Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Hammer of Gall
By Kathleen Kimball-Baker

No early detection.
No emergency prep.

Thunder is billowing
north of her equator
and walled air ripples,
full of charge; she closes her
eyes, counts one Mississippi
two Mississippi three
Mississippi FOUR

A sopping mattress leans,
no way out, only through.
Bayous are swollen, they'll spill
She must shelter in place in the
roaring darkness . . . she fastens
her arms around what's anchored
to the floor, cold and white
and she lowers her head,
a bow to the surge

Splinters of hurt cross the
dome of her belly and
everyone and everything
is running around the wet
hair, back of neck, temples,
the place above lips
all sticky with salt water
and her wipers can’t lift
against the deluge. She
thinks this: O God
the flash flood is going
to drown me I just know it
But someone is lifting her
head just above the tide,
an angel, surely an angel
till her throat is raw
till hurt crawls out of the wreckage
like refugees. In this shelter
of tile and slippery porcelain
and hurricane hand dryers,
she slumps, awaiting rescue,
and it comes, and so do
the cuts

The storm has a name that sounds
like a southern belle: biliary dyskinesia
you know, like Frankly Scarlet

Image by psoup

Monday, December 23, 2013

Got you good

Got you good
By Kathleen Kimball-Baker

Along came the day you knew,
dangerous, like black ice.

You had a choice
but only this: do or die.
Some call that a choice,
because the dying is slow
and they don't notice,
even though it shows around
your eyes and how you walk.
So you were afraid of the do,
because you might be alone
and that wasn't at all sensible.

But you couldn't stop the longing --
For muscles humming "more"
For clumsiness, knowing nothing, and the bruises
For tree tops casting over their shoulders gold and pink
For chasing a runny nose into the woods, into cold white and blooms of darkness
For frozen waves able to sing once more
For the click of little stones the lake swallows
For the spill of painful beauty on your face

You wanted all this and sweetness,
the width of it all and the tallness, too,
the dark nights with noises and the soft safe mornings
and the whole do-over every single day
with the "feed me, water me, let me run and smell things"

You didn't think you could choose them
You thought you would die,
and you would have,
and you still will.

Then along came the day
you just knew:

The wild got you good.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Tummy troubles

Image: Ben Oh
"Stay with me, Kathleen. Stay with me."

Never in my life did I expect to hear those words spoken to me.

Never in my life have I felt so powerless, so vulnerable, and so so sick.

It happened November 15.

I had just completed physical therapy. I sat up on the table and knew I was going to be sick.
I found my way to the bathroom on the 2nd floor of the Calhoun Executive Building, kneeled on the floor, and away I went.

Within 15 minutes I was reduced to a sweaty, stinky, barely coherent, terribly sick lady. I had tried calling my doctor's office, and they said call 911. I tried calling my husband, but honestly, I couldn't get any understandable words out. (He saved the message and played it back for me - ish!)

I have vague snatches of recollection. Like hearing my physical therapist tell someone my name and say I'd been perfectly fine less than half an hour earlier. I heard a doctor's voice saying, yes, call 911. And I heard the voice of an earthly angel who was holding my head from dropping into the loo, and saying things like "Stay with me, Kathleen." I could feel my energy ebbing, and all I wanted to do was flatten myself on the cool tiles and pass out.

But that's not what happened.

EMTs showed up and managed to unwedge me from my position in that tiny bathroom stall. Two men carried me to a stretcher and started an IV. Into that port they pumped anti-nausea medicine and morphine. The pain in my stomach was excruciating. I moaned like a zombie and begged for help. Every bump in the road felt like a jackhammer to my stomach.

Image: Brian K YYZ
And then I arrived at the Emergency Department and was transported swiftly to a room. More anti-nausea medicine. More morphine, which made me momentarily even sicker. And potassium. I guess my potassium level plummeted, as did my hemoglobin and my blood pressure. To even things out, my heart raced into tachycardia.

My friends, I was a mess -- a moaning, writhing, bona-fide mess. Another round of anti-nausea meds and morphine and I finally began to feel enough relief to be taken for a CT scan. Results: normal. I was on the 6th bag of fluids when my husband and daughter arrived. And I'd finally stopped moaning and was drifting off to sleep now and then.

The decision was made to keep me overnight to get my heart rate down and build my fluids back up, and I was released 24 hours later on the condition that I get further tests.

On Tuesday, I was pumped full of radioactive dye and given an injection that briefly -- but frighteningly -- brought the symptoms back on.

Diagnosis: Biliary dyskinesia (aka a gall bladder whose warranty had expired). Not stones. Just a really bad bile-maker. On the day of the test, it was functioning at 7%. Bare minimum is 35%. Why the sucker causes so much pain when it is so incompetent I'm still not sure, but I can guarantee you it does.

Beth, RN, and me
So I'm headed for surgery December 3 and in the meantime I am on a completely fat-free vegan diet. No animal (mammalian or fish) products, no soy beans or soy products, no dairy products, no oil (healthy or not), no nuts. And truth me told, I haven't felt this good in years! It's amazing what happens when  you eat right.

But that gallbladder is a ticking time bomb, and I never NEVER NEVER want to go through the likes of that Friday again.

This past Friday, one week after the horrific day, I managed to track down the earthly angel who did so much to help me, but whose face I never saw. Her name is Beth, and when I brought her cookies, Himalayan bath salts, and a thank you card, she told me that was unnecessary, because "I was just doing my job." But I wasn't her patient. I was a complete stranger, losing the contents of her belly in full technicolor and surround sound. And I'm humbled by people the Universe puts in my path when I most need them.

So here's to you, wonderful Beth! May everyone be so fortunate as to find you along their path!

Next up: gotta track down those EMTs!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Cinderella moment

Dashing off to the cyber event of the year . . . 

. . .  wearing this . . .

. . . while being escorted by . . .
Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle
. . . I'm not sure I'll be able to convince him to dance . . . 
(actually, I think he only agreed to be my date because he thinks I might be up to something.)

Oh, did I happen to tell you how we met?

See you at the ball!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Won't you be mine?

"It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
It's a neighborly day in this beautywood,
A neighborly day for a beauty,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you,
I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.
So let's make the most of this beautiful day,
Since we're together, we might as well stay.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won't you be my neighbor?
Won't you please,
Won't you please,
Please won't you be my neighbor?

Lyrics by Fred Rogers
Thank you, Mr. Rogers

Some people!

"Ecstasy" - © 2013 Kathleen Kimball-Baker 
"Some people have a wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder, and even ecstasy."

~ Abraham H. Maslow

And may we all be so fortunate!

From on Word for the Day - Jun 10, 2013, www.gratefulness.org

Friday, May 10, 2013

Cheek to cheek

It was a good day.
It's always a good day when I'm dancing cheek to cheek with these guys.

"And the cares that hang around me thro' the week
Seem to vanish like a gambler's lucky streak
When we're out together
dancing cheek to cheek"

Sing it Louie . . .

Oops . . . the date should be 2013 . . . oh, whatever, it's all the same, really.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Not so bad, really

One last kiss, cold and white

O, weary Northerner,

Wrestle your cold feet into boots
this one last time
Glove your hands
and walk with me
We'll bring along the dogs

Now then
lift up your chin

Can you feel it?
The ping of infinitesimal darts,
the icy bites on the delicate skin of your nose
before they vanish

Can you hear it?
The squeak of boots,
enough to make your teeth itch

Can you see it?
The night that can't go dark
The billowy ground of
white, fresh as a sheet pulled directly
off a wintry clothesline
Watch as our companions
plow into the snow
looking for some moldering
stick or crust of bread meant for
the chickadees
See the silly grins on their
snow-bearded muzzles

Is it really so bad?

April, yes, but soon
enough, slush will trickle
down the sidewalks, gray and messy
Green will shoulder up through the mud
Sun will baste us sticky,
and sodden air will suck away our breath

I know what you'll do then:
You'll hurry down to the lake

You'll smell of algae,
slip your sweaty skin
into the lake's dark cloak
You'll pull your head
propel your steamy form
to the underwater
ladder of the floating dock,

all the while cooled
by the water

the water
not so long ago frozen
by our long white winter.

By Kathleen Kimball-Baker (c) 2012

Image: "Cora on an April walk" by Kathleen Kimball-Baker

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Year of the Sledgehammer, or Why I Stopped Planning Too Far Ahead

In her book Traveling Mercies, the wonderful writer Anne Lamott talks about the Year the Big Eraser in the Sky wiped away much of what she loved. That image has always stayed with me. It helped me name 2005, perhaps the most tumultuous period in my life to date. The Year of the Sledgehammer broke me open, smashed to smithereens much of what had grown rigid in my world view, and it exposed me to wonders I never could have imagined in my fastened-up heart and brain.

It also made me a poor planner.

In January of 2005, it dawned on me that an auspicious year lay ahead. One child would come of age, my youngest would finish high school and go to college, I would reach a landmark birthday, and my husband and I would celebrate a big anniversary. All of which seemed worthy of some kind of BIG celebration as a family. A cruise, perhaps? A grand family reunion? To be sure a graduation open house, an anniversary fete, and three grand birthday celebrations needed planning. I started scheming, looking for venues, nailing dates.

All my life, I'd been trading on my tenacity, energy, enthusiasm - and as it turns out, a very warped view of my own personal power. Until 2005, I figured if I wanted something badly enough, I could make it happen: just turn on the willpower, apply extra doses of enthusiasm, and start planning.

But the Great Unknowable had something else in mind for me.

Within 6 months, I was breathing my way from one minute to the next, coming to grips with how very little power and control I honestly had in life, holding "it" together as best I could. Planning wasn't even an option.

In a nutshell, three generations of my beloveds became terribly ill and I was the primary caregiver for all three. There was blood -- and other body fluids. There was a putrid open chest wound the size of a dinner plate. There was psychic anguish only months of wailing could vent. Revelations no one wants to hear. There were shakes and paralysis. There was the wretched and sour smell of too much alcohol metabolizing in a person's malnourished body. There was urinary incontinence and tubes and hospital fluids and crashing blood pressures. There were falls and bruises and sleepless nights and emergency room runs and taking an adult to day care and locked up "mental health" units. Surgeons and infectious disease specialists. Wheelchairs. Hospital wrist bands. Frantic calls to physicians and psychiatrists.

There was no cruise.

And in the midst of the blur on the personal front, there was the job that suddenly exploded into 5 jobs. The caring for beloveds, then working till 3 am to keep up with job expectations. Responsibility for millions of dollars that meant other people's livelihood. Trying to learn and meld 3 new cultures within an organization so that they functioned in a healthy way together. A staff that grew from 3 to 25 overnight. Traveling to promote a book, leading workshops, forging important partnerships to keep the "mother ship" alive and afloat, building a Web site with a partner I found hard to abide, arm wrestling with a glitzy ad agency that didn't have time for the work.

I cringe now when I think about how I answered the simple and innocent greeting/question, "Hi, how are you?"

I thought I could mange all this by myself. But the Great Unknowable had something else in mind.

On one particularly bleak morning, a colleague handed me a print out with dates and places and smarmy-sounding names like Serenity Today and Steps and Traditions. She smiled knowingly and said "Maybe this will help." She's was right; it did. I found refuge in a 12-step program for families going through similar hard times. I went to 90 meetings in 90 days where for 1 hour I stepped out of the mayhem and into peace. Sometimes I left those meetings sobbing. I always left feeling understood and heard. I reached out to a wise woman who became a guide to sanity. I learned, somehow, that I had to take care of myself. And in doing so I made the most remarkable, mind-blowing discovery of my life.

Here's the revelation: Whether or not my beloveds healed was not up to me. That's right. Their recovery was just that; THEIR recovery. Mine was mine. Bingo! I understood for the first time in my life the concept of boundaries. It was humbling. And it was liberating. I was responsible TO them. I was not responsible FOR them. So simple, and yet so profound.

Coincidentally, two of my beloveds were in fact healing. It's easier to see in hindsight than it was to see in the moment, but there were signs. One of my beloveds died. And I was broken open enough by that point, in November, to discover in the dying process incredible beauty, the slowing down of all that matters, the singular focus on love and comfort.

It would be many many months before I regained vitality. I was emptied out by the Year of Sledgehammer, and it required much sitting still and staring at my feet and taking walks and intentional nothingness to mend. But in that empty and broken place, unbeknownst to me, the Great Unknowable had cleared room for the entry of joy and delight, the likes of which I'd never known before. And it was at that point I made a decision to center my life around joy rather than on controlling my destiny. Best decision I ever made.

A dear friend who has been a big part of helping me along my joy-filled path mentioned today that she is amazed at how spontaneously I go about things. In other words, she's a planner, someone who thinks months ahead and gets the good deals because of it. I, on the other hand, am more spur of the moment kind of gal. There's a heftier price to pay for being spontaneous, but it's mostly worked well. Still, I really have to explore whether I've become this way out of fear (as in, if I plan too much I might invite another Year of the Sledgehammer into my life). I truly have come to trust those little messages that pop into my head that suggest doing something "this" way rather than "that" way, as long as my motives are honest. But I also think there's room for more thoughtful planning, so long as I don't hang onto to a certain outcome.

Dear Great Unknowable - I'm going to try to introduce a little planning into my life now. I trust you'll let me know if I'm taking it too far. And if I am, would you mind using a Beanie Baby rather than a sledgehammer this time? OK, thanks, bye!

Image: The Jungle Store

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Feeling 'little'

Many many moons ago, when I was a young girl, my mother used the most wonderful expression to help me articulate those moments when I felt insecure, frustrated with my limitations, or just plain in a funk.

"Are you feeling little," she would ask.

Yes. That captured it perfectly. Because inside my tiny frame was a spirit that usually felt big and sunny and full and sure of things. And then there were times when my pilot light just seemed to dial down to a flicker.

'Tis such an evening. Missing my mom. And feeling little.

Hopefully, not for long.

What do you do when you're "feeling little"?

Image: Limeoscajuliet

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Wishin' and hopin' and thinkin' and prayin'

if you like it

if you need it

if you want it

for our fields

if you lack it

in good measure

as you need it

to help you breathe

to move the love

to float your soul

in all its forms

to awaken you


to keep you searching

These are my 2013 wishes for you,
my friends and loved ones.

Oh, and dogs
if you so desire-as do I


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