A Shaky World

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As I creep closer to fifty I’m starting to think a bit more about aging. Frankly, I think I’ve aged pretty well (give or take a few crows feet). When I do think about aging, I tend to look to my parents. My mom and dad are 82 and 85 years old respectively. My dad has never let anything slow him down. Ever. My mom has slowed down a lot. She hasn’t had a choice. She has Parkinson’s Disease. Parkinson’s is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system with the most common symptoms being motor related. Shaking, rigidity, slowness and difficult walking. She is fighting it every step of the way but inevitably the disease progresses and life has to change.

She was diagnosed about 15 years ago, but honestly, it hasn’t been until the last two or three years that it has seriously affected her day to day life. At the beginning, the only noticeable symptom was a slight tremor in her left hand. When she originally told us I didn’t know much about the disease. All I could picture was Michael J. Fox, who I had seen interviewed on TV, who sometimes couldn’t control the tremors in his body, jerked violently and occasionally found it difficult to get a full sentence out. I was a bit freaked out. Fortunately, her symptoms were nothing like that. For a long time, to look at her, you wouldn’t even know she was sick. For many years she has been able to carry on with no noticeable changes to her life.

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Lately, though, I’ve noticed things have changed. A few month ago she was involved in a small car accident. My mom is no stranger to hitting things in her car but it has been mostly light poles and parking lot walls. There wasn’t much damage, nobody was hurt, but it was very obviously her fault. It was raining and there was a lot of traffic around. Her reactions are just not what they used to be. Fortunately, I happened to be┬ádriving by at the time and was able to help her with calling a tow truck and dealing with the other driver. She was a bit shaken and I’m pretty sure having me there was a huge help. Her biggest worry? ICBC might force her to take a road test. Losing her license would mean losing her freedom.

In the last three months she has needed to change from using a cane to using a walker. It may not seem like a big change to you and me, but to her it has been a huge adjustment. There have been a few falls leaving her bruised and sore so it really needed to be done. She had been using the cane to stand with both hands in front of her and her feet wide apart. Like a precarious tripod. We have always teased my mom that she was a bit like a weeble. You know, they wobble but they don’t fall down. Yes, it was kind of mean but she knew we were only joking and really she knew it was true. Mom wasn’t the most stable person to start with.

mom skiing

My mom was always active when we were younger. As a family we hiked, camped and skied a lot. Fitness wasn’t really a priority in the 70’s but I remember mom going to a fitness class at the local Y when I was little. Now she has a Life Call necklace that she wears all the time. It alerts a call board of she falls over. I know that she gets scared sometimes. She’s gotten better at asking for help. She’s come to the realization that there are some things she just can’t do. The biggest thing she now knows is that she can’t push herself. She has to make sure she is well rested to avoid the risk of injury.

So here I sit. An active, almost fifty year old, with some extra time on my hands (given that the current teacher’s strike ends soon). For too many years I have THOUGHT about getting involved in the Parkinson’s Society. Work, kids, life…….excuses really. No more. My mission for this Fall is to find a way to give some time and energy to help people with Parkinson’s. To try and find a way to help people with Parkinson’s that maybe haven’t been as fortune as my mom. And who knows, maybe they will find a way to ease my mom’s symptoms too. The Best Thing in Life is being able to make a difference in something that matters to you, personally.

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Camp

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I’ve been thinking about my summer camp experiences a lot lately. Maybe it’s because I was recently near Anacortes and got to enjoy a Washington State Ferry again. It’s more likely though that it’s the hot stickiness of summer that is bringing these memories back. Those hot days when you just want to jump into a freezing cold body of water. Day one of camp always involved jumping off the dock for the swim test. The water was so cold that it took your breath away. It sucked, but it was kind of a right of passage too. If you could make it through that, then you could most likely take on anything the rest of the summer had. And there was a lot to take on.

I was fortunate enough to go to an amazing camp on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands. Four Winds Westward Ho gives campers the most incredible camping experience in a setting that is, well, almost idyllic. Set on 100 acres of waterfront property, the camp accommodates boys and girls aged 7-14 who stay in cabins or raised tents dotted along the coastline. They all have great names. Crows Nest, Spinnaker and Moonraker are a few I remember. They are very rustic and communal toilets and showers are, shall we say, basic? Camp uniforms are mandatory. Girls wear blue bloomers and midis with white trim. Not the most flattering of choices but so comfy and easy to wear. Boys wear blue board short and white t-shirts. It puts everyone on the same level. Choices of activities included all water activities, crafts, tennis, horseback riding, music and gardening.

I spent four summers at Four Winds. Two as a camper and two as a CT, or counselor in training. During my last year as a camper I had three of the best cabin buddies ever. Our counselor, Diana, gave us lots of freedom and we used it. One night Katie, Jennifer, Dorothy and I stayed up late to bake brownies in the counselors kitchen. It got pretty late and we didn’t want to have to wake up early when the bell sounded at 7:00am. What to do, what to do? I know. Let’s climb up the peak of the lodge and take the clapper out of the bell. So we did. Know what? Let’s put the clapper in the middle of a pan of brownies and leave it on the Head Counselors front porch. I don’t remember if we ever got caught or not.

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I met so many cool people over the four summers I was there. Lisa from Southern California who found our Pacific Northwest summers not quite hot enough so she wore a turtleneck to play tennis in. Doug from Seattle who was obsessed with banana slugs. He knew everything about them and may have even kept some as pets in his tent. Scrimshaw (pretty sure that wasn’t his real name) and his wife and two kids. He was a counselor and she was the camp nurse. Kris, the CT leader, had the most amazing voice and guitar playing skills. It was through her that I learned to love the music of James Taylor and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. My lovely friend Nancy who I still keep in touch with even though she lives on the other side of the continent.

4Winds CTs

Gypsy Day came once a summer. Signaled by loud singing starting early in the morning. One cabin starts the process and walks hand in hand from cabin to cabin to tent singing the whole way and forming a long line of camps in their jammies. Once very cabin/tent is picked up and everyone is back to the lodge. Gypsy Day can officially begin. Each cabin picks up their packed lunch (most likely PBJ on pita bread) and head off on their adventure. Hiking Turtle Mountain, sailing to Lopez or canoeing across the sound. The day ends with everybody back at Lodge tired but eager to share the stories from the day. More singing and laughing until everybody is ready for bed.

If you were a sailor, as most at camp were, the ultimate prize of the summer was the Martha Trip. The Martha was a sloop that 6 lucky campers got to spend two weeks on, sailing up Desolation Sound. It was usually senior campers who had proven themselves competent sailors and were looking for adventure. Although I was never fortunate enough to sail on the Martha it was a huge part of camp that everyone wanted to be part of. The tradition was that whoever first saw her come around the point at the end of the trip had to run up to the lodge and rung the bell. There really are too many memories and cool things about Four Winds to put into one blog post. I can only hope that my daughter will one day be privileged enough to enjoy an experience like this.

There are so many benefits to any summer camp but the traditions and uniqueness of Four Winds are somehow magical. I’m actually getting a bit emotional thinking about the time spent there. Looking at the pictures and remembering all the people and the fun is definitely one of The Best Things in Life for me.

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