You had me at the chocolate

I confess it: I love Valentine’s Day.  I love the red outfits people wear, Valentine socks, Valentine cookies, vintage Valentines, making Valentines, corny Valentine jewelry, all of it.  It’s all an excuse to say, “I love you” to folks you care about, and I don’t see a problem with that.

And I loved Google’s Doodle today:

I always laugh to myself when people say that Valentine’s Day is a Hallmark holiday.  It’s only a Hallmark holiday if you buy Hallmark cards, people.

Me?  I made each of my daughters the heart pop-up card on this Robert Sabuda page (they were duly impressed and said that I should consider entering the talent show at their school because of my pop-up card making talent), and I got them each a pair of neon canvas sneakers from Target.  They were thrilled when they saw those too, and I felt very Valentiney as I drove to work wearing a big pink scarf, thinking of my girls in those day-glo kicks.  Cutie pies.

The only thing missing was my hubs, who is finishing up the last leg of a week-long series of back-to-back engagements in California to promote his book and his artwork.  He and I usually find heart-shaped Valentine cookies to share, and that’s about all we do for Valentine’s Day.  No Hallmark cards, no flowers, nothing elaborate.  No expectations.  Simple and sweet.

The week without him wasn’t too bad except for missing him, but I did have a really bad day over the weekend when my daughters wouldn’t stop fighting.  They had friends over, and even that didn’t stop them from being at each other’s throats, no matter what I said or did to try to get the day back on course.  Definitely not cutie pie behavior.

The mom of one of my daughters’ friends came to pick up her daughter and must have seen my sadness.  She comforted me by telling me that her kids fight too, and I did feel better.  Until my girls started fighting again.  It was a long day.

Then, today, when I came home, I saw a little package between my door and the screen door.  I opened it and was delighted.  Inside, I found a card from the mom who had seen my frustration over the weekend.  Under the card, in a poofy cloud of tissue paper, there was a little box of chocolates that said “Enjoy” on the lid.  The card offered kind words and a directive to enjoy the chocolates myself.  So I did.

Really, what’s not to love about Valentine’s Day?

Pedal on, sister

Sometimes I miss my California friends so much that my lungs hurt.

When this happens, I take comfort in the fact that I am so much closer to many old friends and to family, too.  But this past summer, an old friend left Philly.

She is not terribly far, but just far enough so that I can’t grab coffee with her or make a last-minute plan.  We can still chat on the phone late at night after the kids have gone to sleep or when she is out walking her dog.

She was brave to scoop her family up to make a new start in a new place.  Watching her use her characteristic spunk to gather her life, kids, pets and belongings up and move them reminded me of why I liked her the minute I met her, years ago in the early 1990s.

One day, during her last week here in Philly, when I was at her house helping her with a few odds and ends, I suddenly turned around and saw her beloved bike on the curb.  I had been looking for an old, knock-around-town bike on Craigslist, but for some reason, I felt funny asking her if I could have it.  She said that she was getting a new bike and that it was time to part with this one, even though it had been her faithful steed for years.

Finally, I saw that she really meant to leave the bike on the curb for someone else to take, and I asked her if that taker could be me.  She said that yes, she would love to leave her old wheels with someone she knew, and hey presto, the bike had a new rider.

Triumphant, I drove the bike home.  I hauled it out of the car and showed it to my husband and my daughters, all of whom were happy to see my new-to-me bike:  torn seat, some rusty parts, but strong and with good bones.  And a bell!  And a rack on the back for one of those panniers!

I dug out my helmet and hopped up on that bike.  I rode it up and down the street like a little kid, shakily at first.  But as they say, you really don’t forget how.  I felt fabulous, the wind in my hair, zooming along while my girls cheered.

I can’t believe it’s been so long.

Whew! Got the shots

My daughters got the first of their two H1N1 shots in school yesterday.

I didn’t realize how anxious I was about H1N1 until my daughters came home from school with Band-Aids on their little shoulders and I felt a weight lift off my shoulders.

When the news of the virus first hit, I tried to stay calm and to think that all the excitement about the virus was just media hype.  Just recently, though, I read a post in my favorite New York Times blog (the blog is called Well) and learned that doctors “are seeing a lot of infections with a virus against which children have no immunity, and which has already caused more deaths in children under 5 than we would see in years of regular seasonal flu.”

After reading the above, I started to get a little nervous, especially since one of my daughters has asthma and the other has reactive airways.  The daughter with asthma is prone to pneumonia.  She’s been in the hospital twice for pneumonia, and believe me, it’s no picnic.  She pulled through it fine both times, but it’s still very scary.

So as soon as the vaccine became available in our school district, you better believe I signed my daughters up.

I know folks are concerned about the small amount of mercury in the shot.  I am concerned too. But I have a different attitude about these kinds of things since I had cancer.

Our environment is poisoned, our planet is poisoned, our bodies are poisoned.  I do not believe that we can escape it for the time being.  I believe that we can only pick lesser evils at this point; for example, I try to eat organic when I can because it’s the lesser of two evils.  But, as far as the mercury in the shot, well, I can pick between the small amount of mercury in the shot or the whopping dose of very, very powerful steroids my daughter will have to take if she gets pneumonia again.

The steroids rip her stomach up, giving her stomach aches, and then they make her aggressive for a few nasty days.  Once, to my horror, my daughter — hepped up on steroids after another bout with pneumonia — clocked her sister a good one on the jaw in the pediatrician’s office.  I was naturally mortified and tried to explain to the doctor that my daughter didn’t usually punch her sister unprovoked.  He looked unimpressed and simply said, “I call it ‘Roid Rage. It’s a very real thing.”

You bet your sweet patootie it’s real.  Which would you choose?  To me, it’s a no-brainer.  We’ll take the shots, thank you very much.

A little mercury in the shots, yeesh.  I can only imagine what’s in our tap water.

New York City, where the Internet is paved with gold

Dwayne and I celebrated our anniversary last week — 8 years of marriage and 11 years of unwedded bliss before that, so, effectively, 19 years together.


To celebrate, this past Saturday, we left our daughters with my sister for the afternoon and then with my mom overnight, and we headed to New York City to play.

We were very excited about our hotel room at the Crowne Plaza in Times Square.  We were able to book the night for free because of an awesome promotion Holiday Inn offered this past summer — for every two nights in a hotel in the Holiday Inn chain, you get one night free.  We earned three free nights by staying in Holiday Inn Expresses all across the country.  We loved them — clean, good service, often a pool and, last but not least, free Internet.

As we traveled across the country, the Internet was crucial to keep up with e-mails and Facebook and to check different routes and drive times on the map.  And it was free!

Even though we were only gone for about 24 hours this past weekend, we still wanted free Internet so we could hang out in the hotel room a little in order to discuss a long-overdue website for Dwayne’s artwork, cartoons and writing.

Romantic, I know.  But we never get to have uninterrupted, well, anything when we’re at home.  There’s always something happening, and we have never gotten around to getting Dwayne’s website up and running.

After a long day of walking around, drinking lattes, holding hands, chatting, hanging around Times Square (what a weird place, with the M & Ms store and the Hershey store — huge stores dedicated to candy and brand paraphernalia) Rockefeller Center and Greenwich Village, we finally headed back to the hotel, where the check-in line was outrageously long.  I complained and asked them to bring out another front desk rep, but nothing happened.  A bunch of empty computers at the front desk and only two employees to handle the long line.

Whatever.  We finally got our room.  Dwayne logged onto the Internet, we talked about his website, and then we headed out for a walk and some dinner.

The next morning, I saw a piece of paper under the door.  Assuming that it was the express check out form, I leaned down and picked it up.  It wasn’t express check-out directions.  (There wasn’t express anything at this particular hotel.) It was a bill fo $19.50 for Internet access.

I was stunned.  Really$19.50 for Internet access?  I was sure that Dwayne would never have logged on if he had known that the fee was $19.50, so I asked him, and he was equally stunned.  He swore that he had not seen a charge for $19.50 when he accessed the Internet.

Since there was no express check-out, I had to go back and wait in line again.  When I got to the front, the desk clerk pointed out that I had a balance of $19.50.  I told her that I didn’t want to pay it because 1.) my husband hadn’t seen any indication of charges, 2.) the fee was outrageous to begin with, and 3.) we stayed in hotels in the Holiday Inn chain all across the country in the summer, and we never had a charge.

The front desk clerk was very snippy with me and told me that the only way to login to the Internet was to accept the charges. She said that there was a place to accept “the terms.”  I told her that my husband could read and that he said he never saw an indication of any charges, and she tilted her head to the side and blinked hard, once, and didn’t say anything, as if to suggest that, no, in fact, my husband cannot read.

Then she said that she was sure that the notices of the charges were clear because — get this — most hotel guests see the charges and call the front desk to check and see whether $19.50 is really the charge for Internet access.

“They call you because the charge is outrageous!” I snapped back triumphantly.

But no, there would be no triumph for me that day.

“And besides,” I added, “We stayed in Holiday Inns all across the country, and they never charged us for Internet access.”

“This,” said the perky clerk emphatically, “is New – York – City.”

“Is it more special,” I asked her, “to get on the Internet in New York City than, say, in Kansas City, Los Angeles or Boston?”

She didn’t answer me and gave me the same head tilted, single blink and pushed the bill toward me.

Welcome to New York City, folks, where the Internet is paved with gold.

Hair detergent, or What Happens When You’ve Lost Too Many Brain Cells

Today I was chattering along with my husband as we headed to Target to get a few necessities for the week.  We were trying to make a list, and I remembered a conversation we had earlier in the week, when my husband said that we were running low on our daughters’ shampoo.  So, I asked him whether we still needed “hair detergent” for the girls.

That’s right, folks, I couldn’t muster up the word for shampoo, so I called it hair detergent.  The look on my husband’s face was priceless.  He didn’t want to laugh at me, but he couldn’t help it and cracked up.

Those of us who have been through chemotherapy talk about something known as “chemo brain.”  This is, essentially, the aftermath of the poison they mainline into you, with hopes that the medicine kills all the lurking cancer cells before it kills the host, namely you.

Chemo brain is loss of brain cells, I guess.  And lately I’ve been wigged out that I got it bad!  Or is it just age?

Who out there on these internets has had any kooky moments like this lately?  Am I suffering from chemo brain, or is this just something that happens to folks in their 40s?

Let me hear about your “hair detergent” moments if you’ve got ’em.  Soothe my sorrowful brain cells with the salve of some funny stories.


The new house we are renting has a lawn, a side garden, and a tangle of ivy in the back yard.  My mom and a friend of hers came to help me get the side garden going, but I have been on my own to unwind the ivy tangle in the back yard.

Mind you, I cannot stand yard work or gardening of any kind.  I don’t like bending over to weed, I don’t like sweating and not being able to wipe my brow because my hands are filthy … I don’t like any of it.

But I had a little revelation the other day.

I started working in the back yard after taking my exercise walk, so I was already hot and sweaty.  I had decided to tear out a bunch of the ivy in order to create an eating space and a little pathway that leads from the back of one neighboring house to another.  I want to line the path and the eating area with bricks and to fill everything in with gravel.

It’s probably too ambitious, but it sounds like it could be a nice place for my girls to hang out with their friends, so I feel motivated to do it.

When I started to mercilessly tear out the ivy, my gardening shears made a funny noise, not at all like gardening shears should sound against the earth.  I suddenly felt like Dorothy when she’s going along the ground, looking for apples, and she suddenly comes across the feet of the Tin Man.

Turns out that my shears were tapping stone, not earth.  I pulled back some of the ivy to reveal a huge flagstone underneath.

All told, there were six flagstones, and together they made a tiny patio that had been buried under all the ivy.  The little patio was just where I had envisioned one.  I marveled at the fact that a previous renter had made a patio in the same spot I had picked and that some other renter or renters let it all grow over.

All of a sudden, I didn’t mind yard work all that much.  The next hour slipped by like watercolor, as I continued tapping my shears to find the edges of the flagstones.  I ripped up the slabs of dirt covered with ivy to and finally emerged dirty and covered with mosquito bites.

But I felt proud of my patio excavation and, after I swept the new patio, I looked proudly at the table and chairs I placed there.

For the first time in my 42 years, I had a glimmer of understanding about why people find solace in yard work.

Just a year ago

I just re-read the e-mail I sent to myself and to my husband the night before I had surgery for breast cancer.  My surgery was exactly a year ago tomorrow.

After writing and sending that e-mail, I remember sending it off and then going to bed.  In the morning I had to wake up quite early and take a shower with an anti-bacterial soap.  

I reported to the registration desk and said, “I submit myself to the care of the hospital.”  I had rehearsed this over and over in my mind.  It felt important to say this for some reason, but I had to practice it because  I was so frightened.  Maybe it was comforting to have an element of choice in the whole thing: I submit myself.

When I went into the surgery preparation area, one of the nurse assistants gave me a hospital gown and one of those poofy things to cover my head.  Even though I had chosen a clean bandanna to wear, I still had to take it off and wear the hospital cap.  I felt vulnerable and demeaned, being rolled through the hospital corridors with my bald head showing through the sheer poofy shower cap.  (They were taking me for a radioactive injection that would light the way to my sentinel lymph node to test just that one for cancer — it’s a technique they use to determine whether they’ll leave your lymph nodes in or take the rest out.)

When I got back to the surgery prep area, the nurse came in and asked whether I wanted anything.  I told her that I felt sad without my bandanna, and she promptly dug through my belongings and gave it to me, tossing aside the silly hospital hat.

She made me feel good.  Not too much that happened after that made me feel good, but that nurse really reached out to me and helped me so much.

I still can’t bring myself to write about the specifics of the surgery I had.  I am not sure why, but I just can’t.  There is a strong part of me that wants to, in order to help the community of women

who are going to have breast cancer surgery tomorrow and every day after that.  I think I will write about it in time.  

Here’s an excerpt of some of what I wrote exactly a year ago tonight:

“I’m actually not sure what else to write.  I am sad, but I know that I have cancer.  I keep trying to figure out a way to think myself out of it, but I can’t.  Ever since I got the diagnosis six months ago, I have been waiting to have the cancer cut out of my body, and so I look forward to the surgery because there is a significant part of me that is scared to death. … I will do everything I can to fight the cancer returning or from reforming itself into a new cancer.  I trust and believe that my body can heal and that it will heal and that it can and will fight cancer.  I also believe that my body needs some help from Western medicine and technology, and I’ll take that too and add it to the arsenal. … Mostly, I feel lucky to have life-saving surgery.  And that’s really the bottom line with all of this — I will have life-saving surgery tomorrow, and that’s really the most important thing.  

Everything else is just frosting.”

Now, it’s a year later, and my family and I are embarking on a completely new journey.  We’ve moved across the country in order to raise our darling girls near extended family.  Already we’ve had wonderful gatherings with family and old friends.  My girls run around outside in their little yard (we had an apartment before, and now we are renting a house) searching for worms, slugs, bunnies, bugs and birds.  They live a few houses away from their cousin, who is just a year older than they are, and they have already had lots of fun times with him.

I had a dear friend tell me recently that the anniversaries during this, my first year out of treatment, would be difficult.  She was right.  They are difficult.  But I’ve also had a chance to enjoy lots of frosting, and I’m so grateful.

Embrace it or get rid of it

We successfully arrived in our new neighborhood.  It looks like a toy bomb went off in here, but otherwise we are having a really good time so far.

Until I have time to write a longer post, here’s the short version: lots of neighborhood kids, family visits, firefly catching, running around in bare feet, splashing in blow-up pools.  Summer perfection.

My husband and I are desperately trying to get the house together.  It’s considerably smaller than our California apartment, which is a good thing, actually, and has turned out to be an exercise in acceptance and letting go.

Yesterday I saw our new neighbor’s home.  Her house is the other side of our twin, so, it’s pretty much a mirror image of ours, though she has done a number of excellent renovations and additions.

Her home is lovely, a model of taste, comfort and clean simplicity.  I felt such pangs going through that house, a real longing to have  a life different than the 10,000 lb. reality of our life. (Well, actually, our belongings weigh 10,000 lbs, plus the weight of the 44 boxes of books we mailed through the post office; they were obviously not on the moving truck, so they weren’t weighed with the rest of our things.)

As I was falling asleep last night on our new bed (we had to sell our Cal. King bed — ultra-comfy mattress and gorgeous Mission-style frame — right off the moving truck.  When we realized that it would never fit in our bedroom, I used Craigslist and an impossibly low price to make sure that we didn’t have to take that beast into this tiny home) I thought about that yearning for a simpler existence.

That desire makes me subscribe to Real Simple magazine and stimulates my salivary glands when I see displays at Ikea, all organized and neat and impossibly wispy-light.

When I woke up this morning, I realized that moving offers an opportunity to see all your worldly possessions, to touch them again after they’ve been stored away in plastic bins for years, to make the decision to bring them with you, to give them away, to sell them or to trash them.  And when you arrive at your new destination, you get that opportunity all over again as you unpack and settle in.

I figured that I can either embrace all this stuff and celebrate where I’ve been, who I am and what I’ve collected or I can throw it all out.  

For whatever reason, this is a real challenge for me.

Whatever I do, I realized that it’s no use fretting about it.  Either way, the kids will still come over and play and will still run in and out, demanding snacks and juice.

And it’s all good.

This is one big country

I was thinking this today as we continued to drive across it.

After manic packing all last week, the moving truck came on Friday.  It was a long day for us, especially for my husband, who packed absolutely non-stop the whole time the movers were moving.

We had gone to bed the night before, exhausted, at about 3 am.  We just couldn’t do another thing, but there was still lots to do.  Luckily, we had some help getting the kitchen packed up (you know who you are!), and that really helped us over the hump.

Then, after a couple of goodbyes, we finally hit the road at about 10 pm on Friday night.  Incredibly, the girls fell soundly asleep, and Dwayne and I chatted about this huge move we’re making.  We made it to Barstow, CA at about 11:30 pm or so and checked into a Holiday Inn Express.

The next day we slept in late — we all needed the rest! — and then we grabbed breakfast at a Denny’s and headed out for the Grand Canyon.  We will try to avoid Denny’s again if we can.  I thought I remembered that Denny’s was pretty OK food, just cheap, but it’s not, really.  Blech.

Since we had come into Barstow in the dark, it was really amazing to step out of the hotel and to see it in the daylight.  We were staying next to a bunch of outlet shops, but other than that, there was the highway and then, desert.  I really felt that our journey had begun when I saw that desert and felt the heat beating down on us at only 9 am.

We made pretty good time to the Grand Canyon and got there with enough daylight left to check in at Bright Angel Lodge — we were staying at Thunderbird Lodge.  We walked along the paved rim path, enjoyed the sunset and then got some yummy dinner.  I had a delicious red pepper cream soup.  (I took a picture of it since it was so pretty, but unfortunately, I realized that we didn’t pack the software necessary to upload pics from Dwayne’s camera onto my machine.  I can probably find the necessary software online, but I just don’t feel up to it right now.)

This morning, we took a ranger walk and learned about fossils.  He taught us about some different kinds of fossils and then let us go hunting for some.  They were 250 million year old fossils from the time when the Pacific Ocean had submerged the place where we were standing.  I didn’t realize that at one time, the Pacific Ocean had covered the Grand Canyon.

Then, after the fossil walk, we walked down a little ways and saw some beautiful petroglyphs.  The ranger had told us that only 5 percent of Grand Canyon visitors venture down below the rim, so just by going down a few hundred feet, we became part of the elite few!  (I also took pictures of the petroglyphs, but I’ll have to post them later.)

Then we had lunch at one of the Canyon restaurants, spent too much at the gift shop and hit the road.

We made our way on Route 160 through Navajo country.  We stopped at a few of the roadside stands to look at jewelry, rugs and pottery, but the prices were really high.  We were surprised because so many people had told us that the prices were reasonable, even cheap, but this is not what we found.

Life on the reservation looks very rough and very poor.  I could not see any economic infrastructure to speak of, except the roadside stands.  I didn’t see much ranching, or farming or any other type of means of earning a living.  Most of the homes were either RVs or trailers or octagonal yurts of some sort.  But most of the homes had pretty nice-looking trucks or SUVs parked outside, which was so weird, given the poor condition of the homes.

We didn’t get to go to Four Corners because the park was closed when we passed by.  Right now, we are in Cortez, Colorado.  The girls swam in the hotel pool, and then we gave them a bath.

Dinah and Djuna seem to be enjoying the trip so far.  They do ask often how far we are from our new home, and they’re very excited to get there.

Everyone is sleeping soundly, while I type this post and enjoy a cup of hot herbal tea made with hot water from the hotel room coffee pot and a tea bag I found in my back pack.

I think I’ll go join my sleeping family.


OK, now *that’s* disgusting

Short post here, but I just had to take a minute in the midst of packing hell to share this.

There is a new tenant in our building, and she seems to be, uh, a troubled sort. Late at night, she brings home drunken men, and there have been a number of scenes in the parking lot behind our building. Once, one of her friends threw up all the way from the parking lot to the woman’s apartment, so we were treated to piles of vomit when we came outside in the morning.  Excellent.

Last night, though, her friends topped even that.

I was packing like mad yesterday, and I got tired at the end of the day and left a few things outside of the storage space — a few bins of Christmas ornaments, a few empty boxes, and a bin of bike helmets and bike gear.  I vaguely thought, at one point, that I should go outside and put everything away, but I was just too tired.

So I left the stuff outside and did a little more work dismantling my office.  I did think a couple more times that I should go out to move the stuff in, but I just couldn’t propel myself in that direction.  

A little later, around 12:30 am, I heard the woman pull in the parking lot, and a few guys poured themselves out of her car and started staggering around.  I heard them all, cursing, talking loud, and one of the neighbors yelled out of her window at the drunken revelers to shut up and watch the language.

Then, I heard a scuffle on the side of the building, and then one of the drunk guys said, “Dude, [garbled name] just pissed all over the [garbled description of something or other].”

I knew in my heart that one of the drunken idiots had just peed all over my Christmas ornaments.

I ran outside, and sure enough, there was a fresh wet spray on the wall.  The amount was impressive, I’ll give him that.  The liquid was pooling on the ground, threatening the neatly stacked boxes.  I couldn’t even bear to look at the bins of ornaments.

I scooted out to the driveway just in time to see the woman running to her car from her apartment.  I guess she knew that she needed to leave before the cops got there.

I called the cops, explaining that a drunken fool had just urinated on my Christmas ornaments.  It was one of those moments when you don’t know whether to laugh or cry at how completely bizarre life can be.

When the police came, the nice officer shined his flashlight on the bins of Christmas ornaments, nicely illuminating the drops of pee, and explained that there was nothing they could do since the car and the dudes were gone.  

So, my husband and I got water and doused the area and moved everything inside, which I should have done in the first place.

I guess the lesson is: you never know when someone will pee on your Christmas ornaments.