Friday, November 27, 2015

I get why people slit their wrists during the Christmas season....

....Sorry, sorry. You were maybe expecting one of those posts like this?:

Sorry, dudes. It is precisely THOSE kinds of commercials that make a lot of people feel like they are being left out of the most fun party on the planet: the FAMILY Christmas get-together!

Those commercials always leave me cold. You never see real families. The ones where there is always an Uncle Bob...the racist brother in law who says the most obnoxious things possible. There is never an Aunt Annie, the one who just plain smells and either does nothing about it or tries to cover it up by pouring a bottle of Chantilly over her head. Aunt Annie also has a dog who is not house trained and shits and pees all over the house. And there is your sister and her family, The Keep-Up-With-The-Jones'. They have the newest edition of everything, including fashion, cars and any sort of techno gizmo. Your brother, who worries you on a daily basis. He is unmarried, is nearly 40 and still lives in a rented basement apartment with three roomies. He's probably going to show up drunk or high and teach all the children some really bad rap lyrics before he leaves. (On the good side, he also usually has a weed stash and when things get too hard for you to swallow, you can sneak out to the garage shed with him and smoke a bowl and reminisce about that time in high school when he sold your Dad's lawnmower without telling anyone....)

But, the commercials never show these families. They show everyone jumping for joy and meeting up at Grandma and Grampy's for a sweet Christmas family love fest. Grandma looks overjoyed at everyone tracking mud and snow onto her snow white carpeting. Grandpa sweetly reads The Night Before Christmas to wide eyed, fascinated kiddos who aren't squirming and complaining that they want to go play with their Xbox and play station. Everyone is drinking egg nog and laughing sprightly, not taking one sip and nearly gagging and promptly looking for the good scotch. The food preparations are not done by one or two haggard looking women in the family who are frankly fucking SICK of always being stuck with this chore but no one else seems to know how to help in the kitchen and god no....don't let Kathy in there, she always wants to make something with jello and pineapple chunks. No, everyone helps prepare the table and there is always room for everything and it all looks so good. There is no pouting from Aunt Betty because her bean salad thing ALWAYS gets put on the far end of the table and hardly anyone eats any of it. Everyone bows their heads thoughtfully to pray and NO ONE says something totally whack like, "God help us keep those brown skins out of our country. YEAH BO TRUMP!"

No. All of the presents are nicely wrapped and just what we always wanted. Men get their women elaborate jewelry from Kay or Jared Jewelers. Women buy their men cars. Children get stockings that WILL NOT STOP pouring wonders out.  There are no sweaters that are two sizes too small and you know it is a deliberate jab. There are no obvious re-gifts. Even the dog gets a new dog collar shaped like a bow tie.

I know a lot of families and many of them are so far from this media picture that it is almost insane. In fact, my bestie, Harriet immediately mutes cutesy Christmas commercials because she says they just make her depressed. Her immediate family is mostly deceased, so they drive to Wisconsin to spend the holidays with her husband's family every year and every year, she watches the weather like a fiend and sends me texts saying things like, IT IS SUPPOSED TO SNOW TOMORROW. NO, PLEASE GOD, NO! GET ME OUT OF HERE! If I have to listen to "A Glen Campbell Christmas" one more time, I will start screaming and scaring all the bratty children here, not my own of course!

My own family is not horrible, but I am convinced that I was somehow changed at birth with a child from a more liberal family. My parents are both dead and I swear if my Da were alive, he would be so upset. He was a Kennedy Democrat and a man who would have gotten up and spanked my brother in law for letting the word "nigger" come out of his obnoxious mouth. I have three sisters and ALL three of them are very, very conservative Republicans and the most devout of Catholics. One of my sisters bursts into tears at the mere sight of the pope. Another says that while she thinks Donald Trump might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, she would vote for him rather than Hilary Clinton because you can just tell by looking at her that she's a lying bitch. Another sister prayed so many St. Therese novenas for me when I was diagnosed with cancer that if prayer could save me, she probably singlehandedly is responsible for my recuperation.

I do not fit.

Bing, who grows more conservative as she ages, still doesn't fit.

Liv doesn't fit and is sort of wild eyed with astonishment whenever we drive home from family celebrations. It's like she was raised to be very liberal, to question all authority and to stand firm for her beliefs and then she is thrown into some backwoods, holy moly mob a few times a year and these are her Mama's people??

Yes. They are.

But, this Thanksgiving, I have been schooled about real families. This year, the only legal relatives at my table were my daughter and my wife. My daughter's Father was also there. And the rest were friends. Our REAL family.

There is Vince, an oncologist from Chicago. He and I did our residencies in Baltimore together and have been fast friends. Vince used to look like a young John Travolta. Now, he looks more like Quentin Tarantino. He met his partner, Thuan at a gay bar in Baltimore where we used to go after our 48 hour shifts at the hospital to have a drink before we passed out in our beds for 24 hours. Thuan had just arrived from Vietnam with his sister and they both worked like dogs to earn enough money to buy a building where they now have a Vietnamese restaurant that is (almost) 5 stars. Vince and Thuan are bloody well off and spoil us all rotten with expensive presents and hysterical stories about what diners in (almost) 5 star restaurants do and Vince unwinds from the stress of seeing too many people die from cancer. But, he saves many, many, many. I never fail to tell him that.

There is Tinton, Liv's Father. He is 38 years old and teaches geology at a college in Colorado. Up until two years ago, he worked at geological gigs all over the world until his knees and back began to give out. He is a full blood Lakota Indian,  and the only one in his family to graduate from high school, let alone get a masters in geology. He lives with his long suffering girlfriend of over a decade who breeds Scottish Terriers and who we will toast forever because she gave us Socks. Tinton is almost too handsome. He looks like he should be a singer in a rock band. He looks like Tom Mison.

You can see why I had no problem fucking his brains out after a Halloween party in what we both thought would be a one night stand but ended up with us creating Liv. Tinton is smart and funny and so caring and tender hearted. He and I were at a store the other day and ran into an old colleague of mine and I introduced him. The friend kept referring to him as "Clinton" instead of "Tinton"  and while I corrected him twice, Tinton just kept politely smiling. That's him all over. He and I are so bonded over our daughter that it is crazy. She will say or do something funny or smart and our eyes immediately meet and merrily spark. Yep, we say silently....THAT girl is OURS. He also contributes to half of Liv's expenses and NEVER questions any of my decisions. Blood or no blood, he's our family.

There is Nirand. He was Tinton's assistant for over a decade. Now, he continues to work at geological gigs. His current one is in England, a country that he has decided that he is madly in love with and wants to stay in forever. Nirand is from India and looks a lot like Glenn from The Walking Dead even though, um..I think Glenn is Korean. Nirand is brilliant about almost all subjects and none of us will play Jeopardy with him anymore. He talks books with me, math with Liv, gems with Tinton, current medicine with Vince and food with Thuan. He is magic. And family.

There are Linda and her son, Sven. Linda is our next door neighbor and she and her son, Sven (who was 11 at the time!) were the first to welcome Liv and me to the neighborhood. She is a nurse who works the overnight shift, so she is sort of like our vampire neighbor. Sven is our prodigal son, the good boy gone bad over drugs who made his way home again and is intent on proving to us that he is never going back down the rabbit hole. He and my daughter, Liv are in love. This is so clear to me that I can't deny it anymore and I have stopped trying. I have simply asked that they hold off on any serious plans until Liv graduates from college. Amazingly, they both think this is a prudent idea. Tinton, however, is less open to this and looked like he wanted to smother me with a pillow when I asked him what he thought about the idea of getting Liv on contraceptives. (As of now, she says she is a virgin and intends to stay that way until she feels "ready"). I just want to be prepared. Tinton is presently accompanying Liv and Sven to the Nebraska/Iowa game and I am very sure that Sven will not so much as try to hold Liv's hand with Tinton's gimlet eye fixedly on them.

So, that is my real family. The one that I shared Thanksgiving with. The people who made me laugh so hard that I forgot how bad my radiation burns still hurt. The ones who take turns making sure that Socks get a good walk three times a day.

This is the family that I played charades with all afternoon on Thanksgiving. These are the people who came up to me, one by one, at different times to tearfully tell me how glad they were, how thankful that I am still alive.

This is the family that I danced with all last night. Vince and Thuan had went to a vinyl record store a few days prior and found an old album by The Who called "Who's next." Last night, they pulled it out and pulled out our little used turntable and set it spinning. They put it on to the song, "Baba O'Riley" and little by little, no matter what we were doing, we all ended up in the living room dancing. Spinning circles around each other. Weaving and bobbing. I was dipped twice by Tinton. Spun until I was dizzy by Bing. And just held close and moving with Liv and then, Nirand. Of course, we all ended up in an argument over whether the O'Riley in the song was actually O'Reilly or O'Riley and Nirand had to settle it. Everyone thought it hysterically funny when I admitted that I always thought the song was called, "Teenage Wasteland." No, Nirand had to correct me, sweetly. That was incorrect and did I know that Keith Moon wrote the violin part on this song?

So, in this group, I am practically the village idiot.

But, you know....I LOVE MY LITTLE NO BLOOD RELATION FAMILY. Everyone in this group would walk through fire for me. None would give me a sweater that was two sizes too small or make untasty eggnog or have bratty kids.

I think I'll take a hint from my bestie, Harriet and just mute those Christmas commercials.

Who's in your Christmas wallet?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

What I'm not thankful for

This is the first year in over a decade that we have skipped Thanksgiving at my sister's home and are having our own small dinner at home. Liv's Father is here, his old assistant and our good friend, Nirand is here. My old med school buddy, Vince is here with his partner, Thuan. And our next door neighbors, Linda and Sven are here. Well. they will be here in a few hours.

The turkey is in the roaster in our brand spanking new oven. Stuffin is stuffed. Potatoes ready to be peeled and boiled. Rolls from here:

Pies baked and ready. Olive and pickles daintily arranged on plate by someone other than me, who is not talented at this kind of thing.

5 bottles of Number 8 on this list:

Our one distraction: we are in the midst of an ice storm. This is so typical of the prairie. We had Indian Summer straight through the middle of November. And now the perky ass weather guy is cheerfully telling us that we are in for at least an inch of ice. This wouldn't be so bad if we lived in the newer part of our city where all the power lines are underground and the only trees are about two feet tall. No, we live in a very old part of the city where there are many, many power and cable lines above ground and an incredible amount of old oak trees. An inch of ice can easily mean a loss of power. But, fingers are crossed that when that does happen, we may all be too soused to notice. Well, hopefully not Liv. She can herd us all to bed.

This year, I am deliberately NOT doing the going around the table thing and saying what we are thankful for. This was always done at my Sister's home and always ruined by my racist brother in law, who would say, "I'm grateful that none of my kin is married to a (rhymes with bigger)!" And then, he would guffaw while I sputtered around and protested that this was an AWFUL thing to say and shame on his stupid head, etc. etc. etc. Eventually, my Sister was able to get him to be less obnoxious when I threatened to not show up if he didn't stop. But, he still managed to get his digs in. ("I'm grateful that this is Obama's last term, that Muslim towel head.") My other sisters told me that they always warned their kids in the car on the way to our sister Patrice's house to ignore Uncle Bob. I almost always began singing "Pop, Goes the Weasel" halfway through his sentence, so that no one could hear it.

Good times. Good times.

No, this time, we have all agreed to share the worst thing that has happened to us this year and the winner gets to opt out of helping with clean up. I am so fucking smart. I mean, who is going to beat "Well, I was diagnosed with cancer this year....."? We also have a hat full of charade names of movies, books, songs or quotes in one of my big summer sunhats. And since every person at my table except Linda, Vince and me plays an instrument, there has been some practicing going on in our music parlor. Bing on piano. Liv on violin. Tinton and Nirand on guitar, Thuan on marimba, and Sven on drums. Bing has promised that she plans to sing "our song."

I know, I know....not very romantic. But, it is us. And I can't tell you how incredibly sexy she looks when she plays those opening bars of the song on her guitar (she'll be off piano for that one.) She does this thing with her shoulder. You can see the guy in the video do it, but she does it so much better.

Liv and Tinton are also going to do a Lakota dance and song for us in full outfits. Liv will be reduced to shuffling along with her feet because the Lakota culture believes that Lakota women's feet are shackled to the earth. Tinton will do the full dance, he promises....if his knees hold out. I will just love seeing him all tricked out with his finery, his feathers and face paint. Kind of an odd thing to do for an American Thanksgiving, I know. But, Lakota blood runs halfway through Liv's veins and I want to honor it. Plus her kunsi (paternal grandmother) sent her a new buckskin dress and she looks beautiful in it.

I think that will pretty much fill up our day and maybe, just maybe, the Lakota dance will scare away the ice storm. It is my hope anyway.

I am content. My house if full and warm. The smell of turkey is wafting through the house and I didn't cook it, Thuan, our master chef, did.

Tonight, we are thinking of watching a movie, but so far, we cannot decide on one. This may involve a bit of rock, paper, scissors, I suspect. As of right now, we're watching some Best of Show for dogs. I am truly amazed at how Scottish Terriers are SUPPOSED to look. So is Socks. He is curled up in Thuan's lap, staring in bewilderment at the obedient dogs on the television screen who raise their chins obediently so that strange men can poke into their mouths. We are all assuring him that he would be best in show if we entered him. He may not have that coat that looks like a floor mop or a long beard, but he once came very close to catching a squirrel and he knows exactly what to do when you've had a bad day. So THERE, you other mutts.

Happy holidays to you and care to share your day plans? We are the melting pot. I always love it when someone tells me that they NEVER have turkey, only spaghetti or that they all wear crowns. What does YOUR family do?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What cancer has taught me

When I used to sit in the chemo room, getting infused with poison with all the others, we often joked. It was gallows humor, but it made chemo possible. Not so much with the men, I would say that the ratio of men to women during my chemo time was about 25-75. So, I was mostly with other women. And most of us had breast cancer. We would talk and share, some of it useful, some of it not, some of it just sharing. We talked about how one of us could not STAND the smell of toothpaste. Another was ok unless she smelled french fries. I shared that just the sight of meat made me sick. We all shared our whacked out dreams populated with menacing clowns and bolts of thunder.

But, I am sitting in a quiet house today. Bing and Liv are at their last days of school and work. Vince and Thuan are late sleepers and will not be up for at least two hours and Tinton and Nirand have taken Socks to that coffee place up the street that allows dogs on leashes. They are giddily excited to be in each others company again. They used to be partners on geological digs. Now, Nirand goes it alone while Tinton has chosen the academic journey and now teaches college.  As I am so often these days, I am alone. And I am thinking about things. Random things mostly.

1) Where the fuck am I gonna find room to put the pies?
2) There is a dead mouse smell in the garage.
3) Bing just got accepted into the doctoral program at a local university. Her job pays half, so she felt it was worth going for, but how will this work as related to time? Will she never be home now?

But, I'm also thinking about cancer. I have my last radiation consultation today. Supposedly, I am to be okayed as my burns should be cleared up by now. Tell that to my burns. They persist. They are healing but taking their sweet bloody time about it. I just hope that the radiation oncologist doesn't have more medication in mind. I feel as if I am up to my neck in meds already.

So, I was thinking today about the lessons I have learned from cancer. There are no great experiences that leave no mark. And this terrible journey started in late February and won't really be done until the following February when I take my last cat scan, pass it and am declared cancer free. When I can get this god damn port out of my skin and stop having to give vials of blood served up every two weeks for inspection.

This is what cancer has taught me:

1) A job, a career is nothing compared to your home life.
2) Hair does grow back. Mine is coming in as soft as baby hair on my head, still grayish but in curls and waves, something that my seal straight hair of yesteryear has never known. I am also getting eyebrows and eyelashes once again and pubic hair. And...leg hair. A LOT of leg hair. I used to be the sort of person who only had to shave her legs about twice a year. Now, I am shaving them twice a week. I suddenly have teenager leg hair.
3) Watching the trees change in the fall from the aspect of close everyday inspection is very different from noticing it as I run to the car to leave for work in the mornings. It is an incredibly gorgeous, solemn process and worthy of watching.
4) Cancer does not make you exempt from other everyday problems (although I really think it should.) Our stove died in July after a terrible thunderstorm where the power went out. When the power came back on, the stove decided that it had no desire to turn on with it. The water pressure in our kitchen sink went down to a trickle. Bing is supposed to get that up and running again before tomorrow. If not, we may be doing dishes in the bathtub. Liv got her first migraine in August. Thanks to my lovely genes. Migraines were the plague of my paternal grandfather, my Da, me, and now...her.
5) When you are bald, people over the age of 30 treat you differently. They are kinder. Open doors for you. People under the age of 30, don't even notice you. Hey, they have LIVES to live, dude.
6) Dogs can smell chemo and radiation. Whenever I had a treatment, Socks would smell me when I came home and keep his distance for a few hours.
7) You really can go to bed and wonder if you will wake up the next day and still go to sleep because you are so fucking tired you honestly don't care. You will also know a special hell of being so sick that you feel like you are in a Tarantino movie and still manage to sit at the dinner table with your family so that they stop worrying about you. You will find resources of strength inside of yourself that you had no idea were even there.
8) You will be able to know intuitively who will live through a zombie apocalypse. NO, it will not be that secretary at work who complains over and over again that her ear feels funny. It will also not be that creep in HR who insists that you fill out forms TODAY even though you just had chemo yesterday and you feel like shit. The ones who survive will be the ones who persevere and know the value of working as a team.
9) You will learn to laugh easily because it really is true that if you don't laugh, you'll cry.
10) You will know who your real friends are. They're the ones who show up even if they don't have the slightest idea what to say or do. They just do it. And they aren't squeamish about touching you because, yes, there are still people on the planet today who actually believe that cancer is contagious.

Some of us are so lucky. We learn that we picked really good partners. The ones who seldom, if ever, falter in front of you. Some of us are not so lucky. I've seen women who have partners leave them because yes, cancer, is a fucking scary thing.

But, probably most importantly, I've learned that cancer doesn't care who you are. Rich, poor. Smart, dumb as a doorknob. Funny, stoic and serious. Gregarious. Shy. Strong. Weak. Sweet. Mean spirited. Warm hearted. Cool as a cucumber. It reaches out indiscriminately. And it doesn't give a damn if you are just graduated from college or trying to get ready for your son's wedding or if it is a busy time at work. It reaches out and grabs you and because it can kill you, it can't be ignored.

It is my hope that by the time my daughter is my age, our current treatment of cancer will be considered barbaric. That my daughter will be able to say, "You should have seen what my Mother endured! She put poison in her body that literally killed almost all her working cells. She underwent radiation that burned her so badly that she had to go topless for weeks because she couldn't stand the pain of a shirt against her skin. Isn't that just ridiculous?" My daughter has decided to major in pharmaceutical engineering because she wants to find a cure for cancer. I suspect that the cure for this disease will come about from the daughters, sons, granddaughters, grandsons, nieces, nephews, neighbors and students of those who had to watch someone go through cancer.

I do know this. Fighting cancer has brought out strengths in me that I never knew were there but it has also left me knowing just how vulnerable I am. I am mortal. I am weak when attacked. I am a fighter but I know the pain of a victory where so much was given up.

And look around you. There are so many of us. It may be you one day. I hope not. I wouldn't wish this on anyone. But, cancer has also made me see through a dark glass brightly.

It can prevail. Or it can not. Throw that coin into the air now.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Nothing is ever lost

I've been feeling better lately. Not sleeping the days away, awakening only to feel tired and sluggish. I am healing. My radiation burns are healing.

But, now that I am no longer fighting for my life and on the downside of the mountain, I find that all of the emotions that have been carefully shuttered inside of me are now swimming to the surface.

I've been having the oddest dreams lately, being shaken awake by Bing in the wee hours of the morning, slip sliding from the dream world to the real one to find myself sobbing wretchingly.

A few nights ago, I dreamed that I was in a Shopko sort of store and saw several tables with people swarming all around them. As I grew closer, I realized that this was a keepsake table. That things lost and mourned were here. One woman triumphantly held up a dog collar and told me, "This was Shorty's old green collar!" Another woman seized a small wedding ring and laughingly told everyone around her that she had lost it gardening. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw it. Pinkie. My old stuffed pink dog. I had slept with Pinkie since babyhood. A year or so after my Da died, my Mother and I were changing sheets and she held up Pinkie disdainfully.

"Can we FINALLY throw this thing away?" she asked. "I think you are past needing it to sleep with, Maria."

I felt a tug at my heart, but not wanting to appear babyish or immature, I told her to go ahead and toss it. Toss Pinkie. Later, as she was outside burning trash in the barrel that we kept far away from the house, I watched from a window as Pinkie was thrown in with the rest of the trash. My heart gave a sharp pinch but I ignored it and turned away. My Da had died. This was nothing.

But, there in my dream, was Pinkie. I gave a sharp cry and started trying to shove my way to the front of the crowd to rescue him. But, you know how slippery dreams are. I would grasp him only to find that I had grabbed a pink teddy bear instead or once, a ballerina doll. I would toss them back down and try to locate Pinkie again, see him and try again to grab him.

At last, the table was empty and Pinkie was gone. Someone else had taken him. I was so heartsick with grief that I could hardly stand it.

And then, I was awakened by Bing's gentle touch. "Sweetie, you're dreaming. It's ok. It's ok. Wake up, now."

So, I did, swimming in that breathless, scared way that we do after a bad dream. I came awake crying hard. Even as I haltingly tried to tell Bing my dream, I had no idea why I couldn't seem to stop crying. At last, exhausted, I fell back asleep in her arms.

And then last night, I had another dream. This time, I dreamed that I was returning back to the old farmhouse where I grew up in Iowa. I was with my Mother and my sister, Celia. Celia was a teenager. We were returning from a long trip, I can't remember where now, but I began running through the house trying to find Da. I ran up the stairs, down to the cellar, everywhere, calling for him. At last, I ended up in the kitchen with my Mother and Celia. I told them that I couldn't find Da. My Mother looked annoyed.

"Maria, your Da is dead. You KNOW that. Now, go outside and start weeding the garden."

I was shocked, as if I had heard this for the first time. NO. DEAD? NO.

Again, I was awakened by Bing's soft shakings and urgings to wake up. Again, I swam to the surface of reality as if from a deep pool of molasses. And again, I could not stop crying. Except this time, there was the soft pitter of feet and Liv was crawling into our bed.

"Mama? Mama? Why are you crying? Are you okay? Are you sick again?"

The fear in her voice quickly made my tears stop. I swallowed several times. "Just a bad dream, honey," I said, cradling her as best I could. She is nearly 5'11. Already taller by a head than both Bing and me. But, she had plopped herself in the middle of us and I tried to cradle her.

"Tell me," she said. "Tell me what you dreamed." So, I did. I had to gulp over and over again not to start up crying again, but I managed to tell it all. But the only thing that kept me from starting up crying again was knowing that I was not going to scare my child.

Both Liv and Bing were quiet for a while and then Liv said, "I think that you must have really loved Grandpa Jack, Mama. And it makes me sad that you were so young when he died. I's been a scary year and you must have wondered a lot if you were going to die. I know I did. Especially during chemo when you were so sick. I think now that you're feeling better, maybe your body is allowing all those fears to come back. But, we're right here, Mama. Bing and I are always right here."

She then cradled me. I allowed it, although I didn't let myself cry again. I just let her comfort me. I think she needed to do it as much as I needed to be comforted. She needed to feel helpful. And Bing cradled both of us. We all fell asleep in a heap.

I am not altogether sure why I am dreaming these dreams now. Perhaps because the near danger is past. I still have the BRCA gene test to take next week and if I am positive, will have to get a hysterectomy, but the worst of it is over. The torturing of my body, the pouring of poison into it, the zapping it with radiation until my skin erupted into huge blisters, is over. The worst is, hopefully, behind me. And I am no longer working, so there are few distractions in my life. I lead a very slow, very peaceful existence right now. I am still healing, so can't really do much except read and write a few medical pieces, grocery shop, make dinner. Take the dog for long walks. I have given up the afternoon naps finally. I think my body is no longer on red alert, no longer horribly stressed and while this peace is healing, it is also opening some doors in my subconscious. In my sleep, I am reaching for the security of Pinkie and of my Da.  And finding them gone, mourn. This whole healing process may take some time, I believe.

This morning, Liv, Bing and I all awakened in our bed, tucked in together like cinnamon buns. We reluctantly arose. Liv to school and Bing to work. It is supposed to start snowing today. Our first real snow of the season. I went downstairs and made us all coffee and made oatmeal, remembering to put brown sugar in Liv's portion and raisins in all bowls. Both Liv and Bing ate quickly and then left with a cold snap of wind sliding through the back door and slicing up my bare legs under my nightgown. I watched them hurry to their cars and right before Bing got in, she looked up at me in the lit window and blew me a kiss and made a I heart you sign.

I sat down to finish to my oatmeal and slid Bing and Liv's leftovers into Sock's bowl. My cell phone rang. I checked the call and smiled. Nirand. Liv's Father's assistant and our good friend. He is in England on a dig at present.

"Hi, there!"

Nirand's soft India tinted voice poured into my ears. Asked me if the Thanksgiving invite was still open.

"I need to see with my own two muddy brown eyes that you are all right," he said. "Plus, if Thuan is coming, I know we'll eat like kings." (Thuan owns a Vietnamese restaurant in Chicago and lives with his partner and my old med school buddy, Vince.)

I assured him that Vince and Thuan were coming. And that we had plenty of room at the table.

Nirand will be flying in on Sunday. His flight is set to arrive just one hour after Vince and Thuan's. Very serendipitous.

"I can't wait to see all of you," he said. I assured him that we had that pull out sofa in the basement that has his name on it. And that there would be not only pumpkin pie, but cheesecake and Thuan's pecan pie. And a Husker game the day after Thanksgiving.

As I hung up the phone, I looked around me. My life is good. I need to keep telling myself that. I won't always have these nightmares. Once, my mind wraps around this new life of mine....and once all the tests come back cancer free, I will start to relax into it. Maybe do some serious writing. Maybe volunteer for the foster care program. Maybe my weary, frightened heart will find ease.

Later in the morning, Bing called. "Just checking," she said. I told her that I was fine. Apologized for last night.

"Don't you dare," she said. "You are ALLOWED to be frightened, Maria. Stop being such a tough ass. You know, one of the things that I see in your nightmares? This little girl who was so hurt. Running through a house searching for her Da. It breaks my fucking heart, do you know that? I just wish I could take all that pain away. But, you know something else? The Maria I knew in college would have NEVER allowed herself to be vulnerable enough to even tell me her bad dreams. The Maria I have now? I like her so much more. In fact, I think I might have married her....."

We ended the call with some really mushy endearments that I will not nauseate you with. Except to say that kisses were pressed into the cell phones and a few racy texts followed.

And, as always, not too much time passed and a video was sent. She wrote, "This is supposed to be about God, I heard...but since neither of us are really believers, let's just let it be about us, yes?" Yes. Bing always knows what to do. And she just might get lucky tonight....

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Maria is domesticated

Yup. I done got turned.

I am finally beginning to get restless during the day and not need to sleep at least half of it. Still kinda crispy with radiation burns, but nothing so gross anymore.

And because I feel better, I stupidly informed Bing and Liv that instead of dividing up all the nightly supper cooking chores, that I would be the chief cook and bottle washer. I also offered to clean the house but Bing wisely suggested that until my burns are ALL cleared up, that we should keep our weekly cleaning service.

I'm glad because I regret being the main cook already. How the HELL do women do this? My bestie Harriet not only works full time but also cooks dinner every night for her family. I am in awe of this. I sit on my ass all day and planning out dinner every night is torturous. I liked it much better when we each took two nights a week and went out to dinner every Friday. But, and this will surprise you....I have turned into a rather fine cook.

I have always been a pretty good baker. But, cooking an entire meal is a strain for me. I can bake a cake just fine, but producing more than one product to put on the table is a challenge for me and frankly, when I was still a bread winner and was responsible for Tuesday and Saturday dinners, I often took the easy way out and came home with takeout Chinese or pizza.

But, I dug in my heels and I have found that if I force myself....I am actually not half bad at this endeavor!

I am relieved, though. This year, Vince and Thuan (Liv's godfathers from Chicago...Vince and I went to med school together)  are flying in on Sunday and staying a week and Tinton (Liv's Father) is driving in from Colorado on Sunday, too and also staying the week. Plus, our next door neighbor, Lindsay and her son (and Liv's very casual boyfriend), Sven, are coming for Thanksgiving. But, I'm NOT cooking. Thuan owns a Korean restaurant with his sister in Chicago and he loves to cook and insists on doing most of it when they visit. He is making a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner for us this year. Liv and Tinton are responsible for the pies and Liv has already chosen a goat cheese pumpkin pie and will make a cheesecake as well. I will be a lady of leisure for an entire week.

But, just to show off....I will now give you recipes of my finest dinners. I have chosen Bing's favorite: Shrimp and Eggplant Jambalaya, Liv's favorite: Lemon pancakes and my favorite: Curried Parsnip Soup. I will also throw in Liv's Goat Cheese Pumpkin pie recipe.

Shrimp and Eggplant Jambalaya

1 medium eggplant
1 cup rice
3 tomatoes
1 pound of shrimp
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup sweet pepper
Large spoon cooking oil
Salt, pepper, and garlic to taste

Peel and dice eggplant. Fry in oil. When tender, add onion, celery, and pepper. Cook a few minutes. Add tomatoes and rice. Season to taste. Let all cook slowly for a 1/2 hour. Add shrimp. Cook til done.

Curried Parsnip Soup


2 sticks butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 pound parsnips, peeled and chopped
1 T flour
1 t curry powder
2 pints chicken stock
3 pints 1/2 and 1/2

Melt butter in heavy bottom saucepan. Add onion, garlic and parsnips, season with salt and pepper. Toss till coated. Cover, cook on gentle heat til soft and tender (10 mins) Stir in flour and curry powder, gradually incorporate the chicken stock. Simmer til parsnips are fully cooked. Taste. Correct seasoning. Add 1/2 and 1/2. Heat until piping hot. Serve with croutons and finely chopped parsley.

Lemon Pancakes

1 cup all purpose white wheat flour
2/3 cup organic powdered sugar
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t sea salt
3/4 cup sour cream
1/3 cup 1/2 and 1/2
zest of 2 lemons
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 T butter, melted
1 egg
1 1/2 t vanilla extract

Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In another bowl mix rest of ingredients. Pour wet mixture into dry. Stir quickly. Batter will be thick and bubbly. Pour by ladle on to a hot skillet. Cook until golden brown. Flip.

Toppings are personal choice. I like raspberry jam. Bing likes orange marmalade and Liv likes cherry jam or maple syrup. Sometimes honey, especially ginger honey is good. I make bacon, too.

Goat Cheese Pumpkin Pie

2 (5.25) pkgs of Anna's Almond Thins.
2 T chopped fresh rosemary
1 t kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled a bit

I can pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
8 oz soft goat cheese at room temp
4 oz cream cheese at room temp
5 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled a bit
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
1 1/2 t pumpkin pie spice
1/2 t kosher salt

Make the crust.
Preheat oven to 350

Smash cookies, rosemary and salt until combined (use either a food processor or what we do: put them in a plastic bag and smash them with a rolling pin...) Slowly drizzle unmelted butter and combine. The dough should hold together when pinched.

Press dough firmly into a 10 inch round by 2 inch deep tart pan with a removable bottom. Place a cookie sheet in bottom rack of oven to catch any butter that leaks out and bake crust for 15 mins. When crust is cool to touch but still warm enough to be pliable, fix any imperfections. Set aside to cool.


Combine all ingredients and puree in either a hand held or countertop blender til smooth. It takes a good amount of whipping at high speed to get all the clumps out. Scoop into pie crust. Cover and refrigerate for 6 hrs or overnight.

I think our Thanksgiving will be awfully fun. I won't have any terrible stories to tell you about my racist brother in law and conservative Republican family (Last fond memory: my sister telling me at a breakfast out that she'd vote for Trump before she'd see a "faker" like Hilary Clinton in the White House....) but I might have some good ones about my full house of company for an entire week. I am SO looking forward to this. For so long, I've been so ill. At LAST, I get good company and I can stay awake past 8!!!!

Life is pretty swell here on the prairie.....

Tell me YOUR Thanksgiving plans.....

Monday, November 16, 2015

Mean Girls

They're everywhere.

Especially all girl Catholic academies.

My daughter is very naive, very untested in regard to the particular meanness that seems prevalent among many girls. She has always had hordes of friends. I've always been a bit in awe of this as she is the complete opposite of the sort of high school girl that I was.

I was popular enough, I suppose. But, I didn't care one way or another. I know it is easy to say that NOW. I mean, when you're a 58 year old woman, it is pretty easy to say that you didn't care about things like popularity in high school.

But, hand to my heart, I truly didn't. Care. I was a loner. I have always been a loner. I had a lot of friends in high school, in college, but they were more acquaintances than true friends. I never cared about going to parties. To this day, I detest going to parties. I would much rather sit home and read or hang out with my wife and/or my daughter. When I went to school, it was in small town Iowa. My graduating class was all of fifteen. Even in this small town, there was a group of popular girls. Sometimes I sat with them at lunch, sometimes not. I was more comfortable with a threesome of girls called "the brains." They were much more interesting to me. But, I was never shunned by anyone. I sort of fit in everywhere and nowhere at the same time. I think the fact that I didn't care worked like a charm. Not caring was enticing to the popular group. They were drawn to my lack of awe.

When I went to college, it was pretty much the same. My dorm mate was Bing, so I sometimes hung out with the lesbian women. I also loved the theater and tried out for several plays in my freshman and sophomore years, so I also had a group of theater friends. And then there were the people that I met in my classes, had study groups with. I never settled in deeply with any one set of souls.

I preferred being alone. I still do. Unless it is with my wife. My daughter. My daughter's father. My bestie. A man that I went to med school with and his partner. I love spending time with all of the above. But, I entertain myself well and am fond of my own company.

Still basically a loner.

And I can be kind of hard to get to know. If you knew me in person, you might not like me much because I tend to turn down most of the gauntlets of friendship thrown at me. That person in my yoga class who kept inviting me for coffee? No, thanks. I really have just the right amount of friends and am not the gregarious sort of person who can never have too many friends. I have enough for me, thanks. This doesn't mean that when I drank and did too many drugs not so long ago, I didn't party. I did. I just didn't form lasting bonds.

So. Here I have a daughter who has always been in the center of a gang of friends. Like me, she has them from many facets. She has her best friend from pre-school, Candace, who goes to a different all girl's academy in our city. They still hang out frequently. She has her friends from basketball. From soft ball (kind of the same group, a group of very athletic girls...) and then there are her friends that she made in home room her freshman year of school. A group of five girls. Kitty. Tressa. Clarice. Sophie. And Andi.

This weekend, Liv and I went clothes shopping. She gets a new Christmas dress every year and I also wanted to buy her school clothes. I know. Late. I was so sick in August, September and October that I put off taking her shopping. Finally, last weekend, I felt like I was off we went. We had already ordered several items from Free People, one of our favorite places to shop, so she didn't need that many things. A Christmas dress. A few pairs of jeans. Some sweaters. New snow boots. Christmas shoes. Several pairs of tights. Undies. A new bra or two. We shopped and bought. I was exhausted but when she asked to stop for coffee on the way home, I was up for it. Caffeine sounded pretty good.

We sat in a booth at the little coffee shop by our house. It's tucked away in here:

Liv had seemed a little quiet lately. I had been hoping that she would open up a little to me if we could spend some mother/daughter time together and I was lucky. She was in a talking mood. Like me, she isn't usually a sharer, so getting her to talk can sometimes be a challenge. I asked her if she was going out that night. She sighed.

"Well, I don't know, maybe," she hedged. I sat. This is something you learn to do as a parent. Sit. And wait. And DO NOT push.

Finally, she said, "You may have noticed that Kitty and Sophie haven't been around in a while."

Ok. BAD MOTHER. She has a LOT of friends. I had not noticed their absence. But, I gamely nodded.

Another sigh. "Kitty has blocked me from facebook and all her social media," she said, sadly.

I asked her why this was so.

"She said that all I care about are my grades."

I immediately bristled. But, must be careful with friends. They can come back.

And I knew Kitty. Kitty was a sad girl. Her parents had gone through a messy divorce and dragged Kitty and her older sister right along with them. Kitty was also about twenty pounds overweight and on medication for manic depression. Medication that she hated to take and would sometimes go off until one friend or another talked her into going back on it because her behavior was getting too funky for all. Kitty loved animals of all kinds and whenever she was over, she carried Socks around like a baby. She was also a little on the rebellious side, often snuck out in the middle of the night to meet her boyfriend. Underneath all of this bravado, though, I thought lived a very insecure girl. A girl who was begging for a parent to put up a wall. Somewhere. Anywhere. She was also just barely making passing grades and always seemed on the verge of flunking a test.

I chose my words carefully.

"Liv," I began, "Kitty is an interesting person, but she can be a little jealous of you, I think."

Liv looked skeptical. "Why would she be jealous of me? She's the one with the boyfriend and the parents who let her do anything she wants. All she has to do is ask her Dad if her Mom tells her no about something."

I tried to explain. Girls like Kitty are so transparent to those of us who are older and wiser but not so readable to their peers.

"Kitty, I think, is jealous of your grades. And remember when you went to the doctor and he told us that you were a little underweight and needed to add on some calories? She was LIVID about that. She kept making remarks about how you could eat sundaes every night. I think she's jealous of you and she just doesn't have the maturity to understand that yet, so she punishes you for her lack of insight."

Liv frowned. Shrugged. "It just feels so weird that she refuses to talk to me. Like when I went out with Candace and her friends instead of Kitty and Sophie for Halloween. She was so mad at me! And Sophie is going to make basketball varsity for sure and she told Claire that hoped that I didn't make it! That I am too centered on my grades to have fun with. Maybe I am....."

I jumped in. "Oh, no, you don't! NEVER apologize for having good grades. NEVER apologize for wanting to have good grades and studying hard. You are so smart, honey. You are also aspiring. There is nothing wrong with that. If they're jealous, that's their problem."

I sighed again. Because sometimes we women are own worst finger pointers, our biggest accusers. I have dealt with the mean girl syndrome many, many times in psychotherapy sessions and it never fails to enrage me.

Women should be each others best cheerleaders and instead they can be our worst snipers. Every woman should make it her personal mission to clap for women who achieve. So why do so many try to grab their legs and pull them down?

Liv sipped her cocoa and I sipped my latte. We shared a cinnamon roll. We agreed that until Kitty and Sophie could be supportive, Liv should just avoid them. I advised her not to fight back. That sort of thing just incites those mean girls to pinch harder. But, ignoring them? It will either diminish them or at the least, keep Liv relatively safe.

Liv smiled wanly. "You know, Mama," she said, "this is partly your fault. I have too many of your achievement genes. I HATE it when I don't get the best grade. I like to be the best at everything."

I shook my head. "There are worse things to be," I told her. "Like a non-achiever. Or someone who could care less. Wanting to be the best at what you do is not necessarily a bad thing."

I haven't heard anything more since our conversation. Candace has been over a lot. Eloise from basketball. Andi and Claire. But, no sign of Sophie or Kitty.

Their loss. My daughter is worth knowing.

But, all of this makes me think about women in general. How does it happen that we are sometimes the thorn in each others sides instead of the wind beneath another woman's wings?

Any mean girl stories out there to share? Or...nice girl ones? 

Can I get a hell yeah!

I have always liked Kevin Costner. I actually MET him once when he came to the College World Series in my city. Very nice guy. With the kind of laugh that makes one go just a little weak in the knees. He was polite and kind to my daughter when he could have easily avoided speaking to us.

But that isn't why I like him. I like him mostly because of a character he played called "Crash" in a little movie a long, long time ago.

To this day, I just melt into little pieces whenever I see this:

Saturday, November 14, 2015


I can't get my head around it. All those people.

And what is the solution? Bing, in rare agreement with Huckabee, thinks that the refugees from Syria should all be interned in the middle east.

"Let them be placed close to home. Isis is not going to attack Jordan." she said.

I don't know what the answer is. Should we all close our borders? But, then...I think that there are Livs out there. There are children. Innocents. If I were in a desperate situation, as a parent, I would do ANYTHING to help my child escape.

How can I turn my back on someone who just wants to keep his or her family from certain death? But, as with all slithers in with a false passport.

I sat reading yesterday and flipped the television set on when it was nearly time for JEOPARDY!, the only show I watch during the day.

And there was President Obama. I sat there horrified, listening.

All those people, innocently out for dinner at that great little Cambodian restaurant, out to watch a soccer match, to see a band play. And now they are dead. Every person has a story, a family. Maybe that one loved One Direction and played them incessantly. Maybe he really loved a good steak. Maybe she used to be afraid of thunderstorms when she was little. Maybe they always celebrated their anniversary at that little cafe. Maybe they were finally able to afford that big family vacation.

I think of Liv and the Spring trip to Paris planned by her French class. They go every year but she wanted to wait until she was a Junior. What if Isis had waited until a fine Spring day to do this? What if MY CHILD was one of those carried out in a white sheet?

I think of my friend's daughter who is marrying this Summer and planning on going to Paris on her honeymoon. What if Isis waits for a balmy Summer day next time?

I think of the two people I knew who were in those towers on 9-11.

I think of SAC air force base just down the road from us.

I think of myself sitting in Memorial Stadium on a beautiful Autumn day, happy in my red sweatshirt, sitting with the rest of the Husker nation in our sea of red, sipping my hot cocoa. And then I think of bombs going off. Are we safe anywhere?

I think of the article I read the other day about the two teenaged girls who were seduced by a member of Isis. Told that if they came to him, they would be adored and honored as "our queens" if they had jihadi husbands. Reading the back and forth emails/texts and watching the leering luring facetime sessions and because I am older and wiser now, seeing right through the strutting idiot on the other side of the screen, I could see how a naive 16 year old girl who felt ugly and unnoticed would be easy pickins' in an attempt to lure her into seeing herself married to a large, musclebound he-man who would fight during the day and come home to her soft arms at night.

I am horrified. And disbelieving. Sort of like when you read about Hitler and wonder how so many could have fallen under his spell. I look at the evil of Isis, of al-qaeda, of the Taliban. I can see the face of Osama bin laden, but unlike Hitler, when he was killed, the armies did not fall. Another face, and then another came to take his place.

I am, in general, a pacifist. But, I am also well aware that like Whitman knew all along, I contain multitudes. If someone threatened my child, I could be a cold blooded murderess. And when I see those bodies in France being carried out of buildings, my blood goes cold with fury.

I am in deep conflict with myself.

Should we all close our borders? Just go to Syria and annihilate everyone there to let Isis know exactly who they are messing with? mind conjures up pictures of dead children and I shudder.

I suspect that I would make a poor soldier.

What do YOU think about this mess? What are our choices? Do we have any? Have your political views changed?