Monday, December 24, 2007

Musical Meanderings

When I was younger- teenage, twenties and even as a tween- I let almost no one see me cry. I'm not sure if that is because, as the youngest of 11 kids, I heard from about 9 different people on an almost daily basis that I was a "cry baby", or because I never saw others in my family cry. (Once, I saw mom cry when she thought no one was around. She was a single mom by then and I'm sure the world felt overwhelming. I never told her that I saw that.)
Now, I find myself tearing up on a regular basis. I don't know if it's menopause, or if it is because in the deepest part of my heart, I now know that showing emotions is no weakness. It takes strength to cry.
And, alone in my car, I can feel deeply without an audience.
Since mom died in 1999, this time of year is usually for me, a time to celebrate and to add extra saline into the world. (After all, sea-salt has to come from somewhere, why not grieving daughters everywhere?) Whenever I hear "Ave Maria" or "Hark the Herald Angels Sing", I can feel mom sitting next to me during a December mass, holding my small hand in hers. I can hear her singing out loud and proud, vibrato, like an opera singer. (In my mind, whenever I hear the musical phrase, "in exchelsis deo", no matter who is singing on the radio or standing next to me, it is Mom's voice that drowns out all others.) "Amazing Grace", "She's Always a Woman to Me", "Stairway to Heaven" and countless unnamed Christmas carols choke me up with the memory of her. Not necessarily choked up only out of sadness or grief any longer. Often I am choked up with the gratitude of knowing that some small measure of her strength and generosity has rubbed off on me and on all of the rest of her children and step-children, grand-children, grand-step children, and so on. Sometimes, I am choked up with joy because of feeling that she is still here with me somehow and that when not here in those moments, she is up in heaven with Ashee Mouchy and Mitzy and Brute and Mother and Aggie and the countless other pets I've lost throughout my life. I picture her watching out for them, as they watch out for her. I picture she and Ashee sharing apples together.
This season, I haven't been listening compulsively to Christmas carols like I usually do to get my holiday fix of Mom. Despite that, this has been a very musical season for me.
Yesterday, at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Flint, I found myself getting teary-eyed as I watched my goddaughters and several other kids (and adult children) singing to the congregation as they told a story about prejudice giving way to acceptance of diversity. I had never heard any of the songs before, and I had no idea that the kids in our church had such strong, beautiful voices. Like with Mom's Christmas singing, I felt like I was home and safe. I hope the kids sing for us regularly soon.
This morning, on my way home from work, I was listening to NPR. The first story that I got to hear after getting into my car was about a bunch of Michigan musicians who had recorded about 200 different Christmas songs for people to download for free from the internet. "Suburban Sprawl" have been adding songs to this collection for the past 5 years to celebrate the season of giving and to remove some of the money-based commercialism that seems to surround the holidays these days. How cool. And, the songs that they highlighted on the radio show were all really good and original in style and content. (Hey-Louberts- maybe we should have a Louberts' original winter holiday concert CD. Pop can be the leader and we can be like the von Trapp Family Singers.)
It has been nice now and then to hear Deb practicing her guitar quietly. We bought guitars for Maddie and Ana. Now Deb gets to teach them how to play.
Once again, alone in my car on my way home from work the other morning, I wrote a simple song to celebrate Winter Solstice. I haven't written a song in a long time, other than random humming and nonsense words that I'll never sing again, let alone remember. This one though, I really like and I can hear it in my head with voices other than just mine.
Like mom, I often find myself humming. Usually, other people notice it before I do. I have what I call "Musical Turretts". I can't help it. Sound just pops out. Twenty years or so ago, my freshman year college roommate, Michelle, once laughingly accused me of humming in my sleep. I asked her what I was humming. She said, "nothing in particular, you were just humming." At the time I didn't believe her. I denied that any such thing was possible. I don't sing, or even hum. About 2 weeks later, we were sitting quietly (hard to believe from the two of us who always have a word to add), when out of the blue, Michelle yelled, "That's It!" and laughed. I asked what she was talking about. She said, "That's what you were humming." I was very puzzled. "What?" She quickly pointed out that I had just been humming. I, once again, staunchly denied it. A few minutes later, I heard myself start to hum again. It took a few more years until I would admit to what Michelle had already experienced and firmly believed was the truth, that I hum. When I worked at Schuler Books in Okemos, one day I was putting away books in the science fiction section. I was minding my own business, doing my job. I loved to handle each book, look at who wrote it, smell the newness of the paper and read a couple of pages here and there to decide if I wanted to read more, or beyond that, to recommend it to customers who always counted on me for this research. To me, shelving books was a meditation in being present in the moment. Enjoying being alone, just me and the stacks, never mind that customers and co-workers might be an aisle or a bookcase away. Back to the story-- one day I was putting away books in the science fiction section. I was minding my own business, doing my job when a customer asked me what song I was humming. I looked up from my stool and asked, "was I humming?" She replied yes. Then I asked her, "what was I humming?" We laughed at that together after I revealed that I hadn't been aware that sound was coming out of me.
As I sit here on the loveseat, listening to Harry Connick Jr. sing Christmas songs in his smooth Rat Pack like style, I am also hearing a song sung just for me. Fat Cat, Biddy, is sitting on my left and Cindy Lou Who is pressed up against my right leg, taking her rightful spot as the queen of everything. They are purring in harmony to one another. Each has a unique sound and rhythm, yet they fit together, like a kitty cat barbershop duet.
Once, when I had brought a friend home from college for the weekend (it may have even been Michelle), mom joked with us, saying "LIFE IS A MUSICAL". I think I believe that now, like I didn't then. I think, maybe, Maddie and Ana have helped me believe that. I know that life is a musical when we laugh and make up songs for one another on the spot (like "I've Got Boogers in My Nose", which I made up and they can only sing in front of a limited audience, or "the Poop Song" that Maddie made up while she and Ana helped me pick up land mines in the back yard that were left by my well-fed dogs.) Every moment is worthy of music. Music can move us to tears or to laughter, calm or agitation.

What music brings your heart and soul to laughter, tears or profundity? (is that really a word, or did I make it up? Profound- ity, profound-ness, thoughtfullness, thoughtful truths)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Walking in a Winter Wonderland of Springy Inspiration

Every Year, sometime between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, I find myself during these cold dull months, inspired by some book which leads me toward thought trailss of new green shoots soon to come after the winter thaws.

In 1998, my book of inspiration was Gene Logston's The Contrary Farmer's Invitation to Gardening. All over, that book was inspiration once again last year when I dug it out of the basement. I was delighted to find out (again, something I'd forgotten since reading it 10 years ago) that I don't really have to rototill every year. Another year, my inspiration came complete with incredible photos and the story (along with instructions) of a garden that began as hardscrabble dirt and became transformed over several years of loving composting, raking, experimenting, failing and succeeding to create what looks like paradise in the pictures. I bought this book, already out of print at the time for $3 or $4 dollars. The title of this book (which I still pull out and refer to almost every year) is (I think) The Natural Kitchen Garden. This book was lovingly written by one guy, photographed by the other guy of the pair that spent years loving this small piece of land in Maine. I could be very wrong on the title, but right now I'm too lazy to go find it and give you the right information. (I'll note it somewhere in a later blog entry. Hey, I didn't forget the corriander did I?) Either way, I couldn't find that book on Amazon. It may be disappeared in the way of single socks in a dryer. In 1999 or 2000, novel called Night Gardening by Elizabeth Swann swept me off my feet. It is a breathtaking love story involving a 60 something year old landscaper and a woman who is re-learning how to talk and walk after having a stroke. (By the way, the sexiest love scene I've ever read takes place between these two unlikely lovers.) Another book that inspires me repeatedly is called Seedfolks. It is a young adult novel written by Paul Fleischman. I love this quick read so much that I've bought and given away probably 5 different copies to 5 different people. I re-read it every couple of years and am inspired by each of the many voices in which it is written, beginning with a little Korean girl who tries to honor her dead father, a farmer, in a vacant lot full of garbage. This powerful novel only takes a couple of hours to read and provides hours of thoughtful reflection, laughter and inspiration in your heart. Some years, my cold-weather inspiration comes from magazines like "Organic Gardening" or "Mother Earth News". Johnny's Seed Catalogue, Miller Nurseries Catalogue, and more recently, "Irish Eyes Garden City Seeds" (website in the links section).

This winter, my inspirational book is called: "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by the novelist, Barbara Kingsolver, and family. I've read several of her fiction books, but never a memoir or non-fiction work by her. Shortly after I was diagnosed with cancer, a friend gave Deb and I a copy of the book. She wrote the following inscription on the title page: "July 3, 2007 Dear Deb & Aimee garden, cook, laugh, love--enjoy. Sue." She had already read it and knew that Deb and I needed some inspiration at that moment.

Deb read the book first. She would stop periodically and excitedly say, "We can do this!" The authors of the book, as a family, committed to living one year eating only locally produced foods. Sounds easy, right? Not so much.

Deb finished reading "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" in record time. She couldn't wait for me to dig into the richness of it. Already, she was wanting to plan next year's garden to produce a variety of food over a longer time than we have done in the past. (Do you mean to tell me that setting out Cole crops in July only makes them grow without producing? No wonder I had no Brussels on my Sprouts this year.)

Finally, during my first or second chemo treatment, I picked it up and began to read. Each paragraph brought excitement. I had to keep stopping to digest the information. I had to keep re-reading in order to fully absorb the beauty of the words and the knowledge of the overwhelming stupidity of our current food culture. I found myself reading the same paragraph over and over, my eyes blurring, my excitement growing, my anger over corporate brainwashing growing even more than before. Then, after only a couple of chapters (and a couple more weeks, therefore a couple more chemotherapy treatments) I realized that my over excitement, agitation and anger had as much to do with the steroids that came with the chemo as it did with the content of the book. I also realized that I was re-reading paragraphs not just because they were profound and moving, but also because the Cisplatin had gone to my brain and befuddled me so much that I had to read my own name three times before I understood what it said. (This is a bit of an exaggeration, but not as much as you may think.) I also realized about then that I was squinting to read the words and that after five minutes or so of reading, my eyes were practically crossing. The words were piling up on top of one another, and instead of bringing me enlightenment, the figures on the page were bringing me exhaustion. The Cisplatin that was coursing through my brain was also drying my eyes to fuzziness and causing me terrible headaches when I read.

So, Barbara and family stayed in my book bag for about 3-4 months before my eyes and my brain were both clear enough to read again. (Of course, I also had to wait until I no longer used the narcotics to control the pain of my hysterectomy since the narcotics blurred not my vision, but my brain and made me fall asleep at the drop of a.....snore.)

Finally, once again, I began to read "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" and once again, my mental ears perked up and I grew even more frustrated with agribusiness and our government and my own complacency in the ruination of the small family farmer. This time it was NOT steroid-induced agitation (maybe a bit hormonal induced, but mostly the book just made sense and a wake-up call is justified over these issues).

I, like Deb, am inspired by this particular (peculiar??) family's thoughtfulness, resourcefulness, and willingness to try an adventure together for an entire year's ride on an amazing food roller-coaster. This way of life used to be simply living within the regular cycle of human survival. In our generation (my generation-I am 39) and in our country (The United States), that cycle has become an oddity. Living within that cycle has become a strange extremism fit only for a liberal feminist writer to chronicle.

Really, I remember living in a similar way as a kid. Even now, I laugh while reading her descriptions of her tomato-infested kitchen in August. Been there, done that (even when I had "chemo brain"), plan to be there and do that again as many Augusts as I can fit into this lifetime (and maybe the next as well).

I am not done reading this funny, factual account of one family's recipes, cravings and excesses for one year. I find myself looking forward in each chapter, to Camille's, the college-age daughter, careful chronicling of recipes. I am amazed at this young woman's insightful puzzlement over her generation's attitudes about food and nutrition. Her creative use of zucchini in chocolate chip cookies intrigues me. I'll have to try that next July when the vines are plentiful. I may even plant a vine just to make chocolate chip cookies. Is that too much????

The younger daughter, Lily, has a practical approach to building her chicken flock which I admire and hope to learn when I grow up. Lily begins her venture by firmly standing within her principles when she vows to raise chickens for eggs only. Then practicality and dreams step in and modify her expectations (but never her principles, you never eat a pet and you don't name food--except to name a mean turkey "Thanksgiving"). To learn the lesson of practicality at such an early age is an awesome gift that her chickens have given her, not to mention hundreds of eggs and delicious meat. (I imagine that Lily's chickens taste an awful lot like the plump chickens that my sister-in-law occasionally provides from her modest flock in a moving pen up north. Allison, my sister in law, can no longer let her chickens run rampant on the farm free because their "new" dog kills things. Their old dog used to just herd them around the farm and back into the barn at night to stay out of teethshot of the local coyotes and wolves. In the barn, they would lay their eggs not in their intended nesting boxes, but up in the rafters and nooks and crannies that all barns have. I miss that big bouvier, Brutus. My brother, Paul custom built them a new home. It is a fairly large pen, with plenty of room to roam. In addition to their daily grain, they also love to help themselves to bugs and anything else that wanders their way. Their pen has wheels on the bottom and each day it is moved to a new spot in the garden or on the lawn so that the chickens can pay for their grain by killing destructive bugs, laying eggs in the pen, and fertilizing the area of the day. Paul, in his many years as a professional builder and visionary thinker, has definitely created a masterpiece to be proud of. A free-range, ranging home for what would otherwise be wayward or dead chickens. I miss that brother. (no, he's not dead, just a few hours away)) Anyway, I want to be like Lily when I grow up... independent, affectionate and practical.

The clear, concise research and statistical information that Stephen Hopp (Kingsolver's husband) presents so thoughtfully within each chapter also inspires me to want to learn more. His statistics on the U.S. importing and exporting of potatoes exemplified for me the reason why I should be conscientious of where my food originates. The whole world could be fed and economies would improve if we ate local and organically grown food instead of importing billions of pounds of potatoes in to our country to eat, while we ourselves ship billions of pounds of potatoes out of the country for others to eat. We would save so much time, money, gas, jobs if we would just eat our own potatoes and leave the rest to those who grow them in other parts of the world. They may even be able to earn a living wage by growing and selling locally instead of being paid by outsiders, American conglomerates, at rates close to that of the nothingness of slave wages.

As I said, I'm not done reading this lovely, lively book. But already, I'm looking forward to a second and seventh reading of it through the years.

I wish I could afford to give a copy to every senator and congressperson on the state and national level (and then, of course, handcuff them in place until they read it). I wish I could send a handmade thank-you card to every small farmer (especially organic farmer) who dedicates themselves to loving the land enough to care for it and to let the land care for them in return.

Part of my commitment to my lifelong journey of personal growth is that I am trying to be cognizant of my limitations. I know that I can't spread the gospel of living locally in the way I just described. I can, and will (and already do much of the time) do the following things:
  • Try to grow as much of my own food as my freezer and pantry shelves can hold.
  • Try to cook at home more often.
  • Continue shopping at the Flint Farmers' Market (see link on the "links" section of this blog)
  • Read labels and be more aware that "organic" may not mean what I think it SHOULD mean and if it comes from 3,000 miles away, it is not necessarily the environmentally friendly choice I think that "organic" should be.
  • Try to eat more food that coincides with the seasons of the year. (No lemons in July, no Asparagus in December.)
  • Try to remember to ask at grocery stores and restaurants if the food is produced locally and politely let them know that if it is, I will buy it. If not, possibly not. (By the way, at Trader Joe's in Ann Arbor, I found some awesome, very mild Brie that was reasonably priced and it is MADE IN MICHIGAN. Also in A2, Bella Vinos has hundreds of Michigan brewed beers and wines in stock. No lack or scarcity needs to accompany conscientious buying.
  • Figure out how to use my beautiful little greenhouse without totally cooking my delicate seedlings before they can make it into the (locally harvested) horse poop in my garden.
  • Compost more than I do now.
  • Watch less TV and watch more of Little Bit (the blond bandit dog) stealing carrots from the garden. I also plan to watch the fat cat watch me watching her resting in the sun-soaked garden.
  • Continue to boycott winter tomatoes, unless I can figure out a way to grow them in my own house or greenhouse during the long Michigan winter.

Some things that I consider too daring (or extreme??) for me to do in the interests of creating a better world:

  • I refuse to give up coffee or chocolate, neither of which grows anywhere near Michigan. (I won't move to South America to get them either, that presents its own problem since English is the only language that I'm really good at speaking.) I WILL, and mostly do already, only buy Fair Trade/Organic Coffee sold at my church to benefit the Unitarian Universalist Church of Flint, the UU service committee, and the small farmers who produce those delicious beans. (Equal Exchange brand is what I get, there are others as well. The taste of their chocolate and cocoa is very different than what we are used to from conventional companies. Different in an awesome and better way. Yum.) I will only buy chocolate from companies that I know don't use slave labor (again, EE is a great choice, but there are others out there as well).
  • I will not give up pineapple, coconut, oranges, Lemons, mangoes, or papayas. (I will, however, eat more Michigan grown apples and cherries.) When I do get the forbidden faraway fruits, I will try to get them from our co-op or other locally owned grocer.

Many of these things, I already do. I have yet to go to the extreme that Barbara, Stephen, Camille and Lily have gone.

On second thought, I think that in reality, their year was not extreme at all. It was real. It brought meaning into every bite that they took for 365 days, 3 meals or so per day. That's over a thousand meals!! (I'm not sure how many bites per meal to get the total figure of quantity of meaning for the year.) It was "normal". Eating the way I do and the way most other Americans do, may actually be the extreme behavior. That is important, I will say it again: Eating the way I do and the way most other Americans do, may actually be the "extreme" behavior. WE are the ones trying to alter nature to satisfy our cravings for a ripe Michigan tomato in February.

The word "extreme", maybe, needs to be culturally redefined. The new definition should not depend upon the current cultural or culinary fashions of the average Modern American Human Being. Instead, maybe, "extreme" needs to be redefined as something that pushes the boundaries of time, space or usefulness beyond what is practical or sustainable--economically, environmentally and biologically.

In a word: "unnatural".

What will you do to make the world a better place?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Planting Is Just Around the Corner, Past The Worm Poop

Okay, remember a while back when I was in my manic steroid half blind craziness in the middle of chemo and radiation when I talked about counting the seeds on a cilantro plant (coriander seeds, cilantro plant, I'm not sure why the difference in name)? I promised that after I finished counting, I would let you know my results.

I finished counting a couple of months ago, after the worst of the fuzzy chemo brain was gone and after the eye drops helped me to realize that I wasn't going to lose my eyesight from the chemicals in my veins. (Again, minor memory markers--see post from a few minutes ago.)

Why, you ask, do I bring this up when the ground is white with snow and my greenhouse is (once again) missing several panels due to strong winds sneaking in and blowing them outward. Well, it is almost January. It is almost time to think about next year's garden as I look at the brandywine tomato plant that I valiantly tried to grow inside during the winter months in a pot and promptly killed due to lack of light and irregular watering. I think of seeds as I look at the baby pepper and tomato plants that are about 9" tall in the pots of adult decorative plants in my bay window. I re-potted them this summer, using what I thought was finished worm compost, with everything pre-digested and ungrowable thanks to the legions of worms in my office. Really, what I thought was simply rich, fertile worm poop in a pot must have been hiding a few small, unseen seeds underneath. I think I may re-pot these brave upstarts to see if I can keep from leading them down the stray path of that poor dead brandywine.

Another reason why I bring this up is that I am sick of the large plastic lid from a cottage cheese container taking up space on my coffee table. Evidently, in my seed-counting compulsive mania, I didn't have paper and a pen handy. But I did have a plastic lid and a Sharpie on hand. I think I actually picked the lid so I could count out seeds one by one without them flying all over the house.

That did work, to an extent. I still lost a lot. Under the loveseat. In my lap. Sprinkled throughout the living room, to find a home in the vacuum cleaner thanks to Deb being so great about cleaning the house when I was unable to help in any way.

I promised you a total, and here it is: 2,439 seeds. That is not the total total. That is only the total that I was able to count. That number does not include those flung throughout the house, or the even greater number that fell off the plant in the garden itself before I yanked the plant, then a whole mess of them that fell in the process of the yanking. I figured, using a calculator, that that one volunteer cilantro plant started out with approximately 3,658.5 seeds on the fine, lacy branches of the once leafy parsley-like plant. I'm not sure how I got that number. I think I figured that I lost about 1/3 of the seeds. Math has never been my strong suit, especially with Cisplatin clouding my brain at the time of the figuring.

Now, the question (or uestion, when my Q key is not working) is, what in the world will I do with 2,439 coriander seeds? Even with accounting for ones that may not germinate, (isn't there a bible story about mustard seed not growing on rocks, but only in fertile soil? This train of thought brings me there.) I still have the potential to grow around 2,000 little cilantro plants. That's a lot of salsa.

I can freeze some of the herb, but 2000 plants will take up an awful lot of my limited raised-bed garden space. Where will I find room for my tomatoes? Even if I plant everything way too close as I have a tendency to do?

Last summer, I ended up letting about 100 little tomato plants die because I planted so many that I had no more room in the garden for them despite cramming them only about 13 inches apart instead of the requisite 24 inches. I gave away as many of the seedlings as I could (considering that I planted the seeds several weeks late and by the time the seedlings were ready to go into the ground, most people had already bought their tomatoes. They had no idea what delicious delights they missed out on). I don't want to make that same mistake again this year with cilantro, or tomatoes. The one UNrescued brandywine was the biggest, strongest of these neglected seedlings that still had the gumption to grow in tiny starter pots in October.

Sometimes it is hard for me to let go of things. Even one small seed or one weak seedling. I even take about 10 times longer to harvest my worm castings than I need to because I carefully sift through the dirt-like poop and carefully, lovingly pick out each worm cocoon that I find. (In this tiny lemon-shaped pouch 5-10 baby worms wait patiently for the right moment to crawl free. How can I sacrifice them to speed and convenience? Evidently I can save them, but pass over the undigested tomato and pepper seeds and leave them to sprout uninvited in the pot reserved for some green plant left from my mom's or Deb's mom's funeral 7 and 8 years ago respectively.) Every time I harvest that free, beautiful loamy fertilizer, I swear that I am going to be quicker. I swear that I will sacrifice some of those baby worms in order to be more efficient with time and with the completeness of my poop harvest.

It's that time again. It's that time to make that promise to betray those baby worms in order to remove the excrement to keep the living environment safer for the other worms. Can I do it this time? I haven't done much with them since my surgery since bending over hurt so much and the bins are heavy with castings. I couldn't pick up over 10 pounds until 2 weeks ago. They are both so full that they are over 10 pounds worth of poop. I want the casings to have time to dry out a bit before I mix them carefully with seed starting stuff to begin again the cycle of over-planting my garden.

I'm such a bad worm mama. Deb has been keeping an eye on them and she is not even the one dedicated to having them in the house. (For the first 2 years, she wouldn't let me bring them very far into the house. They made it into the entry way, out of the heat and cold extremes, but remained lonely, relegated to the entry way. Now they are lonely because I am a neglectful mama. Yes, I know that I am anthropomorphizing (I'm glad I have spell-check) their little slimy feelings. Can't help it. I sing to my tomatoes too.)

I'm going to sign off now, maybe harvesting a few worm turds before climbing back into bed to try to get some sleep before working tonight.

In case I don't get around to the laptop again, I hope your Christmas and Solstice are awesome. I hope the Chanukah man was good to you as well. Did I forget to mention that St. Nicholas brought me the Old Farmers' Almanac in my stocking? Hmmmmm time to think about planting again? Gotta finish putting the 2007 garden to bed. Gotta plan out our beds better so we are not over buying plants and underutilizing seedlings. Gotta harvest worm poop, pet the cat, wash the dogs, laugh, love, learn.

PS.... the picture at the top is part of this summer's garden. The cilantro was in the next bed over. The greenhouse wasn't covered in snow yet. The plants hadn't become "Jurassic" yet from playing in the horse poop and topsoil. The dog wasn't yet stealing carrots. (Did I mention that anytime in the last few posts? another story from a crazy yellow dog.)

Memory's Trail of Breadcrumbs

When sifting through the memories of my life, in order to pinpoint a time frame or my age, I try to remember the event in relation to some significant event in my life. For example, when I think about the winter when we didn't have electricity for a week or two as a kid, I was eight years old. I know this because my dog, brute bit my neighbor that fall and my parents took him to put him to sleep when I was in school that day. Trying to remember when I became friends with Anita, I know that I was ten years old. I must have been in fifth grade, because fourth grade was the last year that I went to Webber school, before the farm was sold to a developer and we spent a summer homeless. That is how I remember when Anita reached out to me on the first day in my new school. I think the pessimistic part of my nature uses the loss of a home that I loved as the memory marker of that time instead of the moment when Anita looked at me from across the lunch table, introduced herself and immediately made me feel welcome as a very shy kid in a brand-new school. Maybe I need to try to re-order that time of my life around that moment instead of the day the rich lady in furs walked into the farmhouse and demanded of my mother, "When are you moving out?", without even saying hello.

I know that my summer of cancer is going to be one of those memory markers. From now on, I know that I will categorize events in my adult life by whether they occurred "BC" (before cancer), or "AC" (after cancer). I hope I am wrong. I hope that other significant points will help me to remember my early days of cronehood. When I finally finish my undergraduate degree (right now, I am on the 23 year plan), when my goddaughters start their periods, get their drivers' licenses, kiss their first love, graduate from high school. (One memory marker I have in relation to them was when they invented the poop scooping game and the song that accompanies that game.) Again, I think that the pessimistic part of me will choose illness as a memory marker instead of the victory of being cancer free.

Shortly before being diagnosed, I thought that this year's primary memory marker would be my trip to New Orleans. I fell so in love with the people and the city there, I thought I would be altered for life. Now that I've had cancer, I realize that where I live is insignificant. What is significant is living life to the fullest extent possible wherever I am. What is significant is to love as much as I can each day. What is significant is to try to see as many sides of a situation as possible and still make up my own mind about it. What is significant is to know that I am loved and that I love.

Last night was my second shift back at work. It was so great to see everyone again and to know that people cared about how I was doing. I find it interesting though, that when I asked folks what I missed, the typical answer was mainly: "not much". A couple people going to days, a couple of others coming to midnights. A change in duties for some of the higher ups. Like I said, even though those things are important, love and life are the things that really count. Last night One of my co-workers whom I hadn't seen or talked to in 5 1/2 months greeted me not with the question, "how are you doing?" Instead, the first thing he said after "hi" was, "I had a baby while you were gone!" I was tickled that someone else was more excited about his new beautiful baby girl than about my former cancer. One of his memory markers will be the moment that Iris was born. What a beautiful memory to have as a reference point. I hope that their life is full of memory markers focused around joy. I hope that most of us can have more memory markers of joy than of sickness or trauma.

Now that I am cancer free and back to work and only have some small physical discomforts, I have been struggling over whether or not to continue blogging. I was talking with a friend at work about it last night. She reminded me, just as I had written in one of my early entries, that there is so much more to talk about than illness and losing my mind to steroids and hormone insanity. There is my garden, my soon to be starting classes, the books that I read, the people at my church, my animals (of course, always the bed hogs), my partner, my friends, my blessings.

Sometimes gratitude comes automatically, and other days I have to really work on it. I think that it is time to change the path of this labyrinth of words into one of living and loving instead of fearing and hurting. Not that fear and pain aren't parts of living (and loving), but that they are just that, only parts. There are other parts to share. So, I will try to continue to share my fears and pain, but mostly the gratitude, love and excitement that living brings.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

To Be (back to work) or Not To Be (back to work)

Monday of last week, I had my post-op follow-up appointment with the surgeon at UM. I had a large area to the right of the incision that was extremely painful and hard as a rock. I thought it was just part of the healing process, but evidently, it's not. It looks like I have cellulitis, which is inflammation of the soft tissues. It is caused by bacteria. So, she put me on a heavy duty antibiotic for 10 days and wants to see me again on the 17th. Deb says if it doesn't get better, they may want to drain it. Yuck, Ouch.

Because of this painful complication, the Dr. wouldn't sign a release to return to work, nor would she extend my leave. My original paperwork states that the 17th is my last day of leave. She is leaving me no room or time to deal with bureaucracy. I'm not even sure if I should start turning my sleep back around to being awake at night. If I go ahead and flip now, then don't get back to work, it will mess me up. If I wait and see what she says, I won't have any time to get my body ready for the upside-down midnight days.

Deb is once again having trouble with severe abdominal pain and bloody stools. Evidently, she is battling diverticulitis once again. She saw her doctor and got heavy duty antibiotics in a needle in the butt, and also orally. She has been on clear liquids since Friday. Today, she met with a surgeon that she has consulted with on this before. He hadn't wanted to operate before because of her compromised immune system. She's been on gamma globulin for about 2 months sub cue (under the skin with a series of small needles each week), so, if her immune system counts are improved enough, he wants to do surgery to remove the sigmoid (lower) colon, since that is where the worst pain seems to keep recurring. The doctor drew her immune counts last week, but we don't know what they are yet.

Sometimes, it seems like when one thing starts to improve with us, something else screws up.