Thursday, April 30, 2009

Compete for Fabulous Gifts and Prizes

1. Pick the Perp. (Not surprisingly, I'm terrible at this!)

2. Define Time. Pick the right definition - quickly.

3. Deep Leap. Scrabble-ish good fun.

4. Balance. Harder than it looks.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How Swine Flu Got Started

Mama, there aren't enough antibacterial wipes in the world...

April Showers bring Indoor Projects

April Showers bring May Flowers. They also bring a boatload of allergens down to snoot-level, thank you very much:

The spring allergy season has sprung -- and wrought plenty of discomfort for the approximately 35 million Americans with seasonal allergies. Pollen may not be all that's making your eyes water and nose run, though. Surprising allergens lurk in unexpected places in your home and make you feel even worse. In fact, the list of sneeze-inducing culprits is long: animal dander, mold, dust, and dust mites (tiny insects that thrive on organic matter, primarily flakes of skin), as well as pollen carried into the house from outside. Full story here.
Yes, I'm allergic to pet dander, mold, dust, dust mites and pollen. April is already one of the wettest in history, so mold is at the top of the list. The article features ways to mitigate indoor allergens, all of which I already practice. On a semi-regular basis.

Anyways, the rain eliminates what should be Job One at the Villa: mowing the lawn. I probably could mow it myself, at least the back yard, if I could get someone to start the mower. That requires more torque than I can muster these days. I tried to get TJ to mow on Monday evening but she wasn't interested, and I didn't want to insist. She's been a very good sport about mowing for the last year. (I usually pay her, to help make the chore a little less loathsome.) If I'd known it was going to rain for another three days, and the lawn was going to grow another 4-5 inches, I probably would have pressed a little harder. Now I'm not even sure my old mower will go through that thicket; I may need several sheep, or perhaps a goat, or a yak.

So that brings me to Jobs Two and Three.

I hate my hair, I hate my hair, did I mention I hate my hair? It's still too short to cut and way, way too curly to style so I'm going to try color. WILD COLOR. Job Two is hitting a beauty supply shop to buy some temporary hair color. I will have a partner in this hijinx: my good friend KB offered to shave his head last year when I shaved mine, as an act of support and solidarity. It meant so much to me that he offered, but I just couldn't let him do it. He made the same offer a few days ago when I was kvetching about my "poo-fro" (since I resemble an aging poodle), and this time, I'm going to take him up on it! We will pick some wild and cah-razzzy colors -- the temporary vegetable dyes -- and I hope it will cover this horrible, iron gray color. I'm thinking of neon pink, in honor of Pink, a singer I like, but what if I end up looking like an old pink poodle? Maybe purple is the safer bet...

Finally, Job Three is a decrapification project that's been postponed for so long that it's become quite daunting. But Mom would say, "just pick one corner, and start there." Yes, I've thought about it for nearly 20 years, so I believe... it's time... to clean out the kitchen junk drawer! It is completely full, and becoming difficult to open and close. What the hell is in there? It's time to find out. Last year, I wheedled a HazMat suit from a plumber who did some work at the Villa, so if it looks really dangerous, I'm prepared, but I don't think it will get that bad. Still, it's a little dicey to tackle a project like that alone, so I'll keep my cell phone in my pocket. And tie a rope to my waist, in case I wade in too far.

If you don't hear from me for a week, call the Coast Guard. Or the EPA. And water the yak.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I'm one of the lucky ones... for now

My health insurance premium went up $45 per month last year. They usually raise the rates in April, so I thought -- foolishly -- that I might escape another increase, especially since last year's was so large. NAWT. I just received notice that my premium will increase this year by $57 per month. This adds up to a 50% increase in premiums over the last two years.

And I'm one of the lucky ones. Because I still have health insurance. Because I will find a way to cut expenses even further (don't ask me how, I haven't figured it out yet) and keep my policy, at least until they find a way to cancel me.

But, Mr. President, it's time to move health care/health insurance to the front burner. If you don't, millions of people like me are going to end up declaring bankruptcy and going on the dole, and that's going to cost a whole lot more than finding a solution now. It's not going to please everyone, but it's time to wrest health care from the grip of industry: they have a vested interest in denying coverage.

What's So Funny?

This is for Susan, who sent me this, her favorite comic, last fall. I love it! Maybe you have to have an appreciation of "old rockers" to get it. I know it was well-loved; it was yellowed with age and I think the copyright year is 1999. I had several comics on my fridge for almost that long....they were swept into a bin during the Great Decrapification, along with my favorite quote about drinking: "I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day." -- Frank Sinatra.

I love to laugh, and to make people laugh. I love cartoons, comics, and funny books and movies. I love people who make me laugh, and I really struggle with folks who have little or no sense of humor. Or who, at best, might mutter, "Hmm. That's funny," when everyone else is laughing hysterically. What's the point of that existence? For more than a decade, a friend here owned a comedy club and we bartered for services, so I was able to attend shows at no cost, and occasionally brought Sis with me. It was absolutely fantastic. There is nothing better in the world than going home with a stomach ache and a face ache from howling and screaming with laughter for an hour.

The kind of humor I like is the thing that makes me laugh for five seconds
and think for ten minutes. ~William Davis
Humor is... despair refusing to take itself seriously. ~Arland Ussher
If I had no sense of humor, I would long ago
have committed suicide. ~Mahatma Gandhi
Warning: Humor may be hazardous to your illness. ~Ellie Katz
I've been wondering if other species have what we would consider a sense of humor. I know dogs don't. You want an absolutely literal interpretation without irony or sarcasm, ask a dog. Maybe humor is unique to us human beans, maybe it's dependent on language. Sometimes being a human is quite a challenge, and I think I might like to give it up for a while. I'd sort of like to know what it's like to be a bird, for example, or -- as someone who's never seen the top of anyone's head -- perhaps a giraffe. But no matter how much they love each other, birds and giraffes don't try to cheer up their friends by making them laugh; they don't send each other favorite comics they've had for a decade. So if there is such a thing as reincarnation, I'd like to request Perpetually Human, because if I'd have to sacrifice having a sense of humor...? No way. Not even for an old rocker.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

We Bring Democracy to the Fish

by Donald Hall

It is unacceptable that fish prey on each other.
For their comfort and safety, we will liberate them
into fishfarms with secure, durable boundaries
that exclude predators. Our care will provide
for their liberty, health, happiness, and nutrition.
Of course all creatures need to feel useful.
At maturity the fish will discover their purposes.

"We Bring Democracy To The Fish" by Donald Hall,
from White Apples and the Taste of Stone. © Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Quotes from Soccer Geniuses

My parents have always been there for me, ever since I was about 7. David Beckham

I’d like to play for an Italian club, like Barcelona. Mark Draper

I can see the carrot at the end of the tunnel. Stuart Pearce

Other brilliant quotes from soccer stars (most of whom I've never heard of) are over at Margaret's Corner. I'm sure other sports have equally articulate athletes; someone just happened to send her these. Thanks for the belly laughs!

Go See...

More Fun Ads from the Past - the Whirlpool Surgomatic and the Fabulous Foodarama by Kelvinator.
More Amazing Papercuts - fun with the Xacto knife
Freaky Food Fun! Squidies? Noodledogs? Squidies? Hot Dogtopus? I vote for Pighetti.

For Bro 1:
Name That City Quiz (#3) - I got a dismal 50%

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Scent-sitive Girl

Two botched nosebobs and raging allergies have left me without much sense of smell, but what little I have is very "scent-sitive." There are few man-made scents I enjoy, and only in small doses. I've never understood the strategy of drowning oneself in perfume or cologne. If I can smell you from across the room, that's not alluring or sexy. To me, you've crossed right back over into stinky again. My philosophy is that no one should smell your perfume unless they are close enough to kiss you – and presumably, they that close with your consent.

So I usually use unscented shampoo, hairspray, moisturizer, etc. I recently discovered a Bath & Body Works scent called Sea Island Cotton, that really does just smell fresh and clean; heavenly! The shower gel usually provides more than enough fragrance for me, thank you. In the cold months, I might wear just a tiny dot or two of "Isadora" (a French perfume that may not even be made anymore) behind the ears.

There are some lovely smells in the garden; however, there are also some flowers that just smell stinky to me: treacly and noxious. Iris and daffodils come to mind. Lovely in a vase... but I want the windows open. There are quite a few flowers that don't have a scent. I'm always amused when someone sticks their nose in a bouquet of daisies and takes a big whiff.

The Billy Collins poem about wisteria (below) got me thinking about flowers that take my breath away. My two favorite flower scents are Lilacs and Lily of the Valley. They bloom within a couple weeks of each other, so my house is filled with heavenly scents for a month or so. Lilacs are sweet and delicate; a light scent that almost everyone associates with certain memories. Lilies of the Valley are also sweet and yet bold; three tiny stems will fill a room with fragrance. It is another old-fashioned favorite. It's also the May birth-month flower. There are a few other flowers whose scents I enjoy - freesias and roses, for example; but not nearly as much as Lilacs, or Lilies of the Valley.

Speaking of windows open, it's supposed to be in the 80s here this weekend! I'm a little disappointed, though. I don't want to get cheated out of my Open Window season. My favorite, favorite time of year is whenever the furnace is OFF, the air conditioning is OFF, and the windows are open. It's anything within the 50º-75º range. That's usually 3-4 weeks in the spring and again in the fall. I hate it when we skip that and go right to summer.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Five-Stick Day

I was touched, and a little envious, that everyone else at the infusatorium had a buddy or two today. Two patients each came with two friends and everyone else had a spouse or a pal in tow. Chris has come with me once, and my folks came with me once; other than that, all my visits have been solo.

Today I was El Cootina, The Amazing Human Pincushion! First the nurse accidentally sent the tube of blood down to the lab without my label on it. Nope, can't just tell them it was mine; we had to start over and draw new blood. Then back to the infusatorium where it took one, two, THREE sticks to hit a gusher. That's partially my fault. I have a hard and fast rule that they can stick me as many times as they need to, but they cannot go fishing (move the needle around). I was a gracious good sport about it all, figuring I am banking some goodwill for the future.

And now to the day's good news: It's a bird, its a, it is a bird! Local falcon watchers celebrated the arrival of the year's first peregrine falcon chick on Earth Day. Here at the Villa, I refilled the birdfeeders yesterday and we are enjoying many new visitors. I need to invest in a good bird book; other than woodpeckers, robins and cardinals, I can't identify many of the birds. There is a nest in my maple tree that the Hoodies believe is home to a Cooper's Hawk. I'm not sure; at any rate, it hasn't cut down on the chipmunk, bird or squirrel population here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Dogs Rule, Cats Drool!

The Plinky Question: Happy Earth Day! We think we're in charge of this planet just because we have TiVo. Which species do you think really runs the show?

My dog has taught me to feed her at exact times, give her treats regularly, arrange playdates, let her direct our walks, and pick up her poop. Since no one feeds me or picks up my poop, it's clear she's the Lead Dog, and you know what they say: If you're not the Lead Dog, the view never changes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Health Insurance Inequities: pills vs intravenous

I was on Revlimid last spring, but I almost wasn't, because the DieSuckah Health Insurance Company didn't want to pay for it. (Details here.) They finally agreed to, after three refusals. It's a bad, bad system we have, highlighted in a recent NY Times article and OpEd. But there's hope:

"Oregon, partly in response to Mr. Stauffer’s case, has passed a law requiring insurance companies to provide equivalent coverage of oral and intravenous cancer drugs. Some other states are now considering similar measures."
Ill Patients forced to Pay for Cancer Pills - NY Times

and a follow-up Opinion with some excellent comments:
The Sky-High Cost of Treating Cancer - NY Times

Field Guide

by Billy Collins

No one I ask knows the name of the flower
we pulled the car to the side of the road to pick
and that I point to dangling purple from my lapel.

I am passing through the needle of spring
in North Carolina, as ignorant of the flowers of the south
as the woman at the barbecue stand who laughs
and the man who gives me a look as he pumps the gas

and everyone else I ask on the way to the airport
to return to where this purple madness is not seen
blazing against the sober pines and rioting along the roadside.

On the plane, the stewardess is afraid she cannot answer
my question, now insistent with the fear that I will leave
the province of this flower without its sound in my ear.

Then, as if he were giving me the time of day, a passenger
looks up from his magazine and says wisteria.

From Questions about Angels, © William Morrow and Company
Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins is one of my favorite poets. He writes with an unabashed honesty and a sense of irony that are comfortingly familiar. I've posted another poem of his here: Introduction to Poetry.


There are only a few posed, studio photographs in the archives. I love how Bro #2 looks in this one. (But then, I love all his baby pics.) Studio pictures must have been very expensive. As we got older, I'm sure it was also very challenging to have us clean, smiling and cooperative, all at the same time.

I don't think we have any studio portraits after this one (right). Bro #1 got a tripod, and a camera with a timer and that is how we took group pictures from then on. But there is a certain charm to the posed pictures. Maybe it was just the innocence of the times.

Monday, April 20, 2009

To Ensure Happy Pansies

I stumbled upon a gardening site, You Grow, Girl, and found a wonderful idea for keeping containers from drying out. This is a problem in my yard: all-full-sun, all-the-time. Container gardening is such a commitment, it's almost like being on dialysis. The window box and hanging baskets must sometimes be watered twice a day, and if by chance I do any traveling in the summer, I have to trust a neighbor to water once or even twice a day. Some plants just can't tolerate even one day without watering, and cool-weather flowers like pansies do not like to fry in the sun.

I sometimes throw a few ice cubes on the soil; it provides short-term relief, but this idea was much better: irrigating with plastic liter bottles. And once the plants grow a bit, it will be completely invisible!

Monday Funnies: another brilliant "Separated at Birth."
Donatella Versace is my fave.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Hopefully-Halfway Point

Despite surgery in February, I continue to have some back and rib pain and joint problems. Both mentally and physically, this has been my biggest challenge. It's not just the pain and the problems, but the indication that in spite of all our efforts, this disease has a toehold, and continues to progress in certain ways. "CR" seems like a distant dream sometimes, but Dr. A. was very positive last week and believes this is just another obstacle, a pebble in the path. I was still frustrated, but I did feel that he listened to me and took me seriously; that alone is comforting. We talked briefly about some options; he would like to wait until I'm done with chemo to pursue them, but he made it clear that's my call. I left feeling much better, at least psychologically.

Today is the last day of my 10-day "chemo vacation." I have finished two cycles, and start the third tomorrow. A cycle consists of four infusions (two per week for two weeks), and then ten days off. The plan is still to do four cycles of chemo, but I'm preparing myself for the possibility of five or six. The two weeks of chemo seem to drag by: tick . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . tock. And the vacation is over in a flash. Most visits to the infusatorium usually fill me with gratitude and humility. I'm in a rough patch right now, but so many others face much greater struggles and hardships. I need to count my blessings:

  • I am still mobile.
  • My breathing has hardly been affected.
  • I can still drive.
  • I still have the support of a wonderful family and amazing friends.
  • I'm having very few side effects and so far, they are manageable.
  • I am still able to live independently. (Thanks to Bro #2, I was able to stay afloat financially while waiting for my SS disability payments to start.)
  • I still have Miss Molly at my side, and she is a constant source of love and comfort.
I really just need to keep perspective, especially on bad days. And if I absolutely have to give in and host a little pity party, I should do it quickly and quietly, with the blinds closed, and then get over it and move on.

Chris came over today with a flat of pansies: big, fat flowers in bright, happy colors. I will fill my big window box with them, and even on rainy days, I will see these pretty, cheery flowers and celebrate springtime. I will think about Chris's kindness and generosity, and all my friends who have been absolutely unwavering in their support.

After nearly a year and a half on the front lines, I still have lessons to learn. I need to keep thinking about gratitude, and perspective. In everything but money, I am rich, rich, rich.

Ten Years Already?

It doesn't seem possible that the shootings at Columbine High School were a decade ago. It was another world-screeching-to-a-halt moment. Perhaps a faint glimmer of awareness dawned on the geniuses who wrote a "gun control" law with a gun show loophole big enough to drive an armored tank through. This is what happens when insanity and firearms meet. The excruciating randomness of the slaughter still troubles me. It reminds me of the infamous Tylenol murders, which were chilling for the same reason.

Has anything good come out of it? I doubt it. Some of the survivors, who might have gone through life as happy bystanders, have become activists and advocates for gun control, mental health issues, etc. I bet they would trade in whatever they have accomplished for another five minutes with their loved one.

Speaking of which, I get a little cranky when I hear the phrase, "cancer victim." The students and teachers who were murdered at Columbine High School were victims; their loved ones are victims. I'm not a victim, I'm a patient.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Local Hot Topics

Our Race for the Cure today drew 41,000 runners, walkers, survivors and supporters. It's one of the largest in the country. I last walked 5 or 6 years ago; the crowd was about 35,000 then. (I've since decided that they need my check more than they actually need me.) It's incredibly moving to be a part of a crowd that large, coming together for a good cause. Everyone should participate in this, at least once.

I joke about the breast cancer girls being the rock stars of the cancer world, but the fact is that millions of people are affected by breast cancer, while MM usually strikes just 15,000 per year. This RFTC raises about $2.6 million for research, education and treatment.

Hot Topic #2 is Helio Castroneves' acquittal on all charges of tax evasion and conspiracy. He's a local hero here for obvious reasons, and even more adored after winning Dancing with the Stars. I'm sure he has his cranky side, too, but he seems like a sincere, happy, and genuinely nice guy; I hated thinking that there might be some truth to the charges. Good on you, Helio!

And finally, we have a contender for Ingrate of the Year. A local family was the beneficiary of ABC's Extreme Home Makeover a couple weeks ago, and the father has been complaining to reporters that the house was not built well, and that there's too much landscaping for him to take care of. (The builder and volunteers also planted 1,000 trees in this blighted neighborhood, and completed significant improvements on more than 20 nearby homes.) The home builder had a chance to reply, stating that in spite of the time frame, the home and auxiliary building were built to their usual standards, and he is not aware of any problems. Now it seems that in trying to extricate his ungrateful foot from his ungrateful mouth, daddy-o claims he's "been under a lot of stress." Yeah, I guess there's only so much pre-screening the producers can do. I'll be checking it out: the episode is scheduled to air May 17.

The Showing No-Shows

A message last night said that an agent wanted to show the Villa today at 11am. I called first thing this morning to confirm, and then spent two hours tidying, dusting, sweeping, and putting a spit shine on every surface. Then I raced outside to cut flowers for a a couple of vases, then swept the sidewalk and raked up the #@!! sweetgum spinyballs within about a 6' swath of the sidewalk. Sweating and panting with the effort, I was done and ready at 10:59am. I called a neighbor to see if Molly & I could hang out for the duration of the showing.

And then I waited. And waited.

Yes, it was my second no-show, and this time the agent didn't even have the courtesy to call and cancel. This would be annoying to anyone, but it's infuriating to someone who's sick and literally draining herself to get the house ready to show.

In the midst of this, I did get a bit of good news. My next-door neighbors, The Three Little Pigs*, have been told that their lease will not be renewed. The landlord promised me this last year, then reneged on his promise. (A pox on him and his house. They have tormented me for 2 years and the landlord's reply has been, "Hmmm. Tough.") But this year, I believe it's happening, and I believe the landlord has learned a lesson. Since they were 93% of my reason for leaving, I am much consoled that if I don't sell the Villa, at least there is a chance that there will be peace in the valley, and life will be bearable, and I can put away my Home Voodoo kit.

*and their little doggie, a 50+lb. male pit bull, not neutered.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Passover Sojourn

The two major holidays in our house are Thanksgiving and Passover or Pesach, which is sort of a Jewish Thanksgiving. Passover was a bigger holiday to us than Rosh HaShana (New Year) or Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), because it involved the gathering of the whole clan: seven kids, four parents, at least four grandparents, several bachelor uncles, and a few miscellaneous guests. And because it involves a large meal: a feast beats a fast. Although the holiday is seven days long, we share a meal and a service, known as a Seder, on just the first two nights.

"Let All Who Are Hungry Come and Eat"
We took the Passover's "Open Door" policy seriously, and always included people who didn't have another Seder to attend. Sometimes it was Notre Dame students or faculty, sometimes it was a fellow congregant, sometimes it was just a friend or coworker who was curious. As you can see, we dressed for the occasion. The menfolk came to the table in suits and ties. The womenfolk waited until the last minute to dress, then manned the kitchen in aprons. It was a meal worth dressing for: Grandma Sophie had been a respected professional caterer for many years, and both her daughters inherited her considerable kitchen skills.

When my grandparents were alive, the Seder was a long, drawn-out, formal and rather serious affair, and children who got giggly after a few big sips of wine were chastened. It was useless. There were two big crack-ups: a psalm that mentioned breasts, and a line about mountains skipping like young lambs. I don't know why, but that did us in, year after year.

God said, "Skedaddle!"
The purpose of the Seder is to retell the story of being liberated from slavery: the Ten Plagues brought upon Pharoah and the Egyptians, the "drowning of our oppressors," and the 40 years of wandering in the desert without a GPS. We are obliged not just to remember and retell this in every generation, but also to have compassion for anyone who is still oppressed, and to speak out against oppression. Everyone is encouraged to ask questions and discuss current issues that relate to freedom, slavery and tolerance. (If we don't know the answer, someone will make a point of asking the rabbi, and then share the information.) No two Seders are alike and that is part of the fun of attending. Over the years, ours have shrunk from 2-3 hour affairs to less than an hour. That's okay, we still hit the highlights.

The food of Passover commemorates our flight from slavery: before bread even had time to rise, we were on the road, so we eat no "leavened" foods. There is a Seder Plate with items that are used during the service, each with its own symbolism. It has sort of evolved into a Cholesterol and Constipation Festival, so we have learned to include lots of fresh fruit.

We no longer celebrate with my cousins and their children. It's just my immediate family, and sometimes some friends or another congregant who doesn't have family nearby. As he did at Thanksgiving, my ever kind and generous Bro 2 flew here last Thursday, and drove Miss Molly & I to the homeland and back. I'm still having back issues, and even being a passenger was a challenge.

This year, it was impossible to get together on Wednesday and Thursday, so we planned to bend the rules and have our Seders on Friday and Saturday. But my parents attended Seders with friends on Wed. and Thurs., so by Friday, they were all Sedered out and no one was inclined to protest. Instead, we enjoyed some quality family time and good home cooking, which is what this -- and almost every other holiday -- is really all about.

Top to bottom (1) Uncle Jimmy, Dad and Sis, Grandma Flo and Grandpa Harry, Grandpa Harold. Both grandfathers shared top billing at the head of the table. (2) Grandpa Harold and Grandma Sophie. (3) The kids' table. Cousin 1 and I are wearing pink & green paisley dresses that my mother sewed. (4) Of course, Bro 1 was at the “head” of the kids table. (5) As the youngest, Sis (standing) was stuck reading the Four Questions for many years. Jacques (far right) was a French student Bro 1 met while at Purdue, a nd one of our most memorable Seder guests. Learning Jacques was Jewish and would be on campus for Passover, Bro 1 invited him to our Seder. Jacques had a velvet suit (shades of Austin Powers) and we thought he was quite handsome and groovy... except he smelled like a goat. Wow, did he stink. Vive La France!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Is It Just Me? #38,597

I hired Darrell & Darrell to replace a bit of wood fencing. I was encouraged that Darrell actually called on Monday to say he would come when it stopped raining. And when I got in from a doctor's appointment today, they were here, and the fence posts were already in. They were using a very cheap (and cheap-looking) gothic picket; it looks as if it was cut with a chainsaw. Not what I would have chosen, but hey, just getting people to show up is such a challenge, I'll live it. All was well until they built and hung the gate. It was so wonky and cock-eyed, I went out and told them it was unacceptable. I pointed out where it was crooked, off center, not true horizontally or vertically. "Mm-hmm, yep, mm-hmm," Darrell said, "well, we can fix that, ma'am." And it took another hour...but they did fix it.

This happens just about every time I have someone do any kind of work around the Villa: first they do a crappy job, then I tactfully point out the problems, and then they fix it. Why don't they just do it right the first time? Every time, they have to try to get away with shoddy workmanship.

Well, it's done, it's acceptable, and they hauled away the old fence. All I have to do is pick up the cigarette butts. Well done, Darrell. Nice job, Darrell. You've earned a cold brewski and a big bowl of roadkill.

More Baking

A recent trip through the family archives turned up yet another great picture of the Rainy Day Bakery. The back of the picture says, "Marty was chief cook -- made a whole batch of oatmeal cookies. Read recipe, measured, sifted and baked. Even cleaned up afterwards!" I'm not so sure about the cleaning up part; maybe mom was nipping the cooking sherry.

Lucky Dog

One day in 1994, a mangy little Benjie look-alike wandered into my yard. She was filthy, and wearing a very tight collar, but had no tags. She crawled up to me and just sat at my feet, waiting.

I gave her a bath, and acres of dirt went down the drain. A vet estimated her age at around six months; we have no idea how long she was living on the streets. I named her "Lucky," because she had chosen a human who was incapable of turning her away, or taking her to the Humane Society.

Since I already had a neurotic one-woman dog, I persuaded my sister that Lucky was just the dog for her. And they lived happily together for three years or so. Lucky readily adapted to the births of my nieces, hovering near them protectively. When my sister went to live overseas for a year, she asked my parents to keep Lucky for her. They agreed... and they knew almost immediately that they would not be giving her back.

Lucky Lou lucked out again, choosing two retired humans who were only too happy to spoil and indulge her. My parents have her groomed regularly, and the transformation is remarkable, from mangy mutt to stylish Scottie-mix. Whenever my parents traveled, she stayed with me. During the half-dozen or so trips here to help me when I was sick, Lucky came along. So of course, I feel like Lucky's godmother. She has been a loving, loyal companion for another dozen years. Other than being a little barky, she is very gentle and sweet. Like Ms. Garbo, she just vants to be left alone, but she is fairly tolerant of the four other grand-dogs who occasionally invade her sanctum.

Lucky is probably about 16 years old now; 112 in doggy years! She's nearly blind, selectively deaf, somewhat arthritic, and occasionally a bit incontinent. But she is still very sweet and good-natured. There is a dog in my neighborhood who looks as if she could be Lucky's litter-mate -- and she's 19 years old! -- so I really hope Lucky has another good 3-4 years. After all this time, I think maybe we have been the lucky ones.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Big Damn Dials

I remembered that our first television had dials the size of dinner plates, and it took me both hands to change the channel. And now I have proof! Okay, that might have been a (very slight) exaggeration, but those were big damn dials! I am seven years old here. This was a black & white tv; I don't believe we got a color tv until I was around 10-11 years old.

Bro #1 and I had severely restricted tv-watching. And we never, ever ate in the living room with the tv on... with one exception. On Sunday nights, we were allowed to set up "tv tables" for dinner, and watch Ed Sullivan.

We also watched Lassie every week, unless Cousin #1 was visiting. All three of my girly-girl first cousins were somewhat fragile, emotionally. This is my politically correct way of saying they were a bunch of crybabies. Even though she knew that Lassie would always have a happy ending so it would be on the following week, the drama, the danger, were almost more than she could bear, and trying to console her was more than my mother could bear. Having grown up with brothers, and gotten socked occasionally for no good reason, I was not a big crybaby, and was quite disdainful of their... sensitivities. Sorry, girls!

Other than that, I remember a few children's shows (Captain Kangaroo and Romper Room) and a few Saturday morning cartoons (Casper, Heckle & Jeckle, Looneytunes). That's it. No sitcoms, no news shows, no soap operas.

As is the case in most families, the rules eased up considerably on the younger two kids, who practically grew up in front of the tv.

And yes, like the pioneers crossing the vast prairies, we had to actually get up off the sofa, walk across the room, and change the channel. Hard to believe we survived all those years of deprivation and hardship!

The Menstruating Mongoose (Plinky)

From this week's Plinky prompts:
What three songs do you wish you could erase from your memory?

Yowzaa...I see this question, and I almost think there's more music I dislike than like! First I have to eliminate all the artists I don't like just because I don't like them. For example, I would put almost any song by Cher, Neil Diamond, Abba (yes, Abba!), and Bob Dylan, who always sounds to me like a menstruating mongoose in search of her Midol. Then,I should probably eliminate all the cultural phenoms, such as Macarena, Achy Breaky Heart, Barney's I Love You song, and the dogs barking Jingle Bells. That one makes me want to drive my car into a tree.

So I'm finally down to actual songs I loathe, and it's still tough to limit it to just three, but I'll start with...

  1. You're Beautiful by James Blunt. I actually think Blunt's kind of a cool guy, but this is a horrible, whiny song, and a strange, clichéd video
  2. Havin' My Baby by Paul Anka. Stupid, saccharine, cheesy, annoying.
  3. Stickwitu by Pussycat Dolls. They really belong in the category above ("I hate everything by..."); plus they're a made-up group, like the Monkees or the Spice Girls, but x-rated. "We're the gyrating, gold-digging ho's!" Pussycat... very subtle, eh? And they have a penchant for using bad grammar and street pronunciations. "You" is always "Chew." Even with all those caveats, this song is still so bad, it warrants place #3 on my list.

You can see how challenging it is to choose just three, can't you? But if you had to limit the list...what are your three?

Monday, April 13, 2009


The Villa Struggles to Remain in a State of Showability

I was supposed to show the Villa at 1:00 pm today. Bro 2 and I got back in town late yesterday, so of course the morning was spent mostly tidying, sweeping, hiding, etc. He took off for the airport about a half hour before the showing. All systems were go, locked and loaded, and I decided to wait til the agent & house-hunter actually showed up. (Curiosity - I confess! I want to look over potential buyers.)

At 1:15 pm, the central showing service, which orchestrates all the appointments, called to say the agent cancelled. I'm tempted to say, "All that cleaning and tidying for nothing!" but I guess I should look at it as a sort of fire drill. And hopefully, next time the tidying will be even smoother... and the agent and buyer will show up.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Chemo Day #8

and The Great Purge of Villa DeCay

It would have been a non-event except that, after the blood draw, it took 3 sticks to hit a gusher and start the chemo. I hope that it was just a coincidence, and not a sign of things to come. Since my "policy change," I don't have to sit for an hour or more with an unplugged IV, so I'm a happy, happy camper. I need to make more of an effort to control what I can, and make decisions accordingly. I don't mean to be a crank, really; it's just a matter of finding the right formula to keep me happy! Small action = large impact (SALI #1)

Although the economy, the real estate market, and probably my health, could not be worse, I've listed Villa DeCay for sale. (Of course, I should have done it two years ago at the peak of the market, but bad timing is kind of the hallmark of my life.) But I've decided that whatever time I have left, I should not spend it being miserable and angry. Although my neighborhood is wonderful, my next door neighbors have made my life hell for the last two years, so it's time to get outta Dodge. I will actually try to buy something in the same neighborhood, just a few blocks away from Frat Row.

Getting ready to show has convinced me that everyone should be required to move every five years. With the help of friends and neighbors, I've hauled truckloads of stuff away and will probably continue to do so. In fact, I have days where I'm very tempted to just pack a suitcase, walk away, and call an auction house to clear the place out.

In a way, though, the decrapification has been very liberating. I subscribe to the theory that you don't own stuff, stuff owns you, and so the more stuff you have, the more likely you are to feel oppressed and depressed. Just ask some of those compulsive hoarder-types. It seems to me that Europeans have much less of a problem with this. Maybe because they live in smaller spaces, maybe because there's a greater appreciation for the streamlined, modern aesthetic. At any rate, my place has never looked better and the challenge will be to keep it this way, as I need to be ready to show the house, probably with an hour's notice. It will be a far, far cry from my former (borderline slothful) lifestyle, but I'm actually looking forward to it.

I promise if you commit to a personal spring cleaning, your soul will be unburdened with every box full of crap that leaves your space. You'll think, "What was I keeping that for?" and then you'll move ahead, lighter and happier. SALI #2: Funny that purging your space does so much for your spirit.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Go See...Lists, Lists, and More Lists

50 Things Everyone Should Know How To Do

Of course, as resident contrarian, I must question...

  • #3 Use Google Effectively. Really? Number three? Can you say Google Ho'? If this has to be on the list at all, it should be #49 or 50.
  • #17 Handle the the Police. Maybe it's the word "handle" that troubles me.
  • #34 Smile for the Camera. Screw you, snappy, I smile when I feel like it.
  • #44 Implement Basic Computer Security. Eh, again, I don't think this is a vital life skill, as long as there are capable 14-year olds around.
Those few quibbles aside, I think this is a fine list. Everyone should know how to hold a baby, flirt, speak more than one language, be a thoughtful houseguest, perform basic first aid, parallel park, etc.

More Listy Lovin':
Extraordinary Uses for Ordinary Household Items - and to think I almost threw out the pack of wrong-sized coffee filters!
Broke? 20 Fun Things To Do* Without Spending a Dime - I'm already brilliant at free/cheap entertainment, but for those of you who need a few suggestions, here's a good start.
*Guerilla gardening = taking a weedy patch of urban blight and turning it into a flower/vegetable garden oasis, sans permission. Two years ago, I was supposed to join a guerilla gardening venture, even recruited a couple pals to help, but the blogger who came up with the idea flaked out on us at the last minute. We might have gone on without him but he was to contribute a vital element: the location. I still love the idea and hope to do it someday.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Follicle Follies

My hair is maybe an inch long now, it's kind of hard to tell, because as I was warned... it is growing back very, very curly. It is also a more-salt-than-pepper sort of steel gray. I find it quite unattractive but I'm going to tough it out; maybe when it calms down a little, it won't be so bad. In the meantime, I amuse myself trying to Name That Coif. Steel Chia Pet. Scary Gym Teacher. Geriatric Poodle.

My sis-in-law wisely thought ahead to the eyebrow-less situation, and set me up with some very good eyebrow makeup. I try to use a light hand, because my hair is so light, the dark eyebrows can look a little startling. Speaking of which, I've never been able to raise one eyebrow -- a tragic irony to someone who goes through life in a perpetual state of jaded skepticism -- and I'm always tempted to draw just one eyebrow arching up, up, up to my hairline. I think it would be hilarious to make people ask, "What? ...WHAT!?" everywhere I go.

Yet Another Universal Truth

Susan reminded me of another critical Truth; one to which I know at least all the girl people can relate.

The Law of Maximum Unattractiveness.
When you're wearing your weirdest everything's-in-the-laundry ensemble and your Sunday no-make-up face and have near-fatal bed-head, yet decide that you must run a critical errand, one that doesn't even require you to get out of the car... that is when you will run into your former lover/rival/boss, looking their absolute best.

The Ballad of Old Blue

Old Blue was more teal than blue, but Old Teal just didn't have a ring to it. It was a '94 Mitsubishi Expo, more of a micro-van than anything else. (Eagle Summit and Plymouth Vista made basically the same car. All three had short production lives.) After a good year -- my best, in fact -- I paid cash for it; I think it was two years old.

It had a big four cylinder, the high seat of an SUV, and a back bench seat that folded flat. Although Old Blue was actually shorter and narrower than my previous car, a sporty Toyota Celica, its cargo space defied the laws of physics. I never found anything that wouldn't fit in this tiny car. I moved beds, a sofa, a barcalounger the size of Montana, headboards, dressers. There was always room to spare.
I loved it so much that when it was 6-7 years old, it needed a new transmission...and I bought it: I spent $1700 for a rebuilt transmission. I drove it problem-free for another4-5 years.

I started getting concerned about her age, and her reliability, so in 2002, I bought the grannymobile: a '99 Mazda 626 four-door sedan. The vehicular equivalent of sensible shoes. But I couldn't sell Old Blue right away. I even enlisted my parents to help sell her, but at the time she had a very loud clunk! that people found troubling. So I decided I'd just be a one-person, two-car family for awhile. Hey, this is America. I eventually got the clunk! fixed, but found that I missed it so much, I'd sometimes just have to shout "clunk!" ... sort of like Little Peppy's horn.

I ended up driving Old Blue for another two years, while the grannymobile sat patiently out front. And then one day, she just wouldn't go no mo. A dealer diagnosed a bad alternator, which had burned out the battery and several other components. Now I really couldn't justify another $1,000 worth of repairs to a 10-11 year old car, so I donated her to charity. Somebody recognized her worth, though, and I believe I've seen her around town a couple of times.

I was horrified to realize that the grannymobile, my "new" car, is now ten years old. [Insert time cliché here.] I don't think I'll ever love her, or any other car, the way I did Old Blue, but I have developed a real fondness and appreciation for her.

Plus, in the last year, all on her own, she's started to "clunk!" Go, Granny, Go.

Monday, April 6, 2009

More UTs

The Coot's Waiting Room Corollary
The stupidest conversation will be the loudest.

The more nauseous you feel, the more likely that anything vile and/or revolting (surgical errors, physical conditions, disgusting foods) will be loudest conversation.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Do Re Mi

It starts in a Belgium commuter train station, as a publicity stunt for something called "In Search of Maria," but it comes to life when bystanders join in the fun. From Bro 1, who dares you to "watch and not smile, or laugh out loud."
The Sound of Music

Wouldn't it be great if we could all start the day like this? Thanks, Bro.

On Taking Your Time

by Piet Hein

Time arrives all the time
and the only true crime
is the way we defile it
with worry

For inadequate time
is that species of time
you'll encounter whenever
you hurry

Piet Hein is a Danish mathematician, physicist, writer, designer, and pithy, wry, funny poet. Several of his collections, called Grooks, have recenty been reprinted.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Jehova's Catness?

More Universal Truths

Law of Mechanical Repair
After your hands become coated with grease, your nose will begin to itch and you'll have to pee.

Law of Gravity
Any pill, when dropped, will roll to the least accessible corner.

Law of Probability
The probability of being watched is directly proportional to the stupidity of your act.

Variation Law
If you change lines (or traffic lanes), the one you were in will always move faster than the one you are in now (works every time).

Law of Close Encounters
The probability of meeting someone you know increases dramatically when you are with someone you don't want to be seen with.

Law of the Result
When you try to prove to someone that a machine won't work, it will.

Law of Biomechanics
The severity of the itch is inversely proportional to the reach.

Murphy's Law of Lockers
If there are only two people in a locker room, they will have adjacent lockers.

Law of Physical Surfaces
The chances of an open-faced jelly sandwich landing face down on a floor covering are directly correlated to the newness and cost of the carpet/rug.

Wilson's Law of Marketing
As soon as you find a product that you really like, they will stop making it.

Spring 2.0

flowering trees line the sidewalks
like bridesmaids
a little hung over from the bachelorette party
heavily ruffled, swaying in fresh spring breezes
magnolia, wild cherry, crabapple
remorselessy gaudy
eager to discard the foof
and get down to business:
bring on those handsome bees.

In honor of National Poetry month. More to come.

Chemo Day #6

One of my favorite movies, Bridge on the River Kwai, was on TCM this morning. I love that movie. There are many rewarding moments for a moral absolutist, with its nostalgic themes of honor, loyalty and sacrifice... not to mention outstanding performances (Bill Holden: young, beefy, and shirtless), exciting plot twists, and perhaps the catchiest theme song in movie history. It was hard to tear myself away long enough to jump in the shower and get presentable for the infusatorium.

Normally, I check in and then I get blood drawn; while we're waiting for the results, they put the IV in. I've waited more than an hour before the results are back and the IV drugs are ready, so today I started a new protocol. I asked to hold off on putting the IV in until everything else is ready.

What a difference. I was happier and much more comfortable spending that hour in the waiting room chairs instead of the grizzly-sized barcaloungers. By chance, I got to visit briefly with Supernurse G. It's a great comfort to occasionally see the one and only person involved in my care who knows my name, and at least a little about my cancer, and my life. In the course of treatment, cancer patients will be in the hands of dozens, scores, maybe hundreds of health care workers. They are caring individuals, but you are a number, a condition, a situation, to all of them. I'm pretty sure even Dr. A forgets everything about me between visits; I guess that's inevitable when someone has a 2-300 patient load.

Most of the time, everyone sits quietly in the infusatorium waiting room, but once in a while, it's a big chatfest. Today, we were talking, mostly because one other lady there was a talker, a nervous talker who managed to tell us pretty much everything about herself. But also because I was wearing my Magic Purple Shoes, which are always conversation-starters. Today they sparked a chat with two sisters across the room, both very tall Nordic beauties... one of whom turned out to be a blog reader! It is the first time I've ever been "recognized." Reader L is a smart, funny, amazing girl and it was such a pleasure to talk with her, even for a few minutes. I hate what she's going through, I hate that we have this horrible thing in common. I hate that someone so strong and courageous and well, wonderful, has to spend her energy on this, instead of just enjoying her family and friends. But our chat was brief and mostly light-hearted, and so I'm proud to report... I got through the whole appointment without weeping. Yes, a new standard has been set.

In the afternoon, I managed a bit more decrapification - the seemingly endless task of filtering, uncluttering, tossing, donating, etc., in preparation for house-selling. Then, I picked a big, beautiful, cheery bouquet of daffodils. Thanks to Mom's efforts last fall, I have several beautiful new varieties to enjoy. I was eager to pick a big vaseful in case they get hammered by predicted thunderstorms. Then the daily nap, an abridged version thanks to the dex.

This is a much tougher round of chemo than last year; the nausea, although very minor, has been almost constant, the breathlessness is back and the fatigue is much worse. So I'm always glad when I can get a few things done, and not just knuckle under for the better part of the day. And I'm profoundly grateful that there haven't been more side effects. My heart really goes out to patients who haven't been as fortunate. It's like trying to row a leaky rowboat across toxic, dangerous waters to a safe shore.

The day winds up with the ER finale. I've been an intermittent watcher over the years. I occasionally stray away when the "BLOOD AND SCREAMING! SCREAMING AND BLOOD!" seems more prominent than the storylines... but I always come back. I thought the finale was a little bit of a disappointment: saccharine and predictable. And yet, still an impressive level of gore. (I managed to vent my saved-up Dex weepies.) Well, I will always have a soft spot for the show that brought us Goran Visnjik or whatever his name is - the only guy who could turn my head from Mr. Clooney. Briefly.

Meeting you was the highlight of my day, Reader L, and on a day that actually had several highlights! I would have given you my Magic Purple Shoes if I thought they might help... and if you weren't a foot taller than me. Hey - I wonder how they'd look as earrings...

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Medium (?) Travel Pics

The sharks are actually dolphins and some others may be photoshopped and it's a bit presumptuous to call anything the "best of" 2009, when we're barely four months into the year. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and guess that English is not the author's first language. Enough with the caveats? Still, some pretty cool pics here: Best Travel Pics.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fools

What makes laughter the best medicine? In honor of April Fools' Day and National Humor Month, a look at the science behind laughter and uncover some sites that encourage this stress-relieving phenomenon. Don't miss the many laughy links.

Bon Anniversaire, Rachel Maddow. This Oxford-educated Rhodes scholar began a career in radio after winning a contest. Her big break came in 2008 when she filled in for Keith Olbermann on his MSNBC primetime show. She now has her own show on that station. If I were gay, I'd have me a girl crush on Rache. She is smart, funny, insightful, yet analytical and objective. Happy B-day to the too-young, too-cute, too-smart Ms. Maddow.

Other April Fools: Ali McGraw, Gordon Jump (remember "WKRP in Cincinnati?"), Debbie Reynolds, Milan Kundera, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Otto Von Bismark.

Bon Anniversaire!

The Eiffel Tower is 120 years old! From 1889 to 1930, it was the tallest structure in the world. It was built as the grand entrance to a World's Fair, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. But it was very controversial, much reviled, and scheduled to be torn down within 20 years of its erection. It was saved from destruction when it was realized that the tower was ideal for radio communications.

What would Paris be without it? Francophile and Paris real estate expert Adrian Leeds muses a bit on the subject.