Saturday, May 24, 2014

Focusing on My Brother

I have learned in the last week that the loss of a brother or sister starts a tolling in the heart.  I am not ready to be the "older generation".  I don't want to hear a doctor say "we will manage..." instead of "we will fix...".  My brother's death was a good death as far as finality goes.  He did not suffer a lingering decline.  His cancer roared up and overcame him.  Now I am working on my three minutes at his life celebration next Saturday.  How do you condense a lifetime of love and caring into three minutes?  Some of you know because you have been there.  Soon I will know and be ready to help others.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

My Brother

My brother died on Sunday.  He will have a fine obituary. He had a distinguished career. He and his wife raised three children who all survive him with their husbands and wives and children of their own.  He was a generous contributor in his community. To me he was a demi-god.  My child-self thought he could do anything.  The five year difference in our ages placed him in a world seemingly beyond reach. My grown up self relied on him, enjoyed his company looked forward to visits. We were as many others, siblings who grew up to be friends. Lucky us. He was much too young.  I am suddenly old. His light has gone out and left a shadow on my heart.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Ernesta Drinker Ballard

Ernesta Drinker Ballard was my mother.  On May 13 she would have been 94 years old.  Sometimes Mothers' Day falls on her birthday.  Three years ago I wrote about her.  I cannot improve what I wrote then.  Here is that post from May 11, 2011.

My mother has been dead for only six years.  From our house I can see Mt. Baker in the North Cascade Range.  With the candor of the old, she told me that I had been conceived on a hiking trip there.  I miss her every day.

My mothers' passion was the power of vision.  What she could imagine, she could do.  Whomever showed up was enlisted in her cause.  With volunteers her armies mowed down the opposition.  She believed in belief.  To watch her work a room was to know that you were an amateur to her mastery of teamwork.  As she lay dying people came to her room to say goodbye - people my sister and I could no longer count or account for.

One of her close friends sent us this poem that was written by Edna St. Vincent Millay about another woman who dedicated her life to the cause of women's rights.  We printed it in the program for my mother's memorial service.

To Inez Milholland

Upon this marble bust that is not I
Lay the round, formal wreath that is not fame;
But in the forum of my silenced cry
Root ye the living tree whose sap is flame.
I, that was proud and valiant, am no more;—
Save as a dream that wanders wide and late,
Save as a wind that rattles the stout door,
Troubling the ashes in the sheltered grate.
The stone will perish; I shall be twice dust.
Only my standard on a taken hill
Can cheat the mildew and the red-brown rust
And make immortal my adventurous will.
Even now the silk is tugging at the staff:
Take up the song; forget the epitaph.
—Edna St. Vincent Millay


I attended a Women's Self Defense class this week.  We learned how to block a grabbing hand, how to break free, how to inflict pain.  There were 28 women in the class, friends in a martial arts program, taekwondo.  This was serious business.  Our instructor works with police and prison guards.  He reviews police reports of attacks on women.  Of rapes.  Of murders.  Of women just like us who are struck at random in a dark parking lot.  We came to the class unsure.  We paired up and grappled.  We found the jugular vein. We learned how to choke.  We agreed to meet again to practice and learn more skills.  We felt lucky to have been there.   We left as warriors.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

I Promise this is the Last Opera Post for a While

Jacques Offenbach's wild and wonderful opera "The Tales of Hoffman" follows a love starved poet through three calamitous love affairs.  Through all, he is sheltered and protected by his muse who offers the consolation of his passion for his art.  The muse is usually played by a woman and is scored for a mezzo-soprano voice.  In Act 3, Hoffman has travelled to Venice in search of the feckless Giulietta, who has elevated hedonism to a fine art.  His ever faithful muse observes the goings on and begins a simple barcarolle.  A barcarolle is sung in the style and meter of a gondolier, poling his boat forward shaping the lilting rhythm of his song.  The muse is joined in her song by Giulietta.  The song leaves no doubt what the evening will bring.  Here are the words of their song in English:

Lovely night, oh night of love
Smile upon our joys!
Night much sweeter than the day
Oh beautiful night of love!
Time flies by, and carries away
Our tender caresses for ever
Time flies far from this happy oasis
And does not return
Burning zephyrs
Give us you kisses!
Your kisses! your kisses! ah!
Lovely night oh night of love
Smile upon our joys!
Night much sweeter than the day
Oh beautiful night of love!
Ah! Smile upon our joys
Night of love, oh night of love!

And here is a lovely rendition.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Garage Engineers Go Long

Thirty six years ago NASA launched a space weather probe called ISEE-3 (International Sun Earth Explorer).  For almost 20 years the small craft worked at the tasks assigned by NASA.  For a few years she mapped solar wind and the earth's magnetic field, and then, asked to fire her thrusters, she was sent to chase comets.  Her last job was a fly-by of the familiar Halley's comet.  She was retired in 1997, left alive in space, still sending signals but receiving no commands.  Now come the "garage engineers", a motley crew of old time NASA guys and college students.  These are men with computers, imagination and ambition.  Seeking crowd funding for their plan, they intend to partner up with ISEE-3 as she whips around the moon this summer.  The opportunity won't come again until 2029.  ISEE-3 will be asked to monitor space weather again, and then, in 2018, fire her thrusters and go off after a comet.  Simple, right?  NASA has released all their ISEE-3 documents but isn't otherwise in on the plan. I love this team.  This is the geek equivalent of a start up rock band in your garage.  Cheer for them.  Learn more by listening to this piece from NPR.