Archive for May, 2009

Why Swim?

Jeri SwimAs many of you know, I’ve gotten back in the pool and started swimming again for physical and mental health purposes.

I love it. I absolutely love to swim. I don’t know why I’ve let it be so many years out of the water.

I swam competitively in junior high, high school & college. (Yes, that’s me in the white cap, foreground, in the picture.) I was never a star, just a good solid second string competitor with an occasional win in my best events. Back in those days I swam 5:30-7am and 3-5pm 6 days a week, with an added hour of weight training 3 days a week. It wouldn’t be unusual to put in 7,500 to 10,000 yards a day.

I remember the first race I ever won. 200 backstroke, Wenatchee swimming pool, I must have been 12 or 13. I had not the faintest idea that winning was possible, but I pulled ahead from the first stroke, and built upon my lead with each lap. When I touched the wall 2 or 3 body lengths ahead of the second place swimmer I was euphoric! And exhausted – the 200 hundred is a middle distance event.

Through the years I’ve started lap swimming a few times, but then my interest has petered out. I push myself too hard, get too competitive and critical, and compare myself unfavorably against my younger, faster, fitter self. I’ve even swam with the Masters’ team a couple of times but I didn’t enjoy it – I had to push too hard, and don’t enjoy swimming in a crowded lane. While I recall the elation of winning, those goals are not for me any more.

If I simply let myself enjoy swimming, without pushing or competitiveness, it’s a wonderful experience. From the moment I walk into the pool and smell the chlorinated air, put on my cap and goggles while looking at my still, glasslike lane, and take that first plunge into cool, embracing water, it’s entirely like coming home. I love the weightlessness, the smoothness, the hypnotic rhythm, and the mindful, meditative state I reach after lap upon lap.

I leave the pool completely centered, energy level turned up to max, with a clear mind and my anxieties drained away.

I don’t know why I ever stopped – and I sure don’t plan to again.

Posted on Sunday, May 31st, 2009 by Jeri
Under: health, inspiration, swim | 6 Comments »

Philosophy of Life

One of my very favorite quotes, which greatly influences my philosophy of life, is from Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

“Citizenship in a Republic,”
Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

I’d love for my epitaph to be: “She dared greatly.”

Posted on Wednesday, May 27th, 2009 by Jeri
Under: inspiration | 4 Comments »

Ashes in the Sound

Yesterday we took one last opportunity to say goodbye to Bryan – beloved husband, devoted father, cherished son and adored brother.

We spent the day on the Puget Sound and scattered Bryan’s ashes. I wanted to enjoy the day, the company of family and friends and remember him with my whole heart. We headed out of Liberty Bay toward Brownsville, where Bryan and I moor our own boat.

Bryan and the Hummingbird

We navigated the sound on a couple of adorable electric boats. We couldn’t have had a more beautiful day if we’d custom-ordered it. The sun was brilliant and the water sparkled and it was warm and slightly breezy.

Electric Boats

I had the beautiful urn that Jim made for us. I also asked a local florist for a bag of flower petals; she saved roses for me for several days and wouldn’t accept a dime. Mom brought a small box of skipping stones and encouraged us to write messages on them. I engraved a small brass heart with the words, “Bryan Merrell, 1963-2009, With our love.”

When we neared Brownsville harbor, we tied the boats up together. The captain recited parts of Psalm 107:23-43 for us:

Those who go down to the sea in ships,
Who do business on great waters;
They have seen the works of the LORD,
And His wonders in the deep.
For He spoke and raised up a stormy wind,
Which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They rose up to the heavens, they went down to the depths;
Their soul melted away in their misery.
They reeled and staggered like a drunken man,
And were at their wits’ end.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
And He brought them out of their distresses.
He caused the storm to be still,
So that the waves of the sea were hushed.
So He guided them to their desired haven.
Let them give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness,
And for His wonders to the sons of men!
When they are diminished and bowed down
Through oppression, misery and sorrow,
He sets the needy securely on high away from affliction,
And makes his families like a flock.

We scattered his ashes over the side; they swirled and eddied in the water and finally disappeared into the sparkle of the sun’s reflection.

Ashes in the water

Then everyone tossed rose petals into the water; it was slack tide with no current, so the roses drifted out into a giant halo around our boats.

Rose Petals on the Water

Mom pulled out the stones and we skipped them into the water; the moment of levity was perfect. I am horrible at skipping stones but managed to get one at the right angle. My sister Cheri was a pro.

Cheri skipping stones

We passed around the little engraved brass heart around and thought of him, then I asked his mom to release it after the ashes and roses. It drifted slowly down into the water, flashing and turning in the sun, and gradually faded from sight. Someday maybe some intrepid scuba diver will find it, covered in silt and encrusted in verdigris.

Bryan’s final resting place – besides, of course, in our hearts – is 47-40’49.0″ N, 122-36″56.3″ W, in 26.3 feet of water.

According to a friend, the ashes will find their way out the Strait and into the Pacific, where they will continue to circulate counterclockwise over a 3.5 year period, up to Alaska, over to Japan, down to the South Pacific, and back to North America. I really like that idea.

We sat there, drifting, for some time, some of us sharing memories and others sitting contemplatively.

Ben drops rose petals into the water

It was a beautiful way to say goodbye. We will always love him and will miss him tremendously.

Posted on Sunday, May 24th, 2009 by Jeri
Under: boating, grief, Puget Sound | 15 Comments »

Mourning and Memorials

I have never liked the traditional Western European funeral. It strikes me as gothic and melodramatic. I define this as embalming the body, church or funeral home service with an open casket, mourners dressed in black, a eulogy and mournful music and a procession led by a black hearse to the cemetery for a somber burial.

I had a friend who was, once, interested in going into the funeral director business; she had an aptitude for support services and social work and felt that aiding the bereaved would be satisfying work. She found that while many of the day-to-day details were supportive, in a corporate sense it’s a sales-oriented profession with expensive products and revenue targets. Eye-opening, huh?

I did a brief survey of some differing funerary customs:

  • According to, Buddhist funerals consist of sacred readings, cremation and often interment of the ashes in an ancestral facility, and monastic visits to comfort the bereaved. Often, there’s a custom of a charitable or alms offering on behalf of the dead a few weeks following the ceremony.

  • In Hindu custom, the dead are often cremated on a funeral pyre near a river, and the ashes are placed in an urn and immersed in the river with flowers and offerings. The family is considered to be ritually unclean for a period of time following the funeral and follows strict rules and regulations.

  • Jewish mourners notably rend their clothing at hearing of a loved one’s death. There’s a complex ritual for preparation and purification of the body. It’s considered an honor for friends, family & community to dig the grave, and the memorial then takes place at both the synagogue (or funeral home) and the graveside. Jewish families often observe a traditional week of sitting shiva, formal mourning with prayer services and support from the community.

  • Other interesting customs include:
    • The New Orleans Jazz funeral, where the funeral parade shifts from mourning to lively jazz as the mourners dance/march their the way to the gathering.

    • In some African funerals, the dead are buried in the floor of dwelling places, followed by a week long frenzied feast of remembrance.
    • In ancient Rome, the mourning procession wore masks, and more prominent families hired professional mourners for a more ostentatious display.
    • Viking chieftans were honored by being laid out in their boat with their weapons and tools. The boat was then set out for sea and set ablaze, in best Hollywood fashion.
    • It’s now possible for chemists to create synthetic gems from the carbon contained in cremated remains, so occasionally a mourner may have a gem created from their loved one’s ashes.

My family’s preference, for a few generations at least, has been a more humanist funeral, with a quiet cremation, a wake or celebration of life, and a later scattering of the ashes at a place that’s meaningful to the person who’s passed on. My grandma’s ashes are scattered along the Methow River in the Winthrop valley; my dad’s ashes are scattered at Rimrock falls between Ephrata and Wenatchee. When we visit those places, we remember them.

This weekend, we’re scattering Bryan’s ashes, using the lovely urn Jim made for us. Bryan was raised and lived much of his life in Alaska, but after moving down here, found a great deal of joy on our boat on the Puget Sound. We – his family and close friends – are taking a couple of boats out and scattering his ashes, along with some flowers and a tiny metal plate with his name and dates, into the water. (This is not entirely legal – ironic for an attorney.)

I love the symbolism and the idea of returning the ashes to the earth, in a place he loved; as I gaze at the beautiful passages, bays & inlets, and drive across Agate Passage to the ferry, I’ll remember him. As poet Mary Frye said so beautifully:

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you wake in the morning hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die.

Posted on Thursday, May 21st, 2009 by Jeri
Under: grief | 7 Comments »

Five Men in your Life

I am a fan of the hilarious Sweet Potato Queens and aspire to their philosophy of living life like royalty every day.

One interesting piece of advice that author Jill Conner Brown offers is that every woman should have five men in her life at all times. They can sometimes be partially combined into fewer men with more skills, but she believes you’ll never find them all in the same man. Here’s her list:

A man who will take you dancing.

Apparently the Sweet Potato Queens like to go dancing. A lot. And from their stories, it seems that male dancing partners are optional, they’ll dance alone, with each other, or with the guys if the music is good. I admire their zest for life.

Personally, I don’t need this guy. I’m not at all a dancer or club-hopper. I wouldn’t be averse to an occasional slow dance or even a basic ballroom class, but in general I don’t need a dancing buddy.

I could use a fishing buddy, a travel partner, a road trip friend and a movie companion, though my boys fill most of those roles admirably now, while theyr’e still at home.

A man to talk with.

Not only does she recommend a man to talk with, but this man must be unflinchingly supportive and always agreeable. Listening skills are essential; talking skills not so much.

I’m not sure why this particular one needs to be a man, because women are far better companions in verbal analysis. I do have a couple of men friends who are great at this too, but it’s usually not a native skill. Also, if you need someone with great listening skills who will unfailingly agree with you, a dog is lower maintenance than a man. (Murphy even tilts his head at me when I talk to him, as if to say “Tell me more!”)

A man who can fix things.

She likes men who can fix plumbing, cars, carpentry, etc., and feels that having one or more of these in her life is pretty essential.

I’m personally a fan of being able to fix things myself. The ability to do so, learned from my oh-so-capable mother, is a point of pride for me. My youngest son also inherited a fabulous fix-it sense and regularly assembles Ikea furniture blindfolded, without instructions, and with one hand tied behind his back.

Also, fix-it capabilities can be hired from the yellow pages or Craigslist. I’d actually prefer a man who helped with housework and yardwork. (I had one of those, Bryan was a total gem.)

A man who will take care of you.

Apparently a man who will pay for things, who has sugar daddy tendencies and likes to spoil a woman, is high on the author’s list.

Bluntly, the hell with that! I can take care of myself just fine, enjoy providing my own security and prefer my independence, whether I’m married or not. The myth of the knight in shining armor is highly overrated.

I’m not averse to a dinner out, random flowers or shiny gifts, but I can provide those for myself. My awesome UCF friends keep me pretty happy on the flowers and random cheerful stuff front.

A man to sleep with.

Self explanatory.

I’d argue that this can be found on Craigslist or in a specialty electronics store as well. ;)

Seriously, though, what women need is someone who makes them feel adored, respected, beautiful & special, whether in a platonic relationship or a passionate one. Friends and a healthy dose of self respect can provide most of that – and, well, the rest is private.

So, of the “Five Men” that are recommended, I don’t need any of ‘em. And yet, I like men a lot! I adored my husband, I think my sons are made of awesome, I have several wonderful male friends and I enjoy working in a male-dominated industry.

I’ve actually been thinking about this subject a bit lately – what I miss about being married, about having a partner and best friend in the home, and rereading the Sweet Potato Queens gave me a great sense of perspective.

What men – or women – do you need in your life? Or more importantly, what do you want? Please keep it to PG-13 or better. ;)

Posted on Monday, May 18th, 2009 by Jeri
Under: books, humor | 11 Comments »