Summer in the Pacific Northwest last year was, in a word, disappointing. At best we get approximately seven or eight weeks of Glorious Backyard Barbecue Swim in the Lake Sit Outside By the Fire Until the Stars Come out at About Eleven weather. It’s such perfection that the other 300 days of gray and drizzle and Xanax are worth it. Fire changed that. Fires on all the land surrounding us. It robbed us of already elusive blue sky, outdoor activities, homes and businesses and old growth forests that were at minimum hundreds of years old.
It hurt to breathe.
Several years ago when my children were small I was sitting outside in a lawn chair staring off in to the distance. I was tired as only a mother of young children can be and my weary eyes went a little out of focus. Do you remember in the early 90’s when those pictures that looked like a bunch of dots were so popular? You had to reset your focus by going cross eyed and about the time your Great Aunt Dorothea’s words were ringing in your ears “Your face is going to freeze that way!” a shape would pop out. (I swear it was always an eagle) These sleepy eyes were that soft, blurry strabismal.
About a mile away was a copse of towering evergreens. As I trained my cross eyed gaze to the great green yonder, I jumped. The trees were ON FIYAH!! But wait. It was not the orange glow of a forest fire. But there were most certainly wisps billowing off the tops of the trees. Then the translucent blaze abated. It was sucked in to the tree tops. Then it was back, billowy and wispy and completely without color. I watched this strange phenomena for a minute whilst I awaited the last of my sanity to slip in to the ether like invisible smoke from my invisible forest fire. Then I realized what I was observing.
I was watching the trees breathe. In with the carbon dioxide, out with the oxygen, in the most graceful symbiotic dance between them and us oxygen dependent creatures. This went on in gentle rhythm until my eyes were burning and I really needed to just blink. Many times since that evening I’ve reset my focus to the tops of trees. Usually when I felt like my own breathing was not a reliable format of survival, I could count on the trees to reset my rhythm.
I was worried about the trees this summer. The ones actually on fire and the ones that were standing safely in neighborhoods that were not ablaze. If I was choking then surely so were they. The International Journal of Forestry Research did a study about the effect of smoke exposure to deciduous and conifer trees. They hypothesized that smoke exposure would reduce photosynthesis and found this to be true. However, they also hypothesized that smoke exposure would alter growth patterns. This was not the case. Both Douglas firs and evergreen conifers have defense chemistry to keep their cores intact. Basically, they grow a very thick bark. In short, the trees were alright.
So are you, my dear. You are alright. All the nastiness may slow you down a little, but you have your bark. Your core is intact. As Out of the Gray continues to evolve and create itself, I’m taking a cue and focusing on the importance of self-care and creating that bark. I’m not referring to indulgences like a day at the spa, though I am a huge proponent of those and indulgences are absolutely necessary. I’m talking about self-care when self-care doesn’t seem at all possible. Luckily, when time, and or finances are limited, you can do something so purely restorative and so simple that even the trees do it. Take a breath. Deep. Yes, that’s it. Smell the roses. Blow out the candles. Now another. Right. You got this! And should you ever forget how, go watch the trees. They are wonderfully patient teachers. Even when it hurts.
"It's not the answer that enlightens, but the question."
It was an unfortunate twist of this crazy life that I attended the memorial service of a friend and peer this last week. She was an inspiring vivacious spirit, active in the non-profit community. It was her mission in life not to stagnate, and she was successful at that. I think those of us in the non-profit sector have a special responsibility toward non-stagnation. (Yes, I do believe I made up a word there) In a world where branding and selling are of utmost importance to keep margins stable and shareholders happy, we have a different goal. We long to be a solution, rather than simply a consumption. As such, it is easy to get stuck in a rut. After all, until our Mission Statements are rendered redundant, then we steadfastly march forward.
Or maybe it is our responsibility to be every bit as adaptable as for-profit corporations. Society is an ever-evolving organism that revolves around supply and demand. Demand itself can be an enigmatic Master, even for those with the best of intentions. Since we, as a Not For Profit, found a community with which we empathized and identified a need, we have an Answer in mind but our success is measured in service. For Out of the Gray, the answer is reinforcing and empowering Caregivers. But the question is what changes. Evolves, as resources change and evolve. With new technologies coming alongside government funding cut-backs, we are required to adapt if we want to remain useful.
So, Caregivers. What's my question today?
There have been times I have felt that our Mission is too limited. Our vision not broad enough. I laid awake the other night thinking...no, I'll be honest...berating myself for not regularly visualizing Out of the Gray to have a multinational, megacorp scope. (I need to stop watching Shark Tank before bed) I think I should wish for that? Maybe? Not that the need isn't global but first things first...
So I asked a mom with a special needs child here in our community to put together a Wish List for us. For some perspective. I mean, what are we needing to accomplish to be useful on a local scale?
Home maintenance and repair (including dryer vent cleaning on the roof, cleaning of washer gasket, dryer lint trap, replacement of hoses to washer, drain and test hot water heater, heavy lifting in the garden, washing second floor exterior windows, replacing exterior wood trim that's rotted out, thorough cleaning of vacuum, remove and replace caulking, etc.)
Wheelchair and WIKE maintenance
Equipment cleaning and repair (wheelchair, meal set-up space, walker, humidifier, special needs car seat)
Errands (I have to be able to track and organize meds, appts, laundry, and food prep - never mind the needs of the siblings. I frequently run out of hours. On the other hand, sometimes it would be nice to just be able to go take care of mail or shopping without it costing some other part of the schedule.)
More coverage of personal care hours by skilled and empathetic folks.
More time and energy for to do lists (updates to install for communication device, need to reconfigure physical set-up, reorganize home areas to better assist in home therapy efforts)
More predictable self-care (working out - have to be able to continue to lift 55lb kid and 65lb chair, massage and PT, sleep - my child needs repositioning every couple of hours most nights, regular and nutritious meals, time for medical appts for myself, time with friends)
Enough cooperative outside help to let my brain recoup and go easily toward creative solutions, vs. merely patching things together on the fly. Being the only adult in a family which includes a kid with fairly involved developmental disabilities can be exhausting. And I miss reading.
$$ for online training/seminars for the communication device ($25-$50 per, depending), and someone to help with other obligations so I could attend at scheduled times (usually running to therapy or taking someone to medical appts when they're in session)
Well. I don't have a van in storage. Neither do I have a box of a full night's sleep. It all seems very daunting and so very BIG until I remember I do have something to contribute...time . And a skill set that allows me to provide something very personalized for mamas that would like to feel taken care of for just a few minutes and get a little dolled up, even if it's simply to go to the grocery store. Out of the Gray is about meeting women right they are...right where *we* are, with what we've got. There is a big need out there for some big stuff. And then there is a need for exactly what I can fill. If wishes were fishes, we'd all cast nets. Or maybe it would really stink around here.
I have a new weekly schedule. First order of business on Monday mornings is to wake up, laugh at everyone going to work, and go back to sleep. Okay, so it didn't go down exactly like that. I wouldn't be that cruel.. (you can't see the fingers crossed behind my back, right?) But things have changed, starting this morning. I quit my preschool job. That position brought much joy and expansion to this middle-aged soul. However, my heart is called elsewhere. There is a population that has my heart that is over three feet tall. Caregivers are everywhere. In the grocery store, your next door neighbor you rarely see, maybe your cousin or your sister or your mother, even. But most caregivers with whom we cross paths are invisible.And that needs to change.
We are starting with a class intended for caregivers. You don't have to be caregiving to be interested in gleaning information about what it's like to have someone in your care or meeting some people giving their lives for another. Maybe you'd like to say hello and have a little snack. Come find us tomorrow night.
I recently flew to my childhood neighborhood to care for my mother. She had open heart surgery two days before Christmas and my purpose was to transition her from nursing care to home. It was a bittersweet trip. She still lives in the home that I grew up in and like old friends, we always pick right up where we left off, cracks and creaks and musty cupboards and all.
In forty five years I've never returned to an empty house and it felt for the first time like a stranger. Awkward. Like one of us had gotten the braces off and grew three inches and had a boyfriend. I made a similar trip this time last year when my dad passed away after a three year battle with a rare form of cancer. The house had started to change then but at the time we could still whisper secrets at night. This time in the dark that first night, alone with my memories and wary of the cracks and creaks I fell a little in love with Neko Case and the replay button on my iTunes.
Chimney falls and lovers blaze
Thought that I was young
Now I've freezing hands and bloodless veins
As numb as I've become
I'm so tired
I wish I was the moon tonight
I witnessed my mom be my dad's caregiver. For three years until a few days before he died it was just her, my brothers and myself when we could be there, and some dear compassionate neighbors who would rush over when the neuropathy from the chemo weakened him so and he would fall and my nearly eighty year-old mother couldn't lift him.
God blessed me, I'm a free man
With no place free to go
I'm paralyzed and collared-tight
No pills for what I fear
This is crazy
I wish I was the moon tonight
I didn't know what to expect once I got my mom home. Fortunately she's a tough bird and is faring quite well on her own now. But that night, it was all up to me and I didn't know if I could be what she needed. It was that night that I realized that she has spent the last year alone in a home that has changed for her, too.
As I hit replay over and over I thought about clients and friends that have been caregivers longer than they've not been. I wished I could be their moon. That orb that holds all in a pale, watery hug. Never lonely or lacking for company amongst the plethora of stars above and wistful souls below.
How will you know if you found me at last
'Cause I'll be the one, be the one, be the one
With my heart in my lap
I'm so tired, I'm so tired
And I wish I was the moon tonight
I'm so tired, I'm so tired,
And I wish I was the moon
And so this is Christmas and what have we done? One of my favorite holiday tunes is John Lennon's "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)". I hear a message within a message each time it plays. There is the more blatant social commentary about peace, but also within the obvious a more subtle plea for taking care of one another. The old and the young, the rich and the poor. This has been a wonderful year of service for Out of the Gray. We are so grateful for the support and encouragement and donations.
A new year is just around the corner and we have our work cut out for us in 2015. There are remarkable organizations in King and Pierce counties. We have Ronald McDonald House, Ashley House, Fisher House, Children's Therapy Unit at Good Samaritan, and Children's Hospital in Seattle to name a few. All of them do such an admirable job of serving those with special needs and are worthy foundations in and of themselves. But who is serving the needs of those behind the scenes? The Ronald McDonald house in Seattle houses 80 families a night. Fisher House, on the campus of the VA Puget Sound Healthcare System, has 20 family suites. Someone in each of those rooms is sacrificing a bit, or likely most of their life to make sure someone they love is getting the care they need. Out of the Gray could spend 2015 helping in those two houses alone. Yet there are so many more. You can help ensure those unpaid caregivers are given the attention they so deserve. We don't just offer clothes. We offer hope. Just a few of your dollars can make the new year seem a little brighter, a little more manageable for many.
A very Merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear
The Banks family will forever reside at 17 Cherry Tree Lane, London, UK. In case that doesn't ring a bell, that was the imaginary address of the Disney family that Mary Poppins visited, ergo, rescued in the movie "Mary Poppins". The mistress of Practically Perfect in Every Way and her temporary residence will also forever reside in my heart. For one, I've been compared to her more than once. Mostly because I do tend toward a cheerful optimism and also because I've been known to burst in to song spontaneously. I've yet to master popping in and out of chalk drawings but I have hope that I'll get there some day. Mostly however, I love the symbolism that the cherry tree represents. It was no accident, the address.
The significance of the cherry blossom goes back hundreds of years. In Japan the cherry blossom represents the fragility and the beauty of life. It's a reminder that life is almost overwhelmingly beautiful but that it is also tragically short. When the cherry blossom trees bloom for a short time each year in brilliant force, they serve as a visual reminder of how precious and how precarious life is. A fallen cherry blossom symbolizes a fallen samurai who sacrificed his life for the emperor. In China, the cherry blossom symbolizes feminine beauty, love and new beginnings. Our logo is a representation of exactly those things from the fragility and beauty to the sacrifice. Our greatest hope is to capture that rosy glow; the blush of bursting life that resides in every woman and catch it before she falls. Our strongest belief is that every client is Practically Perfect in Every Way.
Fresh-cut, flocked, fir, pine. It takes all kinds to make the season bright. This time of year many of us dress them up, watch them glow. We see trees year-round. We need them. At Christmas, we *see* trees. They become the guest of honor in our home for a few weeks. Individual masterpieces in the living room loaded with nostalgia and hope. Whether you decorate your tree with white lights or colored, bling or Battenburg, when stripped bare the tree is still a tree. A strong trunk, branches, their own spectrum of colors and a need for roots and food to stay alive. They age, they bend, they sometimes snap and they are magnificent. And once a year we pull them close and express our gratitude. Without trees we would be finished as a planet. Without caregivers we would be finished as a community. Let's pull them close and show our gratitude year round, shall we?
Sometimes opening our donation boxes and bags feels like Christmas. Thank you, thank you to our generous donors. It is because of you that we put a spring in a woman's step and a smile on her face all year.
...about women's foundations. It's a delicate topic, no doubt, but it's worth mentioning the unmentionables. I took another client today to be fitted at Nordstrom. Never underestimate the power of a well-made, perfectly fitted bra. It can make a five dollar tee shirt look like fifty, and a middle-aged bosom look twenty. Yes, the proper foundations can be that life changing. It's no surprise that every client I have taken to be fitted didn't know their actual size and had never spent more than fifteen dollars on a bra. I know this because I was one of those novices. I am here to testify that once you've had French you don't ever go back. Victoria who?
These sweet yellow kicks are the pride and joy of my shoe rack. Lacking in any real necessity, aside from garnering attention, they are the crème de la crème of dressing to one’s personality. It’s a little thing, a boost, a spring in the step. Every woman in the Western world has at least one pair of shoes like that.
Except they don’t.
When I met with my client Shaun, she was a young widow raising two small children with autism. Her five year old son was still not verbal or toilet trained and her vivacious three year old daughter was a comfortable rock star in the bedroom she shared with her mama, but a nervous wreck stepping outside the front door. When I asked her what we could help with, she told me about her one pair of tennis shoes. The sole had come off so she went to Wal-Mart. She found a pair and looked at the $14.99 price tag. Should she choose shoes or dinner? She put the shoes back, and went home and super glued the sole back on.
Out of the Gray was able to provide her with some new tennis shoes AND a sweet pair of Liz Claiborne sandals to go with some sundresses. That afternoon, I pulled out of the driveway teary eyed. Making ends meet in a modern world can be tough, but I’ve never had to choose between a single pair of shoes and feeding my kids. It is that realization that continues to make it an honor and priority to help. So tonight I’ll hug my babies, enjoy my food, blow a little kiss to my rocking kicks and be thankful for the big things that make the little things possible.
A wise woman once said "The best blush to use is laughter: It puts roses in your cheeks and in your soul."
I am not a make-over artist. Nor am I a fashionista. But I am a woman with a good eye, and in possession of talents which lead to confidently styled women. Out of the Gray was not founded in order to create flawless appearances. We are a group of women who understand, through observation and personal experiences, the black hole that a sense of powerlessness can create. Lord willing, most of us will never know what it is like to helplessly watch a loved one deteriorate. Under these circumstances, the blush of laughter can feel like a far off fairy tale. We are about meeting women right where they are, in their own space, and helping them to claim what they forgot they own: that rosy glow of a fine work of art.
So here's the plan: we will accept nominations for women in Western Washington who need some clothes, nice clothes. Cute clothes. Women who need some time. I will do a little paperwork, and I will hand pick outfits from a collection of new and gently used clothing based on each particular need, taste, and shape. Each woman will also receive a selection of donated personal care items. We'll have fundraisers and those of you who can, will make financial donations and if you have other talents or donations to offer, please see our contact page.
Each of these acts, these gestures, is a small thing. Except they are not. The seeds of kindness, falling on fertile ground, grow into strong, healthy plants which go on to bear fruit in perpetuity. After all, healthy women are helpful women; their successes, their strengths, grow exponentially as conveyed through their offspring and contributions to their communities.