Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Just Between Worlds

LAST WEEK...I got an email from a dear friend. I don't say that lightly. She is someone I work with who was instrumental in getting me through breast cancer. Day-by-day, chemo appointment by chemo appointment, she was there for me. She made me laugh, laughed at my bad jokes and helped me make up new ones. Her specialty was the irreverent kind: the ones that you know are so bad that no one should really laugh but you do anyway.

I JUMPED UP...Her email said that she had gone for an annual physical which had morphed into a mammogram and from there, into a biopsy. She was now waiting for the results. I read the email and didn't even think to respond back. I jumped up from my desk and headed to her office because seeing her in person was the only reasonable way I could think to digest the situation.

AND GAVE HER A HUG...The first thing I did was give her a hug. I hugged her for a long time and I am not the kind of person who hugs and doesn't let go. I told her that she would be O.K. no matter what happened. It was nice to be able to say that and know it's true because you have personal experience in the matter.

A BIG HUG AND TEARS...After our big, long hug, I looked at her. She had tears in her eyes. This kind of surprised me because we are talking about a very, very strong person here. Someone with a family and kids a big job and the weight of the world on her shoulders. She does not ruffle easily which is why we are friends. (Opposites attract. I fall apart when I get a hangnail).

SHE HAS MY MAGIC WAND...The second thing (after the big hug) was to give her my one and only magic wand. I have this battery operated magic wand that I keep at my desk. You never know when you might need one. (Now it's on her desk.)

AND HELD MY HAND...We talked and cried and we held hands way longer than two women who are not partners should hold hands. When we finally let go, between the crying and the hand holding, we joked that people were going to think we broke up or something.

BECAUSE SHE WOULD BE O.K....And one of the sweetest things she said to me, in the middle of what I can only describe as a look of terror in her eyes, was that she had hope because I was O.K. "I keep thinking it's going to be OK because Denine went through this and she's O.K." That really touched me. I guess I had never thought of my experience like that. I have been so involved in my own recovery for so long that it never occurred to me that I could be a poster child for hope.

WHICHEVER WORLD SHE LANDED IN...The other thing I told her -- something I wish I had known at the time -- was that this time she was going through right now was the worst time because you don't know which world you belong to. The two worlds are so different -- the world of having cancer and not having cancer -- that the worst part is not knowing where you fit. Once you know, you can move. Take action, DO something constructive. But until then, you are just caught in the soft, cottony clouds of Nowheresville, waiting for a phone call that you know will change your life, no matter what the news. 

LIKE SOME OTHER WORLDS YOU LAND IN...It's not unlike having your child evaluated to see if they have autism. You wait, you wonder, you bargain with whatever devil or deity you believe in and you agonize until you know. Once you know, you can prepare: you make phone calls, get smart, search the internet, buy vitamins, ask questions and take control. But until you know, you are caught between planets, spinning between what may be and what might be and what you wish could be if somehow you could just have another chance. 

BUT NOW WE HAVE REAL STORIES...When I left her, I have to say that I was worried for her. Even with my experience in both worlds, I kept thinking that to go from an exam to a mammogram to a biopsy within the space of a few hours was worrisome. So when she emailed me again later that day to tell me that the magic wand worked because she got the all clear, I was ecstatic for her. And all I could think of was that now she would be a different kind of breast cancer poster child for someone else. And for anyone who goes through this, we now have a few stories that are real stories -- not urban myths -- about breast cancer. Hopeful stories about women who have survived and hopeful stories about women who really thought the diagnosis was imminent but they were O.K. Either way, maybe it will give each of us a little more peace of mind when we pick up the phone to schedule our annual mammogram.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Sammy Goes to College. Well, Sort of...

I spent Tuesday evening sitting on the one front step of Sam's group home crying. I was crying for a lot of reasons, but mainly, I was crying because my conversation with Chad, one of the staff at Sam's group home, had hit several of the emotional soft spots that I owned. Here is a list of my soft spots: Sam; when I had cancer: men I have loved and lost; my status as a "good Mom" or "bad Mom"; and, 'do these pants make me look fat?'. Yup, all soft spots.
Sam and Kate in CT a couple of years ago. :-)
The conversation started as a result of the sweet Katie-did, Sam's new puppy. I was worried that the group home director was pissed at me because I kinda broke the rules for bringing Katie home on Sam's weekends. I was so eager to make Katie a part of the family (can you believe I can be a little pig-headed about getting my way with things?), that I had practically kidnapped her while she was still recuperating from surgery and kennel cough. But that's not why I was crying. (And, I later learned, she wasn't even pissed at me. She was just having a bad day.)

There was a larger issue afoot. As Chad said, "I know you love Sam and I know you enjoy being with him, but we've got a 22-year old man who's still calling you and Ben "'Mommy' and 'Daddy'", (a habit they had been trying to break him of with little success). "You're holding him back."

That's why I was crying.

I always thought Sam's use of the term "Mommy" and "Daddy" was cute. A sweet, innocuous and endearing habit. It was based on 22-years of precedent from my only son. I didn't really see it as a symptom of a parent or parents who didn't want to let go. That's one of the reasons I was crying. It was being suggested to me that the every-other-weekends and Tuesday night dinners were too much. You're holding him back.

All I could think of was all the fun we'd been having the past few years. We could go to a store, go out to dinner -- for God sakes, we could drive to Duluth and spend three days in a hotel and the worst thing that would happen is that Sam would try to take 47 sausage patties at the free breakfast buffet and I would have to remind him of social rules. Not like the old days when most trips out of the house involved a level of military precision and planning just to get him to a doctor's appointment: social stories, photos, hand-drawn maps of the doctor's offices and a full complement of back-up staff just to make sure we could go safely and come home safely. No meltdowns, no calls to 911.

I sat on the steps trying to deny the thoughtfulness of what Chad was telling me. Like a small child with their hand caught in the cookie jar, I said, "Sam was taken from me when he was 11. I want those years back. I'm trying to get them back by spending time with him when I don't need to be his warden." Chad was so patient and so understanding. Clearly, he had skills in dealing with people -- Moms included -- with special needs. He just listened but he kept repeating the truth: "He needs more time here."

As the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. This was true for both me and Chad. Chad's intention was to be honest, even though it upset me; and my intention was to be a loving super-Mom, but I was suddenly getting in the way of all the things I wanted for Sam. Chad is someone Ben and I both trust, and I knew he was speaking the truth for Sammy and doing what he should be doing: advocating when parental love and devotion starts to resemble a straitjacket to the natural order to things.

It was getting late, so I gave Chad an uncharacteristic hug, wiped the mascara off my chin and drove home. I didn't sleep very well. This was not the first time the staff had tried to have this conversation with me and Sam's Dad. But I realized as I finally drifted off to sleep, it would probably be the last time.

The next day, with full agreement from Ben, I went back to the group home and proposed a new schedule: instead of the current weekend schedule which has put Sam either at my house or Dad's house every weekend for the past nine years (Mom-Dad-Mom-Dad...), we would now add in a weekend at the group home. It would be more like: Mom-Dad-Group Home; Mom-Dad-Group Home...). This would give Sam more time to develop new friendships, have dates, practice cooking, shopping and doing his laundry. Normal. daily, routine things that are appropriate for a 22-year old to be doing. As I remarked to his Dad, "It kind of blows my mind because it will be such a change. But if Sam was a typical 22-year old, he would have left for college a long time ago."

We are lucky. He isn't leaving for college or going far away. But he's gaining the same kind of independence from us and having the same kind of opportunity to grow as a person. Things that everyone on his team feels he can do and so much more. It's funny that when I think of this in a logical way, it makes so much sense. I guess I just didn't see it in my role as parent. Ben also made the point that -- not to be too dark about all this, but -- neither of us are getting any younger. We need to put some routines in place that build Sam's independence and don't rely on us both being around for every weekend until 2065. Just not realistic.

As I was leaving the group home, Sam came over to hug me. "Bye Mommy," he said. And for the first time, I actually corrected him: "'Mom', Sam. Remember to say 'Mom'."

As for me, I'm going to search the Internet for a new weekend hobby. Maybe I could buy a motorcycle, some leathers and start spending my free time in Sturgis. Or maybe I could do so much volunteer work that I will become the new Mother Theresa of MN. But most likely, I will just do what most parents do: enjoy the free time and be there for him when he needs me. Like tonight: Sam called me out of the blue and was asking me about where he would be the weekend after Labor Day. (Labor Day weekend is a Mom weekend). It made me smile because I know this is Sam's way of incorporating new information and trying to process a new routine. And he seems perfectly comfortable with the new schedule. I will have to be sure to ask him how he managed such acceptance because I know I am planning to have my own set of growing pains. I may even need a long weekend ride to Sturgis.

PS - Sam would never be the wonderful young man he is without the constant love, support and acceptance from Big Sister Kate (even when he insists on referring to her as "hot".) Her birthday is tomorrow. Happy Birthday, Kate! We love you so much!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Life on the Dark Side: Patent Leather

As I was driving in to work today, I saw a young woman in the parking ramp who was wearing a black dress with great patent leather heels. (Also, black.) I wanted to shout -- but didn't -- "You go, Gurl! Way to carry the torch for patent leather!" It made me so happy. As if the younger generation of women were just confirming what I've always known: patent leather is cool.

I love patent leather. Perhaps I spent one too many years in parochial school, graduating from Mary Janes into low heeled pumps. It seems there were quite a few years when I didn't wear patent leather. (Maybe it was the 70's?) But I can recall patent leather being one of my go-to choices when the 80's came roaring in. Anyone remember the 80's? I was working in New York at The Times at the time. We liked our shoulder pads big, our furs endangered and our heels elegant. Oh, and we never forgot the pearls. (Did Barbara Bush have anything to do with this?)

But I am getting off the point which happens to me all the time.

I started to wonder about how long patent leather had been around and found some amazing articles in The Times dating back to 1918 about "...the great crying need [for] patent leather oxfords." LOVE IT. Skip forward a few years (1953) and patent leather is still in the news, with the added innovation of matching shoes and handbags.

Just to make sure that I wasn't stuck in my own time warp (or Times warp) I checked again for more recent fashion statements on patent leather. Too good to be true: I struck gold (patent?) with these Valentino Noir Capsule flats made from pythons, crocodiles, patents and ruthenium spikes for the bargain price of $895.

Aren't these cute? I think they're adorable. What's more, I think they'd look amazing if we could bring them back to the 1970's and pair them with an Our Lady of Lourdes plaid skirt. They're practically a reinvention of the Mary Jane with a lot more style, personality and potential for danger. Like Mary Jane's bad sister, Marilyn. I bet these babies would scare the heck out of the hall monitor and get the wearer detention for a week.

Like I said: cool.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Puppy Dogs and Hottie Flashes

I haven't written in weeks. Can't really explain why except that I've kinda sorta been enjoying my life. What a concept. I mean, I haven't been vacationing in France or anything. It's been more like, spending time with My Lake up in Duluth with Sam...getting him a new dog (Katie) that lives at the group home with him...and working on my own personal, indescribable but vastly mobile mojo. Don't ask. It's all just working pretty well right now. I try not to question.

So anyway. Hottie flashes. Let me explain.

It all started one morning at work when all the writer gals -- you know who you are --ended up at my desk. The subject of hot flashes came up. Not your garden variety hot flashes, but medication-induced ones. (Fun!) You see, I have to take this medication for five years so that my cancer doesn't come back and so that both me and the doctors feel like they are doing something. I mean, they couldn't just dose me up with chemo for 20 weeks, let my hair fall out, put me through four-and-a-half surgeries and then say, "See ya. We're Audi." No, no. They have to DO something. So what they did is put me on this crazy stuff that gives me hot flashes. Then they put me on this other stuff to alleviate the hot flashes.

Are you gettin' all this?

So anyway, one morning I have this realization that my body is acting like a garden sprinkler. Normally, I wouldn't have noticed because when I'm at my desk, I just spend all day turning the fan on. And turning the fan off. Fan on. Fan off. Get it? But then I was helping my friend, Eeen with this project she had which required me to be away from my desk. And the fan. For hours. And that's when I realized that I am practically a sideshow attraction. Bummer.

So, I did my best to help Eeen with her project in the stuffy room. And after days and hours of working on this project, and -- remembering the conversation I'd had with the gals that morning -- the day was coming to a conclusion. And suddenly I thought, "Oh shit, I'm having a hottie flash." I told Eeen this. I also said that I must have a pretty high opinion of myself to be calling myself a hottie. She laughed, shook her head, waited a moment, and then said, "That's hilarious. And if you don't write about that, you're crazy." And then she said some very nice things about my ability to put words and sentences and syllables together. And in the middle of all this, I remembered one day when she read something I had written for her project. She got tears in her eyes and said I was such a beautiful writer and that she could always tell when she was reading my stuff. Omg.

I'll never forget that. (Thank you, Eeen.) And that is why I am trying to write about hottie flashes and puppy dogs and trying to get back to dumping the thoughts of my crazy brain into my blog. Again.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Save The Dad Cakes!

 I went shopping last night and couldn't help but notice these
poor orphaned Dad cakes. It was so sad!
If you notice, the cakes are even themed: 
Fishing Dad and Terrific Dad.
I wondered which Dads belonged to these cakes.

Maybe this was not a year for Fishing Dads or 
Generally Terrific Dads.

I thought about how they could be re-purposed. 
Like maybe you could turn the last "D" into an "N" and celebrate Terrific DAN.
(That is, if you know any Dans that are terrific. 
I don't know any Dans, terrific or otherwise.)
"DAR" is another possibility. Anyone know any Terrific Dars? (Darla, Darlene...Hey, I know: Darnell!)

But I don't think my dear friend Darnell is into fishing so we just have to celebrate her as generally terrific 
(with a cake that is 50 percent off.)

Or we  could take off the two "Ds" and add a plus sign for "A+"--  perfect for a graduation party.

Or maybe I have too much time on my hands.

Poor little Dad cakes. I wonder what will become of them. 
You know how I get. I worry about these things.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Summer Solstice

solstice: an astronomical event that happens twice each year when the Sun reaches its highest position in the sky as seen from the North or South Pole. The word solstice is derived from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because at the solstices, the Sun stands still in declination; that is, the seasonal movement of the Sun's path (as seen from Earth) comes to a stop before reversing direction.

So many things to do. Such a finite amount of sunshine to do it in.

I’ve decided I am in a bit of a summer solstice. The past few weeks have been so terrific, I feel like I’ve lost a little of my characteristic angst which is, I think, the emotion that drives me to write. I have such a feeling of quiet and balance and hush in my life lately. There have been so many times in my life that I have plowed through the difficult, or maintained a fair degree of sanity in the midst of chaos that the hush in my life makes me want to say, “What’s that noise?” And the noise I am hearing is quiet. Maybe even some contentment sprinkled in around the edges.

Certainly, the past year or two has been tricky. And I am ready to just lay down that dead bird: Yes, I had breast cancer and now I don’t. Period. Still, I am always aware that I am like a new 5-year calendar with only the first two years’ worth of pages having been gently put away so as not to stir the others. But it’s more than that. With my knee fixed, and my jogging therapy about to start next month (Yes. Jogging therapy. Or at least a measured plan to get me back into jogging), I get a step or two closer to this life I have imagined for so long. The one where I am healthy and I can walk, occasionally jog. The one where I actually have a strong core, just like in the commercials.

My newly reconstructed knee – or as a friend characterizes it: the knee with “a piece of dead dude on it” – is back to doing long bike rides and enjoying summer – which doesn’t officially start until tomorrow. And the fact that I live in Minnesota, the land of the midnight sun where it doesn’t get dusky outside until about 9:30 or 10:00 really helps. I feel clearer. Things seem possible. I’m working out more and actually enjoying it. For the first time in a long time, I feel like I’m unstuck and I’m finding my way. It’s funny that I should think it’s a solstice: of reaching a height and standing still only to reverse direction. Like a car on a roller coaster gliding over the inevitable ups and downs of the track with grace and speed and not a small bit of rattling. I suppose it feels that way because of the quiet, in my head and in my heart.

A few weeks ago, when I was feeling so unsettled, a good friend sent me this:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” --Rainer Maria Rilke

I have this posted at my desk and for the first time, feel that I can think about loving the questions themselves. And if I’m lucky, I will figure out the rest of it while I am enjoying the sunshine, or the laughter of my son, or when I realize that we only, each of us, get so many summers and it's a shame not to enjoy each and every one. (Shhhhh, I’m listening to the hush.)

Life is good.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

One Lovely Little Opportunity to Appreciate

One of the early birthday gifts I received this year was from my dear blogger buddy, Jo. ( Jo awarded me a very cool One Lovely Blog award which is the very first honor I've received from fellow bloggers. What a nice idea.
Jo is originally from Cheshire, England, living in Canada, and has – for some reason – adopted me as one of my most consistent followers and commenters. So pardon me while I scream but, THANK YOU, JO! I appreciate and humbly accept the award (and apologize that between enjoying the MN summer way too much already AND then getting the flu, that I haven't had a chance to pay it forward.) Today is the day!

As part of the ceremonial festivities, my job is now to answer the following questions (heh heh heh – little does Jo know that I answer questions for a living.):

1. Name the blogger who awarded you this fantastic award 
“Jo awarded me the One Lovely Little Blog Award. Please refer to the paragraph above for further information.” OK, I’ll stop.

Random Fact #3.
2. List 7 random facts about yourself:
1. I am not a natural blond.
2. I am a retired triathlete, having completed approximately 25 triathlons of all shapes and sizes when I was in my mid-40’s.
3. I am attracted to soft spoken men. If they have a Southern accent, I’m a goner. 
Random Fact #5
4. I have a tattoo on my ankle that I got when I was 48. It says “Irongirl” in script over a blue and green hibiscus. 
5. I am addicted to Diet Peach Snapple. 
6. I spent six months in Florence, Italy when I was in my senior year in college.
7. In 1977, I left college nine credits short of my Bachelor's degree. I finished them up in 2004 and my diploma hangs upstairs in my walk-in closet.  

3. Award 15 other bloggers this award. Here are my 15 nominations for the One Lovely Blog award. And because I love these blog children equally, I have listed them in alpha-order. Just sayin':

  1. Amy McMunn Schindler at From The Mom Cave 
  2. Beautiful Dee at Beautiful Dees   
  3. Daphne Palmer Romero at My Distant Husband 
  4. Dawn Storey at Alphabet Salad 
  5. Emily Rose at Mommy of An Angel 
  6. FashionistaNYC at Out and About in New York City 
  7. Jenny at Choice City Native 
  8. Jessica at .a sort of mental squint.
  9. Laura Rodgers at Stoopin It In The Suburbs
  10. Linda Padilla Schulman at Beachlover
  11. Megan at MeganBlogs  
  12. Melissa Sugar Gold at Have You Heard? 
  13. Mikazuki at It's Raining Blue Umbrellas? 
  14. Ryan at 366 Random Acts of Kindness 
  15. Tara Adams at Faith in Ambiguity
Thanks for all the reading pleasure you've given me and congratulations!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Today Is My Birthday and...Yum!

So today is my birthday. The big day. As big days go, or even as little days go, it was a great day.

I always get weird on my birthday. It's just something I do. Having a birthday is so...public. That's the only word that comes to mind. And so I always end up feeling self-conscious in a weird way. Today was no exception except that everyone I work with handled my weirdness with grace and acceptance. I guess they are used to me, or way or another.

So my day went something like this: I snuck into the office and kept my head down and got to work. So far, so good. I was working on a noon deadline when my boss came over and asked me if there was anything I wanted to talk about that made today special. I laughed. "Noooooooooo," I said. She said, "Too late for that!" And she wished me a happy birthday.

From there I gratefully received a flurry of birthday wishes and text messages. My phone beeped and buzzed -- and then my team at work gave me some really healthy food covered in chocolate! Does it get any better than this? I don't think so!

The rest of the day was quiet and fun. I put the obligatory "eat me" post-it note next to the Edible Arrangement and everyone made sure to get a piece of the healthy food covered in chocolate. These are my people.

After work, I picked up My Best Guy and we had dinner at Red Robin where my Advanced Age Day qualified me for a free burger. I actually had a mushroom cheeseburger wrapped in iceberg lettuce which sounds awful, but which was wonderful (Yum!). I am hopeful that it was a caloric counter-balance to the chocolate-covered orange slices.

The remainder of the evening was spent goofing around with Sam. The sun was setting and the sky had a pinkish glow. The air was warm and breezy. We drove around Medicine Lake and talked about my dream of having a house on the water some day -- just a teensy-weensy place -- that we could both enjoy. Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Surely, there must be one lake that I can afford? If that won't work, having a house along the Luce Line Trail is my back-up plan. 

It's my birthday. I'm allowed to dream a little.

All in all the perfect birthday: the support of wonderful friends, a little high-test fruit, a few dreams and the company of the person I love most in the world. Not a bad birthday for an old gal. Happy 39 to me.  

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Tomorrow Is My Birthday

Tomorrow is my birthday. I will be 57 years old. I have never much liked the odd numbered years. They seem more unstable than the even numbered ones. Of course, 57 is still much better than 58. It's all relative.

I feel like I'm doing pretty good for 57. I still have most of my original parts and any new parts were the result of a temporary system failure (breast cancer) or a dumb sports injury (just call me "cadaver knee"). I still care very much about being active and involved in life and always make sure to dress in a manner that looks like I'm a woman who still has sex. The fact is that I really haven't had much of that lately, but it's not for lack of interest. What it is they say? I am a victim of circumstance. The circumstance that I just happen to not be dating anyone. Maybe I'll just have to start reading Fifty Shades of Grey. I hear it does wonders for your sex life.

In lieu of the sex life I don't have, I need to come up with other things to do. So today I hauled the bike rack onto the car and did my first Luce Line ride of the season -- about 12 miles. It was pretty awesome. It's amazing what you can do when you have two working knees. I was clipping along at 20 mph and thinking, "I don't think I've done this for a while." I guess I'm a convert to the joys of orthopedic surgery.

Cycling is about the only thing I'm allowed to do for a few more weeks. In July I can start running again. Not that I'll start going for 20-mile runs or anything, but at least my knee will be ready for more than just walking. It's funny -- in the days when I would do half-marathons (I probably did 2 or 3 in my life), I can remember those moments when I just didn't believe I could take another step -- and then I did. And when I finished and it was such a great feeling of accomplishment. So, what's funny is that I don't miss running as much as I miss those moments of surpassing what I thought I was capable of. And the joy of the finish line. I really hope that, even at this ripe old age, I can get back to doing those things. Things that challenge me and make me surprise myself.

So anyway, I guess it's in order to say, "Happy Birthday To Me." But not until tomorrow -- I need to savor the last few hours of being 56.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Growth Spurt

Lately, I've been writing about how much Sam has grown up, especially in the past year since he started working. It's such a hard thing to put into words, this growing up thing. This looking outside of the sphere of your family and taking a great big jump up and out into the world. I've struggled with how to articulate it.

And then, just before Sam and I left for Duluth for the weekend, I was in his room and I saw the box containing his very first pair of shoes. And then it hit me: No wonder I am having a hard time adjusting: I have been Sam's mother from the Size 7Ws through his current Size 13DDDDs. When I look at it like that, it makes me realize how much territory we've covered together and how much growing has occurred in between. 
Things are fine now and we (me) are over the worst of the sudden growth spurt/reality check that accompanied the jump into adulthood. But I still like this picture very much. And I think it says more about the journey of being a parent than words can ever say.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Taking Chance on Memorial Day

On this Memorial Day, I think of my Dad. When I was merely a twinkle in my mother's eye, he was a Staff Sergeant in the 274th Army Air Force Base Unit. He served during World War II, but as the story goes (that he enjoyed telling so much) the only injury he suffered was walking into the propeller of a plane which thankfully, was not moving at the time. Later on, my Dad served in the Air Force Reserves and attained the rank of Major. When he passed away in 1992, the local VFW attended the wake and rendered Military Funeral Honors. I'm not sure I fully appreciated the meaning of this ceremony at the time. In fact, I'm sure I did not. And the truth is that I have not thought much about it much in the past 20 years since his death. But I thought about it this weekend after stumbling into a movie on HBO, called Taking Chance.

Based on a true story, Taking Chance (2009) is the story of a desk-bound Marine colonel who at some point in his career made the decision to opt for a tour of duty in a cubicle in Quantico. He's feeling too removed from the war and from the casualties of battle, and questions the comfortable choices he's made in his career. As a result, the colonel (played by Kevin Bacon) makes the decision to volunteer to act as a military escort to the remains of a fallen soldier, Chance Phelps. 

Kevin Bacon is spectacular as the colonel who begins his journey with good intentions but who gains so much more during his service as a military escort. The movie is touching and moving and above all, honorable. More than just showing a tradition that I had no idea existed, it made me feel proud to be an American and proud to know that this is how we treat our fallen heroes. I will never again see a member of the uniformed services in an airport and not wonder whether or not they are on a similar mission. And I will never again think of the unexpected ceremony at my Dad's funeral in quite the same way.

So on this Memorial Day, put down the hot dogs and wait until you watch this movie to go back for seconds on the potato salad. And while you're at it, feel lucky and proud and grateful, whatever your political views, that we have men and women in the armed services who give so much. Let us honor them all.  

Monday, May 21, 2012

Just Dance Like An Idiot 3

About a week ago I bought a Wii console for the third time. I bought the first Wii for Sam a few years ago so he could play Wii Bowling at the group home with the other guys. Then I saw how much fun it was and I bought one for myself (#2). I used to play all of the Wii Sports games like tennis, bowling, boxing. I even have a Wii Ski game. Anyway, for a long, long time, Sam was never interested in the Wii at my house because he was too busy playing his Sega, SuperNintendo, Playstation, GameCube, Nintendo DS and PS3. Then one day -- I'm not even really sure why -- it was the only thing he wanted to play.

One day he came home for the weekend and asked me if he could put my Wii in his room. I knew what that meant. But it was fine because at that point, I wasn't using it much and he was kind enough to let me keep the Wii balance board. I mention this story just so I can illustrate my redeeming qualities as a mother. I don't want anyone to think I just walk around all day telling Sam, "Screw you!"

So about two weeks ago, after my physical therapy team told me that I couldn't play tennis for about five months, skiing was out until December, and running was probably a month or two away, I decided to go virtual. I bought myself another Wii and a Just Dance 3 game. Am I the last person on earth to try this hilariously fun way to get off the sofa?

This is just about the most fun a person can have by themselves. If you haven't tried it, here's how it works: you pick the song, watch the screen and follow-along with dance moves set to music by Lenny Kravitz, Katy Perry, Van Halen and others. There’s even some disco music so my bad self can pretend I’m back in the 80’s. 

One of the best things about this kind of workout – for me at least – is that time flies while I’m dancing around my living room. Twenty minutes on the treadmill feels like an eternity. Twenty minutes of Just Dance goes by in a flash and super-challenges me aerobically (even though I am being careful with The Knee.)

The first time I tried it, I know I was completely hopeless but I was moving so much and laughing so hard, I got a great workout. I am actually getting better at it, but I’m convinced I still look ridiculous. I have provided the video below just to prove my point.

Swear to God, I look just like this.
But I'm going to keep doing it anyway.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Losing Weight the 1-800-Got-Junk Way

Denine-in-the-Box: College Graduation Photo from
Mom's Private Collectoin
8:45 - I am heading out the door to meet the Got Junk guys. I am oddly buoyant considering I have waited 10 months (since my mom's passing last August) to clean out her storage room. Part of my motivation is not wanting to spend $96 a month to store memory touchstones that, even if I waited another 10 months or another 10 years would still be there with all their power. I'm not sure what to expect today. 

I know there is plenty of furniture to which I have no emotional attachment. Perhaps, without knowing it, I practiced first by having the Got Junk guys come to pick up the family heirloom first: The Antique Couch (see 1-800-Junk-Therapy, 3.24.12) At least there is nothing in the storage facility that will have the same power, at least in the furniture category.

I know there will be boxes of mementos which I am planning to just haul back home for another day. And there is an odd antique ashtray set that was my mother's pride and joy. Sitting on the sofa last night, trying to figure out what to do with this item made me realize that if there was one thing my mother would come back from the grave to "get me" for, it would be this albatross. I have decided that the better part of valor is to keep it, much as it would be fun to see my mom again.

9:15 - I arrive at Public Storage only to realize that they haven't changed the lock and there's no way to get into the room. I wait. I fume. I rage, rage against the dying of the light. Then I realize that I have have the keys to the current lock on my keychain. Problem solved.

9:40 - I lift the gate to the storage room. So far so good. No ghosts or goblins or scary things waiting for me, at least not in plain view. Just a lot of furniture and a few boxes. I plow through the family photos the never-worn sandals, and the loads and loads of china some of which I know came from my mother's mother or my father's mother. I wonder to myself: Shouldn't their be a statute of limitations on this stuff? I mean Limoges is beautiful but I just don't have a antimacassar, humidor and Limoges kind of life. I own a microwave an iPhone and several other things that begin with "i". 

Nonetheless, I move that box to my car. I'll deal with that when I can deal with that. In the same box, I notice that my mother has saved the very first art project ever that I did in Mr. Stoffel's free-spirited art class in high school -- a hideous chunk of white plaster born from the ungodly womb of a milk carton and upon which I had carved a highly derivative Picasso-esque "sculpture". Right next to that is the very first ceramic pot that I had ever thrown on a potter's wheel in the same class. Although the bowl is only 3" wide by 2" high, it weighs about 20 pounds as a result of the thickness of it's sides. It would make a more effective weapon than anything else. And yet, she held on to it since I gave it to her in 11th grade (1972).

L to R: Woman's photo that came in the frame (I thought that was funny);
My brother, Jay, in red frame; Me and Sam standing in front of car;
My niece, Jane, in large oval frame; Me in red frame;
My brother Jay and I in gold frame. 
10:15 - By now I am humming along, looking through boxes and efficiently sorting. I check in with myself: I seem to be O.K. The combination of smoke-smell from my mother's belongings owing to her 50-year smoking habit mingles with the heat of the day and it reminds me of a conversation I had with Sam earlier this year. We were talking about Grammy's passing and I said, "I know Grammy is in a better place. Somewhere where she can have a glass of wine and feel good, maybe even do some skiing once and a while." And Sam looks at me, very somberly and says, "And some smoking." Then we laugh for 20 minutes.

It's in the high 80's outside so I grab a swig of Smart Water and move to the next box. It's all books: Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber, John Steinbeck, Carson McCullers. It's then that I start sobbing. It hits me so fast it nearly takes my breath away. There is something about reading the names on the covers, knowing they were her favorite authors, and I hear her voice in my head repeating their names and saying how much she loves them. And it's not lost on me that she taught me to write and to love writing the way I do. I grab some Kleenex in the front seat of my car and cry it out and I'm just so glad that my Got Junk buddies aren't showing up until 11:00. 

Got Junk "Ghostbusters" P.J. and Zach
11:00 - The crew arrives and they are courteous, helpful and truly pleasant. As luck would have it, the extra time I spent sorting and clearing out mementos means that all they need to do is swoop in and move things to the truck. Zach and P.J. are extremely helpful, and comment several times on how nice the furniture is that I'm giving away. It is nice stuff and it makes me feel good that they think so too. As I say to them, "Unless I want to start a museum in my Mom's honor, I really have no place to put it." They are very understanding and assure me that they will donate everything and it won't go into a landfill. This means everything to me. It means recycling and a good home for furniture that meant something to my Mom. And less grief for me when she comes back to haunt me about giving away the grandfather clock that never kept the right time. 

11:50 - By now the truck is loaded and the storage room is completely empty. It feels like a small miracle. And I can't believe how good it feels to know that this little 5x6 room, with all its power and all its memories has been resolved. It's like Ghostbusters came this morning instead of 1-800-Got Junk. As I drive away toward ARC Value Village in New Hope to donate some of my Mom's special art prints that will help support their mission for DD kids (I know she would like that), I feel this tremendous weight lift from my shoulders. Ten months ago, just thinking about these items overwhelmed me and now I am sending them on their way. I'm smart enough to know that I have only dispersed some of the physical manifestations of my mother's passing. But I am also smart enough to know that this is a very big step forward. One she would approve of if she were here.

Friday, May 18, 2012

My Cheatin' Heart

I have been cheating on my sweet little blog this week. I have, on two occasions already, taken my writing affections and bestowed them on two other sites as a “guest”. Then I snuck away into the night leaving my own blog site with a story from last Monday. Ooops.

You always have to watch out for the quiet ones.

I’ve become so accustomed to writing for my blog in a particular voice that it’s fun to moonlight on completely different topics. Some of the writing feels like work writing (in a good way): informational, mildly persuasive (hopefully) and succinct. However, I recently volunteered to write a post for a nature center in Ontario that is somewhat different. Like I was cheating on my blog while wearing a red wig, a trench and smoking a Marlboro. 

Here is the link to my guest post ("The Tourist"), in the blog section of the Gamiing Nature Center. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Dinner, Funny Faces, Prom and Gomez.

 One of the ways that Sam and I "play" is to go see plays and musicals.
We saw The Addams Family on Saturday night at The Ordway.
It was verrry cool. The perfect evening.

First, we had dinner at The St. Paul Grill. 
Food was beyond words, as was my handsome son.
Sam ordered the Sea Bass and I wondered
when he stopped eating fish sticks and became a sophisticate.

No Worries: This is Root Beer, not Guinness.
After dinner we crossed through the park in Landmark Square.
It was the most beautiful, warm, breezy evening.
We sat on a bench and watched the world go by...


 And we did a few pictures, including a "1,2,3 Funny Face" photo*
*Special thanks to Janet and Maggie for the inspiration on this one!

We saw lots of girl-women in flowy gowns having 
pre-prom photos taken with their dates.
Sam said, "What's a prom?"
I explained it to him and felt a little bad 
that he never experienced one. 
And then I thought about my own prom.
And I realized that he didn't really care about proms,
he just cared about having a hot date.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Special Mother's Day Edition

Here is the card and the box of chocolates that I got from Sam for Mother's Day.
If you look closely, you'll notice the box is empty. No chocolates.
That's because the minute I opened it we dove in.
It was only 8:30 in the morning and it was a terrible thing to do,
but we giggled the whole time and felt
like, "pssst...don't tell your Mother".

P.S.-I feel like I'm going to barf now but it was still great fun.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Stuff I Did in the Past Few Day and Random Stories

Wintergreen Feet
1. Yesterday afternoon was mani-pedi maintenance. Same color on hands and feet (see matchy-matchy). I couldn't figure out what this color reminded me of and then I realized: it's a lot like toothpaste meets mint-chocolate-chip ice cream without the chocolate chips.

2. I took a picture of the cat. (I have two cats, my lifetime limit.) I'm a middle-aged woman. I'm supposed to do things like take pictures of my cat. I won't put it in my wallet or anything though. (Random Story #1: My son once had a  mean school social worker. She finally lost it one day at an IEP meeting. Her face got all red and puffy and she blurted out, "We don't want Sam at our school!" That is not a remark you ever forget, especially coming from a social worker at a school where you send your vulnerable child every day.

The One, The Only: Ginger-Peach
The other thing I remember about her is that she was the only person in the school that year who had a yearbook picture taken with the school's therapy dog. To me that just explained every possible thing that I needed to know about her. She should have had a bumper sticker on her forehead that said, "I Love Dogs! I Just Don't Like Humans Very Much." 

3. I called 1-800-Got-Junk and made plans to clean out my mother's storage locker on Saturday. Whoops. I reconsidered and decided that Mother's Day weekend was probably not the best time to do this and rescheduled it for next weekend. 

Sam's Favorite Actress
4. Occasionally I get unsolicited requests for Sam Stories which tend to be overall day brighteners. Here's your Sam Story for the week: One of Sam's favorite actresses, one that he thinks is super-hot, is Reese Witherspoon. But he doesn't call her that. He refers to her as "Reeses Witherspoon". It always makes me laugh.

5. Sam and I are off to The Ordway on Saturday to see The Addams Family. We bought these tickets forever-ago and he's never been to The Ordway in St. Paul. He will just love exploring it and will probably make me walk up every flight to "see it" even though we have seats so close to the stage I feel like I'd better study my lines. 

Pre-theatre, we are having dinner at The St. Paul Grill, where Sam's Dad always reminds me to remind Sam not to order a $58 porterhouse when the $32 one will do. (Random Story #2: The last time I did a St. Paul Grill-Ordway double-header was with Hadley a year or so back. As I recall, we "split" a few martinis and almost had trouble finding our way across the street. We sobered up during the opera which all things considered, was not a bad place to wake up.)

That's all I can think of right now. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Playing With Martinis...

The past few days have been so...well, serious.
In the spirit of playing, it's time to lighten the mood
(but not the quality of the vodka*).

I saw these martini glasses advertised somewhere
and I just love them.
They are definitely kind of hokey,
but they are going on my wish list anyway.

*Truth be told, I am sitting here swilling my favorite drink:
Diet Snapple Peach Tea.
I'm just wild, I tell ya. Just wild!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Getting Off Course. Climbing Back On.

I'm going through a rough patch right now. I can feel it. Sometimes it frustrates me. A lot. And more to the point sometimes I get frustrated with myself.

Do you remember when you were a little kid and you played the game Mother May I? I think it is known by a bunch of different names but basically the leader would stand with their back to the players as they would ask "Mother May I..." take steps forward. If the answer was "yes" you took the number of steps forward that you asked for; if the answer was "no", it was usually followed by an order to "take two steps to the left and one step to the right, hopping on one foot." The object of the game was to tag the leader and not get too far off course.

Maybe that's what I'm feeling these days: I am off course. The problem is that I have been off course for quite a while.

My health issues were the first thing to throw me off course back in 2010. ("Take four steps to the left with your eyes closed and your fingers crossed.") I soldiered forward and tried to meet the challenge of breast cancer which -- so far, so good -- I've been able to do. Ironically, it was after that when I think I let my guard down and my course veered toward the Bermuda Triangle. 

Someone who I shouldn't have been dating in the first place but who nonetheless became very dear to me over the course of several years and who saw me through my health crisis, exited my life. Gulp. ("Take three steps forward, have your head examined, and then five steps back.") One could argue that I went off course before that event (and not after) but we'll leave that one for the history books. 

Six months after finishing treatment for breast cancer, I was encouraged to take a lesser role at work because of the stress-level of my job and the responsibilities of caregiving for my Mom. Gulp. ("Take two steps back, put a smile on your face and suck it up.") While changing roles has been very positive, it was not without its own trauma to my ego. Then a few months later, my Mother passed away after a long illness and a downward spiral lasting about six months. Double-gulp. ("Don't move. Just sit down and try to breathe normally. Oh and try to remember not to fight with your brother too much.") 

Sam, the dearest human being to me on this planet, is next in my transition challenges. He is growing up. And the dream he has always had of wanting to work at Target -- a dream we never thought possible for him -- looks like a real possibility in the next few years. I couldn't be happier for him but some days I feel that I am going through the equivalent of Empty Nest Syndrome but under vastly different circumstances. ("Take three steps forward, give yourself an atta-girl and then try to figure out your next move. You may need some tissues for the ride.") Gulp and at the same time: Hooray for Sam.

And now, just when I had some momentum going to reach my fitness goals, I had knee surgery and a predictable fitness set-back. ("Take two steps back, gently. Careful with the knee.") Damn!

It strikes me as I write this that my knee surgery is really the least of it all. And that's a good thing to know. It helps me to see that sometimes I focus on the least of my worries because somewhere inside, I recognize that the greatest of my worries feel insurmountable -- too hard to really absorb and worry about. It's like the woman who escapes a car crash and says, "Oh damn, I broke a nail." So I guess that's where I am right about now. I can't worry about getting cancer again, or finding a new soul mate. Worrying will never bring my Mom back, and kids grow up and leave the nest, just as surely as the little swallows who are born under my eaves of my deck every spring. 

The circuits in my brain understand that I am going through a gang-bang of a transition here. And I know that going through just one of these things is enough to send anyone crashing toward the rocks. Some days I wish that the circuits in my brain would tell my heart to chill about all this, but I don't think it works that way. They are essentially heart things, not brain things. But some days I have a serious urge to rip my brain and my heart out of all of it faster than one of those Porsches' I covet can go from zero to sixty. I need to feel that I am moving forward and into the future even if some days I'm not sure I'm ready for that.

So for now, I am going to try to take one day at a time and one step at a time toward my dreams (writing a memoir, going back to tennis camp this summer, getting back to volunteer work, finding an available Mr. Terrific) and try to focus on the steps forward. But maybe until I have more confidence in the soundness of my course, I'll count each step forward and try to be patient with myself in case I need to take a few steps back. But I won't ask any one's permission. I'll just take it as it comes.