Holly sported a pack of her own. With an insatiable zest for both tennis balls and swimming, she pranced happily about, utterly delighted. She knew what it meant to wear a backpack. She knew tennis balls were stowed inside. And she could hear Snowbird Creek somewhere down that leafy trail, rushing enticingly over rocks, calling her name.

She couldn’t wait to get wet.

Yeah, getting wet wouldn’t be a problem on this trip.

Snowbird Creek, Nantahala National Forest, NC

Snowbird Creek, Nantahala National Forest, NC

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Poem: Abbie’s Having a Son!

The Backstory

Abbie is one of those really great nurses. She never seems frazzled. She never rushes around frantically. She always seems perfectly in control: smiling, chatting, calming gathering her medications or supplies like she has nothing else in the world to do, except this one little task that she’s doing right now.

Hah.

Because nurses always have something else to do.

One day while travel nursing in Colorado, on a fine morning around 11:00, I got a phone call from the lab, saying the blood was ready for the patient in room 622, and would I please come pick it up so it could be transfused? That phone call came as the patient in room 618 was impatiently awaiting his discharge (family all gathered, ready to take him home, just waiting on me to go over instructions), plus the secretary had just paged me that the patient in room 617 had been incontinent, and was lying in a large pool of liquid stool; he clearly needed to be cleaned up immediately. And room 612 needed pain meds. Oh, the surgical admit was on their way, thanks.

Blood, discharge, poop, pain meds, new patient. All at 11:00 in the morning.

At the same time. Right now.

Go!

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An Unexpected Discovery

I was replacing the telephone after a conversation and inadvertently knocked the cradle off my nightstand, sending my cat scurrying away in alarm. The cradle landed behind the nightstand, in that awkward space where the A-frame roof comes down to meet the floor.

I peered behind the nightstand and saw a dark cylindrical piece lying next to the cradle. I scowled. Evidently I’d broken the thing, too. Damn.

I hauled up the telephone cradle using the cord, then peered again at that broken piece. I leaned over the nightstand, reaching. I could barely brush it with my fingertips. I leaned further, scrabbling at it. It rolled away. Weird, to have a round log-like piece like that… I wonder where it fit on the phone cradle?

I fumbled around, grabbing at it, knocking it this way and that. Finally, with an oomph, I really seized it. Got a nice firm grip, squeezed it tight. Gotcha! No more rolling away from me!

Huh, it didn’t feel like hard plastic. It felt more… soft. Sort of squishy, actually. And warm. Odd that it would be so warm behind the nightstand.

I withdrew the piece into the light and looked at it, whereupon I made an unexpected discovery.

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Whale Watching in Monterey

I was chaperoning a group of high school biology students on a four-day field trip to Monterey, California, with biology teacher extraordinaire, Mike Sherron.

We visited the incomparable Monterey Bay Aquarium, where the students conducted informational treasure hunts among multiple amazing exhibits. We learned about penguins, sharks, jellies, kelp forests, and more.

We hiked through Point Lobos State Reserve, viewing sea otters exuberantly pounding clams on their chests with rocks, then twisting and rolling in the water, grooming their luxurious fur. Seals and sea lions basked on rocks in the sun, the sea lions giving an occasional bark.

We stood in awe before enormous groves of eucalyptus trees, marveling at literally thousands of Monarch butterflies clinging to branches in thick orange fluttery clumps.

We picked our way among the rich tide-pools, discovering scurrying hermit crabs, flowerlike sea anemones, spiky sea urchins, and orange and purple sea stars.

And we spent one memorable morning whale-watching.

Which was how I found myself leaning against the boat’s railing, surveying the blue Pacific Ocean with binoculars, and continually being elbowed in the ribs.

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Puppy Antics

It was mid-morning. Martin was changing into his work clothes when he glimpsed our puppy Eddy emerging furtively from the room that contained the cat’s litter box.

Eddy froze near the top of the stairs. His guilty expression, firmly clamped mouth, and bulging cheeks said it all.

Bonanza! He’d scored a mouthful of cat poop.

We yell at him every time. He knows he’s not supposed to eat cat poop. But apparently it’s just too yummy to resist.

Martin and Eddy stared at each other for a long moment, motionless, sizing up the situation and their relative positions. Then they both sprang into action.

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Poem: Dakota and Katy

Dakota and Katy

Dakota and Katy

The Backstory

“I’m never getting married!”

Dakota, my husband Martin’s best friend, had made the assertion his entire life. From the time Dakota was old enough to take an interest in girls, he said it: I’m never getting married!

He enjoyed many long, stable relationships over the years, but was always firm and unwavering in his resolve: I’m never getting married!

And then one day, he met Katy.

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Heading Home: Travel Tales

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

Martin and I had decided to wear comfortable Tevas on the plane home, rather than our heavy hiking boots, which were now expertly stowed in our very-full travel bag. Feeling perky in my Tevas and socks, I step out of the hotel room, ready to head to the airport.

Martin and Dakota eye my footwear. “Er,” they both murmur doubtfully. “Are you, er, planning on going out like that?”

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Nuevo Arenal: Moya’s Place

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

I was starving. I’d had entirely too little food these past few days.

Bound for Liberia, we had left our ecolodge near the Nicaraguan border, and had retraced our way down 40-km of bone-chipping dirt road into Pital, back past the small town of El Castillo, and into Nuevo Arenal. It was here that we stumbled, ravenous, into Moya’s Place, an inviting open-air restaurant. The wall facing the street isn’t even a wall, it’s just… a wide opening. The interior walls sported brightly colored murals depicting Mayan and Aztec scenes.

A friendly waiter hovered helpfully over us as we ordered our food. I requested a papaya drink.

“With milk?” the waiter asked encouragingly.

“Sure!” I answered.

The waiter beamed and made a little note on his tablet. He turned happily to Martin, who ordered a mango drink.

“With milk?” the waiter asked uncertainly.

“Sure!” Martin answered.

“Hmmmm…..” the waiter said doubtfully, pencil hesitating over the tablet.

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Boca Tapada: Playing With Fire

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

Marco had suggested a nearby hike through the forest. If I understood the Spanish correctly, we could make a simple 2 km loop, or (taking a left-hand fork in the trail) a longer 4 km loop.

Well duh, that’s easy! We’ll do the 4 km hike, thanks. The little trail led us through the jungle, its edges dotted frequently with placards identifying various plants with both scientific and common names.

Occasionally a big scary sign in all capitals would appear: “CAUTION! BULLET ANTS!” which always launched Martin and Dakota into an agony of indecision. They were both powerfully drawn to the fierce tropical ants. They desperately wanted to see them, so they nervously peered around the forest floor and poked long twigs into every nearby hole, prodding the cavities to see what might swiftly emerge.

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Boca Tapada: Kayaking With Crocodiles

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

Martin, Dakota and I waved cheerfully at our host, Marco, as he drove away, leaving us alone in the remote Costa Rican jungle.

He had driven us an hour up isolated dirt roads, bumped down tiny dirt tracks, and dumped us off on the muddy banks of this small river. It would be up to us to find our way back to the ecolodge, kayaking down this, the Cas Del Mar River, into the Tres Amigos River, and then onward to the great San Carlos. From there, we hoped to spot the take-out site for our ecolodge, buried in the dense jungle.

If we missed it, we would end up at the Nicaraguan border.

Going kayaking, baby!

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Boca Tapada: Hungry

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

It was our last morning in Arenal – we would shortly be heading northeast, towards the Nicaraguan border, to stay in a remote ecolodge in the depths of the jungle. Martin went out early, as usual, to photograph the soft sunrise light. I got up early-ish, as usual, to make coffee and sit in the rocking chairs, enjoying the bird songs and the volcano-and-lake view. Dakota got up late, as usual, staggering out with bleary eyes and his shock of hair standing on-end, reaching blindly for the coffee.

On one of their more memorable camping trips to the desert, Dakota needed afternoon coffee, but was uninterested in going to the trouble of actually brewing it. So he famously spooned the dry coffee directly into his mouth, chewed it up with focus and determination, and swallowed the bitter granules down. Dry.

Gritty? Yes. Unpleasant? Yes. Worth it? Apparently, yes!

The man needs his coffee. Do not stand between Dakota and his coffee!

So the morning found Dakota and me sitting companionably in the rocking chairs on the front porch, binoculars in one hand, coffee in the other, Dakota slowly coming back to life – when suddenly he cried, “Toucan!”

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Arenal Rappelling: Extremo! Maximo! Super!

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

In Monteverde, we had been accosted with huge billboards and countless flyers, hounding us to take extreme, adrenaline-filled adventures through the canopy. Zip-line across yawning chasms! Bungee-jump from high cliffs! Tarzan-swing from dizzying heights!

“EXTREMO! MAXIMO! SUPER!” screamed the signs.

No thank you! We preferred wandering through the quiet cloud forests, listening to the music of tropical birds rather than the shrieks of pumped-up people.

And yet… here we were, in Arenal, signing disclaimer “We won’t sue you if we die” forms in the front office of Pure Trek, a canyoning company that offers adventures for stupid plucky folks like us.

Adventures like, you know, risking your life rappelling down the thundering throat of waterfalls. EXTREMO! MAXIMO! SUPER!

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it?

Hello?

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Arenal, Costa Rica: Paradise

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

We were sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch of our rental house in El Castillo, deep within Costa Rica’s tropical rain forest. It was early morning, and the porch faced Arenal, the iconic cone-shaped volcano which towered over the smooth glassy lake before us. Coffee cups in one hand, binoculars in the other, we scanned the lush foliage for Toucans, one of our elusive must-see birds. It was here, in Arenal, that Toucans lived. It was here that we’d have our best chance of seeing them.

View, across the road from our rental house in El Castillo: Arenal Volcano

No Toucans so far, but then we’d only just arrived. We’d tumbled in the night before, tired from our long drive from Monteverde up in the mountains, to discover a kitchen full of tiny black ants, pots and pans covered with thick furry mold which no amount of scrubbing could entirely remove, an empty propane tank, and a dry swimming pool.

Oh, and a flat tire on our car.

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Monteverde: Close Encounters

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

We were wandering slowly through the gorgeous cloud forest of Santa Elena’s Hanging Bridges near Monteverde. Today was supposed to be our “relaxing” day. Nothing was scheduled, other than this little trip through Hanging Bridges, and a night hike at 6 PM. Maybe we’d even take a nap this afternoon! So we savored the tangle of greenery, searching for tropical birds, monkeys, and sloths, and rejoicing in the forest’s unbelievable beauty.

The lush cloud forest trail in Santa Elena. How can one see a bird through all that?

Rounding a corner, a long narrow bridge would, unexpectedly and thrillingly, open up before us. We would step onto the bridge as the ground below us plunged away; as we crossed, we would find ourselves suddenly high up in the trees, in the midst of the canopy.

Martin and Dakota cross a hanging bridge, high up in the trees

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