Posts tagged with 'for breastcancer'

Keep the Balm and Carry On

  • Posted on October 23, 2013 at 4:45 pm
Josh and Jan at his wedding

Josh and Jan at his wedding

I’ve been remiss in writing for some time. Would that I could go back to the days of yore and post regularly about day trips as a woman who thought of breast cancer as part of her history.  Unfortunately, my day trips these days are the kind that keep cancer at bay. I call them life-sustaining day (LSD) trips.

But after a year “playing” at this new normal, I would not have it otherwise. My gratitude journal is chock full of things that happen during each day that make life worth living. Things like automatic weight control, energy sufficient to wash a car, a 30-minute walk around a lake, phone calls and social networking from people who care, monthly lunches of our Fab Four group, safe journeys to and from the center for my drugs of choice, etc. And the etc. is BIG.

What does everyday life look like for someone like me? I get a very good night sleep every night, maybe partly due to the anti-anxiety pill I take, but don’t tell anyone. People tell me I look healthier and healthier every time they see me. Strangers view me as able-bodied and even as someone who still works. I work, but not at the job they would expect me to blabber about. I work at the job of staying independent as long as possible. Taking daily walks when the weather is good helps me out. Eating snacks in between meals works great for loss of appetite. Those with whom I share a meal are accustomed to my slow eating. Some foods and drinks I once fancied now repulse me as they did when I was pregnant. Coffee is one of those; it irritates my stomach and creates nausea. That’s enough to switch me to tea. I’d rather switch than fight. Adjusting to small losses gets me accustomed to the inevitable process of ageing.

Everyday life also involves taking medication regularly to stave off pain and other side effects, keeping nails well clipped, filed and strengthen-polished to avoid nasty splits and snags. I also research health insurance information to see if I qualify for a plan that won’t cost me an arm and a leg because I’m in a high-risk, pre-existing condition pool. Anything would be cheaper, but I still must make sure any plan I choose will include the most important provider in my network, the one that administers my clinical trial drugs. Without that assurance, I can’t afford reducing my premium. Such is the financial life of a rural stage IV American patient in a clinical trial unless work provides a nice plan or the person is independently wealthy or reaches Medicare age.

But life goes on, and it is breathtakingly beautiful. I’m still able to fly, at least domestically. My son’s wedding last month became a highlight, representing young love and the potential of a new generation, something every mother longs to witness. Especially if the woman he marries is a total gem. The only challenge is living so distant from them. I can’t move very far, as I am tethered to my hospital where life-giving drugs reside.

This outpouring of gratitude is not meant to be glib. I have bad days, too. But doesn’t everyone? Sometimes my back aches despite oxycontin and oxycodone. Sometimes my body is as stiff as a starched, port-accessible shirt. Sometimes I whine. And sometimes I cry over losses that seem overwhelming. But my faith permeates all that I do, and I rely on prayer to calm these fragile nerves and their not-so-happy endings.

Many people with advanced breast cancer in my online discussion groups are living proof that this can be a chronic disease, not an ominous death sentence. They are still kicking five years out from their diagnosis, switching to a new protocol when the previous one proves ineffective.  They live long enough to see another generation of drugs hit the hospital pharmacies. Approximately 155,000 Americans live with stage IV breast cancer these days. My doctors treat me as if I will live a long time, concerned about my heart and about skin and colon cancer. They wouldn’t bother if they thought I was about to enter hospice.

The dream of all caring people around the world is to find the cure for cancers that currently have no cure. Some thought I was cured after five years from my initial diagnosis of early-stage breast cancer. I wish that had been true. But seven years from diagnosis it recurred, and then again eight years later. Breast cancer consists of many subtypes of disease, with no one-fits-all sizes. Researchers realize this and analyze tissue samples from various patients to predict who is genetically disposed to respond best. I know the clinical researchers in my case are studying my tissue to determine why I am doing so well and using those results to determine which earlier-stage patients will benefit from the same combination of drugs. The fact that my case is being studied so closely is very reassuring to me, making me feel as though I am helping future generations to stave off this scourge, to allow grandparents to see grandchildren, parents to see their children, whether for the first time or as they grow up.

Denmark is the happiest country on earth, according to the latest studies. The U.S. lags far behind. Also, older, retired adults tend to be happier than younger ones. I’m hoping I can add a bit of happiness to our culture so others can revel in the here-and-now and not suffer angst from envy, strife, impatience, office politics, lack of trust in institutions, long hours, financial uncertainty, and worry about the future. Grasp the moment. Take joy in the changing colors of the season. Study what Danish citizens savor that we don’t. Focus that camera on a detail of nature that particularly moves you or normally gets overlooked. You won’t be sorry.

Keep the balm and carry on!

Adjusting to Life Anew

  • Posted on March 7, 2013 at 5:30 pm

2013-03-01 17.45.18

“You Can’t Go Home Again.”  In his novel of that title, published posthumously in 1940, Thomas Wolfe exposed a community that shunned its hometown author. Taken in a different context, this message certainly is one I didn’t want to hear in the last few months.

So what has it been like to re-enter earth with a sense of normalcy?

Strange.

When I returned home from my last treatment (after staying with my wonderful friend), I was greeted by the flowering plum tree in my front yard. It’s a welcoming sight, one of hope for the future. The tree was a sign that I needed to take care of my house, purchased last September, because I was going to live there for some time.  So while adjusting to the side effects of treatment, I am taking care of some “honey-do” items. Some of these tasks I can tackle myself, such as unclogging drains and oiling locks. But others require the expertise of the professionals.

A guy who installs blinds came in to give my house a sense of privacy. How the previous owners could live without any coverings on any windows is beyond me.

The cable TV guy connected up my new flatscreen, allowing me to enjoy TV after over thirty years without it. The thrill of watching Downton Abbey has not escaped me.

Then a specialist came around to make my garage door as easy as possible for me to open and close. It gives me a sense of order to have the house secure, yet accessible.

Tomorrow I expect a handyman, recommended by a friend, to take care of a variety of tasks that ordinarily would be handled by a spouse.  We’ll see how many he can take on and what he has to leave for a contractor specialist.

I try to focus on the hope of living in this new abode as I manage my symptoms: becoming cold as the afternoon wears on, tingling in hands and feet, and a general fatigue and achiness that can’t really be described. Food isn’t as enjoyable as it once was; in fact, my taste buds are quite fussy about what goes down the hatch. I also don’t experience hunger. It’s strange not to get body signals that alert me to the need for sustenance.  I have to rely on the clock.

I’m also taking care of needed professional services like eye exams, dental cleanings, tax preparation, and trust planning. All sensible, and collectively reflecting a cautious optimism for the future. I was relieved to discover this week that I don’t have glaucoma; I’m just a glaucoma suspect. Would that I were just a cancer suspect, too, but the diagnosis has gone way beyond suspicious.

The latest plans I am making are for my cremation. My rationale is that my family doesn’t need to worry about funeral details when they are grieving. Not that I plan to go away any time soon, but it’s good to get it out of the way.

As Thomas Wolfe said in his novel, “Make your mistakes, take your chances, look silly, but keep on going. Don’t freeze up.” I certainly make mistakes and take chances. Don’t we all? And I look silly sometimes, for example when I forgetfully wore my night hat to the dentist instead of my wig.  But I don’t plan to freeze up. I accept social and church invitations and extend my own as much as I can. In fact, not only can I go home again, but, as the songs go, “You’ll never walk alone” and “I’ll never walk alone.” And I know I won’t.

Autumn Reflections: Day Trippers, yeah!

  • Posted on October 29, 2012 at 1:27 pm
Mt. Lassen Peak as reflected in Manzanita Lake

Last Saturday’s forecast promising sunny fall weather in our area proved right on target. Relying on this prediction, my good friend and I decided to take a day trip so I could say goodbye to a family vacation lake house soon to be sold.

Before our trip up into this mountainous region best known for Mt. Lassen Peak, we stopped at the local coffee drive-thru to snag some Oregon Chai Latte, a black tea with vanilla and spices combined with 2% milk.  We wanted to be jazzed as we made our way up the twisting roadway.

On the way, we found a place to pull over so we could explore snow-fed Deer Creek. Climbing down to the water’s edge, we snapped photos of a small waterfall with a backdrop of yellow leaves dangling from tenuous branches. Big leaf maple abounded with its golden leaves, evidencing a decline in chlorophyll production.  Alder and some western dogwood displayed a pink-orange, while the poison oak has transitioned from pink to orange to brilliant red. It’s rare that I see pink in the fall, outside of pink-tober. What a welcome relief! I hope to paint from the photos we took.

A campsite sits on the opposite side of the road, so we crossed over to explore. At the peak of summer this locale must be packed with families eager to have running creek water for cooling off and for children’s play. If only these summer tourists could see the magic of this heavenly place in the autumn, with its vibrant colors and shifting shadows.

When we reached town we found a gift store where we could browse and window shop. We met some lovely women there, taking the time to chat, share stories, and marvel at the myriad of Christmas ornaments on display. I love the fact that we were not rushed in any way. Leaving this shoppe we headed for the realtor’s office so I could sign papers and get key access to the vacation home.

For lunch we chose Knotbumper, a homey restaurant located in town for over 20 years, one to which I’d never been despite all the summers I spent in this area. A wood-burning stove with a glowing belly graced the main dining room, providing atmosphere and charm. As we sat there, we noticed a marked influx in customers, undoubtedly including those who had gotten a late start up the mountain and were now just arriving to enjoy a hearty meal. From the eclectic menu I chose a lunch called Coyote Flats, consisting of a chile relleno casserole, a tasty navy bean soup and some refried beans and a tortilla.

It was the first meal I’ve finished in a long time.

Knotbumper Restaurant

Sample cuisine

We then ventured next door to a place called “Good Vibrations.” No, we didn’t see the Beach Boys. While we were minutes from a lake beach, we were five hours from any ocean. But we did find unique treasures that would make fabulous souvenirs. According to my friend, who lived in this area as a teen, the store’s building was once a restaurant, with an outdoor eating area overlooking a babbling brook. She remembered the history of many of these buildings in town, so she became a tour guide giving me a glimpse into the past.

When our desire for shopping abated, we made our way to the lake house. Having not been there for over two years, I didn’t know what to expect. But it was exactly the way I remembered it. The big river-rock stone fireplace still dominated the Great Room. Furniture stood where I remembered it to be. The decks still looked out on a lake and mountain scene partly obscured by pine trees. The afternoon was so warm and inviting that I was surprised there weren’t any boats out on the lake. But then again, boat rental season is over and homeowners have brought in their docks for the season. Snow still lingering on the ground reminded us of the significant snowfall they had had a week earlier. So while no boaters were enjoying the lake, this was the perfect day to come, before the weather turned again and the days shortened considerably.

After saying goodbye to the house and locking it up, I jumped into my friend’s vehicle and she drove around the peninsula on which the house sits. We noted how close the homes are to each other because land is so valuable. We passed countless bear and moose mailboxes. We passed the now-deserted beach and tennis courts. I marveled how restaurants had relocated even since I had been there two years ago. Changes of ownership and venue are common in this area where the economy depends mostly on summer tourists.

After leaving the peninsula my friend drove me to the area where her family used to live. She pointed out her old house and the school bus route and the school she used to attend. She actually got bored on the bus despite the beautiful mountain ranges appearing from the windshield every day. I can’t believe it would be boring, but when you are a teenager and the route leads to school, the scenery becomes routine fast.

Cascade mountain range seen from the bus

After we dropped off the house key at the realty office, we headed out of town before the melting snow could turn to ice on the road. We were armed with cookies to munch on as our snack. Our first stop was just out of town where we searched for the perfect sugar pinecones to take back. Ponderosa pines are prominent in the foothills near where we live, but the sugar pines with their enormous cones grow much further up into the mountains. What great decorations these will be for Christmas!

Once we got back on the road that followed Deer Creek we pulled over to get a closer glimpse of the Indian rhubarb growing there.  The big, fan-shaped leaves of this plant are beginning to blaze in red. For those unfamiliar with this water plant, it is a slowly-spreading perennial native to mountain streamsides in woodlands in the western United States (southwestern Oregon to northwestern California).  We had missed it on the way up and didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to zoom in on its once-a-year glory.

Indian rhubarb before the fall

When we returned to our home city, I gave my friend a huge hug of gratitude as we parted ways. I told her this trip was the best I had ever taken up to that area. No other mountain drive could compare to this one with a beautiful friend who cares and takes the time to stop along the way and live life in the slow lane.

You see, my cancer has likely returned. This was a perfect diversion, an incredible almost-ending to pink-tober, the month my beloved father died. My wish to all is that you would have good friends as I have in this woman willing to drive me to an autumn retreat while I am feeling reasonably well.

Have you a special autumn spot to which you return to enjoy fall colors?

The Hunt for Pink October: What Helps Cure Breast Cancer?

  • Posted on October 7, 2012 at 4:51 pm

The pink culture that defines breast cancer awareness sears our consciousness this month, with everything from pink helicopters to pink slugger violins to pink sleeves by quarterbacks.

But porn?

I just discovered that the adult entertainment site PornHub will donate one cent to a breast cancer research charity (Save the Boobs) for every 30 porn videos watched.

Seriously?

How generous! How wonderful that women will be exploited so that a penny will go for research for every 30 videos men watch to satisfy their prurient interest.

This is wrong on so many levels. Porn is not just a healthy outlet for men who need sexertainment. It has consequences no matter how you slice and spice it. The sex-slave trade is only one of the many dirty secrets that porn kings want to hide. Titillating videos of this nature are also associated with such unpleasantries as incest, rape, underage sex, and marital infidelity.

Many men have been addicted to porn for years, helpless to stop it no matter how hard they try. Some need more and more thrills to get the same self-pleasuring reaction to the images. Behavior that feeds the ever-deepening addiction can lead sadly to break-up of families. How does family breakup help those with breast cancer? Breakups adversely affect finances, and cause undue stress that depresses the immune system. I should know; I’ve been there.

Such flippant treatment of breast cancer is an insult to women everywhere. It’s belittling to those who’ve had a lumpectomy or mastectomies and/or breast reconstruction. It’s especially an affront to those with metastatic disease in which the cancer has spread beyond the breast to distal parts of the body. It’s a slap in the face to those who have already died from this dreaded disease.

And what about the disfiguring effects of lymphedema, an arm swelling that can occur after breast cancer surgery and radiation? No one wants to mention that ugly little truth, either. Who wants to address how the swelling can lead to complications beyond just cosmetic concerns, such as infections? Who wants to discuss unsightly bandaging?  None of those topics is erotic, let alone stimulatory.

Instead of porn videos, these seekers of thrills should be required to see the The SCAR Project photo display.  According to their website, the SCAR project is “a series of large-scale portraits of young breast cancer survivors shot by fashion photographer David Jay. Primarily an awareness raising campaign, The SCAR Project puts a raw, unflinching face on early onset breast cancer while paying tribute to the courage and spirit of so many brave young women.”

One look at these images will take away the pink glitter people continue to sprinkle on breast cancer.

Being encouraged to watch porn videos tempts men and gives them a convenient excuse to feed their addictions, while hurting their loved ones. Are you fed up with this low blow to the cause? Are you tired of how breast cancer awareness has become a form of sexploitation? Then it’s time to make our voices heard. Join me in putting an end to the porno-pink nonsense that damages our society and putting money into causes likely to effect change.

I particularly like to read The Pink Underbelly during October as the author points out all the pink inconsistencies that abound. In her latest post she describes Dr. Susan Love’s recent initiative: The HOW Study. This study is designed to find out the causes of breast cancer so we can prevent the disease from occurring. According to Dr Love’s website, some 280,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer last year. Of those, 40,000 women will die from the disease this year. Let’s get these statistics under control, not by watching porn, but by embracing worthy studies like this one. Another organization of value is The Army of Women. I’ve participated in several Army of Women studies and will continue to do so every chance I get, because I believe they will make a difference.

Down with pink! Instead, I’m seeing red. Let’s neutralize the color of the hunt this month by avoiding all causes that sport “tatas” and “boobs” and supporting causes that matter.

Texas Lymphedema Conference

  • Posted on September 30, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Because I just moved, I had to delay this follow-up post to my earlier post this month on my week-long trip to Dallas. I didn’t come to the heartland just to see my son, although that alone would be ample reason to visit. The main reason?  To attend, as a patient-advocate, the biannual National Lymphedema Network (NLN) Conference for healthcare professionals.

This year the exhibitors outdid themselves, and the presenters waxed professional in every respect.

Wednesday, Sept. 5:

The Tenth NLN conference Research Roundup began on Wednesday with preconference workshops targeted for the medical practitioners. We patient-advocates also could participate if we enrolled separately in the courses. Topics ranged from management of lymphedema (including skin and wound care) to compression and exercise strategies for those with lymphedema. One workshop targeted medical doctors who were interested in learning more about the anatomy and physiology of lymphedema. How refreshing that M.D.’s attended this, so they can take home what they learned to their community of professionals who never heard of lymphedema. We hope the lessons learned from the course will be broadcast all over the U.S. and across the world, since so few doctors know what to do about lymphedema–if they’ve even heard the term.

Thursday, Sept. 6:

We patient-advocates were treated each morning to a special mentoring session with medical doctors specializing in lymphedema. They patiently answered all our questions and helped us understand better the medical jargon and design of clinical studies. Thursday morning we had a nice chat with the doctor assigned for that day, and got acquainted with each other.

The plenary sessions that followed provided a wealth of information on lymphedema research. What I found most interesting were the various presentations on surgical options for lymphedema. The clinical results have come a long way since 2010, when we had the last NLN conference. A pioneering surgeon in Paris has performed more than a thousand lymph node transplant surgeries with some success. Now a surgeon in the LA area who specializes in breast reconstruction surgery has taken up the gauntlet to practice lymphedema surgery in the U.S. His presentation, titled “Combined Lymphatic Liposuction and Vascularized Lymph Node Transfer for Treatment of Long-term, Non-pitting Lymphedema,” raised many questions. After surgery, the patient must continue with the self-care portion of complete decongestive therapy. And most patients must still wear a compression garment the rest of their lives. An interesting discussion ensued on the risk of transplanting healthy nodes from the groin area to the axilla–whether lymphedema could develop in the leg as a result of removal of the nodes.

Friday, Sept. 7:

We had to select in advance our workshops on Friday. I chose “Developing Research Competence,” “Unraveling the Mysteries of Insurance,” “Living with Lymphedema – Impact on Self Care,” and “Integrative Approaches to Lymphedema Management.” Through these seminars I learned how to conduct an evidence-based research study, how to navigate through the Medicare quagmire, how to ensure I give myself the optimum self-care regimen, and how to eat properly and relax. During the last workshop, the lavender scents passed around to us and the lilting voice of the Canadian speaker lulled at least have the audience to sleep, I among them.

Jan relaxing at cancer survivor exhibit in Dallas

Saturday, Sept. 8:

The plenary sessions took over once again. This time we learned about yoga for breast-cancer-related lymphedema (a good thing), body image for those with head and neck lymphedema, and lymphatic abnormalities in contralateral arms in breast-cancer-related lymphedema revealed by near-infrared fluorescence imaging. I don’t have lymphedema in the arm where surgery wasn’t performed, but I know people who do. I plan to be as careful with that arm as I am with my affected arm. No sense taking a chance in view of this new study.

Saturday also gave us two lively debates on lymphedema surgery and on the surveillance model for breast cancer rehabilitation. We got to hear pros and cons for each modality and make our own decision on who is right, or if anyone is right.

Sunday, Sept. 9:

Unfortunately, I had to leave early Sunday morning. But the lectures continued, including some on pneumatic compression for lymphedema.

******

The Exhibit Hall was open for business up through Saturday. This year the hotel ballroom hosted more vendors than I’ve ever seen before. The options for compression garments are overwhelming. Whether you want to be a fashion diva or blend into the environment, whether you have leg, arm, head-and-neck or truncal lymphedema, there’s a product designed specifically for you. And of course pumps and FlexiTouch devices were on display for all to see. Early one evening I was able to get a neck and shoulder massage from one vendor. After that experience, I wanted to go back each evening for an encore performance!

If you are a member of the NLN, the next issue of LymphLink that you receive will contain articles about the conference by all the new 2012 patient-advocates. They will present their impressions and take-home messages from all that they digested.

This conference outshone all the previous NLN conferences I’ve attended. And that’s hard to do!

Now for some pictures of downtown Dallas that my lymphedema therapist took at one of the rare times when we had free moments to spare:

Cattle statues near conference hotel

A cowboy with his cattle in Dallas

Dallas skyline from our hotel

Hotel with Reunion Tower restaurant in view

Old courthouse in Dallas near JFK assassination site

JFK Memorial

 

Texas Fun – Deep in the heart

  • Posted on September 16, 2012 at 9:41 pm

My recent visit to Texas confirmed the cliche that everything is bigger there.  My time spent in this special state well exceeded my expectations, which were already big.

After my son Josh picked me up at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport two weeks ago, we sped away to Waco, home to Baylor University where he’s a senior. That night we caught the last half of the first Baylor football game of the year.

The next morning, Labor Day, after I enjoyed a tasty breakfast at the hotel, we headed off to Homestead Heritage at Brazos de Dios near Elm Mott, TX.  That particular day they celebrated a Sorghum Festival with demonstrations in so many ancient crafts: blacksmithing, weaving, grist milling, pottery making and farming. Complete fun, and an escape from all things California.

Hungry, and unable to wait 1.5 hours to get a seat at the Homestead Heritage cafe, we made our way to Cracker Barrel, where we had to wait only 20 minutes for a table.  No worries. We easily spent the time scouting their gift shop for the perfect birthday present for his girlfriend. Only a mom could help him solve this problem.

After a lovely lunch we took a break to read in the campus library for a couple hours–I with my i-Pod reading “Invisible Man” and Josh with some kind of textbook.  Eager to meet his roommates, I implored him to take me to his apartment where his friend told me they would be.  They are just as charming as Josh’s description of them, polite and modest.

Off we then headed to buy us some bubble tea (with black tapioca in the bottom). Mine, an almond concoction, was divine in every sense of the word. We took our drinks over to a famous suspension bridge that crosses the Brazos River. Following tradition, Baylor students throw corn tortillas over the side to see if they land on a concrete pier. If not, the ducks dive and swoop for them. Everyone wins.

Next on the whirlwind tour was a visit to a local park laced with trails and views. Josh coaxed me into climbing the 89 stone steps of Jacob’s Ladder. The problems?  I’m out of stair-climbing shape, the temperature well exceeded 100 degrees, and almost every step was higher than a standard step. The next day my legs paid for it, but it was worth the exertion. Anything to have fun with my son in the sun.

The next park destination was Lover’s Leap, which overlooks the river. A fun place to take photos of the view–and of us!

The afternoon wasn’t complete without a kayaking excursion. The Baylor Marina sported all kinds of water craft that day when the students were off from classes. We headed out onto the river and explored inlets. A thoroughly magical excursion, especially when I thought I might never kayak again because our lake house must be sold.

The day still hadn’t ended.  We feasted our eyes and taste buds on a local Thai restaurant, a favorite haunt of Josh and his girlfriend. The evening wouldn’t be complete without topping it off with a frozen yogurt complete with delish condiments: fruits, syrups and candies. Fun stuffed us to the gills!

We ended the night watching the movie “Madagascar” at his apartment, a flick requested by yours truly. When he took me back to the hotel, I still had energy for a short swim and hot tub immersion in their indoor facilities.

If this wasn’t heaven, I don’t know what is.

The next day Josh had classes, so he picked me up late morning and we ate lunch at the college dining hall. This place was food court heaven, with any type of cuisine you might desire. Taking advantage of this rare opportunity, I filled my plate high with salad, main entrees, and wraps. Then I went back for a big bowl of soup. You’d think I were a starving refugee.

After lunch Josh dropped me off at Common Grounds, a popular coffee and music hangout adjacent to the campus. I reveled in the funky nature of my environs and the college conversations all around me.

When Josh picked me up he gave me a leisurely tour of the campus, including the building where he spends most of his time. Of course we had to make our obligatory trip to the college bookstore, where I purchased a Baylor University Mom decal. Then we stood in line for root-beer floats at the afternoon Dr. Pepper Hour.

Soon enough, it was time to be dropped off at the campus Starbucks while Josh attended his last class of the day. Sipping a skinny vanilla latte, I listened in on various conversations as I tried to read my book. Soon Josh came and we went out for TexMex at a dining establishment with hubcaps on the ceiling. We finished the night watching “Madagascar 2″. What else could we watch but a sequel?

The next morning, after a hearty omelet breakfast at his dining hall, we headed for Dallas, for my lymphedema conference. More on that experience in my next blog post.

For this post I decided just to focus on the time Josh and I could spend together. I had been looking forward to this trip for two years, since the last National Lymphedema Network conference in Orlando.

And it finally came to be.

The campus visit was far more than this mom (with all the physical and emotional pain she has experienced over the past year) had anticipated. I probably gained five pounds in two days. But I was deep in the heart of Texas, where my son resides and my heart belongs. Where bluebonnets spring up along the roadside at certain times of the year. Where else would I want to be?

Where do you enjoy going when you take a trip? Do you often see family?

Celebrating the Ordinary – Seventh Day

  • Posted on September 1, 2012 at 9:09 am

In extraordinary times, the ordinary takes on a glow and wonder all of its own. Mike Lancaster

The final day of Marie’s challenge dawns upon us. I’ve thrived throughout this exercise of paying tribute to the ordinary in our lives, in these times that truly are astonishing. Eye-popping, even.

Today I feature my oldest son at 3 at the Oakland Zoo in California.

Nothing is as thrilling as being lifted by Grandpa!

Now I’m smiling because my baby brother is sleeping and I have Mom all to myself.

I love this ride. I can drive my own car without having to pay for loans, registration, maintenance and insurance.

Mom and I get to ride a horse that goes up and down. Hope I don’t get too dizzy. (Oh the joy of a carousel ride! This little boy’s great grandpa used to restore carousel horses for the City of Rochester, NY during the depression. He never lacked for work during that time.)

Aren’t giraffes crazy looking? How come his legs are so spread out? Does his neck ever hurt from straining so much?

And how about those tortoises? They may be slow, but, my, are they big!

And finally, the petting zoo, where I can beg Mom to buy food for these starving animals. How different this guy feels from the bunny fur and scratchy beard in “Pat the Bunny” that Mom reads to me every night at my insistence.

****

These had to be some of the happiest times of my life, when wide-eyed boys viewed the most ordinary as a miracle, when my parents were alive to witness it all. It’s been a pleasure to feature an extraordinary little boy awed by a world made wondrous by those who create zoos.

May we never lose that sense of wonderment!

Celebrating the Ordinary – Sixth Day

  • Posted on August 31, 2012 at 10:46 am

A potpourri of treasured memories.

That’s what I’m celebrating today as the ordinary for which I’m appreciative. And I’d be remiss not to pay tribute to Marie for starting this exercise, which has energized and revived the esprit de corps of those bloggesses who are participating. I believe all our posts are richer as a result of digging deeper to find treasures right under our noses.

The first marvel I’m featuring today can be found right in my living room: a collection of shells and ceramic rocks that my mother treasured, as well as a framed image of a younger me with my three sons. The pendant I draped over the photo, with the simple word “Dream,” came from a women’s retreat I attended last September. After I finished visiting all the prayer stations in one room set aside at the retreat for that purpose, I saw this lone pendant.  Next to it was a simple sign urging me to take it. Free.

This simple word “Dream” kept me going through all the dark days that followed. And now I have realized that which I’ve imagined all these months–an independent me making my own choices and charting my own course.

The other treasure, perched on my coffee table, is a clay-designed wine bottle from Del Dotto winery in Napa Valley. Last January I met my cousin and her husband from southern California in this lush location of rolling hills, lavish as much in the money spent there as in the acres upon acres of vineyards. Amidst these special surroundings we tasted superb wines and savored exquisite appetizers while catching up on our lives.

The wine bottle from Del Dotto was so unique that we both decided to save it as decor for our living rooms. To top it off, we both purchased a candleholder that fits into the wine bottle along with two candles that look like corks. We landed such treasures in Healdsburg, a charming town nestled in the heart of Sonoma Valley.

When I returned home I finished the wine, a delightful bouquet of aromas and flavors, and set the empty bottle down with its unique topper. Later I decided to place beneath it a painted tapa cloth made from bark in Rarotonga, a South Pacific Island that our family visited over a decade ago. It seemed only fitting to mix the cultures into an eclectic blend of recollections.

I plan to hold on to these reminders of joyful days, days of which I dream, days to savor and remember those who love me and whom I love.

Unconditionally.

Celebrating the Ordinary – Fifth Day

  • Posted on August 30, 2012 at 10:46 am

Well into the week of this writing exercise started by Marie, many of my fellow bloggers have noticed the S-factor, how we unintentionally sync our blog topics about the ordinary: bees, trees, flowers, moves, food, kittens and more. AnneMarie pointed this out in her recent post better than I ever could.

Today, at the risk of diverting “off-sync”, I choose to feature my two sons enjoying imaginative play in the cockpit of a jet. How considerate of pilots and co-pilots to give little boys the opportunity to sit in the commander’s seat. Maybe a pilot gave them this same opportunity when they were little, and inspired them to pursue their dream of aviator careers. All I know is, judging from the smiles on these boys’ faces, they surely appreciated the opportunity to assume the role of captain of their airship.

This ordinary gesture of kindness became extraordinary to these two pre-teen adventurers. And it helps remind me, a newly anointed captain of my own ship, to find opportunities to spark the imaginations of the young people all around me.

Celebrating the Ordinary – Fourth Day

  • Posted on August 29, 2012 at 9:12 am

“The greatest meeting of land and water in the world.”

Famed landscape artist Francis McComas hit the nail on the head in thus describing Point Lobos State Natural Reserve on the California coast, featured above.

Day 4 of this writing challenge instituted by Marie at Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer has dawned upon me. And with it a new idea for my “ordinary” to celebrate. This time it’s Monterey and Carmel, California, special bays with special memories.

The first company for which I worked when I moved to California from the East Coast sent me (in place of my manager) to Carmel on a boondoggle. What an honor to be invited into the likes of such esteemed company! Quite pregnant with my second son, I still managed to run with the big dogs, literally, down Highway 1 and around Point Lobos. When I left this company for a better opportunity, my new employer would hold retreats at Asilomar and the wharf in Monterey. My taste for this area only grew the more I visited.

Later, during happier times, my husband and I would make trips down to this spot on the California coast. We rode our bikes around the coastline and dug our bare feet into the sand, exploring all the wonders of the bay. How could we not enjoy tidepools teeming with orange starfish, hermit crabs and sea anemones?  We balanced ourselves on the rocks, snapping pictures like the one above and enjoying the sounds of surf and sea, the screeching of the gulls as they swooped, looking for prey.

We encountered many other explorers on those trips, including artists who, like Francis McComas quoted above, weren’t shy about setting up a tripod easel and painting while the public watched. While I didn’t paint on the scene, I did capture in acrylics a portrayal of the photo above. That’s why it has paint spots on it. I just loved the blues and the fact that the gull was watching over everything, not so afraid of humans.

I don’t want to be afraid of humans either.

I cowered in fear at the thought of leaving my family home. Yet somehow I mustered the courage to do it. Like the gull, I now look over the seascape of my life, searching for new possibilities, watching the ebbing and flow of the tide, ever mindful of the slippery rocks, the foam, the riptides. Ever watchful. And ever in awe.

And that’s the ordinary in the aquatic and avian life of the Monterey Bay. I’m transforming it into the extraordinary today.

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