Monday, December 29, 2008

Isn't this a fabulous Christmas tree? It takes up zero floor space, and it's a wonderfully creative "green" idea, made from recycled treasures. Would you leave it up year-round? I think I'd sew/glue it all onto felt, so it could be carefully rolled for storage.

I found it here at freshome, but originally it came from the artist's site, Jane Schouten. Beautiful!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Fashion Felonies to Retire in 2009

It's almost a new year. As an act of kindness to others who have to look at you, let's all agree to forever retire these fashion felonies, no matter who tries to convince you they're acceptable:

  • Fanny packs. We need not say another word.
  • Biker Shorts. Unless you're riding in the Tour de France, give 'em up. They really do tell us waaaay too much about you.
  • High heels taller than 3". Who do you think you're fooling? You don't look 5'7", you look 5'3" and very insecure. And gullible.
  • Bra straps showing. Ditto thong underwear showing, and boxers showing. It's called underwear because you're supposed to wear it under your clothes. Please, leave something to our imaginations.
  • Big, billowing baggy pants a la MC Hammer. Exceptions made for working clowns.
  • Blue, Green or Purple Eyeshadow. There's even a book called Blue Eyeshadow Should Be Illegal (and a sequel!), because some of you just aren't getting the message. There's never an occasion, a skin tone, or an outfit that justifies blue eyeshadow.
  • Raisin-colored lipstick. Either have the ovaries to make a statement with Goth Black, or stick to red, pink or coral.
  • Dark Lipliner. Like Rooster Bangs, this was in fashion for 20 seconds, 20 years ago. Please, step away from the lipliner and walk toward the light.
  • Ass-flash pants. Pants worn mid-ass or lower. I know I'm tilting at windmills here. I don't know why this hasn't faded into
  • oblivion already. Cher Horowitz was making fun of these in Clueless, back in 1995, and they were already old. To be fair, they do save us a lot of time: we don't have to have a conversation with you to know you're a moron. Yes, it's like wearing a big neon "I'm... like...really, really stupid" sign. I'm always tempted to yell "Fire!" and see how you run in pants that have the crotch at knee-level. We can't seem to get rid of them, so how about this: I give the world permission to yank down any pair of ass-flash pants, anywhere, any time. We can at least amuse ourselves in the meantime.

Friday, December 26, 2008

More Hannukah Hijinx

I think this must have been '73 or '74. How very unusual that I'm dressed like a norman human, while Sis looks like a young Granny Clampett and Bro 2 seems to be channeling... I don't know, Gallagher? In spite of the festive decorations and the menorah we all seem rather subdued. Maybe we overdosed on latkes.

2008 – Molly is an Agnostic Buddhist Pantheist Confused Confucian like her mother, but our cousin dogs, Coco and Taffy (pictured here), are definitely MOTs: Members of the Tribe. Technically, they are Lhasa PooJoos.

Exhausted after spending the day playing Judah in the North Suburban All-Canine Maccabean Tryptich, Taffy claims she just wants to relax and spin the dreidle. Sorry, Taffy. Find another sucker... I mean playmate. We won't play dreidle with Taffy anymore because she always wins. I'm not saying she cheats... I'm just saying it's verrry suspicious.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

My Little Giraffe, Part 2

How is it possible I wrote that very long post about Miss Elsie, my best friend for 12 years... and never even mentioned her most notable feature? (I'm sure my family is wondering! Is it chemo brain, or plain old-fashioned denial?)

Well, it may have been caused by her health/digestive issues, but Elsie was famous for her incredible silent farts. Over the years I tried every dog food on the market, fed her more, less, at different times, with her medicine and without. Nothing worked. I'm not even so sure they were farts; they were so noxious, there may be a different word for them. At family gatherings, someone would suddenly notice the the excruciatingly foul odor, the invisible toxic cloud, and in a heartbeat, the room would have to be vacated. I've seen houseplants try to escape by hurling themselves off of shelves.

I remember one incident in particular, here at the Villa. I was listening to a seemingly endless pitch from a replacement window salesman. He was trespassing into dinner time and Elsie'd had enough: she quietly walked under the table where we were seated, and let 'er rip. This poor guy kept going with his pitch and never skipped a beat. He must have been so desperate for a sale. But his jaw was clenched, his eyes were watering, and his hair appeared to be singed. (It wasn't until much later... I realized... he probably thought I was responsible!)

I don't think anyone ever heard Elsie fart. It was the surprise factor that made them so deadly: you didn't get any warning. And since her priority was to spend every waking minute glued to my side, I was always in the line of fire. You'd think I would have developed some resistance, but right until the end, her killer farts remained consistently potent. Silent-but-deadly.

I should have at least looked into offering her to the CIA for research. I think if our troops had her stealth farts for a secret weapon, they'd be home by now.

Oh, the Shame...

First, let me say in my defense that it was the day before Christmas and the Red Box selection was mighty limited. The prospect of 24 hours of Christmas specials to someone who doesn't celebrate Christmas caused me to broaden my criteria for movie selection. And that is how I happened to bring home "You Don't Mess with the Zohan." I don't even like Adam Sandler. Like Will Farrell*, he keeps playing the same character over and over, the kind of character who entertains mostly young boy people.

Sandler as a Mossad super agent has screamingly funny super powers, a total obsession with sex, and an outsized Israeli-style ego. In a personal quest for peace, he moves to New York City to change careers and become a hairdresser. Ongoing gags feature hummus, Israeli soda pop, and bare asses. In spite of a predictable storyline and ending, I found the movie hilarious. Laughing at Sandler's crotch/sex jokes is like laughing at a 6-year old's booger jokes, or an 8-year old's fart jokes. You know you shouldn't and you certainly don't want to encourage them...but you just can't help it.

I'm so ashamed. It's as if I was caught reading The Enquirer or buying a dozen Twinkies.
(*Each has had one exceptional role. Farrell's was in Stranger Than Fiction. Sandler's: Punch-Drunk Love.)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

2008 News Quiz

Time to see if you've been paying attention: take the News Quiz. Good Luck!

I got an abysmal 58%, and that's with guessing most of the answers. 2008 was a pretty abysmal year, and I don't mean just me. Though we can rejoice at least with two Good News items: the election of Barack Obama, and the fact that this sucky year is almost over.

Let Them Eat Cake

America’s Most Expensive Homes
Even winning a $100 million lottery won't buy you most of these monstrosities. In fact, $65 million will get you a fixer-upper in San Francisco.

Let it go?

On the subject of letting go...or not letting go...

After not one, not two, but three infuriating experiences with the hospital department known as known as Intervention Radiologists (links to details below), I spoke to someone called a Patient Representative, and gave him the highlights of my experiences:

  • On the admission day that wasn't, I had to wait hours and hours in excruciating pain for an x-ray and then an ultra-sound, which finally revealed a blood clot in my neck. In spite of asking 40 or 50 times, I was sent home without a prescription for a blood thinner, and was generally treated like a nuisance.
  • While an inpatient, the port "exploded." I was made to wait nearly 30 hours before even having it looked at, and then, in spite of as much protest as I could offer in my weakened, exhausted, frightened condition, they forced me to have the port replaced without any anesthesia.
  • In spite of as much protest as I could offer in my weakened, exhausted, frightened condition, they forced me to have the port removed with only a local, which they did not even allow 5 seconds to work.
When I got my copies of the "reports" from IR, their versions of all three events ranged from mild distortions to outright lies and it seemed to rekindle my outrage. I told the patient rep. to give my version of the events to the department head and, after s/he had a chance to review both versions, to meet with me.

Honestly, all I'm looking for is an acknowledgment that I was treated very badly ("inappropriately?" "questionably?"), and a commitment to reconsider their policy of refusing to administer IV sedation, even when a patient requests (or screams and cries and begs) for it. THAT'S IT. No apologies, no settlement, no nothin'. My only motive is to prevent other patients from being treated as badly as I was.

Is that reasonable? Or should I just "let it go?"
Preface: Transplant Class (I thought it was an irrational fear...nawt!)
The Clot: Part 1, Part 2
The Explosion: Part 1, Part 2
The Removal

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Festivus, et al

The next few days our weather is predicted to alternate between snow and freezing rain. Sort of a white-gray, snowy-slushy Christmas. And yet, we're so much better off than many of you folks! I worry about my West Coast friends, who aren't used to really wicked weather, and my East Coast friends, who are used to it, but not so much, so soon. My sister is a travel agent, and I want to remind everyone that, contrary to what you might have heard, travel agents do not control the weather.

My mom and Supergirl #3, TJ, share the same birthday and usually the folks come down to celebrate. But the weather has been so unpredictable, we're postponing the birthday gala for a while. (Hooray for TJ, who went from a very small parochial school to one of the largest high schools in the state, and still made the High Honor Roll in her very first high school semester.)

We've warmed up to 23º here but it still seems pretty cold. Here at the Villa, the canal is frozen over, which only happens every 3-4 years. Supergirls #3 and 4 are going to spend the afternoon here making Candied Pecans and Peppermint Bark for a few very last-minute Christmas gifts. We will make a grocery stop for a few last minute ingredients and some Red Box movies. (We love Red Box.) My goal is to distribute the goodies before I have a chance to tuck into them.

Whether or not you celebrate Festivus, I wish you all safe travels and happy, healthy holidays!

Holiday Treats

1 package white candy chips
1-2 drops peppermint extract (optional)
1-2 drops red food coloring
8 candy canes, crushed (pea-sized or smaller)

Melt candy chips in double boiler or very carefully over low heat. Stir in extract. Add food coloring & stir once or twice. Quickly pour and spread onto non-stick cookie sheet and sprinkle crushed candy canes on top. I press in the candy gently, using a paper plate that I move around. Put into freezer or fridge for 5-10 minutes. Remove & break into pieces.

1 lb pecan halves
2 egg whites & 1 Tbsp water
1 C sugar
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt

Whip egg whites & water together. Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Using about a cup full of pecans at a time, stir around in egg white mixture and remove with a spoon. Drop into dry mixture, stir to coat, and remove with a slotted spoon, shaking to remove excess. Spread on baking sheet. Bake at 275º for 20 minutes, stirring once. Remove to cool on platter. Serve in holiday bowls, or fill holiday baggies for gifts. If you bring these to a party, they will be inhaled - watch your fingers!

Monday, December 22, 2008

My Little Giraffe

My first furry roommate was Elsie. She was, as you can see, completely irresistible at 8 weeks old. What a lesson: I can now resist any puppy, no matter how cute. Oh, I still adore them, I'm just delighted to have someone else take them home.

Obviously, I named her Elsie because she looked like a little cow. She had one black ear and one spotted ear, and "Gateway" computer markings. But for a year, it seemed that only her legs grew, and eventually she looked more like a giraffe. She ended up a very tall, lean 45lb dog, about twice the size I'd expected.

Elsie was a world class chewer. No matter how careful I thought I was or how many chewies I provided, there was always something more tempting: the dining room table legs, the dining room chair legs, my shoes, my boots, formica, linoleum, the window sill. She basically shredded my house. One day it was a stack of magazines and a little pot of lip gloss. I came home to find my house covered in greasy pink magazine confetti. One day, she could suddenly reach the kitchen countertop; she knocked down, opened and ate 6 months' worth of doggy vitamins. One day, she worked open a kitchen cupboard and got into mouse poison. That was one of her more expensive adventures: $150 worth of vet visits and antidotes.

Speaking of expense, Elsie turned out to be a pricey venture. She developed doggy Lupus, and then a pancreatic disorder. For most of her life, she was on a pancreatic enzyme supplement that cost about $75 a month. That was more than my phone and electric bills combined. And on a couple of occasions, her digestive system just shut down: she stopped eating and drinking and couldn't hold anything down. A quick diagnosis indicated that I hadn't spent enough: $1,200 or so later (a night at the vet's on IV fluids), she was her old frolicking self.

Elsie was a squirrely, quirky girl. And she was very much a mama's girl. She really wasn't very friendly or affectionate with anyone else. In fact, she wasn't that affectionate with me, she just wanted to be with me, ideally next to me, all the time. My brother called her autistic. I tried to tell myself he meant, "artistic," but I knew better.

Each time she got sick, I debated whether or not to spend the money... but how can you not? How can you decide to deny your best friend life-saving treatment? Well, the fact is that most of us have to. There aren't many people with infinite resources who can provide anything and everything a pet might ever need.

When she was 11 years old, she went into another downward spiral. She was showing signs of senility and was beginning to growl at me, the only person she could stand. Between her health problems and her increasingly unpleasant personality, I felt I could not leave her with anyone else. As she got sicker, she had almost no quality of life and as a result, neither did I. So I finally made the decision to let her go.

My vet explained that Elsie would first be given a sedative, so that she would just calmly go to sleep, and not have any awareness of the next, final injection. She (the vet) believed that giving our pets a peaceful, pain free ending is our last, and probably our best, gift to them. I found that very comforting. If only we allowed fellow humans to depart as peacefully.

I decided to be with her, and that is one of the few regrets I have in my life. I wasn't able to be of any comfort to her at that point, and just tortured myself by staying until the "bitter end." If I had it to do over, I would just say my goodbye and leave.

I thought I would wait at least 6 months or more before getting another dog. But without an audience, I'm just a crazy girl who talks out loud to herself. And life without a pet is unbearably lonely.

I loved Elsie with all my heart, even when she wasn't being particularly lovable, but I am over-the-moon crazy in love with Molly. She is the sweetest, gentlest, most lovable girl. She's a very quiet dog, except when she's in her yard, guarding the Villa. I can't believe how lucky I am that she is my dog. I'd really like to go first, but I'm hopeful we'll have a lot more years together.

Photos: Irresistible 8-week old Elsie. The first four pics and my nuclear dahlia photo were all taken by my neighbor Susie. It was 1989, and my hair was bigger than my ass. (Sigh.) Later, with our dog friend Gretchen. Elsie at the fence: the only long, thin legs in my family.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Movie Minutes

Baby Mama - I love Tina Fey, I loved "Mean Girls," and I loved Baby Mama. Tina & Amy Poehl play their roles brilliantly without turning into caricatures, an even greater challenge for Poehl. A saccharine ending, but a real, touching story about life choices and consequences.

Sleepwalking - I should have slept through it. This is a grim tale about a brother and sister abused by a cruel, heartless father. Years after escaping, the brother returns, with his niece, so the abuse can reach another generation. Seemingly endless panoramic shots of bleak, flat farmland in midwinter. Ugh, you know the old masochist's joke: "Why do you stay with that man?" "Beats me!" Why was this film ever on my list??

Melvin Goes to Dinner - Yuppies kvetching about their insignificant pseudo- problems, and then suddenly revealing much-too-intimate, soul-baring details of their lives. And the guys verge on not-good-looking, so there's not even any distracting eye candy. Claims to be a "film festival favorite." Maybe if I'd been stoned...I don't know, I've lost patience with these yak-yak-yak young-folks- being-introspective films. (Um, old folks, too.)

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day - The best movie I've seen in a long, long time. Frances McDormand is one of my favorite actresses, and she does not disappoint in this sweet, funny story reminiscent of the best 40s comedies. Miss Pettigrew is mistakenly hired as a social secretary, and although her life is in shambles, she has a knack for rescuing everyone around her from their own foibles.

The Tao of Steve - I don't think I even made it 30 minutes before just ejecting this pile o' poo. Maybe it's just a guy flick - a 12-year old guy flick.

Sex & The City: The Movie - the clothes are still...daring. And the repartee is still snippy and snappy. (SPOILER ALERT) But who would believe that Carrie still marries Big after being left at the altar the first time? We spent all those years watching her learn to grow a backbone... for that? Nope, not buying it.

10,000 BC - I put this on my list because of my fondness for the "Clan of the Cave Bear" series by Jean Auel. The first one stunk, plot-wise, but set the stage for understanding subsequent books. Which were thrilling, captivating, amazing and the best paper sex ever! Although some of the special effects were impressive, I didn't think this movie was thrilling or captivating.

The Other Boleyn Girl - Ah, finally, a film I can watch without my finger on the fast-forward button! Drama, intrigue, sexual tension, fabulous sets and costumes, and an actual plot. A juicy story: I wondered how much is factual, and how much is conjecture? Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson are the sisters. Eric Bana as Henry VIII was a strange choice: I always thought Henry VIII was a giant slobbering tub of a man, not this youthful studmuffin. Whatever - I actually watched and enjoyed the whole movie.

Friday, December 19, 2008

But the Good News is...

What do you do when you encounter unwarranted, outrageous rudeness? I had that experience yesterday morning; it's probably only the second or third time in my life I've ever come across such venomous rage. I know it's bound to happen occasionally: you just happen to clip someone in mid-hissy, or be a convenient target on the worst day of someone's life. And everyone has been so caring and helpful for the last year, I've just been carried on a cloud of kindness. so I'm sure I over-reacted. Still...

I'd left a message for someone, and her return call consisted of talking over me for 20 seconds and then hanging up on me.

I was absolutely stunned. It was so inappropriate, I finally decided I should track down her supervisor. I sent an email to the person I thought it might be. I didn't share my experience, I just said if you are her supervisor, please contact me, and if you are not, please let me know who is.

Not five minutes later, she called me back. She didn't apologize, or even admit to being rude; she just answered my original question. In fact, she insisted that she wasn't rude, and she didn't hang up on me, and that we would just "have to agree to disagree." Um, not unless we're agreeing that you're a delusional psycho with the emotional maturity of a two-year old.

I guess I could have pursued the speak-to-your-supervisor route, but I really, really wanted to just let it go and get past it. It was like an experiment, an exercise for me. And, at least initially, I failed miserably. It was just a veil of outrage on me, and it kept compounding: I was upset that I was so upset. Why on earth was I giving this horrid creature that kind of power over my life?

It took me all day to put it into some kind of perspective, and when I finally did, a weight was lifted. (Okay, so I've improved my technique but need to work on speed.) Now I almost hope I meet her someday. I would just love to be able to tell her in person,

"I may have a terminal, incurable cancer and be wracked with pain almost every day of my life, but at least I'm not Tina Swarens!"

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Queen Fanny

This poem (below) is a little bit greeting-cardy, but as soon as I read it, I knew that today I was going to write about Aunt Fanny.

Everybody Jewish has an Aunt Fanny. If by some chance you are born without one, they assign one to you. Boy, did I hit the jackpot: I had a spectacular Aunt Fanny.

My Aunt Fanny, my maternal grandmother's sister, had a very regal bearing. She should have been a foot taller, and been a model or a movie star. She should have been born to a rich family, and been able to indulge her love of fashion and style and luxury. But she wasn't. She was a teeny, tiny little middle class lady who carried herself like a queen. (We short girls learn very early the secret of good posture: you're instantly an inch taller and ten pounds thinner.) She married a teeny, tiny man, Harry, and they loved each other dearly, but she had a somewhat difficult life, raising three children, taking care of her in-laws, and then losing some of those closest to her.

She was gracious and attentive and all her life, men of all ages lined up to do her bidding. Aunt Fanny had perfected the art of platonic flirting. She was always immaculately dressed, made-up and coiffed, usually in a classic French twist. But what I remember most clearly was her rare talent for making me feel so smart, so important. Kids know that most adults tune them out, at least until they are caught doing something they shouldn't be doing. It's rare enough to be with an adult who truly pays attention to everything you say. But an adult who thinks you're terribly wise, and clever, and insightful's almost unheard of, but that was Aunt Fanny's gift.

As further proof, I offer the fact that I went to visit her on my own as a teenager. Yes, it's true: this surly, emotional, insecure teenager voluntarily took a Greyhound bus to Cincinnati to visit my Aunt Fanny. And she made me feel like every word I said, everything I did, was important.

You know, it's not a parent's job to adore you. Their job is to turn you into a civilized adult who other adults can stand to be around; almost the opposite of adoring you. (If you've ever met someone who was completely adored and indulged by their parents, you know what kind of repulsive creature is likely to result.)

In a perfect world, every kid should have at least one adult in their life who really listens to them, who really makes them feel as if they matter. For a teeny, tiny little lady, Aunt Fanny sure set the bar high.

The Little Things

by Mary Dawson Hughes

It really is the little things
That mean the most of all...
The “let me help you with that” things
That may seem very small
The “I'll be glad to do it” things
That make your cares much lighter,
The “laugh with me, it's funny” things
That make your outlook brighter...

The “never mind the trouble” things,
The “yes, I understand,”
The interest and encouragement
In everything you've planned
It really is the little things,
The friendly word or smile,
That add such happiness to life
And make it more worthwhile.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Happy Patriot Day

Picture: The first blow for liberty. Print by A.H. Ritchie. 200(S)-JH-3.

I'm declaring today Patriot Day, in honor of the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, the Last Straw that triggered the Revolutionary War and gave birth to a constitutional republic.

For the last few years, I've been spouting my oh-so-clever idea that "Flying a flag doesn't make you a patriot, any more than wearing a stethoscope makes you a doctor." (Likewise, putting an "I support the troops" magnet on your car. If anything, you support the guy in China who makes the magnet.) This brilliant insight came to me at the height of the flag-burning hysteria, also known as "Look! Something shiny!," a shamefully successful strategy by the neocons to take your eyes off bouncing ball: the economy, the war, graft and corruption, etc.

If the election of Obama represents a passion for change, is it too much to hope that a new definition of patriotism might emerge? One that moves past clichés and sound bites, and honors the courage, sacrifice and ideals of our founding fathers and mothers?

So, what do I think constitutes a patriot? Here's a short list:
  • Write a letter to the editor about an issue you think is important
  • Call or write your Senator or Congressperson about said issue
  • Vote in every election, especially local elections.
  • Volunteer for a political campaign
  • Volunteer to work at the polls on election day
  • Run for a public office
  • Discuss issues with your friends. Not politician's personalities or hairstyles.
  • Send cards and/or a care package to the troops
  • Boycott WalMart and try to buy products Made in the USA
  • Volunteer at a VA hospital
  • Your Suggestion Here: _____________________________
Happy Patriot Day! Fly your flag and commit an act of patriotism.

Go See...

Yes, it's a GoSeeTwoFer!

Catch the Moment - amazing and/or amusing pictures. There’s another “catch the moment” and a “real or fake?” in the left column that are also worth a look. Warning: lots of pics, a bit slow-loading.

Sand Sculptures - At least that’s what I think they are: the site is in Russian or Cyrillic or something, so I can’t be absolutely sure.

My new fascination: Finding Dulcinea, Librarian of the Internet. I will lose many hours here.
On This Day: American Patriots Carry Out Boston Tea Party
Yesterday: Happy Birthday, Gustave Eiffel

A love that lights the sky

by Hafiz, a Persian poet of the 1300s

Even after all this time,
the sun never says
to the earth,
“You owe me.”

Look what happens
with a love like that:
it lights the
whole sky.

Go See...

The Differences Between Christmas and Chanukah - or Channukah or Hanukkah...
Amazing Perspective in a Sequence of Drawings - wish my brain worked like this.
What do you do with baking soda? - Hooray for cheap, nontoxic cleaners.
Upside-down Faces - don't miss Invisible Body Art while you're there

I've been spending the last few days trying to figure out why this picture in particular has been haunting me.

It finally hit me: it's the swimsuit!

I know I look 8 or 9 years old, which means I was 11 or 12. Which means this was the swimsuit I refused to wear to the Infamous Pool Party, and insisted on buying a new one.

Oh, if I'd only known the horror, I would have gladly, happily opted for last year's ungroovy, flat-chested model. Yes, only agony and humiliation can result when we try to be something we are not. And we do learn more from our failures and mistakes than from our successes. To thine own self be true, indeed.

Monday, December 15, 2008

But the Good News is...

Life is not easy with a hyperactive social conscience. Combine that with self-righteousness (completely unwarranted), and you've got a recipe for toxic emotional reactionism. I don't know when it started. I was skipping school to attend anti-war rallies when I was 13. When I was 14 or 15, I "rescued" a three-legged dog who was going to be drowned; a family legend that will not die, or even fade. But even I was surprised when I was cruising the paper yesterday morning for blog fodder, and every story pissed me off.

"Are Hospitals Doing Enough for the Poor?" A story about how hospitals get huge tax breaks for providing services to the poor, but contribute only a fraction of that amount in services. Although they are granted non-profit status with a big basket o' tax goodies, the hospitals torture and humiliate people before they provide any aid. Now we also learn that they count other "services" such as providing information on their website, or CE classes for their doctors, as "public benefit." Charity care as a percentage of revenue ranged from .55 to 2.57 percent. And by the way, the CEO's salaries at three of these major hospitals ranges from $844,767 to $1,292,713.

Unfortunately, I know about this first-hand. I had to do some groveling to get financial aid, and only someone with my contrariness could have succeeded. Every time they turned me down for some vague reason, or based on incorrect assumptions, I came back even angrier and more determined.

"Another Honor, Again Too Late" The last Tuskegee airman in the state is to ill to attend the presidential inauguration.

"Life Keeps Getting Worse in Zimbabwe" On top of all the miseries heaped on these poor people in the last decade or two, now there is an outbreak of cholera. Cholera! President Mugabe, who has ruled since 1980 and refuses to acknowledge the recent elections, insists that cholera is a "calculated racist attack" by the British.

"Election Day Disparities Found" If you voted in a predominantly black or Hispanic precinct, you were more likely to encounter long waits and voter ID challenges.

"Rights Violators Buy Arms from U.S." Sales reached $32 billion last year, more than half to governments or regimes that engaged in human rights abuses. Sales to those countries totaled more than $16.2 billion over 2006 and 2007. The total "contrasts sharply with the Bush administrations pro-democracy rhetoric." Yeah, pro-democracy unless his buddies can make a few billion. Then, not so concerned.

"Lunch Program Squeezed" At a time when more students than ever qualify, the money reimbursed to schools "continues to fall short of the actual costs." Gee, if only those hungry schoolchildren could afford a few good lobbyists.

As the day wore on, I finally came to realize that it wasn't just garden variety crankiness, my reactions were influenced by the fact that I was actually sick. I don't want to be sick, but it was kind of a relief. I don't want to have to stop reading the paper.

Copyright Rob Rogers

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Winter Getaway

Growing up in the hinterlands, a winter tan was a coveted status symbol. It meant that your family was rich enough to whisk you away from the freezing cold and blizzards, and take you to someplace tropical, where the sun was shining even in December. We never did that; I remember only one winter get-away. It was one of our few vacations that wasn't a family visit. We went to a winter resort (read: hotel with a big indoor pool) in Illinois.

I remember the pool...and that it was bitter cold, subzero, the whole time we were there. Did we ride on snowmobiles? Maybe just the boys. The sibs will have to fill in the blanks.

Yeah, those bathing caps were so flattering, weren't they? (Of course, now I realize it was a glimpse into my future: Hail, Baldini!) I believe this photo inspired the hilarious Martin Short/Harry Shearer skit on SNL about the synchronized swimming brothers. "Hey, you! I know you! I know you!"

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Copyright Scott Stantis

In a seventy-six page complaint, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff were charged yesterday with engaging in a pattern of corruption. Every line of this story sounds like another punchline: the day before he was charged, "Blago" taunted law enforcement, daring them to indict him. Ironically, he was elected twice on promises to reform the "culture of corruption" that plagued his predecessor.

Word is, the prosecutor is one of those meticulous, thorough types who would never have proceeded with charges if he wasn't 99.9% sure he had slam-dunk. Word is, Blaggy's only hope for avoiding some serious prison time is to step down immediately, and plead insanity. There is no denying the mountain of evidence, mostly in Blaggy's own words.

I can't blame the Chicago Tribune for a little schadenfreude: the Blagster tried to make the Trib fire editorial writers who criticized him, in exchange for helping the Tribune's parent company finance the purchase of Wrigley Field. One of the Trib's columnists is already holding a “name that scandal” contest. (My favorite so far: Stupidpalooza.) Clearly, his ego is so massive, there just isn't any room for brains. Concerned that he wouldn't be able to sell Obama's Senate seat for a high enough price, he held out the possibility of gobbling it up for himself:
Then, on Nov. 5, he allegedly said, "I've got this thing, and it's [expletive] golden and, uh, I'm just not going to give it up for [expletive] nothing. I'm not gonna do it. And I can always use it, I can parachute me there."

Parachute me?

If a jury hears that tape, it's [expletive] over.

I figure Blagojevich most likely will start talking to the feds, blabbing about everyone he knows, in order to cut down his time, because what's on the federal tapes is devastating.

Once he starts, the feds will have to slap him to shut him up.
(excerpted from John Kass' column, "He's the Clown, but the Joke's on Us.")

I wonder how it feels knowing that the whole world is suddenly learning how to spell and pronounce your last name, so that you can become a punchline on late night television. I hope he gets a really cranky judge, and gets the maximum sentence allowable. A couple of decades in "time out" at the Big House, thinking about how his shameless greed brought him to ruin, would be appropriate. Or maybe it's time to bring back public humiliation. A month in the stocks at Daley Plaza, bring your own fruit?

Those Three Little Words

You know it's coming. One day you will hear those three little words. You wait, and you begin to think, "maybe it won't happen to me." But it will, it's only a matter of time. And once you hear them, you know your life has changed, and it will never be the same. One day, someone will say to you, "At your age..."and from then on, almost every conversation you have with a health care professional will begin with those three little words.

At your age, it's normal that your [insert body part] should begin to [sag/weaken/wrinkle].
At your age, you have to expect some [fatigue/limitations/loss].

Even if you are fortunate enough to be in great shape, every health care professional will make sure you know that you're in great shape for your age.

Just as this begins to happen, everyone around you suddenly seems so young. It's not a coincidence. When you were 25, you were a bona fide adult person, weren't you? Of course. But now when you see 25-year olds, they seem like children!

You find yourself looking at people wondering…were you born before Kennedy was shot? Before the first moon landing? Before Watergate? Suddenly doctors and dentists look like toddlers. Mechanics and clerks look like infants. And fast food workers look like great big fetuses. When did they do that? Why did they do that? Aging was painful enough without this.

The first time it happened to me, I was at a dermatologist's office. I was finally ushered into an exam room and while I was waiting for the doctor, a little boy wandered in. I smiled and started to ask if his mommy knew where he was, when he reached out to shake my hand. "Good morning, Ms. K___," he squeaked, "What seems to be the problem today?"

Are you kidding?!? The problem, sonny, is that I have shoes older than you! Well, that's what I wanted to say, but of course, I didn't. At my age, I should know better.

Copyright Pat Oliphant

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Life's Better with Ad Blockers

I generally use Firefox as my internet browser. None of them are great, especially for us Mac folks. But I literally "stumbled upon" an ad blocker... that WORKS! I was so sick of waitingwaitingwaiting for ads to load, sick of pop-up windows that somehow got around my pop-up blocker. I'm sure I'll find things about the ad blocker I don't like, but so far, I'm thrilled with it:

At the Cancer Clinic

by Ted Kooser

She is being helped toward the open door
that leads to the examining rooms
by two young women I take to be her sisters.
Each bends to the weight of an arm
and steps with the straight, tough bearing
of courage. At what must seem to be
a great distance, a nurse holds the door,
smiling and calling encouragement.
How patient she is in the crisp white sails
of her clothes. The sick woman
peers from under her funny knit cap
to watch each foot swing scuffing forward
and take its turn under her weight.
There is no restlessness or impatience
or anger anywhere in sight. Grace
fills the clean mold of this moment
and all the shuffling magazines grow still.

from Delights & Shadows, Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, WA 2004

Ted is another Poet Laureate and a fellow midwesterner. He writes a weekly newspaper column, American Life in Poetry.

This poem really rings true: my trips to the Cancer Center are always a mixture of anxiety and relief, self-pity and gratitude. Every glance and closed-lip smile is an invisible hug, a silent hand-squeeze. There is more courage in that waiting room than on any battlefield, and I'm humbled, and think that just maybe some of it will rub off on me.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Glowing Report

I’ve had a considerable amount of radiation exposure the last year.

The radiation treatment I received right after my diagnosis was every day for three weeks. That’s a pretty short time frame, but my radiation was very intense and localized: my upper spine and ribcage, and one particular spot on my ribs: the source point for the pain that caused me to seek help originally.

I’ve also had an MRI, several CT scans, the PET scan, 2-3 chest x-rays, something called a Long Bone x-ray. Plus a flock of dental x-rays last spring before I started on Zometa, my bone-strengthening drug.

I’m confident my docs wouldn’t have ordered the scans and x-rays without good cause. What they needed to learn was important enough to my treatment that the risk of added exposure was mitigated. I accept all this as necessary; I don’t question their decisions. But every once in a while I see something that gives me pause, that creates a new perspective.

Marie Curie's laboratory papers are still so radioactive that they're kept in lead-lined boxes.
Researchers who consult them must agree to work at their own risk.

I found it here, but I can’t find a source beyond to verify it:
Her research papers have to be 100 years old, or older, and they're still dangerously radioactive. Hmmm.

Unrelated note: In fourth or fifth grade, I read a little biography about Marie Curie. Discovered radioactivity, blah, blah. What impressed me was that she was so obsessed with her research, she often forgot to eat. I was dumbstruck -- I had no frame of reference for such odd behavior.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


by Edith Sodergran

I want to let go -
so I don't give a damn about fine writing,
I'm rolling my sleeves up.
The dough's rising...
Oh what a shame
I can't bake cathedrals...
that sublimity of style
I've always yearned for...
Child of our time -
haven't you found the right shell for your soul?

Before I die I shall
bake a cathedral.

Some of us have been thinking and writing about hope; I thought I'd include a poem by that title. Ms. Sodergran was a Finn/Swede who wrote mostly in Swedish but also in Russian. She died at a young age of tuberculosis.

I think this poem expresses our desire to create something spectacular, something that might outlast us, through whatever skills or talents we might possess. Ms. Sodergran wants to give up that obsession, but admits that she cannot. I wonder if she realized that the poem itself is a little cathedral of hope.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Go See...

Capturing the Moment - Some are probably photoshopped; so what?
Healthy Fast Food - Less Unhealthy Fast Food from my fave mag, Real Simple.
Former Corporate Lawyer turned Lego Sculptor. Good on him: the world needs less of the former, more of the latter.

Get Busy

(Below: “Waiting” by Harold Zisla)
Through twelve years of public school and a couple years of college, I had exactly two good teachers, and one spectacularly bad one. I can't even remember the names of any other teachers.

One of the good teachers was a high school English teacher who ranted and paced and wore mini-skirts and just about turned herself inside-out trying to engage us. The other good teacher was a college art instructor, Harold Zisla. Over Thanksgiving, I read about an exhibit of his work that was held in October to raise money for a scholarship in his name. I was amazed, that he was still alive (I was in college 100 years ago, and he was old then); that he's “only” 83, and that this exhibit consisted of works he's painted since 2005.

Harold is one of those local legend types. To be an abstract expressionist back in the 50s and 60s -- and an unapologetic one! -- was pretty avant garde for that small, midwestern, blue collar town. And, as I recall, he was an avant garde, color-outside-the-cliché kind of instructor. He often began classes with the “You Are My Oysters” speech, that went something like this:
“You are my oysters, and I am a tiny grain of sand. You might think your job is to swim around and enjoy yourselves. But my job is to irritate you, until you make me pearls. So get busy.”
I remember once he brought a few eyepatches to class, and arbitrarily handed them out to students who then had to draw one-eyed that day. Sometimes he walked around with a roll of masking tape. He'd stop, and tape two or more of your fingers together. Or, if you were right-handed, he'd take your pencil or charcoal and make you try to draw left-handed. And quite often, he'd insist we draw without looking at our work at all.

You didn't have to draw well, you just had to try. And you had to be willing to take chances, to risk failure and disappointment, in order to achieve any kind of success. Those are pretty good lessons, no matter what the subject. And what a rare quality, to be able to develop talent and encourage young minds, and be remembered many, many years later.

Me, I've got the grain-of-sand bit down. I'm just looking for my oysters.

Friday, December 5, 2008

I usually try to add copyright or source information whenever possible; here's how this one arrived in my mailbox:


Model Sues Mexican Plastic Surgeon

Model Mary Segovia says that plastic surgeon Dr. Jose Manaus Barvaria left her nipples "uneven" when he performed a breast implant on her last month. Ms. Segovia says she has contacted a lawyer and plans to file suit in the National Court of Justice in Mexico City.

Dr. Barvaria says he sees nothing wrong with Ms. Segovia’s breasts. “Hell, they look perfectly normal to me,” Dr. Barvaria stated. “I can’t see what all the fuss is about.”

About Face

I have one of those faces - a Face People Talk To (or, if you insist, a Face To Which People Talk). I have known this since I was a teenager. My family and most of my friends know this because they have witnessed it again and again. On an elevator, in a grocery line, even just out for a walk: as soon as I leave my house, I am fair game; complete strangers will come up to me and begin conversations as if we were long-lost friends. Even in an airport, or any room with hundreds of other options, I am always the one who will be selected for a chat or a gripe session.

Once or twice I've felt a little intimidated or threatened, but I'm usually engaged with someone friendly, or someone who just wants an audience, and needs to complain without really expecting anything in return. I consider myself fortunate, because I'm a mediocre judge of character with a fairly abysmal "danger!" instinct.

I have studied this ol' puss in the mirror, trying to figure out what exactly says, "Yes - accost me. Annoy me. Tell me all about your personal problems." And I haven't a clue. I've tried rearranging my expression into "Leave Me Alone" or "I Don't Give a Hoot" or even "Bugger Off, You Nutty Whack Job," all without success. I've learned to accept this feature, although the mystery of why continues to frustrate me.

There's a reason I'm sharing this, it's just taking a while to get there. I had exactly one brief outing during my Thanksgiving visit: Mom and I ventured out on "Black Friday" with two objectives: a memory foam mattress topper, and perhaps some new winter bedding, to go with my newly remodeled bedroom. My sister-in-law had given me a memory foam pillow, which I really like, and I'd been lusting for a mattress topper ever since she told me about them.

At the first store, Kohl's, I was fondling the mattress topper, trying to justify the expense to myself. Even on sale, it was $100, a fortune to someone who's been living on handouts for a year. And almost immediately, as if we were best friends in mid-outing, a woman came up to me and said, "Oh, I just love my mattress topper! You should get this! You won't believe what a difference it makes! I bought one for my sister! They are just fabulous!" and proceeded to tell me more, in greater detail.

So I decided to put my faith in the Crazy Mattress Topper Lady, and I bought it. And CMTL was right: I just love it! I can't believe how much more comfy my ancient, broken down old mattress is. Thanks, Crazy Lady!

I found a bedding set at our second and final stop, Penneys. In fact, the "floor model" was the only one in my size (Do I have the last full bed on the planet? Have you all expanded to Kings and Queens?), so they unmade the demo bed and packed it up for me. It was so cheap, I don't expect it to last more than a year or two -- the bedskirt needed mending even before I put it on the bed -- but the fact that I found one I like and could afford is like a lunar eclipse. (The smaller photo shows my finally-hung birdylicious prints, a rare impulse purchase. Maybe all art purchases should be based on emotional impulses.)

The rich cocoa color makes it seem even warmer; between the bedding and the mattress topper, it has become a bit of a challenge every morning, persuading myself to get out of bed.

Really, I can hardly wait til the next time I'm accosted - I'm going to tell them all about it!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Just One Year Ago...

One year ago, I knew that something was terribly wrong. My doctor didn't believe me, so I didn't have a diagnosis. I finally changed doctors and on Dec. 1, I heard what I had known in my heart for six months: "You have cancer."

So much has happened in just one year: the radiation, chemo, and stem cell transplant, and also my shift in perspective, awareness, and strength. There have been a lot of highs and lows, but nothing I have been through compares to the pain of telling my parents I have cancer. I can only imagine their fear and sense of helplessness.

Telling friends and family I have cancer was also difficult. I don't know why, but I was completely unprepared for the depth and breadth of their concern and affection. I feel like my feet haven't touched the ground for a year. I have shared some of my life lessons in what I call the "Joys of Cancer." Here are a few more things I've learned.

  • Living "one day at a time" isn't just a cliché. Letting go of yesterday's grudges and refusing to worry about tomorrow really frees your mind and heart to appreciate what life is putting in front of you right this minute.
  • You are the only you, so don't compare yourself to others. Your recovery rate, cancer progression, stamina and attitude are what they are, and it doesn't matter if they are better or worse than anyone else's. We are all different - and that's okay.
  • Be human, be fallible, be vulnerable. That brave mask doesn't fool anybody, but it does force people to stay at arm's length, when you should be reaching for their embraces.
  • You have every right to hope for the best possible outcome. Believe that you deserve it. Let your friends and family share the comfort and joy of hope.
  • Happiness is not a goal, or an achievement. It is an attitude. No one else can make you happy, or give you happiness. Every single day you can choose to be happy. Or not.
Oh, I could go on and on, because I'm so very full of myself and my big ol' bag of Canceriffic Pearls O' Wisdom. There have been a lot of spectacular moments of enlightenment in this crazy fish-eye, compressed-time year. But I'll just close by telling you that Bro 1's magnificent Weber-grill-roasted turkey, and Bro 2's sacrificing several vacation days to help around the Villa, tied for number two on my Gratitude List this year.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tis the Season, Oh, Yes It Is...

My pal Mac has an excellent post about the so-called "War!On!Christmas!" Oh, the horror, the absolute tragedy of having to wish someone "Happy Holidays." I can hardly bear to think about it.

Seriously, as someone who grew up with an outsider's perspective on Christmas, I was always kind of relieved that I didn't have to participate. It looks like a stress marathon: family tensions, financial strain, an overload of food, decorations, music, forced gaiety and goodwill.

In high school, I became friends with a girl who, by my standards, was fabulously wealthy. She and her parents and seven brothers and sisters lived in a huge house on a very prestigious street. Every room in the house was decorated for Christmas. The decorations included an antique train set that ran around the bottom of the tree, and several other heirloom items such as large dolls and vintage glass ornaments. It was just stunning, a scene right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. And the family just screamed their guts out at each other, and several of them were always drunk and/or stoned; it was just a beautiful-slash-horrifying orgy of rage and resentment.

Of course, I never had an insider's perspective, so I never experienced the best of Christmas: the warmth, traditions, generosity, etc. But it seemed to me that few of you experienced that, either.

Hannukah is a pretty minor holiday to us Jewcy folk, but here in the U.S., its status has increased over the years to become sort of a "Jewish Christmas." As children, we got a lot of practical items that masqueraded as gifts: clothing, books, etc. On one night, my grandparents gave us each a silver dollar. On one night, we got a gift, or sometimes a check,from aunts and uncles. And on one night, usually the last night, we got one "big" gift, usually a toy. (Ungrateful brat that I am, I always coveted my brothers' chemistry sets, erector sets, microscopes, etc., while I seemed to get one giant tea set after another.)

It wasn't eight days of gift-giving. It was more about the candle-lighting, the story of the Maccabees, the songs, and the food; of course, the food. The fact that the food hasn't killed us in 6,000 years should tell you something about the endurance and tenacity of the Jews.

Story of Hannukah at, or Judaism 101, or About.Judaism. Come on, we can't even decide how to spell it - you think I can pick just one website?

(Photo note: PROOF that we grew up with plastic-covered furniture. Oh, the shame.)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Watch This Space

There will be a slight delay while I deal with crap. Bad crap (replacement of a major appliance tomorrow morning) and good crap (the wonderful, amazing Foodies are holding a holiday craft sale) and MM crap (the back is on strike again). I have lots to share, especially since I realized that today is the one-year anniversary of my diagnosis. But I just have to get past the next day or so. Stay tuned!

Molly is a delicate little thing, with very fine fur and a pink tummy. I made her a blue coat a couple years ago, and then made our friend Gracie a matching lavender one. Molly has to wear hers whenever I'm too cold. (Yeah, life's unfair.) I think someone must be tempting them with cookies; otherwise they'd never cooperate for the pose.