A Year of Firsts

Sun, Snow, and ShadowOn the third Saturday in January 2013, one year ago, Wife died. The lymphoma finally took what remained of her, after taking all the best parts weeks before. Although the date says one year tomorrow, for me her passing will occur on the third Saturday of January.

Yesterday was the last day of my year of firsts. In many respects, I’m glad it’s over.

I haven’t been writing much, here, although I worked my journal pretty hard. Early last week, as I prepared to travel to southern Nevada for fieldwork, I contracted bronchitis. So I delayed my departure that Thursday morning and drove to the Walmart walk-in clinic to see a medical provider. I know my body. When I get bronchitis (usually a viral infection) I am susceptible to a secondary bacterial infection that will keep me sick for a month if I don’t receive treatment. I learned to seek treatment early and take a round of antibiotics. Then I avoid the secondary respiratory infection that nearly always happens.

We made the trip and accomplished the tasks set before us. It’s another story; maybe I’ll tell it yet.

The last week was spent trying to recover from my bronchitis, trying to catch up after missing part of the weekend (to do chores), and working on a project with a hard deadline. I finally figured out what happened for my project (it’s a forensic project) yesterday afternoon. This is a good thing. Now I’ll finalize my report and supporting documentation and get it done.

In my off-time, I reflected on my life with Wife and read through my journal from a year ago. From my current perspective, I know how it all turned out. I didn’t at the time I wrote my journal. However, then, even a few weeks before she died, I knew things were not going well. I could see her energy ebbing as the days passed, despite the medical team’s effort to get the lymphoma under control. It was like watching a slow-motion train wreck.

Over the last year, I wrote several times how I hate that the lymphoma took her voice and ability to interact with me. Our joint life revolved around time together and talk. I loved to interact with Wife and that’s the thing I miss the most. We spent many hours over breakfast solving all the problems of our lives and the World’s.

I wept a few times the last week as I recalled how it was all winding down a year ago. I knew this watershed approached and wondered how it might feel — whether it would be like the passing of a birthday (“Do I feel older, nope…”) or if something more substantial would occur.

Well, yesterday was the last day of my year of firsts. I wept a few times as I recalled Wife’s last day. We knew she was dying soon — the hospice nurse told us three to five days. (Wife lasted another twelve hours.) When she took her last few breaths and tried to interact with us, it was very hard. Those last moments will haunt me forever. Then she was simply gone. Well, what was left of her… a trap that kept her spirit here but locked away from her loved ones, that died and her spirit was finally released.

Wife’s death was the hard part. Then all of the busy-ness that follows a death happened and was dealt with. In many respects, that activity is something good because it provides a focal point for doers to keep busy. I’m a doer… I needed that activity.

As I reflect on my activities, I believe I did things mostly right. At the very least, I did the best I could. I gave Wife everything within my power to give. We did our best to get a cure for her lymphoma. When that failed, we gave her time, attention, and our love. We saw her through to the end. It was a mix of joy in having known her and of sadness for our loss of her wonderful presence and spirit.

Make no mistake, Wife was no saint. She had her flaws, as do we all. But there was an inherent goodness in her that I believe derived from her faith. She shared that goodness freely with almost everyone who came into contact with her. Her faith was shared in what she did, not in what she said. As a result, that circle of people around her lost something big when she died. Those of us closest to her lost the most. But everyone in her circles lost something.

I gave myself a year to heal and to figure out what will be next. That year is finished. I’m not healed, but I’m better. I’m not happy and have not yet figured out what will make me happy. So, I think I was ambitious to believe I could figure out what’s next during my year of firsts. I decided, during my end-of-year time of reflection, that I need another year to figure out what’s next. That is, provided God gives me another year.

Regardless of whether he gives me another year or not, my plan is to use 2014 as a year for rebuilding. Last year was a year to mourn and process all the material things left behind after Wife’s death. Most of that is done. Most of the financial impact of her death is dealt with. As my friend Jim suggested, “It still sucks, but it doesn’t suck quite as badly.”

My intent is to work this year, plan ahead financially (for retirement, full or partial), and see Young Son through another year of college. By the end of this year, he’ll be looking to go to university somewhere. That means he’ll be moving out of my house and out of my daily provision. He’ll be taking on responsibility for his support and relieving me of that. I will be released from the last of my family responsibilities.

I’m giving myself this year to figure out what is next for me. I might elect to continue working my current engagement. I might elect to make a career change. I’ll make a mid-course check in June to determine whether I’m moving toward a new life that will provide some happiness. But this year will be a time for me to figure out what I want and where I want it.

I think I’m OK with that. I suppose I have to be OK with that.

I miss you Old Girl. I think I’ll miss you forever. Those of us who knew you, we each have a poorer life for your loss.

Edit: I think I miswrote. Today is the last day of my year of firsts. I suppose I just want it to be done.

Lost Love

Lost LoveExcuse me while I refill my whiskey glass… I’m going to write this and then go pack my camera gear. I head out in the morning for southern Nevada to do a site visit for one of my projects. The Girl and I will drive down there tomorrow and do a little light field work in the afternoon. We’ll probably stop for a couple of geocaches on the way, then drive into Pahrump to spend the night. Friday we’ll be in the field with the client. Then we’ll spend Friday night again in Pahrump to drive home Saturday. I plan to drive through Death Valley on the way home, do a little geocaching, and make a few images. I am looking forward to the trip.

I think one of my mistakes is not taking a weekend a month and driving somewhere. The road time is good for my head. The sights of new places is good for my eyes. The Girl is good for me. I have no idea what she gets from our relationship, but she obviously gets something from it. She seeks out my time and attention (except when she’s pissed at me for whatever doggish reason — hmmm… sounds kinda like girlish reason, doesn’t it?). She wants to go when I go and stay when I stay. I don’t exactly understand, but it doesn’t matter. The relationship works.

A few days ago we walked up to the community mailbox to retrieve the mail. While I was there, I noticed this fallen rubber band, either lost or discarded. I don’t know which. But the shape of it reminded me of the traditional heart-shape we use in our culture. The light was fairly interesting. The only camera I had with me was my Moto X. So, I made the shot with a phone-camera. The camera you have with you is the best camera.

I posted this on my social accounts. DiL commented she would have noticed the heart-shape too. She’s an artist; I’m not. But I loved the comment anyway.

I titled this “Found, Lost Love” or “Lost Love, Found.” Both work, I think. The only post-processing was addition of the vignette to draw the eye to the geometry of the rubber band.

But the reference goes much deeper. A year ago we were in the thick of it. Wife had been sent home by her medical team to die. They did what the could. The cancer did not respond to radiation treatment. There was nothing left to do. The stress on Wife to make the 82-mile journey everyday was telling. She was losing strength daily. She had lost her ability to speak and most of her mobility. It was not a good place to be.

She didn’t want to give up. I know her. I know how she thinks. Surrender was not an option. But, although she didn’t want to give up, she knew she wasn’t improving. In the end, when asked, she said “I want to go home and rest.”

I think those were the most difficult seven words I ever heard. It broke my heart to realize that this was it. All the work, the travel, the hope, and the fear peaked in those few words.

The staff came by to say goodbye. They knew. They have seen it all before. Everyone leaves their care at some time. Some go home healed, completely or partially. Some go home to die. It’s part of the gig. But they were sincere and compassionate and it was an honor to see them salute Wife’s effort to get relief from her disease. We brought her home that afternoon, all of us quiet, reflecting on what we learned and what was coming. And so the vigil began.

A lot of my emotions rose when I saw the heart-shaped rubber band the other afternoon. I instantly made the connection of a lost-love, found. My love is lost, gone from this life forever. I want no other and as my year-of-firsts approaches its end, nothing is really changed. Wife is gone and will not be returning.

I still wonder what to do with that. My expectation was that I would retire, fully or partially, and we would do the things we talked about for so many years. With her demise, that’s changed. In this new life, I am moving to a second career as a photographer and writer. But no longer will I be husband and lifemate.

What does this mean? What does any of it mean? Is there anything of significance in this?

I’m not sure I have any answers. All I know is that I carry on. I’ll work a few more years in my current engagement, so long as enough work exists to keep me employed. Then I’ll move to a new phase of my life, providing my health holds, and take on a few engineering assignments that interest me. They will pay well. I intend to spend the rest of my time traveling to see my family and to make images of interesting places and things as well as write about my experiences.

I know what I believe. I am not a religious man. But I have faith. What I believe cannot be proven. That changes nothing about how I intend to conduct myself. Regardless of whether my faith proves true or false, I intend to live what I believe. My hope is that Wife and I will have “time” to talk again. I would love that. But I cannot know because it can’t be proven.

Flight Rules

I am not sure where I came across the following set of rules for pilots, but they seem appropriate for so many things. Therefore, I thought I should share:

  • Rule Number 1: Keep the aircraft in stable flight.
  • Rule Number 2: Should the aircraft depart from stable flight, see Rule Number 1.
  • Rule Number 3: Any landing should be considered safe if the aircraft and pilot both survive in flyable condition.
  • Rule Number 4: It costs nothing except pride to go around for a second approach if the first (or nth) approach does not appear to be viable. See Rule Number 3.
  • Rule Number 5: Do not run out of fuel. Heavier than air aircraft are called that for a reason. Gravity still works.

Monday Morning

rocksI captured this image Saturday morning on our hike and just love this image. It was just a little late in the morning and the light is a bit flat, yet the texture of the granite outcrop is there and the muggle sign is plainly evident.

Why someone was moved to spray paint the rock is beyond my understanding. It’s a form of environmental vandalism and I don’t like it. The rocks have a natural beauty and tell the story of the landscape without paint.

But, the Girl and I had a good time exploring these rocks. I looked for a geocache; she looked for wabbits. When I called her in, she was grinning and panty. What a funny girl.

We heard voices coming from down the hill. Another couple of groups formed up for the hike. It was getting late anyway and I had a few more things to do. So we headed back for the 4Runner and for the house. On the way down the hill, I kept the Girl close. A couple of hikers approached from the opposite direction, so I asked her to sit while they passed.

“That’s a well-trained dog,” an older man said.

“We work hard at it.”

“Well, it shows…”

He’s right, of course. She wanted to run over and sniff them. She thinks everyone wants to be greeted. I generally make her wait until she’s invited, because so many people are either afraid of dogs or are uncertain about pit-looking dogs. We don’t need to encourage bad (human) behavior. But, she waited patiently (off leash) until they passed and then we continued back down the hill to the 4Runner. She ran over where they passed and sniffed around, peed (of course), and then we were on our way. She stayed close all the way back to the truck.

She’s a good girl… funny and quirky, just like her dad. But she’s a good girl and my best friend.

Later that day we drove to Sparks to meet Jimmy and have coffee. While we were hanging out at the Camera Clinic, another photographer we met last summer entered the store. Jimmy knows him well. The photographer was telling a story about how he waited for two hours for an eagle to fly off its perch so he could capture the launch. As he described how “Of course, it flew that way!” he stepped forward, sort-of toward me, and quickly stretched out his arm to indicate the eagle’s direction.

I heard a very low “grrrrr…” emanate from the Girl. She dropped her head and took a step forward. I called her back and asked “What was that?”

But, I quickly figured out that she took the photographer’s step forward and outstretched arm as a threat. He was warned. He quickly called her over, held out his hand, then sat on the sofa to pet and reassure her it was all good. She was fine. She just didn’t care for the sudden motion in my general direction and the intensity of his projection.

Did I say she’s my best friend?

Now it’s Monday morning, early. I have a few things to accomplish today. Later this week I head for a field trip to walk one of my project sites in southern Nevada. The time out will be good for me. I’m hoping for some time to capture some images while I’m out and about. I might even have time to find a geocache or two.

I put away my Keurig this morning. I’m still going to use it, but for everyday use it’s pretty expensive. The prefilled K-cups cost about a buck apiece. I was using three or four of them per day. That’s a lot of bucks. Mr. Coffee will make a pot for about a quarter. I preheat my Stanley thermos bottle with hot water and it keeps my coffee warm all morning.

The Keurig is a great machine and one I’ll continue to use when I just want one cup of coffee. But, when I want my morning coffee, I’ll make a pot and save myself some bucks.


xmasAfter ending 2013, I woke early 1 January 2014, made a cup of coffee, and sat down to think about the upcoming year. I remember that my dad was born on New Year’s Day. He would have been about 80-years old, give or take a few years. He died too young and I still miss him. Although he was not free with his counsel, it was his thoughts I sought and miss. Although he was not highly educated formally, he was highly educated in the school of hard knocks. He had wisdom that was hard-gained.

My brother-in-law called me on New Year’s Day. It was a good chat and he’s a man I respect and who also has seen plenty of hard times.

I then dug into my financial review of 2013 and my financial plan for 2014. In poking around for a budget planner for Moneydance (my accounting tool), I came across a link to You Need a Budget (YNAB). I read through some of their materials and downloaded a demo copy of the software. Their approach is based on four simple rules.

It took me most of the day to get my head around how their approach works. It boils down to “budget the money you have today.” This is followed by “spend last month’s income this month.”

This is an interesting approach and one I’ve been thinking about quite a lot. I haven’t lived from paycheck to paycheck in a while. But, last year I managed my cash flow very carefully because of Wife’s final medical bills, in part, and because I think I was compensating for my loss by spending money. I wasn’t stupid, but I wasn’t necessarily wise. My plan for 2014 was to be current and have enough cash in my checking account to cover the month’s expenses at the beginning of the month. The plan was to not be concerned about cash flow.

The second part of my plan was to clear all obligations except for my house and my car. The third part was to maximize my 401k contribution and regularly put money into savings for emergency use.

After reviewing the YNAB approach and the software, I bought a license for Young Son and myself. (It helped that Steam had the software on sale. I spent a good part of the day setting up my accounts and planning the next couple of months as well as a general plan for the year.

By the end of this month I will be clear except for my house and my car. I will meet one of my goals early this year. The maximum contribution to my 401k will hurt my disposable income, but I’ll be fine. I’ll adjust my spending and choose wisely how I spend my income. I probably won’t make my savings goal by the end of this year, but I’ll be better off that I was. This is a good thing.

After all of that work, yesterday morning I decided that the Girl and I needed a change of venue for morning walkies. So, we drove over to Jacks Valley Wildlife Refuge and walked out there. The Girl had a blast and I blew my legs humping it up the hill. But I found a couple of geocaches and had some nice views. I’ll post a couple of pictures over the next few days.

Another of my goals is to spend time making images. I intend to do that with both film and digital cameras. We’ll see how I do this year.