Thursday, December 24, 2009

To All the Whos in Whoville

(with thanks to Dr. Seuss:)

Welcome Christmas, bring your cheer. 
Cheer to all Whos far and near. 
Christmas day is in our grasp, so long as we have hands to clasp. 
Christmas day will always be just as long as we have we. 
Welcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart, and hand in hand.

What a ride! Beyond the roof estimates, property survey issues (old problems don't ever go away), kid juggling, holiday prep and health appointments there comes the moment of "whew!" when all is ... done. A few hours of vegetation in front of the Christmas tree, Peets coffee in hand, newspaper on lap and I'm a new chick. 

We are anticipating our first ever Christmas Eve at home with the kids and our own quiet traditions. After family Mass, where the kids are participating in the pageant (Gracie is an angel and Dan is one of two bell choir members), we'll head home for a supper of tortilla soup. (Backstory: our family present is a Vitamix blender and we're excited about trying the recipes sampled at Costco, especially since Danny and Gracie both were seen ingesting VEGETABLES at the demo.) Then, we plan to call friends and family far away, play games and watch home movies, and listen to the kids play Christmas songs on the flute and piano. A friend or two may stop by. The kids may even get to bed before midnight this year which means good news for Santa's helpers.

On Christmas Day I'm going to honor my family tradition of chicken kiev for the holiday meal. Hmmm, better get crackin' on the prep for that if I remember right! It has been awhile. We may grab the dog and head to the beach for our annual beach walk (picnics are for Thanksgiving). The evening will see dear family joining us for a light supper and celebration. 

For years the approaching holidays would fill me with dread, and this year I nearly fell victim to the same fate. At the last minute I realized that if I truly fill my heart with intention of lovingkindness there is no room left over for anything else. No anxiety, no worries, no anger. We cannot control how others behave or what they believe. And when my intention is set with love it is only love that fills my heart.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Forecast for More of the Same

Giving no explanation for its actions, the leak has retreated. We are suspicious but grateful. At nearly 1:00 am I sit in an otherwise silent house listening to rain drumming off the roof, the gutters, the deck. Weather that would lend a cozy vibe to the holiday preparations instead is causing us to glance at the ceiling – every ceiling  in every room – frequently for signs of moisture.

Not a time to stick my noggin in a puddle and pretend it isn't happening, is it?

A dear neighbor has given me the number of a fellow who might do an interim check and repair. Meanwhile yet another roofing company will come out next week to give an estimate for whole roof replacement, and we're even having a heating fellow evaluate why only half the house seems to receive warmth at any given time.

A three cat, two Bordeaux (the See's variety) night if ever there was one.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Umbrellas in the House

This is the year I knew the roof would not hold. I started getting estimates several years back, watching carefully after every storm to see if the cedar shakes were flat or standing tall. Or, worse still, scattered throughout the yard! Around September I prepared Joe for the fact that 2009 was the Big One.

Two estimates later I held out a little hope that we might slip into spring without too much trouble. Then, last night, Danny shouted that it was raining on his homework. He had blamed his sister for dripping water on it earlier but now had to apologize because he clearly saw the drop coming from the kitchen ceiling.

Oh, dear. Today is the day I get quote number 3, see if we need emergency leak repair to tide us over until the storms pass, and hope the ceiling doesn't drop in on the kitchen table.

Everybody grin and pass the Tylenol.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rainy Day Blues

We've been brewing the storms the rest of the country is shivering through this week. Our days are drizzly and nights are stone cold. Three dog, three cat nights for sure.

A deep sadness is wrapped around my shoulders and I can't shrug it off. The year has brought transitions of  many family members and beloved friends and their absence is keenly felt. New losses revive old. Keeping alive memories of grandparents my children have never met takes great effort. There are days I miss the voice over the phone, the presence in a house, or their minds' reach into shared history and the grief returns. What do you call sadness beyond tears?

I have always understood when people in their eighties or nineties expressed sorrow that they have outlived all their friends and family. It is not just being "alone" that crushes the spirit, for caregivers can be hired or provided, young friends can be made. No, it is the irreplaceable loss of those who share the memories of your life, who know the context of you. In midlife we look back to reconnect with childhood friends for the same reason, knowing that the understanding will still be there.

Remember the ditty, "Make new friends/but keep the old/one is silver/and the other gold"? I have in my life several "gold" friends who have been with me through years, miles and all kinds of weather. Even in sadness I cherish these friends. Somewhere amidst the day's chill I will turn away from the rain and look for the warmth of their presence in my life.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Feast on the Beach

Ah, before we move into the next holiday zone a few tasty words about Thanksgiving.

Somewhere in the last decade I lost my spiritual center for the two holidays most dear to me. Without that spirit there is only food for Thanksgiving and a to-do list for Christmas. I needed to reclaim the joy, the sense of wonder and gratitude the months of November and December represent. Desperate and depressed, an image of water came to mind.

Water to a California transplant means "ocean."

Hmmm, Thanksgiving near the ocean. Okay. Then the real idea formed. Warm ocean is not something we have around here; it's only in the southern part of California that "warm" is connected to "ocean," especially in November. And Southern California has not only beautiful beaches but one place two children would love to return to before growing too old to appreciate the simple pleasures found there. Anyone? That's right: LEGOLAND! (You were thinking about the Mouse, right?) No, Legoland is much more our speed.

That's what we did. We drove down to Carlsbad and spent a glorious sunny day on the beach, eating a take-out turkey (and pastrami for Danny) feast on the beach. The kids played in the waves and we all laughed at the dogs parading their people. We toasted my mom, who should have been celebrating her 80th birthday on earth, not heaven. We were together, the four of us; tightly bound, gently blessed. We decided that we had a new Thanksgiving tradition and would have to celebrate every year on a beach.

We spent two days at the theme park, talking Danny into getting on rides he soon refused to get off. He loved the water canons and Gracie was fascinated by MiniLand. We were one of the last to leave the park despite the drizzle, reluctant to say farewell to our adventure.

Our hotel was across from the beach, a last minute find but quite nice, with a simple kitchen, small living room and bedroom. Two days in we were getting ready to head out when Dan reported that the ceiling was leaking. Indeed. The woman above flooded the bathroom from her shower and we received most of the water through the light fixture (zzzzzapt!) and ceiling drywall. Knowing that we'd have to move to another property or room when we returned put a small damper on my enthusiasm (I'm the kind of traveller who unpacks immediately and likes the room to feel like home) but did not wreck the magic. Strong magic it was.

The last morning we went to Mission San Juan Capistrano for the Latin Mass in the Serra Chapel. I had been hoping for a beautiful experience but the "no joy here" was okay, too, so the kids could see the difference with their own open and loving parish at home. There was a shrine to St. Peregrine, the "cancer saint" (who knew?) and I delved a bit into that story. We stayed longer than we planned.

Driving back home we received a text message on my smarter-than-me phone announcing the early arrival of a cousin. New life — remembrance of life gone before — living every moment with awareness.

That was our Thanksgiving. Who knows what we have planned for Christmas...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Grinch Has Something to Say

"And the Grinch with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. 'What if Christmas,' he thought, 'doesn't come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?'"

We will again be pursuing a Christmas of less, a season of more, with gifts of ourselves and our time wrapped in love. Join us in spirit wherever you are.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Giving a 10th or 11th Life is at Your Fingertips

Moochie, Age 15

Today please visit the 9 Lives Foundation and help save an incredible haven for felines. There will be more about animal rescue on this blog but for today, see what a dedicated vet has accomplished and is in danger of losing. If you can donate $ or time, yay. Otherwise, just "click" on  and indicate where you want your vote to go (9 Lives Foundation). The group may win enough dough to stay open for another month.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Can Your Fridge Do This?

 Our shiny new fridge is a thing of beauty. Even if it did nothing but sit there in the kitchen I would be pleased with the aesthetic improvement. Add to that filtered water, rather exuberant ice dispenser, spacious interior and the fact that it actually keeps food fresh, cold and, where needed, frozen solid, all is good. But the steel pony has another trick.

Are you ready? There is a digital photo display on the door.

I've downloaded photos to the fridge (what a nutty concept) and we play slideshows of our "album." On the fridge. It's neat and tidy, fun and unexpectedly cool.

Be nice and maybe you'll appear in future slideshows. We'll think of you when we reach for the milk and eggs.

Monday, November 2, 2009

How Does He Do It?

How does another human being reduce me to tears? Every time I visit the current Agent of Doom (I'll change the label when the behavior changes) it never fails. No matter how upbeat I am when I walk in the door I will, at some point, find my eyes begin to well up. IF I'm lucky, the tears don't flow over the banks and down my face until after the Agent has left the room. I'm rarely lucky. We spend much of the time dancing on egg shells, trying not to offend each other. No one has forgotten (or understood) my leaving another doctor's care in the practice. There must be a code on my chart: "Difficult patient. Cries easily. Be wary and tread lightly." 

Only, no one does the one thing I really want them to do.  
Listen. Listen to me. 

I am not the last patient you saw, nor the one you're going to see tomorrow. I'm not even the same "me" who began treatment three years ago. And when you have listened to me, if you could take it one step beyond that and let me know that you heard what I said and respond in a professional manner I would be grateful. I might even feel respected and hopeful that I am part of a "care team" described in your marketing brochure. 

I most certainly would not cry.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Visit Me on ...

Talkin' With Teenie today. I'm the guest blogger on her site as she calls attention to breast cancer in this pinkest of months. 

And, in a most personal note, please honor an amazing woman I was blessed to call "aunt." Roselee died last week at the age of 85. She believed in the power of books and they tumbled from every shelf in the house; her children obtained library cards as soon as they moved to a new zip code. Roselee's daughter requests that in her mother's memory, everyone who knew and loved her read to a child. You, of course, did not know my great aunt Roselee but if there is a child in your life, please read to her. Someday she may grow up to be the woman who eliminates the need for pink ribbons.

Love your life,


Friday, October 23, 2009

A Cyst is a Cyst Unless it is a Mole

Quick update for the friends who think I'm keeping some awful news from them:

The cyst is not a cyst; the dermatologist says it is a mole after all. She wants to leave that mole alone but fast-talked me into having another spot on my chest frozen. Turns out this doc was one I had seen back when I saw several docs a week and remembered only when I saw the bowl of M&Ms in the waiting room. (Seriously. Unwrapped candies in a doctor's waiting room when everyone is worried about flu transmission?)  I don't remember why I saw her, but I do remember never wanting to waste my time with her again. Wish I had said "no" to the Can-O-Ice and asked my primary doc, the one who mistook the mole for a cyst, for a referral to another dermatologist. That little voice inside my head was chatting me up, trying to get me to listen to reason and I went ahead and ignored her! You'd think I'd have learned to trust her by now. I do think I'll get that 2nd opinion, if late, and have the back mole removed. They can check what's left of the spot on my chest, too; it might be dysplastic and bears watching.

Either I'm suffering from the mildest case of flu on record (did you know you can develop flu symptoms from close contact with someone who has received FluMist?) or the week on Advil destroyed my innards. I'd check in with someone who might know but I feel like crud.

And I'm not joking about FluMist. I was there when the kids received a dose of FluMist (one received it for seasonal flu, the other received it for H1N1) and the nurse failed to inform me of the possible risk to innocent, unvaccinated bystanders. Discovered it myself when the kidlets  developed some side-effects and I went to read the warning labels online.

So, I whine on.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Day of Ferns and Flowers

October is almost July here;  the seasonal differences are very subtle. The butterflies know, of course. The one above lived in Oregon last July and we met during our family Volcano Road Trip.  Yesterday I planted gigantic ferns donated from another woman's garden. A neighbor gave me some more today; someone else had given him those ferns, which had been given to him from another's garden. We must be living in the time of ferns. Daughter laughed and quoted a line from last year's school musical, "Ferns.  There's something shady about 'em. Don't trust ferns."

Yesterday the kidlets received seasonal flu shots/FluMists, and Danny also received the first of two H1N1 FluMist vaccines. Gracie is opting for FluMist all the way, and that requires separate doses a month apart. With the H1N1 in the headlines and documented cases in local schools I'm glad the kids are getting some protection now. The vaccine debate is one I have with myself until I start putting faces on the children who die from flu and other common diseases. The medical decisions are probably harder for me than any other parenting decision I make.

Sunshine today. I'll plant that last fern before someone hands me another.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Where I Want to Be

It's Raining, It's Pouring, There's a Waterfall in the Basement...

Looks like we're going down Home Repair Road without a map, or GPS. Tonight the boys heard the sound of pouring water in the space beneath the house, just off the basement work room. Armed with a flashlight we scanned the pipes. Danny saw the first leak. Then Joe turned on the kitchen faucet and we witnessed the extreme home waterfall effect coming from our pipes. The water might well have been liquid gold rerouted from our bank account. Except of course, we don't have gold, liquid or otherwise, in our bank. A call to the plumber has become the focal point of my Friday. Hooray.

We were really looking forward to Friday, too. Replacement Fridge is due to arrive. A real fridge, with a freezer that freezes and a fridge that fridges. Whatever. Not so exciting in light of the plumbing extravaganza.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Crash! Another Bump on the Road

In this Pink Month let's touch on another cancer-related syndrome. One of many possible causes of a painful syndrome called Tietze's Disease is radiation treatment to the chest. What is it? Simple definition: Inflammation of the cartilage of the rib cage, causing pain in the chest similar to angina pectoris. When this pain occurs on a woman's left side, and the left side is where her primary cancer was removed, thoughts of the worst kind sweep all rational ones away. Could the tenderness be a recurrence on the chest wall? Those nodules, are they small tumors? Bless the primary care doc for noting the likelihood of Tietze's but insisting on x-rays with rib detail immediately to rule out the other worries.

A 24-hour-wait (watch the woman clean her house) before the news: all is clean. Treatment for Tietze's? Ibuprophen, 600 mg 3x a day. Let's see if the tummy can handle that stuff.

The evil-looking mole didn't seem so awful to the primary care doc; her guess was "a cyst." Here's hoping! Whatever the growth is it's coming off, and my lovely bod is getting a much-needed, long overdue skin check from a dermatologist. All you sun-kissed beauties out there, get thee to a skin doc and do likewise, once a year.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Melanoma and Breast Cancer: Nasty Bedfellows

Guess what? If you have ever had breast cancer, you are 1.4 and 2.7 times at greater risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. And if you are a woman and have had melanoma, be ever vigilant for breast cancer; your risk is increased as well.

The association between the two malignancies has been noted through studies before but in a new study published in the Irish Journal of Medical Science researchers have explicitly advised doctors to monitor breast cancer patients for signs of melanoma and vice versa.

Although my personal Agents of Doom have never mentioned the relationship I was aware through a support group member. When I noticed a scratchy mole on my back, one that had changed appearance very recently, was suddenly raised and (gulp) bleeding, the meaning was not lost. The primary care doc appointment on Thursday is a formality; I know I will insist on a biopsy for that mole and for several others.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

When Momhood is Not Enough

Tonight I ran away to the only library within 15 miles still open past 7:00 pm. The fantasy was to escape to a hotel for the night but the cost of regaining my non-housewifely identity was too steep. Hence, the free version at a cubicle with WiFi, good until 9:00 pm.

Weeks of pointless house toils and dramas needed only one squabble-too-many between the blessed offspring at dinner to push me out the door. Do other moms run away, too? I gave their dad instructions as to what needed to be done before bed (homework, music practice, showers) and bid them all adieu. Turned off the cell phone. Plunked myself into the ergonomically incorrect and painful study cubby, plugged in the MacBook and researched Star Wars Clone Trooper costumes for Dan. Added the gloves, ordered the best deal and finished that Halloween task. Next, on to a form for Gracie's teacher, due tomorrow. Filled out all the juicy details of how my daughter learns best, works best, plays best, etc. Thought twice and decided not to include bits about how she sasses her mom best. Done, into the envelop it goes.

Ahhh, a few moments left for me. What shall I do? Update the old Hedgie Blog? Hmmm... wait a moment. That sniffling in the study cubby next to me no longer sounds like a little girl with allergies. Heck, it sounds more like a middle school girl moaning and sighing, semi-sobbing (the high-drama, tearless variety) I'm so familiar with in my other life. Noooooo, it's not possible. I sneak a look over. Yes, it's true. She seems okay, though. Should I get maternal and ask if she is okay? No parent in evidence. Hem, haw, hem, haw. Before I make a decision she gets up, walks around. The backpack has been abandoned; the cubby light turned off. My guess is that she's off to either find a friend or cry in a bathroom stall.

Moments later it is closing time. The library staff comes by to straighten up and shepherd stragglers to the door. I tell the librarian about the missing girl and her backpack. She brings it up to the front and we both look for her. I hear rather than see the first sign that she will be okay: "Honey, are you all right?" Another mother — her own — is there, paying attention to the puffy eyes and withdrawn demeanor.

It takes another hour and trip to the bookstore before I arrive home. Both children are awake, distraught, in need of reassurance that I am still coming home to them. My "moming" doesn't seem enough for them or for me anymore.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

It's no secret, if you're at all blog-intuitive, that my friend Marian died. The long silence between posts has not been due to grief, though. I haven't been devastated by her death although I miss her dearly every day. I knew she would be leaving our friendship the moment it was formed. No, Marian's life was all about compassion and light. She would be so angry if her dying left her friends in ruins.

The months have been full of activity. Growth. Seeking. Marian's website, Remembering Marian was a joy to create, and attending her memorial service at the San Francisco Columbarium with my family a blessing. Bessie, her Newfie, was there and looking lost; she'll heal with Marian's Dad, Phillip, by her side. We performed a puja for Marian outside the Columbarium with Jnani, one of Marian's spiritual teachers. Part of the ceremony had me lighting candles and incense while crouching in the wind. At one point I must have placed a smoldering something on my lap. The sudden burning sensation had me gasping and, looking down, I realized Marian must have been sending a fashion comment on my outfit: a favorite ankle-length dress now had an irreparable hole at thigh level. Ah well. Maybe it will work as a tunic top.

One of my tasks was to keep Marian's candle burning for 49 days. Day and night, for 49 days. After about three sleepless nights, I called Jnani with the news that the candle went out and I could not reignite it. My belief was that Marian's soul had already found her place as a buddha and there was no need for the candle to continue burning. Jnani said as long as I was able to reignite it by the 49th day the intention would be served. We were also given the ceremony flowers to dry and return to the elements.

Volcano Road Trip
The memorial service took place several weeks after Marian's death. By then we were near the middle to late part of July and if we were going to take a family vacation it had better happen. Somehow the idea of a Volcano Road Trip took hold and we put together a vacation visiting various volcanoes, from Lassen Volcanic National Park (gorgeous!) and Mt. Shasta to Crater Lake in Oregon. Crater Lake fulfilled a promise made more than 13 years ago when I first saw that wonder of blue: I said I would bring my kids back someday, stay at the Lodge and drink coffee on the veranda in one of the rocking chairs. Mission accomplished!

We decided to take the boat tour of Crater Lake. The only way to do this is to hike down into the crater, a fairly strenuous endeavor any day, more so during the high temps of our trip. We thought we'd have to carry Danny back up but he made it with breaks and coaxing. While at the lake we took turns with the fishing pole, still trying for the "first fish" with no success. Taking the small boat out on the vast water-filled caldera was one of the most peaceful experiences of the week. When we were over the deepest part of the lake Gracie and I took turns scattering bits of Marian's dried flowers onto the water while the other one kept an eye on the ranger. (There probably is no law against scattering dried flowers on the lake but we didn't want to get into a public discussion of what we were scattering or why.) I teased the kids that many years from now they would have to hike down to the lake with some of my ashes and, without letting the rangers see what they were doing, scatter them from the boat. All together now: MOMMMMMMM!

Healing Energy
At the end of the summer I made a decision to pursue hospice work. After helping my dad and mom, then Marian, at the end of their lives, not mention too many cats and dogs to count, I know this is something I am comfortable doing. I've already attended an animal hospice symposium, have signed up for Healing Touch training, and am planning on taking bedside caregiving modules with Jnani at St. Mary's Hospital in SF this Fall. Not sure where this will take me. I do know that once I made the decision everything seemed to come together. Sometimes you need to put aside the doubts, take the steps and follow the path.

And that's what I did this summer.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Loving Marian

The bones in her beautiful face hurt. Already the cancer beast has gnawed its way through her spine and ribs, leaving her skeleton with a fearsome lace-like elegance on x-ray images. Now it is attacking her skull. She told me when she first learned of the new mets it never occurred to her that her skull included her face.

Marian has lived with breast cancer for nearly a decade. The second time 'round brought her back to the Bay Area. She's a few years younger than I am, has a 21-year-old son, a husband. We met two years ago at Commonweal's Cancer Help Project in Bolinas, California. Marian was attending Cancer Camp for the second time and was accompanied by her father. I attended solo. That week I formed some of the deepest friendships of my life: Marian, Wayne, and Tom, who left the earth one year ago today. Marian was in a lot of pain during the retreat and still her presence was serene, funny, wise. I wanted more than anything to know her.

Yesterday Marian allowed me to care for her. She is at home in the house she decorated with her husband, her mountain of a Newfoundland, Bessie and Len's sweet Mona. The hospice team visits but does not stay with her and she is alone between friends, family and caregivers. At 9:00 am I arrived with Peet's coffee and bran muffin, as requested. I learn that sometime before I arrived Marian may have shattered a bone in her shoulder or arm while reaching for something over her head. That's all it takes when cancer has made piecemeal of your skeleton. She's in horrible pain yet going to the emergency room is discussed and with the nurse's phoned-in advice, postponed. Instead, we increase the pain medication and use a heating pad. The visits from these friends are too important and the benefits from the hospital trip uncertain.

The day passed in a whirl of friends, oxycodone, calls to the hospice for advice, make-up application, chatting, hugs, foot massages, a special-order lunch run, and so much more. How honored I am to be part of my friend's transition. Is it enough, I wonder?

She tells me she would really like me to help in the evenings, from 9:00 - 12:00, so she can get ready for bed and watch movies while Len can get some rest. She needs help with this, and with getting upstairs to bed. I'm willing. Len's not so sure.

At 6:00 I know I must leave. Marian is weary; she has done too much but could not have been stopped. The next day she has planned to visit her niche at the San Francisco Columbarium. I will join her. But first, I have to return to my children and husband, who have played plumbers all day, installing a new toilet and repairing an old one.

The drive between the two homes ticks by quickly. When I arrive home the relief at being in my house, with my family, is washed away by the weariness of the day. There's very little room to feel anything else.

I'm asleep before 10:00.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Teaching a Ten-Year-Old the Self-Exam?

Grace experienced the excitement and giggles of the Fourth Grade Puberty Talk at school last week. We had the Mom and Daughter Talk, complete with appropriate book, earlier in the year, but this was that school version we all remember, the one where the boys and girls go their separate ways to learn in the privacy of the library or classroom about the great mysteries of growing up. The California public school version was better than the one I saw in Catholic school back in Illinois in the 70s; Gracie came home singing a little song! What she didn't learn is something I never thought about teaching her this young: the breast self-exam. After reading this article, I realized I might have to crash the youthful bubble with another lesson.

Ten-Year-Old Girl With Breast Cancer

I'll find a way to teach Gracie how to love her as yet undeveloped breasts while caring for her health. In honor of my grandfather, who survived breast cancer and died from prostate cancer, I will have to teach Danny the same skills.

The armor we give our children as they enter the world has changed. Protecting them from the enemy within is as frightening as shielding them from the predators on the street.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Oklahoma, Where the Wind Comes Rushing...

When I let a lot of time drift by without posting I struggle for the right topic to resurface on.

There was the unplanned trip to Oklahoma following first a great-uncle and then a great-aunt's death. Both children and I traveled by plane and rental car to be present, gather with relatives unseen for decades (and never met by my children), and create "cousin bonds" I hope will stretch between Illinois and California. My mother's family, especially, is known for warm gatherings with open hearts and arms. This has been missing from my married life and I wanted our children to experience it. They soaked it up, learned firsthand about their family roots, and made me proud with their ability to adapt. It was 40 years ago that my mother took me out of school to accompany her to the funeral of her grandfather, in Oklahoma, and I still remember the mix of grief and joy the extended family experienced together. Now I was making a similar journey with my own children, and they were about the same age (7 and 9) I was those years ago.

When we returned home, exhausted from the many visits and reunions, the children asked me why they didn't know their uncle and his two boys, now 25 and 23. They had just met their aunt, my sister, and her children ages 7 and 10. Where was my other sibling? They knew that families didn't always get along - we had always been open although not specific about why some people were not in our lives - but this time I realized I didn't have an answer for them. I accepted that my brother had chosen not to be present in our lives but his kids were old enough to make up their own minds. With the confidence of a mother determined not to let her children miss out on an important family connection I took the information gleaned from the Oklahoma gathering and located one nephew through the internet. A gentle email inquiry and we discovered that he did want to get to know his black sheep relatives! Yahoo! We've begun an email correspondence with the eldest and will contact the youngest, too. While it may be true that you can't return to the home of your childhood, you can indeed create a home and childhood for your own family.

School is wrapping up and we're involved in the last concerts and plays of the year. Danny sang with his class, quietly, as he was overcome with stage fright. He'll get past that in a year. Gracie performed a flute duet, solo and played with her band with astonishing confidence. Tonight is the 4th grade musical and, having caught the early show, I can say it's really awesome! "Geology Rocks" is the title and it is a fun, creative way to learn about geology while singing some goofy songs. The California budget is threatening once again to destroy what's left of the public education system. This time we may really lose our fantastic library, the band and music programs, science specialists, the water to keep the playing field green, even some of the best teachers you can imagine. Our district's foundation for funding these "extras" (yes, can you believe a library is considered an "extra" in California?) is called SchoolForce and needs something like $500,000 by June 31, 2009 to save these programs and more. I'm going to put a link on my page in the hope that a generous benefactor will decide to donate via the Princess Hedgie Chronicles. Those nickels, dimes and $50 really add up!

On the cancer front, I'm happy to report a clean bone scan. NED, or "no evidence of disease" in the bones. I've gone back to Guru Beth, my incredible acupuncturist, for help with arthritis in the fingers, osteopenia, lack of spunk and weaning myself off aciphex, a treatment for GERD that may also be responsible for the fatigue I've attributed to treatment. Aciphex also interferes with the absorption of calcium, a problem when a body is already dealing with osteopenia. Nothing in this area is a covered insurance benefit, of course. Beth has offered me the best health advice of anyone and we'll just find a way to cover the cost.

My lovely friend, Marian, has ceased treatment and entered hospice care. Today I was finally able to reach her by phone and we scheduled a phone date for this Saturday. What I want to do is spend time with her. She is full of light and love. I don't know what I can provide her except my presence. I hope she trusts me enough to tell me what she needs and allows me to serve her.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Rumor Mill Grinds On

"Please call and let us know if it's true what our daughter says, that Danny has swine flu. We won't tell anyone, but we need to know."

Holy moly. This parent tried to reach me by two phone numbers before leaving a frantic message on my cell. His voice was shaking with worry. Mine was shaking too as I dialed him back and muttered to myself in preparation for the conversation I was going to have. Shaking not with worry but with genuine anger.

After he picked up I introduced myself and calmly told him that no, Danny had STREP throat, not the swine flu. He most likely contracted it from another child in his class who was diagnosed earlier; we notified the school office as soon as we learned of the diagnosis and Danny was on antibiotics. The school notified parents as required. His sister tested negative for STREP throat but was kept home today because she felt "icky" and we would watch her; I also tested negative for STREP throat. At no time did any one of three different physicians deem our symptoms worthy of the swine flu test. We had symptoms of STREP throat, which happens to be very common in the local schools right now.

The other parent explained that his daughter and my daughter had talked about Danny being sick and that "it might be the swine flu." Well, since when does a conversation between two 9-year-olds constitute a medical diagnosis? And why would it occur to any sane adult that we would hide the diagnosis (or illness) from others? As though we could hide the diagnosis from anyone; we'd be on every local newscast within minutes of leaving the doctor's office.

The girl's father told me the swine flu was a "huge concern" and he was sure I agreed they needed to be cautious. No, actually I don't. I kept that opinion to myself and also bit back the questions I really wanted to ask him:

"Did you really think we would hide this illness and put the school community at risk? Did you mean to suggest you would keep it to yourself if we told you Dan had the virus? Why in hell would you do that?"

Maybe this flu will flare up in the fall and turn into a nasty killer. Now? It's a mild flu and I'm not that concerned. I do worry about the folks who panic in times of low stress. What will they do when there's a horrific crisis? Spread rumors, push others off the drawbridge, and lock the castle doors?

Holy moly.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

$85 a Month, Rain or Shine

The kids and Joe had left for school and work, Anchovy the Cat had commandeered the dog's crate for a nap, Roscoe was snoozing on his back-up bed a few feet away, and I was nearby tackling the dishes when the lawnmower growled to life outside the kitchen bay window. A good five minutes passed before Roscoe roused himself, jumping on the window bench to view the two men outside with curiosity. He glanced over his spotted shoulder at me with ears pricked and eyebrows raised as if to inquire,

"Hey, Mom, did you know there were people in our front yard?"

Yeah, Killer. Go back to sleep.

Every other Tuesday Saul and his crew of one arrive to mow and blow our mini-estate into order. One week Saul and I fell to talking, as we sometimes do, about my health, our children. This was nearly a year ago when people were just starting to suffer the fallout of ill-conceived mortgage loans. Saul confided that he was about to lose his home. All that could be done had been done. The bank was not returning calls. The program then in place to help homeowners was nearly as worthless as the lenders. All Saul and his family could do was hand over the keys and walk away. This, for a man who owned his own business and worked in a back-breaking, sometimes hazardous field without sick leave or health insurance.

I remember checking in with him after learning the news. He told me that after speaking to me he realized that perhaps other clients could help. (I told him I'd seek financing information from a network I belong to and pass on our recommendations of his work to another local group of homeowners. Small help.) He decided to be honest about his foreclosure situation. Within a week, two clients called and cancelled their service. Saul was shocked. I was sickened.

Saul did lose his home. He is renting another home not far from the first and his kids are able to stay in the same elementary school. We refer friends and neighbors to him whenever possible. It doesn't seem like much and of course, it isn't.

When we look at things to cut from our budget the monthly yard service is an obvious target. Cutting back has a face, though. Balancing personal needs with the belief that we have a real, moral obligation to support one another is a big concept that can be distilled down to this: there is a man named Saul working in my family's yard to support his family.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

How to Bury a Goldfish

There is an art to arranging a goldfish funeral. The bereft must choose the burial site, perhaps under a newly planted daisy bush. Only the senior family members may dig the plot, and they should do so several moments before the funeral begins. The deceased is transported gently from tank to garden in a sea bag and released into the ground in one fluid movement. Words are spoken, solemn and from the heart, thanking the fish for joy given. The one who claims the most grief over the fish raises the plastic cylinder of Goldfish Flakes, reaches in and removes a final pinch of food for the journey home. Today, the sister in her Easter dress provided live instrumental music during the service: delicate notes of "Cumbaya, My Lord" floated in the April sunshine as her brother covered his pet's body with dirt. His mother helped him place small stones on top to mark the grave. When all was down, he placed a white daisy on top. Tears dropped hard and fast on the dirt where he crouched.

The sadness a little boy feels when his 3-year-old goldfish dies is larger than the animal. He needs to be held in his mother's arms as he cries about losing an orange fish named Mail Truck. He has to explain how small that fish was when he came home that first day, and how big he grew — almost 4 inches from nose to tail. He must tell how sometimes he would sit in his wooden chair and look at the fish swim, and always he would watch him from his bed as he tried to get to sleep at night.

In a day or two, when he tells me he's ready, we'll take the tank down and put it away.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

LIttle MIracles

Goldfish emergencies occur whenever I am out of town or expecting my own health news. Really, I've tracked this phenomenon. Yesterday the goldfish in question was Mail Truck, a sturdy Comet and sole survivor of an unfortunate overfeeding incident that took the lives of his tank companions Garbage Truck and Truck two years ago. Mail Truck has been Danny's pet for over three years and, with the exception of the feeding catastrophe at the beginning of their relationship, the only remarkable event has been watching the fish grow too big for his tank. Until yesterday.

Danny's yell echoed down the hallway before school. "Mommmmmmmm, come here. It's Mail Truck!" Nothing makes me run faster than the naked pain in my children's voices. Reaching his room I saw the cause: Mail Truck was flopped in mid-tank, supporting himself on the filter shaft so as not to drift. He was alert, breathing but it didn't look good. Danny was in tears.

"Help him, Mom."

Oh, geez. Fish saving is one of those mom jobs I'm not really qualified to hold. Okay, though, I knew enough to perform a little first aid. I gathered the fish bucket, gravel cleaner, two gallons of tank-ready water, fresh filter and a few water conditioners and started working while explaining to Dan how fragile fish were. What we had going for us was Mail Truck's toughness and his spirit.

"Look at his eyes, Danny. See how he's looking around? He hasn't given up, and we can't either. Go to school and I'll do the best I can."

When I showed up to volunteer at computer lab the first thing he asked was, "How's Mail Truck?" I replied that he was still with us. Danny shared the news with his best friend who then told him we should bang the fish's head against a rock so he wouldn't suffer. Ugh. Danny had the presence of grace to tell his friend that Mail Truck wasn't ready yet, and we weren't giving up on him.

All afternoon Danny checked on the fish, pronouncing his chances at "10%" and then "5%" of surviving. All I could do was tell him to give it time, not give up, and know that if his pet was going to die we were giving him respect and a peaceful way to go.

About 8:30 that night, as he was changing into his pajamas, Danny yelled, "Mail Truck! Buddy! I knew you could do it!"

In he ran to tell me that Mail Truck was swimming "95%" normally and acting like himself. "He's going to make it, Mom. We were right to believe in him."

I believe in the power of little boys, a goldfish with a will to live, and acceptance. Sometimes everything does work out at the end of the day.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

They Don't Need to Know

Somewhere along the road of marriage, miscarriage, fragile pregnancies, too many pets and little babes with peculiar tastebuds I misplaced my meager culinary skills. Three years ago, when I veered off on the Cancer Detour, I abandoned all hope of recovering those skills or even acquiring new ones. Poor, hungry kidlets. Woeful, starving father of kidlets. And what about the recovering Cancer Mom, who tossed aside the AI-treatments in favor of nutrition and exercise? Coffee and laundry aren't on the "recurrence prevention" list.

With no room in the budget for a personal chef, dream though I may of such a luxury, I peruse my library of cookbooks. Considering I don't cook I have an amazing collection. The Sneaky Chef is one I've been meaning to study. Between appointments I sit in the van, check out possible recipes, list the ingredients and head into Trader Joe's. Knowing it will have to be a two-grocery-store trip (I so hate grocery shopping) I even purchase a $6.99 thermal bag at TJ's to keep the cold stuff cold. Run to Safeway, grab the rest of the items, and make it home in time to unload before picking up Round 1 of the kids. (Round 2 comes 20 minutes later.)

The first item I hoped would appeal to Danny who loves turkey tacos: a turkey meatloaf. The secret disguised ingredients, though, involve pureed veggies and beans, wheat germ, and a few other things Danny hasn't eaten in years. Did I mention that Danny doesn't eat vegetables? Well, surprisingly, he refused to touch it but dear Gracie, my flexitarian, did agree to taste it and loved it! A success! She needs protein and iron in her diet; this was an incredible triumph. Danny did eat green salad and bread.

The next day I made Peanut Butter Muffins that were really sneaky. While they suspected the meatloaf originated from the "sneaky" cookbook, the kids did not know the muffins came from the "sneaky" book, too, and that's why Danny tried them. That and the fact that I added milk chocolate chips to the mix. The muffins were made with whole wheat flour, wheat germ, pureed veggies (I used organic BABY FOOD: sweet potatoes, carrots, green beans, spinach!!!), organic peanut butter, brown sugar. Here's the kicker: Danny not only loved them, he ate three. Gracie had two. Joe tried the ones with strawberry preserves in the middle and liked them. Wow, I'm on to something here.

Food has become a power struggle for us, and an area of worry for me. Many days I just don't want to bother with eating, especially since the effort is often met with uninterested kids or whiney battles. But, I can't afford to abandon the act of nurturing my children or myself. What we eat matters, it really is life and death for our bodies and spirits. This may seem like a small thing and yet it could be the bridge that allows us to start having more variety in our diets, more complex food choices. Who knows, what starts out as sneaky may progress to a bowl of sweet potatoes or a bean salad or ...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Things Break, Things Get Fixed, Other Things Break

St. Paddy sent the green folk for a visit this morning and the kids found the breakfast chairs turned willy nilly, the milk green and their shoes in the freezer. The leprechaun traps were empty, alas. To show they were good sports about this silly threat to their treasure the leprechauns did leave a bit of gold coin in the van's cup holders. Chocolate coin, for sure. Wee children need their chocolate.

This Irish lass has been out of sight for weeks now. That bit I wrote about things falling apart was true: my lungs were broken! Pneumonia the doc said, although I coughed my way up to Yosemite and back again with two children before learning of this diagnosis. Even the doc at first thought it was just bronchitis and a sinus infection gone horribly wrong. Slowly I'm regaining stamina and strength. The three-day-rule of my life following treatment still applies: three days of steady activity puts me out of commission, sometimes for a week. What a weenie. Who will hire an old lady who needs an occasional nap, or three?

The other after-cancer rule is that nothing is ever simple. A cough is never "just" a cough and pneumonia is never "just" pneumonia. There is always the shadow of metastatic disease lurking, and not just in my head. My primary care doc has me scheduled with a pulmonary specialist to make certain that all is well.

And yet, I am well. I do need more rest than your average princess but I wake up, still breathing, still willing to dance the dance. Now and then I'm reminded about the simple act of taking air in. As my dear friend Tom used to say, never take breathing for granted. Sometimes it's as simple as that.

Oh, and it seems to be the dryer's turn to need repair. Although I think the fact that the fridge is freezing whatever happens to land in the bottom produce drawer constitutes replacement we do need dry clothes... Maybe we could take bets on which appliance breaks down next? Is there money in that for us? (kidding!)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

In For Repairs

Every day, in my mind, I blog. If I had one of those whatchamathingies, you know, an all-in-one tool with the fruity name that would literally take over my life in a sick minute, I'd update PHC everyday. I take pride in my chunky little cell phone whose only mission in life is to place and receive phone calls. No photos. No music. No texting, GPSing, or GOOGLEing. Not that I don't secretly covet those sleek devices, because I do. There are moments when I've had to catch myself from comparing the Pearl to the NO STOP DON'T GO THERE HEDGIE! Not safe, you see, for women with obvious obsessive-compulsive tendencies. A little distance from instant information can be a very good thing.

The universe, or Universe, has been knocking on the door these past weeks. A message of some sort needs to be delivered. I must be unusually daft because the taps have turned to bangs. The theme seems to be along the lines of "something is broken and needs to be fixed" or "look out for that sinkhole, idiot!" What would you make of these events?

The decrepit dishwasher coughed through its last cycle. This awful machine came with the house 9 years ago and has two cycles: on and off, with a rotary knob. Young Son was alarmed to see me approach it with a screwdriver, certain I would harm it instead of repairing it. Well, in my disgusted opinion, there was nothing left to repair. Out of curiosity I looked up the model number to see how old it was and learned that not only was it at least 20 years old it had been recalled for a serious electrical fault years ago. We were entitled to a $25 rebate and 1 year extended warranty on purchase of another dishwasher (different brand, or course). Most interesting was the fact that even latching the door shut was enough to cause a fire. Yikes. If the machine hadn't had a little help in going over the edge (I'm not saying I had anything to do with it) we would have replaced the fridge first. Or decided to latch it closed while we researched our replacement options. At first, all I could think about was the high and unexpected cost of replacing the hated thing. Now, I'm grateful it broke.

Roscoe our Wild One went to Doggie Daycare for a win-win event: I get 8 hours of quiet and a somewhat tired dog at the end of the day, Roscoe gets to run, run, run with his buddies in a supervised setting. Well, one of the pooches got carried away in all the fun and hooked his nail on Roscoe's lower eye lid, ripping it open. The folks cleaned him up but didn't call; Joe brought him home at 7pm and I took one look before heading off to the Emergency Vet. Ka-ching. He's still a conehead, the total is up to $500, and I have my doubts that the sutures are doing anything other than causing both mutt and mistress great distress. The daycare, to its credit, was quick to offer reimbursement of vet bills. Poor Roscoe. What price "pain and puppy suffering" in dollars? Poor us. The scraped furniture from the cone, the scraped skin from the cone, the raw nerves from the whining (from the cone). Broken, all right.

In the category of Broken and Fixed we have Danny who at almost 7 suddenly developed a dislike of reading. At home we began to battle over what used to be a fun activity. In school he was staring at the wall during choral reading (this I learned after asking his teacher if she had noticed anything unusual). Back to the eye doctor and yes, he could benefit from reading glasses. Maybe. After much deliberation he picked out one of the most expensive pairs of frames, showing me he has better taste than we have insurance. We'll see how this works for 6 weeks. Perhaps this will be an easy fix.

My literal broken tooth? Still broken, of course, and its former home still trying to heal. An implant is not possible without several nasty surgeries and when the oral surgeon discourages a procedure you know it's a bad idea. Now we're heading to bridge territory. Bridges rely on stable, healthy teeth between the replacement tooth. No wobbly, painful teeth need apply. The dental jury is still out on my support candidates.

So many more broken and fixed elements in my life, some I can discuss, some I won't. A weird week or two for sure. Hope next week will bring gentle rain. Until then, I'm going to row my little boat to shore.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Keeping in Touch

Whoosh. Where did the time go? Already it is January and I'm a month late with an update.

I'll spare the details on our hope for a "less is more" Christmas with the in-laws and say simply that the celebration we had within our family of four was warm and loving. Joe's mom was the missing ingredient to a wonderful holiday; she took a bad fall and spent close to two weeks in the hospital recovering. Nana is back at home and we are trying to provide as much care, in a variety of ways, as we can. There are full-time caregivers and the other family members are all doing their part. The rest will take time.

I am paddling as fast as I can and still unable to pull away from the dock. Really, hold that image for a moment. Now imagine the woman in the canoe, both hands gripping the paddle, a nagging pain growing in her head. Suddenly, CRACK! Poor woman. She manages to float to her dentist who confirms it: the tooth has fractured, there is no saving it. She's swept next door for an immediate extraction. Ahhh! Talk of implants and bridges, sutures and soft foods swirl around and all she really knows is that sometime, months and months from now, instead of the much-needed new fridge, dishwasher and driveway she will get a new tooth. Yes, a measly tooth. Such is my luck. Meanwhile, I'm ever so grateful for a decent dental insurance policy that will pay for half of the procedure, whatever it turns out to be.

Back on the home front, sweet Gracie announced tonight that she no longer wants to be a strict vegetarian. She really missed a few meat items and was it okay if she tried them again? She was delighted when I told her she could be a "flexitarian" like me. Danny heard her proclaim herself with this new label and came to me for clarification. Yes, Danny, there are flexitarians. Perhaps now we'll be able to cook some semblance of meals. And just when the "1,001 Low-Fat Vegetarian Recipes" book I checked out from the library is so overdue they're going to make us buy it.

Am finally hopeful that the latest combination of glove/sleeve might be a winner. We are going to try a Class I sleeve instead of the current Class II and it might reduce the hand swelling. It's only taken two years to get it right!

Looks like it is close to 3:00 am and I need to toss myself into bed. That's it for a long overdue post.