Sunday, December 27, 2015

Family Goodbyes

Our Lady of Lourdes Church,
Lourdes, Iowa
My mother came from a large family; she grew up somewhere in the middle of a group of twelve (plus two more who died in infancy). Consequently, family gatherings when I was a child were large, boisterous. After she died, I didn't see these relatives often, reconnecting just in the last ten years or so.

Last week, word came that one of her four remaining siblings had died. I hadn't seen Aunt Roselyn in at least thirty years, but remember their home as a happy one; filled with good feelings when we came to visit.

When I stopped by my brother's house to bring Christmas cookies, he asked if we could alter our travel plans and leave a day early to attend the funeral, which was last Wednesday. At first, I said no. Too busy, new job, no vacation, long time no contact, etc., etc. He was OK with that. But then I stopped. My excuses glared, tinny and fake, as just that - excuses. There was no real reason I couldn't or shouldn't go, and so we went.

Those of my aunts, uncles and cousins who could make it were there, along with her friends, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. All were sad, but for ourselves left behind, not for her. Her last years were filled with the confusion of dementia - she has gone home to see her siblings and husband, to garden in Peace.

Her funeral was in a small country church in north central Iowa. The second Vatican council passed the church by - her side altars, large central edifice and communion rails remain intact. The church is near where my mother grew up, many of the aforementioned family gatherings were held in the church hall.

As all were gathered for the post-funeral luncheon in the old school gym / parish hall, I stopped at the top of the wide old oak stairs leading down into the room, transported for a moment back through the years to the gatherings I'd attended there as a child. I shook my head to clear it and joined the crew, to find my cousins had experienced the same sense of deja-vu. We shared memories and stories of the days we played in classrooms in the upstairs hall. Do you suppose the classrooms were still there? The front stair was locked, but didn't that door next to the kitchen lead to another staircase? We tried the door, and it was indeed unlocked. The old worn treads were covered in dust, otherwise untouched by time. Memory led us upwards and we found ourselves in the single hallway that had served as a small country school. Now used for some sort of classes and religious ed, the only things missing were the shelves and coat hooks that once graced the hallway. The shadowy dark seemed fitting as we peered through the glass on the doors to look at the old desks and chalkboards, beckoning with their almost-forgotten memories of afternoons spent making up games to stave off boredom while waiting for the grownups to finish eating and talking.

As my brother and I pulled away to resume our journey to Minnesota for Christmas, I found myself glad I had taken the time to come to say goodbye. I've traveled far from those uncertain days - it's good for me to revisit them now and again; to reframe the shadows; to share the stories.

Aunt Roselyn, rest in Peace. (and say 'hi' to Mom, eh?)

Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas Cactus

I have to admit, I stole it. Even though its owner was sitting right there. It was clearly unloved and neglected, down to just three leaves, those more gray than green.

This was several years ago at work. I'd stopped by to talk to my friend Anita. As we chatted, my eyes wandered around her cube, finally lighting on the saddest excuse for a Christmas cactus I'd ever seen.

When we finished talking, I scooped up the plant and told her I was taking it to intensive care - she could have it back when it had a fighting chance to live. She didn't try to stop me.

I put the poor thing on my windowsill (I rated a cube with a window in those days) and tenderly nursed it for several months. It was slow to respond. but that ghost of green never went away, and eventually became stronger, spreading through the leaves until they were healthy and shiny again.

It took a while longer for it to be brave enough to put out new sprouts; to regain enough strength and trust to grow. At this point my conscience started bothering me, so I took the plant back down the aisle and offered it back to Anita, who graciously declined. She was not a bad sort, but her spot in the office just didn't offer the right sort of light for the plant to live.

Not at all sorry, I took it carefully back to my desk, and continued to water it and watch it grow. My little spot of green. It took at least another year, but the plant rewarded me with two brilliant red blossoms one dreary fall week.

When I left AT&T, the plant came with me. (Of course!) When I left home for my trip, I reluctantly handed it off into foster case - I knew it wouldn't thrive in the uncertain environment of the camper van. When I came home, I got it back - still healthy and green - moved it into my condo, then into my new house. It's still not fond of moving; not quite certain yet of this place. The light isn't quite right, and I haven't been able to find the perfect spot for it.

Still, now and again, it blooms. On its own schedule, watching the clock of Christmas in a world tied to ours but not visible to my senses or calendar.

Until, last week when the calendars synced up. I noticed a small tip of red on the end of just one branch. I watched carefully as it grew and swelled and finally burst into full flower - to my eyes, a bird just taking flight.

Somehow joyful.
Beauty in the darkest days of the year.
Color amidst the gray.
Light in the darkness.

** happy sigh **

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Cat Confusion

I think I'm over-identifying with the cats this morning.

A while back, I wrote about the battle I'd lost - Monster had decided the sink was not only a BOX, but even better, was a BOXWITHWATER! Since then, getting a drink from the trickling faucet has become his cherished morning ritual. He prowls the upstairs as I get ready each morning.  As soon as I set foot on the stairs, he zooms past me to get to the sink to await his drink. (I've added a daily note to self: take care on the stairs - if he hasn't already zoomed past, he will, and worry about my footing is not on his radar screen.)

It took Angel a while, but she got in on the action. She watched the ritual for about a month, then cautiously joined him in the sink, then not-so-cautiously.

I've managed to hold my line about the countertops being off limits, and they're really not a problem in the sink because as soon as the water is turned to full flow and starts splashing them, they're outta there.

I want to reuse the kitchen sink that came with the house.  It's the style I want, and is heavy-duty enough to last for some time. Unfortunately, we couldn't find a model number for it, so the countertop people were unable to pull a template to do their cutout. They're ready to begin fabrication and so asked us to pull the sink so they are sure to cut the proper sized hole.

You see where this is going.  Last night, Joe de-installed the sink so we could get it down to them. This morning, the cats got on the counter for their morning drink, looking desolately into the hole where the sink used to be. I let them look for a minute, and got them a bowl of fresh water to drink. They took a few polite laps, but then returned to looking at the hole, then at me, then back to the hole.

I needed to get ready for work, so shooed them off the counter, and started to pull my things together. The minute I turned away, they started to double-team me. One would jump up. While I removing him from the counter, the other would take a turn. They'd get up there and meow plaintively at me - what did you do with the BOXWITHWATER??? - winding unhurriedly but effectively away from me as I tried to dump them back on the floor.

Their confusion was clear. They like their morning drink and couldn't understand why the box was gone. They looked to me to fix it. I had no way to let them know this is a temporary loss, that the BOXWITHWATER will return sometime next week (along with new and improved countertops!)

I kind of feel the same way. Cancer has been messing with my treasured rituals all year - disturbing the balance of work-family-friends-leisure. I don't understand why, and would like it back the way it was. Please and thank you. Perhaps there is a larger picture beyond my ken, but I am unable to see it and am confused and a bit forlorn.

And here comes the trust thing, 'round again.

Because I have to believe there is a larger picture, that all of this will somehow get fit back in and the hole will be refilled. Not that it happened for a reason, I don't believe there are reasons for stuff like this, but that the Universe is on the side of life and will move to mend the rift as best it can.

Trust - I'm working on it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Thanksgiving

I'm working on the gratitude thing, I really am.

And, I am grateful.
The box explosion has been contained - almost everything has a home, and the stuff that doesn't is on its way out the door.
I have all my dishes back in the kitchen, and there's room in the cabinets.

But.

Cancer strikes again.

This time it's a friend I've known for some thirty years. He's about my age, and found out last week that he has a brain tumor. Still waiting to hear some of the details, but we know it's the spreading kind. They've operated, which has relieved some of the pressure on his brain, but weren't able to get all of it.

and, again, I find myself asking, "why him?"

He is a good man, he is honest. He goes to church and is kind to children. He loves art and sports and drives in the country and horses and does his best to do good and not harm in this world.

He doesn't deserve this - no one does.

He's been in the hospital for a couple of weeks already; first while they figured out what was up, then to recover from surgery. We've gone to visit him several times; have spent a lot of time talking about good food. They have him on a low-carb diet, which leaves him hungry. And since it's too hard to talk about the hard stuff, food is an easy topic. (I understand why they're adding insult to injury this way, but helped him skate around the edges of the rules on Thanksgiving.  The meal we put together for him was kinda-sorta low-carb - and the nurses all looked the other way. After they helped us reheat the plate so his dinner would be hot.)

So, I am grateful - for small pleasures able to smother large pains, if only for a short time. For a top-notch medical team - who are giving him the best care around. For laughter - we laugh anyways when I see him. For his faith - it is helping him through this.

Give thanks, always and for everything.
(that's in the Bible somewhere...)
I'm trying.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Boxes Again

It's been one of those things-have-got-to-get-worse-before-they-can-get-better kind of weekends.

OK - worse is probably a bad word for it.  How about messier?

We started Saturday by cleaning out my car's spot in the garage. The spot has been filled by the detritus from various and assorted projects since last spring. You know how it goes; you put something there just for right now, until you figure out a spot for it. Then, the something starts breeding. Next time you go out there, a box has grown next to it, then a pile of lumber. Add some spare parts and a pile of recycling or two, and the next thing you know, you can't even walk into the space, let alone park a car in there. But winter's coming and it was high time, so we tackled the piles and got the space cleared out.

Next, we needed to start on the things we've been storing in the neighbor's garage. (the breeding process there has been slower, but we've definitely been encroaching upon their space and need to get out of there.) To get our stuff out of their garage, I needed to have room for it in my house. Now the cabinets are almost done, I knew I could clear the rest of the kitchen boxes out of the porch/storage unit. While I was getting those boxes, I figured I should get the rest of the stuff I'd been ignoring out there while things were under construction.

I had more boxes out there than I realized.

**sigh**

But we persevered until the pile had been transferred into the main house. Now, I 'just' need to empty boxes. Again. Given that I haven't seen the things in these boxes for four years, I think a lot of it will just move right on out the door without passing Go. On the other hand, just looking at the labels, I know I'll find some lost treasures - the picture albums, my Nativity set (just in time for the holidays!), a picture I bought in Honduras.

Since I had more stuff in the porch than I'd realized, at least there's plenty of room out there for the furniture that's in the neighbor's garage. It's mostly chairs.  I didn't know I had a thing for chairs until it came time to move - and I moved over 20 chairs from the old house to storage and then to this one. Yes, I know I don't need all those chairs, but for some odd reason, I'm finding it hard to let them go. They can stay out there until Joe moves out and frees up the rest of the space for use as a room instead of storage. Then, they'll have to go. Period. I just hope the stuff from the garage fills the available space. We KNOW what will happen if there's room leftover out there...

This downsizing stuff is a little harder than I'd thought.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Now That's Done...

I went back up to Minnesota this week to help Kate through her latest, and we hope, her last surgery for a long, long, long while.

All went well; the surgery for the final implants is less of an insult to the body; the damage has already been done. As far as her body is concerned, the additional damage amounted to two deep cuts.

She fell in love with the anesthesiologist; plans to send him a declaration of her undying devotion. You see, he listened to her; tried a new combination of drugs - and she came out of the operating room not at all nauseous. A welcome and major change from her first surgery last February.

As we had before, we went down the day before surgery for her pre-op appointments. We were done there by two, so had a marvelous late lunch and indulged in some retail therapy to distract ourselves. Kate hit the wall just after we got to the hotel to check in; she's been fighting what she calls the Great Fatigue of 2015 for the past few weeks. (Sleeping twelve hours at night and another three during the afternoon. It seemed a bit extreme, so she went in for bloodwork last week. All came back as good, so we decided it was her body's way of healing.) Since she was so tired, instead of going out to dinner, we stayed at the hotel and enjoyed their complimentary soup for dinner.  It was canned minestrone, but we weren't complaining. It was hot.

About halfway through dinner, winter decided to make an appearance. The temperature dropped from the upper fifties to the upper thirties in just a few minutes, accompanied by strong winds and cold rain. At that point, the soup tasted a whole lot better - the fact I was there eating it meant I didn't have to face the storm.

The rain had abated by morning, but the wind was still fierce. Hers was the second surgery of the day; we didn't have to be to the hospital until 8, which gave us time for coffee on the way in. (They let her have black coffee the morning of the surgery. I didn't get coffee on surgery days - not fair!) The routine was familiar - check in, wait for a couple of hours, they take her away, wait for more hours, she comes back.all groggy and sore.

Only this time, there were no tubes, there was no sense of loss. In its place was a sense of completion. This surgery is the last piece of her active treatment; she's more than ready to close out this chapter of her life. Now, finally, she can finish healing and move on.

Next?
Next!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Cabinets

After I got back from Minneapolis, I set myself in a race against winter; I wanted my cabinets built before the weather changed. The fumes from the finish I've been using for the interior of the cabinets are lung-searing; the lacquer best applied outdoors. (I use it because it dries quickly, doesn't require sanding, soaks into the wood to protect it and is water resistant.)

I made good progress at first - having all my afternoons free helped a LOT; a benefit of the way I'd structured my job search process. But then I found work. In most ways this is a good thing, definitely eases worries about paying the bills, but it cuts deeply into available project work time. Especially when you take a week out to go to Montreal.

My long and easy afternoons were immediately compressed into the hour(s) of daylight left after returning home from work. Each evening, I'd change as soon as I came home and work until dark. Days shorten quickly during October - and once daylight savings time goes to sleep for the year, there is no such thing as daylight after work. The weather is also subject to change without notice from balmy to 40s-and-rain; too cold for finishes and glue to set properly. Which meant I needed to finish what I was going to finish before Halloween.

To be honest, I didn't think I'd make it. It's been several years since I exercised my woodworking skills. My steps stuttered; progress was slow. But I kept at it, and as is the way of such things, I looked around one day last week to realize that I was almost done. Done enough anyways - painting can be done indoors, and I don't really NEED cabinet doors right away, now do I?

Last weekend, Joe and I hauled the cabinets in, and got them installed - it went quickly; my measurements had been close enough; only a small amount of shoehorning was required to get them to slide into place. (**whew** big sigh of relief!)

The countertop people stopped by this morning. (They won't come out until the cabinets are set, and insist on taking all the measurements themselves. You supposed they were burned at some point?) She said I should have them installed within the month.  ?!?!!

Progress!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Slippin' Away

The weather this October has been beyond beautiful in Kansas City. The month has largely been a stream of sunny, temperate days with cool nights. With all the rain this summer, the fall colors are rivaling any I saw on my camper van trip. These past few weeks, I've found joy on my commute as I find a new most beautiful tree every morning and evening on my drive.

Yet, yet.

I've had the hardest time. Instead of just enjoying the season, I've found myself trying to hold tightly on to it. Of course I know that doesn't work; the beauty is slipping through my fingers as beauty does every time I try to hold it instead of enjoying it.

It almost brought me to tears the other day. Instead of enjoying the leaves and their beauty, all I could see was the trees as they will be in another month - devoid of leaves and color.

I KNOW better than this. I KNOW I can't hold on to beauty. But that hasn't stopped me from trying. And in trying, I'm missing the beauty here, today.

**sigh**

Time to remember that life changes and seasons change and though today's beauty can't be grasped and cannot last, I can best hold onto it by enjoying it - and letting it go. Tomorrow will hold beauty of its own, if I but remember to look for it.

Yes, even in the bare and brown trees, beauty is.
God Is.
I have only to seek, and I will find.
This, I firmly believe.
Now, I just have to DO it.

wish me luck.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Lost and Found

Not that I was much better when I was younger, but getting up at 3:30 AM doesn't sit so well with me these days. I was trying hard to be a good sport about it when I went to Montreal, but I was still draggy, even after napping on the first flight and having a good cup of coffee.

But, I wanted to make a good impression on my new coworkers, so I stopped in the Detroit airport to put in my contacts. I managed to get them in without dropping them down the drain OR onto the floor, so was feeling pretty proud of myself as I got on the second flight.  Makeup and everything; how much more uptown can you get.

The second flight was on a small plane - the kind with just two seats on each side of the aisle. As were all my flights that day, the flight was full, the bins crowded, so I had my carry-on under my seat. I got off the plane, no problem; gave no thought to the fact my water bottle seemed to slip more easily than it should have into its spot in my carry-on bag. (This is where I start blaming that god-awful early rising for my dulled senses...)

Sure enough, I got to the hotel to check in, and my all-important cosmetics bag was missing. You know, the one with all the stuff in it that you don't check because you REALLY don't want to lose it. My drugs were in that bag. My night guard (I'm an incurable nighttime teeth grinder - the guard prevents my teeth from actually grinding together, and has saved me from many a headache. It's also custom made to my mouth, and wasn't cheap.) My glasses.

I just about lost it. What was I doing in this stupid town starting a stupid new job anyways? I was tired. The day had been long already, and I still had to be nice to relative strangers (my new coworkers) for dinner. I should have...  I could have...  I had no idea where the bag had gone.

I told one of the guys about my lost bag, and he insisted on taking me to Wal-Mart where I could replace some of the essentials. There was nothing I could do about the drugs or the glasses, but I was able to get some toothpaste, contact lens solution and, bless their hearts, some disposable night-guards.  (I had no idea they made such things.)

I still wasn't happy with myself when I got back to the hotel, but had managed to calm me down enough to repeat to myself that what I'd lost was just stuff, and stuff can be replaced. With little hope of hearing back, I put in lost item claims to the Detroit airport and to Delta.

And I went on with my week. I never heard anything at all from the airport, and after a few days, while the folks at Delta assured me they were diligently searching for my lost items, they hadn't found it either. I gave up hope, and started making plans to see my eye doctor and dentist when I got home. I needed new glasses anyhow.  **sigh**

Then, as I was waiting in the airport for my return home on Friday, idly checking my email, there was another message from Delta. They'd found an item closely matching the description of the items I'd reported lost. I had 45 days to pay to have the item(s) shipped to my home, otherwise they would recycle them. I didn't wait 45 minutes, let alone 45 days - I was HAPPY to pay to have my lost bag returned to me.

I got the package in the mail on Wednesday - it was all there; every item that had been in the bag was still there. It even made me feel slightly better about the whole 3:30 AM thing. Slightly.

Still, next time I fly, that particular bag is getting its own zippered compartment in whatever bag I carry. Just sayin'.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Montreal

It's amazing how quickly old habits return.

I hadn't been on a working business trip in over a decade. There I was, in the airport at 5:15 AM. That means I was up at the ungodly time of 3:30. AM.  3:30 AM is either a time for tossing and turning or sleeping soundly. It is NOT a time when I should be out of bed any longer than it takes to relieve my bladder.

But there I was, waiting with the rest of the Monday morning business flyers for a plane to Detroit, then Montreal. The trip was routine - no major bumps in the air highways. I met up with two others also starting the same day with the same company in Detroit; we landed shortly after lunchtime, made it through customs without trouble, went to the hotel and dropped our bags, then headed to the office. You'll note I didn't mention where we stopped for lunch in there - that's because we didn't stop.

Finally, about 3:30 (PM, this time), my system rebelled. They were still talking, my brain was no longer processing. It was on strike until I fed it. I put my foot down, dragged everyone down to the cafeteria (fortunately, they stock good coffee there!) and got myself a sandwich. Back to work we went, finally finishing up for the day around 7:30.  By the time we went out to find a place to eat, it was after nine, and the only thing that sounded reasonably good that was still open was a fast food burger place. (I got a vegetarian burger, in case you're curious.) Oh, the glamour of it all!

I got a bit more food the rest of the trip, but as had been true in my long-ago, didn't have the energy to get out and see anything of the city besides the customer location, the hotel and the airport. I'm happy to report the hotel (Ruby Foos) was lovely, the customer's building within walking distance so I didn't have to risk my life driving in Montreal traffic - they're cut-throat up there, just in case anyone thought Canadians were laid back and easy going... The flight home was delayed as every flight I've ever been on that went through the Atlanta airport on a Friday evening, but was otherwise uneventful.

All of the above exactly matched my old memories of flying on business. I love visiting new places on vacation; would happily avoid business travel for the rest of my days. It falls under the heading of 'necessary evils' in my book. Fortunately, I'm slated to travel very little in my new job. If nothing else, this trip served to remind me that the life of a road-warrior is not for me.

My bed felt REALLY good by the time I hit it in the wee hours of Saturday morning.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Heigh, Ho!

Heigh ho, heigh ho,
It's off to work I go...

I leave tomorrow morning for training in Montreal. Bright and early. as in, the flight leaves at 6:19. AM. It's going to be quite a shock to my system. I've done pretty well at keeping to a work-like-ish schedule while I've been between jobs, but going from sleeping in to getting up at 4 to catch the flight is stretching the boundaries.

As much as I detest getting up in the middle of the night, I appreciate that the flight is on Monday morning instead of Sunday night. I have done this before and know it makes sense to start the day in my glasses and wait to put in my contacts until I change planes in Detroit. I can get some more sleep on that first flight, and will be reasonably well rested by the time I get to Montreal. It's always fun to visit new cities; I've checked the weather, it's supposed to be beautiful. (I was in Montreal once, for a short visit; I remember it as a beautiful city.)

I'll get to meet my new teammates, who are also new to the company, and learn more about the project we'll be working on - it should be an interesting trip.

I had great plans to spend this last week off winding up some projects around here. I did some of that, but spent much of the week procrastinating.  Who knows when I'll next get to just lie down on the bed and enjoy the purring cat? Or will be able to take time to stop to read a book in the middle of the morning? The work will still be here when I get back from my trip, I'm sure.

I've had so little control over the timing of my activities this year; they've been dictated by the winds of illness and healing. September's weather is my favorite of the year - if I were to choose a month to have lots of free time, it would be my first choice. And so I am grateful my down time came last month.

I'm doing my best not to spend today fretting about tomorrow. There's something about starting a new job that brings me back to the first day of seventh grade. What if they don't like me? What if I don't like them? What if the work is too hard? What if the work is too easy?

At least now I'm not worried about being able to find my locker.
and I'm pretty sure I'll be able to find the right classroom.
It's all good.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

And... I'm Employed

Just like that?
Just like that.
Can it really be so easy?

I've settled into a nice routine here, looking for work in the mornings, working on the house in the afternoon.

Thursday followed the normal mode. I was still wearing my job-hunting hat after lunch; there were just a few more places I wanted to look into. As I was paging through one of the job hunt sites, one of the ads I'd skimmed over caught my eye. The job description was generic, but right up my alley, so I sent them a note, attached my resume, and moved on.

About an hour later, the phone rang. It was Jasmin, from the company with the job ad, and wanted to talk to me about my application. We talked for about ten minutes about my background and her company and decided that yes, this could possibly work.  I asked her, "where do we go from here?" At this point, I still thought she was one a front-line recruiter, who would then pass on my information to the hiring manager. It wasn't until she said, "Well, at this point we usually do a technical interview, but I don't see any need for that in your case, so you'll receive an offer from us in 2-3 hours" that I realized I'd been mistaken.

An offer?
Wait!
I didn't know this was the interview, I was just asking questions!
Wait!
I forgot to be nervous!

Sure enough, about three hours later, I got a phone call from them with an offer. We talked for just a bit, he sent the paperwork across. I took a look at it with fresh eyes in the morning, and after just a bit of negotiation, I accepted the job.

I start next Monday. They're a small consulting firm; I'll be working on one of their larger contracts.

---------------

I've been trying to enjoy this last week of relative freedom before jumping with both feet back into a sea of work.  Haven't made much progress; I'm eminently distractable. Before I stalled us out, Joe was making great progress on the new flagstone patio (see photo above - I'm going to LOVE the final results!); I was starting to build the kitchen cabinets. I still hope to get one or two more of them done this week.

It's all happened so fast; I don't think my mind has quite caught up with me.
Ready or not, here I go!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Twitch, Twitch

There's something about this job search process that's set the bottom lid of my right eye to twitching.

I've a more-or-less schedule going here; I look for work in the morning, work on my projects in the afternoon. I've heard looking for work is a full-time job, but I don't have the focus needed to look at job listings all. day. long.

I've set myself some simple goals - apply to at least one job each day, follow up on previous openings, look for contacts to help me get beyond the job board application black hole. I start each morning with a full cup of coffee and a fresh attitude. I pull up the listings, and start reading. There are a lot of jobs out there, it takes time to sort through the requirements to find the ones with possibilities of being a good match. About an hour later, the words start to blur. Twitch. I find myself looking at the listings, paging through without actually comprehending a word. which means I have to go back and look through them again, because some of the are the sort of work I'm targeting. Twitch.

I fill out an application, try to answer the questions well, try to come up with a short, snappy, relevant cover letter that will have the hiring manager dropping everything to call to snatch me up for their job before one of their competitors gets smart and beats them to the punch. Repeat.

About this time, the twitching is becoming downright annoying. Twitch. Oh, settle down, Janice. Twitch. This isn't so bad. Twitch. Look, here's somewhere new to look. Twitch. You can picture yourself here, can't you?  Twitch, twitch, twitch.

Fine. that's enough for today, let's pick this up in the morning. (twitch subsides almost immediately)

I'll be glad when I find work.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Be Nice!

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with people who come through the short-term rental place next door, and most of the hate part stems from the shared driveway. The drive is narrow, and there's not a lot of room on their side of the road to maneuver once you get up it. Often, the guests will drive on up - and only then realize how little wriggle room there is to get back down, especially when we have our cars parked on our side. And, since many of them are from out of town, they are driving unfamiliar vehicles.

Earlier this summer, when I was not in an especially good space anyways given all that was going on with Kate, one of them managed to ding up my downspout on their way down the drive. I talked to the owners about it, they offered to fix it (they're good about such things), but I turned them down, figuring it's only a matter of time before someone does it again.

I tried to set it aside, but somewhere in my mind, I was still fuming. Not so much over the ding as over the unwillingness of some theoretically responsible adults to own up to the messes they've made. I thought of varying ways to protect my property - one of those concrete columns protecting the gutter came to mind, or perhaps a big railroad tie along the side of the house. I couldn't come up with anything that wouldn't inconvenience me as much as it would my unwitting neighbors, so I went to Minnesota and let it go.

Mostly.

I came home, and sure enough, the dent I'd told them not to try to repair was still there. (duh!) I found myself tarring all the temporary neighbors with the same brush, looking at them with suspicion and distrust. The first group made it easy - a group of self-absorbed twenty-somethings using the house as their wedding prep site. There were a lot of them, and sure enough, they managed to park two cars out back, blocking the drive so we had to get them to move one of the cars so we could get out.

I was working in the yard this weekend when the latest group pulled in.  Still wary, I watched them pull a good-sized SUV into the yard. But then, but then. The father came over to introduce himself and say hello. They are in down for a few days from New Mexico, so their son can see one of the Children's Mercy doctors for continuing treatment of severe scoliosis. The mother came to introduce herself with a big smile and a compliment for the work I was doing in the yard. Even the teenage daughter smiled. And the son, the son who will deal with the same health problems his life long that plagued my good friend Charlie, looked up from his e-toy and flashed me a smile that echoed the one I miss so much on Charlie's face. They proceeded to get into their car - she stood outside to carefully guide it safely down the narrow channel, and since then, have parked on the street.

Makes it hard for a girl to hold a grudge. Just sayin'.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Home!

The hoped-for job didn't come through (there were some teasers in there - recruiters called with good jobs last week, but neither of them materialized) and so, with decidedly mixed feelings, I headed back home last weekend, with Kate, Alexandra and my niece Juliann in tow.

We packed up and headed on out last Friday morning. The drive down was the best kind - uneventful - we got here in time for dinner. Our weekend turned into a whirlwind of get-togethers. Kate is well loved, and her friends here wanted to see her; to see with their own eyes that she is on the mend; to touch her and share their care.

They left Sunday afternoon, leaving the house way too quiet behind them. No toys scattered on the floor, no ice cream for breakfast and lunch, no soft small cheek to give one last kiss goodnight to as I head to bed myself.  I miss them.

But it's also good to be home. To see the butterfly garden in all its weedy glory (the plants stand four feet tall!), to check on my green tomatoes (why are mine still green? the rest of the world's tomatoes are ripened and eaten by now!), to sleep in my own bed.

Despite my time job searching in Minnesota, yesterday was the first day that felt like I should have been at work and wasn't. I guess, to my heart, the rest of the time since I left in July doesn't count because it was just an extension of the times I'd been running up there to help Kate through the aftermath of her chemo treatments.

Yesterday, I slept in a bit, just because I could. I lingered over my coffee, just because I could. I enjoyed the quiet of the house; the company of the cat who is thinking about forgiving me for my long absence. Oh yeah, I also started to look for work.

As good as it was to spend time in Minnesota, and it was good, it's good to be home.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

State Fair

I'm not one for big crowds, but I've always heard how much people LOVE going to the Minnesota State Fair. Since Kate's current apartment is closer to the fairgrounds than most of the attendees get to park, since I'm currently between jobs so my days are not full of mandated activity, and since this looked to be the only year both these things will be true, I pushed my grumbly self out the door yesterday morning just as the booths opened.

I figured it was a rocking chair thing. A small one, but still. When I'm ninety, and about all I can do is sit in my rocking chair and think back over my life, when I think about this juncture, will I be glad I did this or sorry? Will I be sad I didn't take this chance, or relieved that mischance had passed me by?

In this case, I decided I'd be sorry I'd missed the chance.  And so I went, and I'm glad I did.

I came in through one of the back gates, into the swine barn first thing, and was captivated by the pigs.  Pink, black, spotted, most of them sleeping.  A few enterprising souls were up, trying to get the latches on their cages open.  Not so stupid, pigs.

From the pig barn, I walked on through to see the cows, the horses, the sheep, then onto the main streets of the fair, where can be purchased a large variety of foods on a stick.  The people watching was even better than the animal watching.  I pulled up a comfy section of curb and sat and watched the world go by. It was still early in the day, so folks were in good humor. The weather was good, they were excited and happy to be at the fair. I saw lots of crowding, but very few scowls at the inevitable bumps as those who decided to stop and change direction without signalling collided with those not quite watching their step as they conversed and got distracted by the fried cheese curd booth on the far left.

I wandered through the merchandise booths (didn't find anything I couldn't live without), went to the newborn life building and oohed with the rest of the crowd at the newborn lambs, stopped in the coliseum to watch the border collie herding trials.  I bought a fresh pretzel.  (I don't think it counts as going to the fair if you don't purchase at least one item of food.)  I didn't stay all day - couldn't; my feet won't take the punishment these days - but headed home mid-afternoon, a bit hot and tired and grubby, happy with my decision to see the fair.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Discouraged

When is it time to say when?

For this section of my life's adventure, I've rather arbitrarily picked next weekend to go on home.

My job search up here has petered out.  I had lots of good conversations with recruiters, but never unlocked the key to actually getting to talk to a hiring manager.  I've quit looking - time is not on my side if I want to be home by spring.  The shortest consulting contracts are generally six months - and six months from now puts me into March.  By March, God willin' and the crick don't rise, Kate will be done with school and moving on with life.

It's tough to say done.  I'd hoped to be up here until the year's end, to see this through.  It feels like I'm quitting in the middle, and I hate quitting in the middle.  But economics enter the equation somewhere in here, and I don't have the wherewithal to stop work forever.  And if I can't find short term work, I'd prefer the long term job be on my home turf.

With all this running through my mind last night, I had a hard time getting to sleep.  Sometimes when this happens, it's effective for me to pull out my childhood bedtime prayers.  As a child, I never saw the prayers written.  I memorized the sounds, and so each night would dutifully pray:

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give you my lass dagony.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, mevreeforth my soul in peace with you.  Amen.

I had no idea what a dagony was, nor why only lasses had them - and why did the boys say the prayer if they didn't have dagonys to give?  I also wasn't sure what mevreethforth meant, but knew it had to be a good process, since I ended in peace with Jesus, Mary and Joseph if I managed to figure out how to do it.

I quit saying the prayers sometime before Mom died; I was well into my thirties before they came to mind again, and I realized the actual prayer was:

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give you my last agony.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, may I breathe forth my soul in peace with you.  Amen.

Makes a bit more sense this way.
But that hasn't stopped me from working on mevreeforthing my soul.
I'm all about Peace.
Amen.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Weddings

Two weddings in two weeks.

At the first, we got there early, and went into the bride's room to talk for just a bit. There Haley sat, beautiful in her dress, radiating joy from every pore. She had dreamed of this day; this day, her dream became reality. The simple ceremony brought tears to my eyes - her love shone as she repeated the words that bound her to Terrell.

We had to travel to the second ceremony. It was more elaborate; lots of attendants, a big family do. The day of the wedding, hair and makeup took up a good portion of the day. (Kate and Alexandra were both part of the ceremony, so were included in all the pre-wedding hoopla - Kate and Shrika have been friends since preschool.) I love to watch Shrika's family. They're loud, joyful, loving, chaotic. The wedding reflected their essence.

As I watched, I spent some time reflecting on love. Between brides and grooms. Between parents and children. Between friends. Sometimes, it's clearly visible, trumpeting its presence. Sometimes, it's quiet, expressed by a tender sideways glance, neatly clasped hands under a table. Always, it's what helps me make it through the dark times.

Someone once called weddings a triumph of hope over experience. I like the part where hope wins in life. It would be easy to be cynical - at my age, I've seen a lot of marriages fail. But I've also seen a lot of marriages work. Some that seemed doomed from the start twenty-plus years ago are still going strong. Sometimes, love wins. I like that part, too.

I like that part especially well.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

On the Fence

Just before I came up to Minnesota, I went to a ballgame featuring the Royals against the Twins. I didn't know who to root for, my loyalties were pretty evenly divided, my adopted home against my childhood one. Every time either team did anything good, I cheered. Made me popular with the surrounding fans, let me tell you, especially since the Twins won.  (Go, team!)

I feel the same way about the current state of my job search.  I'm quickly coming to a point where I need to either land a job here or go back home and start looking there.

I've had some success here, there are currently three job options that are not yet dead. (I'm finding jobs in the world of consulting move quickly and am learning a lot about looking for work - this is the first time I've actually looked for a job since starting with AT&T, which was quite some time ago.)

Every time someone calls me back, I feel a little thrill. Maybe, this time, this one will come through; I just need one! I start to plan how I'll fit the job into my days here with Kate and Alexandra.

Every time the job falls through, I feel a little thrill. I'll go back home to Kansas City after Labor Day. I can pick up the pieces of my abandoned project, start to look for work there. I'm fairly sure I'll be able to find something once I am willing to broaden my search parameters.

I'm rarely this balanced in my life. The options pull more-or-less equally. I'd love to stay here, extend my time with my family. I'm even willing to face a Minnesota winter for the first time in eons - though I may regret that part come the middle of January. I'd love to go back home, pick up the pieces with my friends and house and family there.

It's not a bad spot to be, if I do say so myself.  Either way, I'm good!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Ordinary Days

In the past year and a bit, with some help from that damn shot, my joints have gotten a bit creaky. I can still move as long as I'm careful, but running is definitely out. For good.

I took Alexandra for a walk yesterday to see if I could help her burn some energy. We walked up the hill to a big green space on the St. Paul campus. We climbed on the statues of the bulls, following in the tradition of many before us, as evidenced by the shiny spots on the metal where the good launching off points are.

She still had some energy, so I gave her a challenge, to run across the park to the far side and back. Of course, she did. Of course, my heart hitched a bit as I watched the ease and abandon with which she ran.

These have been quiet days, good days. Kate continues to mend, more slowly than she'd like but faster than many would. (does anyone ever heal fast enough to suit themselves?  no one I know...) I do my part by doing the housework, laundry and any lifting. (her weight limit is still 10 lbs.) I wake each morning to the cheerful sounds of Alexandra starting her day.

Last weekend, we went to my niece's long-anticipated wedding. It was beautiful; I cried my way through it, just because the bride was so happy. Her whole being sparkled with joy. As a bonus, all of my siblings were there - it so rarely happens we took a picture, for proof.

The weekend before was another family reunion; I spent time studying the faces around me, fascinated by the marks time has left on the once-smooth faces.  My cousins and I are now the ages our parents were when we were teens.  How can it be?

Ordinary days, good days.  These are the days I'd hold tight if I could figure out a way to keep them close.

Monday, August 3, 2015

A Good Place to Land

Kate was not so sure about moving into graduate student housing. The buildings do not have the character of the apartment we've left.  However, it hasn't taken her long to adjust to the new digs. They're small, but the space is functional.  There are some good-sized closets and while the space isn't notable, it's clean and well maintained.

Things are a bit snug here; the three of us are sharing two bedrooms.  As we were moving boxes in, my brother pointed to one of the closets and said, "if I was Alexandra, I'd want to sleep there!"  The closet in question is a 3/4-closet; the floor is about two feet above the rest of floor level.  It's a perfect cave for a small person.  When given the option to sleep there, Alexandra jumped on it.  One of those win-win situations: She gets the coolest bed ever, and the room feels bigger with just one bed taking up floor space.

One of the best parts about this place is the overall building layout; they're set up to form rings, with a large green space behind each set of buildings. It's green, it's quiet, there are no cars, we can watch it from the dining room windows. For the first time ever, Alexandra can just go outside to play by herself.  (She's not quite sure she likes the option.)

This will be a good place for Kate to stay while she finishes up grad school.  The other place had more character and some gorgeous woodwork, but was it decaying, and surrounded by decay.  The landlords around there are more interested in making money than beautifying the neighborhood. I didn't realize how much looking out dirty windows at rotting roofs and peeling paint bothered me until I was giving the place a final cleaning. I was sad for the fading beauty, I wanted to stop and fix it and make it all better; give it something more than the cheap cover-up fix the landlord will give it. *sigh* It was once a good home; it's for sale - perhaps it will one day be beautiful again.

For us, moving on, I think we have landed well. This will be a good place to study, to heal.  A temporary, but well-suited home.

Sometimes, the Universe knows what it's doing when it starts nudging.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Moving On

Sometimes, the Universe gives us a nudge, then follows up.  For example, tomorrow's move. On the surface, it makes no sense for Kate to move now.  She's two weeks out of surgery, almost done with grad school. She's been here for six years, and it's been fine.

Nudge: I was here in early June for one of Kate's chemo trips.  I ran into her landlord while doing laundry in the basement.  He told me he's putting the building up for sale, and wanted everyone on year-long leases starting in July, or they'd have to move out at the end of the month.  In rather indignant tones, I told him he couldn't kick Kate out in the middle of chemo!  He backed down, but just a bit; extended her move deadline to the end of July.

Nudge:  Kate checked with grad student housing; they normally have a three to four month waiting list.  But a slot for her magically opened up for August 1st,

Nudge:  The upstairs plumbing broke here.  The landlord fixed it, sorta, but there's now a bulge in the wall behind the cheap wallboard he installed over the plaster.  Now I have a hard time breathing in the bathroom. I am sensitive to mold.  Coincidence?  I think not.

Nudge:  Just this week, they've started a large construction project across the street.  They're clanking, beeping, raising dust and taking down trees as I type.  (I know the trees, at least some of them, are weed trees, growing along the property line, but I still cringe every time I hear the crack of the healthy wood fall under the ax.  I have to admit, I'm not convinced trees don't have souls.  I want to run out, like the Lorax, and speak for the trees, but know resistance would be futile.  **sigh** All I can do is to send them a quick prayer of thanks for the shade they've provided here for the past years, the buffer they've provided between the windows and an ugly parking lot view.  Goodbye, trees!)

Kate's still got a ten pound weight limit, but my sister's coming to sit on her during the move. A grand team is assembled and ready to help tomorrow and also with unpacking on Friday.

Ready, set, MOVE!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Rapid Healing

Score:
Youth and Fitness:  1
Chemo and Surgery:  0

Yup.  Turns out that if you're young and in good shape you can bounce back from surgery more quickly than you'd dared to hope.

We went back down to Rochester last Thursday for Kate's followup appointments.  Her drainage output had dropped to a safe level, and they had no compunctions about removing the painful drainage tube.  (They put the tubes in when they remove body parts to collect the nutrients your body sends to nourish the parts it hasn't yet figured out have gone missing.)

Within a couple of hours of yanking the tube the pain lines at the corners of her eyes had eased.  She slept well that night, and has continued to rapidly heal.  Her brain is back in motion and the biggest challenge of the upcoming weeks will be to remember the 10 pound weight limit on lifting.  

She is most appreciative of her baby breasts.  They'll get filled to size over the next few months, but she is happy for now to have regained balance in her chest.  It turns out that the prosthesis is uncomfortable and heavy and that women's clothing is designed for more-or-less equality in the chest.  Neither of these facts are a surprise to anyone, I'm sure.  (She is giving me a new appreciation for my own barely-appreciated implants.  Perhaps if I'd gone without for a while, I'd be more tolerant of them.)

Perhaps the biggest relief has been the lifting of the chemo fog that has dogged her steps for the last three months.  Finally, she is able to plan, to think without becoming overwhelmed within the first fifteen minutes.  She can talk to her friends without exhausting herself; can venture out of the house for social engagements.  She is taking baby steps on her long-delayed thesis.  She can't work for long periods again, but at least she can work.  The words on the page make sense!

Hope Is.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Surgery Successful, Again!

Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN
Last week was long.  

We headed down to Rochester on Tuesday afternoon so we could be there bright and early for Kate's round of doctor appointments on Wednesday.  After we'd gotten to town and found some dinner, Kate suggested we go find a liquor store so we could have a goodbye party for her breast.  I was a bit taken aback, Kate rarely drinks, but was happy to drive her there. We walked in, and I started looking at the wines and fruit beers. Kate headed straight for the whiskey. I recalibrated, and we ended up with a great tequila and peach/raspberry Grand Marnier. We headed back to the hotel and had a fine toast to thank her body for carrying her this far.

Wednesday's appointments were much less stressful than those for the previous surgery; dare I say they were routine? We'll cut here, these are the risks, these are the benefits, are you sure you have considered this option?  No party on Wednesday night; reality had sunk in and alcohol had no appeal. None.  We had a quiet night.

Her surgery was first of the day on Thursday, which meant we got to be at the hospital with the dawn; our check-in time was 5:45. We got there on time, she was properly in the systems so check-in was painless, and then we got to wait. They took her downstairs about 7:30, and I promptly ran out for coffee (it seemed a little rude to pick it up before then and drink it in front of her...).

They started operating just before nine, and that's when the day got long and I suddenly wished I'd thought to have someone come down for the day. I could have used some moral support; someone to talk to and to help stop the nightmare litany running through my head listing all the bad things that can come out of surgery. (Even routine surgery that doesn't involve chopping off body parts.) I found a quiet corner to curl up in and a jigsaw puzzle to distract me. It helped, but then I went to grab a bite of lunch and when I came back, someone had picked up the puzzle and put all the pieces back in the box. I didn't have the heart to start over again, so I sat back and closed my eyes and tried to think positively. It didn't work so well.

Fortunately for my overactive imagination, surgery went smoothly and they finished right on schedule. It took over an hour for her to come up to her room from recovery, but when I finally laid eyes on her again, I was pleasantly surprised. She wasn't nauseous in the least.

From then until now, recovery has been smooth. Despite her chemo-ridden body, it's been smoother than last time; far better than either of us had dared to hope  It turns out that if you never get nauseous, don't mess up tissue by digging for lymph nodes and don't get a massive butt bruise so you can't sleep comfortably, you recover more quickly.

She's still on a steady dose of pain meds, and will be until her drain comes out later this week, but other than that, she's already rarin' to go.  At her insistence, we went for a slow 2 mile walk yesterday, and when we got back, she was tired but felt better for having gotten out.  She hadn't overdone it at all. We won't talk of the state of my nerves - I was sure, after the first few blocks, that she was going to keel over and then I'd have to explain to the imaginary jury why I'd gone along with her idea to get out just three days post-surgery. I was glad to be wrong.

This week, we just wait for her to recover. Her marvelous friends have again signed up to bring food, so that's off the worry list. Her hair has begun to come back in; there's a black stubbly shadow on her previously bald head.  Her energy has begun to return, I think she has turned the corner on this battle. (insert huge sigh of relief!)

Hope Is!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Marching Band

It was a normal Saturday night here at Kate's apartment in Minneapolis. I was reading a bit while Kate read Alexandra her bedtime story.  Glancing out the window, I saw what looked to be a marching band filing into the normally-empty-on-weekends parking lot across the street.  I read for a bit more, then my curiosity got the best of me, and I went outside and across the street to see what was going on.

Turns out there was a big competition at the U of M stadium just under a mile away, and they were there for warm-ups.  I thought for about three seconds, then went back inside to see if Alexandra wanted to come outside and watch them for a bit.  Something to delay bedtime?  She was in!

Back outside we went.  There were about 150 young people in the lot, moving in an impressive display of synchronization.  All horns - trumpets, mellophones, tubas and euphoniums (I learned something, I didn't know there were mellophones...).  They didn't play much, but what a sound when they did!  The band is based in California, called the Blue Devils.  The students, ages 15 to 21, come from all around the country.  They start their summer in early May with 9 to 9 practices (?! No wonder they're good!), and end just before school begins.

I thought Alexandra would get bored with the rehearsal, but she loved it.  Her eyes sparkled, she was full of questions, loved the sectionals with the sound of the higher toned trumpets drifting across the lot in counterpoint to the bass euphoniums in front of us. The band members responded well to their audience of two, and came over to talk with her. She got shy, wouldn't talk to the nice conductor (the conductors are also students; he is studying accounting at a university in south Florida) who offered to let her touch the white feathers on his hat AND the sequins on his sleeve, but rather just looked at him with wide, wondering eyes.

They were only there for about 45 minutes; we stood and waved and wished them luck as they filed out.  As I looked down at Alexandra's shining face, I was glad I had indulged my curiosity bump - I would have been sorry to miss this glimpse into the lives of the members of a touring marching band. (Note to self:  keep paying attention to what's going on across the street!)

Monday, July 6, 2015

Run in Circles

When in trouble,
When in doubt,
Run in circles, 
Scream and shout!

That's me this week.

My last day at Cristo Rey was last Thursday.  I leave town tomorrow.  In between, I've been busy saying a temporary goodbye (again) to friends and attempting to celebrate the 4th with my old neighborhood. (that last was a serious fail - I gave up shortly after lunch and went home and slept for two hours.)  I've been trying to get my house in order so I can comfortably leave. Simultaneously practicing some serious procrastination - I really don't want to spend another day driving.

And in my spare time, I've been reflecting again on how life can turn on a dime.  There is an 18 year-old in a local hospital.  He will lose his eye after a careless moment with fireworks.  I am sending my prayers.  I am also guiltily thankful the young man is not someone I know; grateful, this time, my circle of loved ones was not the target of life's arrow of misfortune.

One moment, all is OK. The next, life makes us retrench. The cataclysmic events come without warning. senseless. entropy making its mark? I know better than to ask why; there are no answers. but I ask anyways.

Awareness that life and health are not givens comes back in full force - and I am thankful for the good things in my life. I have friends and family to stand beside me. My brain works. All my moving parts are more-or-less functional.

Love Is. God Is.
even when the bad times come. as they do, into every life.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Family and Grace

Geneseo Methodist Church, Buckingham, IA
This last weekend brought us up to central Iowa for a family reunion - my mother's side of the family.  My brother Tony brought us together - he'd gotten tired of only seeing this group when they were sad, at funerals.  It was a marvelous idea; a good time was had by all.

We spent the night nearby, then came back the next morning for church.  (My sister-in-love, Christie, is the pastor there.)

It was a good service - the praise band was joyful, I was enjoying watching Tony and Maggie, his daughter, sing. When it came time for prayers and concerns, one woman sent prayers to a group of breast cancer survivors she'd recently seen at a run - she was impressed by their numbers and their courage. I added my own prayer - I am looking forward to the day when Kate will be well enough to run in her own pink shirt.

Christie explained a little of the background to the congregation, we all prayed, and the service moved on.

The next song was about God with us and making it through the hard times with God's help.  Maggie started it, her eyes swimming with tears.  Then Tony broke down - as true pros, he and Maggie took turns with the parts where they couldn't sing, the parts where the words spoke too deeply, creating a beautiful back-and-forth duet. My tears overflowed; Rita and Joe, next to me, also had silent tears running down their faces.  Kate had been there at the reunion, rockin' her bald head, and right then, we all faced the reality that while she's almost very positively without doubt going to be just fine, there's this slight possibility.  and that possibility cannot be faced without tears from those who love her.

Fortunately for us, the prayers and concerns part came near the end of the service. We all came together on the altar and had a great big soggy group hug. Someone found tissues. Facing our fears and tears together, sending our prayers and love to Kate, sharing a moment immersed in God's healing Grace. I won't try to speak for the others, but when my tears ran out, Grace remained.

God Is.  Grace Is.  Healing Is.

(Christie later commented that God's Spirit must be partial to the Kimberly-Clark corporation - tears so often accompany the Spirit's presence.  True, that...)

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Chemo Truck: Round IV

There's something about the fourth round, in Kate's case, the last round (we hope. for a very, very long while, at least), that has made it easier to endure.  The nausea, the aches, the pains, all came back, but this time,

Hope whispers...  this time, when she begins to get better, she can keep getting better.  She won't get knocked down again in three weeks.

Hope whispers...  yes, she still has another mastectomy to get through (scheduled for mid-July) - but excision is not poison, and the recovery will be easier.

Hope whispers...  and when she recovers then, we hope the cancer will stay away forever.

Hope whispers...  without the toxins fogging her brain, she can begin to think again, and finish the last three months of work she has to do on her thesis.  The last three months that have been waiting for her since December.

Hope whispers...  graduation will follow the completion of her thesis.  a nine year odyssey will be over; new adventures beckon.

Hope whispers...  recovery.  It's a beautiful star, beckoning her on.  Her energy will return.  She can leave the pain and fog behind.  She can return to her previously interrupted life.

Hope whispers...

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Picker Upper

Today I had a hard time finding my happy place.

Fears and worries kept coming to the fore - too many changes, coming too quickly for me to be at ease with them.

I was doggedly keeping at it anyways - activity generally works to bring me around, especially if I'm actually accomplishing something.  And I was, accomplishing something that is, but I was still grumpy and out of sorts.

Joe and Rita (yes, they're still happily dating) dallied their way through the morning and coming home from church.  I was busy fretting; the neighbor's fence needed replacing and I wanted to get it done today.  I was worried about rain and heat and and and and.  They finally got home, and we got to work - and the job was done in less than three hours.

Why were replacing the neighbor's fence you ask?  Well, it's not because I'd run out of projects around here, trust me.  Partly it was just because it really needed replacing, and they weren't going to be able to do it on their own any time soon.  Partly it was because their back yard is where we dumped the parts of our own fence that we weren't going to use, and a couple of weeks after we'd dumped it over, I realized she didn't have the tools or experience to replace it herself.  She'd welcomed the material - but needed more than that to get the job done. I felt vaguely guilty for just throwing it at her without making sure she was able to use it, and I wanted to set things right.

Somewhere in the time we were replacing the fence, my bad mood evaporated.  The new fence looks SO much nicer than the old; it felt good to be able to be a good elf.

Halfway through dinner there was a knock on the door. It was our neighbor, back from her day's activities, beaming her thanks. Which was thanks enough for me, but then about an hour later, she was back - with a plate of freshly baked cookies and a thank you note.  She said we're her heroes - it's nice to get to be somebody's hero...  and cookies.  cookies are good.

A most effective anti-depressant.  I highly recommend it.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Stop. Breathe. Relax.

Portland Rose Garden
I have turned into a true Missourian.  It had to happen eventually; I've been here thirty years.  It's sad, but I succumbed.  Yesterday, I turned on the air conditioner.  Not to get cooler, no, but to get rid of some of the humidity in the air.  I couldn't stand it.  (today, I would have turned it on to cool the air anyhow - poof!  it's summer out there; humid and upper 80's...)

It's been a rainy spring.  We see the sun just often enough to not go stir-crazy, but it rained almost every day in May.  The ground is so saturated the neighbor's yard was bubbling water like a spring several hours after the rain had stopped after a heavy rain earlier this week.

I got up early this morning, decided to go for a walk.  When I was on the road, my sister gave me a shirt with my mantra emblazoned on it:  Stop  Breathe  Relax.  I'd put it on this morning; it took me a bit to realize why people were smiling at me as I walked.  I ran into one gentleman twice on my circuit of the park.  As I passed him a second time, he said, "I listened the first time I saw you.  Thank you."

And I began to slow down a bit myself.  To enjoy the building heat, the people on the paths.  To consciously breathe.  And I felt my shoulders loosen a bit as they came down an inch or two.  I noticed my legs and feet, carrying me without complaint.  I noticed the blue of the sky against the green of the trees.  (with all the rain, it's REALLY green around here)

It was nice to take a break from the tension of my days.  There's change in the air in my life.  I'm leaving Cristo Rey at the end of the month.   I want to go to Minnesota for a while to help Kate until she gets better.  I'm not sure if that will happen, but signs are promising.  There's a part of me that's gibbering in fear because I leave my job in two weeks, but haven't yet lined up another one.  There's another part of me that's trusting that I'm doing the right thing, and believes the work will come if I'm supposed to be up there.

Stop.  Breathe.  Relax.
Trust?

Friday, May 29, 2015

Chemo Bus, Round III

Kate and I have decided that one should NOT be required to voluntarily walk oneself into chemo sessions.  Especially this last one, where she knew what she was in for.  They should have to dispatch at least two burly guys to drag a person in.  preferably handsome ones.

But, unfortunately, that's not how it worked.  She walked herself in at the appointed time and presented her arm for her dose of toxins. The experience, near as I can tell, did not improve with repetition.

The part that WAS better was that they were out of chairs; it was a busy afternoon at the chemo factory.  They ended up putting her into an actual room; the one generally reserved for really sick people.  It was quiet.  She could lie there and meditate.  She'd taken her anti-anxiety meds before she went in, so was able to not worry about it all; she could accept it and let it go.  (isn't modern chemistry great?)

The experience of these last few days has been much like the last round three weeks ago.  She turns green-ish on a regular basis.  Drugs, yoga, sleep - all these help.  People bring food - that helps a lot. Having Alexandra here to laugh and cry and just be her almost-four-years-old self - that brings the long-term into perspective, and Kate remembers just why she's subjecting herself to this ordeal.

I think in some ways this third round will be the hardest one.  Like your junior year in school or the 3/4 turn on the mile track, you're past the halfway point, but the finish line is not yet in sight.  You're bruised and battered, yet need to somehow marshal energy to finish the race.

She's going to make it through. She had a fever the first day, but managed to fight it off before it got dangerously high. She aches; her sense of taste is gone again - the treatment has started to settle into a familiar rhythm; she has some idea of what to expect.

Yesterday, today, tomorrow - these will be the hard days.  Then she has two weeks to gather her strength for the final round.

Prayers accepted and welcomed...

Saturday, May 23, 2015

And, In-Between

I'll be heading back up to Minneapolis early next week to hold Kate's hand through round three of chemo.  She's hanging in there.  Feeling OK, but shaky.  Afraid of the next round of toxins.  (I guess I'd be more worried about her if she wasn't afraid - this is some scary stuff!)

In between Minnesota trips, I've been back to working on the house.  It's ALMOST ready to be called habitable again.  Last weekend, we put in the new shower door.

To be more accurate, I watched Joe and his longtime Scoutmaster, Jim, install the shower door.  It was a treat.  Jim is a retired glazier; he's been working with glass for a long time.  And, he's been showing Joe how to do things since Joe was knee-high to a grasshopper.

As soon as the glass was unboxed, the teacher-student bond snapped back into place.  Jim hung back; watching us work, making suggestions (not giving orders) about how this and that might be a good way to get the job done right.  As soon as the basic steps were done, I found myself on the sidelines, watching them work together.

The first day, we'd put the frame in place.  Once the caulk was in, Jim shrugged his shoulders, and allowed how that, if it were his place, he'd stop there for the day and give the caulk a chance to set. Not being fools, we closed up shop for the day, and headed out to get a set of those glass suction cups that the professionals use to maneuver large panes of glass (another Jim suggestion).

The next morning, he came back out, and showed Joe how to properly set glass.  We used the cups to easily hold the glass while he put his handy-dandy shims (that just happened to get into his pockets that morning) into place to level it out.  He showed Joe how to put in those black rubber edge strips properly - leave a bit of extra in the line, so as the rubber dries and shrinks, it'll settle back to even and not pull and crack on you.

He did the hard line of caulk - the one between the two panes of glass - himself, which I much appreciated, because if that part is messed up, the whole thing looks bad.  They worked, bantered, exchanged jokes.

In these last years, Jim's eased out of the leadership role of the troop.  Joe's gone from baby scout to Eagle Scout, to leader, and their relationship's grown with Joe.  It was easy to see they both enjoyed a bit of time in their old roles; guide and student.  And I enjoyed watching it unfold.

Yup, I got my shower door installed; that was the least of it.  Thank Goodness for men who take time to lead and teach and mentor young scouts.  We'd all be poorer without them.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Chemo Truck: Round II

The first round of chemo was rough.  at best.

Her system did NOT LIKE the drugs (go figure), and she spent the better part of a week wishing she could crawl into a hole and pull the opening in after her.

I didn't do so well myself.  It was harder than I thought it could be, to have her hurting so badly, and me so far away.

Her second round was this past Tuesday.  And, this time, I'm here in Minnesota with her.  And this time, it's been a bit better.

They gave her different anti-nausea medication, and more of it.  I came up Tuesday night, after her treatment.  She didn't feel so hot, but it was better than the first round.

Wednesday, I just had to not laugh.  Her steroids had kicked in, and she was in GO mode.  We went to yoga in the morning.  We went to Cancer Exercise class in the afternoon.  We picked up the house and she gave Alexandra a bath.  She wore me out.

Sometime in the night, the steroids wore off, and the chemo truck hit her.  This morning, she woke pale and dizzy and queasy.  One might have thought that would knock yoga off the agenda, but one would have been wrong.  We went to the 9:30 class - and she was better for it.

We came back, napped (both of us - I was tired, too), and she woke with at least some energy.

Chemo is hard stuff.  She's almost bald - and still beautiful.  (It's funny to walk on the streets and watch people not look at her head...)    Her skin is rough, her mouth is sore, her body aches. All in the name of staying well?!

Last time she felt better after about a week - we're hoping the same is true for this.

Two down, two to go.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

So, There's This Girl

It was winter, two years ago, Joe and I were driving home from Minnesota after Christmas.  Rita, my daughter's best friend from college, has written me from time to time.  This time, she was lamenting the difficulty of finding the right guy.  The drive is long, and I was mulling over her letter.  I think Rita is a marvelous young lady.  Smart, beautiful, good natured.

So, I turned to Joe, out of the blue.  "Joe, you'd date Rita, wouldn't you?" They'd met just once, he was fifteen, she was twenty.  Through Kate, they had become friends on Facebook.  "Sure", he said.  "I like Rita."  So, I called Kate.  (Northern Iowa makes for an uneventful drive...)  "Kate, should Joe date Rita?"  "Absolutely", she said.  "I think they'd get along wonderfully."

So, I wrote Rita back, telling her there was at least one good guy in the world willing to date her, and where there was one, there were more.  I figured that was that, but thus, the seed had been planted. Joe and Rita started to text.  Nothing serious, they lived 1000 miles apart.

Over the next year, they continued to write back and forth.  Both were single, both weren't finding the one they were looking for.  Somewhere in there, things turned a bit more serious.  She backed off - age and distance seemed to be insurmountable barriers.  So, things turned un-serious, they continued to be friends.

Joe has always wanted to visit the annual Tucson rock show (which is where Rita was living).  So, late last year, I suggested he take a trip on out there.  (the show is held in late January.)  He could see if Rita would like things to turn more serious again, and if things didn't go well - well, he's always wanted to visit the Tucson rock show.

He proposed the idea of a visit to Rita, who said, "That sounds wonderful, but I'm moving right around then.  I've taken a job in Lawrence."  (which is about 45 minutes from our place.)  The wheels of the Universe were turning.

They made plans.  Joe flew down, had a wonderful time at the rock show, helped her pack up and they climbed in the truck to move her to Kansas.  Tucson to KC is about a twenty hour drive.  At the end of a twenty hour drive, you have a pretty good idea whether or not you want to spend any more time, ever, with your driving companion(s).

I waited with bated breath.  Would the sparks they'd felt online ignite when they met in person, or would they fizzle and die?  I didn't hear much while he was down there.  I waited some more.  Joe texted just a little - they were getting along just fine.

When next I saw them, my questions were answered.  Yes, the sparks had met ready tinder, had ignited and were merrily burning away.  A couple of months later, they're still burning bright.

Young love is beautiful.  And fun to watch.
Good Is.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

When the Storm Comes

Storms come into all lives.  Illness, accidents, poor choices, good choices gone bad.  Sometimes even when we've done everything right.  Sometimes, lightning strikes out of the clear sky.  Sometimes the morning is beautiful and we leave shelter and the storm catches us unaware and there we are, praying to find a haven where we will be safe until the storm passes.

The storms are terrifying, and rightly so.  They are fierce and so much larger than we could ever control.

But control is, at best, an illusion.  God Is and Evil Is and I remember again that all we can control in this world is our response to what happens to us. (to paraphrase Viktor Frankl.  again.).

Yesterday was harder for Kate than I can imagine - going in healthy, coming home heavy, bloated, sick to her stomach.  (The day was long.  The infusions were nausea-inducing.  Next time, she will remember to bring her noise-canceling headphones and some soothing music, so she doesn't have to listen to blaring televisions while also trying to cope with a headache and upset stomach.)

Yesterday was harder for me than I had anticipated.  And while it would have helped if I could have been there, it wouldn't have helped.  For I have confidence in the ability of her care circle to love and care for her and to be there.  But it's the part that can't be helped; the counterintuitive part - that making herself sick is the best bet that she will stay better - that roils my soul.

I feel so helpless; I can't fix it.
This storm is fierce and she is in the midst of it and I am much afraid.
so afraid.

but I CAN choose.
I can choose to look for the beauty in the storm.  
I can choose to trust her doctors, who are doing the best they can to keep the cancer at bay.
I can choose to trust that God Is, and to trust that Good is watching over her and will guide her through.

I can choose to remember that this, too, shall pass.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Chemo

patio in progress
My talent for research has deserted me when it comes to Kate's chemo drugs.

The regimen starts tomorrow - four doses, hopefully three weeks apart (assuming she's able to tolerate the drugs), of Taxotere and Cyclophosphamide. I tried to look up the side effects, so I could know what she's in for, but I found I couldn't do it.  I'd read a bit, picture the drugs going into Kate's veins, recoil instinctively, and quit reading.  I just couldn't do it.  I'll take it as it comes - I don't have to know in advance all the yucky stuff that could happen, because not all of it will.  I know the drugs will most likely help the cancer stay away, but the part between here and there is going to be not pretty.

But.

Her Christmas Elf struck again - this time with a daffodil bomb.
The kind people who help people with cancer showed up and cleaned her house today, so she won't have to feel bad tomorrow AND look at a mess.
There are other people lined up to do whatever she needs done if she feels awful.
She doesn't have to do this alone.

She doesn't have to do this alone.

that helps.  a lot.

I took all my excess energy on Saturday - and I have a lot of excess energy when mentally avoiding the picture of my daughter starting chemo - and dug a lot of the subgrade for my flagstone patio and path out back.  (Joe was helping with the project, but spent much of the day on parts of it that didn't involve shoveling.)  I can't do it as fast as he does, but I was steady, working my anger at the fates out on the poor defenseless dirt.  It's amazing what a mess one can make with a shovel and six hours.  I think the entire back yard is going to get raised a couple of inches by the time I get the dirt spread out.

Exercise helps, too.

She will make it through this.
We will make it through this.

God Is.