Sunday, October 25, 2009

Demons

I have lived with mental illness for all of my 51 years. At first, unknowing, too young, not understanding. Why did Mom cry so much? Was it because Dad sat in the darkened living room every night, with the ice clinking in his glass full of his chosen painkiller? Was it because Dad's mom, my beloved Nannie, sat in her room smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey, only tottering out to make a pot of tea after everyone had left the house? Was it because of the nightly argument to get her to come to the dinner table and be a part of the family? Was it dinner time itself,  which inevitably deteriorated into an angry riot ? 
At times, Dad was full of energy, mowing the lawn, finishing the basement, making gardens, other days, he sat like a zombie in front of the television set. Those were not good days. But he went to work every day, was able to function in spite of the quantity of alcohol consumed the night before. Every Friday he'd hand Mom a big wad of cash, keeping just enough to fuel his liquid lunches, and then sit down to await dinner. Louden Wainwright has a song with a lyric that goes 'drinks before dinner, drinks with dinner and after dinner drinks....'.  That was Dad's routine day after day, clink, clink, clink.  Sometimes after we were in bed, he would sit down at the piano and sooth us to sleep, playing old jazz standards. He was a gifted musician who chose to showcase his talent in a darkened living room.

As a child, I had no idea that this was not how every family functioned. Having no frame of reference, I assumed that all Dads sat in the dark. I thought every family fought around the dinner table, that dinner time was discipline time, argument time. I had no idea that Dads kissed Moms, that they ever hugged each other, that they actually loved each other.

My best friend  was an only child. Her mother was from Germany and had a funny accent. Her father was much older; she was a late in life baby. He was very reserved and kind of scary. Their house was always spotless, and very calm. We had to play quiet games and never make a mess.. Her mother was always scrubbing something. But she was ever sweet and kind, and she called me darling, and I loved her.They were different from us but I thought it was because they were from another country.

It was not until I made 2 new friends that I realized that something was amiss at my house. When Joanie's Dad came home from work, he enfolded her Mom in a hug that went on and on and they kissed!  I had never seen two people kiss with affection, and did not know what to make of it. All I do know is that it gave me a warm feeling, and a longing that I could not define. My friend Pat came from a big Irish family; she had 6 brothers and sisters, and  surprise of surprises, they all loved each other! They were nice to each other and they shared toys, they'd sit at dinner and laugh and talk about their day. Her Dad was a jolly man who cherished each of his children, and treated me like one of them. When he grabbed me up in a bear hug after he had set Pat down, I was dumbfounded. My Dad never, ever hugged me!  I practically lived at their house for many years of my childhood, preferring to stay in that warm and loving environment rather than returning to my cold and loveless house. It never occurred to me that I was supposed to love my siblings. I don't remember feeling anything about them whatsoever.

When I was 13, Pat's family moved away to Ohio. Her Dad was transferred and they had to go. I was devastated. On moving day, they all hugged me, her Mom for the longest time, holding me as I cried inconsolably.
My life was never the same. Joanie became a cheerleader and left me in the dust. I was alone and terribly lonely. I cried every night. I would take long walks by myself, and sit by the lake and cry. I'd stay up in my room, play my guitar and cry.  I discovered the reason why my father drank every night. It helped you sleep, it helped you forget, it numbed you to all feeling. I took up his habit with a vengeance. All through high school I drank. I smoked a ton of pot. I self medicated against the demons in my head for the following 15 years, although at the time I called it partying. It was no party , however.

I did a lot of things that now make me cringe to remember, that I try not to regret, but I was so self destructive. I wanted to die , but I did not know how to go about it, so I just lived numb. It was not until I finally stopped smoking pot on a daily basis that I realized how truly messed up I was. I did not know that there was a name for what ailed me. Actually, no one  talked about it back then, what has become a common term now: depression. I muddled through, still drinking, but less and less. My mother and I grew closer after I got married and she felt she no longer had to worry about me. But still I cried. Always when alone. I was one big smile on the outside and a huge gaping hole on the inside. When Mom died, I wanted to. I sat on my bed holding a loaded pistol I had bought when I moved in to my little house after my divorce, afraid of living alone. I sat and cried with that gun in my hands, wishing I had the guts to do it. But I didn't. I called my doctor the next morning instead. He put a name to my condition, told me he could treat it, that I had to be patient. He called me every night, reassuring me that I was not alone. And low and behold, I began to feel better. I realized that I had spent my entire life up until then living with a blackness in my heart and head that I thought was normal. When that blackness lifted, I was amazed! This is how I'm supposed to feel! This is how other people feel! I felt that I had been set free, at last. I called one of my dearest friends, and when he came over, I told him, all of it. He offered to take the gun, and it is now hidden in his barn. At once I felt both relieved and frightened. I felt my safety net had disappeared, oddly enough. It was as if my escape hatch had closed, and I was now on my own, but this was a good thing.

It has been 16 years since then, and I have had many set backs along those years, many times when things got out of control and the depression overcame the medication. I had a hard time wanting to live, holding on to life, but I guess I am nothing if not tenacious. I awoke many mornings wondering why I was alive, fought the compulsion to spin my steering wheel in morning traffic to put and end to my pain, looked with longing at the full bottle of sleeping pills, knowing there was vodka in the cabinet. But always, I would, in the far depths of my mind, remember that what bedeviled me was a treatable disease. I would call my doc in those desperate times, and he would see me at once and tweak my medication and call me daily until I was back on track. I credit him for saving my life.  I had friends in whom I finally confided and they looked after me and learned to recognize the signs of a downward spiral. I told my boyfriend, finally, and he asked if it was his fault. I cried in their arms more times than I care to remember.

During that period of dizzy highs and crushing lows, I spent a lot of time in therapy, learning about myself, and the whys and wherefores of depression. I learned to accept that I had a disease, that I was no different than someone with diabetes or high blood pressure, that my condition was chronic, and that I would have to take medication forever. I now swallow my handful of meds and vitamins gratefully, and thank the gods for every blessed day.

I have been genuinely happy now for about a year, probably the longest time I have felt so in my 51 years on earth. I have love in my life, friends whom I adore, hobbies, a good job and a warm and comfy home. My heart is at ease, my mind no longer races out of control and the depression has been held at bay. I still have errant thoughts that maybe I can forgo my pills, now that I am feeling so good, but then I remember that it is because of them, not in spite of them, that I am in this good place.

I now talk to people about this illness, admit to it, and speak of it freely. I believe that this also helps me deal. To name it out loud is to take away the power it has had over my life, I control it, it no longer controls me.I dare not become too complacent, however. I must be on my guard, always. The demon is held at bay, but not banished. It still lurks in the chemical/electrical circuitry  that is my brain, and  it is only through due diligence that I am able to keep the upper hand.

The Pennsylvania Dutch have a saying that speaks volumes to the human condition.."Too soon old, too late smart". 

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Autumn


The wind swooped through my house like a gust of ghosts yesterday, blowing all of the remnants of summer away with the leaves of my maple tree. There is a crispness to the air which is a harbinger of things to come...October and November are lovely months. The days are shorter and it is cool enough at after dark to warrant  snuggling under a thick down blanket, but with the window cracked to hear the last of the summer- night noise. The mornings can dawn frosty, but the slanting Autumn sunlight will still be  bright and warm as it beams through the thinning treetops. The hay has all been mowed and bailed; the big rolls dot the hillsides, ready to feed  livestock when the meadows turn brown and the grass lies dormant. The horses and cows start growing warm winter coats, no more sleek summer, just  scruffy and shaggy. Wood gets stacked and covered against the frigid days to come, the yard gets tidied and and the gardens cleaned up and buttoned down. Bird's nests are revealed in the shrubbery, acorns drop by the bucket load, black walnuts litter the roadways and the fat squirrels scamper around collecting and burying their food stashes, most of which they will forget about  when winter is here in her bone-chilling glory.Pumpkins, gourds, and corn shocks pop up all over,as  banks of chrysanthemums brighten up the landscape  with the last  bursts of color: yellow and russet and deep burnished red. And me? I pull my winter clothes down from the attic and swap out my drawers...I dig up the crock pot so it is ready for savory soups and stews.I wash blankets and hang them out on the line, readying them for  when extra comfort is needed as the drafts of cold air slip through the cracks....I wish I never had to leave my cozy home with the fruits of our stacking warming us again, glowing and crackling through the window of the stove.  I get drowsy and lazy and I dream about hibernation...if only...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Tired

I am tired. Weary down to my bones and even further,if that is possible. Life has become such a trial and I begin to wonder. Is this why I am alive? Is this why I escaped my mother's fate? So I can spend my days working myself to a state beyond exhaustion, only to go home to world of hurt and stress?....I am weary, yet I do not sleep....and sleep is what I crave more than anything, to close my eyes and turn my back on all but oblivion. I am bereft of all feeling, other than that of being tired beyond all measure. I know there is no escape but I wish for it all the same. And yet, to run away would be to run from all of the things in my life that I hold  most dear. Ah, me oh my. I can no longer run, my knees are shot. There is no where to go anyway....life is what it is the world over.   I am just...tired. It will pass.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Gus!!!

Hooray!! Gus is home! With a huge (12"x10")shaved area on his back! and a 5" stapled together incision straight down the middle of his spine!! In his crate for 23 3/4 hrs a day! For 4-6 weeks!! Wow what a ride...I'd send a photo, but it is not for the faint of heart....
He is in fine spirits, does not seem to be in any pain...fentanyl patch anyone? He needs extremely serious rest, is on steroids, antibiotics and pain meds for the next 2-3 weeks (the fentanyl patch comes off tomorrow) and seems glad to be home, albeit crated.

I am the one suffering severe anxiety over his every move. I am a nervous wreck, but hopefully after a week or so I will be used to this routine. We went out for a 1/2 hour this morning and though I tried to be cool on the outside (Greg already thinks I've totally gone over the edge) inside I was so worried I felt sick. Of course he was fine when we got home.

Thanks again everyone for your support through this travail. It has been a huge help to us.
Love,
peg

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Waiting For My Boy to Come Back




These past few days I feel, have been suspended in time. The air seems too thick to breathe. Waiting ,waiting, waiting. Waiting for a steadiness, waiting for a straightening of what has been rendered crooked, waiting for bits of angry inflammation to subside, waiting for strength to return. And I am holding my breath, fearful that none of what I am waiting for will return. I look into eyes so soulfully deep, so trusting and bewildered, I smooth a coat always softer than a baby's cheek, I hold up what was once so sturdy, what has held me up more times than I care to remember, that is now so frail and fragile.

Waiting is work: it saps one's will, it drains one's strength, it weakens one's spirit, leaving a hollowness bereft of hope. And yet those same soulful eyes look into mine and say it's OK, don't cry, I'm here now. I am lying right beside you where I have always been. Believe in me.


I want to, it's the waiting that I can not abide.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

August




August is the fastest month of the year. It eats up summertime and spits it out into September where then all we can see are the remnants of summer, just tiny bits. For all of it's speed however, August is a wonderful month. It is hot, the cicadas buzz all day, the afternoons rumble with thunder, and oh, the night noise....crickets, katydids, the hoot of a great horned owl, the bone chilling scream of the barred owl. There are the few lonely fireflies that never found a mate, blinking their cry for companionship out in the woods. If one is lucky and the middle of the month does not flash by, there are the fireworks of the Perseid meteor showers that can be viewed, rivaling the 4th of July. Sadly, though, the month seems to fly with the speed of those meteors. It is not blessed with the laziness of July. It is not sprightly like the month of June. It is plainly in a hurry to get to September and on to the next season. One has to be sure to savor every splendid day of the month, the heat, the humidity, the lush overgrowth of flowerbeds, all of the sweetness of a day at the beach, because seemingly, just as it has arrived, August is out of here.

I think there is nothing else for it, I will have a piece of watermelon and see how far I can spit the seeds .

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

TMI (too much information)

Standing in line at the Home Goods yesterday I could not help but hear the conversation that the woman in front of me was having with her daughter on her cell phone. It went like this:
Hi Honey I have found a nice dress for you. What? It has that uneven bottom that you wanted and the dippy things on top. You know what I mean, what? that bottom that goes up and down . Yeah no, no I told you no before! Do you want the dress or not or I can just get it and if you want it fine. What? It is a very pretty blue. No, no, I am not going to agree to that, you know how you get when you drink. What size should I get, medium or small? You'll like it, it's this sort of blueish color.
( the dress in question was about two feet of blazing teal polyester, strapless, and godawful ugly) Small? OK. What? Oh no! We talked about this. I said no!I know it's your 21st birthday but that does not mean you have to go out hammered! Oh good god all right but just one shot, do you hear me? one shot. are you still there? honey? hello!?
At this juncture she turned to me and said the following:
I have to tell you at this point had I known I would have never had kids. This one is impossible, what with the boys and the drinking, and her brother just got out of rehab, a lot of good that's gonna do him, and all she wants to do is drink and party. It's the Irish curse. I mean, I have it too, but it's under control. It took me a long time but I managed. It's in our family and there she goes. I set up a limo so she won't drive, they are going into the city to party, oh my god why did I agree to this, as if I had a choice. But I got the limo so they will be safe, right? If she can still walk in those heels when the limo gets her. oh jesus listen to me I am telling you my whole life story.

She looked at me. I was somewhat nonplussed but I said that's ok I have that kind of face, people tell me everything.
She said
Well it's just that I am so worried, but with the limo she should be ok, right? I mean she's not driving, right? And she is 21 . What could happen?
She seemed to want me to tell her that sending her drunken 21 year old daughter who was at home drinking shots already, into the bowels of Manhattan with a limo driver/babysitter(heaven help that guy!) wearing a tiny bit of a strapless dress (that she picked out) to go clubbing was a perfectly safe and reasonable thing to do.

I did not know what to say, and for a change I was saved by the cashier that motioned for her to step up. She was still talking as she paid for the awful little dress.
I wanted to say:
Are you f....ing nuts? Look at that dress! It wouldn't cover a puppy! Your daughter is drunk already? A whole fleet of limo drivers would not be able to keep her safe! Clubbing? In Manhattan? Lock her in the closet! Call a therapist! Call AA! Get yourselves some help for heaven's sake. Don't send your child to the wolves!
But I was spared, again by another cashier who was ready to take my money.
I quickly paid and practically ran out of the store.
It is people like that who make me think we are doomed. Some people just should not procreate.


Sometimes I wish I had the kind of face that made people cringe and look away.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Harry & Me


     I would never consider myself particularly cranky, but I am easily annoyed and I do not suffer fools gladly....you know, the people who feel it's all right to talk on their cell phones in public as if we all need to hear their scary important conversation, or the ones who butt in front of you in line anywhere (hey no frontsies!) or the parents who speak to their infants in baby talk, babbling on about strained peas and sweet potatoes, or the ones in their cars: on the phone , texting, doing their nails, reading, working on a laptop. applying make up, changing their shirts, eating sandwiches bigger than their heads, masturbating, and driving erratically as a result of the aforementioned actions, all of which I have seen with my own eyes, even the last, which is a story for another time.

     I work in retail, and used to own my own business, a small retail/ wholesale bakery/catering operation where I met up with all sorts of annoying people asking the most absurd questions like 'do you make that round pumpernickel bread with the hole in it , you know the holey bread that you put the spinach dip in?' or 'does that pie have apples in it?' (it's labeled 'apple crumb'- have you ever heard of apple crumbs? what would they be? little tiny bits of apple? a ground up apple-like product?).....and the brilliant person on the phone who identified herself as ' the one who buys the donuts'. I sold at least 200 donuts every day, more on Sundays, ( apparently sitting in church causes an intense craving for sweet baked goods) I needed a few more clues as to her identity..... and best of all, those who came in 5 minutes before closing and asked 'is this all you've got?' There were some days where it was all I could do to not jump over the counter and put them in a headlock.

      But I refrained from smart-ass comebacks , sarcasm, or any kind of violent outburst , because these dopes paid my bills, a very important thing to remember at all times when dealing with the public in the world of retail. I would, however, stomp into the back of the store after the customer left and vent my frustration to whichever hapless helper was unfortunate enough to be working that day. One of the phrases I became known for is ' Oh my God, I hate everybody!........except you, of course'. 

      I would say the same thing to any one in my car after encountering the above mentioned drivers or anytime I have to deal with people in general, actually. But I am really very friendly. I chat in line at the supermarket with the person behind me ( who has just bumped me with her cart, that bitch!) and am courteous on the phone with the person from the other side of the world who's accent I cannot decipher when calling with a problem relating to my computer or other appliance, you know , the one who repeats everything you say right after you said it? I say please, thank you, pardon me, and I'm sorry when appropriate, and have never raised my voice to a customer service representative even when not doing so has caused a part of my brain to melt down...good thing I'm so perfect eh? I'm not, of course, but I do try to be nice to everybody, even when I hate their guts and livers.

     This brings me to a recent encounter with a total stranger I had while lounging next to a peaceful, picturesque pond with my friend's 16 year old son, Harry, a boy with whom I have spent 2 weeks on Cape Cod for many years. We were killing time, waiting for our rental cottage to be available so we could move in and await his mother's arrival the next day. We do the same thing every year, and most times there is no one at this pond so we swim and relax after our six hour drive. 

     This year, however , was different. A van pulled down to the landing and a little family got out , Grandma, Grampa, and a 7 year old (or so) boy. We watched as they pulled fishing tackle from their packed van, and Grandma and the boy commenced fishing. Or rather casting their bait into the surrounding trees, getting snagged in the thick lily pads at the edge of the water, and at one point seeing Grandma step back into a hole and fall right on her dignity. It took a few minutes of yelling for her to get Grampa to come and set her back on her feet. 

     She was quite literally, a colorful character with her iridescent orange- red hair tied in a purple scrunchy at the top of her head, Pebbles style, her leathery, wrinkled skin tanned to a deep mahogany, her hot pink flip flops and sleeveless Harley Davidson tee shirt. And her voice, deep and freakishly nasal with an Edith Bunker-ish accent that made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck and my ears hurt. They kept up their attempt at fishing as we decided it was time to roll. We were at the point where one false move would send us into an abyss of laughter from which there would be no return. As I opened my car door, Grandma asked me if I had room to turn around; I assured her I was fine, I'd get out no problem. Before I could climb into the safety of my car, she started talking to me explaining how they came to be there. Since I was speechless through her whole soliloquy I will relate it verbatim, and let you imagine the voice. (I still hear it in my head) She never paused or took a breath so far as I could see.

She said: People always look at us and wonder, heheh (this was an uncomfortable honking/snorting sound that I guess passed for laughter) how we have a boy so young my husband of TWENTY FIVE YEARS left me seven years ago and moved in with his (air quotes here) FRIEND, and then this summer married his (air quotes again) FRIEND back then I couldn't get pregnant and we spent ALL our money on IN VITRO FERTILIZATION, 8 times we did this and then he left I ended up pregnant heheh, and was told that I had to hold the baby until Thanksgiving for it to be able to be born, on Thanksgiving they put me in the hospital and heheh they hung me upside down and SEWED MY CERVIX SHUT heheheheh ( this said with a sidelong glance at Harry who was standing there dumbfounded) heheheh I LITERALLY had to do everything while hanging upside down I even had to (hand up to the side of her mouth, as if to exclude Harry from this tidbit of information, but still at the top of her voice, same sidelong glance at him) CRAP UPSIDE DOWN heheheheh I thought the top of my head would blow up, all the blood vessels in my eyes broke heheheh but I had the baby and he only weighed a pound and a half and look at him now ( at this point Grampa was tangled in a bush holding a limb down so the boy, knee deep in the water, could retrieve his hook)heheh and HIS wife (with a nod at Grampa) dumped him too and got the house on the Cape so now we come and camp out heheheh. She finally stopped talking and looked at me expectantly.


     Oh. My. God. I gave her a weak smile, mumbled something, looked at Harry and jumped into the car. We drove out of there trying not to burn wheels, but we really had to get away. We got to the top of the hill and I looked at Harry and asked "what the hell was that?". We both exploded into uncontrollable laughter. We laughed until we cried and looked at each other and started all over again, until I had to pull over to look for tissues to mop up our tears and running noses.
Then Harry said the thing that put me over the edge. He said 'Oh my God, Peggy, you hate everybody, but everybody LOVES you!"

      I have lived a pretty long time, and have spent a fair amount of my life laughing, but this was a gut-busting laugh such as I have never had before. Nor do I imagine I will ever have again. But people are pretty funny, and I do tend to attract the crazies of the world. I'd best keep my box of tissues handy.
 

     We drove on down the road and every so often Harry would say 'my soyvix' and we would fall in all over again. It took us an inordinate amount of time to drive from Eastham to South Wellfleet. Wow. Unbelievable, but true and unforgettable. I will always love that woman, she gave me the laugh of my life. Until the next one, of course.

Monday, July 13, 2009

For my Mom



My first surgery was 10 years ago. I was only forty. When the radiologist called and told me that I had a suspicious mass in my left breast a cold wash of sweat soaked my clothes. This was the pronouncement I never wanted to hear, of which I was terrified. I had been going for yearly mammograms for 10 years, from the year my mother was diagnosed. I met or exceeded all of the known risk factors for developing breast cancer (who knew that that was going to be what I was good at?)
I received the call at work and immediately called my older sister to ask her what these terms meant-cluster of suspicious microcalcificatons, needle guided stereo-tactic breast biopsy. I knew what as soon as possible meant. She called her doctor friends and got recommendations for me, set up the appointments and accompanied me to see the breast surgeon. As we walked into the lobby of the brightly lit cancer center, I started to tremble. I walked directly to the restroom and burst in to tears. The memories of my mother's experience had come flooding back, the treatments , the pain, the fear, the loss. Cancer. It is a dreadful word, filled with terror and frightening images. I did not want to do this, did not want it to be happening to me, just wanted to run away. I dried my tears and went to see the oncologist.
She was a very matter-of-fact straight forward woman. She explained to me that I had a 'constellation' of micro-calcifications( suspicious cells that had collected calcium, the body's first defence against unwanted material). She said she would have to take out a piece the size of a lemon, that she did not want to leave any cells behind. A lemon? I made a feeble attempt at humor-I only have a grapefruit, what will I have left, an orange? How misshapen will I be? She mumbled something about nature abhorring a vacuum and the body filling in empty space, and seeing my eyes filling with tears, pushed a box of tissues across the desk and left the room. My sister held me as I cried.
The first part of the procedure was horrific and painful, almost medieval. It involved a lot of needles and painkillers that did not work on me. I was awake, enduring a procedure that involved lying face down on a table with my breast hanging through a hole and the doctor and nurse beneath me, sticking needles in my chest. The nurse felt my tears hit her head and the doctor said that they were almost finished and to hang on.
When they sat me up and I began to sob in earnest, she asked me if I was crying from pain or fear. I said both. She assured me that from then on I would not feel anything. I didn't. I went to sleep and woke up, trussed in a girdle- like chest wrap, feeling like someone had punched me really hard in the chest
My sister drove me back to her house where my beloved dog, my little family, was waiting for me. We went up to the guest room, I was nauseous and exhausted. I stood and opened my shirt and saw the yellow stain of betadine on my skin. The wrap was very tight,and there were spots where blood and fluid had soaked through from the drains they had left in. I could easily discern a distinct difference in the size of my breasts. It hurt. I leaned with my back against the wall and slid down until I was sitting on the floor sobbing uncontrollably. My sweet Bubsy tried to comfort me, licking my face , sitting as close as he could. I wrapped him up in a hug and cried for a long while.
I was forty and single, still vain enough about my body to feel a huge sense of loss, to feel disfigured, to wonder who would ever look at me and not be unnerved my my ugly appearance. How would I ever let anyone touch my breast again? Would anyone ever want to? Worst of all, did I have cancer? I cried for myself, and I cried for my mother who had gone through all of this before me. I needed her, but she was gone. I lived alone and went through the pain , which was significant, on my own. I needed help with bathing, when I finally could shower, I needed someone to wrap that damnable girdle around me when I was finally able to wash it. My friends were my angels and my dog, my salvation.
After waiting an interminable 2 weeks, I got the biopsy results back. Benign! Such relief as I have never felt swept over me. Benign but with a caveat. The surgeon said that I had very "active" breasts and there was no doubt that I would be seeing her again. I spent the ensuing years making sure I got my mammograms, participating in a study of a drug to try to prevent a recurrence, getting MRI's once yearly when they became available as a diagnostic tool. Over that period of time I had many biopsies of both breasts, but always the results were benign. These procedures were never as awful as the first. I found a wonderful man who told me my breasts were beautiful. I lived and loved, took care of myself and did not worry.
Ten years later, I turned fifty. By this time I had been going to Fox Chase Cancer Center for my check ups for a few years at the urging of my OB/GYN.
Sure enough, this time they found something. I needed more surgery. Something that sounded suspiciously similar to the first procedure. I questioned my doctor and told him of my first experience, and he assured me that many things had changed in ten years. My partner and my best friend came with me. They took another chunk out, this time the size of an egg, from the same breast. Many things had changed in ten years. The procedure was painless, the recovery quick and the scarring minimal. But the mass was malignant.
But, and now we come to the crux of this story, the reason I have recounted this painful time in my life, my cancer was detected at the cellular level. Because of my diligence and that of my doctors, it had been found early enough as to require no post-operative treatment whatsoever. I was home free. I was not to have the same experience as my mother, I was not her. Ironically, my surgery had been scheduled for the anniversary of her death. I miss my Mom every day of my life. But she put me on this path of conscious effort to live and look after myself, and when I see her again, I will give her a huge hug of thanks.
I was lucky enough to have a job with good medical benefits. I shudder to think of where I would be without insurance coverage. I know though. I'd be dead. The shameful fact that so any Americans have no health care coverage burns me to my soul. This situation is unacceptable, and it is my hope that our current administration will finally get it right. There are , however free mammogram screenings in cities and towns all over the country. I urge any and all women reading this to find one and make an appointment. It could save your life.
I am now a member of the club that no one wants to join. But I am also a poster child for early detection. I schedule my mammography regularly. I am alive and healthy and happy. Have you scheduled yours this year?

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Haunting


She said her house was haunted. From the time that they were little girls, she was afraid to be alone and would do anything to get someone to sleep over with her. She would lock the door to her room; she and her friend would crawl under the covers of the twin beds and wait. Inevitably it would happen, the sound in the hallway. It was an indescribable otherworldly sound, a guttural, grumbling that sent them scrambling into each other's bed, terrified. They were alone in the house. Sleep would overtake them and in the morning they would wake and wonder if it had been real. They would creep around downstairs to see if anything had been touched, but would find nothing out of place.

Over time, there were even more frightening occurrences. Her mother, in one of her rare visits home, was pushed down the stairs, one hand centered between her shoulder blades. The same thing happened to one of her friends, a one handed push. Another night, the floor to ceiling stereo console in the living room inexplicably fell over, scattering hundreds of record albums and stereo components all over the room. That event sent her and her friend flying out of the house to stand huddled together out on the front lawn, too frightened to move. They finally ran to a neighbor, who tucked them in to her couch, and left the light on for them as she returned to bed shaking her head wondering what kind of parents leave their children home alone.

As they grew into their teenage years, they devloped a kind of bravado. This haunting, what ever it was, would not scare them. They would stay up late and drink her father's fancy German beer or get home late after spending the evening drinking somewhere else, and gather in the kitchen. She would make them baked beans on toast or hot dogs, the only things that were ever in the house to eat. They would talk too loud, laugh too loud, and slide fearful glances around the room, waiting for something to happen. With a clang, the poker fell off the hearth, silently, the hanging lamp over the kitchen table started to sway, there were bumps and thumps from upstairs and from the basement, in the house empty, but for them. No one ever slept anywhere other than in her room with the door locked.

Her parents eventually sold the house, a house that they themselves had spent very little time in, but for their daughter had been a house of horrors. What no one ever knew, what she never told, even to her closest of friends was that her brother, six years older than her, the one left to watch over her and protect her had subjected her to horrific abuse at his own hands and those of his friends, that the brother whom she loved and idolized was truly a monster. That was the reason she started always having a friend sleep over, and at that point the brother abandoned her, moving out of state to try to escape his guilt. That was the beginning of the mysterious nocturnal events, what she called the haunting.

It is said, by those that believe in this sort of thing, that poltergiests are attracted to teenage turmoil, that the hormonal imbalances and angst of adolescence create havoc in the atmosphere, that these phenomena can be caused by anger and fear. It was also said that her house was built on an old civil war cemetery. Whatever the theory, explanation or rationalization, there was never a doubt that this was something both real and inexplicable. But the facts of her life and the sheer terror in which she lived seemed to be explanation enough.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Snowdrops



The date was planned for a Saturday in late April. Mom was going to come out to her place without Dad so they could go scavenging for plants along the creek and through the woods. She had told her Mom about the big clumps of snowdrops along the stream, the horsetail ferns, oak leaf ferns, dutchman's breeches and the patches of trout lilies out in the woods where she hiked with her dog every day. It was prime time for collecting. She was excited at the prospect spending time with her mother, a rarity in their lives, a day alone together. She had had a tumultuous, over-long adolescence, and now at 22, their relationship had finally blossomed, and her love for her Mom filled her heart as it had when she was a little girl.

Mom arrived, carrying gloves and buckets and trowels along with bug spray and a small reference book on native plants and wildflowers. Always the teacher, always looking to learn, she wanted to know the names of what ever they came across that she could not readily identify. Off they went each of them carrying a bucket, Mom relentlessly spraying bug juice all over both of them despite her daughter's objections to the nasty chemical element. Both of her parents were chemists and a mantra in their home when she was young was ' life itself would be impossible without chemicals', a saying anathema in the newly environmentally conscious 70's. But regardless, Mom made sure that they were both chemically protected against any insect attack.

She carried a backpack with a cool water in a mason jar, a couple of shiny red apples, a bag of homemade granola, and as a surprise , some chocolate covered cherries that she had bought knowing they were Mom's favorite. They headed out on the path to the swimming hole to look for ferns first. Her Mother was delighted with the beauty of the woods, the graceful sweep of hemlock branches over the trail, the burbling sound of the water flowing over rocks in the creek. This was a treat beyond measure for her, a day with her daughter, a day outside in the woods. Living in a suburban development, raising four children, teaching at a private school and being married to a man who was not in the least interested in any outdoor activities other than mowing the lawn and puttering around the house, had deprived her of days like this for over 20 years.


They stopped at the swimming hole and she told her Mom about how lovely and cooling it was in the heat of the summer to slide down into the dark water, to sit under the small waterfall, hearing only the sound of the rushing water, leaving the world behind and seeing it only as a blur though a warped glass curtain. She tried to convey the magic of the place, this spot she came to for solitude. Her Mom seemed to get it , wishing it was warm enough to take a dip, wishing she had a place like this to escape to at the end of the day and vowing to come back in the summer when it was warmer.

They wandered on down the path, chatting casually, listening to the birds emerging song, enjoying the peace of the day. Somewhere along the way, the purpose of their walk in the woods was forgotten as they were captured by the spell of early Spring in the forest. They followed the path out into the pasture where the creek narrowed and deepened, and decided to take a rest at the fishing hole, a deep pool at the base of a huge Sycamore tree whose roots wound over the banks forming a natural bench. They sipped from the mason jar and crunched their apples in silence for a while, tossing small handfuls of granola into the water so the sunfish could have a picnic too.

Then her Mom started talking about her life when she was 22. She lived in an apartment in Queens with her parents and her sister who was 10 years younger. Her parents, especially her father were very strict and old fashioned. He did not want to see her dating, even though she had completed 4 years of college, and had been one of a handful of women graduating with a degree in chemistry, at the top of her class. He was overly protective and did not believe that any man could be good enough for his intelligent eldest daughter. Her mother sympathized with her plight, however, and would meet the prospective dates, who had to come into the kitchen via the fire escape. She would then meet her date downstairs with her father thinking she was going out with her girl friends. There was one of these young men who caught her fancy, and she fell in love. She told her mother who then talked her father into allowing her to date this fine young man. In time they felt that they wanted to marry and start a family. When they approached her father with their intentions, he said he needed to discus this with his daughter alone. When he questioned her about how long she had been seeing this fellow, wasn't it a little too soon, she admitted to him how she had been sneaking out to see him for quite a while, with out revealing her mother's complicity. He was furious and the answer to his next question sent him reeling. They were devout Catholics, and her boyfriend was Jewish. There was no way in the world that he would allow such a match. In that day and time, in his Italian culture, this was an unimpeachable impossibility. He was not to be moved from his stance. And so,with her heart broken, she ended the relationship. She later met a man who was just barely acceptable to her father and they married with his reluctant blessing.


Her Mom told this story while staring into the swirling water, lost in the memory of her ill-fated first love and the implicit fact that she had had to choose a different man, a man of whom her parents would approve, not the one she truly loved. Her eyes were glistening and filled with regret even then, more than 25 years later. This was a tale she had never told her children. How could she, when it would cast a shadow over her marriage to their Dad, how they would not even exist if she'd stood up to her father and married her first love? It was a story that she had told no one, up until that day sitting by the fishing hole with her daughter.

She put an arm around her Mom and gave her a long hug and then pulled the half-melted cherries out of her back pack and offered them to her. She accepted them with a smile of pleasure. Their mood lightened as they sat in silence eating their messy chocolates, then her Mom threw her apple core to the sunfish who had now gathered like beggars along the edge of the creek, got up and declared that it was time to get moving.
They wandered back on the other bank of the creek and dug up some snowdrops along the way, more to have something to show for their expedition, and to give a reason for carrying the buckets the whole day. They made their way through the woods back to her home, tired, sticky with apple juice and melted chocolate, but with fuller hearts than when they started. Her Mom had shared a precious memory, had allowed her a glimpse into her most private self, and in the sharing brought them closer than ever before.

Mom insisted on planting the snowdrops by her daughter's door right away, then gathered up her buckets and gloves and trowels. They both agreed that this had been a wonderful day and that they should have many more of these days in the future. There were countless places to go, gardens to dig, weekends away ahead of them, and they parted with a promise to plan many such outings in the future. Little did they know then that this was never to be. Like the silent, hateful disease that it is, her Mom's breast cancer reoccurred and metastasized, sending her on a 15 year journey through chemotherapy, radiation, surgeries, alternative treatments, and painful procedures with a will to live that astounded her family. But it would not be beaten. In spite of her desire to fight, she finally had to say enough. Ultimately, final good byes were spoken and her Mom moved on, leaving her daughter bereft and brokenhearted.

Now in a home of her own many years later, with the memory of her Mom ever in her heart, she has snowdrops blooming by her door at the end of each winter. They bring with them the warm promise of Spring and the lovely memory of that day spent wandering in the woods with her beloved Mom. That day was a cherished gift that she has carried for 30 years and will carry with her until they meet again.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Grady





They traveled to North Carolina to rescue cats. This is something that they do with dismaying regularity, go to what are called "kill shelters" ( a strange combination of words: kill and shelter, disturbing in their incompatibility) to scoop up armloads of abandoned cats and unwanted kittens. They bring these poor animals home to find foster placements and eventually permanent homes, one drop of water in an endless sea. On this particular trip, someone noticed a puppy, emaciated, filthy, and bereft in a cage all alone. When asked what was happening with this pathetic little scrap of dog, the operator of the 'shelter' said that the dog was sick and scheduled to be put down in a day or two, when they got around to it, that all of it's litter-mates were already dead, that it was unfriendly and did not like to be handled, just more worthless flotsam, unwanted. The tiny little life lying on a dirty rag lifted his head, perked up his ears in a fleeting second of hope, sighed and closed his eyes.

They rescued him too.


He was skin and bones, wheezing and coughing when he reached his foster home. Diagnosed with pneumonia, it was touch and go for a week or two. He ran a high fever and shivered, but now in a cozy bed with a warm blanket, loving hands smoothing his soft coat, and antibiotics fighting the infection that was trying to kill him. He survived, this tough little scrap of a dog.

His foster aunt came to work talking of this sweet, smart, hardy pup. She told his story, spoke of his spunky nature, of what a good dog he was going to be. Then one day she brought him to work for a visit. In the space of ten minutes, he chose his person, who had gathered him up in her arms, this pitifully thin, squirming bag of bones, and was captured by puppy breath, sighs, and kisses, the soft puppy pads on his feet, and the essence of pure love in his bright shining eyes. He came home a couple of days later. His name is Grady, and I am his.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Maybe


For two weeks, they spent every night together. She had come to visit family, but once she went to see him there was no one else. He was the answer to the question. They each delighted in the other, held hands at dinner, walked arm in arm, kissed each others cheeks and made love with abandon: in the pool, out on the moonlit terrace, in the living room, on the bed, each learning about the other all over again, the memories of years past springing up anew, and the love she kept hidden in her heart for so long overflowing onto him, over them. They hadn't known such joy, such passion for many years, had never felt so treasured. He was all she had remembered him to be and so much more; this was love beyond all measure. They both believed it, felt it a timely gift.

Time to go home. I will call you he promised through tears that ran together like water over smooth stones as good byes were spoken. They would be together, that was understood, a future assured, a love that could not be denied, that had been interrupted by time and distance, only to be rekindled with open hearts.

Daily life resumed, work run, work, think work sleep, work wait. Doubts crept in, along with sorrow and disbelief. Had it happened was it real? Did she feel it did he say it did they mean it?
Phone messages checked room mate questioned, never an inkling that one could be so jealous so spiteful so dishonest to keep the message from her. Sorrow turned to disillusionment, turned to bitterness, turned to acceptance: time followed it's inexorable course.

Many months later, missing him, she called. Just like that, there it was again, but different. The question was asked why did you never call, and then why did you not call me back? Call him back? but that would mean he had called, had called and called, never to get a response. Had thought she wanted no more of him, no more of them. Had moved on with his life, not forgetting her, never forgetting, but moved forward to fill a void. Fearful of growing old alone. Made another commitment with someone else. How could you do that and not have it be with me? she cried, her heart filled with anguish, too late


They talk sometimes weekly sometimes monthly. There have been interludes in the intervening years, just a few passionate encounters where all other aspects of their lives are forgotten and they are just together and that is all that matters. But mostly there are the phone conversations, so sweet and heartbreaking. Both have made lives for themselves. She envies his partner, a lovely woman, his wife, the one who holds the place that should have been hers. She has her own life and a loving man with whom she has built a home filled with love, but it is not him, not them. Their conversations always end the same:
I think of you all the time
me too you,
I love you
I love you,
bye,
bye.

And so.
Maybe in another life maybe in the next life,
maybe.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

House hunting


The house wrens are back, which is always a sign that Spring has really arrived. They returned yesterday (along with the hummingbirds, who have arrived May 1st for the past four years). The air is filled with their joyous, hopeful, warble-y song. They are house hunting this morning. They seem to love the neighborhood, have summered here every year, and the pair are always welcomed back with a new house or two (or three) from which to choose. There are a large variety of homes to look at. At the moment , a very conventional, older, some what beat-up house has captured their interest. Mama Wren inspects inside, pulling out any remnants of former tenants and seems to be very fussy about it. Papa Wren, who pointed out the house to her originally, sits on a nearby perch and sings his heart out, his wings frantically buzzing like a bee's, awaiting her approval. He wants this process to be over-with so he can really get down to the business of making babies, which, as with all males, is his primary interest. Mama will not be rushed however. Although the older home under the trumpet vine arbor seems attractive to her despite it's shabbiness, there are many others to look at before the final choice is made. This is an important decision and she will not hurry in spite of Papa's impatient urging. There is the new house hanging on the corner of the eave, but perhaps it would be a bit unsettling to fly in and out of a cat's mouth.....their former home was quite modern and roomy, but does not seem to be getting her attention at the moment. There is the old apartment building which has been taken over by a pair of chickadees who are bound and determined to defend it, ready to pull out every twig that the wrens push through the tiny front door. The wood spirit house is an appealing prospect and has been thoroughly inspected. Back and forth they fly, first to one then to another, and the drama goes on. It is fun to watch and wager on which house they will finally make their home. It is impossible to know which quality will form the final choice, location, orientation to prevailing wind, sun, shade, or proximity to food.They could choose from a number of houses hanging under the eaves, nestled in the blue spruce, mounted on a wall, or they could throw a curve and choose the clothes pin bag, or an old boot left out too long. All of them have been used in the past. Or maybe they will find a totally new and unexpected spot. We will wait and see. Meanwhile the happy wren-song will surround my house, making it feel homier than ever.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

More Hellebores



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Oddly enough I cannot seem to post a comment like you can, Janet! I also unable to attach photos to my posts...something must be disabled somewhere
The flower is a variety of Hellebore, also known as Lenten Rose. It is an early blooming perennial
( hence the reference to Lent...it will bloom through the snow!). It is also known as the Stinking Rose because the flowers smell awful if you sniff them, so no picking them for the kitchen table...

I made copies many years ago of the parrot photo and each of my siblings has one. Pretty funny, eh?

Thanks for your interest!

Monday, April 20, 2009

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Parrot Jungle

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Rainy day ramblings

April is a very hard month for me...too many losses in this month over the years, so much sadness when it is really time for rebirth and renewal. When does one finish grieving? There seems to be no end to it, just coming to an accommodation with it. I always feel like I have found that space, that accommodation, but every year, April comes and with it the flood of memories, the thoughts of the missing ones, the missing all over again. I feel my heart full of the love of my dear ones who have passed and know that they too are traveling this journey along with me and who knows maybe soothing my soul until May finally comes and I can look ahead instead of behind. I am ever filled with hope that we will meet again one day and yet do not want that day to arrive too quickly! There is a lot of good life yet to live, places to go, people to meet......and I would not wish my life away with too much pining. Just this month, this April, every year I feel the pinch of loss.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Mine

There is a satisfying anonymity that comes along with this space. I am myself and am able to express myself. I have my tales and can tell them, and maybe some one sees them or maybe not.
But it does not matter whether anyone reads my stories, or if they do, what their opinion is of them. All that matters is that they are mine. One might ask well then why bother? All of the writing and rewriting, the search for the right adjective or turn of phrase, constantly correcting grammar and spelling. Why? I have no answer to that question other than to say my stories speak to who I am. That is enough for me.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Road Trip



This time of year always brings back memories of our yearly family sojourns to Florida for a visit with Nanny and Grampa. My parents would pack the six of us into the car along with all of our stuff and off we'd sail. In those days, they had station wagons for families; no cushy mini-vans with tray tables and movies for us, we roughed it like fishermen in their smelly sailing ships.
These station wagons were the ships of the highway, and come to think of it they rode just like a boat in rough seas. We had two thousand or so miles ahead of us. The Captain (our always-cranky Dad, red faced and sweating and unbeknownst to us at the time always half in the bag) and his First Mate (our usually unflappable Mom) were tense and snappish, filled with misgivings at the prospect. Dad, never a particularly jolly fellow cursed at every turn and chain-smoked his super long Kent cigarettes, while arguing with Mom, who was the keeper of the maps and the one who's fault it was whenever we got lost which was an alarmingly frequent occurrence. For her navigation was a complicated task since Rte 95 was not complete in many areas and we often had to venture off the highway onto signless, winding local byways. Dad did all of the driving, never once relinquishing his control over the steering wheel, arriving at our destination with his left arm sunburned to a delicate crisp.


Mary and Paul Joe sat in the back seat poking each other and fighting while miserably peeling their legs off of the vinyl , surely leaving some skin behind. Since the youngest always get the scraps, Nancy and I sat in what we called the backback. It was set up in a picnic table sort of arrangement with two bench-like seats and a table in the middle. Even though we were small, this area was made even smaller by all of the luggage jammed in around us. We did not mind however; the luggage barrier saved us from the poking torturer that was our brother.


Thinking he was doing us a favor, Dad cracked the back window for 'fresh air', not knowing that it created a vacuum effect, sucking in all of the exhaust belching out of our over burdened Country Squire. Prone to car sickness in the best of times, I was rendered almost incapacitated by nausea. The combination of carbon monoxide, Mom's road food, Dad's cigarette smoke (he was a two-pack-a-day guy) and the sickening bouncing over bumpy roads put me into a misery no child should ever have to endure. Poor Nancy seemed unaffected; she slept for hours. Later in life, we realized that she wasn't asleep, she was passed out and certainly near death. It makes me feel vaguely nauseous to this day, just remembering. Post traumatic stress disorder would be my diagnosis.

These adventures took place in the days before someone had the good sense to put air conditioning in cars and the advent of the now ubiquitous bottled water . The further south we traveled the hotter the car became. The only thing we had to drink was warm lemonade that Mom made in a funky old red plaid Coleman thermos. I needed Pepto, not more acid added to the churning volcano in my belly. (Never one to let nausea interfere with eating or drinking, I partook of all there was to offer, which actually was not much, but more on that later). We all sweated profusely and were no doubt severely dehydrated by the end of the day. As was typical with Dad, he never wanted to stop driving, not until we all had to go to the bathroom at the same time and then somehow he always managed to find the filthiest gas station the south had to offer, complete with a snarling guard dog that lunged at us from what seemed like a flimsy chain. The urgency to pee was made more immediate at to the prospect of being mauled by a greasy, foaming- at- the- mouth german shepard. Mom would say use the boy's room, but we just couldn't. It contained that mysterious smelly contraption that had something to do with boys and their privates, and in our delirium we envisioned even more fearsome monsters.


Mom was not big on road food. It messed up the car and took up space. So our snacks between infrequent stops for meals (HoJo's hot dogs and molten lava baked beans. What were they thinking?) consisted of a couple of packages of chocolate sandwich cremes ( of course not real Oreos, which we craved and begged for but never got because they were too expensive) and a huge can of the world's cheapest candy: these things called Sour Balls.(I think they have since been banned by the Geneva Convention) Sour balls were hard little round candies filled with tiny bubbles that, when they popped as you sucked on them, became razor sharp tongue cutting weapons. They were supposedly different flavors to correspond with their garish colors, but they all tasted the same, like nothing. But they were sweet and being kids, we would shove three or four of these devils in our mouths at a time until the can was empty. By the time we got to Florida, our tongues were so swollen and shredded that talking was almost impossible, which I now believe was part of Mom's Master Plan to keep us quiet. We soldiered on however and tried to pass the time by singing the super- annoying 99 bottles of beer on the wall song, but Mom yelled at us to keep our mouths shut so as not to get blood stains on our clothes, while handing out little packets of smelly wipes.

We eventually started passing all of the hundreds of South of the Border signs , which of course we had to read at the top of our lungs, all the while whining and begging Dad to please stop once we got there, our anticipation growing with each "Pedro says..." sign that flew by. Sadly, there was no stopping at the South's premier tourist trap. He'd sail right past as we stared out the windows like starving children looking at an unreachable feast. All of the huge, colorful signs and hundreds of parked cars taunted us until we slumped down in misery and said not a word for hours, overwhelmed with disappointment (plus our tongues had taken a beating from the 'candy' and it was too painful to argue). At this point, Mom's Master Plan was really working

I will spare you most of the gruesome details of the hotels Dad picked, always in the middle of the night when nothing was open, always quite literally the last resort. We would search desperately for a neon 'vacancy' sign on the horizon. Exiting the highway was a dicey proposition however, as these motels were always much further away then we thought and it took a lot of cursing, yelling and u-turns to find them. We would arrive finally, Mom and Dad exhausted and us kids nearly hysterical from hearing the brutal clamor in the front seat. Miraculously, the motel room came with a feature we believed was made to soothe the shattered nerves of traveling children. A mechanical bed with 'magic fingers'. All it would take was a quarter in the slot and we knew we would be transported away from our taudry room to paradise. My parents were of a different opinion. Always cheap and puritanical in the best of times they regarded our fervent requests for quarters with such distaste and disapproval, that we knew there had to be something naughty about the 'magic fingers'. What it was we hadn't a clue. We'd fall asleep utterly disappointed in a room full of cigarette smoke and all of the attendant odors of a sleazy motel room. Suffice to say that the smell of the dimly lit room added a whole new dimension to the slew of odors that served to make me throw up.


We would finally arrive at our destination after 2 grueling days of travel, totally disheveled, sticky and sick....but it was Florida! Green, warm and humid, palm trees, orange groves and everything!
We would pull in to the parking lot of Nanny and Grampa 's apartment building, right across the street from the ocean in Ft Lauderdale, and all six of us with our luggage would pile in to their two (that's right, two) bedroom apartment where we would stay for the next 10 days. The sleeping arrangements were complicated at best. That is to say I have no recollection of what they were.

Back then there was no such thing as sun screen and we were all pasty white in our half- Irish winter skin. The sun in Florida was very very hot. We would spend the whole first day frolicking on the beach, in the water, in the sun, in our bathing suits. That combination resulted our transformation into four cooked-lobster-like creatures, burnt, sore and feverish by night time. Mom slathered us with Noxema, the' cure' for sunburn at the time, which just held the heat in and made us feel worse, as well as serving as glue for all of the sand in our sheets to stick to our skin and chafe our poor charred bodies every time we rolled over. In the morning, after not sleeping, we'd be forced in to our bathing suits with hastily-bought white tee shirts covering our already flaming skin and pushed out the door. We were not allowed inside much because the apartment was so small and we were always covered with sand like sugar donuts. Down to the beach we'd go, to spend the day huddled under a palm tree to avoid the scorching sun. Once in a while one of us would venture out to the water for a cooling splash. Every ten minutes we would hop, bare foot through the desert sands back to the apartment where Mom and Dad sat in air-conditioned splendor, and beg at the door for something to drink. Cans of soda would appear, with orders to go back to the beach, go to the pool, stay outside, you're in Florida for heaven's sake. To the pool or the beach we'd go and once again huddle in the meager shade of a scraggly palm tree. This was our family vacation. Every year. For many, many years.

There were some bright spots amidst the horror. Trips to a water skiing showplace where we'd stand in the sun to watch crazy people water ski over ramps and jumps, while we wondered when they'd get eaten by an alligator, waiting in fear for one of the pretty, tan, blond- headed girls to emerge from the water screaming, waving a bloody stump. There was a visit to the The Parrot Jungle where a man put giant parrots all over us and made lengthy attempts to photograph this spectacle. Naturally the parrots shit on our clothes, and we were petrified by their large sharp beaks and claws. I had one on my head; it dug it's claws in every time I moved. Wow was that fun.

The best part of the trips were Nanny and Grampa's cooking. Oh, did we eat. Spaghetti and meatballs, pork chops simmered in risotto made with homemade chicken broth , Grampa's Sicilian pizza, his melt in your mouth manicotti, every meal a feast of scrumptious Italian food, topped off with REAL cookies from the local Italian bakery. I loved Nanny and Grampa and they always let me help them cook, which got me away from the poking torment of my brother. Nanny always had a pocket full of these jam filled candies and she would slip me a couple which I would savor in the privacy of the bathroom. That part was heaven.

Sooner or later however, this dalliance in paradise had to end. We'd pile in the car, with Mom clutching the maps and the dreaded can of sour balls, Dad with his cartons of cigarettes, and us, filled with dismay at the prospect of the return journey. It was exactly the same unpleasant trip as the one to Florida, just headed in the opposite direction.

It is a wonder that I love to travel like I do, and love a road trip most of all. I pack huge sacks of road food, sandwiches, fruit, cookies, cheeses, jars of olives, chocolates, lots of drinks. I stop at every tacky roadside attraction, pee only in fast food joints where the bathrooms are usually pretty clean, use the air conditioner, stop to sleep in nice, fresh smelling hotels when I'm tired, and wear plenty of sunscreen. I always do the driving and and spend most of my time regaling my poor strapped in companion with stories of my family and our incomparable road trips. I truly enjoy my holidays immensely without privation or sickness and sometimes wonder if those trips to Florida actually happened or if they were just one of my nightmares. But I have the photos to prove reality. See the top of this story. I'm the one with the parrot on my head.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

the Lure of the Greener Grass


The air tastes of Spring and I am filled with that old longing to go and do and be somewhere, sonething someone else.....my heart sings to the memory of old loves, my soul yearns for that thrill of new love and I feel that it is there just beyond my reach....but I have love and it is wonderful and serenely sparkling, I feel it well up in me like bubbles in a flute of fine champagne and I know I musn't be greedy....but oh that first glance that tender kiss the sweet bliss of a new hand to hold. Where Winter is time for snuggling in, Spring is a sassy time, a time that makes one want to shine a fresh new start.....though I will buff up what I have and be glad for it, smile and say hey baby!

Monday, March 16, 2009

the Magic of Colcannon


Ah the Irish Soda Bread, slathered with butter, maybe a dab of raw honey, a big bowl of Colcannon, the ultimate comfort of potatoes mashed with cabbage, milk and butter. We stand with our mouths full, eyes closed savoring with all of our senses this warm reminder of why life is so sweet. Don't be afraid of the butter!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sad

Life is far too hard, greg is sad, brother dying , sister not caring, me picking up the slack, trying with my arms and heart and love to sooth his troubled soul. It must be painful to be the last of a family as he is. No cousins, aunts or uncles alive , no parents, and such troublesome siblings. Already one brother lost far too soon and now another pending. Sad, sad , very sad for my sweet love. How do we cope? We drive down to the river, drink some beers, skim some stones, and try not to talk about it. Now I will cook potatoes in cream, grill a chop or two over the wood coals and make a peppery arugula salad......and try to forget for a single moment how very sad we are.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Sleepy this morning, but must be off. There are cow cookies and the dreaded falafel in my future today....am not sure I'm up to the task......all of that Scooping and Baking and Frying ; but it's friday and greg and gus will be waiting at home where there will be gardens to clean up and bread to bake and two days to enjoy. Cheerio off we go......

Monday, March 9, 2009

Scrambling eggs for vegans


Obviously it can't be done. No eggs, no butter, no cheese; what's a good Italian girl to do? Cook some lentils, make some rice, add some fresh basil and lots of garlic and call it breakfast. With enough ketchup, everything tastes good. Don't forget the hot sauce! Eat it and smile.