Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday with family and friends. Bro 1 came for a visit last week, just in time to take me to chemo. The first 48 hrs. after chemo also include the steroid/diabetes joyride. What a trooper; he toughed it out and then graciously stayed 4-5 days, reading, watching tv, helping around the house, and trying to find something I could stand to eat. I'm sure he was bored out of his gourd but I suspect his primary mission was to make sure I actually got the chemo. I'm always on the verge of quitting. I wasn't able to partake this year, but he still shared with Sis and Supergirl #4 our ancient Christmas tradition of Chinese food and a movie. He made his escape shortly after our first real wallop of winter weather. Thanks, Bro. I don't know how I would have managed without your help.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"Do You Have To Go?"

Clinging to the belief that fresh air, even sub-zero fresh air, was vital to childhood development, our parents regularly stuffed us into layers and layers of socks, pants and sweaters, topped with massive snowsuits, scarves, mittens and hats, in order to be sent outside to suck in some of that life-sustaining, lung-paralyzing fresh air.

You could bet your last dollar that as the final layers were tied, zipped and snapped into place, that was the exact moment that our bladders demanded immediate attention. Every. Single. Time. This, despite the fact that Every. Single. Time., the ritual began with, "Do you have to go potty?" and our indignant, insistent response, "No!" So Phase Two of Playing Outside was getting completely undressed (all 27 layers), peeing, and getting dressed again. It was like a swimmer's false start. Then we were once again sent outside "to play."

Play? Play?? In our gigantic, pre-Gortex snowsuits, we couldn't bend at the knees or elbows (as is obvious in these pictures) so "play" was usually limited to throwing a few snowballs. Just a few minutes later, our little windburned faces covered with frozen snot, we were begging to be let back inside. Winter fun. Good times.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Migratory Patterns

Turns out I'm still on the flight path of the Great Baldini. Expect a return visit this afternoon, and an extended stay of several months.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The gray & white tornadoes are at it again. Ma & Pa K. insisted on coming for a quick visit and I just wasn't inclined to argue about it. Wednesday's blood tests showed that I was "borderline." I felt puny enough to cross the border; yesterday I had another transfusion -- only one pint this time. I'm slowly reviving, but M&P are rarin' to go, so germs and spideys: beware. They are taking yet another trunkload o' crap to Goodwill, and then probably buying more cleaning supplies on the return trip.

Further evidence of their spectacular wonderfulness: Mom baked extra cookies so I would be able to give some holiday goodies to the 'hoodies. How super cool is that?

I have managed to delay the next D-day (or C-day) by a week. Either they forgot me or the schedules were already too booked up, but I'm not scheduled for poison until Dec. 23. Not saying I've committed to it (yet)... But holy mother of You Know Who, that's some mighty crappy timing, isn't it? Good thing it's not one of my holidays. I'm trying to get psyched for Festivus, but I'll only be a spectator at the Feats of Strength. Goddess knows, I don't need to participate in any Airing of Grievances.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cinematic Head-Scratchers

Here are two movies that have haunted me since I watched them.

My Blueberry Nights could also have been titled How Not To Direct a Movie. There was a pretty good story with poignant acting, particularly by the star, Norah Jones, in a sweetly understated performance. Jude Law and Natalie Portman were both entertaining but odd choices. There was a breezy, hip soundtrack, an element of a "road trip" picture as this waitress struggles to leave her broken heart behind... and yet this stunk like a month-old mackerel. Every cheesy, "artsy" cinematic ploy -- jerky camera, blurry picture, unseen speakers, is employed ad nauseum, making the movie look more like a high school video project than a "major motion picture." At best, the director was illustrating his terminal hipness; this was just another strange, alienating homage d'ego that divides us into "I Get It" and "I'm Pretending I Get It."

Osama was a grim, heartbreaking story that qualifies as a head-scratcher only because I was left wondering, "What now?" The title does not refer to Osama bin Laden, but to the name taken by a young girl who tries to pass as a boy in order to find work. The Amazon blurb:

The first movie produced by Afghanistan filmmakers after the fall of the Taliban, Osama is a searing portrait of life under the oppressive fundamentalist regime. Because women are not allowed to work, a widow disguises her young daughter (Marina Golbahari) as a boy so they won't starve to death. Simply walking the streets is frightening enough, but when the disguised girl is rounded up with all the boys in the town for religious training, her peril becomes absolutely harrowing. Golbahari's face--beautiful but taut with terror--is riveting. The movie captures both her plight and the miseries of daily life in spare, vivid images.
Said one Amazon reviewer:
The non-professional child actors are superb, their abilities are engaging, probably because they are actually so close to the reality, and are, in truth, performing an act of actual courage. Considering the precariousness of the liberation of Afghanistan, you'd have to say the same thing about everyone else involved in the production, as well. The Taliban and al Qaeda are, after all, still there, roaming, threatening, trying to take over again...
This Golden Globe winner was inspired by a newspaper account read by director Siddiq Barmak. A fascinating interview with him is included in the Bonus Features. The film seemed ploddingly slow at times; I had to remind myself this was not an action/adventure film but more of a cultural saga. It's tempting to be completely dismissive of this heinous regime but this film is a stark reminder of the innocent humans who are trapped, suffering, oppressed and terrorized by it. The ending is frustratingly inconclusive... so is the war.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Yesterday's Thrill

As dramatic as yesterday was, how is it possible that I missed the actual Thrill of the Day? Chalk it up to lack of white blood cells...and yes, brain cells, too. At the end of that drama-filled day, I crawled into bed around 11:30pm and happened to glance up. There on the wall, just past my headboard, was a spider the size of Monaco. (It wasn't this exact Brazilian Wandering Spider; although mine was similar, its antenna were at least 2" long.) It exceeded my Crunch Factor by about 3.5.

If it had been earlier, I would have called Chris. She would have come over, carried it outside, knit a nest, tucked it in and sung it a lullabye. If it had been smaller, I would have just toggled my Denial Switch. But... I could not sleep with that beast roving so close to my head!

So I sucked it up: crawled out of bed, grabbed the nearest shoe, and without giving myself a nanosecond to reconsider, I slammed that sucker with more force that I knew I had. SPLOOCH! If this is a harbinger of this winter, there is great cause for concern. Meanwhile, with the help of two shovels and a backhoe, I disposed of the remains.


Two Pints Low

Well, Wacky Wednesday was aptly named this week. I went to the northside infusatorium (once again, Sis at the wheel) for garden variety blood labs: CBC, etc. Abridged version: Some nurses ARE complete idiots. I had one Rx to fill on the way home, and everyone and their dog was lined up at the pharmacy. It turned out to be marathon but we finally got the Rx and headed home. I gave Sis a grocery list - even a short trip was now well beyond my stamina limits. Just as I was falling, face down, onto the sofa, I saw the message light blinking. Damn!

It was Supernurse G calling with the blood test results of just a couple hours earlier. She was speaking in a voice I'd never heard before. "We need you to come downtown right now and get a transfusion. It really can't wait until tomorrow. If your sister can't bring you, you need to get in a cab. Be very careful, take your time. (repeated 2-3 times) Please call me as soon as you get this message!"

Since I'd just dispatched Sis, I called Molly's godparents, and Mary Ann was at my door in a matter of minutes. I thought to grab a piece of string cheese (the object of the game is always to avoid hospital food) but forgot my water bottle: a clear sign of my total mental breakdown. I managed to get there at 12:30pm but still didn't get done until 5:45. That was platelets, a little saline, and two units of my radiated super blood. Yum-O!

Incredibly, my numbers were even worse than before the previous transfusion, something I -- and the nurse -- should have seen coming. It was a whole lot of drama, mostly unnecessary because even now I hesitate to argue with medical personnel. You think I'd have learned that lesson by now, wouldn't you?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sail On, Silver Girrrrrl

I spent much of my early teen years in a space under the basement stairs. It was about the size of a coffin; I was willing to go that far for a smidgen of privacy. In that tiny space, I had just enough room for a sleeping bag, pillow, and record player. I played Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Waters, over and over and over, until I'm sure everyone nearby was ready to slash their wrists. It was my Adolescent Angst Anthem.

Tonight, flipping through the channels, I was startled to come upon Josh Groban singing my anthem on PBS! As if that didn't send my endorphins into overdrive, suddenly Brian McKnight joined him onstage. Perhaps only McKnight's flubbing of the lyrics saved me from a six dollar sobfest. It was much, much too powerful for mere human ears (and hearts) to absorb. Groban has the sort of voice that has such a depth and resonance, you'd have to be made of stone not to react, especially to such an emotional song. (And keep in mind: no steroids for a week.)

Groban then launched into his very own Angst Anthem, You Raise Me Up. Again, that alone would have tested the limits of endurance when suddenly a very large black choir BURST into song behind him! Oh my gosh - was he trying to kill us? There ought to be some kind of weepymeter to test these songs on before they unleash them on an unsuspecting public. At least have one of those banners running across the bottom of the screen to warn us: "Crybaby Alert!  Crybaby Alert!"

Monday, December 7, 2009

Four Thumbs Up

Right now I have sleeping pill nights, and no sleep nights. This is one of the latter so I thought I'd offer a few movie reviews.

First, My Life in Ruins. It's My Big Fat Greek Wedding all over again, this time in Greece, without the wedding but with enough eye candy to keep me distracted. The hero starts out looking like a muppet, but cleans up quite nicely!

Next, King Baby -- an hour of stand-up  by Jim Gaffigan. Either you love him or you hate him; I love him.

The Soloist with Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx. Based on a true story about a friendship between a newspaper reporter and a now-homeless former Julliard student, the movie resists a simple ending and stays true to their real-life experience. Wonderful bonus features highlight how the friendship has enriched them both.

The Valet -- another Frenchy film. A wealthy industrialist sets out to save his marriage and keep his supermodel girlfriend by having the latter pretend she's involved with an unassuming car-parking valet. Hijinx ensue, French hijinx. (Apparently it's illegal to make a movie in France without Daniel Auteil; he's in everything and the doe-eyed Gad Elmaleh is close behind.)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

SG2 still wows us all

It's not easy to grow up in the shadow of a sibling who's smart, talented, etc. (I know!) But Supergirl 2, who, following graduation became known as Phi Beta Kim, has continued to impress us all. After teaching for two years, first in a high school then an elementary school, she applied for -- and got -- an incredible scholarship from the Rotary Club.

She was one of just a few students chosen out of, I believe, 50,000 or so applicants. She was offered the chance to study in England, Ireland or Australia. We were all hoping for the former because visiting her would be so much easier.

SG2 decided to be pro-active: she applied to the University of Manchester and of course was accepted, then got the approval of the Rotary Club, so she's all set for next year. And by the way, through this program she can get a Master's Degree... in just one year!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Honest Coot

The second remodeling company -- the young start-up -- finally came back and finished the seemingly endless window project. One window had to be remade and several tasks had to be redone or revised. Everything was done, redone to my satisfaction. He even took all the leftover paint from the garage to the basement -- "You shouldn't leave it out there." -- something the painters neglected to do. Several other tasks I thought were above and beyond.

He gave me some energy rebate forms for my taxes and we finally sat down to settle the bill. There have been several revisions back and forth as items were returned, credited, new items were bought, etc. But I immediately saw that his skills in math are not equal to his construction ability: he had mistakenly billed me for one of the adjustments instead of the final adjusted total: $180 instead of $1100. I couldn't do it. I pointed out the mistake and paid him the full amount. I think he was a little shaken up. I'll sleep better tonight knowing I paid an honest worker fairly, and I'll bet he'll sleep better knowing he can pay his crew. But I bet that in the future, he'll probably have his wife (or someone, anyone!) double-check his work.

Turkey Day Wrap Up

In spite of my puny condition, I had a great Thanksgiving with my family. Each year I get more and more shmoopy about holidays. This started even before the cancer. I think it's one of those booby prizes of the aging game.

Most of the youngest generation came this year, including my cousins' kids. I don't see them often, and they don't get together often. It was wonderful to look around at this group of smart, healthy, funny 20-somethings chattering at a speed my brain no longer functions, and enjoying each other's company. I was sorry my stamina waned after just a few minutes but I really loved seeing them all, including all four Supergirls, getting the chance to spend some time together.

Mom's food is still one of the highlights. She insists that it's really not too hard now that she's retired; that she does almost everything in advance and then just warms it up, but I know it's still a lot of work. We keep telling her that anytime she decides to pass the baton, we will find a way to accept it and adjust. But as long as she is willing and able, we will be grateful. (I'm also grateful that every year, Mom ignores my feeble protests and sends leftovers home with me.) Bro 1's turkey is another highlight. He makes it in his Weber grill and it is spectacular. I don't know how they manage to drive in from Chicago without pulling to the side of the road and devouring it, but I'm glad they've figured it out.

My favorite highlight this year (and last year) was that Bro 2 flew here to drive me & Molly up and back. He is also the Handiest Man in the Clan, and a good sport about tackling almost any project: plumbing, electric, construction, whatever. During his brief time here, he managed to install a new garbage disposal that's been sitting in a box for 6+ months. He cleaned my humidifier, a huge project, but I'd be lost without it -- I get through the whole winter without static electricity zaps, without sore throats and dry skin, because of that old humidifier. He helped me tackle Laundry Mountain. Best of all, he scoured, scrubbed, bleached, scrubbed and scoured my ancient tub. He probably did another half-dozen tasks I don't even know about, but all this in addition to companionship and driving services, is just incredible.

So that was my Thanksgiving: a nest of family, food, comfort, a few treks down memory lane (always so much fun to compare our vastly different versions of childhood incidents), giggles and gratitude. No fights, tension, drama, tears, picking at old wounds, etc. If yours was half as nice, you had a pretty good holiday, too.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Surging Toward...What?

It's hard to accept that we're talking about another military surge. I keep wondering how history will record and judge these two debacles. When the dust settles -- and those are some mighty dusty countries -- these will be the two most ghastly military tragedies every perpetrated by U.S. Forces. Through no fault of their own, I might add.

I think Ghandi was right. We should have hit the ground running, ready to kill them with kindness. Instead, we had a giant invasion, a massive, intimidating show of force... and then our troops sat around for 6-7 years, wondering what the plan was. It appears there was no plan.

But what if the plan was immediately upon "stabilizing" (whatever that criteria was), we had started building schools and colleges, hospitals and clinics, utilities, roads, and bridges. What if we had done something productive for people who had barely left their caves? Of course it would have cost money; certainly no less than we have squandered on graft and corruption, on privatizing what should have been public services.

The Afghanis might be looking around right about now and thinking, "Hey, democracy's not so bad. I like having reliable electricity. My kids, even the girls (gasp!) are getting an education." What could the Taliban offer by comparison? More restrictions, stonings, rapes? It was an opportunity to draw a stark comparison between religious intolerance and a free, tolerant type of society. It's one thing to hear about the decadence and indulgences of the west; something else entirely to experience first hand how that kind of open society can impact your children's futures.

I guess some kind of surge is inevitable; we certainly can't leave Afghanistan worse than it was when we arrived. Of course, I could be wrong about this. It's happened once or twice.

Grazi, Todah, Merci

Thank you all for your good wishes following my "downdate." I feel like a broken record* bringing one steaming pile of bad news after another, but your kindness and support never fails to cheer me. I'm amazed at the warmth and sincerity, not just of my pals, of course, but the rest of you: the friends I've never had the privilege of meeting. I never could have imagined that this little white box on my dining room table would be the source of so much comfort and strength.

*Someone recently pointed out that kids (now 30 & younger) have no idea what "broken record" means. They think it has something to do with sports.