Thursday, May 6, 2010

We Must Be Doing Something Right

Really, we must be doing something right with these kids. Every morning as they race out the door they both shout "bye Mom love you Mom" without fail. Sometimes there's a hug, sometimes an ear-to-ear smile, but always the "love you Mom." We're the family that says "love you" as easily as "goodbye" and yeah, I love that about us.

Yesterday there was a fun event at a Bounce House to thank a few kids who raised a lot of money for the SchoolForce Read-A-Thon. Danny was the official recipient and he was allowed to bring a friend. I expected him to invite a second grade buddy. Instead he invited his sister. That's right. An eight-year-old boy invited his ten-year-old sister.

This is Week One of STAR testing, our state's mandatory school testing for children and the first time Danny has experienced such torture. Gracie pulled out a week's worth  of clothing for him and set it up on his chair, determined to smooth the morning stress for the brother who isn't an early riser.

The squabbles are there, the sibling brawls and jealous pokes.  There's an undeniable bond of family love, though, beneath it all. When I catch a glimpse of them together, tightly sharing some story that I have no place in I quietly rejoice. They need to become the kind of best friends who will survive childhood, survive parents, and create their own stories. I dream that someday years from now they will gather their spouses and children together, tell them tales of their shared past, their mother and father, and  all the many years of friendship and love. They will be the family I wanted to have, the family my parents wanted to create.  Even if I write a book, or find that give-back job, my family's success will be the only legacy I will claim.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

And I Didn't Even Cry

Saw the Agent of Doom today. It was time for the 6-month check-up and more. The oncology practice goes by the "2 week rule." If it is unusual and persists for two weeks, come in and get it checked. I had two  unusuals, both persisting for 7 weeks. Time to get checked.

A lump on my calf proved to be some weirdness on the muscle; my guess is that Roscoe nipped me on the calf and I just forgot about it. The jelly-bean sized nodule is weird, alright, but does not seem to be related to cancer.

The second unusual matter will be checked out further. Too much back and leg pain without apparent cause, and lasting too long, means another bone scan. It doesn't really feel like anything serious. I mean, I have aches in my bones, in my hip joints, sometimes down one leg. Doesn't everyone at my age? And it may just be normal aging, or overdoing the chores. The kicker is always that as a cancer survivor I have to have it checked out or, as the Agent says, I'm going to be really mad at either myself or him.

So, one more trip to the bone machine. I'm 99% certain the scan will be clean and that next time I complain of aches and pains the Agent will refuse to offer anything more than Tylenol. Guess I'll "enjoy" the test bounty while I can. It will afford another 6 months of anxiety - free living.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Holy Day for Us

Danny, at eight, did not expect to be excited by his First Communion Day. In fact, he seemed to want nothing more than to get it over with until just a few days ago when he started asking to practice receiving communion. Yesterday he was eager to open all his presents despite knowing that they were "religious" gifts. And, to my complete amazement, he was absolutely enthralled with one gift in particular: a cartoon-illustrated bible! The boy who resisted all efforts to study for the sacrament or even look at his preparation guides has already read half a dozen bible stories and is eager to read more.

The day was special in ways we didn't anticipate. We made it to church more than 30 minutes before Mass started, truly a new record for us. Danny, now into the spirit of the day, gladly posed for photos in front of the church sign, the banner he made, the altar... Due to some schedule change our family was now seated in the first pew and would be the first to receive communion. Since Danny really wanted to receive one of the perforated sections of host, this worked out to our advantage. (The large host that the priest holds up during the Mass is perforated into twelve sections, and we thought it would carry a special bit of grace to receive one on this day.) Danny was so delighted when he did receive a section that it was the first thing he said to me after returning to the pew.

Family lore has it that my mother forgot to say amen after she watched me receive holy eucharist for the first time. I thought it was a bit silly until today, when I literally forgot to receive holy eucharist. Father John said, "Hey, Mom," as I was walking past with Danny. If he hadn't said something I would have kept on going.

A lovely tradition at our parish took us by surprise. Seven pink cake boxes were brought in at the beginning of Mass and set up at the altar. Danny was hopeful that they contained donuts for each of the children! Father quickly explained that a parish couple had been making small First Communion cakes  for years now. When Danny was called up to receive his box and lined up with the other six kids on the altar, he was the only child to open his box. Of course! Everyone laughed at his expression of joy, and I hope the couple received their payment in full. We didn't get a chance to thank them but will be writing them a note this week. That cake was beautiful and delicious.

A few family members came to bear witness and celebrate. We went out to a simple lunch at Danny's favorite restaurant. Danny repeatedly said how special the day was, how surprised he was by that and how happy he felt. He is still wearing the cross necklace we gave him and I know it is more than jewelry.

I didn't expect the day to be transforming for Danny but it was. I feel a little transformed myself.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

No News Was Better Than The News

I didn't get the class scholarship. Rats. And despite what I wrote yesterday I do care mightily that I lost out. I thought the instructor would visit my blog, yes this very blog, and be blown away. Fact is, I don't think she even stopped by for a peak. Guess my wish for a fairygodmother/writing coach to appear and sweep me into publication heaven is a bit unrealistic.

Once I scoop my feelings up off the blogosphere I'm going to hunt up another class.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Waiting for an Announcement

Waiting isn't something we choose to do. We wait because we can't get in to see a doctor, or we wait for a friend who is frequently late. I suppose if we continue to see someone we know is going to be late than you could say we choose to wait, but for the most part we are forced into waiting. How we handle it is totally up to us.

Today I've been waiting to hear if I won a scholarship to an online writing course. Thought it would be announced first thing in the morning. Nope. Waited until 10:00 before emailing the instructor for an estimation of when the announcement would occur; a girl needs to take a shower after all. "Sometime before the end of the day" was all I learned. When does the day end for you? Are we talking close-of-business day, early evening put-the-kids-to-bed day, or middle-of-the-night day? No clues were given. Right now it's 6:32 and there's no announcement. I know this because I check every few minutes.

I'm driving myself nuts. It's okay if I didn't win the scholarship.  I just want the waiting to be over.

I'd better sign off. I have to go check that website again.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Come To Our House, We'll Bake You a Cake

Three of us are sitting at the kitchen table, doing our homework while the dog is chewing contentedly on a rawhide. One of us is in her 40s and blogging but hey, I feel youthful today and writing is what I consider homework. The peace of being together while engaged in separate activities defines family for me. As we grow in different directions we may find our only common bonds are family ones. If I work hard enough, these bonds may be enough to keep us tethered tight.

When I was a child, the bonds with my brother and sister were loose, and now I see how rapidly they unfurled once we reached the freedom of adulthood. Maybe I'm ready to step away at last from the remnants of my family of origin. A few nasty shoves from the nest have helped me reach this conclusion. But mostly it has been the creation of my own family that has shown me how to love and receive love, and to recognize when love is not present. We are a wise family.

At dinner tonight we resolved to throw open our doors and be welcoming to those who wish to visit us, no matter how chaotic our lives, messy our rooms or nutty our dog. Amen.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Shredding the Bowl (Or, Do You 'board?)

Wearing clothes I did not sleep in today. What a refreshing change! Think I dipped a little too deeply into the blues last week. The sun is out today and I'm fueled by coffee, children and hope.

I drew the lucky straw today and brought Danny to his skateboard class. I once owned a skateboard myself, and without benefit of lessons lost interest after nearly knocking myself out. These days Park & Rec departments are offering classes taught by awesome guys barely out of their teens. Danny's teacher is Mike Manidis, owner of Atlas Skateboarding in San Mateo. Mike is a natural teacher, the kind of guy you want teaching your kid any and everything. After the first lesson Danny was relaxed, moving and ready for  more. Now, after six lessons, he is begging to practice everyday and wants to bring his board on the trip to Chicago! Love to see that kind of confidence building in him.

We await with trepidation news from the University of California regarding a new round of layoffs. Joe would like to retire in a few years and being forced into an "early retirement" would be a disaster for us. Perhaps it would be wise to postpone travel; I know better than to put off the trip back home, though. Time skips along, and while the kids are still willing to be seen in our company we want them to experience a major city, revisit dear friends and see old haunts. I want to show them my old town, and see it through their eyes. Memories created at 8 and 10 last beyond childhood, I believe. Sometimes money is meant to be spent despite the caution of the times.

Having being so confident about spending this "money" I'd like to go on record as saying I'd really, really like a great job or book advance to drop into my lap about now!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Just Wondering

Are they pajamas if you wear your clothes to bed? And then wear them the next day?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

There's a Frisbee on the Roof

Unexpected visits send me into panic mode. If you've ever seen a mobile home park after a twister sets down you get the general idea of what our house looks like on a day-to-day basis. It's not that I don't try to contain the clutter. I do. It really is more powerful than I am. By the time I work my way down from the kitchen through the living room, past the 8-year-old's LegoLand/chemistry lab/lockerroom, into the hall bath, through the 10-year-old's fashion mall/distressed bedding room, there is nothing left. No energy, no time, no oomph.

Last week the new neighbors came over to say hello. I turned and looked at the living room with fresh eyes and saw a hip-high vinyl blue therapy ball abandoned in one corner, toss pillows tossed everywhere but on the sofa, three pairs of shoes staggering in odd directions, partially gnawed rawhide chews nestled in the unfolded laundry, and at least three days worth of unread newspapers scattered on the coffee table. The bright afternoon sunlight did its best to illuminate the shockingly thick layers of dust on the entertainment center and the fingerprints dotting the TV screen. Inviting it was not. The kitchen contained a bouncing fur-coated creature we affectionately consider a dog but secretly believe is an atomic-powered hybrid since surely no living being can jump so high for so long. The foyer was a safety zone, baby-gated from the dog/robot creature on the left but in full-on view of the living room and the boy's disaster area to the right. The only real choice for these unexpected guests was a prolonged and painful chat in the foyer or a hasty retreat to the front yard, my personal favorite but an as yet to be tried option. Wouldn't anyone rather sit outdoors on a glider? It wasn't even raining.

Part of the agony for me is the endless, thankless nature of the work. One more load of dishes, one more bundle of clothes and I know I'll retch. If the clothes or dishes remain unclean, no one who inhabits the house with the exception of myself ever really notices the difference. I know this because I've conducted painful experiments. Painful because I'm the only one who suffers, and when I can't take it anymore I'm the one who caves in and cleans like a banshee. There's the Dirty Sock in the Middle of the Hallway experiment (3 days, no one noticed); Book Left on the Sofa (okay, I could see how it might have looked like someone was returning but really, 4 days?); Cup of Cocoa in the Living Room (you don't want to know); and Pots in the Sink (still waiting). Or No Clean Clothes for a Week. Bathrooms Unscrubbed for Ten Disgusting Days. Just imagine the lack of response to a Really Clean House, and further imagine how quickly it disintegrates back into clutter.

Yesterday I found a frisbee in the garden and tossed it carelessly towards the front door. It landed on the roof. On the roof is where it now resides. No one has noticed it and I'm betting no one will until I point it out. We will soon be known as The Frisbee House.

Some things are normal, like the goldfish in the bathroom (what better place?) and the skateboard in the van (we're ever-ready for the skate park). You might question the portable massage table tucked away in the bedroom, the sewing machine in the living room, the laptop in the kitchen. Are we just confused about room function or seriously stressed for space? Am I a lazy homemaker or too busy to clean? Lazy and busy, I think.

Today I'm torn between putting all the rooms to rights and curling up in bed for a cozy nap. Instead, I'm drinking Peet's next to a dog who is napping while the laundry is chugging along. And I'm writing. Every day I'm writing. Let the house take care of itself, I say, I'm going to take care of the internal clutter.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Testing, Testing, Do You Love Me?

The old familiar letdown is there all over again. It doesn't matter that I'm no longer the little sister who tagged along, unwelcome,  in our shared childhood, or the young adult excluded from their conversations. Now a mature women, I am ensconced with a family of my own, and the rejection is as sharp and deep.

I am Charlie Brown, ever eager to place-kick the football that Lucy pulls away at the last moment. Up to the T I march, hopeful and confident of my ability to punt the ball to my teammates, little guessing that those who should be most trusted are the ones least worthy of my faith. Who am I kidding?  I know that it will happen, the ball will elude me, because it always has.  That family team was never mine to claim, I never belonged. The last to join I was "one too many"  for the brother and sister who wished I would not have intruded.

Our kids had wanted to visit Chicago this summer, see their younger cousins a second time and perhaps meet the uncle, aunt and older cousins they had never seen. There were the other draws, too — of seeing a city bigger than San Francisco, reconnecting with their mom's best friends, who are more real to them than most blood relatives, and seeing places they've only heard about through a homesick mother — but they were really excited about the family ties. Who were these older cousins, and what about that Uncle Mike? They are just starting to piece together the jigsaw of their family and these were curiously missing pieces.

The sister/aunt and brother/uncle are very busy, of course. Both have job concerns, time constraints, and the youngest cousins are engaged in non-stop camp activities through the summer. There might be a moment here or there for a face-to-face encounter, a concession of "making ourselves available" but neither was willing, or enthusiastic, about coordinating or committing to it.  The message was unstated but heard very clearly.

"We cannot be bothered to care enough about you to see you, meet your children and spend time with your husband. You don't matter to us, never have;  certainly the family you have created does not matter." I feel this rejection as a profound sorrow and know that it is something I cannot undo. It exists. It is a shadow in my heart.

The people I love the most have always been happy to see me. They are the ones who called every week  during cancer treatment, who still call just to talk. They have seen me through the great times, the dark times, the mundane times without judgement. They love me back. That's it, isn't? They love me back.

A cancer survivor is always looking to the future with a cautious eye. Will there be uninterrupted health for another vacation, another reunion, another celebration? This is precious time and I promise myself I will spend it with the people who want to be with me and my family. No apologies, no regrets. At least, none from me.

Friday, April 16, 2010

More Than Survival

Let me lay it out for you. In the back of my mind (front and sides, too) I've been planning to write a book. Something about life as I know it as a forty-something mom trying for more than mere survival after the mack truck experience of cancer. Yeah, says the editor in me, it's already been done. And done again.  I don't want to write the Hallmark version. I'm thinking more about writing from the irreverent and somewhat agonized perspective of someone who questions the motivations of her doctors while praying they'll tell her what to do. A person who gathers her will in spurts and stops, musters her dreams amidst the cold frustration that the future may have passed her by, defeats her challenges as often as she is defeated by them.

Would someone want to read the ups and downs of hope and dread after initial treatment and "before" possible recurrence? Because that's the reality of the much-heralded survivor existence. Any publisher would cringe at the proposal. "What a downer," she'd say. There'd be no promise of a happy ending, or even a tragic resolution. Just limbo. And the daily goings on, pushing forward, dragging back, moving in the unknown. Every move is weighed in relation to the likelihood of a recurrence. Remodel the house? Maybe the money will be needed for treatment or childcare. Find a part-time job to pay the bills? Not if I can't get the stamina. Attempt a new career? Will I have the time? So much of this "new normal" as they call it is lived in the head. My head. Should I invite strangers in for a visit, allow them to witness the demise of my previous sanity and model the new? Would anyone pay for the privilege?

Until then, I blog.

And It's Your Business How?

She's not a friend, just someone whose life has intersected with mine through our children's nursery school, preschool and now elementary school careers. So there we were, sitting next to each other on the grass after the community theater play while the kids ate lunches, two moms chaperoning a field trip, and she lobbed this grenade my way: "How's that breast cancer thing going?"

Wow. Openness is my middle name, and I usually welcome cancer dialogue. Somehow this didn't qualify, coming as it did amidst playing children, mingling moms and roaming teachers. I  mean, odds are that my answer might be, "Oh, just learned I've got mets to the bone and brain and will be starting full-on treatment next week. How's the family?" Really, isn't there a middle ground when inquiring of an acquaintance as to their health status?

A little touchy, perhaps. An appointment has been made for a check-up with the Agent of Doom. The back pain may simply be back pain but it exceeds the two-week-get-it-checked cancer chick guideline. Considering this is National Cancer Control Month (Has someone discovered a way to control cancer? Do tell.) it seemed the right time to make the call.  It's just that the guy always makes me cry and I really hate to do that with people I don't respect.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hometown Chicago (or how I turn even a vacation into a cancer worry)

As if it wasn't boring enough around here the rain has begun again. Danny is at a rock climbing party (this is California, yes?) and the rest of the readers in my posse are scattered at home, delving into the paper, a leftover stash of library books and a guidebook to Chicago. Whenever I'm truly bored I begin to plan a trip.  Chicago won hands-down because of the draw of friends, who are family to us. The kids have been pestering me for years to visit the hometown area as if it is a mystical land of wonder and light. There's The Field Museum, the Art Institute, Navy Pier, the American Girl Store, Lake Michigan, the cemetery tour of beloved dead relatives, and of course the various home haunts of me, the mom. We'll make our "must see" list before leaving and compare notes.

With any luck we'll coordinate the visit with a few family members and allow the cousins to meet and mingle. Better now than later, or never. And there is the matter of my father's brother who has never met my children. Well, then, neither has my own brother. What's the appropriate greeting upon meeting up after a decade or more lapse — my, but time sure has flown? Where has the time gone? How many kids have you got there now? Hey, have you reproduced? Remember me?

No matter, we're quite excited to be venturing East. A theme is being tossed about. Perhaps "Trains, planes, automobiles, water taxis, buses..." or some other reference to modes of conveyance. We'll check them off as we go. Already I've put out the rule that everyone will have one roller bag, one backpack. C'est tout. If it doesn't fit, it doesn't come. I will have the most difficulty with this limitation. No one has to know that I plan to pack a collapsable bag for "take home" goodies.

The project of getting ready for the trip, going on the trip, returning home from the trip should keep one corner of my peabrain occupied for a couple of months. I do need to decide whether to get the recurrent back pain checked out before the trip. If it is bad news I'll have to start treatment and perhaps postpone the trip; good news I can go worry free.  Suppose I'll procrastinate another week and make a decision then. After all, maybe the recent weight gain is contributing to the pain. Or, says the Cancer Squirrel, maybe the cause of the pain is somehow contributing to the recent weight gain. Oh, damn the rodent.  I'm going to starve the Cancer Squirrel by denying it any thought at all.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Where is the War?

President Obama has my full respect. He's my President and that's my punctuation, thank you. The man is intelligent, courageous, a visionary. He is one of the only leaders in my lifetime I'd be willing to follow into a war. Then why isn't he banging the drum about the two wars we are in?

I grew up with the Vietnam war as a nightly dinner guest, courtesy of parental news junkies who kept a tiny television on the kitchen table. We don't have TVs in our bedrooms and never will, but the first order of business when we bought this house was to outfit the kitchen with a television. We gather around it, all 13 inches of it, much like early viewers must have done in the 50s when the first devices graced living rooms. And so I'd know if the wars were making the airwaves the way they should. I'd know if we were hearing everything we need to hear about the soldiers far from home, or the families waiting for their return. I'd know if they were being suitably cared for upon their return. I'd know. And I don't.

Where is the war?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I'm an Embarrassment

That's right. The 10-year-old has made several indications of late that my appearance is an embarrassment to her. Yesterday it was a hat I was wearing, today the way I tucked my t-shirt into my sweats. Just imagine hearing your daughter pleading with you not to wear your clothes that way, or snatching the hat off your head in desperation when her pleas to remove it failed. Ugh. When did I cease being perfect, or at least acceptable, in her eyes? Now I'm the dreaded Mother uttered in contempt, complete with italics and pre-teen eyerolleze. Double Ugh. Like I needed this blow to the self-image.

The past four weeks have been awful. Somehow I have fallen into the post-menopause, chubby breast cancer survivors group. Ever since my diagnosis I've taken foolish but delighted pride in being thin. Really thin, like Size 4 and feeling fine thin. A month ago I weighed 13 lbs less than I do today. A couple of months ago I weighed even less than that. What's happening to me? Those sweats are starting to be a necessary part of my attire. No wonder the daughter is starting to cringe at the sight of me.

The metabolism is skewed in some evil direction. There's no excuse not to hit the Y except all the usual busyness. Perhaps now that the rain has ceased I can keep those walk dates with the goofy canine, expand into the gym a few days a week and gobble those fruits and veggies I'm supposed to be eating. Funny, I'm not really eating high-calorie food, or anything different from the rest of the family.  Although why I'm the only one swelling up like a big ox is beyond me. Here I am on record as saying this is as non-thin as I get. No more sweats, tucked or untucked, unless I'm at the gym. Tomorrow, it's the healthy road for this patootie.

Friday, April 2, 2010

End of Break

Spring break is finally at an end. We didn't have anything planned this time and I suffered mightily for it. Kids need plans or they want to watch tv. When they watch tv their brains turn to jelly. Jelly brains are nasty creatures to live with 24/7, let me tell you. Next year we'll do something, anything, for spring break. And it won't rain, either.

The saga of the retaining wall/fence may finally be moving along. The engineer has completed the design and the contractor is picking it up tonight. What's next? A written estimate, I hope, and a check from New Neighbor for half the cost of the patio support wall. I've been dreaming of a completed wall, fence and enough dough left over to install a simple patio and place a few new trees and plants along said fence. After removing the privacy screen trees we're sitting bare naked in full view of the New Neighbors, and their behemoth of a house is not a lovely piece of architecture. Probably serve me right for having a bad attitude if I can't replace the screen for years and have to stare at the behemoth all that time.

Several weeks of low back pain have had me googling "back mets" and "back bone pain" late at night. It's the four year anniversary of my diagnosis and suddenly all around me women are having recurrences. Not me, not me. My medical go-to person is an acupuncturist, and twice now she's reassured me by relieving the pain quickly. She also is encouraging me to check in with the Agent of Doom (it is that time) but I'm reluctant. He just makes me cry. I need to find a new doc, someone who really has a heart and mind for this cancer work. Now the game is recurrence prevention and I'm in need of a team leader.  This taking care of me stuff is really hard work.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A New Bike and It's Not a Trike

The Old Bike

Ooh, some rhymes should not see the light of day. Blame it on my mixed feelings about the day's significance: today is the last day I can claim to have a seven-year-old son. Tomorrow Danny turns eight. It's a big day for him and yet he's been having mixed feelings, too. Angst, at this age? Perhaps. Last weekend he had the "kid party" with a few buddies, a trip to the movies, pizza and ice-cream cake. Crazy fun. Now it's the reality of same-old, same-old with the family. At least the birthday treats I brought to school (homemade cupcakes) were a roaring success. The class gobbled them up and he came home and ate an additional five before I realized what he was up to! I do seem to have mastered the art of cake and frosting.

Joe and Dan did the research on this bike several weeks ago. Danny fell in love with a 24 and 26 incher and has been anticipating bringing one or the other home. Now, all they have to do is take a final test ride. We'll all have BIG bikes now, a bike rack on the back of the van that makes my life miserable every time I need to open the hatch, and plans for family rides together. I may ditch the bike in favor of taking Roscoe on foot; he's family, too. Mostly Danny takes rides with his Dad and sister, though, and that's okay.

I'll be selling the old bike, a now tiny-seeming Specialized. When did it shrink? When did he grow? Why do milestones make us celebrate with such wild feelings of joy and loss?  Four years ago I was diagnosed with cancer and every child's birthday I've celebrated since is one more. One more. One more.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Birdhouse Unveiled (Be Kind)

Oh, you've all been waiting for it, haven't you? I can just imagine the anticipation. What masterpiece of birdhouse art has Hedgie created for our viewing pleasure? Well, hey, here are two photos of the front. My iPhone usually does a good job but was forced to work in direct sun and then lamplight so forgive the technique.

Just amazing, you say? Give me a fuzzy break!

That shiny object in the top nesting hole is a pearl button. A treasure, you know, as all children are. (These birds are happily waiting for just one egg to hatch, courtesy of some smart nest planning.)

You should see the other sides, though. The paper is different on 3 sides and the roof and rather elegant if I do say so myself. The house would look nice high on someone's living room shelf, away from bright, flaw-revealing sunlight and direct inspection. Or perhaps regifted during a White Elephant exchange. Hmmm, the possibilities for a late-night crafted birdhouse are endless.

Lotsa fun in the making. Now what am I going to do with it?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Born to Sew

Who, me? Nope. That would be my son, Danny, who has been asking me to teach him how to sew. Nothing major, just how to thread a needle, pull it through fabric, tie it off. Tonight, after homework was completed, there was absolutely nothing standing in our way. The Princess with more desire than know-how was teaching her son the basics of needlecraft. (Oh, Mom, are you laughing at your daughter?) And he was loving it. He started singing a little song, "born to sew, born to sew" that almost knocked me off my chair.

When his older sister came along and realized we were into something interesting without her, she had to thread up, too. Dan may have some natural ability here whereas Gracie takes after her father; she asked me which end of the needle went in first, the dull or sharp end? She has other talents.

Feeling very crafty, I gathered my decoupaged birdhouse and trim materials while the kids were enthralled with their projects. Whoever invented the glue gun should be given the Nobel Peace Prize for saving art-starved moms from committing suicide by boredom. I mean, I have had so much fun designing that little decoration. Originally I hoped to sell it on Etsy (I have a store -- an empty store) but it is probably too much a cliche even for Etsy. Still, I will post a few photos here and let my tiny but loyal audience decide its merits. Check back on Tuesday for some hot shots!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Take 3 Spoons of Dirt and Come Back in Two Weeks

The other day I twisted my back. Maybe one too many room rearrangements or attempts at spring cleaning were responsible, or just the daily tower of babble. All I know is that in one pain-filled moment I went literally stiff with dread. Oh, no, not my back was the refrain running through my head. Not again. 

Such a wise woman I've become, or just a lucky one. Yesterday the calendar read, "acupuncture, 9:30." Wahoo, saved by the needles. And I was. A few gentle probes with her hands on the back but mostly, the needles did the trick. I left pain-free, relaxed and carrying a 2-week supply of an herbal supplement designed to unblock my stagnation. Yes, somehow in addition to straining my back I'm stagnating. Such is my life at the moment.

Replay of the conversation with receptionist:
"So, this is the supplement. How do I take it?"
"Mix it with very hot water and drink quickly."
"Quickly, huh? It tastes like dirt, doesn't it?"
"It is very organic."
"Good old dirt. Just as I thought."

The stuff does taste like dirt and is best followed with a juice chaser. I'm not really sure what the acupuncturist meant when she told me I was "stagnated" but she was right on with relieving my back pain. I'm good for a few weeks of stagnation therapy.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Naked Yard, Confused Birds

Or, let the sun shine in. We have no privacy hedge anymore. No privacy at all from the behemoth house on the east. Without the ugly trees between us there's just us, and them. Ugh. Already I've been combing the 'net looking for fastgrowing trees and such. There are giant bamboo that might work. I need to visit the bamboo farm to see these things up close first before agreeing to anything. I have no intention of going through this heartstopping tree-cutting process again.

The tree guys were very careful about nests. One oak due for a crowning had two nests; the haircut was postponed. None of the other trees had active nests. After the crew left I sat outside taking in the sight of our suddenly huge and sun-lit yard when I noticed a scrub jay high in a palm. He looked confused, starting to fly towards the location once held by the Chinese Elm only to turn back and land on the palm. Poor dear. We have a lovely Japanese maple that I can see again, and the doves were enjoying it, too. It's like getting a blank canvas and a fresh set of paints. Oooh, the possibilities.

Another day or two of work next week and we'll be done with this portion of the yard work. Next we'll see the retaining walls and fence go in. I need a beautiful (but not over-designed) fence. Simple, elegant and aesthetically gorgeous. I'm going to be looking at 108 feet of this fence and it had better be more than dog-eared fenceboards! Ideas?

On the kid front, sweet Danny continues to hate school. Really hate school. I'm as involved as I know how to be on all fronts, trying to get to the bottom of it and solve the obvious problems. There are no easy answers, though, only tough questions and the love in my heart to guide me. A little boy should not hate school, should not cry at night because he is so miserable he cannot see a reason to get up the next morning. I could really use a how-to manual. If only I could fix this as easily as the backyard.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Trees and Paper

Tomorrow the tree guys are coming to our house. Bright and early they'll arrive, chainsaws at the ready to cut down someone's idea of beauty. Decades ago the original owner planted a Monterey Cypress that is brown and scraggly now; a Chinese Elm that writhes and wrangles with the Pitisporum for a spot of sun; five myaporum trees grown taller than the neighbor's 2-story house but truly a gnarled and unsightly privacy screen; the said Pitisporum that is too close to the house's roof and foundation for comfort; two Monterey Pines that have created a mockery of our driveway and must be punished for their errant root systems... there are more but do you need to hear it? The sun is going to shine in parts of our backyard long neglected by warmth and light.  The front and side yards will become more and less than they were.

Very, very soon we'll start the decade-delayed retaining wall/fence project. Of course there won't be any money left to actually landscape the backyard but I'm going to spend many hours enjoying the fact that we could landscape it. We really could do it! Hardscape in, nasty space-swallowing trees out means more room for lovely trees, plantings, patio, maybe a little writer's cottage tucked out back. See? I've already started the dreaming.

The paper in the heading comes from the absurd amount of material stacked up and waiting to be filed somewhere. Somewhere I can retrieve it again, that is. I tell myself I need a big chunk of time to work on it and it really is true. Have you ever started a filing project only to be interrupted? Maybe a dozen times? It's agony, and really impossible to carry the thought process from one pile to the next. Tomorrow, though, I've got a few hours when I can sort, destack, file and clear while the tree guys are doing the same thing outside. The symmetry is my motivation. This will be spring cleaning with pure energy!

Monday, March 15, 2010

We're Losing Teachers and Music and the Library...

Can you imagine your children coming home with the news that more than half a dozen teachers are receiving pink slips due to the state's financial crisis? Or that they won't have access to their incredible library next year, or that there won't be a band or chorus for the fourth and fifth grades? Class sizes will increase, putting a greater burden on the teachers who remain to do more with less. The kids will certainly be required to do more with much less. Will they ever make up for the losses? Will the schools ever crawl out of these holes?

Like most schools, ours benefits from a community fundraising organization. It's called SchoolForce. Now more than ever we're hoping SchoolForce can make up for the $3 million budgetary gaps and save the teachers, the class size, the library and the band. There's more to save, of course. It is just too overwhelming to list all the losses we face.

If you've stumbled on this site out of friendship, chance or desire to unload an inheritance and save a school district, head on over to SchoolForce. There's a Read-a-Thon going on now (my guys are doing their part by reading day and night) and you can donate in Gracie and Danny's names at Central Elementary. Or just donate. NO pressure, though. It's not as if the future of our galaxy hangs in the balance.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Haven on Earth

Years and years ago, before marriage and children, animals were my primary focus. I formed a dog and cat rescue called "Haven on Earth" and endeavored to rehome as many homeless animals as possible on a struggling editor's salary. The animals did not need an invitation, either; they seemed to sense their welcome and found me. Cat projects included trapping, neutering and placing the Gap Cats from the Gap office development in San Bruno (formerly an open field behind a shopping center and apartment complex); trapping, neutering, taming and rehoming colonies at Candlestick Point, a population in danger of becoming training bait for hunting dogs; and various neighborhood colonies in San Francisco, South San Francisco, Belmont and Millbrae. The dogs were usually spitz breeds from a collaboration with Keeshond Rescue in Menlo Park, now defunct with the passing of the rescue owner. Finnish Spitz, American Eskimo, Keeshonden and varieties of those breeds became my flatmates and, later, housemates.

How many animals passed through my heart? A hundred, easily. Some went to great homes, others were gently helped to heaven when no amount of medical care would keep them on earth. Then there were those animals, mostly cats, who could not be placed anywhere. Those cats remained with me, and when I married, became part of my dowry for a willing husband. Our "high" was 33 and now, in our specially selected home with a "cat haven" adapted garage/workshop,  we have nine cats in their retirement years. Yes, nine cats ranging in age from 13 to 15 years. They are all adoptable but hard to place because of their age, shyness, or simply lack of visibility. Seriously, how many people are willing to adopt a 15-year-old cat from a flyer?

We  are making a final push to find these felines a forever home because they deserve it. And because we can't muster the time, energy or financial resources to care for them as they should be.  Deferred maintenance on our home is requiring a serious look at where the money is going every month and after all this time we have to put our family first.

They are lovies, characters, and beauties. I will be featuring them on this blog in coming days. Please take a look at our babes and if you have the space in your life, consider adopting one. Or two. You may be blessed to become their final haven on earth.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Waiting for Joe

Waiting, waiting. A day full of dog barking, kids ignoring requests for household help, endless parade of mindless chores. Now I'm waiting, waiting for Joe to come home so I can bolt this coop. Maybe a movie will change my mood. The friend I called for a last minute invitation to the movies answered laughing, saying she was in the middle of email to me inviting herself over for coffee tomorrow.

The dog never barks unless we're home and in separate rooms. Weirdo. I love being in separate rooms. He can't stand it. He's not ready for prime time, though, and can't be trusted with the run of the house. So Roscoe is Waiting, Waiting too. Now he's waiting for Danny to open his door and come back to the kitchen, for Gracie to come down the hall and join us. Me, I'm waiting to be released from my kitchen prison. This laptop is good company. It is a challenge to type, interrupt myself to calm the dog, return with leashed canine in hand and type more. See? Boring as all get out, too.

As you can tell by the photo of Roscoe waiting on the table, our training sessions are going remarkably well. (I told him to "wait" while I went for my iPhone and he didn't move a toenail.) Perfect pooch.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Down the Rabbit Hole

One of the drugs used during chemo required another drug to minimize its effects. Dexamethasone was worse than the bone pain it reduced and I usually refused it. A few times I couldn't bear the pain, though, and the awful depression and insomnia were high prices to pay.

This past week brought the beginning of dental work I had hoped to avoid: a bridge. Just the sound of it makes my hair seem grayer. After cutting into two relatively healthy teeth to create the anchors for the bridge, temporaries were placed and I was sent home to wait for the lab to build my lovely bridge. Every hour saw an increase in the throbbing until I caved in and returned to the dentist a mere seven days later. No, nothing wrong a little prednisone wouldn't fix. Prednisone, kissing cousin to dexamethasone. Better believe the pain was intense or I wouldn't have agreed to it. And it wasn't dinner time before I was slipping down the rabbit hole, into that pitch of melancholy from ChemoLand Days. This morning even the sound of thirty birds singing in the lemon tree cannot stop me from baseless tears. The pain is emotional, from that solitary place I inhabited four years ago and suggests that maybe I haven't finished grieving. Lost health? Innocence? Days without a chance thought of cancer?

I'm refusing to surrender to a drug-induced nap. I'm sure that's the right course of action. Keep on keeping on, you know.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mysterious Gifts Revealed

Those birthday gifts? They were huge votes of confidence wrapped in paper love. You see, some of my future plans involve the ability to sew. I do not possess this ability. I do however, possess creativity and perseverance. And there is a refurbished Brother sewing machine winging its way here to me as we write, and read, these words! The kids and Joe found some great sewing books and accessories for me. They believe I can do it. So do I.

Already lined up is a fab sewing instructor who, BTW, teaches kids to sew as well. Danny and Gracie both have wanted to learn for several years. Before long Joe will be begging for lessons and we'll be the family that sews...

My valentine was a silver and amethyst hedgehog necklace. Tres, tres cute.

This morning I'm sipping coffee and watching the many birds feeding outside the living room window. That's another gift. It's true that if you feed them, they will come. They'll come and bring their songs and beauty. Hardly a fair exchange for a few sunflower seeds.

Now,  last on today's post is a request for prayers. Bessie, great lovely Bessie, is ill. Bessie is my dear friend Marian's Newfoundland, and since Marian died last June Bes has lived with Marian's parents. Suddenly Bessie's kidneys are failing and it isn't clear if she is going to stay with us. Her family wonders if she thinks her job is done. I think that Marian would want Bessie to stay on earth with her parents a little longer and ask for your good thoughts for this darling dog.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me

Yay, this is 49. After cancer my view of birthdays has decidedly changed. Keep 'em coming!

The family is being somewhat mysterious about the nature of my gifts this year. Apparently there is a theme. I believe Joe is driving around with Whatever They Are in the back of his Mazda. My guess? Something to do with "my business," a creative endeavor so new I haven't even completed an official business plan.

The Business, as I like to call it, is burbling along anyway. The laundry room possesses a nook and is conveniently located off the kitchen, my former home-base of operations — voila, an office! I've partnered with an amazing woman in Ohio for some of the creative production aspects (there's a tale there) and am going to work with someone closer to home to generate a prototype. Gosh, I love such mystery! If I could bottle my enthusiasm at this moment I could make a small fortune, certainly enough to bankroll The Business!

On a birthday, though, it is more appropriate to take a moment and look at the goals of years past. The big ones have always been to raise a strong, happy family and live a life according to that ancient precept, The Golden Rule. With our children I intended to teach them to love reading and, seeing books on every surface of our home, I know that has happened. The other measure of success is their own understanding of The Golden Rule. Yeah, they are bringing it into their lives, too, even without my presence. At 49, I feel very successful to have passed on those two life-guiding principles to them. Books open the  mind to the world and all its possibilities, and the humanity of caring for others as one cares for oneself (which mandates a healthy self-love) will take them wherever they want to go.

Happy Birthday, Happy Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday to ME!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Miss You!

There are friends from college, friends from grade school, friends I haven't met yet who read me. Okay, read Hedgie's Chronicles. I know you are out there because I see the hits on the 'counter. This is a one-sided conversation we're having and if you aren't bored with that, I am! Come out and chat with me! Send me some private email at and I'll write back. Really, I will. Tell me what's happening with you, why you visit, if there's anything you'd like to share or discuss.

C'mon. I miss you!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ring the Bell

Roscoe arrived less than house-ready when he joined our ranks last year. No worries, we've done that before. Adult dogs are quite easy to housetrain. Puppies, well, spare me the woe and carpet cleaning bills. Every dog we've shared space with has devised their own method of need notification —you know, telling the human being that the moment has come to open the door. Roscoe's method is to disappear into the laundry room, stand very quietly by the back door, and wait. Wait for the humans to note his absence and wonder, "Where's Roscoe and what's he up to now?" If we don't respond within about 30 seconds, he ups the ante with a low "mmmmumph." Usually, the absence of a mischief-seeking dog is enough.

Last week I brought home a rope of Tibetan bells.  The idea was to hang the bells on the door knob and make music when entering or leaving a room. Or, allow a dog to notify their human beings of the need to go outside. It was entirely possible  that Roscoe would pull the bells off the door and devour them. I had higher hopes for the pup, though, and he met them.

Within the day Roscoe learned that by leaning against the bells he was able to summon his people to open the door and let him out or, even better, when the bells were transferred to the outside and he wished to come back inside, he no longer needed to make a fuss. A simple nosing of the bell string brought someone to the door and he was back IN.

A little bit of fun and beauty, my favorite combination.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tweet not Twitter

Do you remember the SciFi story about a planet where the norm is seven years of rain, one hour of sunshine, seven years of rain, one hour of sunshine, seven years ....? The story centers on a group of children at school, all about (you guessed it) seven years old, eagerly watching the clock while it pours outside the classroom window.  Somehow one little child, a girl, is locked in a closet as part of childhood bullying (apparently it exists on other planets, too) and, in all the excitement when the sun breaks through the rain she is forgotten. Only when the sun retreats and the rain pounds the playground do the children hear her cries for help and realize what they've done.

Well, every monsoon season here in Northern California I live that story. The past weeks of rain have been oh, about seven years and today, the first day of sunshine I can remember since whoknowswhen is definitely the hour.  Even the birds seem to know the tale; I've started filling the feeders again and our yard is bursting with the joy of songbirds on a peanut/sunflower high. No sighting of hummers yet but the  glass orb is full of sugar water.

The soil is easy to turn with all the moisture. I transferred an old jade from the front yard to a lower spot, just yanked/dug it up and plunked it in a hole. Some unusual geranium cuttings offered by a Craigslist seller while we picked up another item received the same treatment. Snip snip, drag drag and Voila! Garden rearrangement.

Tomorrow more rain is due.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Camp Kesem Rocks! Vote to Keep Camp Kesem Rocking!

The kids went to Camp Kesem last summer and came home relaxed, confident and comfortable with the idea that they weren't the only kids whose lives had been hijacked by a parent's cancer. Yup, Camp Kesem is cancer camp for kids who have parents with a diagnosis of cancer. One boy that our son connected with lost his mom a few weeks before camp started. And still, cancer was not a heavy cloak over the week but a unifying thread binding the kids together. We received a week "off" from parenthood, too, totally free. Sweet. Why am I bringing it all up now?

Because Camp Kesem is in a competition to win big bucks to keep their national work going and growing.  They need votes, though. Consider trotting over to Chase Community Giving  to review the rules. It's pretty simple, takes a few moments and will make a huge difference for the little guys most overlooked when cancer strikes a parent.

We never thought we would be ending our kids to a specialty camp like Kesem. If you or a loved one needs this incredible resource someday,  I hope it is alive and kickin'!  As for us, the kids missed the autumn reunion, hope to make the spring reunion and definitely will be returning for camp this summer.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Full of Ideas

Even when I did it I knew it was not a wise move. There was not a defined career path for English majors back in the '80s, not like Business majors or Journalism majors. No matter, I went ahead and followed my muse. Added an honors track and tacked on a willy-nilly minor in History. Totally useless unless one entered the low-paying field of publishing, which I did, or wrote a book, which I have not.

Slow-forward a few decades and a hopscotch career in various publishing venues — and a 10-year-long break for child creation/loving/foundation-building — and what do you have? Frustration!

At least once a week I dream (literally wake up from a dream) of a business, flesh it out and realize it has some potential for niche success. That's me, a niche dreamer! I have one or two I'd love to pursue but how? If only I hadn't convinced myself that business courses, with the exception of economics, were a waste of an English major's time. Shucky darn.

Business courses make me sneeze. What I need is a business partner, someone who can hear my creative and marketing ideas and handle the nuts and bolts end of production. Is there a store with such people? Any on sale?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Growing Up in the Time of Fear

They look at me with all the emotions kids have for their moms: embarrassment, exasperation, bemusement, impatience. Yep, they've given me the Eyeball Roll-Up, the Evil Stare Down, the You're Invisible! Blank Glance and my favorite, the Oh, Are You Still Here? Eyebrow Raise. Little do they know I perfected each and every one of those facial expressions eons ago and could even give them a few pointers, should they just ask. They don't know what a master I was at torturing parents, especially the soft-hearted variety.

The other side of growing up is there, too. Not long before Christmas I wanted to attend a reading at our church. It was held at night and had all the appeal, to children, of a midnight dental cleaning. There was some protesting but I held fast and bundled them up in the car. The reading was dramatic, the church lit only by candles, and it didn't take long before both children were stretched out in the pew, heads resting in my lap, asleep. That was the first taste of Christmas for me, I think, attending an Advent reading with reluctant children who only came because they loved me. Warm love was what I felt surround me as I rested a hand on each child with the evening chill setting in.  Yes, they are growing up and learning to do more than receive love.

Right now I'm typing in bed for no other reason than it is late and the heater is near. Both kids have found their way into the bed and are sound asleep. Again. Feel my power: I am She Who Induces Sleep! There are days when our home can pass for The House of Yell and Bark (and I just know the neighbors must wonder what we shout about all the time) but today wasn't one of them. Today we spent a rainy Sunday together. Mass (one doughnut each, which Danny prayed for when we drove up to a new church and didn't know if it was on the menu); a family stop at Peet's for lattes and cocoa (separate tables, please!); and a day ensconced at home, safe from the rain.

We live in the golden land of potential devastation, one rumble away from what Haiti is enduring. We send our prayers across the miles of land and water, earnestly wanting to end the grief and pain. This week the 10-year-old is involved in a school fundraising drive, learning about offering support to those who need it most. And I think, right now, these two sleeping children beside me need the peace they have found. Tomorrow we will try to save the world, get straight As and see how far the parents can be pushed without suffering the consequences.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Would You Walk With Me?

That's the question. Or, maybe it should be "Would you pay me to walk for you?" in the Avon Breast Cancer Walkathon this July 10-11 in San Francisco. I've never felt connected to these cancer events, never wanted to participate before now. Motivations?

1. Honoring those I've loved who have experienced cancer: Mom, Grandpa, Margaret, Grandmom Lib and Great Aunt Gert, Marian, Tom, Jill, Holly, Dad, Hal, Me, Myself and I. And I'm just getting warmed up.

2. Loving my family and wanting a goal to work towards to keep my health at the top of The List.

3. Standing up publicly against the Cancer Beast and helping fund the uninsured in their life struggle.

4. Walking because I can, while I can.

The whole thing intimidates me. I mean, asking people for money? Geez, I don't "ask" very well. It isn't a Hedgie strong suit. This walk requires a $1800 commitment from the walkers. Now, if I blogged my fingers off and put a button on this site that linked to the Avon account (money direct to them, not even remotely passing by ol' Hedgie here), would anyone out there consider supporting me? Just curious. If you would be so kind as to respond I promise not to go nuts with joy.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Ends and Beginnings

We packed Christmas up today. It was a great one and we weren't in a hurry to end the relationship but somehow the urge to clear up all the clutter took hold and that was that. It happens.

The beauty of our holiday was in its simplicity. Christmas Eve we spent at Mass, an intimate celebration with one child playing the bells and the other acting the part of an angel during the nativity pageant. We came home and laughed our way through a family creation in the VitaMix Blender (fun!): Tortilla Soup. Very yummy. A warm meal we all enjoyed, especially after having watched the ingredients get gobbled up by the blender.

We opened one or two presents and then the kids decided to play Mancala. I stretched out in front of the fire with a cuddly Roscoe tucked next to my tummy, his half-closed eyes watching the kids contentedly, while Joe pretended not to snooze in an overstuffed chair. James Taylor sang Christmas carols in the background of my little fantasy-come-to-life. "You know, guys, this is my kind of Christmas," I purred.
Danny looked up from the game, gave me the smile that makes him look just like his Grandpa Mike, and said, "Mine, too."

On Christmas Day we cooked the ancestral chicken kiev recipe (yes, I need to practice it a bit) and later that evening enjoyed the company of family. Roscoe was beside himself with all the human beings, especially the young ones, and talked the entire time. Yes, the entire time. He has quite a vocabulary, too. Next time we have more than a few folks over we'll have to see about sending him on a doggie sleepover.

The kids have watched more TV this week than they have in years, and we've also let them play the wii games to their hearts' content. They have also read books. BOOKS! Both kids, too. Who thought we'd have to holler at our kids to stop reading and eat? Or go to bed? They will be ready to return to a school routine, right?

Last night both kids stayed up to midnight for the first time on a New Year's Eve. They enjoyed the late dinner and played games to stay awake. Everyone made a stab at a resolution of some kind. We had a fun time together.

And today, we celebrated 2010 by visiting my cousins on the coast with their newest daughter, Kathryn and darling 2-year-old Lilly. Beautiful girls, exhausted parents, great happiness.

End of our first real Christmas at home.